Friday, December 31, 2010

So how to end Great Depression 2.0? Pt 4

Spend less on health care. The United States spends 19% of GNP on health care. That's twice what every other country on the globe spends. We cannot afford to divert that much money from economic development. Every dollar spent on health care could have built new factories, new products, schools, roads, bridges, airports, and contributed to real economic growth.
Every US made product costs 19% more just to pay the worker's health care. Our international competitors pay half that.
Much of the health care money goes to trial lawyers, over priced drugs, expensive procedures of limited benefit, insurance company bean counters and other undesirables.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

So how to end Great Depression 2.0? Pt 3

Drill baby Drill. Economies run on energy. Right now the US sends better than $1 trillion dollars abroad for oil every year. Much of the money goes to countries that don't like us very much. For instance Saudi money pays for madrassahs in Pakistan that turn out Al Quada and Taliban fighters.
The Pacific coast has huge oil reserves that have been untouched since the Santa Barbara blowout in the 1960's. The Atlantic coast hasn't even been surveyed. There is a huge field in Alaska that got designated "Alaska National Wild Life Refuge" and closed to oil drilling. We have vast tar sand reserves in Colorado. We have gigantic newly discovered domestic natural gas fields.
Developing these reserves would put a lot of people back to work. The oceans of money we send overseas would be better spent employing our own citizens to develop our own resources.
Right now an aggressive US Green movement is doing all it can to block energy development of all kinds. They point to the BP spill and claim that possible environmental damage is too great a price to pay.
I beg to differ. We have 10% of the population out of work. That's 30 million people. Being out of work is really miserable for the workers, the spouses and the children. Getting laid off is about the worst thing that can happen to a worker.
I'm willing to accept a BP sized spill every ten years or so in order to put 30 million hard pressed citizens back to work.
The oil industry is going to be super careful after the BP spill. That spill cost BP everything the company will earn over the next ten years. We have a herd of tort lawyers currently harrassing doctors. They could be retrained to sue oil companies over every spilled bucket of fuel or lube. That will learn 'em.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

So how to end Great Depression 2.0? Pt 2

Gotta get the housing market running again. The banks, egged on by Fannie and Freddie, have completely screwed up the housing market to the point where no one is building new houses, no one can sell their old houses, no one can sell their new houses, and zillions of people (and their lenders) are taking a bath when they cannot pay their mortgages. Construction workers, and building tradesmen are out of work, building supply firms cannot sell their products, and appliance makers cannot sell appliances. This is a big slice of the economy, and it's flat on its back. Banks and the investors have lost so much money on home mortgages that they aren't lending to anyone.
The key to housing is credit. Nobody has enough cash to buy a house, they have to get a mortgage. The market is a disaster today because lenders gave credit to people who could not afford the house. These people are defaulting on mortgages they never should have signed. Each defaulted mortgage means another house put on the market at firesale prices, driving down the price of houses. For the average Joe, whose savings are mostly in his house, each price drop comes right out of his hide. Price drops in housing hurt more than a drop of the Dow Jones.
To tame this monster, we gotta have rules limiting mortgages to those who have the income to pay them off. To insure the rules are enforced, lenders who break the rules need to loose their money.
Right now, that doesn't happen. The mortgage market has Fannie and Freddie, who buy shaky mortgages from lenders. If the lender can sell the mortgage before the borrower stops paying on it, he is home free. And that is the major cause of Great Depression 2.0. We need to shut down Fannie and Freddie, cause they encourage disasterous loans, loans that hurt the borrower and hurt the housing market as a whole.

Monday, December 27, 2010

So how to end Great Depression 2.0?

We have a new republican house coming in a few days. We have a democratic party sufficiently scared by the 2010 election to listen to a little reason. We ought to be able to do something.
Firstly the economy is suffering from a want of demand. People just are not buying anything that they don't have to. Cars, appliances, new clothes, home repairs, lawncare, books, and a lotta other stuff doesn't have to be bought now, it can be postponed. And that's what everyone is doing, postponing the purchases of everything and anything they can. So the makers of everything and anything are cutting back production, laying people off, and sitting on their available cash, waiting for better times.
How to stimulate demand? Simple, introduce new products that people are willing to spend on. In the past, automobiles, radios, refrigerators, television, vacuum cleaners, stereos, chainsaws, power mowers, cell phones , and PC's were irresistible products that people bought, 'cause they needed them or 'cause they were cool. This has slowed in recent years. About the only guy still doing new products is Steve Jobs at Apple.
We need to get more new products going. First step would be to straighten out the Patent Office mess. Today's Patent Office grants patents on totally obvious stuff, grants patents on stuff that has been common knowledge for decades. Result, invent something that makes money and get sued. Doesn't matter much what it is, some patent troll will sue you. The Blackberry makers got ripped off for $600 million by a patent troll who had a couple of patents on totally obvious ideas.
Large companies have lawyers, and stock of their own patents, and defend them selves by countersuing. Small startups without deep pockets cannot afford these suits.
Net result, we have a patent system that discourages innovation and new product development. Not what we need to get out of Great Depression 2.0
A cleaned up patent office would go back to where it was in the 1970's. No patents on computer programs, business methods, and intangibles like file formats and communications protocols. A good patent office would put the entire backlog of patents onto a computer searchable data base on the internet for all to see. It would conduct a serious search for prior art before granting a patent, and it would solicit industry responses to all new patent claims. New patents should be only granted for things are are truly new, and advance the state of the art. Allowing patents on one click selection on a website (which is done today) merely give welfare to lawyers.

Snow Bonanza

Just went out and stuck a yardstick into the snow on the porch. 29 inches. Skiing at Cannon will be fantastic. Think about taking a day off from work and coming up skiing.
Its still falling. Weather guy thinks it might snow all day.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Words of the Weasel Pt 17

Bi-partisan (or Bipartisanship). Now that Republicans have gained control of the US house of representatives, the media has been overflowing with pitches in favor of "bipartisanship". Doesn't matter what the issue is, the right thing is the bipartisan thing.
Actually, coming from the mouths of politicians, "bipartisanship" means "vote my way".
This is not a good thing. Politicians should vote their district, or if the district doesn't care about the issue, vote in the best interests of the United States. They shouldn't vote for the other side just to be nice or bipartisan.
Laws should not be passed unless a solid majority of the voters favor them. If the country is evenly split on an issue, then we shouldn't legislate on that issue.
No politician should vote for something he or his district doesn't favor just to be "bipartisan".

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Save your Dixie cups, the south will rise again

Actually, save your old Verizon phone books, 'cause the new Fairpoint phone books don't have a lot of stuff they oughta have. Like PSNH, the electric company, isn't in the Fairpoint book. When the lights go out, that's a number you need. And the Littleton Wal-Mart isn't in the Fairpoint book.
Of course Fairpoint is in, or going into bankruptcy, so they don't have money for little things like phone books.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Smart Phones fink on their owners

According to the Wall St Journal, some popular smart phone applications, (apps) transmit the owner's location, contact information, and website choices to advertising companies. In short, buying the app makes the owner vulnerable to tracking, stalking, spamming, identity theft and undercover photography.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Narnia, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Went to see it in Lincoln this afternoon. Things are a little slow today, and we had the entire theater to ourselves. The movie is OK, but not great, just barely drawing even with the first Narnia movie. The ship Dawn Treader is wonderful, looks totally real and has the neatest cabins and decks and lookout spots. The story is down to Edmund (Skandar Kaynes) and Lucy (Georgie Read). Peter and Susan are too grownup to return to Narnia this time. Acting is quite passable. Costumes are very good, especially Lucy's. If you are a Narnia fan, you need to see it. If not, it's a decent fantasy movie, as good as the last Harry Potter.

Monday, December 20, 2010

DADT vs Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)

The UCMJ was adopted in the early 1950's and it defines gay and lesbian as "sodomy" and a court martial offense. The UCMJ is the working criminal law for all the armed services. It's an act of congress, and the executive branch cannot change it. The Clinton era Don't Ask Don't Tell did NOT change the UCMJ. Clinton figured he didn't have the votes to do that.
Don't ask Don't Tell told commanders not to snoop and gay and lesbian troops to keep it quiet. But it was still "sodomy" and a court martial offence.
Amid all the hoopla surrounding this week end's revision, I still haven't heard if Congress actually revised the UCMJ this time, throwing out the articles on sodomy. Your news media at work...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Defeat of 2000 pages of Omnibus Spending

And a good thing too. It killed $8 billion or more of pork. Compared to the $1.3 trillion in the whole package, the pork isn't all that bad, but killing it is a good thing. We also killed funding for Obamacare, another good thing. The Senate ought to approve the House "continuing resolution" today. A continuing resolution is less damaging, it says in effect "You agencies can continue operating using last years budget." This means no spending increases, a good thing. The 2000 pages of "omnibus spending" undoubtedly had all sorts of spending increases buried deep inside.
Even better, some pet Congressional spending projects like the extra engine for the F35 jet fighter may die. Or at least give in incoming Republican Congress another chance to kill them.
The other good reason for killing the omnibus spending bill was nobody really knows what is hidden in the 2000 pages. I'm sure the staffers who wrote it tucked in all sorts of things that I might not approve of.
We should never allow omnibus spending bills. We should pass one appropriation bill for each agency (Defensive, Homeland Security, Agriculture, etc). Then resulting appropriation bills will be smaller, and people have a fighting chance of reading them, understanding them and critiquing them. There are plenty of people who know the ins and out of a single government agency. Nobody knows the ins and outs of the entire US government. When you take the appropriations for the whole government, mix them together at random, omit a table of contents, and make it 2000 pages long, nobody can figure out what it means. I think such bills should be voted down just cause they empower bureaucrats to do anything they want to.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Does the Iphone add to the trade deficit?

Apple's blockbuster Iphone is made in China. Last year Apple imported $1.9 billion worth of Iphones from China. Making the US-China trade deficit worse by $1.9 billion.
But, the Chinese merely assembly the I-phones. They have to import all the parts. Of the $178.96 wholesale cost of the Iphone, China only gets 3.5% or $6.50 a phone. 6% of the cost comes from US made parts, nearly twice the value add of China. The big hitters are Japan (34%) Germany (17%) and South Korea (13%)
But the Commerce Dept just credits the full price of the Iphones to China, since that's where they come from. Nobody has the time or expertise to do a manufacturing cost breakdown of every imported manufactured product.
From a standpoint of computing the US trade deficit it probably doesn't matter. Whether you charge the Iphones all to China, of split it up by national content, it's still an import. To us, it doesn't matter all that much who the trade deficit is with, it matters that we have such a deficit.
To the Chinese it matters a good deal. The Americans are pressuring China to revalue their currency upward to reduce their trade deficit. If the Iphone costs were partly laid upon Japan, Germany and South Korea, it would help the Chinese resist American pressure.
The most interesting thing is the narrow slice of value add given to China. For that little work, I'm surprised Apple makes them in China. Better to make them at home, under Apple Corp control. It's easier to keep the quality up in your own factory. And, you keep your technology to yourself, rather than sharing it with a potential competitor.

Republicans, the party of the working man

I did a lot of door to door campaigning as a Republican candidate this fall. It got so I could make a pretty good guess about the political sentiments just by looking at the house as I walked up to knock on the door.
Manicured green lawn, a BWM or Prius in the driveway, carefully maintained house, figure a Democrat. Shaggy lawn, with a few weeds and some kids toys, a pickup truck, some do-it-yourself home repairs in progress, figure a Republican.
I did better in Bethlehem, which has a lot of residents who work for a living, than I did in Franconia, which has a lot of wealthy retired folk.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter's back

I got 8 inches of new snow on the porch, and it's still floating down. It's 18 degrees F (seasonable) and the sun is trying to break thru the clouds.

Tom Clancy, Dead or Alive

Clancy's latest book is out, in hardback. As a long time Tom Clancy fan, I splurged on the $28.95 hardback. It isn't as good as the previous Clancy thrillers. It's set in the "future" after Clancy's last book "Tail of the Tiger". It has a dozen protagonists and villains and the narration jumps from one to another every couple of pages. There is a "co author" and the book reads like Clancy did the outline and the co author did all the writing. Sort of like the "Op Center" books.
Proof reading must have been done by Word for Windows. It allowed "site" to pass where "sight" should have been used, "Y-turn" for "U-turn", and other oddities.
Wait for the paperback, or wait for your library to get it.

Tax Freeze has the votes in the Senate

The great tax deal of 2010 seems to be moving forward. This is the "no income tax hikes for anyone, 35% estate tax" deal that has enraged the left. There was plenty of talk about how holding taxes steady would cost $zillion in tax revenue. But to be real about it, a tax hike during Great Depression 2.0 will make the depression deeper. Holding taxes steady might make the economy perk up. And the estate tax (death tax) is a killer of small business. When the small business owner dies, the small business is required to cough up incredible amounts of cash, which it does not have. So the business is liquidated to pay the estate tax.
What has not been discussed on TV is the pork attached to the bill. Ethanol tax credits, money for windmills, and extension of 50 strange tax loopholes. Essentially Obama got many of his pet spending projects, in return to agreeing to not hike taxes on anyone. I can only hope that the cost of Obama's earmarks isn't too bad. I have never seen anyone in the news business, not even Fox, comment on the cost of Obama's goodies.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Aviation Week tribute to the Space Shuttle

No discussion of the Shuttle program is complete without mentioning the two horrible accidents, and the loss of all on board. Aviation Week feels that both accidents were caused by NASA corporate culture, a culture of "press on regardless" controlled by inexperienced and poorly educated suits.
The first accident to Challenger, where the solid rocket boosters leaked flame onto the external hydrogen tank, causing an explosion 73 seconds after liftoff, was clearly a management failure. Morton Thiokol, the maker of the solid rocket boosters, called the cape the night before the launch and expressed concerns about the low temperature. The Thiokol engineers feared that the silicone gaskets that sealed the solid booster joints would stiffen in the cold and fail to seal against combustion pressure. The Thiokol engineers had it exactly right, that's what happened and the leak of white hot flame from the booster exploded the shuttle and killed the entire crew.
NASA management, rather than postponing the launch, demanded Thiokol put their fears in writing. When the Thiokol suits demurred, NASA pressed on with the launch.
This was incredible to me. In USAF, had we received a telephone call from our engine maker expressing concern about the J75's powering our fighters, we would have believed them. We knew those engines had problems, we were used to company tech reps making light of deficiencies. Should Pratt & Whitney have volunteered information about problems, all hands, from crew chief up to wing commander would have taken it VERY seriously.
NASA management seems to be all political appointees, paper pushers with no practical experience. That can be a killer.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

RGGI rides again.

According to this, money raised by the RGGI tax on electricity, which was supposed to go for virtuous greenie things, is being diverted to paying the bills.
New Hampshire's budget is opaque, but last year there was $50 million budgeted for "Greenhouse Gas Abatement". Whether it actually got spent or not is unknown, at least to me. That's a lot of money. That's 10% of this coming year's budget deficit ($600 million estimated).
The "Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative", a joint deal involving the New England states and New York, was going to tax electric companies and earmark the revenue for "Greenhouse Gas Abatement" what ever that might mean. Which is one of the reasons we pay the highest electric bills in the nation. We get hit with 20 cents per kilowatt hour which adds up to $100 a month just to keep the lights on in a small house.
We would do better to drop the RGGI tax, drop the "Greenhouse Gas Abatement" and recover the New Hampshire Advantage.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Double Brrr

It was only 6 degrees F this morning. Coldest its been all winter.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

English Muffins toast in 6 minutes, used to take 7

Trivia moment. I like my English muffins buttered and then toasted under the broiler. They come out crispier that way, than running them thru the toaster.
Several years experience showed that the muffins came out golden brown if I set the kitchen timer to exactly 7 minutes.
Last couple of days, golden brown has become dark brown with blackened edges. I've backed off to 6 minutes on the kitchen timer to recover the golden brown.
Same oven, same timer, same kitchen, same broiler. Could it be that PSNH has jacked up the voltage coming into the house? I never measured my line voltage so I'd never know if I measured it now. Line voltage anywhere between 110 and 130 is legitimate these days, and stuff that cares about line voltage has electronic regulation built into the product.
Plain old electric ranges don't care. They do run a little hotter if the line voltage is higher, but except for toasting muffins, it doesn't matter.

Nanny state gets into the real nanny business

"They" want to pass a federal law to require "safer" child car seats. "Safer" means rearward facing car seats are mandatory for children up to age FIVE. Speaking as a veteran parent, kids are gonna hate that one. Kids don't mind riding in car seats much, 'cause the seat boosts them up so they can see out the windows. Rear facing seats would retrict the kid's view to the back seat upholstery.
While "they" were at it, "they" want to require infants travel in car seats on airlines. Which would require parents to buy a ticket for infants. Right now, infants under two can travel for free sitting in a parent's lap. Many parents, including yours truly, decide that enduring transcontinental squirming is worth the savings.


It was 12 degrees F outside this morning, and the weather folk on the radio are predicting colder for tomorrow. Furnace is working just fine, forty year old Andersen thermopane windows are still tight. An inch of snow fell last night, and the town plow went by at 6 AM to clear it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Zap Zing Pow. Obama takes a hit, on TV

The federal tax dustup is in full view on national TV. Obama is mad, and it shows on TV. He wanted to hike taxes on the upper middle class ($250K). He didn't have the votes to make that happen. He doesn't want to impose a tax hike on the entire country, that would leave us stuck deeper in Great Depression 2.0, and everyone would blame him for that disaster. The Republicans said the only income tax they would accept is no tax hikes for anyone. And they have the votes to make that stick.
So Obama cut a deal, no tax hikes for anyone (good idea) in return for more unemployment payments (mediocre idea). Plus some other tax breaks that I don't fully understand yet, and 35% estate tax with a bigger exemption. The Republicans signed on. The Democrats are furious, they think Obama got rolled.
Obama clearly is mad at everyone. He called the Republicans "hostage takers" which is sorta dumb. After you cut a deal with someone, you don't call them names. He then proceeded to lecture his democrats on the virtues of compromise, which came across as patronizing.
Politics as a blood sport. Can be fun to watch on TV.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Estate Taxes (death taxes)

Large estates are mostly family businesses, farms, gas stations, retail stores, truck stops, dry cleaners, restaurants, homebuilders, and dealerships. The deceased's estate is pretty much the business. He may have a few thou in the checking account, a decent house and a nice car, but most of the estate is the business.
So, lets look at things from the standpoint of the business. It's been humming along, employing people, making a profit, getting by. It hasn't been growing 10% a year, its cash flow is on the tight side, but as long as the owner stays alive, it will continue being an asset to the community.
Then something bad happens and the owner dies. The business is willed to the heirs, and all of a sudden, it/they (business/heirs) is/are liable for humongous amounts of estate tax. The heirs don't have that sort of money. Neither does the business. In many cases the business is liquidated to pay the estate taxes, the employees are laid off, and the community looses a local business.
In short, the estate tax, death tax, is a killer of small businesses. Those of us who have operated small businesses know how difficult it can be to keep the doors open. That's tough. Even tougher is starting a business up from scratch. So the liquidated businesses don't grow back. When the estate tax forces them to liquidate, they stay liquidated, and the community looses the employment, the services, the taxes, and the civic support that local businesses provide.
In short, the estate tax anti small business. The really fat fat cats, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have foundations and pricey lawyers to keep their fortunes out of the clutches of the government. The estate tax doesn't hit the rich, it hits small business. Estate tax demands that small businesses cough up incredible amounts of money every generation and few small businesses have that sort of money.

Skip the "Dream Act". Grant US citizenship to vets

Anyone who has borne arms the the defense of the United States of America is entitled to US citizenship. I say anyone with an honorable discharge from the armed forces should be granted US citizenship, 'cause you cannot find better citizens anywhere. That "Dream Act" they are talking about sounds kinda complicated, rules about how old the kid was when his parents brought him into the country, how old he is upon discharge. And give credit for going to college, which isn't the same as serving in the military. I say just grant citizenship to all honorable discharged veterans and we will gain a lot of valuable and loyal citizens.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Let it Snow, Let it Snow

I have 8 inches on the porch and it's still coming down. Ever faithful town of Franconia plowed at 6:30 this morning and again at 11. It's light dry and fluffy, perfect for sking. Cannon will be in good shape for this coming weekend.

School Lunches

Somehow I survived public school on brown bag lunches packed by dear old mom. My children got by on brown bag lunches packed by yours truly. Two generations of my family did fine with out a school lunch program.
So, in its infinite wisdom, in a time of austerity, the Congress decided to blow an extra $4 billion dollars on the federal school lunch program, after the $12 billion already spent this year. To add insult to injury, the bill bans school bake sales, because the brownies contribute to childhood obesity. Congress has been unable to pass any appropriation bills, but it has time to blow $4 billion on school lunches. Or is it really $4 billion handout to agricultural interests?
Now with deficits in the trillions, a measley $4 billion isn't all that much. But we gotta start somewhere. Who was it that said "A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you're talking about real money"?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Rolls Royce engine failure, followup

Aviation Week believes the catastrophic in flight engine failure suffered by the Trent 900 engine was caused by an oil leak. The engine oil leaked from a piece of tubing, pooled in the bottom of the the engine casing and caught fire. This is back in the hot section of the engine, there is plenty of heat to ignite darn near anything. The oil pipe leaks are attributed to welding flaws at the factory. The extra heat of the oil fire caused the intermediate turbine to run too hot and fail. Jet engine turbines always operate as hot as engineering dares, the hotter, the better the fuel economy. It wouldn't take much additional heat to push the turbine over the temp limits.
If true, this is good news for Rolls. They merely have to inspect all the engines for oil leaks, and replace some engine piping. The basic design of the engine appears to be OK, it just had a weak part installed. Change out those parts and problem is fixed. There should be some hearty sighs of relief coming from the Rolls engineering dept.

Friday, December 3, 2010

That Deficit Commission

They have been getting some air time on TV. They want to do a tax hike by just eliminating deductions, mortgage interest is the big one. They claim to have some spending cuts.
Question: Are these real spending cuts, or fake spending cuts? Real spending cuts happen when the agency gets less money next year than it got last year. Real spending cuts are very rare. Fake spending cuts are when the agency gets less than it asked for. This game is really old, and the agencies always ask for much more than they expect to get, on the theory that what they do get will be enough so they don't have to do layoffs.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Big all day storm, but less than an inch of snow

Yesterday was wild up here. Wind gusts strong enough to shake the house. Big trees whipping back and forth. Plastic trash cans and empty drywall mud buckets flying thru the air. Nearly as bad as the April tornado three years ago. The lights stayed on, mostly. The power would occasionally die and confuse the computer and the Bose clock radio. Trees down on the roads, Town of Franconia trucks cutting them up. The show lasted for nearly 24 hours.
For all the fury, darn little snow.

Deathly Hallows

Of course I went and saw it. I've seen the previous ones, I have the books, alledgedly purchased for the children, but I read them too when no one was looking. It's all good fun.
It's a Harry Potter movie, pretty much like the others. The cast is a year or two older than the last time. Emma Watson / Hermione is very pretty. She has an interesting face that looks lovely when photographed from the right angle, but plain photographed from the wrong angle. For most of the movie they are wearing "urban grunge" the fashion statement of the ugh-oh's (2000-2010). The two boys just look baggy and wrinkled wearing this stuff, but Emma always looks slim and elegant. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) has grown up to be fairly handsome, more so than Rupert Grint (Ron) has. Rupert's hairstyle did nothing for his appearance. He needs to find a better barber if he wants to stay in pictures, after the last Potter movie that is.
It's long, 2 1/2 hours. Even at that length, it would be hard to follow if you hadn't read the book, and in fact read it fairly recently. It follows the book quite closely, but there is little dialog to clue the unread into what is going on.
For one reason or another, my favorite scene from the book was omitted. Hagrid and Harry are airborne, in/on a motorcycle, with Death Eaters in hot pursuit. Hagrid pushes a button on the handlebars, the cycle emits a great flash and cloud of smoke from the exhaust. Right there, in mid air, the smoke solidifies into a stout brick wall, into which the Death Eaters crash at Mach 0.5.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Giving thanks for small favors

Broadband just got broad again. I'm on a Time Warner cable modem and band width sucked. I couldn't play a U-tube video with out constant pauses waiting for more video to trickle in from the cable.
Time Warner just fixed something. UTube now plays like a champ.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Three can keep a secret. If one of them is dead

The Great Wikileak has the TV news baying for the head of Julian Assange. Along with pseudo intellectual arguements about freedom of the press. Although hanging Mr. Assange out to dry isn't a bad idea, it's a side issue.
The real issue is the astounding foolishness of our government, putting zillions of secret documents on line, and allowing access by everyone in the government. Information sharing they called it. Classified is not information to be shared. That's why it's classified. The way you keep secrets secret is by not telling them to everyone. That's the "need to know" doctrine. And by not putting them on line in the first place. The real villains are the idiots who created the great classified database, and the Cabinet secretaries who signed off on permitting their department's secret documents going into the database.
With all the classified in the US government on line, one disgruntled PFC was able to carry a quarter million documents off base on a single CD. If all that classified had been real paper, locked in real safes, in secure locations, the PFC wouldn't have been able to move that much paper to the door, even with the aid of handtruck.
Let's see if the government is bright enough to do the right thing, namely destroy the classified database. Wipe all the disk drives, invalidate all the passwords, take the file pointers off the net. Classified should not be kept on computers, it is too easy to steal.
By the way, how long do you think your computerized medical records will stay confidential when the US State Dept cannot keep its classified off Wikileaks? Are we all looking forward to seeing our operations, prescriptions, X-rays, and doctor's opinions shared with our employers, our insurers, the media, and all the nosy neighbors?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Robin Hood with Errol Flynn

It surfaced in the $5 a DVD bin at Walmart. It's an antique, 1938. Talkies are only 10 years old. The Technicolor process was new that year. It's still entertaining. The colors have lasted, still bright. Lots of derring do, chases on horse back, sword fights, quarterstaff fights, non stop action. Characters are divided into good guys, bad guys, and love interest (Olivia deHaviland as Maid Marion). Claude Rains is a convincingly nasty Prince John. Basil Rathbone takes a week off from being Sherlock Holmes to be Guy of Gisborne.
Given the age of this flick, it's darn good. Better than the Kevin Costner version from a couple a years ago.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Computer security? do we have any?

US traitor Bradley Manning, while an Army private managed to access a zillion secret army documents and feed them to Wikileaks. Now it appears he was able to access 250,000 state department secret documents and they are appearing on Wikileaks at this very moment.
There are a few questions I'd like answered. Such as how does a low level Army enlisted man gain access to State Dept classified? And how does he gain access to so much of if? What ever happened to "need to know"?
Who issued this traitor a security clearance?
Why is all this classified on computers anyhow? It would be more secure if just one copy was hand typed using a manual Remington office typewriter. And the one copy kept in a safe somewhere.
As of this writing, the Wikileaks site is off the air due to a distributed denial of service attack, but the ever patriotic New York Times is going to publish the juicer items tommorrow.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Bush Tax Cuts"

The subject of much talk, and a blizzard of disinformation. The real choices facing Congress are three, Raise taxes on all Americans, raise taxes on higher earning Americans, or don't raise taxes on anyone.
Does anyone think raising taxes on everyone will get the country out of Great Depression 2.0?
Does anyone think raising taxes on people who have serious money to invest is going to get us out of Great Depression 2.0?
Keeping everyone's taxes where they have been for the last 10 years is better than any kind of tax hike.
Even better would be to cut taxes. Worked for Bush. Might even work for Obama.

Of course raising taxes helps pay the vastly increased spending of the Obama administration.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What to fear in Korea

The current Shoot-Ex on the Korean border is a sign of weakness of the North Korean government. North Korea is attempting a power transfer to the third member of the Kim family. This guy, Kim Jung whats-his-face is a perfect zero. Nobody knows anything about him. Whether he has the stones required to run the nastiest dictator ship ever is unknown. North Korea is dirt poor, unable to feed its people, and yet maintains a humongous army, builds nukes and missiles. There has gotta be a LOT of unhappy campers up there. The rifle carrying privates in the North Korea army all come from somewhere, have family that is going hungry, and might not obey an order to fire on civilians. Nobody really knows.
In short, North Korea could come unglued, overnight. The army and police stop obeying orders, and what little national economy they have comes to a stop. People start dying for lack of food and water.
In this case, South Korea would be under enormous pressure to do something. Lot of South Koreans still have kin living in the North and they will demand their kinfolk be saved. So the South Korean army will drive north in trucks full of food and water and peace flags waving from bumper mounts. If it were just up to the Koreans, things would settle out, the north would become part of the south. But the Chinese won't like this.
China likes having North Korea. It gives them a border shared with a pliable client state. It lets them poke a stick at the Americans and get them all hot and bothered, at little cost to themselves. The idea of having a pushy economic rival, who is hand in glove with the Americans, on their border is anathema to China. To prevent this, the Chinese will send in peacekeepers.
Now we have the People's Liberation Army and the South Korean Army cruising around the same turf. The possibility for nasty shooting incidents is very great. We don't want to think about escalation. The PLA is very big and formidable, but so is South Korea, and the South Koreans have that American connection. A lot of Americans, like myself, have been to South Korea over the years, and brought back very favorable impressions of the Korean people. The Koreans have been loyal and faithful allies for 60 years. The US government would be under great pressure to back up the South Koreans. And that could lead to hostilities between the US and China, which is not a good thing.
I don't know just how to avoid a catastrophe here, but I can at least see the dangers involved.

The existential meaning of Standard Time

NHPR is having a fine time discussing a book about time. As you may or may not know, once upon a time each town and city kept its own time, 12 o'clock was when the sun crossed the zenith. Since the moment of local noon changes from place to place, the time would be different between Boston and Salem and Lexington and Hartford and every place.
Railroads needed time tables, both to let passengers and shippers know when to be at the station, but also to prevent head on collisions on single track lines. Creating an accurate time table is difficult enough (how many minutes to travel from East Overshoe to West Gumstump) but to then compute a time correction to account for the fact that East Overshoe is a few minutes ahead of West Gumstump, is just too much to keep straight and get right. Plus, what keeps the train on time is the train crew looking at their pocket watches, all set to railroad headquarters time. Train crew needs a time table with uniform times, the time indicated on their watches.
And so, the railroads met and carved the US up into the four time zones we still use. Then the station clocks were set to railroad time, and timetables printed in railroad time and that was that. Pretty soon passengers and shippers (nearly everyone) found it convenient to set their clocks to match the railroad clocks.
All this colorful history was too much for NHPR to cover. They bloviated about the deep inner meaning of standard time, the existential meaning of local time, the blessedness of having no time at all and other poetic subjects.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How many gallons does an electric car use?

Dunno. Word has it that Chevy Volts are piling up at the factory but they cannot ship them until EPA issues a mile/per/gallon sticker. Which seems kinda dumb. Plenty of Volts are gonna go to people whose daily commute is less than 20 miles, at which, if they plug in every night, they never need gasoline. Assuming the Volt's battery-only range lives up to Chevy's advertising.
But we have to have a gas mileage sticker in that window.

Clueless Clinton

Hillary was on the Sunday pundits and the subject got around to Gitmo. Hillary was all in favor of civilian trials, but she never mentioned the real reason we want to give a terrorist a trial.
We do trials to convince the rest of the world that good old whats-his-face is a nogoodnick and deserves what he got (or is about to get). We have a number of problems here. First problem, so much time has gone by that memories have faded and anger has cooled. We should have tried 'em all back in 2002.
Second problem, US judges are mostly from another planet and might well turn them all loose on a technicality.
Final problem, most of the Gitmo "detainees" are not guilty of crimes in the ordinary sense of the word. They are guilty of bearing arms against the United States, on foreign soil no less. If they were fighting for a recognized government they would be prisoners of war. Few Americans, jurors or military officers, are willing to convict people for fighting for a cause, even if the cause hasn't achieved the status of a legitimate government.
The final problem is these "detainees" are clearly dangerous. Over the years we have released a couple of hundred of ones that looked less dangerous. Something like a third of the released terrorists went right back to terrorism and got caught by the Americans a second time, in Afghanistan, doing terrorism.
In my estimation, the least bad option is to just keep them in Gitmo til they rot. I fear US judges will bungle civilian trials, and military tribunals will go easy on them.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Can they hide enough explosives to bring down an airliner?

Good question. I remember the aircraft that took a direct hit from an air-to-air missile and still flew back to base. It was a heatseeker that locked onto the engine flame and flew right up the tailpipe before exploding. Blew the back of the plane to shreds, but the engine kept running (good old P&W J75) and the single hydraulic system remained unpunctured.
Then there was the Boeing 737 that lost the entire roof of the cabin, from the cockpit right back to the galley. It landed safely.
My point is that Boeing airliners are extremely rugged and can shrug off a pound of high explosive. Can terrorists hide enough explosives in shoes or underwear or body cavities to actually damage an airliner? I doubt it.
Think about that as you do the electronic strip search or endure the TSA groping.
The real reason terrorists have not succeeded in hijacking an airliner since 9/11 is passengers. Now, post 9/11, passengers know that allowing anyone to take control of the plane means that they are all dead. And so, some misbehaving persons have been treated quite roughly by passengers. One case involved a fire axe applied to the perp's head, another involved so much duct tape that the perp suffocated.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Stenting for fun and profit

Back on the 4th of November my plain old primary care physician, Dr Silva in Littleton took my EKG in the course of a routine office visit. His sharp eye noticed something unusual in the EKG. He followed up with a stress test and a gamma camera scan. I had not complained of anything, this was a straight check of standard tests. The stress test and the gamma camera pictures convinced Dr. Silva to refer me to cardiologists. Some days later I was scheduled for an angiogram down state at Dartmouth Hitchcock down in Hanover.
I double checked the appointment time a day or two in advance and was told that my 8AM appointment has slipped to 10AM. We showed up on time and learned that emergencies had slowed things down. It was 4 PM before they got me into the Cath Lab for the angiogram. Results were confusing. The angiogram showed six places that might need s stent. The angiogram was not unpleasant, they started off with a big Valium and followed it up with a lot of happy juice fed in thru an IV. Didn't hurt a bit, and I was VERY mellow thru out a two hour procedure.
There was some discussion as to the proper treatment, either a coronary bypass operation or a LOT of stents. They didn't feel it was fair to ask my opinion while I was still zonked out on happy juice. So I got admitted for over night. Next morning the cardiac surgeon (nice guy) pitched the cardiac bypass (open heart surgery) and the the stent guy pitched stents. I picked stents, 'cause the coronary bypass surgery involved sawing my breast bone in half and pulling up my ribs to access the heart. Whereas stents go in in a matter of hours and you can walk out of the hospital in a day. An hour or two later Dr. Kagan told me he had access to the OR that afternoon and could stent me if I was ready. I was ready, he slipped three stents into my heart that afternoon. They popped me back in a room on the heart surgery wing after the stenting and all looked OK.
Except my blood pressure cycled from 210/106 (scary high) to 140/70 (not too bad) over a period of hours. They were reluctant to let me out of the hospital with the 205/106 reading lest I keel over with a heart attack on the way to the elevator, which would reflect poorly on Dartmouth Hitchcock.
After two days of pills and blood pressure tests they found a blood pressure medication that worked and managed to release me this afternoon with a raft of new prescriptions.
I have to complement the Dartmouth Hitchcock people. They worked very hard to get me well, and they managed to make my stay pleasant. Nurse and doctors were patient oriented and did a good job. Much better than Mass General which was my last hospital stay some 30 odd years ago.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The loudest noise at 60 MPH is the ticking of the clock

So went the Rolls Royce car ads years ago, back when Rolls actively marketed cars in the US. They used to do TV ads for Rolls. Haven't seen one for 30 years.
Actually, Rolls Royce sold off the car operation and makes its money on jet engines. And they are in trouble now. Aviation Week has a writeup on the catastrophic engine failure on the Quantas A380. Apparently the intermediate speed turbine failed, and flung turbine buckets out thru the engine casing, punching holes in the wing, a fuel tank and damaging hydraulic lines. Engine failure doesn't get worse than this.
Even worse, the Quantas engine failure looks to be related to the engine failure on Boeing's 787 program. Rolls-Royce may be in for an expensive recall and redesign.
Other problems showed up. The crew attempted to shut down the blown engine by closing a fuel valve. The digital engine control would not let them, it was programmed to keep the valve open in flight, lest the engine shut down for lack of fuel. Microprocessors can be really stupid sometimes.
Jet engine design is always a compromise between stoutness and lightness. The engine has to contain enormous forces and extreme temperatures. This calls for stout. To save on fuel, the engine wants to be as light as possible. Lightness reduces stoutness. It could be that the Rolls designers went too far in the lightness direction. This might be hard to fix, short of a complete redo.
What's worse for Rolls, is the A380 and the 787 can accept American engines and the airplane customer can order the planes with Rolls engines or American engines. Guess which engine maker is not going to be specified on future airliner orders?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Glen Beck needs a sense of humor

Watching Glen this evening. He was getting all bent out of shape about the press coverage that Prince William's and Kate Middleton's engagement were getting. He did a small rant about the media covering trivia.
Well Glen, in principle you are right. But, the Brits do such marvelous weddings and coronations. I enjoy the h**l out of them, every one. They are good fun and nobody gets hurt. What's not to like?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The internet is NOT secure, Anyone knows that.

Anyone except the TV newsies that is. Big story running today about internet traffic being diverted thru servers in China. Oh the horror.
Note to newsies, the public internet is PUBLIC, and anyone in the world can see the traffic. It's the World Wide Web. Putting anything on the web is same as posting it on the bulletin board down at your town supermarket. If you don't want to share it with the world. don't put it on the web. This goes for email, Facebook, Google, and just plain web cruising. If you don't want the whole world, including your employer, the IRS, and every noisy neighbor in the world to know, don't but it on the net.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What goes around, comes around

Obama comes home from Korea with a bit of egg on his face. He wanted to sign a Korea America free trade pact, but he wanted a few last minute changes and the Koreans balked.
Chickens are coming home to roost. George Bush negotiated the Korea free trade agreement back in 2007. But in 2007 the US Senate, of which Obama was a member, refused to ratify the agreement. Unions objected and the democrats caved to them.
Now, three years later, Obama wants to ratify Bush's old agreement, but with a couple of last minute changes that the Koreans didn't like. So, Obama comes home with bupkis.
What's worse, the original agreement, which the Koreans would have signed, is quite favorable to US automakers. It liberalized the Korean auto emissions standards to allow US built cars, that met US emissions standards, to be sold in Korea. The "minor change" Obama wanted, was a retention of a 2% US tariff on Korean cars. The Koreans are selling lots of cars with the 2% tariff, and/or building their cars in Kentucky, and the 2% tariff makes little difference in the number of Hyundai's sold here in competition with Government Motors.
For this insignificant tariff, Obama gave up a real opening of the Korean auto market to us. There are plenty of Koreans with money who would love to own a real Detroit car, say Corvette, or Cadillac, or Ford Explorer, just like they see in the movies. Right now such cars cannot be imported to Korean because of emissions laws. The Koreans were willing to essentially waive their emissions standards and allow Detroit iron in. And Obama didn't understand how important this is.
Stupidity can be embarrassing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

No pain spending reductions

Newt Gengrich on NBC this morning said the he and Clinton had balanced the US budget for years without inflicting enormous pain upon the voters. Today, the Democrats (progressive tax and spenders, all of 'em) protest that Federal spending reductions just can't be done because of the pain involved.
I think Newt is onto something here. Just reducing health care spending from 19% of GNP to 9.5% of GNP (a feat every other country in the world has managed) would free up a river of money that would solve the deficit problem.
Could it be that the Democrats are attempting to keep their tax and spend policies in place by predicting intense pain if they are not continued?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Northern Pass, Power to the People,

The Northern Pass project will run a new high voltage power line down from Quebec to Franklin NH. It will bring in 1200 Megawatts of clean Canadian hydropower to New Hampshire. Quebec has a vast surplus of hydropower which they have been exporting to the US for better than 50 years. Hydropower is a green as it gets, no CO2 emissions, no coal mines, no oil spills, no nuclear waste, freedom from fuel price hikes. Long as it keeps raining, we have juice.
To bring jobs to the North Country we need to offer reliable and low cost electricity to industry. No company is going to put in a plant without good electric service at a reasonable price.
The new power line will largely follow existing power line rights-of-way which mitigates the unsightliness. Big power lines are an eyesore, but adding a second set of towers side-by-side with an existing power line doesn't make much difference. A pair of side-by-side power lines is no more unsightly than a single line. We already have the single line, making it a double line doesn't change things much.
After much advocacy from anti-electric-power advocacy groups, the National Institutes of Health published a comprehensive study of the safety of electric power lines in 1999. The furor over power line electromagnetic fields was started in 1979 with the publication of a report linking leukemia to power line exposure. This study was inconclusive, and the effect reported was small. Numerous follow up studies failed to resolve the matter one way or another. Some studies showed no effect, some showed a small effect, and many showed different results depending upon the method used to measure intensity of the electromagnetic fields. These studies were all statistical, counting the number of cases of leukemia and using statistics to decide if the number of cases was abnormally high. Mark Twain once said there are lies, damned lies, and then statistics.
No laboratory experiments on animals has ever shown adverse effects from the electromagnetic fields around power lines. The science of physics and of chemistry shows no mechanism by which electromagnetic fields could alter the biology of humans or animals. The NIH report concludes that the risk from power line fields is unproven, probably non existent, but cannot be totally discarded because of those few statistical results.
Electromagnetic fields drop off rapidly with distance. A simple calculation shows the fields from your house wiring are as strong as the fields from a power line at the edge of the cleared right of way. So, even if there were some adverse effects, just keeping off the right of way keeps you safe.
So, in view of the great economic benefits (1300 construction jobs, $2.5 million/mile added to the tax base), the savings in fossil fuels, and carbon emissions, the Northern Pass project ought to go ahead. We need the jobs, we need the juice, and it's as green a project as there is.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Carnivale Cruise Lines

I gotta wonder how that Carnivale liner lost all power from an engine room fire. Did they have sprinklers in the engine room? Why does not a ship of that size have two engine rooms? Both with sprinklers.
We should be thankful that no one was hurt.

TARP prevents the sky from falling

Some people think that Wall St is the entire US economy. It's an easy thing to believe if you work on Wall St. For instance, Henry Paulson, Bush's secretary of the treasury was a long timer Wall Streeter, prior president of Goldman Sachs. Or Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, academic whiz kid specializing in the history of the Great Depression and prior head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
Two senior guys, steeped in Wall Street saw the sky falling in October of 2007. Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, AIG ran out of money, Merrill Lynch (remember them?) went bust and got bought. These two guys feared that failure of the big boys would bankrupt everyone else on the Street. Street trading is incestuous, everyone trades with everyone else. If the biggies go bust and default on their debts to the smaller players, the small guys might go bust too. To Bernanke and Paulson, widespread failure on Wall Street might wreck the US economy and trigger off Great Depression 2.0.
So, being men of action, Paulson and Bernanke went to the Democratic Congress and said in effect, "The sky will fall on Tuesday". Congressmen believed them, and $750 billion TARP was passed to bail out the losers.
The alternative was to let the more foolish Wall St players to go broke as a warning to others. They tried this with Lehman Bros, and it was scary.
With hindsight, I think we should have let more Wall Streeters, the ones that didn't (still don't) understand the difference between gambling and raising capital to finance economic expansion, go under. It's clear that a lot of Wall Street business, mortgage backed securities, credit default swaps, and secondary mortgage trading is pure gambling. And I see no reason for taxpayers money, my money, to bail out gamblers who go bust. The economy doesn't need gambling.
Back three years ago, it was a harder call. Seeing famous old time Wall St firms go bust was scary and the urge to "do something" was strong. So something was done. The downside is everyone thru out the entire world now believes that the US government stands behind all the big Wall St firms. Which allows those firms to take bigger risks and borrow more than if lenders worried about them going broke ("counterparty risk" they call it). And makes us taxpayer liable for humongous debts everytime some Wall St executive makes a dumb bet.