Friday, January 31, 2014

Is it the ads? Or the cars?

Was reading an automotive blog, the kind that talks cars and Detroit.  The writer (ranter) went on, and on, and further on, lambasting the advertising done by one of the big three.  He probably has a point, I have seen a lot of car company TV ads, which are so soft-sell, that I couldn't figure out who the car company was, let alone what the car was.  You know the ones,  the color has been faded out to black and white, soft focus, soft lighting, an empty road, some shrubs, and perhaps a Prius turning into sticks and leaves and blowing away in the wind.  Never give the company name or the car name in the voice over.  Never show the logos, or the car.  
   But.  Let's be real.   First you have to have a decent car before you can do a decent ad.  The cars coming out of Detroit's big three, are bland, bland, bland.  Plain melted jelly bean styling, painted light gray or mud color,  too high, too short, and all tilted forward on their noses.  Huge plastic bumpers.  Clearly styled by committee. 
   A good car is different from it's competitors.  In the cheapo econo-box class, we have dozens of look alike, over priced little go carts.  Then we have ONE outstanding car, the BMW Mini Cooper. The retro styling is far from original, but it sells like hot cakes, commanding a $25K price for a very tiny two adult/two children seating car.  Whereas the Chevy Sonic ( yes it's car, not a hedgehog)  only commands a $14 k price.   Coolness sells, the Mini Cooper is cool.
   The secret to success in the selling of cars, is coolness.  The cool cars sell.  The plain vanilla jelly bean cars don't.
   Detroit's challange is to produce more cool cars and less boring ones.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Women go for men driving black pickup trucks?

Just heard on Fox TV news.  They did not explain their research methods.  So you can believe as much of that as you like.
   What a comedown.  Back in the day, we guys really believed that chicks cared about what you drove.  American Graffitti pretty much covered this angle.  Cooliest cars were Ford, Chevy, or Pontiac, convertibles or "hardtops" (sedans with no center pillar between the side windows, giving the convertible look without the rag top).  Mag wheels, lotta chrome, lowered.  Pickup trucks were zero class.   Now Fox tells us that zero class has been promoted to first class?
   Later on in life, we began to think that girls were interested in you rather than in your wheels.  As long as said wheels were reasonably clean and looked like they wouldn't break down and strand them in the boonies, they didn't pay much attention to them. 
   So, tell us girls,  what's the real story?  Do a guy's wheels matter? 

Puddlejumpers to the boneyard

Aviation Week has a photo of 5  decent looking little regional jetliners parked out in the desert, the traditional place to store unneeded aircraft.  The dry sunny weather and lack of rain and snow preserves the aircraft for years.  These are small, 44 seat models, with a lot of flying hours left in them.  Apparently little jets don't make enough money to keep themselves flying.  Regular airliners, say a Boeing 727, will seat 150, and big airliners go up to 500 seats. 
   The small regional jets were developed and sold because passengers prefer jet aircraft and view propeller driven aircraft as old fashioned, noisy and high vibration.  But, apparently the very small jets don't earn their keep. 
   Aviation Week didn't say just why the small jets are getting scrapped.  Could be the propeller driven planes are sufficiently cheaper to operate than jets.  Could be air service to small air ports is being abandoned, leaving the passengers to drive to a larger airport.  Could be the small airports are actually big enough to land bigger jets, and the air lines are going for larger aircraft that can serve both small airports and larger ones too. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Big Split between Dems and Republicans & Independents

On Fox, the carried Obama's State of the Union shindig.  They played that popularity graph that Bret Bahr has been showing on the 6 o'clock news, the one derived from Bing.  It plots Democrats, Republicans and Independants feelings about what is being said.  Blue for Dems, Red for Republicans, Green of Independents.
   Usually, on the evening news, the chatty time with Charles Krauthammer, Ron Williams,and others, all three groups track pretty close,  indicating general agreement among all sides about what the Fox talking heads are saying.
   Not so last night.  The running graph showed the Dems loving Obama's every word, with Republicans and Independents detesting them.  Big split.  Polarization shown graphically. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Should I bother to watch Obama tonight?

He is giving the State of the Union address, tonight.  It's a slow news week, so all the TV news talks about is the president's address coming up in prime time tonight. 
   Obama's speaking style,  tossing out glittering generalities, feel good words that mean nothing, or mean what ever you want them to mean, is plain aggravating.  Plus, I can no longer trust what he says, not after "If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor". 
   I wonder how many voters feel the same?

Monday, January 27, 2014


A simple power tool, that's been around for a long time.  My Grandfather had one, which was passed down to my father and then to my brother.  It's just a flat iron table with a rotating cutter that pokes up thru a slot in the table.  They have been around, in sizes affordable by home hobby shops since the 1920's. 
   But I never really appreciated their usefulness until yesterday when I tried to use some ordinary lumberyard two by fours for a project.  I ripped some pieces out of the two by four.  Next day I found what had been fairly straight pieces, had curled like potato chips.  Cheap modern lumber, sawn from fast growing weeds, instead of proper pine trees. 
   Each piece warped, one side was concave, touched the benchtop only at the ends.  I  jointed the concave sides until they were flat.  Don't joint the convex side, it will rock back and forth spoiling the cut.  Didn't take long, even the piece that had a quarter of an inch of daylight showing under the middle.  Eyeballed the grain, and ran each piece thru my jointer, a humble elderly 4 inch Sears Craftsman, with the grain falling to avoid chip out.  And, they did come out flat, flatter than I will ever do with a hand plane. 
   This gave me all my pieces, flat on one side and bowed on the other.  I just ripped off the bow with my radial arm saw.  If I owned a thickness planer I would have used that to plane off the bow.  But thickness planers are new fangled tools that didn't reach the home hobby shop until the 1960's.  I still don't have one, partly cause I don't have space for one, and partly 'cause I haven't seen one on Craig's list that wasn't 50% plastic. 
   Anyhow, with just a jointer, you CAN make stock straight and flat starting with something all twisty and curly.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Obama says pot no worse than alcohol

I think I agree with him.  Alcohol can get you into a lot of trouble.  Start with DUI (serious offense most places), press on to ruining any relationships (with parents, siblings, girlfriends, boyfriends), getting into accidents, getting into petty crime and moving up to felonies, flunking out of school.   For girls, drinking too much can lead to rape and pregnancy.   Pot  can get a kid in trouble too, but I never saw a case where pot smoking turned out worse than drinking too much.  So,  I agree with Obama, pot is not much worse than alcohol. 
   We need to remember that alcohol is very dangerous.  It's legal, but it's dangerous.  Pot is just as dangerous. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Republicans vote for a shorter presidential primary season

A good idea.  As it is now, they start the primary season better than a year before the elections.  And things change in the course of a year.  Candidates that looked good a year out, often look less good on election day.  And the ceaseless inane TV coverage gets tiresome.  And the year long ordeal drives off good candidates.  I mean what sane person wants to give up a year of his life, to be on the road constantly, making the same speech over and over again?  To say nothing of making himself and his family targets for the MSM.
   Far as I am concerned, a three month primary, say April, May, and June, followed by a convention to ratify the primary elections in late June early July,  followed by a summer and a fall to patch up wounds inflicted in the primary, and campaign against the other party, instead of campaigning against people in your own party. 
    Of course the newsies love primaries and wish they would last forever.  Primary campaigns require no knowledge of anything to write a story.  Just report the poll numbers and then opine about why so and so is ahead or behind.  No more challenging than writing about baseball games or horse races.  Newsies love this kind of simple story, 'cause most of 'em don't understand anything complicated. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Penny Ante at Fox News

Fox TV News was complaining about pork in the recently passed "continuing resolution" that funds the government for the next few months.  And rightly so.  In a bill the funds the entire US government, there are plenty of diark corners to hide pork.  Like who can read a thousand pages of legalistic gooble-de-gook?
  But, all pork that Fox can cite is some penny ante stuff, mere 10's of millions of dollars a year.  That's chicken feed.  Stick with Everett Dirksen's famus quote, "A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you are talking about real money". Skip the mere million dollar scams.
   And I can think of  lots of them.  How about $27 billion subsidies to farmers?  How about about the huge (but secret) NSA budget?  How about the TSA spending?  How about ethanol in gasoline?  How about the Space Launch System, a new NASA rocket booster that duplicates the performance of TWO existing rocket boosters.   How about the highway bills, billions to road contractors, that should properly be paid by the states in which those roads run.  How about "Nextgen", a vastly expensive program to replace the current air traffic control system with a satellite based one. 
   Fox has a point about "continuing resolutions", but they need to pick up on some real examples.  Skip the chicken feed.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Some smoke, no fire

Boeing's mods to the 787 battery system are at least partially successful.  On 14 Jan, this year, A JAL 787 started to smoke while standing on the ramp.  A single cell in the eight cell main battery got in trouble, heated up, and vented.  The main part of the 787 mods was a fireproof metal battery box vented overboard.  That part worked fine, the overheated cell did not touch off the rest of the cells in the battery, the ovrheating/fire was contained inside the new battery box.  Not clear is the effects of such a failure in flight.  Depends upon the flight I suppose.  If the engines keep running, the engine driven alternators will supply plenty of juice.  If we have first a battery failure, and then total engine failure, will the batteries ( there are two of them) have enough juice to get the gear and flaps down,  power the radio, and keep the cockpit instrument lights alive?  And keep the fancy fly-by-wire system working? 
   Anyhow, doesn't look like they have licked the battery bursts into fire problem, but the battery box is strong enough to contain the fire.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

U2 vs Global Hawk. U2 is winning the funding

The U2 recon manned recon aircraft has been flying for a long time.  It became famous in the the 1950's when Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Sverdlovsk, Russia, flying a secret photo recon mission, violating Russian airspace big time.  U2 is still flying.  It's main claim to fame is fantastic altitude capability, 70,000 feet or better.  Few fighters can reach that high.
   A new fangled competitor is a drone, Northrup Grumman's Global Hawk, a big drone with a bulbous nose.  For a while the high tech drone looked to replace the vintage U2 for photo recon.  But this fiscal year the Pentagon changed it's mind, it wants to dump Global Hawk and keep flying the U2.
   One argument is Global Hawk now has a lower cost per flying hour. Used to be, both U2 and Global Hawk cost about $33,000 per hour to fly.  Last year, Global Hawk claimed to have reduced its cost per flyng hour to $25,000.  This is attributed to an INCREASE in Global Hawk flying hours.
   This makes me think the computation of cost per flying hour is too crude to be much use.  It doesn't get cheaper when you fly more.  What's gotta be happening is they divided FIXED costs by flying hours.  In this case, yeah cost per flying hour goes down.  They largest fixed cost is the money spent to buy the drone in the first place.  They probably  just assume a 20 year service life, and tack on a fixed cost per year of 5% of the acquisition cost (depreciation) .  That's crude.
   The drones have a fatigue life, the number of flying hours before stress and vibration cause dangerous cracking of the structure.  The proper  depreciation should be the acquisition cost pro rated by the percent of airframe hours used up.  Fly more and your depreciation goes up.   
   One thing about Global Hawk, it ain't all that reliable.  Last year 55% of Global Hawk missions were canceled.  Whereas only 4% of U2 missions were scrubbed.

Cannon Mt Ski Weather

It was 8 below this morning.  Not a flake of snow.  The snow all fell in Boston.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Electro Magnetic Pulse EMP

EMP, something discovered in the late 1950s.   Consider a nuclear bomb.  Several tons of uranium or plutonium and casework  and whatever.  Detonate it.  The furious energy of the atomic detonation blows all the electrons off the atoms comprising the bomb, and immediate surroundings.  Turns them into charged ions, and blows them away at supersonic speed.  This is a massive moving electric charge, which creates a massive magnetic field that spreads out from the detonation site at the speed of light.  Such a field will induce massive electric currents into any conductor that it encounters.  Other doomsayers worry that solar flares or "coronal mass ejections" can do the same thing.  They point to the 1850's Carrington event, a solar flare so strong that telegraph wires sizzled and crackled with sparks in telegraph offices, scaring the bejezus out of telegraph operators.
   The fear is, that such currents will melt wires, arc over insulators, trip circuit breakers, melt transformers and destroy alternators.  Wreaking the electric power grid, the internet, the wired phone system, the cell phone system, stereos, TVs, Ipads, everything electric or electronic and hurl our civilization back into  a dark age, lit only by fire.
   Not to worry.  The millions of miles of wire hanging from poles, all across the continent, get struck by lightning, every minute of every day.  A single lightning strike stresses electrical systems to the limit.  Lightning will arc over any insulator, and fry anything.  Half a century ago, every summer lightning storm would knock out the electric power.  Well, over the half century since then, the power companies have hardened their systems.  My lights stay on, unless a windstorm drops a tree on the wires and breaks them.   Local damage, sure.  My mother's home took a lightning hit a few summers ago.  Blew out her satellite receiver, her DVD player, and few other things.  But the electric lights survived, along with the furnace, the hot water heater, and the electric stove.
   I don't believe any EMP event will ever be as bad as a  lightning strike.  We have hardened every thing against lightning strikes.  They are probably safe against EMP events, be they hostile nukes, or solar flares.

Cannon Mt Ski Weather

Nothing much.  We got three, maybe four inches over the past four days.  Last night got really cold.  It was 4 below this morning.  No snow, and the forecast is for no snow.  All the snow is gonna fall in Boston according to the TV weather guys.  It hasn't warmed up much, its only 4 about right now. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Basel backs off

"Basel" is a international committee of bank regulators who meet in Basel Switzerland now and then.  Their mission is to regularize and harmonize banking regulations world wide, with the idea of prohibiting risky lending and speculation of the sort that caused Great Depression 2.0, and preventing countries from taking over international banking thru favorable national regulations.  Sort of spread the pain of regulations evenly round the world.
   Basel had wanted to enforce a rule requiring banks to have capital (money from investors) equal to 3% of the outstanding loans ("assets" in banker speak).  The idea being that  capital can be used to cover losses from loans gone bad (lender stops paying on the loan). 
   The banks screamed and writhed and threatened to hold their breath.  And Basel backed down.  They changed the rules in complex ways, some kinds of loans don't count, and some derivative deals can be counted as capital, and lo and behold, just about all the banks can meet the 3% standard without raising new capital.  Great joy in Euro Bankville. 
   The Economist article goes on to criticize the concept of a leverage ratio (capital to loans) as crude and inefficient.  They prefer a weighted scale where very safe loans ( US T-bills for example) need less capital than say Greek bonds.  Which sounds good, but who does the weighting?  Reputable US rating agencies like Standard and Poor gave AAA ratings to mortgage backed securities that became worthless.  
    The Economist likes a more liberal leverage policy.  There are two ways to meet a 3% capital to loans ratio.  Raise more capital (difficult and expensive) or make fewer loans.  The Economist doesn't like option #2, they think it inhibits economic growth. 
   In real life, at least on this side of the pond, the issue is not all that important.  If a big bank gets in trouble, the feds bail it out.  We have FDIC, Federal Reserve, and the US Treasury all of whom handed out truck loads of money back in 2007.  Bankers like this.  In the bad old days, when a bank failed, the depositors lost their savings, and the bankers had to skip town before the lynch mob got its hands on them. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Brit Hume speaks favorably about NSA

He was on Fox News a few minutes ago.  Brit is a serious newsman and I have some respect for his opinions.  He said the "meta data" program (scarfing up the billing records of every phone call on the planet and keeping them for ever) is legal, and has been in place for a long time, and nobody has ever found any abuses.
   Maybe.  On the other hand I remember they drove Gen David Petraeus out of CIA by leaking some emails with a mistress.   If the head of CIA cannot keep snoopers out of his email, who can?  By all accounts, they hit Petraeus with email instead of phone calls, but that's a technicality.  Revealing phone calls to a mistress would be as damaging as emails.
   I think the potential for abuse of the "meta data" is so high, and it's contribution to catching terrorists is so low, that I would still cancel the program, before it eats someone. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Words of the Weasel Part 38

"Why can't they get anything done?"   Common whine from the Internet.  "they" being Congress. 
Translation: "Why can't they pass my pet program?"  Answer: "Because you don't have the votes to pass it."

Friday, January 17, 2014

Obama talks about the NSA

And talks and talks and talks.  And doesn't say anything of substance.  He will appoint some new bureaucrats, he will set up more paperwork.  There will be study committees.  He will coordinate with Congress over changes to be made. The US will only spy for virtuous purposes, like counter terrorism, and never for evil purposes like commercial advantage.  We will stop eavesdropping on foreign leader's personal phone calls, but we will continue to intercept their non personal calls. I'm sure that makes foreign leaders feel exceptionally secure. But they will continue the "meta data" program, the scarfing up of everyone's telephone/cellphone billing information and keeping it forever. 
   If it were up to me, I'd terminate the "meta data" program, right now.  Having Uncle Sam keep a record of every phone call I ever made is scary.  Was I ever brought into court, the government could win a conviction merely by showing that I had telephoned some scumbag, any time in the past, and poof, my credibility is shot with the jury. Bang, convicted.  Over the span of a life time you accept telephone calls from lots of scumbags, for instance telemarketers,   politicians, scam artists like Bernie Maddof, whatever.  Plus even Uncle Sam admits that this massive "meta data" program hasn't caught any terrorists.  
   Shut down means removing the electronic taps the NSA has into telephone company computers.  Companies (especially telephone companies) are forbidden to give any customer data to anyone without a specific court order, said order limited to a single individual over a specific length of time.  Such court orders are matters of public record and may be disclosed to anyone, including the targets.  And, erasing the zillions of phone records already in NSA hands.
   And get rid of this "FISA" court to which the NSA and Obama keeps pointing.  "It's OK, the FISA court said so."   The FISA court is a mere rubber stamp, it always approves everything brought before it.  Its proceedings and rulings are secret so nobody knows what's legal and what's not.  Secret courts, star chambers, have no place in a democracy.  Make government officials liable to civil and criminal prosecution for illegal spying.  Unless the accused can show a recent Congressional law saying it's legal, bang, guilty, five years in slam.    

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sea of Monsters, Percy Jackson, Olympians

A fun flick.  It never came to Littleton, so I watched it when it came to Netflix.  It's a movie adaption of a well selling young adult fantasy series of books by Rick Riordan.  If you like the books, you want to see this movie.  If you haven't read the book, you may find the plot/action difficult to follow.  Alexandra Daddario has a good role as Annabeth Chase,  Percy's girlfriend.  She goes questing with Percy, stands shoulder to shoulder with him in battle,  and has as many good lines as Percy does.  The film makes it clear early on that she and Percy have a thing going, and although both roles are melodramatic, they play them convincingly.  Logan Lerman as Percy Jackson doesn't look as cute as he did in the preceding movie (Lightning Thief), his hair is cut shorter, and he looks tougher and  more dangerous. 
   As a fantasy movie, there is a lot of CGI.  Some of it was less than satisfying.  The Civil War confederate ironclad, CSS Birmingham lacks the distinctive silhouette of  the Merrimac, or even CSS Tennessee, and is equipped with such modern conveniences as electric searchlights,  radar,  and 40 mm Bofors auto cannon.  The crew, Confederate ghosts/zombies, don't look very Confederate, or even very southern. They skip the scene in the book were Tyson, the cyclops, goes below to keep the steam engines running as CSS Birmingham attempts to pull out of the Charybdis whirlpool.   The Golden Fleece, object of the quest, looked more like a fancy table cloth than a fleece. 
   This is probably the last of the Percy Jackson movies.  It cost $90 million to make, was released in August, and so far has only earned $68 million, according to IMDB.  Too bad, I enjoyed it.  Nice old fashioned good guys and bad guys, good guys win movie. 


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

F35 might be operational in 2015

Why do programs cost so much? Because they take so long.  F35 started 15 years ago.  We have built a couple of dozen of 'em.  It's been flying for a couple of years.  But.  All the missiles and stuff are software controlled.  And the software to run them isn't ready.  They think the software will be ready in another year.
   First mistake.  All the missiles and smart weapons should not require software support from the F35.  There is plenty of room to pack a million lines of code into each missile or smart bomb.  The missiles and smart bombs ought to be able to get a hit with no assistance from the launching airplane.   Benefit:  the missile or smart bomb will work on another aircraft, without requiring a five year software writing fandango. 
   The old F105 could fly into North Viet Nam, suppress the SAM's, jam enemy radar, dog fight with MIGs, and bomb every target in Route Pak 6.  And there was not a lick of software anywhere in that plane.  And, the old Thud went from paper spec to flying combat missions in less than 5 years.  And it was rugged.  It could take a direct hit from an air-to-air missile and fly back to base. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

International Space Station gets a reprieve.

The Obama administration had been planning to "deorbit", aka destroy, the ISS as soon as 2020.  They just announced intention to keep it going until 2024.  This is just intention, they don't have funding passed thru Congress yet.   But they probably will be able to get the funding. 
   Seeing as how they only got the ISS fully functional last year, it makes sense to operate it for a while.  It cost $100 billion to put it up there.  Planning was of the "if you build it they will come" type.  Result, nobody is using it much.  But the kind of things you can do in the ISS  takes time to set up and do, time being years.  Lot of things will get  started now that it looks like the ISS will be aloft long enough to do them. 
  Cost to keep it running is $3 billion a year.  It needs a steady launch of supply vehicles bringing up food, water, air, science experiments.  It also needs the occasional push.  It flies so low that there is still some air drag to slow it down.  The shuttle missions used to burn some fuel to push the ISS up to compensate for the drag.  Now that the shuttle is retired, they will have to do it some other way. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Economist likes securitisation.

Securitisation, the banking scam that brought us great depression 2.0.  The Economist thinks we should bring it back.   Used to be, when banks or companies needed to borrow money, they issued bonds.  Pieces of paper that promised to pay back with interest, money in the future.  Investors pay cash to receive a paper promise.  If the promiser is creditable (for example Boeing, or US Treasury, or Apple)  investors line up happily to exchange cash for promises of more money in the future.  If the promiser is not credible (for example Greece)  no one will buy them. Banks, are something of a special case.  There are limits to the number of bonds a bank can issue.
   So, in the early 2000's the banks invented a new deal.  They issued "bonds" that were "backed" by something, home mortgages, or accounts receivable, or other intangible paper assets.  The banks said "the asset backing this bond makes it like a car loan or a home mortgage.  If the borrower doesn't pay on time we can repossess the car or the house."   Investors were gullible enough to buy these "backed" band bonds.   Things blew up in 2007 when investors found that the "assets" "backing" these bonds were sub prime home mortgages in default.  And they found that they didn't have the right to repossess the houses.  Losses from "mortgage backed securities" were bad enough to kill GM, Lehman Brothers, AIG, and some Euro banks whose names escape me now.  This kicked off Great Depression 2.0 from which we have still not recovered.
   The mortgage backed securities are way for banks to borrow money from gullible investors.  Actually, banks should not borrow money.  They are supposed to lend it.  Banks should acquire funds to lend by attracting depositors, and selling bank stock.  Depositors are insured so they will park their money anywhere with the  FDIC sign.  Investors who buy bank stock know their investment is only as safe as the bank itself.  So stockholders insist that the bank be careful with their money and not make loans that may not be paid back, no matter how lush the returns are.  In short, bank stock holders are conservative and will keep their bank from doing stupid things.  Like lending money to Greece.  The way we create a stable financial system is to make the big players into careful players.
   If the big players borrow money, they pretty much do what they please.  If they have to raise money by selling stock, they give up a certain amount of control  to the investors, which keeps 'em careful. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

David Gregory trashes Robert Gates on Meet the Press

Every one on the panel of newsies said it was dastardly of Gates to publish his memoirs, which said some VERY hard things about the Obama administration, while Obama was still in office.  Hmm. I never heard of this ethics rule before.
   This is America.  We have freedom of speech and of the press.  That means you can publish anything you like.  Anytime you like.  Gates had some harsh things to say about Obama, and he said them, in public.  Good for him.  What's wrong with that?   Other than it hurts Obama, but Obama needs to be trashed now and then.  The newsies never say anything bad about Obama.  We need some balance here.
  Apparently Meet the Press doesn't agree.  At least they didn't call Gates a racist for criticizing their favorite boy. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Geo Washington Bridge is an Interstate Bridge.

One end is in New Jersey, the other end is in New York.  The usual arrangement in such a case, is a bi state commission to run the bridge.  Equal numbers of commissioners from each state.  Equal numbers of patronage appointments to each state. Equal amounts of money spent in each state for supplies, maintenance, painting, etc. 
   In such a case, how does New Jersey, acting on its own, get to close down bridge lanes?  Does not New York have to go along?  And why would New York go along?  Cause massive inconvenience to New York commuters just to settle some political hash in New Jersey?
   There must be a way, but I have no idea what it was. 
   Inquiring minds want to know. 

Obama's Promise Zones

There was Obama, on TV, out in some really hard hit location, Appalachia or Brooklyn, can't remember for sure which.  He was talking about "promise zones", which would bring all sorts of government handouts to depressed areas. 
   I'm watching this, thinking to myself,  What those places need is real jobs.  Like say an automobile plant, or a Boeing plant.  I didn't hear a word from Obama about getting some industry to move into the area, which is what is truly needed. 

Cannon Mt Ski Weather

In a word bad.  It's 42F and raining. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Nobody knows WHAT spilled into the water in West VA.

The newsies have been reporting a chemical spill in West VA that has contaminated the water supply.  Residents are being told not to drink the water, not to use it even for washing clothes.  Sounds pretty bad.
   However, nobody seems to know what was spilled.  At least no newsie has mentioned a name for the "chemical"  that is causing so much alarm.  Could it be that no newsie ever took high school chemistry?  Perhaps they cannot pronounce any chemical name more complicated than "water" ? 

Whither Chris Christy?

Chris Christy, governor of New Jersey, front running Republican candidate for 2016, has a nasty scandal simmering on his front burner.  Back in September, someone ordered three lanes on the George Washington bridge closed, creating horrendous traffic jams. Christy stands accused of doing it as political retaliation on the mayor of Fort Lee. 
  Yesterday Christy held a marathon news conference, at which he announced the firing of two people, pretty high up in his adminstration, said he was sorry, and took all reporters questions for nearly two hours.  Christy blamed the whole thing on underlings.  He is a convincing speaker.
  So what next?  If you believe Christy, it wasn't his fault, and he has taken action against the perps.  If you like Christy, and a lot of people do, you are inclined to believe him.  As long as no evidence surfaces to pin the blame on the governor,  this will probably blow over, in time.  Right now, the state legislature (all democrats), and the federal government (mostly democrats) are going to investigate, i.e. go on fishing expeditions looking for something to hang Christy with.  So long as they don't find anything incriminating, Christy ought to be OK.  I figure they can keep this ball in the air for another 6 months or so. 
   I can believe that in New Jersey, plenty of pols at all levels are into eye-for-an-eye.  I can believe that underlings could have pulled this off without Christy's knowledge.  After all, that's what happened to Nixon.  Gordon Liddy planned and executed Watergate without Nixon's knowledge. 
  We'll see.  I kinda like Christy, and I hope he survives.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Antibiotic Resistant Diseases

The TV news has been running pieces about the rise of drug resistant diseases.  The bacteria evolve resistance to what ever it is in antibiotics that kills them.  Survival of the fittest.  The narrators on TV, often guys in white coats, blame over use of antibiotics by doctors.  Antibiotics only work against bacteria, they do nothing against virii.  When parents bring children in to the doc, with earaches, or the flu, or all those childhood problems,  the doc often proscribes an antibiotic on general principles.  The kids get well and every one is happy.
   We raised three children, and when they were small, we had a bottle of that pink amoxillin stuff in the fridge pretty much all winter. Some times for one child, sometimes for another child, sometimes for all three at once.  I dare say things are much the same in most households.
   Although doctors ought to back off on antibiotic use, we ought to bear down on the farmers.  They feed antibiotics to livestock pretty much every day.  It's not that the stock is sick, it's that they grow faster and put on more weight when fed antibiotics.  That may be, but the practice breeds up an army of drug resistance bacteria.  The light dose of antibiotic kills the weaker bacteria, leaving the more resistant bacteria alive to breed.  Animal diseases can  infect people.  Smallpox, swine flu, bird flu are three that come to mind.  There has got to be others. 
  So, before we get too fierce about doctors proscribing too many antibiotics for small children, we ought to get fierce about feeding antibiotics to livestock.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

We have secret ballot. Why not secret political donations?

We have secret ballot so voters can vote for who ever they choose without fear of  retaliation by political bosses,  bosses at work, union bosses, the mayor, the sheriff, who ever.  Secret ballot has been standard in the US since the revolutionary war.  It's an established bulwark of democracy.  Countries that lack secret ballot are regarded as banana republics.
   Next to voting, contributing money to candidates, parties, and causes is the basis of political liberty.  Many, perhaps most, would prefer to donate anonymously to protect themselves from  retaliation, harassment, assault, strikes,  picketing, and kidnapping by the political opposition.  
   So why not allow citizens to donate anonymously?
   Largely because of a dense web of campaign finance laws passed by "good government"  (Goo-goo) groups over the years.  I ran for a minor state office up here in NH some years ago.  I raised less than $1000, which I spent on yard signs and palm cards.  I had to file forms monthly in Concord listing name rank and serial number of each of my contributors.  PITA.   The "good government" groups feel that campaign contributions are the same as bribes and attempt to outlaw the practice. 
    The Goo-Goos are mostly democrats.  They oppose campaign donations because the Republicans have members who will write checks.  Democrats are mostly academics, newsies, union people, students, welfare people, and incumbent pols, none of whom will write a check.  Partly 'cause they are cheap, and partly 'cause they don't have any money.
    The country would be more democratic if we scrapped all the campaign finance laws and let anyone contribute as much as they please, and keep it secret.  The Supreme Court, in the Citizens United case agrees with me. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Extending Unemployment benefits, Pro and Con

I gotta say, cutting off unemployment benefits, in the depth of winter, is hard.  For a guy out of work, loosing benefits is a disaster.  I have to feel for them. 
  On the other hand, some of the justifications for extending benefits are malarkey.  Paying unemployment benefits does little or nothing to grow the economy.  If you are unemployed, you don't buy stuff.  You use your unemployment benefits to pay a little on the rent, pay a little on the utility bills, pay for heating oil, pay for gasoline.  You get on food stamps to buy groceries.  You don't buy anything (clothes, appliances, houses, cars, cable TV, Netflix, etc) that you don't absolutely have to have to stay alive.
   So the Republicans ought to come around and extend unemployment benefits.  But,  it's perfectly reasonable to take money to pay for them out of the mountain of pork in the federal budget.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

Obama wants to create a US Dept of Websites

That's how it came across on the TV news.  To hear the newsies tell it, if the government had possessed a specialized group of experts the adminstration could have brought smoothly into service.  The newsies talked about liberalizing government hiring rules so such a group could make a job offer to talented people in a timely fashion.  And some other stuff.
   It won't work.  Government departments are staffed with civil servants, lawyers, defeated politicians, and political cronies.  Losers.  This kind of people couldn't design a tic-tac-toe board.   No way can a government department do anything creative.  To build a website, you need engineers.  Good engineers don't work for the government.  Engineers want to work at places where they can do new designs, and see their designs get built and shipped.  All the government does is paperwork.  Engineers hate paperwork, and so they take jobs out in the real economy, where they get to do real work.
   When the government needs something designed, it needs to go out for bids to private industry.  Far as I heard, Obama didn't do that.  He retained control of the design deep inside HHS and did a no bid contract award to a Canadian firm with a dubious record.  The Canadians did what they were told to do by HHS and what they were told to do didn't work. 
   Moral of the story.  Go out for bids.  Get three bids.  Pick the low cost bidder, as long as he is qualified (you think he can do the job).  Even better, go out for firm fixed fee bids.  Cost plus bids will be expensive.  Only if you cannot get firms to submit  firm fixed fee bids do you accept cost plus bids. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Google Image Search

So I'm making a model railroad car.  I google for some photos of such a car.  Get a lot of hits.  Most of 'em are photos of other guy's models, rather than photos of the real thing.  Conclusion.  There are more model trains than real trains.

Cannon Mt ski weather

It's warmed up today, high 20s.  My roof is melting off and the icicles are dripping heavily.  Dispite all the TV newsie talk about super cold coming, it's "seasonable" here in NH.   In actual fact, after all sorts of end-of-the-world-as-we-know it blather on the TV,  we got a decent snowstorm (9 inches) followed by a one day cold snap where it got down to -9 or -10 Fahrenheit.  Nothing unusual. 
  Unfortunately, the local weather forecasts are predicting rain tonight. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

US Defense Budget, The Aviation Week View

First some numbers.   Aviation Week is good on numbers, unlike the mainstream newsies.

Estimated 2014 Budget:  $612.5 billion. ($847 billion including non-Defense personnel costs) 
Percent of GNP               4.4 %
Personnel under arms       1.4 million active, 850,000 reserves
Deployments                    Major operations in Irag and Afghanistan. deployments in 90+ other countries.

A few comments.  Back when I was in high school, defense spending was 10% of GNP.  So 4.4% doesn't seem outrageously high to me.  Those 850,000 reserves have been called up repeatedly to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The regulars have been doing back to back combat zone deployments.  We ought to have a larger Army and Marine Corps to spread the burden out a little more evenly.

The Air Force is thinking about scrapping all the KC10 tankers, all the B1B bombers, and all the A10's.  And  the last batch of Global Hawk recon drones.   They want to keep the B52's, the KC135's and the F35 program. 

Cannon Mt ski weather

It's good and cold.  I had -9F earlier this morning.  But the sun is out, and it's warmed up to -5F.  No wind to speak of.  Cannon is skiable if you dress warmly.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Cannon Mt ski weather

It snowed all night.  I have 9 inches of fresh powder on my deck.  It's cold, like 5 below this morning. We have a little sun.  Forecast is for really cold tonight and tomorrow.

Windows bug causes sound stuttering & SLOW computer

Over Christmas,  trusty, aging Compaq 1750NX got into trouble.  First darling daughter, home for the holidays, websurfed somewhere evil and infected him with a rootkit.  After blowing said rootkit away with TDSSkiller,  and a second one with Combofix, poor old desktop still ran SLOW.  In good shape he used to boot up in 45 seconds.  Now he was taking two minutes.  And every thing ran SLOW.  The audio stuttered while doing the Windows warmup "Ka Ching" sound. Task Manager was showing 80 90 percent CPU usage when nothing was running. 
   I finally tracked it down and fixed it.  I ran Process Explorer, a fancier version of task manager.  Process Explorer showed me that hardware interrupts were sucking up all the CPU time.   A quick google (Hard ware interrupt virus) got a lot of hits, from which I learned that Windows was shooting itself in the foot. 
   The disk drive is supposed to transfer disk data to main memory using "direct memory access" (DMA) whereby blocks of data are moved into memory without CPU work.  For nostalgia sake there is a primitive mode called programmed I/O  (PIO) whereby the CPU has to move disk data byte by byte, (one move instruction per byte) and interrupt the CPU when each byte is ready to move.  PIO was used back in the dawn of computing, and the PIO mode is a historical curiosity.   Somehow, the disk drive software had  put the disk into PIO mode, slowing the entire computer.
How to fix.
  Start Device Manager.  (Start->Settings->ControlPanel-. System->Hardware->Device Manager).  Click on IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers. Click on "Primary IDE Channel".  Click on "Advanced Settings".   If "Transfer Mode" shows as "PIO", that's your trouble.  The three boxes ought to read "Device Type  Auto Detect" : "Transfer Mode DMA if available" : "Current transfer mode Ultra DMA mode 5".

If the boxes are wrong, you can fix it by forcing Windows to remove and reinstall the driver.  Click on the "Driver Tab".  Then click "Uninstall".  Windows will then ask to reboot. Let it.  That's it.  All fixed.

  You don't need to get into Process Explorer, that was just the aid that tipped me off to what was happening.  Just go to Device manager and inspect the IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers.

This is NOT a virus, it's a bug in Windows. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Train Wreck

NPR did a long piece on the North Dakota train wreck where tank cars of petroleum burst into flames.  They had a guy from NTSB on wondering if the tank cars that blew had been properly placarded as to hazardous material.  I'm sure the proper hazmat placard would prevent a fire.  Then they talked about the tank cars themselves, perhaps replacing all the tank cars would prevent another explosion.  Then they talked about how petroleum from the Bakken shale might be more hazardous than other petroleum.  I got news for them, petroleum from anywhere is fairly dangerous stuff.  It gives of flammable vapors that ignite for rubbing two pundits together, and once ignited, it burns furiously.
    What they didn't talk about was train wrecks.  If you wreck a train full of oil tank cars, you are gonna have one helova fire.  Hazmat placards, stronger tanks, tightlok couplers only help a little bit.  You gotta work on preventing train wrecks.  Nobody has offered any explaination of how this wreck happened.  We are just very lucky that nobody got hurt.
   To be fair to National Progressive Radio, they did mention the lack of pipelines, such as Keystone XL which Obama has stalled for 5 years.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

How to Read a ComboFix Log File

Combofix, will zap most malware right of your disk automatically, with no assistance from you, the operator.  It also writes a lengthy log file to disk.  The log file indicates what was done, and lists some other stuff worth looking at. 
"Other Deletions"  is a list of files that Combofix has already blown away for you.  If later on, you find the Combofix has broken something, you can look to see if it zapped a needed file.
"Drivers/Services" is unknown to me.  Combofix did find anything to report on my computer.
"Files Created from yyyy-mm-dd to yyyy-mm-dd " shows all files created in the last month.  Virii have to live on disk somewhere.  When a virus shows up, it's likely to be living in a newly created file.  It's not that new files ARE virii, but they might be.
"Find3M Report" is a list of all files created in the last 3 months.  Again, just cause a file is new doesn't make it a virus, but it's worth checking them out.  Google will tell you a lot about a filename.
"Reg Loading Points"  is a list of registry entries that load and run programs.  Look at the program names, you ought to recognize the names as legitimate programs, such as your wireless card driver.  Names you don't recognize are worth checking out, they might be virii, but most of 'em will turn out to be legit programs.
IF, and only IF, you recognize a virus loading entry, you need to use regedit to blow the entry out of the registry and then zap the file being loaded off your harddrive with explorer
"Supplimentary Scan" is a more registry keys that seem suspicious to Combofix.
"Orphans Removed" is a list of registry entries that Combofix has blown away.
"Catchme" is a report from the rootkit finder/zapper.
"Locked Registry Keys" is a list of locked registry entries.  Locked entries are suspicious because that's how virii protect their registry keys.   In my computer the only locked registry key belongs to Internet Explorer, which I think is harmless.    
"DLL's loaded under running processes"  shows all the dll's currently in memory and doing things, and which programs are using them.  Running processes that you recognize are OK.  A running process that you don't recognize wants to be checked out.  Likewise for dll's.
"Other Running Processes" is all the code in memory and executing.  If you recognize the process, fine.  Strange processes that you don't recognize again want to be checked out. 

Windows XP System File Checker SFC /scannow

SFC comes with Windows.  It's a DOS program, you have to click on the start menu, click on :Run, and then type sfc /scannow into the run box.  SFC is supposed to check the core windows files and report/replace any that are missing/out-of-date/corrupt.  Just how SFC decides that a file is good or in need of replacement is unclear, since Windows Update keeps replacing  files with updated versions.  Just how SFC keeps up with this is unclear/unknown to me, but I think it works, somehow. 
   When SFC finds a file that it wants to replace, it will ask you to put your Windows install CD into the CD drive.  However, many of us  don't have a Windows install CD.  We bought new computers that didn't come with Windows CD's. 
  But there is a fix.  Computers without Windows CD's  have a hard disk partition, (D: usually) that has all the stuff the Windows install CD has on it.  I just burned it into a CD, left the CD in the drive, and then SFC ran to completion.  I had to do a little trimming.  The D: hard drive had too much stuff to fit onto a 600 MByte CD.  I only put the "I386" stuff on the CD, and I even had to trim that a little bit to make it fit.