Friday, February 28, 2014

The Russians are coming

To Ukraine it looks like.  Ukraine in undergoing a revolution/civil war.  The Russians are mobilizing their army.  They call it "exercises" but it's mobilization, the troops are out in the field moving around, and it only takes a telephone call to send them over the border into Ukraine.  The Russians look upon Ukraine as historically Russian territory.  If it weren't for the strong and lasting reaction to a Ukraine Anschluss in Europe and America, they would have done it by now.  Putin surely thinks Ukraine will fall into his lap, without international repercussions if he just plays a waiting game. So the troops stay in Russia for the time being.  But that could change anytime. The Ukrainians have gotta be really worried, or perhaps scared to death, with the Russian army mobilized on their border. 

Do we really need PreK?

Pre Kindergarten education for four year olds.  Obama and DeBlasio have been plumping for it, calling for new taxes to pay for it.  Question: Does PreK education to any good?  Or are the kids just too young to get anything out of it?  Head Start, the federal preK program started by JFK, doesn't seem to do much good.  Studies show that any difference between Head Start kids and other kids is pretty much gone by third grade.  Parents do find that PreK solves the daycare problem nicely, but that's about it.
   Way back when, I have wonderful memories of playing out of doors with the Center St gang when I was 4 and 5.  Having to start school when I was 6 was a downer.  Playing with the gang beat sitting at a desk any day.  Do we have to coop kids up in school so young? 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Climate Change. What can't it do?

Cold and snowy winters, climate change.  Drought in the US southwest, more climate change.  Rain and flooding in Britain, climate change.  Hot and sticky summers , climate change,  Arctic ice cap melting out, climate change.  Arctic ice cap freezing over, climate change. 
   Climate change is like bacon, it's good with everything. They used to call it Global Warming, except the Goddard Institute of Space Studies data shows world temps stopped rising about 1990 or 1991.  So they changed over to calling it climate change.  No matter what happens it's change.  No hope, just evil change.
Call every bit of bad weather around the world climate change and of course it's evil and needs to be fought. 
  Oh yes, and they can tax the heat, tax the electricity, subsidize battery powered cars, raise the price of gasoline,  demand real cars get 50 mpg, close down electric power plants,  and attempt to force us back to a Hiawatha life style. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Helicopter falls out of the sky

Happened last November 29th in Glasgow, Scotland.  A police helicopter suffered twin engine failures, both engines quit, and the chopper fell onto the roof of a pub.  All three crewmen and seven patrons of the pub were killed.  Must have been quite a scene,  crowded pub, everyone hoisting beer mugs, and suddenly a helicopter busts thru the ceiling and crashes on the bar. 
   Accident investigation hasn't found anything useful.  Twin engine aircraft are not supposed to have both engines fail.  That's why there are two of 'em.  There was 5-6 gallons of fuel left in the tanks, enough to 10-15 minutes of flight.  Nothing wrong was found in either engine.  No radio distress calls were made.  The main and tail rotors had stopped turning by the time the helo hit the roof.  No evidence of an autorotation to a safe landing.  The chopper was just flying along, both engines stop, and it falls like a brick.  No one knows why.

So how big a US Army do we need?

First let look at what we might need the Army to do.  How about defending Israel from invasion?  How about doing regime change on Iran rather than allowing them to go nuclear?  How about staving off an invasion of South Korea?  Or, in the aftermath of a second Korean War, doing regime change in Pyongyang?  How about intervening in some armpit in Africa to prevent another genocide?  How about cleaning out pirate bases in Somalia?  How about intervention in the Balkans, or some East European armpit?
   I'm not saying that we ought to do any of these things, but I do think America needs the capability, just in case.  So what does it take to do the job?  We did Iraq with 140,000 troops deployed in country.  It would take more to deal with North Korea.  Let's say we need 200,000 soldiers on active duty, with maybe that many again in the reserves.  Modern war is quick, you gotta run what you brung.  There is not time to enlist and train troops, the war is over before that happens. 
   Obama wants to cut the army down to 450,000 men.  Sounds like enough?  Dunno.  The 140,000 soldiers sent to Iraq were all combat troops, infantry, tankers, gunners.  Historically, the US Army has a ratio of tooth to tail of about 9 to1.  For every combat soldier carrying weapons in the face of the enemy there are nine support troops driving supply trucks, manning depots, cooking, doing paperwork, fixing jeeps, building schools and bridges, etc, etc, ad nauseum.  Based on past experience, a 450,000 man US Army might contain only 45,000 real soldiers, which clearly ain't enough. 
   In actual fact, American troops have plenty of experience in every line of work.  Men capable of fighting on the front line, are capable of doing pretty much anything else that might be needed.  I suggest that a lot of the specialists behind the lines could be re trained as infantry and sent to the front.   Regular units can do much of the work now done by specialists.  If we could get the ratio of tooth to tail down to maybe 2 to 1, then maybe 450,000 men might be enough. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mars has rivers

A lot of rivers.  We put a photo recon satellite, the Mars Global Surveyor, into orbit around Mars in 1997.  It carried wonderful cameras that returned zillions of sharp clear photographs of the Martian surface.  The best of the pictures are collected in a softback book "A travelers guide to Mars", William K. Hartmann.  Thumbing thru this book, the dried up river beds are striking, and there are  lot of 'em.  There is no question that they are rivers, even to my layman's eye they really look like rivers.  You can see deltas at the end of them where they flowed into ancient Martian seas.  Shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs
   Some of them flowed recently (like within the last 10 million years).  You can tell by counting meteor craters.  Old (going back to the formation of Mars) land is wall to wall craters.  New land, recent lava flows, has fewer craters, partly because they have had less time to accumulate meteor hits, and partly because the meteor hit rate has dropped off in more recent times.  The plentiful meteors at the time of solar system formation got swept up by planets over time.  Some of the rivers have no craters at all, which makes them very recent. 
   The unanswered question is, where did the water come from, and where did it go?  We have found a few dozen meteorites on Earth that we believe came from Mars. Some have been dated back to 4500 megayears (pretty much the formation of Mars) and some to as recently as 167 megayears.  All of them had been soaked in liquid water at some time in their past, as evidenced by deposits of water borne minerals in cracks and crevices.  So there was a lot of water on Mars, as recently as the youngest meteorites.  We think the water is still there, soaked into the soil and frozen. 
  We think Mars has been cold, and short on atmosphere, as it is today, for the last 3000 megayears.  So how did the water to form river beds as recently as 10 megayears ago come from?  No good answer has been proposed as of yet.  We think there is plenty of water frozen in the Martian soil, but how did it melt and flow on the surface?  No one knows. 
   We now think that Mars had open water, seas and rivers from the beginning, say 4500 megayears ago, until perhaps 3000 megayears ago.  That gives 1500 megayears for some kind of life to evolve in Martian seas.  Perhaps some such life still exists somewhere on Mars. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Aerodynamic efficiency and the airliner of the future

Today's airliners are a long tubular fuselage, carrying the passengers and cargo atop a wing that does all the aerodynamic work, lifts, stability etc.  A good deal of sheet metal goes along just to carry the payload.  A more efficient design (illustrated on the cover of Aviation Week)  blends the wing and the fuselage into a single body, like the B2 flying wing bomber.  The B2 is as efficient as it gets, it's all wing, no structure is just along for the ride.  Fortunately the payload (iron bombs) is good and dense and doesn't take up much room inside the wing.  Passengers are not that dense. 
   So the blended wing Lockheed  design is a wing with a great swelling in the middle to accept a passenger cabin.  Trouble is, cabins have to be pressurized, which imposes enormous forces trying to blow the cabin open.  With only 5 pounds per square inch cabin pressure, over the 13 million square inches of a typical cabin, you get nearly 70 million pounds of force straining the cabin walls.  The only structure that can resist this is a round tube, like present day airliner fuselages.  So the Lockheed designers have a cylindrical passenger cabin buried inside their swoopy blended wing/body swelling.  Trouble is, we have many feet of space between the cabin wall and the outer skin.  Which makes cabin windows impossible.  Which doesn't bother the designers, cabin windows are a pain, heavy, prone to leaks, points of weakness, and crack start locations.  They are happy to omit cabin windows.
   Passengers are not in favor.  They like window seats, they like being able to see out, and they like sunshine.  Boarding a windowless airliner gives some of them the willies, and depresses many others. 
   Maybe the conventional jet liner design is not so inefficient after all.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

GIMP, poor man's photo edit program.

Gnu Image Manipulation Program.  Very powerful, free, photo edit program.  It can do things that Picassa cannot such as correct perspective, filter out artifact, smooth out seams, and bunch of other stuff.  Extremely steep learning curve, which is a polite way of saying the program is user hostile.  The GIMP people assign whimsical names to things, the on line documentation doesn't describe or explain many obscure concepts used in the program.  GIMP enthusiasts claim that GIMP can do everything Adobe Photoshop can do and then some.  This may be true, if you have the time to experiment until GIMP starts to work.  Version 2.8  can now drive the printer under Windows, something that the previous version 2.6 could not. 
   Anyhow, wanting to correct the perspective, and being too cheap to buy Photoshop, I downloaded GIMP.  And it does work.  If someone would write a decent manual, in plain English, it could be a winner.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

I'll take the high road and you'll take the low road

And I'll be in Scotland before ye.  Scotland, formerly an independent kingdom, merged with England at the beginning of the 17th century.  It was part of the deal upon the death of the childless Queen Elizabeth, by which the Scottish King, James, became king of England, as well as of Scotland.  So this is a deal that goes way back.  Despite some tensions, and a number of old rivalries, the merger worked fairly well, at least to outsiders, it looked like the writ of the London government ran over all of the British Isles, and it has been that way for 400 years. 
   Zap, Pow, Kablam.  Save your whiskey cups, the Scots will rise again.  Scottish separatism has come to the point where there will be a referendum on Scottish independence in September.  Polling right now is mixed, the referendum might go either way.  If Scotland votes to leave Great Britain there are a number of "issues".  Like money.  The Scots want to keep using the British pound, the Brits have said  "No way".  The Scots want to become/remain EU members and the EU is saying, "Perhaps, but no guarantees".  Who knows what this will do to the British Army, who will have to turn the Black Watch, all the kilts, all the bagpipes over to the Scots.  The Brits get to keep their redcoats and bearskin hats, but no more bagpipers piping the troops into the attack, like we see in all the old WWII movies.. 
   Or course Scottish separatism may go the way of  Quebec separatism, where it got voted down by a thin margin some years ago, and has died out. 
   When Quebec separatism was riding high (before the referendum) some Quebec leaders visited Wall St to inquire about floating bonds and exchanging the newly created Quebec currency.  According to the Wall St Journal, the Americans poured cold water on the separatist idea.  The Quebecers were told, no loans, no bonds, and we won't accept your currency.  Which had something to do with the referendum failing a few months later.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Case of beer bet on Can Am hockey game

Heard on Fox TV this morning.  Obama bet a case of beer with Canadian prime minister Stephan Harper on the woman's Can-Am hockey game. 
  What?  A case of Bud Lite against a case of Molson's?  You gotta be kidding.  Especially as Canadians think American beer is watery and flavorless.  I agree with them, and fortunately I live close enough to Canada to get the good stuff. 
   They should have bet a case of whiskey.  A case of Jack Daniels against a case of Canadian Club, now there's a bet.
By the way.  Congratulations to both hockey teams.  

Cannon Mt Ski Weather

It didn't rain last night.  It cooled off and we got a dusting (too little to measure) over night.  It's warm this morning, a degree or two above freezing and my roof is melting off, at least my icicles are dripping.  Skiing ought to be pretty good. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Looks like they have a good little civil war going there.  One side is on our side.  We wish them well.  We ought to give them diplomatic and public relations support.  But we cannot give them military support.  Ukraine is right next to Russia, and the Russians look on it as estranged Russian territory.  They won't allow US military action in Ukraine.  They will oppose us, with the full force of their army, fighting close to home, on home soil.  We don't want to get into a fight with the Russians.  They can probably beat an American expeditionary force operating so far from home.  And if they cannot, they still have nukes.  We don't want to go there. 
  It's like the East German uprising in the 1950's, the Hungarian uprising in the late '50s, the Czechoslovakian uprising in the '60s.  We sympathized with the insurgents, but we didn't dare touch off a war with the Russians.  So let let the Russians crush the uprisings.  It's grin and bear it time, again. 

Can a shoe bomb bring down an airliner?

I mean just how much explosive can you fit into a shoe? Really.  And Boeing builds very rugged airplanes.  They have been doing it since the legendary B-17 of WWII, one of which was tough enough to fly back to base after a mid air collision with a German fighter.  The modern 737/777/787 jetliners are very strongly built.  I think the best a shoe bomb could do is punch a smallish hole in the skin, depressurizing the cabin. This would be exciting for all on board, but the plane will keep flying.
   TSA snoopers must love this.  Another excuse to make life miserable for passengers.    

Cannon Mt Ski Weather

We got maybe four inches of snow yesterday.  Hard to be sure how much, cause we got a lot of wind that blew it everywhere.  With four inches of new snow on top of last weeks nine inches, Cannon is in good shape right now. 
  Clouds on horizon.  It's warm, 40 F right now.  More precip is forecast for tonight.  It might be snow, but it might be rain.  The weather guys are non committal.  Unless it cools down some, it will be rain. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How dumb are American voters?

Listen to the pundits prognosticating the next election.  They all think, the Republicans ought to win fairly big, win the Senate, increase their house majority, but they all are hedging on the the air.  None of 'em are really sure what will happen, at least not sure enough to risk their reputation on a prediction.
   So here we have a dreadful economy, going back five years.  A $900 billion porkulus bill that didn't get the economy going again.  The voters are out of work, or worried about losing their jobs.  Obamacare is cancelling everyone's health insurance, and threatening to get even worse.  The Obamacare policies cost more and cover less.  People can no longer see their regular doctors.  We have let the Taliban take over Iraq, and looks like we give them Afghanistan next year.  The Iranians are building nukes.  Obama has squandered taxpayer money on crony green schemes like Solyndra.  He is closing down coal power plants to hike electric rates.  He is stalling the Keystone XL pipeline project.  He has turned the IRS into a political secret police.  He is covering up the Benghasi scandal.  He was passing out guns to Mexican drug runners.  He has hiked everyone's taxes.  He has run up the national debt to $17 trillion. He and his wife take expensive and frequent vacations on the taxpayer's dime.
   With a record like that, even the dumbest voter ought to vote a straight Republican ticket.  But will they?  These are the same voters who re elected this turkey just a year ago, when his record was just as bad.  

Innovation is what keeps everyone employed

Innovation goes right back to the founding of the American Republic.  Inland canals, cotton gin, steam railroad, repeating firearms, telegraph, mechanical reapers, telephone, electric light, motion pictures, motor vehicles, aircraft, radio, washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioning, radar, 33 rpm records, automatic transmission, microwave ovens,  CD players, personal computers, cell phones. 
  Each of these products caught on, sold like crazy, and created industries, employed people, and made money.  Every since the industrial revolution, a small portion of the population has been able to create all the food, clothing, housing and services that the country can consume.  It takes an innovation to keep everyone busy.  After a while, everyone has the innovation, and sales slack off.  In the past, we took up the slack by yet more innovation, another new product that catches on, sells like crazy and keeps the economy moving. 
  What's the next big thing?
   And what can we do to keep the flow of innovation coming?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Can the US keep a secret?

We have insurrections in Ukraine and Venezuela which are on our side.  We ought to be supporting them.  We can furnish money, intelligence, internet access, paperwork (passports and such), favorable publicity, and drone strikes.  And other things.
   Trouble is, support like this has to be kept secret.  Otherwise our supporters get called American stooges and worse.  The insurrections have to be seen as legitimate native uprisings by the opponents, the natives, the EU, and just about everyone in the world, otherwise they loose legitimacy.  Can the US keep support a secret?  Can the US keep anything a secret? We had US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland, blow her cover over the phone just a couple of weeks ago.   For that matter will Obama see these insurrections as something he should support?  He was stupid enough to cold shoulder an Iranian insurgency a couple of years ago. 
   For that matter would insurgents dare talk to US agents?  After CIA has leaked all sorts of stuff to the NY Times?  Some years ago we were intercepting Bin Ladin's satellite phone conversations.  CIA leaked that, and Bin Laden scrapped the sat phone and went back to couriers.  Every one remembers that one. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Near Earth objects, on Fox News

Astronomers have detected a small asteroid/giant meteor coming sorta close to Earth tonight.  Sorta close is like 8 times the distance to the moon, which isn't really all that close.  The object is a thousand meters across, which would make one heluva hole if it were to hit the Earth. 
   Then Fox dove off into magic, far beyond even the science of Star Trek.  In the future, with enough funding, we could send a space craft to intercept (there have been movies, Armageddon, Bruce Willis, about this) and use the space craft's GRAVITY to deflect  the rock.  Not a chance.  We have a space going rock the size of a small mountain.  The gravitational pull between even a monster spacecraft, one the size of an aircraft carrier, and a mountain sized rock, would be a matter of ounces.  A hundred ounces of pull ain't gonna move a mountain sized rock.  Not ever.
   Possible, even with today's technology, would be to place a large fusion bomb to one side.  Detonate it, and I guarantee you that sucker will move.  If it doesn't move enough, set off  more nukes.  Or, if the rock is not very strong, the bomb will blow it into gravel.
   So far so good.  There is one bad outcome.  The bomb blows a huge rock, say a 10 mile rock, into dozens of one mile fragments.  In that case, best have more nukes available to deal with each of the fragments.
    For this to work, we have to build the necessary rockets, and bombs, and keep them on standby, ready to launch on maybe a day's warning.   That will cost serious money. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Phishing nearly caught me

So I'm doing a little leisurely Sunday web surfing.  I leave the machine to make a cup of hot chocolate.  When I get back, I have a new window open, one I've never seen before.  Looks official.  And it says there is an emergency browser update, hot off the presses, and I ought to click right here to install the update.  It will only take a few seconds. 
  I nearly clicked.  Which probably would have been a big mistake. 
  But I hesitated, and thought.  This isn't the way Firefox updates.  They never do a full screen window, their update routine looks different.  In fact, I just updated Firefox to version 27.0.1  a couple of days ago.  And it didn't look anything like this.  So, I closed the window, closed Firefox.
   Restarting Firefox, I clicked on the "check for updates" button inside Firefox, and lo and behold, Firefox reports himself all up to date.  So much for emergency browser updates.
   The scary part is, that update browser window managed to force itself onto my PC with no help from me.  That's kinda unusual.  Then it wanted me to click on a button.  I wonder why.  Here is a hostile website, powerful enough to move into my computer all by itself.  Anything that powerful can do pretty much anything it pleases.  Why does it want to get a mouse click from me? 

Scoring presidents on executive order count.

Doing so reveals true ignorance, or rabid partisan ship on behalf of the newsie.   There are plenty of legitimate reasons to issue executive orders.  Some presidents were more administratively minded and liked to have policy set down in writing.  Others accomplished their jobs in a more informal manner, face to face or over the telephone. 
   The sticking point is executive orders that address matters assigned to Congress or the courts by the Constitution.  For instance Article I Section 8 says that Congress shall have the power to establish a uniform rule of Naturalization thruout the United States.   When Obama used an executive order to establish the "dream act" he is issuing an executive order that should be rights be an Act of Congress.  Especially as the "dream act" had failed to pass Congress only a few months before. 
   Obama has been able to get away with this one for two reasons.  First nobody has standing to sue him over it, and second, many people think the "dream act" is a good idea.
   It's not the number of executive orders, but the content of them. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

National Ignition Facility claims break even hydrogen fusion

National Ignition Facility is the laser fusion project.  Zap a hydrogen or deuterium droplet with very powerful lasers and maybe it will fuse.  Article here.  They are only claiming laboratory break even, where laser energy actually delivered to the fuel droplet is counted.  Practical breakeven is where fusion energy is enough to power all the equipment, lasers, magnets, whatever.  Needless to say, prectical breakeven is a higher bar than laboratory breakeven.
  However this is the first time anyone has claimed to reach laboratory breakeven. 
  It's the first step toward realizing the Mr. Fusion device from Back to the Future.  Long way still to go, but we seem to have accomplished that first step. 
  Much druther have Mr. Fusion than a clean burning wood stove.

How DO you make a wood stove burn cleaner?

Wood fires, pretty simple tech, you pile some logs up and watch 'em burn.  Dry hardwood burns a little cleaner than softwood, but other than that, what's to do?  And a wood stove is just a wood fire in a fire proof iron box.  Ben Franklin invented them.  So they have been around a long time.  Not much you can do to change the amount of smoke and soot. 
   Anyhow, our ever vigilant EPA thinks regulations can make wood burn cleaner.  Stove makers have to submit their stoves to EPA labs for testing, at their expense.  In January the EPA decided to lower the limits on soot emissions.  They claim that wood smoke and soot is a terrible health hazard, nearly as bad as second hand cigarette smoke.  By making it impossible to make a compliant wood stove they will save the country untold dollars in medical costs.   Right.  Compared to Ben Franklin's time, when everyone heated with wood,  wood smoke is just not a problem in the 21st century. 
   If you heat with wood, you have a problem.  More people heat with wood than heat with furnace oil.  12% of American homes  heat with wood, only 7% heat with oil.  Since you won't be able to buy a stove, you will have to make one.  An old oil drum makes a nice warm stove.
   And then the greenie controlled states are passing laws forbidding the sale of home with "non compliant" woodstoves.  You have to take the stove out and scrap it to make the sale.  Practically no woodstoves have passed the tighter EPA soot limits. 
   If you regulate it they will come....

Friday, February 14, 2014

Who knew the Obamacare website wasn't working?

Fox News Five spent some time debating this one last night.  "Of course Obama knew."  "Sibelius certainly knew." "Somebody knew, why didn't they  tell him?"  
   From the sounds of it, nobody on the Five has the slightest idea how software projects work.  Only the techies, programmers and engineers actually on the project have any idea of how things are going.  And, in some cases, nobody on the job has the slightest idea what's going on.   On a big job, you have to divvy up the coding to a large number of programmers.  All of whom settle down at their keyboards and furiously punch in code.  Ask one of these guys how he is doing and he will say "Great".  You don't really know anything until you put some (or all) of these guy's code together and test the whole system.  This doesn't happen until pretty late in the job.  And, unless there is a good project engineer who insists on serious testing, it won't happen.  Nobody likes testing, it's hard, it's dull, and it shows up flaws in YOUR code, and nobody likes that.  If the project engineer doesn't push testing, it doesn't happen.  In that case, the customer serves as beta tester, and nobody knows how broke the system is until they release it.
   There was no prime contractor in charge of the whole Obamacare project.  They divvied up the work inside HHS and let contracts to companies them selves.  I seriously doubt that any GS type at HHS knows squat about software projects.  If there was a project engineer, he has laid really low since SHTF.  It's most likely that nobody at HHS had a clue as to where the project really was. 
   And the suits anywhere have a problem knowing what's happening.  Only the best of project engineers has much of a handle on his project.  If a suit tries the "management by wandering around" bit, and talks to the guys on the project, he will find a couple of doom sayers, a couple of polyanna's, a bunch of "duhs" and he won't be able to identify the few techies on the job who actually know what's happening.  You have to be a techie yourself to tell one from the other. 
   It is entirely plausible that nobody at HHS knew what was going down.  In that case, Obama wouldn't have known much either. 

Cannon Mt Ski Weather

We had about an inch of snow Monday night.  It stayed good and cold all week.  
It started to snow yesterday around noon.  It snowed all night.  It's still snowing.  I have 9 inches on my deck right now, it's nice medium powder.  Skiing should be outstanding this weekend.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Whither the wired phone?

It's clearly on the way out.  I just bought a new one.  My phone service had been getting noisy and staticy with drop outs.  My children all insisted their phones were fine, it must be Dad's phone going bad. Phone in question was an AT&T (made in China) Trimline Princess model, maybe 7 years old.  Coil cord was looking a little frayed, but other wise it looked OK.  But, I took a trip to Staples in Littleton looking for a new plain old telephone.  I used to get phones at Radio Shack, but the Littleton Radio Shack died four years ago.       Staples did not have any standard desk phones anymore, you know, the ones with just 12 buttons to dial with, and the handset plunks down on top of, and crosswise to the bottom unit.  Like Western Electric used to make back in the good old days. Staples did have several humungous "office" phones, a zillion buttons, four lines, takes up your whole desk.  They had some more Princess phones, and just one desk phone.  It was an all electronic, speed dial, push button, speaker, caller ID, AT&T model CL2909, made in China, phone, in white, for a mere $32.  It was the only real desk phone in the store.  All the rest were either humungous, or radio phones, or tiny little phones that won't stay put on your desk.  So, if you have some phones around the house getting old and flaky, now would be a good time to replace them, while you still can. 
   All electronic wonder phone comes with a 43 page instruction manual, needs four AA  batteries, has a three line LCD display that includes a clock, a calendar, and a directory.   It wanted to be programmed for language, area code[s], clock set, calendar set, and some other stuff.  I managed to get thru all this with numerous retries.  A day later I find the clever little clock doesn't keep very good time.  It looses three minutes a day, which is pretty bad for an electronic clock   I have a 100 year old wind up pendulum mantle clock that keeps better time than that.  After a couple of tries I managed to program a couple of speed dial buttons.  And they worked.  I looked at the "directory" feature and decided it just wasn't worth it.  You have to enter the phone number, (not too bad) and then enter the name, using the number keys.  That was so complicated that I decided not to bother.  My desk computer holds my phone numbers anyhow.  The speaker button not only turns on the speaker (Living alone, I really need a speaker phone) but lifts the hook switch and leaves it lifted, which is equivalent to leaving the phone off hook.  Shortly you will hear that automatic voice from the phone company prompting you to put the phone back on the hook.  Useful feature that is. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Snuff 'em or Snatch 'em?

TV news has been nattering about whether to launch a drone strike against an unnamed American working for the Taliban, or Al Quada, or some terrorist outfit. Drone strike means a hit with a Hellfire anti tank missile, and that's lethal.  Target will never talk again.
   We ought to fly some troops in by helicopter, snatch him, and bring him home for grilling.  If the nogoodnick is worth a drone strike, surely he knows something that we would like to know.  Like we did on Bin Laden, only take the bum alive.
   Or do we fear US courts setting him free after we get him back to Gitmo?  Or does the Obama administration prefer to snuff 'em rather than put them into Gitmo?   Or do we lack the stones to waterboard him til he talks?  You'd think if we are ready to kill him, that we wouldn't flinch from a little third degree.

Terminal Vagueness mars Astronomy abstract in Science

I came across this in a post on Istapundit, titled "Archeology of Stars".  I followed the link to a longish NYT piece by Curtis Brainard, and then I followed one of Brainard's links back to an abstract in Science.   Author was an MIT astronomer, Dr. Anna Frebel.    So I read the abstract, several times. 
   Lead sentence. "Current cosmological models1, 2 indicate that the Milky Way’s stellar halo was assembled from many smaller systems."   Hmm.  Tell me about those "systems".  Systems of what?  Stars, dark matter, gas and dust, Legos, black holes, auto parts?  Surely Dr. Frebel could have used a more specific phrase in the lead sentence.  The use of the verb "assembled" is off putting.  We assemble manufactured goods like cars, Ipads, TV sets.  Surely she doesn't mean the Milky Way galaxy was assembled in a galaxy factory.
   Her next sentence contains the phrase "galactic building blocks".  Maybe she was talking about systems of Legos?  Then she introduces the phrase "dwarf galaxies" but does not define it.  From context I think what she calls "dwarf galaxies" are what used to be called "globular star clusters". 
    Buried in the middle of the abstract we finally get down to the interesting stuff.  She has discovered an extremely iron poor star  in the "Sculptor dwarf galaxy".  Not being an astronomer, I don't know where the Sculptor dwarf galaxy is, but I guess it is a globular cluster attached to our Milky Way.  In short, something close by, or at least close compared to the quasars which are so distant as to be nearly as old as the Big Bang. 
   Why is iron-poor interesting.  Iron poor makes the star old, perhaps as old as the quasars.  The Big Bang is thought to have filled the universe with only hydrogen and helium.  The first stars lacked any heavy elements, and in fact created all the heavy elements by fusion.   Therefore an iron poor star is old because it formed before the heavy elements were made.  And, this one is close enough to get a good look at.  The quasars are so far away that little can be learned about them. 
   Dr. Frebel has made a very interesting discovery.  But her English language skills are so poor that she would have flunked high school English at my school.  Someone should give her a copy of Strunk and White.   She would become a more widely known astronomer if she would bother to learn how to write decent English. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Debt ceiling hike

Congress is playing chicken with the debt ceiling, again.  It's one of those things that must pass.  Treasury cannot borrow any more money, sell any more T-bills until the debt ceiling is raised.  About one third of federal spending is financed by debt.  Unless we raise the debt ceiling we will have to cut federal spending by a third.  Which is inconceivable.  All the wrangling over "sequester" and budget has only managed to slow the rise of federal spending, the Congress critters lack the stones to actually cut anything. 
   With a must pass bill, the Congress critters all say to themselves "I will attach my pet bill to the must pass bill and it will go thru too."   Trouble is, the obvious things to tie to the debt ceiling hike are spending cuts.  But after a year of wrangling, there are no more cuts left to cut.  Or rather, the cuts that have enough votes to pass have all been made.  The rest of the spending has die hard defenders who promise to open their veins on the floor of Congress and bleed to death right on Cspan if their pet bit of pork gets cut.
   Exhibit A.  The farm bill they passed a couple of days ago.  Pure pork, but they all voted for it.  And now, they will have vote for a debt ceiling hike. 
   We need to remember in November.  And we ought to remember who voted for that farm bill, rather than who votes to hike the debt ceiling. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Car Talk

The TV news has been talking about a "Vehicle to Vehicle" system whereby  electronics in cars would talk to other cars and somehow improve safety.  Presumably each car says "Here I am, Please don't hit me."  Receiving cars would compare their position with the position of the broadcasting car and if the on car microprocessor thinks there is danger of collision it brakes or, more daringly, swerves to miss. 
   Let's skip over some technical problems, like jamming of the airwaves during those 12 lane bumper to bumper traffic jams we get on the New Jersey Turnpike, or the Long Island Expressway.  And accuracy of the GPS signals the cars would use to figure their positions.    There is only 12 feet of difference between a car safely on coming in the opposite lane and a drunk coming head on in your lane.  If the GPS is off by only a few feet in either car, the microprocessors will panic and jam on the brakes.  This I do not need after dark in a snow storm.  Then you get no protection against a car whose electronics are broke and is off the air. 
   The radio signals don't penetrate dirt, hills, Jersey barriers, any sort of obstacle that would block your sight.  In short, if you cannot see the other car, the vehicle-to-vehicle signals cannot get thru either.  So the system is no better than driving by eye, and I have a lot more confidence in my driving skills as opposed to a microprocessor's driving skills.
   This sounds like a pure cost enhancement to me.  Makes the car more expensive, harder to repair and less safe.
   The TV newsies have been nattering about privacy.  They fear the system will broadcast your name, driver's license number, and every place you drive to.  That may be a problem, but I'd worry more about having the brakes jammed on in bad weather and throwing my car into a spin, or swerving into a telephone pole when evading an imaginary obstacle.  

US diplomat can't tell friends from enemies

F**k the EU.   This from a senior US diplomat, Victoria Nuland, an assistant secretary of state no less.  I suppose Hillary hired her.  With a klutz like this in a senior position in the State Dept no wonder America has been loosing out abroad.  Victoria doesn't know that the Europeans are friends and allies, unlike say Iran, China, Russia, and the Norks.   Telling friends and allies to f**k themselves turns friends into enemies pretty quickly.  That Hillary would tolerate an idiot like this at the top of the state dept is nearly as bad a scandal as Benghasi.
   In addition to having destructive attitudes toward allies, Victoria has a brain made of solid concrete.  Everyone knows that the Russians have been tapping US embassy phones since Lenin's day.  To badmouth our allies and then discuss a new Ukrainian government over a phone everyone knows the Russians have tapped, is beyond stupid. 
   Betcha she keeps her job.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

When does a recession stop?

Depends who you ask.  Economists call a time of falling economic activity a recession.  They used to call it a depression, but after the great depression of the 1930's they decided to use a less scary word.  Anyhow, a recession is over when things stop getting worse.  In the case of the current great recession (or Great Depression 2.0) things stopped going down hill back in 2009.   So economists will tell you the recession is over.  The Obama administration loves this interpretation, and the newsies (Democrats all) have picked this up and spread it around.
  Trouble is, things haven't gotten much better since 2009.  Economic growth has been very low, 1 or 2 percent, less than population growth.  When the economy doesn't grow as fast as the population grows, everyone gets poorer.  You have more people and less stuff, and so people get  less stuff.  That's been the story since 2009, five years ago. 
   Ask a typical citizen when the recession is over.  He will tell you it's over when things are back to where they were before the economy went down the tubes.  When he has a job again.  By that standard, and it's a reasonable standard, we are still stuck in Great Depression 2.0.

Snowboards into Orbit

Been watching the Olympics.  The snowboarding is fantastic.  The boarders fly up in the air, 20, 30, 40 feet, flip over, turn around, twist and flip, do 3 and 4 turns, straighten out and land on their feet.  Incredibly good. They fly so high and so fast, that if anything goes wrong, they will get seriously hurt when they hit the ground, snow fences, rails, trees, what ever.  On TV it looks dangerous, but I didn't see anyone loose it and crash.  Really good TV watching, these kids are good, very good, and it's great seeing them fly.

Unemployment is so liberating

That's the new Democratic line now that CBO has told us that Obamacare will cause 2 million layoffs and push people down to 30 hour work weeks.  Workers should look forward  spending more time at home with their families.  Yeah right.  "Daddy daddy, how come you aren't going to work?"  "John, how are we going to pay the bills?"   Quality family time that is.  Been there, done that.  Being out of work is not liberating and is not quality time at home. 
   Both Chuckie the Schumer and David Gregory  were pushing this new democratic line this morning on Meet the Press.
  Gregory opened t he show by trashing the Russians over Sochi which seems kinda mean to me.  We won the cold war, they know it, no need to rub it in.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

BP is safer, sadder, and wiser

So says the Economist in a long sympathetic article about BP.  The Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf knocked its share price down below $80, from $100.  Cleanup and payoffs cost them $42 billion.  They had to sell $38 billion worth of assets to raise the money.  They are desperate  enough to do deals with the Russians that the other western majors won't touch with a ten foot pole. 
   What the Economist fails to tell, is how a major oil company could be run by chuckleheads for so long.  BP blew up a refinery in Texas, with fatalities, due to skimping on maintenance.  They let the Alaska pipeline rust out and leak crude oil.   A couple of BP suits aboard the rig did the Deep Water Horizon explosion  The suits ignored protests by every experienced man aboard, and ordered the drilling mud pumped out.  The cement seal had failed to seal.  With the heavy drilling mud removed, explosive natural gas pushed up the drill hole and burst into flames when it reached the surface.  The Wall St Journal ran a series of articles afterward which make it quite clear that responsibility for the disaster rested entirely with the BP suits.  Who fled the country to avoid prosecution. 
   Just how senior management at a major oil company could tolerate, and even encourage this kind of bet-the-company risk taking is inconceivable to me.  No company I ever worked at would do things like that.  When it was a matter of things going boom, people getting hurt, or property damage everyone was damn careful.  Nobody wanted a catastrophe.  Apparently things were different at BP.
   They probably still are.  The Economist didn't tell about anyone getting fired at BP over Deep Water Horizon.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Would you buy a used warcraft from these men?

The British government let a 330 million pound ($546 million) contract to modify 25 helicopters.  The choppers, EH101 Merlins currently in service with the Royal Air Force, will be modified to serve at sea with the Royal Navy.  The modified choppers will be used by the Command Helicopter Force as assault choppers, troop carriers.  Modifications include a folding main rotor, a folding tail, beefed up landing gear, and a new avionics suite.  This comes out to $21.84 million dollars per chopper.
   Compare with a new Blackhawk ($6 to $14 million depending on which website you believe)
   Far away from Britain,  Israeli Aircraft Industries is offering used, refurbished, Kfir jet fighters for $20 million apiece.  The Kfir's were retired from Israeli Air Force service in the 1990's and stored in the Negev desert to keep them from rusting.  They have only a few hundred flying hours on them and IAI will tear them down, remanufacture and rewire them and equip them with up-to-date avionics.  Such a deal for fairly decent mach 2 fighter.
    Compare with a new F-35 which are going for $60 million apiece, give or take a few million for bargaining with wily salesmen.  I think the used Kfir fighters are a reasonable deal, but I fear Her Majesty's government has been taken to the cleaners on the chopper deal.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Does Sochi have any snow?

This is the winter Olympics.  Skiing.  For which you gotta have snow.   The noble world press corp has let us know all about various discomforts they are suffering in Sochi, but except for once, they have not bothered to tell us if they have snow for skiing.  Clearly personal comfort comes out ahead of reporting the facts. 

F-35 ready to fly. Software ain't

F-35 is an all software airplane.  Apparently it needs software to do anything.  It's been flying on an early version of software that provides "basic aviate and navigate" functionality, but cannot launch missiles or even drop bombs.  Next software version, 2B, offers some fighting capability but is pretty flaky.  The report talks about "poor sensor performance and stability, excessive nuisance warnings, and disproportionate pilot workload required for workarounds and system resets".  The Pentagon chief of testing thinks it will take a year to get software release 2B straightened out.  The Marine Corps wants to start flying for real in six months.  They can't both be right.
   The Aviation Week article did not mention whether the software was written in the DOD miracle programming language ADA, which was supposed to make software development quicker and easier. Nor does it mention how capable the processor[s] are or what brand they are.
   Lots of luck to the F-35 programmers, they will need it.

Cannon Mt Ski Weather

Fantastic.  It snowed all day yesterday.  We got 8 inches of powder.  It's cold today, 8F, sunny, and is forecast to stay cold thru the weekend.  This weekend might be the best skiing of the year. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Disfunctional Deadlocked Washington passes a Farm Bill

A farm bill.  Pure pork.  Corporations do the nation's farming now.  The small farmer is pretty much extinct.  So all the crop insurance, and price supports, and marketing orders, and sugar tariffs are pure welfare for corporations.  That's half the money in the farm bill.  Pork.  The other half is food stamps.  Corporate farmers love food stamps, it creates demand for their farm products.  The taker class loves food stamps, it's more free stuff for them.
  Congress still cannot deal with tax reform, defense spending, debt ceiling hikes,  NSA snooping, TSA groping, the deficit, or immigration.  All are locked in partisan squabbling.
   But they can get together, and be bi partisan, when it comes to passing more pork that the country cannot afford.
   By rights, we ought to cancel all handouts to corporate farmers, in fact to any kind of farmer.  I don't get a handout, and neither should they.  And we can reduce food stamps by half.  And we should never put handouts to corporate farmers and handouts to takers into the same bill. 
  The country would be better served if partisan fighting had stalled this farm bill.  Better to do nothing than to pour tax payer's money down a drain.

Congressional Budget Office sticks its neck out

CBO just released a damning forecast on Obamacare.  They predict 800,000 lost jobs, 2.5 million workers put on part time, and a drag on the economy equivalent to a 1% tax hike.  Ouch. 
I wonder where CBO found enough backbone to speak up.  When they were forcing Obamacare down our throats, CBO released several studies claiming that it wouldn't be all that bad.  While anyone of common sense knew Obamacare would be expensive as a medium sized war.  At the time, excuses were made for CBO, claiming that they were required to forecast based upon the presumptions passed to them by Congress rather than sure knowledge of what will really happen.  For instance Congress could ask for a forecast with the assumption that the federal deficit would shrink.  Everyone knows that is unlikely to happen.  But if it did, wonderful things might happen, and CBO would dutifully forecast wonderful things.
   Yesterday's forecast was a bummer for Obama.  The TV news reported a lot of huffing and puffing from the White House. 
   Is this a sign that Obama is a lame duck?  And CBO figures he will be ineffectual if he retaliates against them? 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

California regulators attack computer programming schools

In Silicon Valley a half a dozen computer programming schools received scary letters from the Staties.  The Bureau for Private Post Secondary Eduation wants the schools to submit each and every curriculum change to the board for approval, and for all teachers to have three years of teaching experience. 
  Wow.  Talk about  killing off the goose that lays the golden eggs.  This is Silicon Valley, which has laid a lot of golden eggs over the years.  Silicon Valley runs on programming.  The schools the staties are harrassing are necessary,  private, costly ($10,000), and successful.  99% of their graduates are offered jobs.   Caltech doesn't do that well.  And yet, the staties cannot resist the urge to meddle. 
   The bit about requiring three years teaching experience is a killer.  The  schools are teaching Windows internals, and Internet programming.  To make anything happen in a Windows computer or over the Internet, the programmer has to call  specialized subroutines furnished by Microsoft or Oracle.  These vital subroutines are poorly documented, or not documented at all.  Only a few experts know what they are, where to find them, and how to use them.  And these guys aren't about to waste three years teaching grade school for $30K.  They can make 5 times that amount programming.  They teach in the programming schools largely as a labor of love.   Programmers love what they do, and want to enable others to get into programming just because they love programming so much.  If the staties really enforce the "three years teaching experience" bit, the schools won't be able to find qualified instructors.  The bit about  submitting curriculum changes  for state approval is less damaging, it only traps the schools in a web of paperwork that saps time and energy away from running the school and wastes it doing mickey mouse. 
   America used to be a free country.  In a free country you can start any business, and run it, without getting approval from the staties.  California is no longer free.  Maybe that's why the state economy is so bad.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Everything is sharp now.

A few days ago, knowing that I had a dull kitchen knife, I brought the oilstone and the 3 in 1 oil up from the shop.  Then I procrastinated.  Today, I planned to clean up my case project with a block plane.  I also knew I needed to sharpen the block plane, 'cause the case project  had mortise and tenon joints, and trimming them means cutting across the grain, which only works if the plane is good and sharp.  And I didn't want to carry the oilstone back downstairs to the shop without  dealing with the kitchen knives.
   So, first kitchen knife is a big 12 inch Gerber chef's knife from a yard sale.  Must have been a bad day at the Gerber plant when this one was turned out.  Gerber uses stainless steel bandsaw blade stock to make their blades, and this knife's blade came from a bad batch of stainless.  The stuff rusts on the sharpened edge and has little inclusions of crud that drop out leaving a ragged edge.  Dunno how that happened, Gerber is a quality name in knives.  So, a few drops of oil on the stone, it's a two grit silicon carbide stone.  Start with the coarse side.  Hold the knife, by hand,  at 15 degrees or so, for a good fine edge.  Work it back and forth until I can see bright fresh metal all along the edge from handle to point.  Add a drop or two of oil each time the stone looks dry.  Then flip the oilstone over to the fine side and repeat.  Inspect edge from time to time.  You will see when the fine side of the oilstone has polished out the scratches from the coarse side. 
   Now, as long I am on a roll, let's do the other knives  kicking around here.  My Swiss Army pocket knife gets sharp from just a bit of stoning on the fine side.  It's stainless, and a better batch of stainless than the Gerber, no rust spots, no little inclusions of crud.   A little two inch no-name lockback knife some child brought back from summer camp, and I use for opening bills,  sharpens up nicely with a few strokes of the fine stone.  An NRA knife needs more grinding on first the coarse side and then the fine side before it is as sharp as I like a knife to be. 
  So, now I can take the oilstone back downstairs to the shop and deal with plane irons.  I have a home made jig to hold the plane iron at 32 degrees while I slide the stone back and forth.  Keep at it until the iron shows bright fresh metal all the way across.    Then lay the iron flat on its back and stone the back flat, and as a side effect, stone off the wire edge from sharpening the bevel.  Repeat with the fine side of the stone.  After this treatment, the plane will cut cross grain without tearout.
  Anyhow, we are all sharp now.   

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The American Dream still works

The Wall St Journal editors, speaking on Fox News yesterday brought up a cool US Treasury study.  Two economists, who work for the Treasury, did a ten year study of tax returns.  They found that filers in the lowest tax brackets, a full 70% of them moved up in income over the ten years.  A citizen born into the bottom of the economic ladder has a 70% chance of pulling himself up inside of ten years.  
   They also studied the "1%" that Obama has been bashing so heartily.  They found that 30% of the taxpayers in the 1% bracket, were no longer up there ten years later.   In short, the "1%"  are not guaranteed to stay there.  They have a 30% chance of slipping back down the income ladder. 
   Hmm.  70% odds of moving up from the bottom.  30% odds of slipping back from the top.  That sounds like opportunity ain't dead yet. 
   If Obama could stop screwing up the economy, so we could get some growth, things could get even better.

Would you let your son play football?

That was the topic on Meet the Press this morning. After the weekly Chris Christy bashing of course.  It went on, and on.  Some how in 10 minutes of talk, no one actually said what could be done to make the game safer and less concussion prone.  New equipment?  Rule changes?  Banning Astro Turf?   Nor did anyone show statistics on the dangers.  Is playing football really more dangerous than just driving to work?
   There were some vague references to "helmets" and "rule changes" but nothing specific.  For instance how well does a regulation football helmet stack up against a Snell approved motorcycle helmet?   What actions might be forbidden by rule?  Eye gouging?   Judo throws? 
   In ten minutes of blather, nobody said anything specific about changing the way the game is played.  Or anything specific about just how dangerous it really is. 
   As for me, my high school played soccer instead of football. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

You can never have enough clamps

Old woodworking cliche.  I've been building up my stock of clamps from yard sales, flea markets and the occasional special sale on the Internet.
I must be doing something right.  I'm making a wood case.  It's a two part case.  It took two pipe clamps, four C clamps and two F-style clamps (8 clamps total) to clamp the first part after I glued it.  Surprise.  I had enough clamps left  over to glue up and clamp the second part.  That's 16 clamps in all. 
I didn't own nearly that many clamps when I retired up here. 

Does anyone reach this blog from Google?

The few times I have tried Googling for something I posted about here, I get about a zillion hits but none of 'em are NewsNorthwoods posts.  Does anyone ever get here from a search engine?  Or are you just regular readers of my fine blog, enjoying my sparkling wit and eclectic subject choices?