Thursday, July 31, 2014

Read the Fine Print

The makers of heat 'n eats are beginning to abandon "conventional oven" and make their products microwave only.  I now read the fine (frosted) print before I buy a heat 'n eat after I brought home a couple that demanded microwave only.  I don't have a microwave, mostly 'cause I lack the counter space for one, so a microwave only heat 'n eat is useless to me. 
  Then there was the one that ordered me to remove the food from the plastic tray, put it on an oven proof plate of my own for cooking.  Which totally destroys one great benefit of heat 'n eats, no dishwashing after dinner.  I suppose the maker had been messing the the composition of the plastic tray and feared that his new concoction would not take the heat of the oven.  Way back, before microwaves, heat 'n eats came in aluminum trays.  After the microwaves came in, they shifted over to plastic trays to avoid blowing up the microwaves. 

Chinese Navy invited to join Pacific exercise.

The US Navy invited China to participate in "Rim of Pacific" (RimPac) naval exercise this month.  This is an international deal, with every Pacific country and some Atlantic countries to sending ships to play wargames.  The Chinese sent a pair of their latest and newest destroyers which impressed everybody with their phased array radars, vertical launch missiles, 100mm gun,  good paintwork, and sharp looking crews.  The Chinese were clearly showing off, they allowed tourists on board while they were in port, and they allowed an Aviation Week reporter to sail with them.  The westerners were duly impressed.  The phased array radars suggest that the Chinese have a ship borne SAM system as good as the US Aegis system.  Aegis is very good, and the Chinese might have matched it.  We cannot tell for sure with out looking at the missile hit rate from live firing trials, information which is top secret in any Navy. 
   Aviation Week was impressed by the 100 mm (4 inch) cannon carried by the Chinese.  The US Navy only carries a 76 mm (3 inch) gun.  I am not so impressed, WWII US destroyers carried a battery of six 5 inch guns.  Granted that modern warships rely upon their missiles to take out aircraft and surface vessels, there is a need for guns, for use against shore targets and to convince enemy merchantmen to heave to and be boarded.  You can't really use missiles against a recalcitrant merchie, a missile hit will sink him.  Where as the traditional shot across the bow, possibly followed with a few rounds to the bridge will get their attention every time.  Gun rounds are smaller than missiles and a ship can carry more of them. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr 2009

Somehow I missed this one when it was in theaters.  Netflix brought it to me last night.  Medium good.  Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes was somewhat eccentric.  Robert Downey's Sherlock Holmes carries eccentric over into "nutcase".   It gets so outrageous as to make even the faithful Watson lose patience with him.  Let alone the audience.   Sets and costumes are great.  We see Victorian London in it's full glory, horse drawn cabs, Thames river craft and London Bridge still under construction.  The plot is obscure. I never did understand what was going on. The final "drawing room scene" where Holmes reveals all, has Holmes explaining so many inexplicable happenings that I lost track. 
   Not a bad movie, but it could have been a lot better. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Missiling airliners

Aviation Week shows a photograph of a big piece of aircraft skin, well peppered with shrapnel holes, taken at the Ukrainian crash site.  Clear evidence of the detonation of a warhead close aboard.  The wreckage bears Malaysia Airlines red and blue stripe paint scheme. 
   Malaysia Air was not alone in the Ukrainian skies.   Air India flt 113 and Singapore Airlines Flt 351 were on the same air routes and only a few miles away when Flt 17 was struck by the SAM.  Malaysia Air was not the only target in the air that day, it was merely the unlucky one that got hit. 
   There does not appear to be any international organization to designate  dangerous airspace and warn airman away from it.  The closest approach to such an organization is the US FAA, which has designated pest holes like North Korea as no fly zones.  FAA has a good reputation for competence and non partisan ship and so most airlines around the world follow FAA recommendations, even though the foreign airlines are not bound to do so by law. 
   The SAM used for the shootdown bears the NATO designation of SA-11 Gadfly.  It's Russian makers call it BUK-M1, but the NATO designation is more widely known.  Each SA-11 launcher vehicle carries 4 to 6 missiles and the radar to aim them and can launch independently of central control.  The launchers do NOT carry Identification Friend or Foe (IFF)  equipment, a WWII technology still in use today.  IFF equipped aircraft return a coded message to ground radars.  All airliners on international routes carry IFF.  SA-11 launch vehicles are designed to plug into a central command trailer with the NATO designation of Snow Drift. The Snow Drift does have IFF equipment.  It is likely that the SA-11 launcher that hit the airliner was not plugged into a Snow Drift and thus did not have any IFF information available to its crew. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Want a Cease Fire? Stop launching rockets.

Bombarding the national territory, whether with tube artillery or rockets, is an act of war.  Has been since the invention of gunpowder.  When Hamas wants a cease fire, all they have to do is stop launching rockets into Israel.  Since Hamas is still launching, obviously they want the shooting to continue.  They figure they get favorable press treatment and generate sympathy in Europe and the UN.  And in fact, the world and the US press has been falling over themselves to give Hamas  good copy.  Even Fox.  Lots of video of bombs exploding in Gaza, ambulances hauling off Palestinian wounded, wounded children in Gaza hospital beds.  No video of Israeli buildings struck by rockets, firemen battling blazes in Tel Aviv, Jewish families mourning their dead. 
   As far as the Israeli's are concerned, long as the rockets are flying, they plan to keep hurting Hamas, by which they mean everyone in Gaza.  Hamas only exists because everyone in Gaza supports them.  Actually, the Israeli's have been quite restrained.  If the Israelis really wanted to kill Palestinians, a quick carpet bombing of a few Gaza apartment complexes would kill thousands.  Gaza is wall-to-wall people, they could hardly miss.
   Trouble with the Israeli strategy.  Their enemy is crazy.  Hamas wants to exterminate the Jews, no amount of talking to 'em is gonna change their minds about that.  Their schools teach hatred of Jews to their children. Their mosques teach the same. They think of themselves as martyrs, they want to be killed in action against Israel.  You cannot punish people like that enough to cow them or change their minds.  I figure Israel would have to kill off 50% of 'em to have much effect.  And the Israelis are too civilized to engage in that kind of genocide. Israel can make 'em smart some, but their scruples don't allow the outrageous amount of killing needed to have any real effect on Hamas.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

College Majors

Personally I didn't have a clue back when I was doing college.  I was lucky enough to be able to go back to college, after a hitch in the Air Force, and get a degree in electrical engineering, which served me well thruout my working career. 
  To choose your major wisely, you really have to know what you want to do after graduation.  Of course, if you are wondering about what to major in, you probably don't have a clue about your future career, again, I didn't at the time.
   In the usual case, when you don't really know what you want to do with your life,  you oughta keep your options open.  College majors fall into four catagories.  science sechnology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) , liberal arts , job training (business, education ,pre med, pre law, computer science) and nothing majors (gender studies, sociology, political science).  You don't want to rule out anything too early. 
   Which means you want to take calculus freshman year.  All the STEM majors are calculus based.  Without calculus the course material will be meaningless to you.  If you don't have calculus, the whole STEM field will be closed to you.  Smart planning doesn't close out a broad avenue of study for no good reason.
   Calculus isn't hard.  The concepts are totally new to students coming up from algebra and trig, and can be hard to accept.  They aren't hard to remember, but  they are aren't readily believable like two plus two equals four, something everyone accepts.  Some people simply cannot get their heads around calculus, no matter how hard they try.  A lot more people shy away from it 'cause "math is hard".  The forward looking student ought to try it, 'cause without out calculus, whole realms of learning are forever closed to them. 
  Calculus requires preparation in high school.  You need algebra, perhaps two years of algebra, and trigonometry.  A lot of calculus work uses trigonometric functions, equalities and transformations which you have to know.  Now a days, schools tend to label the trigonometry course "pre-calculus" but it is still trig.  A course in plain geometry is nice, but not essential.  If you don't get this stuff in high school, you will have to pick it up in college, before you can take calculus.  If you don't do calculus until sophomore year, you won't be able to take STEM courses until junior year.  Which is pretty late.  So start planning in high school and get your math courses in early. 
   If, by junior year, you decide to major in liberal arts or job training, go for it.  But you will have the option of STEM majors if you want them.  Which is a better place to be than wanting to do a STEM major but being locked out of it thru lack of calculus.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Electricity for homeowners

Just a few bits of wisdom picked up over the years.  Understand, electricity can be dangerous, can burn your house down, so if you have any doubts about a do it yourself project, you ought to call a pro. 
   Juice comes into the house from the street with three wires.  Two hot wires, color code black, and a neutral wire, color code white.  The two hot wires are 120 volts, alternating current (AC) which means the voltage goes up and down, current goes back, and forth 60 times a second.  The two hot wires are 180 degrees out of phase with each other, which means when one wire is plus, the other is negative, and vice versa.  Which means you have 220 volts measured from one hot wire to the other.  Things like electric stoves, electric car chargers, big power tools , central air, and the like  get 220 volt power.  It is customary to run a special branch circuit for each 220 volt appliance.  The familiar branch circuits are all 120 volts, which is obtained by using one hot (black) wire and one neutral wire.  The hot wires each measure 120 volts to the neutral wire. 
  Black to brass, white to chrome.  Old electricians proverb.  The screws on the sockets and light fixtures are alternately brass and chrome.  Wire black to brass and white to chrome and you won't get hot and neutral switched around. 
   Fuses, or circuit breakers are there to protect the wires, not the appliances plugged into the branch circuit.  Should a short circuit occur, massive amounts of current will flow in the wires, which are buried in your walls, and heat them red hot, setting the house on fire.  The fuse or circuit breaker will open the circuit and cut off the current before anything bad happens.  New houses use #12 wire for branch circuits which can handle 20 amps.  Older houses had lighter #14 branch circuits which called for a 15 amp fuse. 
  Never fuse the neutral.  Another old electricians proverb.  It's complicated, and I cannot explain it without several diagrams.  So just take it from me.  Don't fuse the neutral.
  Treat neutral as if it were hot, i.e. don't think it's safe to touch.  A whole bunch of common faults can make neutral become hot and shock the bejesus out of you. 
  Run a safety ground color code green on all new work.  Safety ground protects against shock should the appliance insulation fail and allow a hot wire to touch the case, making the case hot.  If the case is connected to safety ground, all sorts of current will flow, and the fuse will blow, removing power and making the case safe to touch.  Back at the fuse box, the green safety grounds want to be connected to a good earth ground, say a 4 foot iron pipe driven into moist dirt, or the cold water pipe coming in from the street, before the water meter. 
   Most electric codes call for the neutral to also go to earth ground.  This is worth checking out.  One of the houses I owned over the years came to me with the neutral ground clamp rusted clean off and dangling in midair. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Flight safety or political retailiation?

Ted Cruz accused the Obama administration of  forbidding US airlines to fly into Tel Aviv in order to pressure Israel over the Gaza strip.  He might have something there.  The flight ban was laid on after a Palestinian rocket hit within a mile of the airport.  Which is not nearly as dangerous to aircraft as a SAM. 
   Fortunately FAA dropped the flight ban to Tel Aviv after two days, which makes me think maybe they were really thinking about flight safety rather than retaliation. 
  That a responsible US Senator would make such a charge indicates a major loss of trust with the Obama Adminstration.

Heat, not light, "finds" the Lois Lerner emails

To find something, you can turn on the lights or turn up the heat.  In the case of Lerner's missing emails, heat seems to have been more effective than light.  Under extreme heat IRS has just admitted that maybe Lois' emails might be available after all. 
   In actual fact, the IRS excuses about crashed hard drives are BS, even though the newsies have fallen for them.  The emails all travel over the office local area network (LAN) and thru central email server computers.  Which are probably running Microsoft Exchange  Those servers can keep a complete record of every email ever sent, neatly sorted by sender, receivers and date.  In the IRS, which might need an old email to either prosecute tax payers or defend itself in court or in front of Congress, it is inconceivable not to have central archiving of email.  Any IT guy will tell you that you cannot depend upon users to kept decent (or any) records.  IT has to do the achieving centrally.  
   Keep the heat on.  Tell that smarmy new bald headed IRS chief to produce Lois' emails or go to jail for contempt of Congress. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Do they have the votes? Now?

Vast excitement on the TV news about the Obamacare court cases.  The DC circuit court held that the plain language of the Obamacare law is binding.  Even though the plain language, citizens in states without state run exchanges (most citizens) don't get government subsidy, seems wrong.  Probably is not what the Congresscritters intended.
  Later that day, another Federal circuit court held the other way.  All the TV newsies are talking about taking it to the Supremes and that will take a year.  All the talk is about resolving things in the courts.
   Little to no talk about having Congress fix it.  Congress could pass a law saying that section yadda-yadda of the Obamacare law is hereby amended to read as follows...."  Would only take a day or two.
  But, does anyone have the votes to pass something like that?  Would Narry Reid allow a vote on it? Polls show that by 55% to 45% the voters want Obamacare to go away.  They think Obamacare is causing Great Depression 2.0, jacking up medical costs, making jobs harder to get, and preventing them from going to the doctor and hospital that they have always gone to.  Clearly there is reason to worry that opening up an amendment to Obamacare might give its opponents a chance to kill it for good.
   So, right now,  the newsies (all in favor of Obamacare) are trying to steer the matter to the Supremes, where they think there is a better chance for it than in the Congress.
   Real believers in democracy, those newsies. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Flight Examiner SAM

At Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base (Thailand) one would see pilots wearing a shoulder patch with that logo.  That was 1968 and we were flying F105 fighter bombers up to Hanoi twice a day, every day.  SAM in those days was SA-2, a not very mobile system.  A SAM battery consisted of several launchers, a couple of radar trailers, some hootches and "stuff".  The Russians had provided the more up to date tracked vehicle mobile SA-6 to the Egyptians in time for the 1967 war with Israel, but the North Viet Nam comrades didn't have it yet. 
   SA-2 was the SAM designed to get U-2 photo recon flights operating above 70,000 feet.  This resulted in a big rocket, about the size and dimensions of a telephone pole.  It took the rocket motor quite some time to boost this heavy missile up to real speed.  At low altitude, the F105 could out fly SAM.  Pilots who survived this feat of airmanship got to wear the patch. 
Once SAM was at altitude, with much of his fuel burned off, he was deadly fast, cannon shell fast, too fast to dodge, almost too fast to see.  So the effect of SAM was to force us down, into the ground fire.  Instead of going in at 25,000 feet, well above any kind of ground fire, we had to fly at  5000 feet.  One pilot put it thusly  "Even the kids have slingshots." 
  SAM was a radar guided beast.  No heat seekers for him.  We carried electronic countermeasures pods to confuse Mr. SAM.  The early ones were straight noise jammers.  The later QRC 160 pods attempted to spoof SAM by picking up his radar pulses, amplifying them, messing with them, and squirting them back at SAM's radar.   A weakness in QRC-160 was the occasional pod that started talking to itself.  The receiver would pick up a bit of noise, it would amplify the noise and transmit it.  The transmit antenna wasn't far from the receive antenna (how far away can you be when the whole pod was only ten feet long?)  The receiver would pick up the transmissions, amplify them again, transmit them again, and within seconds the pod transmitters would be blasting a full power signal.  This worried the aircrew, who feared that the comrades could track them and launch at them.  So the talkative pods were sent to my ECM shop to shut them up.  There was nothing in the technical order about loud mouth pods, fix there fore.  So after a lot of trouble shooting and testing, we resorted to ordering some parts that we knew base supply didn't have.  After waiting about 30 days for parts, we were allowed to ship the talkative pods back to depot, which got them out of our hair. 
   The SAM that took out the airliner is a descendent of  SA-2.  About third or fourth generation.  SA-2 was followed by SA-6.  SA-6 managed to pack 3 missiles and the radar into a single tracked vehicle.  SA-11, the one suspected of airliner shooting,  carried six missiles and must have had a new electronics and radar suite, came after SA-6.  I have heard of an SA-17, but know little about it.  SA-2 fifty years ago would hit airliners at 33,000 feet, no sweat.  The later models must be just as effective. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Israeli Travelog, Bebi gets favorable TV coverage

Public television ran a nice "travel in Israel" piece on Sunday.  It had boating down the Jordan, views of Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall, Masada, and spectacular scenery.  For extra points, they had Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, acting as host.  Bebi knew the history and the archeology of all the places, told  interesting stories, and he came across as a well educated and thoughtful man.  In fact, I was impressed at how nice the TV coverage was for Bebi.  Dunno just who set up this TV deal, but it did Bebi a lot of good.  It was probably filmed before the current Gaze dustup, but it was nice coverage.  Good travel log too.

Some store brands work out, other's don't

Sears Roebuck had store brands Craftsman (tools) and Diehard (batteries).  They achieved fame and fortune.  Professional mechanics would use Craftsman wrenches, and Diehard commanded a premium price.  Then Sears had Kenmore appliances(respected but considered cheap) and J.C. Higgins (sporting goods)  considered a joke by sportsmen,  and Silvertone, (consumer electronics) considered cheap.  Heathkit had more class than Silvertone.   
   Branding is marketing pure and simple.  Somehow the Sears organization was able to market Craftsman and Diehard and failed to market J.C. Higgins and Silvertone.  With Craftsman, the unlimited guarantee had a lot to do with brand acceptance.  "You break it, bring it back and we will replace it, no questions asked."  added to a line of tools that was nearly impossible to break, and well finished was helpful.  Diehard prospered from some really effective TV ads, and a reputation for starting cars at 40 below.   I don't remember any effective marketing for the not so successful Sears house brands.
   Then of course, Sears gave up on house brand appliances back in the 1980's and started selling national brands.  Which put them in head to head competition with the discount houses like Lechmere Sales and Kmart.  Wanna bet Sears margin on house brand Kenmore was better than the margin on say RCA Whirlpool?
  Of course this is all ancient history, going back to when Sears was a power to be reckoned with, before Walmart swept all before it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cyber Security according to the Economist

The Economist ran a 10 page special suppliment on cyber security, mostly hand wringing about how little security we have.
   They have a point there.  Most computers run Windows and Windows is like swiss cheese, full of holes.  Any Windows computer on the internet can be hacked, from the net, and quickly.  Bill Gates has hung all our dirty laundry out to dry in the sunlight, where anyone can see it.
  For instance, those electronic medical records that Obama stuck us with.  They are all visible on the net to any competent hacker.  For instance, when you apply for a job, HR can access your medical records and put the kibosh on hiring you if they see you as a high cost patient on the company medical plan.  And there is nothing you can do about it,  your doctor puts your medical records on the computer whether you like it or not, and there you are, hung out to dry.  Note: Don't tell your doctor about suicidal feelings, mental problems, anything that might be used against you, either at trial or at a hiring decision.
  Things you can do.  Use good passwords.  Avoid passwords found in dictionaries, they have all been cracked.  Passwords like sunlight, tornado, U.S.Grant, hunter, rapids, bulldozer are all precracked.  Use long passwords, longer is better.  Use mixed case (some caps, some lower case) and digits.  For instance Torino69 is stronger than just plain torino.   ByTheRocketsRedGlare is stronger than usemgr.
   The experts will tell you to use different passwords for each thing (account) that you log into.  Good advice, but tough to follow.  No way can I remember and keep straight 20 odd passwords for the 20 odd accounts I own. I do use strong passwords and that's about it. 
  Avoid Windows.  Use Linux, or Mac or even MS-DOS.  By the way, there is a market opening here, for an OS as user friendly as Windows without Windows uncounted security holes. 
   Never click on an email attachment. Even on email from a well known friend.  The friend's machine may have been hacked, and the hackers  always take away the address book.  Attachments, ESPECIALLY .doc and .xls (Word and Excel files) can contain hostile code that infects your machine with all sorts of horrible stuff.
   Keep your machine off the internet as much as you can.  Powering down takes it off the net, and saves electricity.  Powering down at night might save you a nasty virus or invasion by a botnet.
  Run an antivirus program at least once a month. 
  Don't let anyone stick strange thumb drives in your machine.  They can contain virii or worse that will infect you machine within seconds of plugging the thumb drive into a USB port. 

Electric motor horsepower

Detroit marketers over many many years have sensitized us consumers to the merits of horsepower in a car engine.  More is better.  And for an internal combustion engine, horsepower can actually be measured, with real test equipment, although there are a few fudge factors in the measurement process, like with mufflers or just straight pipes. 
   Given the success horsepower has been selling cars, makers of all sorts of stuff now advertise their product's horsepower.  More is better.  And some fairly unbelievable results have been marketed, like the all plastic six horsepower shop vac. 
   Electric motors carry the wildest claims.  Electric motors will put out more and more mechanical power (shaft horsepower) as the load upon them is increased.  As the motor works harder, it draws more current, and the current heats the motor up.  Somewhere along the line, the motor will burst into flames.  As a practical matter, the amount of shaft horsepower you can extract from a motor depends upon how hot you dare run it. 
   It also depends upon how long you run it.  Motors have a lot of iron in them, and it takes real time for the electricity to warm up several pounds of cold iron.  For a load that only lasts a few seconds the motor won't heat up much.  This principle allows the electric starter in cars.  The starter motor only has to crank a few seconds until the engine starts. Then it can rest and cool off. 
   National Electric Manufacturers Association (NEMA) has a conservative system for rating electric motor horsepower.  The horsepower rating is for continuous duty, such as you get turning a fan, or a water pump.  For this you get a pretty beefy motor.  A NEMA quarter horse motor is the size of a five pound sack of potatoes and weights two or three times as much.  NEMA ratings are customary on stand alone electric motors. 
   For appliances with built in motors, blenders, vacuums, skil saws, and the like, the maker is under no compulsion to use the NEMA rating system.  The marketing guys demand the highest possible advertised horsepower, which is the power the motor can deliver in a very short burst.  This can be ten or twenty times the conservative NEMA rating.  This is how you get a six horsepower shop vac.  It's also kinda useless for us consumers when shopping for appliances.  In the shop vac case, the highest horsepower rating goes to the machine whose marketing department tells the biggest whoppers.  It doesn't go to the machine that sucks the best.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ukrainian Air Disaster

The shoot down of Malaysian Air Flt 17 in the Ukraine is a horrible tragedy with shocking loss of life. My sincerest sympathy to the families of the victims.
The airliner was at normal cruising altitude, 33,000 feet, call it six miles up.  No man pack rocket can reach that high.  By the time you pack that much fuel into a rocket, it is too heavy for a man to carry.  It had to be a bigger missile, probably vehicle mounted.   
   For a regulation SAM, 33,000 feet is easy.  The first Soviet SAM, SA-2 Guideline we called it, knocked down Frances Gary Powers at 70,000 feet over Sverdlovsk in the late 1950's.  We flew against SA-2 in Viet Nam.  The newsies have been calling the missile "sophisticated".  Not really, it's a capability SAM has had for 50 years.  In fact Obama just called them sophisticated on TV.
   The newsies have been speculating that the SAM is so complicated to operate that the Ukrainian "rebels" could not work it.  Not likely.  Plenty of guys were drafted in Russia and Ukraine and got trained on the missile during their hitch in the service.  They ought to be enough veterans with missile training  kicking around the Ukraine to operate a single launcher vehicle. From either side. 
   It could have been an accident.  Figuring out what little dots of light on a radar screen mean can be difficult to get right.  They may well have believed they were launching against a military cargo flight, but zapped the airliner instead.
   I'm dubious about equipping airliners with anti missile defenses.  It would be a windfall for BAE down in Nashua, but I dunno if it would do much good on airliners.  The systems we built in Nashua went on helicopters flying combat in Iraq.  The Common Missile Warning System was four TV cameras looking down and out to see the flash of a missile motor.  When they saw a missile heading for them, the system computer got on the aircraft intercom and cried "Missile! Missile! Missile!".  The pilot then took violent evasive action and launched a bunch of decoy flares.  This worked in helicopters, our shops all featured photographs of big choppers, with the whole crew standing in front of them, and hand written letters to the effect that our missile warning system saved their lives.  No so sure if the violent evasive action works when you are flying a Boeing 777. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Antique Laptop revived, XP lives

Couple a weeks ago, getting ready for a trip, I pulled antique laptop out of his carry bag and fired him up to charge his batteries and update his software.  You know how it is, leave the laptop on the shelf for a little while and every piece of software needs an update. 
   Arrgh.  he would not fire up.  LEDs blinked but the screen stayed dark.  So Antique Laptop stayed home and then sat out on the table for a couple of weeks 'til I got around to him today.  Antique goes back quite a ways.  I gave him to youngest son to go to high school with.  That was maybe ten years ago.  Youngest son is hard on his gear, and it shows.  Scratches, scraped off paint, ding marks.  Somewhere along the line, youngest son bought a hotter new laptop to make his games run faster.  Antique Laptop came back to me.  So I cleaned the games and craplets off the hard drive, zapped endless virii, applied my list of Windows fixes, and he ran pretty well.  Ran my C compiler, Office, and my CAD programs.  What's not to like?  And he runs XP, which is higher performance that the follow ons, Vista, 7, and 8.
   Thinking back over Antique's life, I remembered youngest son showing me an electronic module behind the screen bezel that had given trouble in the past.  Why not?  I  pulled two screws and popped the bezel loose.  The module was right there where I remembered.  So I unplugged it, blew some dust out of it, and plugged it back in.  Voila, screen lit up, XP booted, and happiness roams the land.  I don't have to learn Win 8, replace elderly software that won't run on 8.     Motto of the story.  The most likely failure in electronic stuff is connectors.  Over time air gets in, oxidizes the pins and sockets, and they stop conducting electricity.  Connecting and disconnecting often wipes the oxidation off, and it works again.  If it just stops working, take it apart, and put it back together.  You have a pretty good chance of fixing it.
   It's an HP Pavilion ZE4900.  Still looks pretty good.  In fact I bought him a new battery this winter. If you are looking at buying a used laptop, this one is durable. 

Aviation Week on the Ex-Im bank

According to Aviation Week, the Ex-Im bank makes a small profit each year.  Their loan default rate is 0.211%  (which is pretty good considering they are making loans to overseas borrowers who are usually immune to American courts)  So, Ex-Im  facilitates $30 billion a year in exports and costs the tax payer nothing.  What's not to like?
  And, all the other countries in the world operate their own versions of Ex-Im.  If we stop doing it, they will keep on with it.  And sales that might have come to American companies, and kept American workers employed will go to our overseas competitors. 
   As you might imagine, Aviation Week is something of an industry mouthpiece.  On the other hand, they are quite reliable when it comes to facts.  I've been reading them for 40 years and they are straighter than the mainstream media ever was. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ex-Im bank, part 2

Listening to the liberal Diane Rahms (sp?) show on NPR this morning.  Long talk about the Ex Im bank.  They chatted on and on.  Not once did anyone say how much running Ex-Im cost us taxpayers.  General agreement that Ex-Im helped US industry.  All the lefties on the panel decried Ex-Im because it helped companies, they feel companies should be burned to the ground rather than helped.  Trouble with that sentiment is that most of us make our living working for companies.  What's good for our company is good for us. 
   The real issue, as I said last week, is the cost to taxpayers.  If Ex-Im makes a profit, or doesn't use much taxpayer money, it's a good thing.  If it is swallowing billions of tax payer dollars it's a bad thing.
  One number did come out.  Ex-Im finances $30 billion worth of exports a year.  For that, I would fund Ex-Im with perhaps $30 million a year and call it a good deal for the country.  A thousand fold return on investment isn't bad business. 
  Does anybody know what Ex-Im really costs us to run?

So sue me.

Trouble is, they want to sue Obama over something that I (and many others) approve of, namely delaying the evil day of employer mandates.  Far as I am concerned, we ought to scrap employer mandates entirely.  Delaying them for a year or two isn't as good, but it isn't a bad thing.
   Obama's methods, pure executive orders, are not kosher, no doubt about it.  But, do we really want to bet the government on a matter of process?  What he did has broad support.  How he did it has broad disapproval.  But do we want to make a last ditch stand over methods (how he did it) rather than substance (what he did)? 
   Most of the unkosher things he has done amount to easing a little of the pain of Obamacare, implementing the Dream Act by executive order after Congress voted it down, sicking the IRS on the Tea Party, Fast & Furious, and Solyndra.  The first two have a lot of support.  The last three, not so much. 
   Thomas Sowell, writing in the Union Leader editorial page today, suggests that suing Obama (or impeaching him) will merely distract the easily distracted newsies from covering the Obama administration's real problems (Iraq, Israel, the economy, the deficit, unemployment, Ukraine, China, etc, etc).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Shepherd Smith never took chemistry

Good ole Shep is reporting on the kid that claims the nickel in his IPod/IPad causes his allergy.  Listening to Shep it is pretty clear that Shep doesn't know what nickel is, the difference between compounds and elements, or even what an element is. Pretty serious ignorance in a newsie.  Looks like he skated thru high school and college and never had a single course in chemistry.
  I like Shep, he is witty.  But you gotta watch out for a guy that is that ignorant.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ukraine tries to suppress separatist rebels.

Nice article in the Economist.  There is a photograph at the top of the article, showing a senior officer, in uniform, addressing his troops.  The senior (let's guess he is a colonel) is wearing nice new American style digital cammies, desert tan combat boots and no hat.  Which is against Anglo American military custom.  You are supposed to wear a hat out of doors, in uniform.  His troops are standing in line, at attention, and to a first glance seem well equipped.  Look a little harder, all except one man are wearing combat boots.  The man in the middle is wearing Adidas running shoes, with the white stripes.  Half the combat boots are the desert tan and the other half black leather.  The men in the front rank (except for one) are wearing hats, but every man is wearing a different hat.   The men all carry their rifles American style, clipped to web gear on their fronts, muzzle down.  Of the front rank of eight men, I see three different styles of rifle. 
   These guys might have a chance against separatist rebels, but I think Russian regular troops could eat them alive. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How secure is secure?

Next time someone says "We must secure the border", ask 'em what they mean.  You can't just say "Secure means  nobody gets thru."  That won't happen, there are always leaks.  Let talk real world. 
In the real world we can put up a standard, commercial chain link fence,  8-10 feet high, three strands of barbed wire on top.  For extra  security we can set it on concrete to make it harder to dig underneath. 
For such a fence to do much good, you have to patrol it, and pursue those who climb it or break it.  It will keep out horses, mules, motorcycles, and passenger cars.  With a truck, you can push it over, and the young and athletic can climb it. 
Next step up is a wall like the Berlin wall, or what the Israelis have put up to keep Arab terrorists out.  That will stop nearly anything.  Looks really ugly, but effective.
Then to be serious about it, you have to inspect all motor vehicles and rail cars as they cross the border.  Make drivers open their trunks, look inside trucks.  That will slow border traffic, a lot. 
   Ask 'em which option they want, and will pay for. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Collision Warning System for RAF fighters.

No electronic counter measures, no ejection seats,  but collision warning is seen as the needed safety improvement on RAF Tornado fighters.  The safety people (Military Aviation Authority) are bashing the Ministry of Defense for stalling the installation of collision warning systems on the aging Tornado fleet.  RAF kicked this off with a dreadful mid air collision between two Tornadoes in 2011.  Three of the four air crew were killed, the one survivor cannot remember the accident.  The accident occurred at 900 feet altitude over the Moray Firth. 
   Surprising statistic comes out.  RAF has lost 42 aircraft to mid air collisions between 1979 and 2001.  That's like two a year.  In six years in USAF I don't remember a single mid air collision.  We lost aircraft, landing accidents, enemy action, mechanical failure, head up and locked, and others.  I don't remember a single mid air collision story. 
   The collision warning system being pushed is a "co operative" system.  It only works if both aircraft have the equipment.  If the other guy doesn't have the gear, your warning system won't warn against him.  RAF is planning to equip all the Tornado fighters, even though they are scheduled for retirement in five years.  Which seems odd.  I would think a Tornado's chances of hitting a civilian aircraft as much higher than it's odds of hitting another RAF aircraft, on the thinking that there are more civilian aircraft in the air than jet fighters.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

So what is the real deal on Ex-Im bank?

Export Import bank was set up in the 1930's.  It provides low cost loans to finance American exports.  Boeing is the biggest user and Caterpillar is number two.  On the face of it, assisting US companies exporting stuff seems OK.  The companies employ people, more sales is good, and what's wrong with that?
   The un answered question is where does the Ex-Im money come from?  Is it just my tax money going to Boeing?  Or does the bank make enough on the loans to show a profit?  I have not seen anything in the media about just how well or how badly Ex-Im is doing.  At a guess, Ex-Im borrows money from the US treasury at the T-bill rate (very low, 3%) and loans it at close to the commercial rate (6%).  With a margin like that, they ought to make money, unless they make a bunch of loans that go bad.  Bad, means the borrower goes bankrupt and never pays off. 
   We need a public audit of Ex-Im to make an intelligent choice.  If Ex-Im makes enough to pay the staff and the rent, and doesn't get tax payer subsidies, and doesn't commit the taxpayer to paying off it's liabilities, and it makes export sales happen, it's OK.  Sales are a good thing.
   If Ex-Im looses money, gets subsidized by the taxpayer, and commits the US to bailing out the entire world, it's not OK.  Kill it.
   We need to know what's really happening, and we don't.  You cannot make good decisions unless you know the facts.  We don't know the facts.  Thanks newsies. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How long do T-shirts last?

Regular old white cotton guy's t-shirts,  Fruit of the Loom, from Walmart?  Answer.  10 years.  How do I know this?  When I retired in 2004 I  upgraded.  All my old dingy tattered T-shirts went to the rag bag,  and I restocked with Walmart's finest. 
   Now, 2014, I find that whole batch of T-shirts going to the rag bag.  They get thin and tired (the dryer blows a lot of fabric out of them).  And they develop holes.  Now  a few holes in places that don't show, don't bother me, but when the holes are right around the collar, and show to all the world, it's time for a replacement.  Walmart come thru again.
  The new T-shirts are a lot more white than the 10 year old ones. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Rhenium moves from Science Fiction to Aviation Week

Back in 1965 E.E. (Doc) Smith wrote "Subspace Explorers" a super science space opera.  In addition to much daring do and space warfare, it featured a super material with ten times the strength of good steel, made from the element rhenium.  As a holder of a PhD in chemistry, Smith knew rhenium was a scarce element, existing in little more than traces on earth.  He had his protagonists go prospecting in interstellar space and locate a far off planet rich in rhenium.
   That was then.  Now we have an article in Aviation Week reporting that the Chinese are placing orders for delivery of anywhere from 2 to 10 tons of rhenium a year, starting in 2016.  Rhenium (melting point 3182 C) improves the temperature resistance of nickel (melting point 1455 C) alloy jet engine turbine blades.  Five tons is estimated to be 10% of total world production. About 80% of rhenium production goes into jet engines, the rest makes catalysts for the chemical industry. 
   Rhenium is a byproduct of a byproduct.  Molybdenum is a byproduct of copper mining, and rhenium is found as an impurity in molybdenum.  The current price of rhenium ($3000 per kg)  is not far above the cost of the recovery process.  Increased demand could lead to vastly greater production, at a higher price, of course. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Kill the Federal Highway Trust Fund

The Highway Trust Fund was set up during the Eisenhower administration to build the Interstate highway system.  It did a good job, and by 1985 we had excellent highways running the length and breadth of the land.  The federal gasoline tax paid for all this. 
   Now that the Interstate system is built, the Highway Trust Fund is doled out to the state highway departments to maintain the Interstates.  And to do favors, like the favor Congress did for good old Tip O'Neill upon his retirement.  That favor was the Boston Big Dig,  which soaked up $14 billion, of other states tax money, to produce some very nice real estate in down town Boston.  It didn't improve traffic flow, but Boston (and only Boston) is much prettier now. 
  The Highway Trust fund is running dry now and the road contractors, highway departments, and the newsies are crying for more funding.  The Trust Fund administrator is threatening to reduce payments by August this year.  Horrors.  End of the world.  We MUST  pour more money down this rat hole.  Our senator, Jeanne Shaheen, is pressing for a federal gas tax hike to pump up the Highway Trust Fund, and to round out the state gas tax hike Maggie Hassan just blessed us with.  
  Better, would be to shut down the Highway Trust Fund altogether.  Lay off all the bureaucrats who run it. Cancel the Federal gasoline tax.  Let the states, who do the roadwork, pay for road maintanance out of state funds.  The states could even hike their gas taxes if needed.  With the Federal gas tax removed, the states could take a much bigger bite without raising the price of gas. 
   The money would be better managed if the states had to raise it them selves.  If you have to pay for it out of your own pocket, you only do essential projects.  If Uncle  Sam showers money on you, you go out and spend it quick, whether you need it or not.  If you don't spend all the free money, Uncle won't give any more next year.  Despite Obama's disbelief, the ARE shovel ready projects to soak up free money right now.  Up here we can always repave I93. 
   The Highway Trust Fund is just a batch of free money, getting poured down rat holes.  We ought to shut it off, for good.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Franconia, Old Home Day

We held Old Home Day on Saturday, the day after the 4th.  Good luck attended us, the 4th was wet and rainy, the 5th, Saturday started out overcast, the Sun broke thru in mid morning, and it was clear as a bell by evening.  I did the FCCC pancake breakfast, checked out the flea markets.  Then I formed up for the parade at noon with the rest of the up country Tea Party.  It was just right, about 70, dry and nice.  I'm getting old, it was only a little more than a mile, but it tired me out.  We had little kids, lots of politicians, veterans, fire trucks, brass bands, the works.  And we had fireworks in the evening down on Dow field.
I was going to attach some photos but they seem to have broken the photo uploader (again).

Try, try again.  Photo uploader appears to have recovered.  This is Russ Cumbee leading the Tea Party group in the parade. Parade goers line the main street.  Franconia only has 900 registered voters.  Must have been double or triple that number out watching the parade.
Lets press our luck with a second photo.  Sorry out of luck, the uploader broke again.  I'll give it rest and try again.
OK, uploader worked again.  This is Dow Field in Franconia, crowded with families and kids waiting for the town fireworks show to go on.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Two days, four lamp fixtures installed

Good thing I don't do this for a living.  I'd loose my shirt.  But the job is done, the living room is put back together. The lights all light.  Every time you throw the switch. 
    Why did it go so slow?  Well weather didn't help.  It was 90 both days.  I worked up enough sweat that I could smell myself.  And I'm getting old.  I took a couple of breaks each day.  Then that wall-to-wall carnivorous carpet didn't help. It ate up everything.   Every dropped tool disappeared and required a lengthy search. A #2 Phillips screwdriver rolled all the way under a book case.  I had to move the whole loaded 1000 lb bookcase to retrieve it.  Dropped screws disappeared  never to return. Good thing I had spares.
   The new fluorescent lamps look nice.  The burn a lot more white than the traditional "cool-white" tubes which actually were quite blue, lacked much red, and made red and brown things look awful.  And they strike immediately when you flip the switch.  They don't even have heaters at the ends.    
   I had the lights lighting by 3 PM, but I didn't have the curtains rehung, the defuser re installed, the crud vacuumed up, the cobwebs vacuumed out of corners, the furniture replaced and the floor lamps plugged back in until 5 PM. 
  At which point I mixed a tall gin and tonic and settled down to watch Fox News. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Is college worth it?

Depends.  Do you have any options?  The skilled trades pay as well as many college jobs.  Plumber, electrician, welder, machinist, mason, carpenter, heavy equipment operator, trucker, HVAC, railroad engineer, lineman, and others are well paid, and depression proof, you can always find work.  For guys who enjoy working with their hands, and who have an entry into the skilled trades, this can be a a good way to go.  You need to decide whether such a life would be satisfying to you.  Many guys like it, then a lot of guys really want to be white collar, which needs a college degree these days.  Know thyself.  
  Another option, enlist in the armed forces.  It's free, They will take you if you don't have a criminal record, aren't too fat, and don't do drugs.  The services offer good technical training and good experience.  Enlisting, even in wartime, isn't very dangerous.  During Viet Nam, the services lost more men to motor vehicle accidents than they did to enemy action.  After a hitch in the service, you will do MUCH better in college, should you decide to go that way, and they probably still have GI benefits to help pay for college.  They did when I got back from Viet Nam, and I suspect they still do.  You want to check this out before enlisting.  Also, remember that recruiting sergeants will tell you anything you want to hear.  Double check on their promises.  Internet is good for this.   One other thought, if you aren't sure what you want to do in your life, you will be a lot more sure after your hitch.  A final thought, the services are fun.  I enjoyed my tour of duty.
   When you go to college, you ought to have an idea of what you want to do after graduation.  And take courses that will make you employable.  Colleges offer a lot of totally worthless courses that just eat up your time and money.
   And, if you go to college, you gotta graduate.  If you flunk out, you have spent the money and have nothing to show for it.  If you like your major, and enjoy reading and writing, and you did well in high school, it isn't hard to keep it together for four years and graduate.  If reading bores you, and writing comes hard to you, and you just scraped by high school with a C average,  you may not make it thru college.  And you still have to pay off your college loans even if you don't graduate.   

To evaluate the Iraqi military

A TV pundit just said that.  The mission of the 300-500 Americans Obama rushed back into Iraqi last week is to evaluate the Iraqi military.  You mean after training the Iraqis for years, funding them, supplying weapons, and leaving 5000 cookie pushers in the US embassy in Baghdad we don't have a fair idea of what the Iraqi military is worth?  ??   Especially after some 30,000 Iraqi troops allowed 1000 ISIS terrorists to take Mosul away from them?  Same pundit goes on to say evaluation is  is done by data analysis. 
   No way.  To evaluate a combat unit, you inspect it.  An experienced sergeant can tell in short order whether a unit will fight effectively, or not. 
   So much for our knowledgeable media.  This pundit doesn't know squat

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Let there be light, again.

  Last week I flipped on the living room fluorescent lights.  The lights instead of lighting, did their end-of-life thing, blinking and glowing and refusing to light up.  So I went down to Franconia Hardware to buy new tubes.  The existing tubes were showing black burn marks on their ends.  Awfulness.  Mike Ford down at Franconia told me they had stopped making real fluorescent tubes three years ago.  Some how I missed that bit of lefty-greenie aggression.  I'd heard about the war on 100 watt light bulbs, but some how I missed the war on  40 watt fluorescent tubes.  The new tubes are only 32 watts, a fantastic saving of eight whole watts per tube, but they don't work in the regular fixtures. 
  So I went out to a real electrical supply house to buy four new dependable new style fixtures.  $32 a fixture, less tubes.  He only had 3 fixtures, when I needed four, but he promised to deliver up to my place the next day. Not too shabby.  
  So next day, I started in replacing four fixtures.  It was a fine summer day, in the 90's. Good daylight  so I could see what I was doing.  I'm old school, I still use a Yankee screwdriver instead of those cute battery drill-drivers. Got the first two old fixtures down, got the new ones up.  What with one thing or another, it was 3:30 when I was done.  Decided to leave the other two fixtures for  tomorrow. 
   The new lights are nice and bright, and whiter than the old "cool white" tubes.
   By tomorrow evening the whole job ought to be done.  

Is paying for RU 485 the end of the world?

Lots and lots of talk about the Hobby Lobby case.  Lots of outrage.  But all the case says is that small family owned businesses whose owners object to four (out of twenty) contraception drugs as abortion drugs don't have to pay for them on the company health plan.  Employees can pay for them out of pocket, or, find another company to work for. 
  Is this that big a deal?  What does everyone think?  The TV newsies are really talking this one up. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Congress rating drops to 7%. Gallup Poll

That's pretty bad.  That's rewrite the Constitution bad.  The war drums are sounding in the hills.  Have you heard the Convention of States talk?  That's a call to a second Constitutional Convention, to rewrite the Constitution. Congress needs to do something before it gets rewritten out of existence.
A lot of this ire comes from voters who don't get their bills passed, or who see bills they dislike passed (Obamacare for example). 
If Congress wants to survive, it needs to connect with the voters.  The leadership needs to have some full time flacks to get the word out.  We voters want to know what was in the bill, and why the party supposed it or opposed it.  We want to know when a bill is killed by arbitrary action, by Harry Reid or who ever.   I heard some House member say the House had passed seven bills to revive the economy and the Senate had trash canned them all.  Sounds good, but that's the first time I ever heard that, and the Congressmen didn't  list the bills in question. 
   The newsies don't cover this.  Most of them don't understand much, few of them will do the hard work of research, it's easier to just pontificate.  And their editors would prefer to run "lifestyle" stories.  Even the Wall St Journal is pushing a slick paper insert that is mostly about selling fancy clothes and houses.  Like I care where to buy $400 a pair shoes. 
  But a good Republican or Democratic flack could  explain  his party's angle on each bill, make it interesting, and circulate it around the blogosphere, to the few print publications that still do real news, to Matt Drudge, to Glenn Reynolds, and even to the newspapers, even though newspapers are pretty much a lost cause these days. 
   We voters might think better of Congress if we knew what was going on. 

We need some scalps

Great Depression 2.0 started six years ago.  I know there was some malfeasance, skullduggery, and just plain stupidity in the big banks.  That crashed the world economy and threw millions out of work. But nobody has gone on trial let alone gone to jail. 
The IRS scandal.  Lois Lerner got retired, she keeps her pension.  Nobody else has been prosecuted or gone to jail.
The VA scandal.  The head of VA retired.  Nobody else has even got their name in the papers, let alone prosecuted or jailed. 
   I say Obama is going easy on this slime.  The banks, the IRS and the VA would work a lot better after jailing their top three levels of management.
   Even GM canned 8 people over the ignition switch disaster.  Are we saying that GM is more hard core than DOJ?