Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wikileaks and leakers

Wikileaks has posted an incredible amount of classified reports from Afghanistan. This mass of stuff reveals names and home villages of interpreters, and much demoralizing information about Afghan allies which hurts the US cause and aids the Taliban. There have been loud calls to censor Wikileaks.
Actually we ought to focus on the leaker. Who is it that got their hands on 90,000 secret documents ? Did he have a clearance? How could any one individual have a need to know that many things. Did he/she take advantage of the gaping loopholes in Windows security to make his haul? Were the computers holding this mass of classified properly secured? Like no connection to the public internet, autorun disabled, Long and strong passwords changed every 60 days, virus protection up to date, removable media devices (CD, floppy, thumbdrive) removed.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Whither NASA?

Or, how to get men into space. NASA wanted to scrap the Space Shuttle and build a new booster and space capsule, kind of an enlarged Gemini system. Reason, the shuttle is expensive and dangerous and old. The new booster (Aries) was going to be able to loft as much weight as the Shuttle, about 24,000 kilograms or 24 metric tons. The NASA people were all kinds of enthusiastic about doing a new rocket design, and they pushed ahead as fast as possible and actually flew the first prototype before the Obama administration cut off the funding.
NASA should have simply bought either the Atlas V or the Delta IV boosters from SpaceX. These boosters have been launching communications satellites for years and have as much lift capacity as Aries or the Shuttle. NASA kept saying that Atlas and Delta were not "man rated" and thus unacceptable and dangerous. This was a smokescreen intended to let NASA have the fun of doing a new design, in house. "Man rating" is a paperwork exercise to document every single part that goes into the rocket on the idea that after doing a load of paperwork, the part wouldn't dare fail.
Now the Congress is getting into the act. Their plan is to keep the Shuttle flying and avoid laying off the 10,000 man Shuttle workforce. Which was the major reason for ending the shuttle program, all those bodies cost a lot of money. Senator Bill Nelson, D-FLa. is spearheading that effort.
Then, scenting a chance at a contract, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is proposing a pair of new booster designs, one using LOX and liquid hydrogen, the other using LOX and kerosene (jet fuel).
So what is really going down? Probably a struggle between the cost savers who want to reduce NASA to a tourist attraction at Cape Canaveral, and pork processors who want to keep the massive shuttle workforce on the payroll.

Chevy Aveo roadtest

So I selected "economy" as the renta car type, and sure enough, I get a Chevy Aveo sedan (not the hatchback). Drove it for a week. A singularly unimpressive little econobox. Not that there is anything truly wrong with it, it seats four grownups and has a trunk big enough to take four "fit-in-airline-overhead-rack" bags. The radio and the air conditioner work.
On the down side, the styling is somewhere between utilitarian and downright ugly. It's tall, and feels tippy on the highway. The engine is puny and loud. Gas mileage was 27 in mixed thruway city driving. My Caddy Deville used to get 27 on the highway, the old VW Beetle would do 30, and a Subaru will do 32. Seems a shame not to get world class gas mileage in return for giving up size and comfort. In daylight it is difficult to impossible to tell what gear it's in. After dark the tranny shifter is illuminated and you can see whether you are in R for reverse or D for Drive, but in daylight, forget it.
Upon return, my Mercury Grand Marquis felt so quiet and so comfortable after a week in the cramped and noisy Aveo.
Chevy is asking $12K base for this thing and $15K with options. For less money than that you can get a much nicer used car.

Monday, July 26, 2010

If you have time to spare, go by air....

Just returned from a flight to Seattle. The pleasure started at check in where the TSA is waging war on men's toiletries. They objected to toothpaste, aftershave, and shaving cream. Lethal they are. Bring down the whole plane with a can of Barbasol. And they still make you take off your shoes and Xray them.
Once on board, less those dangerous toiletries, we find the airlines have been studying up on cattle cars. Seat pitch is down to 27 inches. Load factor was up to 100% on all four legs of the trip. There was a time when the planes flew with 60% load factors. Not any more. And the middle seat is still crowded. And the seats are hard and lumpy, especially after flying across the continent. They don't serve food anymore, and they whine if you bring your own. United, once a major carrier, is now specializing in puddle jumpers rented from no name carriers and painted in United colors. And they don't fly non stop. Any trip requires a stop and a plane change and a wait in the middle of the country. And the airports are so big you have to ride a subway to get from gate to gate. I love schlepping my bags onto the subway. And the air[ort prices. Beer is $6 a glass. I can get a whole six pack for less at Mac's Market.
I'll drive for anything less than a clean across the country trip, just to avoid the hassle and the discomfort. And I don't travel less it's absolutely necessary any more. Travel used to be a leisure time activity, now it's just painful.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blogging may be light

I am flying out to Seattle tomorrow morning and won't be back until Monday. I may or may not have Internet access out on the left coast, so blogging may be light to non existent for this week.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

WWI, or how to wreck a civilization

Blurb for "The Lions of July" by William Janner. A "Guns of August" kind of history book.
"In the days before World War I all of the Princes of Europe, all its nobles, all its educated and cultural elites saw a storm on the horizon. A storm that could lay all they had built low. Yet not one of them, not one, could muster the strength or the courage to do anything other than what they had always done before and what had brought them all to the brink of disaster. "

Tom Clancy had a character express similar feelings in "Debt of Honor".

I don't buy it. WWI occurred because the Austrians wanted it to. Austria was a poly-national empire, full of unhappy subjects (like Serbs) who wanted out of the empire. The Austrians, who ran the place, wanted a nice brisk little war to show the imperial subjects that bad things would happen to them if they jumped ship. The Austrians feared breakup of the empire and loss of their privileged position unless they cracked the whip, hard.
What should have happened, is the Austrian's major ally, Germany, should have told the Austrians to cool it. Only Germany was run by an incompetent loser with a withered arm, who told the Austrians he was 1000% behind them. With that kind of support, the Austrians pushed and kept on pushing, and got their war. The other players tried to put a damper on things, but lacked the power to stop the German backed Austrians.
The terrible disaster could have been avoided with a little luck. If the German Kaiser had been a reasonable man, or, had Germany evolved it's government beyond one man rule WWI would not have happened. Germany was a brand new country, just got put together in 1870, so it was only 40 odd years old in 1914. They hadn't had the time to work out systems of government and checks and balances to prevent one highly placed turkey from driving their country over a cliff. Or, if the Germans had won the first Battle of the Marne, France would have sued for peace in the fall of 1914. Would have been rough on France, but the civilization wrecking war would not have happened.

An Attaboy for Stupid Beast

Or perhaps an attabeast. Stupid Beast is a city apartment raised cat suddenly transported to the wilds of northern NH. She started out flinching from everything, but soon the genetic hunting instincts came to the fore. She learned to catch field mice and the smaller and slower birds. She would trot proudly into the house, limp prey dangling from her mouth, and receive praise from her humans.
Soon her technique improved, and was able to catch the larger and speedier chipmunks. Unfortunately, the chipmunks could play dead to perfection. Several came back to life inside the house and led a Chinese fire drill until they dived under major appliances. Stupid Beast spent quite some time patrolling the washing machine and the refrigerator. Her humans stopped praising her, and in fact refused to let her in doors with hunting trophies.
Worse, Stupid Beast used to devour her kills. Unfortunately she ate them too fast, upset her digestion, and would barf on the rug. He humans began to ban her from the house for a half an hour or more after a kill and a chow down.
Stupid Beast's confidence has been crushed. Last night she caught a fine fat chipmunk and didn't even bring it onto the deck. She left the body on the side lawn. I discovered it while mowing the grass today. This negative response to hunting trophies by the humans has made her stop bringing trophies home at all.