Tuesday, December 31, 2013


The Russians have a security problem.  Terrorists bombed a railway station (awful video showing the bomb flash and smoke is on TV) and then bombed a trolley bus.  Thirty or forty people dead.  These atrocities occured in "Volgograd" , "400 miles south and east of Moscow". 
   It wasn't until the next day that one newsie finally figured out that Volgograd is better known in the West by it's Word War II name, Stalingrad.  The newsie vaguely mentioned that a battle had been fought there. 
  The newsie didn't mention that the battle of Stalingrad was a turning point in World War II.  It was the first time the Russians managed to beat the Germans in a big standup fight.  Before Stalingrad, the Germans beat the Russians every time.  That turned around after Stalingrad and the Russians beat the Germans every time. The Russian victory at Stalingrad was crushing, they surrounded the German army and took them all captive.  Germany lost 250,000 men at Stalingrad.  The movie "Enemy at the Gates" was about the battle of Stalingrad.
  You would think that after such a legendary victory in the Great Patriotic War, the city would still be known as Stalingrad.  But, when "deStalinization" happened under Khrushchev in the late 1950's, part of "deStalinization" involved taking Stalin's name off his city on the Volga.   


My computer survived Combofix.  This car climbed Mt. Washington.  Poor old desktop was still sluggish so I tried the roughest toughest anti virus out there.  Combofix, spoken of in awed tones by computer geeks. I downloaded it from Bleeping Computer and turned it loose.  It took it's time, made at least two passes.  On pass one it reported another rootkit Zero.Layer.something or other, hiding in the TCP-IP stack.  Claimed to have killed it.  Warned that I might encounter some problems getting back on the internet, but promised a fix.
Any how, after a long run it reported success and printed out a LONG log file.  It listed a lot of files that it zapped, all the "run" keys it found in the registry, and a bunch of other Windows files.  Surprisingly it didn't list the rootkit it claimed to have zapped.  You would think the programmers would be happy to claim a trophy like a root kit.  The log file looks a lot like the file created by Hijack This, in fact the Combofix developers may have borrowed all the Hijack This code to print the log.  I haven't acted on anything in the log file yet.  I recognize all the run keys, they are running legitimate programs like the wireless modem driver.
   I'll Google on the windows files it lists, and see if I can find Microsoft certified, pure as the driven snow, replacements, just in case.
  But not tonight.  It's bed time.  And the desktop is running better.  Quicker keyboard and mouse response.
   Anyhow, if you have a really tough virus that ordinary anti virus programs cannot see or cannot zap, try Combofix.  It's powerful.  And free.   Just running it ain't hard, just click on it and it goes to work.
   The log file is kinda cryptic and you do have to know stuff to understand it.  Don't blow anything away just cause it shows up in the log file.

Monday, December 30, 2013

MSM is STILL out there selling Obama Tales

The New York Times on Sunday published a big story to support the original Obama excuses for the Benghazi disaster.  As you might remember, at the time, the Obama folk blamed the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on an obscure video posted on the Internet.  They sent Susan Rice, high ranking adminstration official to appear on all five Sunday pundit TV shows to push the video theory.
  Anyhow, the Times just printed a big story retelling the "nasty video caused attack" theory.
  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is even handed MSM support for a beleaguered  Obama administration.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Poor old desktop, just hasn't been the same since the root kit got into her over Christmas.  So I been looking for virii, anti virii, rootkit killers, anything.  There is something in her that makes her boot slow, load slow, and its so bad it makes the sound stutter.  Just the the normal Windows "Ka-ching" boot noise comes out funny sounding.
  So I tried the Microsoft Security Essentials package, from the Windows Update site.  It took an hour to download, another hour to update itself, and another hour to scan my hard disk.  Didn't find anything.  Speedy it is not.  Typical Microsoft.  So I shut down last night and went to bed.
   This morning I boot up to check email and the slows are worse.  Like really bad.  It's good old Microsoft Security Essentials, it's hogging up to 95% of CPU time.  Apparently it loads itself and starts a disk scan every morning whether I need it or not.  It' not a polite program, it hogs so much CPU time as to freeze the mouse and everything else.  So I removed it this morning.   I don't recommend it to anyone.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Real jobs vs Govt Jobs

Real jobs.  Take a manufacturer for example.  They make valuable product.  Proceeds from product sales pay the work force, buy raw materials and parts, pay the bills, and buy production machinery.  If the product is a good one, sales increase, the factory expands, more people are hired.  The money that sales brings in, goes right out again, increasing demand for food, clothing, housing, raw materials and so on. 
Govt jobs.  Take a bureaucrat for example.  They don't produce anything valuable.  There are no proceeds from sales.  The bureaucrat's pay is money taken away from the citizens by way of taxes.  The citizen's could have spent that money just as well as the bureaucrat does.  The more bureaucrats the government hires, the more money it takes from working citizens.  Government workers are a drag on the economy, they consume but they don't produce. 
  And yet, lefties will tell you that government hiring is required to "get the economy going".  I heard that a couple of times over Christmas. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Words of the Weasel, Part 35

Vegetative Barrier.   Why can't they just say "hedge"?

Thursday, December 26, 2013


Nasty virus.  Lovable daughter, who is up for Christmas, was web surfing on my machine. One website she surfed thru infected my trusty Compaq 1750 NX
.  It's nasty.  It slows down the boot, slows down loading programs, slows down the internet, freezes the mouse, and crashes the whole machine erratically. 
   It's a rootkit, which means it hacks out a piece of hard disk to live on that is not part of the Windows file system.  This means that Windows, and Windows tools like Explorer cannot even see it on disk, even if you knew where to look. 
   I tried Anti Malware Bytes (that crashed before it finished) Spybot Search and Destroy, Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool,  and Regclean without any luck.  But Kaspersky's TDSSKiller nailed it, or at least crippled it a lot.  Trusty Compaq is now running mostly normal, although there are moments of sluggishness that make me think the damn thing is still active. 
   Damn Microsoft for making Windows so vulnerable.  Damn virus writers.  Writing a virus ought to be a felony punishable by stoning to death in the public square.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Gunfight at the OK Corral

1957, classic Western.  Some how I got thru the 50's without seeing it in theaters.  So while surfing Netflix for something to watch, I clicked on it.  It's got Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday.  Douglas does the gambler/gunfighter role beautifully.  His suits are well tailored and pressed, he drinks too much, he mistreats his long suffering mistress.  Lancaster's role is plainer, he is just the principled lawman.
   Then it has DeForrest Kelly in a bit part. He isn't on screen very long before a Clanton shoots him dead. And we have Dennis Hopper as the youngest Clanton brother.  Burt Lancaster tries to talk him into giving over his gun, but he makes a sudden move and Kirk Douglas shoots him dead.  Both of these guys will have much better roles in coming years.
  It's long.  2 1/2 hours.  And somehow in all that screen time, the director fails to really show why the Earps, lawmen all,  band together to shoot down the Clantons.  Yes, the Clantons shoot some friends, and relatives of Wyatt's but the film doesn't really blacken the Clanton's rep and it doesn't really show why high principled Wyatt Earp gets into extra judicial killings.  And there are some scenes missing.  After Morgan Earp gets gunned down in the street, we don't see the funeral, with weeping friends and relatives, and we don't see Wyatt Earp with tears running down his cheeks swearing eternal vengeance on the Clantons.  In short, the director doesn't show motives and emotions behind the central conflict.
    Sets and costumes were first rate, nice score, a theme song and all.  The various western towns all had one helova lotta giant cactus growing on every street corner.  But now that I've seen, I can say I didn't really miss much by not seeing it in the '50s. 

Green Christmas

Two days ago I had a foot of new snow on the front lawn.  Today it's green grass (marred by snow plow scars) again.  Yesterday was terrible, rained all day, temperature right at the freezing point.  It made walking treacherous.  Today it's chilled down to 20.  Skiing at Cannon has suffered.  Coming back thru the Notch you could see a lotta grass coming up in the middle of the trails. 
  Forecast is for a hard freeze, down below zero, tonight.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Innumeracy on NHPR

NHPR ran a horrible story this morning.  About some frightful disease with a strange name (Crap A?) that I had never heard of before.  This disease causes dementia, blindness and death  It can be detected in infancy by some fancy bloodwork, and New York state now requires all newborns to be screened for this disease.  Fortunately the disease is very rare.  Unfortunately the test has a high rate of false positives, and the treatment is heroic, dangerous, and not very effective.  A case could be made that running these tests causes untold misery and suffering to the parents of the false positives, and does not save very many children, since many of them die under treatment.
   Saddest of all,  NHPR failed to report any of the numbers that would enable voters to reach a sound conclusion.  Such as number of newborns tested, number of true cases detected, number of false positive cases, number of children who survived treatment.  Numbers.  Newsies seldom report numbers because most of 'em have to take their shoes off the count higher than ten.

The Economist waxes lyrical over Bowhunting

This is the Christmas edition of the Economist, extra thick with lots of punditry.  They had a three page article on the joys of  bowhunting  in America.  They quoted Teddy Roosevelt, they talked about a hunting trip in Wisconsin, about legalizing cross bows.  Hunting is good for the ecology, helps cull excess deer, all sorts of good stuff. 
   But only if done with a bow.  Using a gun is unsportsmanly, crass, and bad for the environment.  Only the archer is a pure hunter.   I suppose this represents the anti gun opinions of the Economist. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fossil Fuels make the world greener

Click here to watch the original lecture on U Tube.    And if the link doesn't work you can just go here:


Mr. Ridley's talk  outlines satellite observations of the whole earth showing the world is showing more green and less brown to the satellite cameras.  The increase in atmospheric CO2 is stimulating plant growth world wide.  And advances in agriculture are reducing the amount of land farmed, with  abandoned farms going back to woodland.  It's an interesting talk, showing things getting better and better, as opposed to the greenie legend of planetary desertification.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Mars is hot

Radioactive that is.  Actually it's not uranium or thorium in the red sands of Mars, its cosmic radiation from deep space.  On Earth the magnetic field and the atmosphere shields us from it.  Out in interplanetary space it's more intense.  Mars has no magnetic field, so cosmic radiation on the surface of Mars is as bad as it is in space. 
  NASA using data from the Curiosity rover, found that astronauts on a 500 day round trip to Mars, would absorb a dose of one whole Sievert of radiation.  That's a lot.  A Sievert is a Euro unit invented in the 1980's and it's big.  One Sievert is 100 REM, the more usual US unit of radiation.  
   US safety standards call for not more than 5 REM per year for civilian workers.  NASA is more daring and permits the Shuttle astronauts to absorb 25 REM  in one shuttle trip.
   If memory serves, 300-400 REM is the 50% lethal dose, half the people exposed to that level of radiation die within weeks.  100 REM for a trip to Mars is scarily close.  NASA estimates that such a dose would increase the risk of cancer over a lifetime by 5%.  That sounds optimistic to me.
   However, I expect no shortage of volunteers to fly to Mars regardless of risk.  
   Shielding a space craft with lead probably does not work, the required shielding would weigh so much the space craft couldn't get off the ground.  An ingenious design might put the crew compartment in the middle, surrounded by the fuel tanks.  This might work on the way out, but on the way back with empty tanks, not so good.   Or the space craft might shield itself with a powerful magnetic field, created by neodymium super magnets, or a super conducting coil of wire.  The Earth's magnetic field isn't all that strong at the surface, but it is very deep.  My electromagnetic field theory is no longer strong enough to calculate  just how strong a magnet would be needed to give the same shielding effect as the Earth's field, but the number is computable.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

NYPD, a force in international relations

Two years ago, NYPD arrested Dominique Strauss Kahn, a frenchman serving as chief of IMF, and a potential candidate for president of France.  The charges were later dropped, but that was the end of Strauss Kahn.  He resigned his IMF post and never ran for president of France.  In fact nobody has heard anything from him since.  Scratch one Frog.
  Yesterday they arrested a female Indian diplomat, and strip searched her.  Charges are obscure, by have something to do with her relationship, or wages or visa for a servant.  So much for diplomatic immunity.  All of India is hopping mad, threatening to storm the American embassy, break diplomatic relations, join the Russians, anything.  Scratch one promising international relationship. 
   NYPD is becoming a real international mover and shaker. 
   And every foreign tourist must be thinking about NOT visiting NYC.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

New Technology makes it to the store

So I was in Walmart's today, looking around while they filled my prescriptions.  Wandered over the the television display.  They are all flat screen, and this year, is the year of no bezel.  The fronts of the TV's are all screen, no ring of plastic around the edge (the bezel).  And they are bigger.  55 inch for $800.  And the labels all say LED (light emitting diode) rather than LCD (liquid crystal display).  This is a forward step technology wise.  The LED screens are a little brighter and a little more vivid than my LCD Sony (state of the art a few years ago).  LED's emit light by them selves, and are very efficient, say 80% of the juice in comes out as light.  An LCD doesn't make it's own light, it acts as a shutter, blocking or passing a light source behind it, (the backlight).  I'm not sure just how backlights worked, but I expect LED's to use less juice than the backlight uses. 
   The surprise to me, was this major technological step forward got all the way to retail shelves before I heard of it.  No mention of this appeared in any websites, trade rags, or blogs that I read.  Or if it did I missed it.

FDA declares war on anti microbial soap

Just what the manufacturers need, an FDA order to run a bunch of expensive tests to prove that the anti microbial chemicals are safe in hand soap.  Fairer would be to require the FDA to run some tests proving the stuff is harmful.  The soaps have been on the market for 30 years or more and in all that time nobody has been hurt enough to sue. 
   I'm neutral on this one, I figure no germ can stand up to plain old soap or detergent and hot water.  So I don't buy anti microbial things.  I'm not deep enough into chemistry to really know one way or the other.  But I have noticed the tendency to label ordinary things hazardous material.  Even solid brass castings.  So I'm a little suspicious of the new born discovery of hazards lurking in something that's been on the market for years and years. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Volcker Rule

Paul Volcker, former head of Federal Reserve bank, widely admired financial expert.  He ran the Fed for many years or more with steady economic growth and no depressions. 
    Few newsies actually understand what the Volcker Rule is, but they are all in favor of it.  Volcker wants to restrict bank trading in stocks.  He wants to forbid banks from trading stocks "on their own account".  If a bank customer orders the bank to "get me 400 shares of XYZ corp", that's trading on the customer's account, and that's OK.  But for the bank to guess that XYZ stock is gonna take a dive, and dump it, or even worse, sell it short, that's verboten.  There are some other tricky exceptions, but Volcker clearly desires to keep banks from playing the market.
   Why you ask?  First off, banks have enough money to move a stock's value.  Buy up all the shares in sight, and the price of those shares goes up.  Dump a bunch of shares on the market and the price tanks.  Corporations hate this.
   Second, investing in the stock market is riskier than doing home mortgages.  A low speed, dumb guy bank can loose it's shirt in the market, and fail.  Fail means the depositors loose their deposits.  Everybody hates that.
   Back after Great Depression I, Congress decided that banks playing the market had caused the depression.  They passed the Glass Steagall act which forbid banks from buying or selling stocks at all.  That was 1933.  Glass Steagall was in effect right up until Willy Clinton was president.  The banks hated Glass Steagall and  they lobbied hard for its repeal and ten presidents after FDR turned a deaf ear.  Finally we came to Clinton, he listened to the pleas of the banks and got a repeal of Glass Steagall thru Congress sometime in the 1990's.
    Then we had Great Depression 2.0 in 2007.   The Fed people didn't want to actually reverse themselves and call for re instituting Glass Steagall.  But they did call for the Volcker Rule, which is Glass Steagall in more complicated language.  Welfare for lawyers. 
     Me, I think we oughta bring back Glass Steagall.  Any outfit, no matter what it calls itself, that has FDIC insured anything, may NOT play the stock market in any way shape or form.  You wanna trade stocks, you go to a stock broker.  Uncle Sam does NOT insure brokers or stock accounts, no way, no how. 

Amnesty for Snowdon in return for?

TV news was talking about a deal for Snowdon, we give him amnesty if he gives us all the juicy secrets he still has, the ones he hasn't let out yet. 
  And so how do you do this.  All the stuff Snowdon took fits on a thumbdrive, may be two thumbdrives, but still , real small.  Fits in a coatpocket without a bulge.  And, any computer geek like Snowdon understands about back up of essential data.  He must have made a bunch of duplicates and hidden them the best he can.  With friends, buried in his back yard, bank safe deposit boxes, with his folks, and somewhere in the cloud.  We will never find them. 
  So,  Snowdon gets amnesty back here, and he still has every thing he took from NSA. 
  Although I cannot imagine what stuff he has left being anything as juicy as the stuff he has released.  But then maybe my imagination is weak. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ammunition shortage caused by consumer demand

Not government hoarding.  Despite some staggeringly large ammunition buys from HHS.  This from American Rifleman, the NRA magazine.  The shortage is real, at least up here the shelves down at Cory's Sport Shop, are empty of all but the most common calibers.
   Although HHS has placed some massive buys, these are multi year contracts, and according to American Rifleman, the quantities are about what the agency has bought in past years.  The real increase is in the number of American gun owners.  Particularly striking is the increase in woman gun owners.   The increase in demand is real, and you can see it in the revenues from the federal ammunition tax.  That's gone up and up and is showing no sign of slowing down.   The number of federal instant background checks has also grown significantly, supporting the ammunition tax data.     

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Thanks goodness for gridlock

According to Fox TV News, this year Congress only passed 51 bills, as opposed to last year when they passed 350 odd.  
  This is a good thing.  Most bills are bad for the country.  We don't need another farm bill passing money to corporate farms.  We don't need another highway bill to keep road contractors fully employed.  We don't need Obamacare.  We don't need Dodd Frank or Sarbanes Oxley.  We don't need more special favors for special interests. We don't need to extend unemployment benefits from two years to three. 
   Since the country and the Congress is evenly divided,  neither party can push its pet programs thru.
Which is what democracy is all about. 
   Until one party or the other can muster the votes to control both House and Senate, things will stay as they are.  And that's the way it should be.

Cannon gets some decent snow.

We have 6-8 inches down, and it's still falling.  Plus we have good low temps forcast for next week so the snowblowing can continue.  They ought to have all the trails open by tomorrow.  Christmas week ought to be good skiing.  We need it up here.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Security Fail

We now have two insecure databases, in which evrybody has an entry.  And both of them are wide open to hackers, crackers, and worms like Stuxnet.  All thanks to Obamacare for putting our lives on line for anyone to read. 
   Healthcare.gov is the first problem area.  Its security problems have been getting some attention from the newsies.  As well it should.  It's running on Windows,( everything runs on Windows) and anytime you connect Windows to the public internet, the knowledgeable hacker knows about 50 secret ways to take the Windows machine over completely, load and execute his own code, and force the victim Windows machine to do anything he likes.  Such as send all its data back over the internet to the hacker.  The only defense is to use the strongest possible encryption and even that isn't fool proof. 
   The second problem area is "digital medical records".  Obamacare is forcing all doctors to put all their patient's medical records on line.  Used to be, your medical records were kept in a file folder in a cabinet in the doctor's office.  Short of burglary, they were secure.  And it would take a very savvy burglar to find them, and a small truck to haul them all away. 
   Obamacare demands all the medical records be digitized and stored on line for everyone in the hospital to see.  This is supposed to be a cost cutting measure.  But, on line means hackers can get to it, and they don't need that small truck to haul them away. 
   Less than scrupulous employers will take a peek at the medical records of any prospective new hire.  Should that new hire have an preexisting condition, or treatment for drugs, alcohol, or mental health problems,  he can kiss that job goodbye.  In practice,  this guy will be unemployable.  Privacy means the ability to keep bad things in your past secret, to start over, and press on.  Now that we have Obamacare and on line medical records, forget about privacy.  

Minimum wage, a bad idea

Lefties and unions are pushing for $15 minimum wage for flipping burgers at McD's. Right now McD's pays $7 or $8.  They think it will raise the living standards of McD's workers.  I think it will get them all laid off.
As a society we have a LOT of young, untrained, not very productive people who need a job.  Since they aren't very productive, employers cannot afford to pay them much.  Double the pay and the employers will say, " I have to pay these guys more than they bring in, I'd be ahead if I laid them off .  I can automate, outsource, or reduce service to my customers and make more money."  Net result, no jobs for the workers just entering the job market. 
   There is no requirement for entry level jobs to pay enough to raise a family on.  Entry level workers are un married, probably living at home, still in school.  After they have been filling an entry level job for a bit, they can get promoted, find a better job, move to boom areas, or something.  Flipping burgers is fine for high school students, but you cannot plan on flipping burgers all your life.  You gotta make something of yourself. 
   So, bottom line, boosting minimum wage cuts off entry level jobs, throws people out of work.
   That first job is important to anyone's career.  The first job will get you a recommendation when you apply for the next job.  As a hiring manager I always checked a guy's references.  If his last boss said good things about him, he was hired.  Very important to have a last boss, and for him to think well of you.  Which means we need entry level jobs, to give the new job seekers some experience and some references.  Cut off the entry level jobs by hiking the minimum wage and it gets harder and meaner for the vast majority.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Conspiracy theories of History

One of them that's been going around since 1941, the Pearl Harbor disaster was caused by treason in the American government.  The government knew the Japanese air raid was coming a failed to warn the Pearl Harbor commanders.  Roosevelt's numerous enemies have accused him of conspiring to bring the US into WWII by setting up the Pacific fleet.
    I don't buy this.  Roosevelt wanted to intervene in WWII and was prevented from doing so by a powerful isolationist movement.  But, Roosevelt wanted to use the fleet to do the intervention.  The idea that he would sacrifice the fleet he looked to do the intervention, merely to silence domestic political opponents is absurd. 
   Pearl Harbor happened because US commanders thought Pearl was so far away from Japan as to be immune to Japanese action.  They just could not imagine getting hit at Pearl.  Even though the Royal Navy had pulled off a very similar air strike on the Italians at Taranto just a few months before. 
   Pearl even ignored a radar warning.  The US Army had a working radar station on Hawaii.  It picked up the incoming  Japanese strike 180 miles out.  The Army radar operators telephoned a warning to fleet headquarters but the junior officer of the day ignored it.  If  fleet HQ had had it's act together, this was enough warning to scramble aircraft and call for battle stations, get the guns manned and the ammunition broken out of locked storage. 
   Pacific Fleet also ignored a report from a picket destroyer that had detected, depth charged, and sunk a submarine lurking right off Pearl, in a restricted zone,  where no submarines had any business being.  To ignore both a submarine warning and a radar warning the same morning takes a remarkable degree of stupidity. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sonic is a Hedgehog

Just noticed this evening, Chevy has renamed their lowest end car from Avio  to Sonic.  Note to Mary Barra.  Sonic is a Hedgehog.  Any kid knows that.  It's as bad as when Chevy named a car Beretta years ago.  Everyone knows Beretta is an Italian handgun. 
    Picking a car name is an important part of marketing it.  So far Chevy has been screwing it up.  Volt is a unit of electricity, not a hybrid car.  Cruze is a height challenged movie star. 

Blood will get them gun control

NHPR was doing a piece on last year's Newtown massacre this morning.  Just what I never wanted to hear.  It certainly isn't news, everybody on earth heard about it.  They interviewed a couple whose daughter had been killed.  I didn't need this, I know all I want to know about the misery and suffering that comes from the loss of a child.  So does any parent.   I'm sure the interview didn't help the bereaved couple either.
  So why do they run a piece that conveys no information and makes listeners feel sick to their stomachs?
  Is it to drum up political support for gun control measures?
  If so, shame on them.

Would you see either of these movies?

Oscar nominations  are piling up for "12 years a Slave" and "American Hustle".  The Oscar people may like them, but I cannot imagine myself paying admission, or even Netflixing, either of these movies. 

Cannon gets some snow.

We got four inches, biggest snowfall this winter, yesterday and last night.  Nice light fluffy powder, the best kind.  And no wind to speak of, so it will stay on the trails and not get blown into the woods.  It's a good start, four inches of natural snow is as good as days of snow blowing, so we ought to have a few more trails open.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

GM gets a lady CEO

This was all over the news.  Mary  Barra is a old time GMer.  She started with GM 30 years ago and is still there.  She is an engineer and comes up thru manufacturing, which is closer to the core of GM than the bean counters who preceded her.  I figure any woman who lasts 30 years in place like GM has gotta be pretty competent, or she would not have survived.  Of course, I never heard of her before now, but then I don't follow Detroit news much.
   The real question for the survival of Govt Motors, is she a car person?  Can she bring to market cars that sell?  Can she champion  new cars that sell the way that Iacocca's Mustang, Arkus Dutov's Corvette, and Bunkie Knudsen's GTO did?   Cars that make enough of a dent in popular culture to be the subject of pop songs.  As opposed to GM's current lineup that  is so bland that only renta-car companies like them?
  For GM's sake let's hope.  A lot of this is perceived value.  Back in the good old days, Chevy had more perceived value than Ford.  Used Chevys sold for more money than used Fords.  This was due to good styling, that successfully steered a middle course between too radical and too stogy.  Chevy engines were less troublesome and more powerful than Ford engines.  Chevy 409's dominated NHRA drag racing.  A generation of block head GM management has pretty much destroyed this legacy.  At this time, Toyota commands more respect than anything from GM.
  Ms Barra first needs to understand that GM  is a huge company, which means it has to compete for the center of the car market.  Which is the low cost four door four passenger sedan, the commute to work car and the go to the store car.  GM needs to gain share in this market.  This is Chevy Cruze and Impala turf.  GM needs a well styled, competitively priced car in this market segment.  Real volume.  About 12 million new cars a year are sold in North America.  Of this, a quarter, say 4 million cars, are plain four passenger sedans.  That's enough volume to keep GM going.
   Contrast that with Corvette.  There simply ain't enough guys with Corvette money to keep GM alive.  It's a great car, but you need a bread and butter seller to keep a behemoth fed.
   How to proceed?  Simple stuff like reliability and ruggedness is a good place to start.  Some favorable mentions in Consumer Reports.  Some top of the charts gas mileage.  For instance Cruz is only doing 30+ mpg, whereas you need to hit 40 mpg before anyone cares much.  Cruz has a good deal more horsepower than it needs.  You can trade off power for gas mileage.  A 40 mpg 60 hp car is a better seller in that market segment than the current 28 mpg 138 hp car.   The old VW Beetle was perfectly driveable with only 36 hp.  The Dodge Caravan's were driveable with 80 hp and a lot more weight and airdrag.
    Better styling.  The current Cruz is nose heavy and bland.  The silhouette is round, slopes up the front, slopes down the back, boring, and so many others have it too.
   Anyhow,. Mary Barra has her work cut out for her.  She has to get decent sellers designed, and then force them thru all the institutional resistance and NIH, get them on sale, and promote them properly.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

FAA sniffs at Amazon's package delivery drone

After an avalanche of good press from Amazon's video clip of a small whirry helicopter type drone landing a package at a customer's doorstep,  FAA has announced that it doesn't like the idea and will cause trouble for it.  FAA announced in Aviation Week the drones would be limited to 55 pounds total takeoff weight, line of sight operation, daylight only, and altitude not to exceed 400 feet. 
   Line of sight is the killer restriction.  I mean how many customer abodes are within eyeshot of the Amazon warehouse[s]?  Even using binoculars?  Darn few. 
  We will pass over the technological challanges of beyond line of sight operation.  Even after the drone has found the delivery address using GPS, it still has to locate the door, or the mail box, sort out apartment numbers,  distinguish between walks and driveways, and other stuff that mailmen have no trouble with, but robots will find challenging. 
   Anyhow, Amazon created a lot of good publicity for itself, and FAA managed to look like the Grinch. 

Winter Storm Watch

Well, we got one yesterday.  The TV was babbling on and on about snow and ice and flight cancellations and ugly weather.
   Well, it didn't make it up here much.  I got a light dusting of snow, fraction of an inch against a TV forecast of 2 to 5 inches.  Lotta wind yesterday, but not much precip. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pearl Harbor. Day that will live in Infamy

Actually Pearl Harbor day was two days ago, 7 December.  This one event changed the course of WWII.  Prior to Pearl Harbor, the US population was isolationist, what would be called anti-war 25 years later.  America had entered WWI, the results at the peace table were less than expected, writers had been blaming WWI on munitions makers attempting to boost sales, and the population was bound and determined that the US would not, repeat not, get mixed up in another European war.  This feeling was so strong, that Franklin Roosevelt, one of the canniest and most powerful presidents of the 20th century, was unable give support to Britain.  What little he could do, destroyers for bases and lend lease,  was hotly opposed in Congress. 
   Pearl Harbor turned all that around instantly.  As Admiral Yamamoto put it, " I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."   It took us three years, but we sank their fleet, killed their soldiers, nuked their homeland, did regime change on them, and occupied the place.  And, had the Japanese understood Americans, they would have realized that they could have continued their aggression against China, and seized the oil fields of Dutch Indonesia without starting a war with the Americans.  It is clear to all American historians that we would have done nothing more than send diplomatic protests to Tokyo no matter how agressive they became.  The Japanese stuck their hands into a hornet's nest and got stung, hard.  Their leadership, with the exception of Yamamoto, simply did not understand what they were doing.  They had been reading too much Mahan (Influence of Seapower upon History) which has a simplistic premise that winning control of the sea by destroying the enemy fleet wins the war.  From Mahan's point of view, the Pearl Harbor attack was perfect, one daring strike and the entire American battlefleet, eight decent battleships, was sunk.
   Two things spoiled the victory.  That year, 1941, was a year of transition from battleships to aircraft carriers.  Our aircraft carriers survived Pearl Harbor.  So, in actual fact, the US battle fleet survived Pearl Harbor.  The second thing was American resolve.  We raised all the sunken ships, we built a LOT of new ships and LOT of other stuff,  we enlisted 10 million men in the armed forces, we developed superweapons so advanced that they did even appear in 1940's science fiction.  We shrugged off our losses at Pearl and came back stronger than ever.
   The other effect of Pearl Harbor was to doom the Nazis.   For some reason, Hitler declared war on the US a few days after Pearl Harbor.  He didn't need to, he had no obligations to Japan, he was locked in a death struggle with the Soviets, he didn't need any more hostilities, especially not with America.  But he did it.  At the time, Hitler convinced every American that he was in league with Japan.  We only found out after the war that Hitler was acting on his own hook.  Hitler's declaration of war was a great help to the Roosevelt administration.  The whole American establishment, the administration, the military, the foreign policy establishment, the industrialists, the union people, all feared the Germans, much more than Japan.  The establishment wanted to beat Hitler first, and then take out the Japanese.  With Hitler's gratuitous declaration of war, they could do just that.  If Hitler had been smarter and kept his mouth shut, there is a good chance the Americans would have departed upon a Pacific Ocean crusade, and left him deal with the Soviets and the Brits unmolested by Yankees.      
   Both ways, Pearl Harbor was a turning point.  It didn't have to happen, it wasn't inevitable, and history would be a lot different if the Japanese had not attacked. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Good Day at BlackRock

The Economist is unhappy about BlackRock in a cover story.  The cover cartoon shows an enormous jet black Rock-of-Gibraltar leaning over the two lane road ahead, threatening to topple and block all traffic forever.  BlackRock is a Wall St brokerage house, that buys and sells stock for its clients.  It was founded in the '80s and has done pretty well, it has $4 trillion in assets.  Part of BlackRock's success is a computer back office that tracks stocks and has made some canny predictions.  It was canny enough to keep BlackRock out of the mortgage backed security black hole back in 2006.  In fact it was so good that BlackRock now leases access to the system, bringing in $400 million in fees per year.  The system, dubbed Aladdin, is so popular on the street that the Economist reckons that another $11 trillion in stocks is controlled by Aladdin, giving a grand total of $15 trillion under the influence, or perhaps control, of this one piece of software.  That's quite a chunk of change, the entire US economy is about that size.
   This concentration clearly bothers the Economist.  If they had a say in the matter, they would put BlackRock under strict government regulation, lest they hiccup and crash the stock market.  Good thing the Economist isn't in charge. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Facebook has started posting ads on your home.  Used to be, you only saw posts from your facebook friends.  Now they are giving me 10% straight ads from companies and organizations I never heard of and don't care about.  And  Firefox doesn't have filters to dump the ads. 
    There will come a point when the ads become so obnoxious that I will dump Facebook. 

Executive Council

We have a vacancy on the NH executive council.  Beloved north country councilor Ray Burton died of cancer last month leaving his seat open.  The democrats have picked their man, Michael Cryans, to run on their ticket.  We Republicans have some competition, at least we think so. 
  Anyhow, Christopher Boothby is running.  There will be a primary in January, 21st I believe.  I never heard of Chris before he decided to run.  I don't know who is running against him in the primary. 
   Anyhow, Chris is doing the reasonable thing, he is traveling round the district and talking to voters.  I sent out an email blast to north country Republicans and Tea Partiers to come and meet the candidate.  We had the back room at the Oasis Restaurant and it filled up with north country political types, including yours truly.  I must be  getting into the swim of things, I knew everyone who showed up.  Lotta hand shaking and how-are-yous and chit chat.  Chris and his wife Mara showed up on time, we had a pleasant give and take.  Everyone in the room was an old friend of the deceased Ray Burton, and a lot of Ray stories were told, back and forth. 
  Chris looks OK to me.  He won't be Ray Burton, but then its unreasonable to expect anyone to fill Ray'sa shoes.  We will have to see if the competition makes it up to the north country.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Vodka Triumphant

The State Liquor Store has re organized again.  Now the vodka shelf is twice as long as it used to be.  Serious booze, whiskey and gin has lost shelf space.  I figure shelf space allocation is a fair measure of popularity.  Which means more people are drinking vodka than anything else. 
  Too bad.  Vodka is for drinkers who don't like the taste of booze.  They distill all the flavor out of the stuff, and then mix it with orange juice or tomato juice or Kahlua or whatever. 

The Aerospace Plane

The idea has been around for ever.  I have a beautifully illustrated children's book from 1951 with a drawing of such a machine.  Basically a high performance aircraft that would use wings and jet engines to lift an orbiter space craft high and fast.  It would be reusable (you fly it back and land it after launching the orbiter) and hence lower cost than  a throwaway booster like Atlas.    
  Attractive as the idea is, so far nobody has ever built one.  There are five NASA design studies, the earliest going back to 1986.  Since none of them ever flew, it's fair to say that the concept becomes less attractive when you actually have to build and fly one. 
  Anyhow, hope springs eternal and NASA is going to try again.  This time with a rocket powered craft dubbed XS-1.  Design goal is to loft a 3000-5000 pound satellite into low earth orbit for $5 million or less.  NASA is talking about $3-4 million study contracts early next year, with a $140 million "build-a-flying prototype"  contract  in 2015.  XS-1 is supposed to reach Mach 10 (roughly half orbital velocity).  Gross takeoff weight might be 224,000 pounds.  That's airliner weight.   Presumably  XS-1 burns all its rocket fuel on the way up and then glides back to a dead stick landing, the way the shuttle used to do.   

Retirement before entering service?

Airbus Military announced that the prototype A400M transport aircraft has been retired.  A400M is the pan European heavy transport program.  The aircraft are huge 4 engine turboprops.  The first deliverable model only handed over to the French air force this summer.  It will take years of production to fill all the back orders for the aircraft.  Surely Airbus will have some engineering change orders needing flight check soon.
  So why retire the prototype?  These things ain't cheap, something like $100 million each.  Is the prototype so bent and broken that nobody wants  to fly it anymore?  Why not fix it up and bring it up to standard and ship it, and get paid for it?  Or use it for research and development.  Surely there are programs that could use a truly big airlifter for something?  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela died today

The news came over the TV late this afternoon.  He was 95, so it cannot be called an untimely death, but he will be missed.  Mandela saved his country from a bloody racial war.  I don't understand how he did it, but it happened.
   In the 1960s and 70's, a small white minority ran South Africa to suit them selves.  Blacks were disadvantaged at law, herded into ugly slums, denied a decent education or a decent job.  The whites owned all the property, all the companies, ran the army, the police, the courts, the government, everything.  The whites had everything except numbers.  The white minority was being as nasty and unpleasant as possible, and the majority blacks had had it up to there.  They formed the African National Congress, were getting weapons and organizing for a war of extermination.  They had the numbers and it looked like South Africa would explode into civil war that would go on until one side or the other was exterminated.
   Working inside this powder keg, Mandela somehow convinced the ruling whites to open the country to free elections and allow themselves to be voted out of power.  And, after obtaining power, Mandela was able to prevent the now empowered black majority from wrecking an awful vengeance on the white minority. 
   I still do not understand how Mandela pulled off this miracle, but he did.  It saved his country. 

Broken Glass

Apparently Google has banned face recognition software from their "Glass" wearable computer, the one that looks like a pair of eyeglasses.
I wonder why.
Glass would be really useful if it would prompt you with a name when you meet some one.  About a zillion times I meet some one whose face I recognize but I cannot for the life of me, remember their name.  If Glass could recognize the same face and look up the name, it would be a killer app.  

Gas Tax Hike.

On Fox TV news Neil Cavuto was raking a Congresscritter over the coals about a gas tax hike.  The Congresscritter (his name escaped me) was bound and determined to get a gas tax hike to preserve the infrastructure.  Cavuto was hammering the Congresscritter to explain where all the billions of dollars already authorized for infrastructure had gone.  The Congresscritter clearly had no clue, and no clue about how much has been appropriated in the past. 
   Cavuto has a point.  The federal gas tax paid for building the interstate highway system.  But that is done, the system is built, has been built for the last forty years.  Routine maintenance, mowing, plowing, repaving, bridge repair, cleaning storm drains and culverts, is one hell of a lot cheaper than building the road in the first place.  The state highway departments have been taking care of it.  In well run states like New Hampshire, the asphalt is smooth and black, the stripes are bright and freshly painted, the bridges get rebuilt every thirty years or so, and the road doesn't wash out in the spring.  In poorly run states like New York, the interstates are not as well maintained, and in fact can get pretty shabby.  For instance I-95 across the Bronx.
   But that is a state problem.  If New Hampshire, with no income tax and no sales tax, can keep its interstates in good shape, there is no reason why New York (which has both) cannot do so too. 
   Either way, we don't need the feds slinging money around for "transportation" or " infrastructure".  The real needs are handled be state governments, using state tax money.  Which is the way it should be. 
    The last big federal project was the Big Dig in Boston.  Taxpayers all over the country got soaked for years to pay for a massive project that did make Boston prettier, but didn't improve the traffic flow at all.  You gotta ask, why should citizens in, say North Dakota, be paying for a project of benefit only to Boston real estate interests. 
   Cavuto has it right, we don't want to hike taxes during Great Depression 2.0 just to maintain full employment at some state road contractors. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hunger Games, Catching Fire

So I went to see it last night.  Not bad.  Not quite as good as the first one, but that's sequels for you.  The Jax Jr wasn't very full, and half the audience were oldsters like me.  I assume the teenagers all saw it over the weekend.  If you liked the first one, you will want to see this one, just to learn what happens next to Katniss and Peeta.  The director had more money to make this one, so the costumes and sets are richer and fancier
   The plot is more complicated and harder to follow if you haven't read the book, which I haven't.  Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has a much more complicated romantic life, with two or three guys seriously in love with here.  Everyone has grown up a bit since the first one.  They are taller and more heavily muscled, clearly adults, where as in the first one everyone looked young enough to be in high school, if they have high school in that world.  The costumes show off everyone's figure to advantage. 
   Poor Peeta has to put up with a lot.  Turns out, that Katniss is no longer madly in love with him, and in fact is interested in one or maybe two other guys.  He knows about this, in fact he knows the guys, and he doesn't show any jealousy, in fact he is loyal and supportive all thru the story.
   Anyhow, I am glad I went to see it.  It's one of the very few movies good enough to get me out to Littleton in the dark, rather than just netflixing them later.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Perks of being a Wallflower

I don't know just why I netflixed this one.  Must have been the cast, Emma Watson, and Logan Lerman. Logan has had some decent roles, The Lightening Thief, Three Musketeers, and this one.  And everyone wants to see Emma Watson as anything besides Hermione.  (Is there life after Harry Potter?) 
   Emma steals all the scenes.  She is pretty, slender, well dressed, the life of the parties. And there is a lot of partying.  She is vivacious, and Logan falls in love with her at first sight.  But by the end of the movie, despite having spent a lot of time together, Emma complains that after all that time, Logan never asked her out. 
  The flick is about surviving high school.  Logan, entering as a freshman, has his doubts.  For a shy freshman he does OK, manages to get into a clique with pretty girls (Emma) and the class clown.  He finds a sympathetic teacher, he gets invited to all the parties.  Kids have done worse. 
   Especially as Logan's character (Charlie) is a zero.  He never does anything, at least not on camera.  He has no skills, he isn't into sports, either as a player or a fan. He has no hobbies, he doesn't ride, or camp, or hike, or boat, or drive, or hack computers, or play computer games, or fly model airplanes, or anything.  Hell, he doesn't even watch TV.  And he dislikes high school, keeps counting the days until he can graduate and get out.  This despite having a decent social life. 
   The irritating thing about this flick, is that neither Logan or Emma ever DO anything.  Stuff happens to them, but they never take any action to swim up stream.  Or down stream, or anything.  They just show up, and somebody else does something to them, and they just take it.  No guts.  Or the director doesn't want to show anything.  What should have been the climax, where Logan stands up in the cafeteria and defends the class clown with his fists, the camera just blacks out, we don't see anything.  By most people's standards, standing up to the football team to keep them from beating up a friend is heroic.  But, we don't see this happening, they tell us about it afterward.  And, although it gets Logan and Emma back together after a quarrel, that's about all it does. 
    There are some anachronisms.  The high school students all dress too well. Someone's favorite song turns up on a 45 RPM record as a gift.  Hell I haven't seen a working 45 RPM record player for 30 years.  Emma gives Logan a manual typewriter as a gift (Logan wants to become a writer).  I ditched my manual typewriter shortly after I got my dual floppy disk MS-DOS IBM PC back in the '80s. 
   Then to round out the movie, Logan suffers a nervous breakdown right after graduation and spends a month in a funny farm.  Although the director had been hinting thruout the movie that there is something wrong with Logan, the hints are ambiguous, and we are looking to see Logan get well as things work out for him in school.  But, soon as school is over, and Emma is off to summer school at Penn State, Logan falls apart and gets hospitalized.  And then after doing some time, he recovers.  We don't see Logan doing anything to make himself well, it just happens.  Like everything else, it just happens.
   The critics liked this flick even though I didn't.  That's movie critics for you.   
   Anyhow, a low speed movie.  Hunger Games is gonna be better.  


Monday, December 2, 2013

Newsies screw up a story

A team of archeologists working in Ethiopia uncovered a really fine projectile point in an old site.  The point, pure jet black obsidian, would be a fine addition to anyone's collection of Indian arrowheads.  It's inch and a half to two inches long, and finely chipped, very symmetrical, and obviously made by hands.  Not one of those border line chipped pebble tools that look like plain pebbles to most people. 
   Website "I f***ing Love Science"  said this point, dated at 280,000 years ago, is older than humans, so it's existence proves humans are older than we think they are.  They didn't mention the dating method.
   National Geographic  talked about analysis of wear patterns on the edges of the point proved that it was a projectile point for a thrown spear, a javelin.  Geographic claimed wear patterns showed the point had struck its targets while doing 1900 miles per hour.  Whoa Nelly.  1900 miles per hour is Mach two, the speed of a rifle bullet.  Somehow I don't think Alley Oop could throw that hard.  
    Some clicking around the web found the original technical article in "Plos" an archeological webzine.  The dating comes from Argon-Argon measurements.  The site is underneath a layer of volcanic deposits, the Argon-Argon dating tells when the volcanic deposit cooled down, stopped being molten lava, and hardened into stone.  Anything underneath the deposit has got to be older.  Which sounds like a better dating than you get from stratigraphy (counting layers in the rock).  So the 280,000 year old dating is solid, assuming the lab did their work properly. 
   The speed of projectile issue speaks to the question of whether the point is a projectile point or just the point of a hand held spear.  We consider a culture with projectile weapons to be more advanced than one that has to close up and go hand-to-hand.  Certainly their chances of taking wary prey like deer is better with a projectile than with a club.  The 1900 miles per hour is the speed of micro crack propagation inside the obsidian point.  As the point cleaves into it's target, microcracks start at the edge and zip into the body of the point.  This has some relationship with the speed with which the point strikes its target.  The relationship was unclear. 
  As to the "point is older than humans" bit.  The point is older than modern man, homo sapiens, but  it isn't older than earlier human species, Home Habilis, Homo Afarenis,  Lucy, etc.  Early man goes back 2-3 million years at least. 
   The remarkable thing about this point, is that it is exceptionally fine, as nice a bit of work as anyone ever did, and it's pretty old.  It shows that early man, Homo something-or-other, 280,000 years ago was as good at point making (and presumable spear throwing) as anyone who came after him. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dissing our friends and sucking up to our enemies

Obama's people decided to close our embassy to the Vatican.  Smooth move.  Although the Vatican wisely refrained from complaining, I'm sure this act of disrespect disheartened them.  Too bad.  The Catholic Church has been a powerful force for good, since Christ was a corporal.  The United States is a powerful force for good.  That makes us natural allies, and  dissing each other is counter productive. 
   On the suck up side, Obama's people promised to lift economic sanctions against Iran in return for little or nothing.  Iran has been a force for evil ever since the mullahs took it over in Jimmy Carter's time.  The economic sanctions have finally begun to bite hard enough to bring the Iranians to the bargaining table.  The proper action is tighten them up some more, bite them harder, until they give up their nuclear program, turn all their fissionables and centrifuges over to us, dismantle their reactors, and allow no knock inspections every where in the country.  Iranian goodwill isn't going to get us the time of day, we need to squeeze them til they crack.