Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What happens when the autopilot goes haywire?

It happened on Quantas flight 72:
Circling Learmonth, the pilots run through a checklist. The plane's two engines are functioning. But they do not know if the landing gear can be lowered or wing flaps extended for landing. And if they can extend the flaps, they have no idea how the plane will react. As much as they can, the pilots try to assert control over the A330 while the computer system operates. It cannot be fully disengaged. Turning off the three flight control computers could trigger unintended consequences. They may fail or fault.

Pulling paper charts out for Learmonth, the pilots make more inputs into the system, to no avail. It means they will have to conduct a visual approach. The precariousness of their situation is laid bare in a lengthy summary of faults on their screens. They include the loss of automatic braking and spoilers to prevent lift once the plane is on the runway. The pilots do not know whether they can use the nose-wheel to steer the plane until it is on the ground.
Over 100 people were injured, a dozen seriously when the plane pitched down and the cabin experienced negative 0.8g.

This is what the nose dives did to the cabin
Airbus has a long history of "issues" with the computerized control in their aircraft.  Post incident investigations typically blame the pilots (usually unconvincingly, at least for me) but this incident from 2008 shows that when everything is controlled by (or through) a computer, the computer can kill you.  The report said that one of the flight computers corrupted the avionics data, and the computer wasn't smart enough to realize that the data were whacky.

The way that I would rephrase that is that the software designers don't really understand how the software works, at least not all the time.  They can't say for certain whether the software will kill everyone onboard.

And this is the most sophisticated autopilot software ever built.  What's gone into self-driving cars is primitive by comparison.  There are millions of man-hours of development in the Airbus software, and what it is trying to do is arguably easier than what cars have to deal with - for example, there is no need for the sort of obstacle detection and avoidance that a self-driving car experiences.

RTWT.  I'm nowhere near comfortable entrusting my life to one of these experimental cars.

"Hold mah beer", Talladega edition

This guy set the bar high for a "hold mah beer" moment:
In one of NASCAR’s most bizarre episodes, Darren Crowder, a Birmingham local, found his way into the ceremonial Pontiac Trans Am before the May 1986 race. The car had apparently been left unattended near the front grandstand. Crowder, at the time age 20, pulled onto the famed oval and started turning laps. Since the race was minutes from its scheduled starting time, NASCAR only noticed something amiss when Crowder passed an official who correctly identified him as, uh, not the pace car driver. (The call, via team radio: "Who's that f***** in the pace car?")
Did a whole lap, at 100 mph.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Words in the Wind - A Brigid Guest Post

A young woman walks out to an old rural mailbox and pulls out a couple of letters, standing in the cold as she looks through them, for in her haste, she wears no coat. Her eyes are alight with hope, as she scans the postmarks, almost naked in their pleading.  But there is no letter from him today, no news that he is still safe.  Her eyes grow quiet, two shining gloves in which a world at war lurks in profoundly small scale.  The mailbox shuts and her hope draws itself in, like measured string being rewound into a spool

Thirty later, her children, one at the edge of the field, one away in a straight line about 30 yards away, connected only by two paper cups and a taut piece of kite string. One speaks, the other listens, and hears  "there are 4 of them to our two. But we have the water balloons!" The words are simple but they are personal, shared between brothers in arms, even if one is a sister.

Another thirty years later, miles apart, a simple message  "hi, it's me just landed, I'll call after I get to Dad's, stay strong."
How our methods of communication have changed over the years.  Not long ago, sitting behind me in a Thai restaurant, four 20-somethings in casual business attire, all texting or surfing, the server unacknowledged but for an order made without consulting the menu, not a single word between them as invisible food was consumed with invisible fingers and invisible thoughts.

Just the other day, I sat in the airport reading a classic novel, on paper, no e-reader, while all around me people are texting. Now there are times that a text is better than silence, a quick stop to let someone know you are safe, or that you care, but too often people are doing it at the expense of the actual written word.

What would the books on my shelves, or the one in the hand of the young lady seated across from me be, if simply summed up in text?

Deliverance - tourists XperENs local hospitality

Frankenstein - Science progress big FAIL w genRL public. Ptchforks say STBU.

War of the Worlds - LEgl aliens wnt evrtng 4 frE

Twilight -  join d undead az alternative 2 college

Pride and Prejudice -i longed 4 him i married him crp

Soylent Green - locals hav isUz w regional cuisine

Romeo and Juliet -  Dny thy fathR n refUZ thy name, o if thou wilt nt, b bt swrn my luv, I'll n lngr be a cpult,

The Manhattan Project -sum of aL fears comin 2 a rogue n8tN near U

The Audacity of Hope - DBEYR srsly

Bridge on the River Kwai - brits cn whistle despite stiff uppr lips

The whole way the world interacts, communicates, and connects has changed since our parent's age. In a trunk in Dad's attic I found those letters my Mom wrote my Dad during WWII, carefully tired with still taut ribbon, the handwriting faded, words that traveled thousands of miles to England and back, carried by mailman and ship, to gather dust that gets in his eyes when he talks of her. In those letters she is still with him, still young, more than just a shadow-bound to him with a shadow of ribbon.

Now, we instant message, we Skype, there's Facebook and web-mail and blogs, wherein the means of communication are many and the word "friend" has oft been reduced to an anonymous sign of popularity from total strangers.  ("Hi,  I'm Kim Jong-un, please LIKE me on Facebook!").  Maybe I'm alone in this, but to me, friendship is not something granted to random strangers simply because they wish to claim it, but to those who, through shared experience, through laughter and listening and time, become part of a complex life, on and off a computer.
Yet, this mass means of communication has its advantages, we know more of decisions being made that impact us, that threaten our way of life, even if much of it is twisted by the media.  We have to dig, dig hard for the truth, but at least the words flow mostly free, our view of the world, not just one radio show, or one newspaper dictating how we should think. From the lies, we have to glean the truth, but there are still so many avenues to get to the truth that previously were simply withheld.  There's also the sheer learning of it, so many things at our fingertips to explore, to share.

But in a world where we are constantly chirping and texting, too often,  very little is actually being said, reducing human emotions to punctuations as if somehow a smiley could convey the nuance of a heart.  I look at Dad's letters, then, and his letters now, the degradation of the handwriting a sign, painfully clear, that he is declining, soon to leave me.  But his words are still as sharp as his mind, even as his hand sometimes fails him.

He writes of the family and the "steelhead that got away",  words of humor, of inspiration, of compelling faith. Sheets of paper that over 30 years have charted a course for me through adulthood,  abiding strength still radiating from his descriptions of love and loss, the papers having a weight to them of his life. A weight that will keep me anchored.
He first started writing them when I went off college.   I'd read them on a train, for that is how I got back and forth to my home on the occasional weekend, not being able to afford a car and tuition.  As I traveled, I penned my letters back, my fears, my thanks for Dad's support.   How could I have imagined this world today, where such things are expressed in acronyms and emoticons.   How do you explain what it feels to live, to breathe, to fear, to fly, in exchanges briefer than epitaphs, as personal as commands?

All those years ago,  I'd sit in that car and write my trains of thought,  words flowing in sturdy motion and time, their spaces containing the heavy load of pride and longing,  fear and desire. The train barrels forward in steady progressions as moving clouds fly overhead and shafts of sunlight peer through sliding cars, into their depth. As others transmit through satellites and space, I watch the landscape from the viewpoint of the train. Structures of iron lace, the suddenness of buildings, clouds of morning mist all crossing my line of sight, my muscles straining with the curves through fog-shrouded landscapes, moving with the train, thundering through empty fields of past loss into meadows washed with light.

But now, 30 years later, I am writing these words on a computer, miles away from the one I'd most want to read them, the mailman driving past as I sip my coffee, no longer a troubadour for distant lovers, but simply the carrier of pizza coupons, junk mail, and bills. The computer sits in front of me, framed in the window like a stage, the words in my head now, like the beginning of thunder, as loud as a whisper, and as electric.

There are still paper and pen, solitary objects of unspoken promise, of thoughts that flow, but I do not have them here.  I have this, and whether short words or long, I'm speaking my heart.  As my fingers clatter against keys, the words pick up speed, splaying themselves out along the tracks going forward.  I am back on a train, running into the rain as the cars gain speed, waters cleaning the windows on which I look out on life.  I hurl words into the darkness of an upcoming tunnel and wait for their echo.
 - Brigid

Awesome retro Tech Pr0n

This is sweet:
The PiDP-11 is a modern replica of the PDP-11/70. 

Introduced in 1975, the 11/70 was top of the line in the famed PDP-11 range, and the very last system with a proper front panel. Tragically, DEC field service often removed the front panel in a later upgrade, leaving us staring at dull blank panels ever since..
The PiDP-11 wants to bring back the experience of PDP-11 Blinkenlights, with its pretty 1970s Magenta/Red color scheme. On a more modest (living room compatible) scale 6:10, with faithfully reproduced case and switches.
Awesome - using a Raspberry Pi to make a PDP 11.

Me, I want a VAX.

Washington Post catches up to Borepatch in 2012

Study: Authoritarian countries overstate their economic growth rates:
"I find that a 10 percent increase in nighttime lights is associated with a 2.4 percent increase in GDP in the most democratic countries and with a 2.9 percent to 3.4 percent increase in GDP in the most authoritarian ones," Martinez said. The most obvious explanation is that those countries are the most likely to fudge their GDP figures to make their political leaders look good.
It's a clever study, using nighttime lighting as observed from space as a proxy for economic activity.  Of course, we've know this for ages:
The most spectacular Intelligence failure of the Cold War was the failure to recognize the impending collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1989, and the Soviet Union in 1991.  The CIA certainly reported on plenty of problems as the 1980s wound on towards International Socialism's rendezvous with destiny - as highlighted in this self-serving and mostly missing-the-point analysisfrom the CIA on its own reporting.  This analysis is entirely unsatisfactory, because it completely fails to account for how the USSR was ranked third or forth on the list of the largest World economies.

That wasn't just wrong, it was spectacularly wrong, and had enormous policy implications all throughout the 1980s.  All Western policy makers who used the CIA's analysis as the basis for policy found that they were equally (and equally spectacularly) wrong.

So how did the CIA get into this position?  By being very good at collecting data, but not so good at collecting the right data.  As near as we can tell from unclassified reports, the Agency had a decent grasp of the summary economic data as presented to the Central Committee.  The problem was that the data was bogus.

The Soviet economy was regimented, a rigid command and control system where those at the top set the direction and goals, and those in the factories tried to execute to the 5 year plan.  Factory managers who didn't execute to plan had troubles, and so there was a built in incentive to cheat.  Corners were cut, output was trimmed to where the plan was met with sub-standard, shoddy goods.  Or the numbers were simply made up, and the fraudulent data was sent up the chain.

Further massaging was done in mid level bureaus, because nobody wanted to be the guy who brought the bad news.  Essentially, the data deteriorated its way up the chain to the top, and nobody was very interested in double checking to see if the data as reported matched what had originally been collected.  You see, it wasn't in anyone's interest to do so, and it was very much in everyone's interest not to do so.
Sadly, the WaPo hasn't caught up to Borepatch from 2011, which has the really disturbing take on all of this monkey business:
China is building ten (!) brand new cities each year.  However, it's built with borrowed (leveraged) money, and so rents are high - so high that the cities are deserted.  The Great Mall Of China has 1 - that's one - store open.  There are 64 Million empty Chinese apartments.

It's not just city construction: China's much touted (by Thomas Friedman, and even Barack Obama) High Speed Rail network is supposedly an example of a "moon shot" project.  We have to "keep up with the Chinese".  Except the trains are ghost trains:
Here’s the latest from the South China Morning Post on the dismissal of the nation’s Railways Minister and the engineer in charge of the system’s R&D. Seems there were “severe violations of discipline,” which is usually code for corruption. The larger issue with the vast (16,000 kilometers planned by 2020) endeavor is that it isn’t, in fact, so appropriate to China’s needs. Rather, it may be another symptom of a bubble economy in which vast sums are misspent on underutilized assets. 
The high speed trains are wildly expensive, because the (Chinese government owned) rail network had to issue $300 Billion in bonds to build the network.  And so fares are very high, and people take the slower (but much less expensive) old trains.

But that $300 Billion gets added to China's GDP score.
Remember the $Trillion "Stimulus" program that didn't stimulate anything?  Does anyone know what we got for that money?  Can anyone name a single thing that was built with that money?  But a Trillion dollars got added to the GDP figures.

Economic data are mostly untrustworthy.  A little less so in the West, a little more so in other places.  We can speculate on an algorithm to describe this, based on the finding s of the study reported in the WaPo: the more central control over an economy that a state has, the less reliable the economic data will be.

Now think about how much control the Fed.Gov had over the economy in 1960, and how much control it has today.  What does out algorithm suggest for the veracity of the reported economic data?

To ask the question is to answer it.  Or you can check here - there are many ways to game the data, if the state is motivated.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Clara Schumann - Piano Trio Op. 17

Image from Der Wik
Most composers throughout history have been men.  Clara Schumann's story tells us why.  She was the wife of composer Robert Schumann.

As you would expect from those times, he was better known than she, even though she was a musical prodigy from an young age.  But they had eight children together (only four of whom survived to adulthood), and she was the primary caregiver for them.  Her husband fell ill (perhaps bipolar disorder) and she became the family's primary caregiver, especially after his death in an asylum.

This left little time for composing.  As her husband wrote about her:
Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.
Nevertheless, she ended producing a fair number of compositions.  You wonder what she might have created had she had a less hectic family life.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Today was going to be regular yard work, getting my utility trailer tires replaced, and then working on the tree that fell across the yard last week. Maybe even get to the reloading bench for a while.


It's pouring rain here. Has been for 3 or 4 days. Streets flooded. No way to cut the grass. Decide I am not working on the tree, although I did cut enough to get it off the house, porch roof and windows.

About 11 in the morning, I decide on the easy route. I hook the trailer to the truck and take it to the discount tire store. They do one. On the other side, two of the lugs just spin. Can't get the nuts off. We give up. I pay for one tire and come home.

Did I mention the rain? I put on my oldest boots and a full rain suit. Drive the truck and trailer up in the yard. Run an extension cord out to the wheel. Put a fresh disc on the angle grinder. Put on a face shield and hearing protection. And sit there in the rain, showering sparks until I grind down the two offending studs flush with the rim. Then chisel at the remaining metal until I can drive the studs back and get the wheel off. This time I leave the trailer.

The auto parts store had new studs and nuts. The discount tire manager was surprised to see me back, muddy and drenched, but he had a guy put the other new tire on for me right away. I think he was afraid I would sit down.

Come home. The trailer was on a jack. So I cut a large round out of the tree the right height to support the trailer and let the jack down. Trailer is solid and chocked. Trailer is supported by big immovable wood. Look at it for a few minutes. I feel safe enough to get under it.

Lay down in the water and the mud and try to hammer the new studs into the flange. Crawl out, get a bigger hammer and a longer, larger punch, lay back down and succeed in hammering the studs into the flange.

Mount the wheel, tighten the bolts, alternate between tightening and hammering until the studs finally pull up against the back of the flange.

Park the trailer. Put everything away. Use a hose to wash the mud off the rain suit and boots. Take a shower. I am out of the shower a little after 6.

Tomorrow I will have a go at some of the other things. Like the tree.

That'll buff out

The driver walked away from the crash.  And his team was working overnight to get the car put back together for the next day's race (!).

It's high time for some Common Sense Press Control

The Media is all in for curtailing the our Second Amendment rights.  OK, then - maybe we should look at curtailing their First Amendment rights.

After all, this has a better chance of reducing school shootings than any of the gun control proposals that we've heard.  And their publications are commercial in nature - they make money on talking up the school shootings, which likely encourages more school shootings - which leads to higher ratings and more money for them.  Which is more important: Media profits or children's lives?

After all, we're constantly told that if it saves one kid's life than we should do it, amirite?

Go sign the petition.

Hal Ketchum - Hearts Are Gonna Roll

The 1990s saw a flowering of what is called neo-traditional country music, which quite frankly is perhaps my favorite era for the music.  Hank Ketchum was one of the artists riding this wave.  This song charted at #2 when it was released in 1994, but Ketchum's story is more interesting than just a record of his music.

In 1998 he was diagnosed with a neurological condition of his spine that made the entire left side of his body unusable.  Despite this, he relearned how to play guitar.  Adding to his ailments, he also suffers from multiple sclerosis.  Despite this, he is a master carpenter and toy maker, and also paints.

Four Seasons, by Hal Ketchum

Hearts Are Gonna Roll (Songwriters: Hank Ketchum, Ronny Scaife)
Ever since she was a baby
Settin' on her daddy's knee
Had him wrapped around her finger
Doing anything she pleased 
She had a way of getting what she wanted
But Daddy knew in his mind
The pretty soon the boys would come runnin'
It's just a matter of time before 
Hearts are gonna roll
Heads are gonna turn
Tears are gonna fall
A bridge is gonna burn
Hearts are gonna roll
Hearts are gonna roll
Now she changes like the weather
Never stays in love too long
She'll take you to the limit
Just to leave you hangin' on 
Drop dead looks and a mind for trouble
That's all the girl's ever known
Leavin' behind a path of destruction
No matter where she goes 
Hearts are gonna roll
Heads are gonna turn
Tears are gonna fall
A bridge is gonna burn
Hearts are gonna roll
Hearts are gonna roll 
Don't fall under the spell of her eyes, boy
She's not looking at you
Take it from somebody who knows
She's movin' right one through

Friday, May 18, 2018

Do Gun Controllers even listen to themselves?

I guess not.

Quote of the Day: Brits and Yanks edition

The Czar of Muscovy ponders a fundamental disconnect between the opposite sides of The Pond:
One of the British princes is getting married to a former American, and thousands of Americans will be glued to the events in rapt fascination; the rest of us won’t remotely understand the appeal of this. Wasn’t despising royalty the whole point of 1776?
Meantime, the United States will feature some gun show which will be attended by a couple hundred British subjects out of thousands of American attendees; the British visitors will love putting their hands on new pistols and rifles, and happily debate the merits of one brand of ammunition over another. The rest of Britain will shake their heads in befuddlement. What’s with the fascination over firearms?
I confess that I do not understand the American fascination with Royalty, but that's just me.  The Queen Of The World, on the other hand, does like the glamor of the Court (although she - and I - finds Miss Markle's anti-Trump rants annoying and un-Royal).

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Researchers discover the obvious

They have discovered a "paradox" where people employed in more physically-demanding occupations don't benefit from the exercise:

But new research claims that those who are in more physically demanding jobs aren’t in a vastly better position. 
Researchers in the Netherlands claim that a ‘physical activity paradox’ exists, where exercise may only be good for you if it’s done outside of your job. 
Manual labourers may be physically active all day but that doesn’t actually help them. In fact, the research claims that it might actually increase their risk of dying early. 
‘While we know leisure-time physical activity is good for you, we found that occupational physical activity has an 18% increased risk of early mortality for men,’ says Pieter Coenen, public health researcher at UV University medical centre in Amsterdam.
Researchers apparently don't know that 8 out of the top 10 riskiest professions involve tough, manual labor.  Actually, maybe they do:
Professor Kay-Tee Khaw, professor of clinical gerontology at the University of Cambridge says: ‘Sedentary work compared to work that requires heavy physical activity is hugely confounded by education, social class and all the other associated behaviours. 
‘It is quite possible that very heavy labour may be associated with adverse health. It may also be that these occupations lead to higher accident rates and early mortality without the physical activity itself being the relevant factor which the authors do discuss and I am sure that we need to understand this better.’
But if you re-ran the numbers taking into account occupational mortality, you might not get a Press Release worthy result, amirite?  Bah.  The one thing that we can conclude from this study is that there is too much public grant money flowing to "Researchers".  As the Researchers might say (in any study they would publish), p < 0.05.

I'm too damned wordy

I mean, I have a whole tag here for "Decline of the Progressive West" with hundreds of posts and this guy goes and sums it up with this.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Progressives hate hate hate people in the Third World

We see this all the time.  Here is just the latest, from no less a Progressive Icon as the New York Times:
The number of air-conditioners worldwide is predicted to soar from 1.6 billion units today to 5.6 billion units by midcentury, according to a report issued Tuesday by the International Energy Agency. If left unchecked, by 2050 air-conditioners would use as much electricity as China does for all activities today.
If left unchecked.  Think about those words.  The implication is that all right-thinking Progressives should want to keep Third World, dark skinned people stuck in stifling heat and humidity.  Remember, these are the same people who so earnestly moan about how Global Warming will be so bad for everyone's health.

How about rejoicing that so many of our fellow human beings will be able to enjoy the comforts of a cooler house (and if you read the article, you will notice that stoves and refrigerators also get the tut tut treatment)?

Why shouldn't people want these creature comforts?  Remember, you get children's books from washing machines:

I keep thinking that my contempt for Progressives cannot get any deeper, but they keep coming up with new Bravo Sierra.  Maybe that's the only truly inexhaustible renewable resource.

"American Iron" moving to Thailand

Harley laying off 800 workers and closing Kansas City plant:
Harley-Davidson, the iconic American motorcycle company, is set to lay off hundreds of American workers at its Kansas City, Missouri factory while creating jobs in Thailand. 
After laying off nearly 200 American manufacturing workers last year, as Breitbart Newsreported, Harley-Davidson is expected to fully close its Kansas City manufacturing facility, leaving 800 workers out of work. 
Harley-Davidson executives say about 400 jobs will be sent to the corporation’s York, Pennsylvania manufacturing plant, but union workers allege their jobs are being sent overseas to Thailand.
Harley is not doing particularly well.  They have (so far) failed to attract younger riders, I expect because there are high quality alternatives at a much lower cost.  You're looking at $30k for a touring bike, and this is simply beyond the means of lots of younger riders.

And so cost cutting becomes imperative.  But it's sad to see such an iconic American brand struggle like this.


UPDATE 15 May 2018 20:55: Glen Filthie has some thoughts on Harleys and riders, and what riding is really about.  Recommended.