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  • Archive for the 'Tech' Category

    Breaking Things Down and Building Them Up

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 26th January 2016 (All posts by )

    First some demolition:

    There’s actually a lot more going here than meets the eye. First, a structural model of the building is created. Buildings and bridges are overbuilt, such that the structure is capable of supporting considerably more load than it’s actually required to hold. This allows for minor failures to occur during the construction and life of the building without it collapsing. Once the model is built, they determine what support members may be removed without collapsing the structure, taking it from a safety factor of 1.5 (50% stronger than necessary) to 1 (just strong enough to stand). The analysis is carried out or overseen by structural engineers.

    Next, charges are laid on some support members, like columns and beams, but not others. The idea is to leave parts of the building connected by steel girders to parts that will fall so they get pulled in that direction and fall on top of the pile. Gravity does the actual demolition, the charges just break the supports.

    Finally, the charges are detonated in a careful sequence. First are a series of weakening charges that remove the 50% of support safety margin, then the building is collapsed from bottom to top and (usually) from the center outwards to the periphery, with the back and sides being pulled into the center debris pile.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Diversions, Miscellaneous, Tech | 11 Comments »

    Blackberry’s Fall… and Apple Watch Part II

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 9th January 2016 (All posts by )

    As I watched the movie “the Big Short” (which I highly recommend) one item I noted was the ubiquitous nature of the Blackberry. Everyone on Wall Street lived on their Blackberry, and much of the action took place via a Blackberry (phone conversations, updates via email, watching stock prices remotely, etc…). A book was written called “Losing the Signal” that covers the rise and fall of Blackberry.

    While I haven’t read the book I am intimately familiar with Blackberry, having owned one for many years and waking every morning to see the blinking red light which indicated that I had new emails outstanding. I had an early version with the combined numeric / letter keyboard, which meant you had to hit the button multiple times (with delays) to type a “C” for instance. Like everyone else I was soon able to type at a rapid clip in this insane method and it seemed like an enormous relief when this was replaced by a “full” keyboard.

    Blackberry also was a pioneer in instant messaging, another technology whose power I underestimated when I initially encountered it. A co-worker tried to connect to me by messenger and I just didn’t see the use – why not just send an email? Of course nowadays it is completely obvious why messages are useful and email is mainly “just for work” and overtaken by reams of spam. And initially when texts were expensive (remember when your phone plan limited the number of texts?) this enabled text messaging that was essentially “free” (if you owned a phone already). But when you watch the complete and utter fall of Blackberry it must be remembered that not only did they invent and perfect the phone / email hybrid but they also had a head start on messaging, another multi-billion dollar technology.

    My Blackberry was more reliable than my iPhone – I received email quickly and with more certainty, especially when compared with the wonky iPhone connections to outlook. However, with the lack of an “App Store” and no touch screen, the Blackberry was doomed by both iOS and Android. Reliability and a keyboard lost to an open system, a touch screen, and a seemingly infinite number of apps from third party programmers. You could look to a Blackberry as a lesson for Apple and their iPhone dominance, but Apple does a lot of things well that Blackberry never did, such as let vast numbers of third parties program for their platform, and continually evolve their platform with new tactile features (touch, GPS, etc…).
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Tech | 9 Comments »

    A Robotic Society

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 7th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Metropolis, 1927

    Robot, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, 1927

    Fifty years ago, if you were a company building automobiles or telecommunications equipment, you would have employed an assembly line full of workers. There also would have been people kitting parts, making inspections, doing tests, even running errands. If you operated a catalog company, you might have warehouse full of people loading and unloading goods, taking inventory, generating reports and packing and shipping goods. If you manufactured metal goods, you might employ several grades of craftsmen, from apprentice to master machinist, as well as cutters and welders, finish workers, inspectors, packers and shippers.

    Much less so today. Automobiles and electronics and every other sort of manufactured good are increasingly made on robotic lines. From painting to welding to complex assembly, robots are replacing people. Warehouses can run almost autonomously, with goods stored in a 3D grid that is accessed, inventoried and replenished by increasingly intelligent networks of machines and computers. Jeff Bezos would like to robotize even the delivery of those goods via autonomous drones. That seems entirely doable, though the thought of computer controlled helicopters moving through the skies upsets some people.

    Sixty six years ago, almost to the day, Isaac Asimov’s novel I, Robot was published. It was followed by four more novels over 30 years as well as 38 short stories in what became known as The Robot Series. In these books, Asimov explored all sorts of aspects of a robot populated world, including the dangers they might pose to people, problems with machines that think with digital logic, their inevitable evolution from simple mechanisms to organo-machines that were difficult to differentiate from human beings, except for their vastly superior intellectual capacity and increased lifespan, and some of the implications of that.

    In a society relieved of all sorts of menial labor and drudgery, Asimov envisioned something of a Golden Age of Man. Material goods would be so cheaply and easily made that no one would lack for any basic goods, and most people would enjoy a standard of living and a degree of leisure time available now to only the extremely wealthy. That’s a view with some precedent in how other technologies have improved our lot, so it’s one possible future.

    I find myself wondering, though. Suppose something like that were to come to pass. After all, we’re seeing signs of its development now. How does this future society actually work? How are people employed? What does one do to earn a living in a society where work is done by machines? We see this problem already, which tells us we’re farther along this road than maybe we realize. All the people that are not employed in Jeff Bezos’ warehouses or building electronics assemblies or automobiles, what do they do? In the past, when people were displaced from agriculture by machinery, they went to cities and were employed in large scale industrial and retail businesses. That is no longer the case. Not only have the manufacturing base dispersed across the globe chasing cheaper labor and fewer rules and regulations, even the human staffed retail store is increasingly in question as a viable model.

    This is all creative destruction in action, I know. And we can wave our hands and say, Well, people will adapt, they always have! Yes they will. But to what? Everyone can’t be – and doesn’t want to be – a robotics designer or research chemist or test technician in a robotics factory. Will there simply be more people to do fewer jobs? Will the work week get reduced to 3 days on, 4 days off? I’m trying to imagine a world where the same or more people are available but less work needs to be done by them. And if the answer is more leisure time, is that necessarily a good thing? Do we get a Golden Age, or an Age of Sloth, where everyone gets crazier and more destructive in an attempt to amuse themselves. Who cares, eh? The robots will clean up the mess.

    And is a robotic recursion process possible, where robots set about designing and building better robots? If we assume cookbook engineering can be encoded into a machine brain, millions of possible combinations may be scanned and modeled and simulated for each mechanism and each circuit, always searching for an optimal solution. And as everyone from Asimov to Clarke have asked, when is sentience reached and will we recognize it when it occurs? And then what? Our society is the early stages of major, ground shifting changes. There’s a lot on the horizon we haven’t even begun to think about to the level necessary. And how do we stay up with these changes if our political class is intent on bankrupting us and destroying our civilization?

    Elon Musk compares AI efforts to ‘Summoning the Demon’
    BTW, this is a talk he gave at MIT, and is well worth watching in full.

    Walter Schulze-Mittendorff’s ‘Maschinenmensch’ simulacrum in crystal.
    I would love to own one these. The large cylindrical version.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Society, Tech | 26 Comments »

    After the Gold Rush

    Posted by Grurray on 4th January 2016 (All posts by )

    3D printing industry leader 3D Systems announced last week that it plans to stop making consumer 3D printers. They’re going to concentrate on supplying the industrial markets. It’s the culmination of a significant reversal from just a few years ago when the media hype was fueling a bubble among these additive manufacturing makers like 3D Systems and Stratasys. The trend now is moving away from supplying the much publicized hobbyists and enthusiasts and towards the more reliable demand of professional customers

    The company has indicated that the discontinued product line will account for < 2% of revenue, roughly $13M in sales, which is much less that the ~$45M in “Consumer” sales we had projected in our model. The primary difference is likely to be materials (which the company has indicated will still be supported), desktop printers, scanners and Gentle Giant studios.

    The revenue numbers are a big disappointment because the printers were supposed to follow the time tested and much beloved razor blade model with most of the sales coming from resin filament. The markup on the filament in most cases is a holy grail level 1000% – 2000%. The fact that 3D systems, the pioneer of additive manufacturing, couldn’t make this work is bad news for the industry as a whole.

    Stratasys, the other big competitor in the sector, isn’t doing much better. Last year after acquiring Makerbot, perhaps the current top brand in consumer 3D printers, they let go about 1/3 of the workforce (just after making the founders wealthy, of course). Now after seven years and several different updates and revisions, they’re still trying to make a product that works. The class action wolves are now circling, so it may be only a matter of time for their consumer business also.

    Meanwhile, dead tree printing stalwarts such as HP and Toshiba are poised to enter the 3D fray, but they will be making industrial 3D printers. The plan is to leverage their already considerable strengths in sales and distribution to medium and small businesses. Mostly they’re drawing on their experience in the consumer sector where they long ago learned that consumer hardware is a commodity business with little prospects for the big growth expected of startups.

    One business model for 3D printing that seems to be working isn’t selling the devices but making and selling the final product. Such is the case with Proto Labs.

    Proto Labs, on the other hand, enjoys far less competition because the manufacturing services industry is highly fragmented and often slow to turn around orders. This dynamic has allowed Proto Labs to establish itself as lowest cost and fastest provider that can take a product developer through the entire design and manufacturing process — from conceptual model or prototype using 3D printing, to a mid-volume manufacturing run exceeding 10,000 units using injection molding — all in a matter of weeks.

    Years ago, I used to do a lot of business with their rapid prototyping division, Fineline, before they bought them out. They were a nice little group of industry experts in the Research Triangle, and it was always super easy and inexpensive to get anything made and in your hands within a few days. There’s a wide moat, as they say, with this business because of capital requirements and technical skills, so I’m sure acquiring Fineline was a great value. This is a good example of the discipline of Proto Labs, unlike 3D Systems which gorged on any over-hyped acquisition it could find until it suffered its current debilitating indigestion.

    Another business model that seems to be flourishing along with supplying industrial customers is metal 3D printing. In fact, despite today’s overall market drop, 3D Systems stock was up double digits on an announcement it would aggressively pursue this market. Aside from appealing to deep pocketed industrial customers, metal printing may have certain other advantages over plastic which could win it over in the consumer market.

    Metal printing may have the fabled killer app that every innovation must possess to be successful and that has heretofore been so elusive for current 3D printers. Unfortunately, that killer app is firearms, and they are now fighting for their lives. 3D printed guns may save the desktop 3D printer, but first their advocates must save themselves against a State Department ban claiming the guns violate export controls on weapons.

    This case is an exceptionally complicated one that hinges on several legal rulings that honestly I don’t see being resolved until it is kicked up to the Supreme Court. Namely, are digital files considered free speech or are they considered objects, and are 3D printable guns covered under the Second Amendment? Several court cases have been working their way through the courts asking similar questions for different reasons, but as of yet there has been no precedent set–though on the other side of the world New South Wales, Australia has been working to ban 3D printable gun files.

    While everyone is waiting to hear how Obama plans to slap more regulations on gun sales, the additive manufacturing industry is waiting for the Supreme Court to finally potentially unleash their long awaited and much hyped consumer devices. So stay tuned. Defense Distributed is being represented by Josh Blackman, who as far as I can tell is one of the best experts out there on constitutional law. If he can get the case before SCOTUS he’s got a good chance in my estimation to win it, and with that salvage the consumer 3D printing business.

    Posted in Business, Tech | 13 Comments »

    The crash of the XB 70 in 1966.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th December 2015 (All posts by )

    North American XB-70A Valkyrie just after collision. Note the F-104 is at the forward edge of the fireball and most of both XB-70A vertical stabilizers are gone. (U.S. Air Force photo)

    North American XB-70A Valkyrie just after collision. Note the F-104 is at the forward edge of the fireball and most of both XB-70A vertical stabilizers are gone. (U.S. Air Force photo)

    I’m getting a bit tired of politics and corruption right now. How about some aviation history? This is an interesting article on the crash of the supersonic bomber prototype.

    The two test pilots were in the cockpit of a T-38 trainer flying off the left wing of the new XB-70 Valkyrie bomber, aircraft number 62-0207. They just saw the civilian registered NASA F-104N Starfighter of pilot Joe Walker slide upside down across the top of the huge white bomber, shear off both it’s twin tails and skid sideways, then break in two, killing Walker instantly. Behind the XB-70 Walker’s F-104N tumbled end over end, a pinwheel of bright orange flame nearly six hundred feet long tracing its convulsive death spiral.

    The flight was a photo shoot for GE which made the jet engines of all the aircraft being photographed.

    The fatal error was including an F 104 star fighter which had unreliable handling characteristics in low speed flight.

    The poor safety record of the Starfighter brought the aircraft into the public eye, especially in German Air Force service. Fighter ace Erich Hartmann famously was retired from the Luftwaffe because of his protests against having to deploy the unsafe F-104s. The F-104 was also at the center of the Lockheed bribery scandals, in which Lockheed had given bribes to a considerable number of political and military figures in various nations in order to influence their judgment and secure several purchase contracts; this caused considerable political controversy in Europe and Japan.

    It was considered a “widowmaker” at low speed especially takeoff and landing.

    The F-104 series all had a very high wing loading (made even higher when carrying external stores). The high angle of attack area of flight was protected by a stick shaker system to warn the pilot of an approaching stall, and if this was ignored, a stick pusher system would pitch the aircraft’s nose down to a safer angle of attack; this was often overridden by the pilot despite flight manual warnings against this practice. At extremely high angles of attack the F-104 was known to “pitch-up” and enter a spin, which in most cases was impossible to recover from. Unlike the twin-engined McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II for example, the F-104 with its single engine lacked the safety margin in the case of an engine failure, and had a poor glide ratio without thrust.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Military Affairs, Science, Tech | 21 Comments »

    Sign of the Times

    Posted by Jonathan on 25th December 2015 (All posts by )

    lost drone

    Posted in Photos, Society, Tech | 8 Comments »

    Smartphone Bleg

    Posted by Jonathan on 21st December 2015 (All posts by )

    My ghetto mobile setup consisting of cheap prepaid phone and iPod Touch is no longer adequate. Time to get something that can run Waze, an email client and Google Calendar.

    Current alternatives are the Moto G 3rd Gen. and Nexus 6. The former is newer but more stripped-down, the latter a slightly older model with a bigger, nicer screen and may be faster. Nexus is on sale so the respective prices are close enough. Moto is smaller, water resistant, may have longer battery life – important qualities.

    I’d be grateful for any thoughts on which phone to buy. Thanks.

    Posted in Blegs, Tech | 13 Comments »

    Reusable Rockets

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 3rd December 2015 (All posts by )

    “If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred. A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.” ~Elon Musk

    Update: SpaceX May Try Land-Based Rocket Landing This Month

    Here’s the SpaceX plan:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Space, Tech | 21 Comments »

    Apple Watch Review

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 2nd December 2015 (All posts by )

    I do enjoy gadgets and for some time I have been eyeing an Apple Watch. Recently a friend of mine pointed out a special at Target where a $499 watch was reduced to $399 with a $100 target gift card (meaning it effectively is $299, since it is easy to spend $100 on target for items you need around your house and groceries). At $299, I decided to “take the plunge” and it effectively is my XMAS gift to myself.

    This is what the watch looks like in the box. The box is very long and it contains an extra watch band in case your band gets mangled from over-use. The watch bands also are replaceable – I picked the white one because it was the last watch available at the target that was walking distance from my condo.

    Here’s what the watch looks like on your wrist. This is one of the more basic faces, with the time, the weather, calendar notifications, and the “universal” time which apparently is Cupertino. The multiple circle image is their sort of fitness tracker, and the red dot on the top means that I have notifications waiting.

    It took me a little while to figure out how to use the watch, and I am still learning. At this point Apple basically includes no useful documentation – they just have a few pictorial pull-outs and then you figure out the rest by going to the web or watching videos on Youtube. When I turned on the watch it needed to be charged, which occurs when a magnetic disk is attached to the bottom of the watch face. It seems to take an hour or two to fully charge the watch. I also upgraded the watch to the version 2+ operating system which took a while (a few hours).

    It is important to understand that the watch is of marginal use without your iPhone being nearby. Your watch is basically receiving all of its information and connectivity from your iPhone – it can still tell time and function as a fitness tracker, but it can’t do much else on its own.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Tech | 15 Comments »

    Random Thoughts

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th November 2015 (All posts by )

    -Why should food made using GMO techniques be specially labeled? It’s indistinguishable from non-GMO food. The only difference between GMO techniques and older breeding techniques is the speed and precision with which the desired genetic outcomes are obtained. The outcomes themselves are the same. Going out of our way to label GMO food is like going out of our way to label manufactured products built using CNC machine tools.

    -There are often two purposes to an election. One is the selection of the best candidate. The other is the punishment of an inept or corrupt incumbent in order to discourage bad behavior by future elected office holders. A similar point holds for wars. Winning or changing the strategic situation to favor your country is but one reason to go to war. Another reason is to punish your enemy in order to discourage others like him. This is one reason why it was important to depose and humiliate Saddam Hussein after our 2003 invasion and why it was a mistake not to have done so in 1991.*

    —-

    *It might have been best to get rid of Saddam Hussein by bribing him to leave Iraq. However, he might not have been amenable to such a deal, and once we decided to invade it probably made more sense to do what we actually did.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Elections, Tech, War and Peace | 29 Comments »

    Another Software Debacle

    Posted by David Foster on 10th November 2015 (All posts by )

    The project to computerize immigration documentation is not going well…after $1 billion in expenditures and and a new estimated total cost of $3.5 billion—the original estimate having been for half a billion.  (via Marginal Revolution)

    And, of course, we’re all aware of the problems with the Obamacare website and supporting back-end systems.

    Back in 2006, I wrote about the failure of the FAA/IBM project to develop the “Advanced Automation System” for air traffic control: The story of a software failure, based on the writing of Robert Britcher, who was involved in the project.

    The problems with the ATC project were to my mind somewhat more excusable than the ones with the current immigration project:  the “Advanced Automation System” was required to operate with extreme reliability and availability with stringent real-time response criteria, to interface with radar systems, and to support a complex and safety-critical user interface.  The immigration system sounds like basically a large database and workflow system.

    Posted in Big Government, Management, Tech | 18 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd October 2015 (All posts by )

    Bookworm attended an awards dinner for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and reports at length on the honoree’s speech.  For those not familiar with Hirsi Ali:  raised as a Muslim in Somalia, she eventually moved to Holland, where she became of member of Parliament and collaborated on a film about Islam with Theo van Gogh, who was murdered.  Although she has been the target of many death threats, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has refused to be silenced.  Be sure to read Book’s well-written post.

    BBC has a new documentary about Ada, countess of Lovelace…computer pioneer of the 1840s, daughter of the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” poet, Lord Byron, and aficionado of gambling on the horses.

    Once, there was an unpleasant political movement called the “Know-Nothings.”  Today, we have the Know-Betters,

    Claire Berlinski writes about the growing phenomenon of ritual humiliations and denunciations.

    Related to the above, a very interesting analysis of the evolution of society from Cultures of Honor–in which the individual must personally avenge wrongs and insults…to Cultures of Dignity–in which people are assumed to have dignity, foreswear individual violence, rely on the judicial system to to respond to major transgressions and sometime simply ignore minor transgressions (there’s no more dueling)…and now to a Culture of Victimhood, in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture–but they must not obtain redress on their own, rather, they must appeal to powerful others or administrative bodies.

    Renowned physicist Freeman Dyson says that Obama “chose the wrong side” on the climate-change debate.  His thoughts on the psychology behind apocalyptic climate thinking are interesting,

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Miscellaneous, Tech | 11 Comments »

    Book Review: Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Posted by David Foster on 4th October 2015 (All posts by )

    (Today marks the 58th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, making it an appropriate time to rerun this review, which I originally posted in February of this year)

    Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Boris Chertok’s career in the Russian aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high school annual or inside company history edited by someone who wants to be sure no one feels left out and that all the events and tragedies and inside jokes are appropriately recorded. Partly, it is a technological history of rocket development, and partly, it is a study in the practicalities of managing large programs in environments of technical uncertainty and extreme time pressure. Readers should include those interested in: management theory and practice, Russian/Soviet history, life under totalitarianism, the Cold War period, and missile/space technology. Because of the great length of these memoirs, those who read the whole thing will probably be those who are interested in all (or at least most) of the above subject areas. I found the series quite readable; overly-detailed in many places, but always interesting. In his review American astronaut Thomas Stafford said “The Russians are great storytellers, and many of the tales about their space program are riveting. But Boris Chertok is one of the greatest storytellers of them all.”  In this series, Chertok really does suck you into his world.

    Chertok was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1912: his mother had been forced to flee Russia because of her revolutionary (Menshevik) sympathies. The family returned to Russia on the outbreak of the First World War, and some of Chertok’s earliest memories were of the streets filled with red-flag-waving demonstrators in 1917. He grew up on the Moscow River, in what was then a quasi-rural area, and had a pretty good childhood–“we, of course, played “Reds and Whites,” rather than “Cowboys and Indians””–swimming and rowing in the river and developing an early interest in radio and aviation–both an airfield and a wireless station were located nearby. He also enjoyed reading–“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn met with the greatest success, while Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave rise to aggressive moods–‘Hey–after the revolution in Europe, we’ll deal with the American slaveholders!” His cousin introduced him to science fiction, and he was especially fond of Aelita (book and silent film), featuring the eponymous Martian beauty.

    Chertok remembers his school years fondly–there were field trips to study art history and architectural styles, plus a military program with firing of both rifles and machine guns–but notes “We studied neither Russian nor world history….Instead we had two years of social science, during which we studied the history of Communist ideas…Our clever social sciences teacher conducted lessons so that, along with the history of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune, we became familiar with the history of the European peoples from Ancient Rome to World War I, and while studying the Decembrist movement and 1905 Revolution in detail we were forced to investigate the history of Russia.” Chertok purused his growing interest in electronics, developing a new radio-receiver circuit which earned him a journal publication and an inventor’s certificate. There was also time for skating and dating–“In those strict, puritanical times it was considered inappropriate for a young man of fourteen or fifteen to walk arm in arm with a young woman. But while skating, you could put your arm around a girl’s waist, whirl around with her on the ice to the point of utter exhaustion, and then accompany her home without the least fear of reproach.”

    Chertok wanted to attend university, but “entrance exams were not the only barrier to admission.” There was a quota system, based on social class, and  “according to the ‘social lineage’ chart, I was the son of a white collar worker and had virtually no hope of being accepted the first time around.” He applied anyhow, hoping that his journal publication and inventor’s certificate in electronics would get him in.” It didn’t–he was told, “Work about three years and come back. We’ll accept you as a worker, but not as the son of a white-collar worker.”

    So Chertok took a job as electrician in a brick factory…not much fun, but he was soon able to transfer to an aircraft factory across the river. He made such a good impression that he was asked to take a Komsomol leadership position, which gave him an opportunity to learn a great deal about manufacturing. The plant environment was a combination of genuinely enlightened management–worker involvement in process improvement, financial decentralization–colliding with rigid policies and political interference. There were problems with absenteeism caused by new workers straight off the farm; these led to a government edict: anyone late to work by 20 minutes or more was to be fired, and very likely prosecuted. There was a young worker named Igor who had real inventive talent; he proposed an improved linkage for engine and propeller control systems, which worked out well. But when Igor overslept (the morning after he got married), no exception could be made. He was fired, and “we lost a man who really had a divine spark.”  Zero tolerance!

    Chertok himself wound up in trouble when he was denounced to the Party for having concealed the truth about his parents–that his father was a bookkeeper in a private enterprise and his mother was a Menshevik. He was expelled from the Komsomol and demoted to a lower-level position.  Later in his career, he would also wind up in difficulties because of his Jewish heritage.

    The memoir includes dozens of memorable characters, including:

    *Lidiya Petrovna Kozlovskaya, a bandit queen turned factory supervisor who became Chertok’s superior after his first demotion.

    *Yakov Alksnis, commander of the Red Air Force–a strong leader who foresaw the danger of a surprise attack wiping out the planes on the ground. He was not to survive the Stalin era.

    *Olga Mitkevich, sent by the regime to become “Central Committee Party organizer” at the factory where Chertok was working…did not make a good first impression (“had the aura of a strict school matron–the terror of girls’ preparatory schools”)..but actually proved to be very helpful to getting work done and later became director of what was then the largest aircraft factory in Europe, which job she performed well. She apparently had too much integrity for the times, and her letters to Stalin on behalf of people unjustly accused resulted in her own arrest and execution.

    *Frau Groettrup, wife of a German rocket scientist, one of the many the Russians took in custody after occupying their sector of Germany. Her demands on the victors were rather unbelievable, what’s more unbelievable is that the Russians actually yielded to most of them.

    *Dmitry Ustinov, a rising star in the Soviet hierarchy–according to Chertok an excellent and visionary executive who had much to do with Soviet successes in missiles and space. (Much later, he would become Defense Minister, in which role he was a strong proponent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)

    *Valeriya Golubtsova, wife of the powerful Politburo member Georgiy Malenkov, who was Stalin’s immediate successor. Chertok knew her from school–she was an engineer who became an important government executive–and the connection turned out to be very useful. Chertok respected her professional skills, liked her very much, and devotes several pages to her.

    *Yuri Gagarin, first man to fly in space, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman.

    *Overshadowing all the other characters is Sergei Korolev, now considered to be the father of the Soviet space program although anonymous during his lifetime.  Korolev spent 6 years in labor camps, having been arrested when his early rocket experiments didn’t pan out; he was released in 1944.  A good leader, in Chertok’s view, though with a bad temper and given to making threats that he never actually carried out.  His imprisonment must have left deep scars–writing about a field trip to a submarine to observe the firing of a ballistic missile, Chertok says that the celebration dinner with the sub’s officers was the only time he ever saw Korolev really happy.

    Chertok’s memoir encompasses the pre-WWII development of the Soviet aircraft industry…early experiments with a rocket-powered interceptor…the evacuation of factories from the Moscow area in the face of the German invasion…a post-war mission to Germany to acquire as much German rocket technology as possible…the development of a Soviet ballistic missile capability…Sputnik…reconnaissance and communications satellites…the Cuban missile crisis…and the race to the moon.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech, Transportation | 7 Comments »

    Manufacturing Day

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd October 2015 (All posts by )

    Today, October 2, is Manufacturing Day…”a celebration of modern manufacturing meant to inspire the next generation of manufacturers.”  There are opportunities for plant visits all over the country, many open to the public and some limited to school tours, etc.

    There’s a lot more manufacturing going on in the US than most people seem to realize, but not as much as there should be.

    See my related post faux manufacturing nostalgia, also  myths of the knowledge society and “protocols” and wealth creation.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Management, Tech, USA | 2 Comments »

    Learning On My Time

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 30th September 2015 (All posts by )

    Recently I have been to the south of France four times to enjoy cycling vacations. The people there are super friendly and happy to have our tourist Euros. The food is outstanding.

    I took French in high school and for a couple years in college, but dropped it. I have recently picked it back up and am learning every day – literally.

    I have been using a free app called DuoLingo. It was pretty cool to see what I remembered after twenty something years.

    I set a goal to do some French every day. The app rewards you for hitting your daily goal. I made it realistic – equivalent to about 20 to 30 minutes a day. I am on a 92 day streak as of this writing. I am competitive with everything, especially myself.

    It is amazing how far I have come already. Now that I have knocked down most of the basic vocabulary and tenses, it is getting more difficult – but I am learning quickly. The app works you over in several ways. It says something that you have to write, or shows something that you have to translate (English to French and French to English) or shows you something that you are supposed to say into the voice recognition.

    While the app isn’t perfect, it is very, very good. I feel at this point if I could get someone to slow down while speaking that I would have a pretty good chance of getting around, ordering in a restaurant, reading basic travel information, etc. Someday I want to buy a little place in France so obviously learning the language is key – not to mention fun (to me anyways). I would recommend DuoLingo if you are interested in refreshing your language skills – it works on all of your platforms, and if you are in a place where you can’t speak, you can simply turn off that function.

    DuoLingo isn’t perfect – at a certain point down the road I will likely have to find a new app or hire a private tutor to perfect my conversational French, but for these basic building blocks, it is fantastic.

    But this particular post isn’t necessarily about DuoLingo – it is about learning on my time. In the past, something like this would be unimaginable. You would have to hire a private tutor or go to community college. My life isn’t structured that way. I am a business owner with kids all over the place so I need to approach learning French when I have 20 minutes here or there. I recently looked at the local community college for French courses and they only offered it at 6pm to 8.30pm on Tuesday and Thursday night. Not gonna happen.

    With DuoLingo, I hit it when and where I want to. Waiting for a kid to get out of dance class? DuoLingo. Someone is late for an appointment or maybe I am early? Same thing. I don’t have 2.5 hours to sit in a chair twice a week, away from my house or work.

    There are a lot of apps out there, and like with the first inning of the game, Khan Academy, I am excited to see how these new learning methods and interfaces come to fruition in the future.

    We aren’t there yet, but I think eventually kids graduating high school will be able to say “why college?” – and I think that is a great thing.

    Adults who want to simply further themselves no longer need to sit around at the local community college.

    Posted in Education, Internet, Tech | 11 Comments »

    John Hornick on 3D Printing, and some related comments about America 3.0

    Posted by Lexington Green on 21st September 2015 (All posts by )

    John-Hornick

    [Note: I am not personally or professionally acquainted with Mr. Hornick. He is in no way associated with any opinions I may have, or proposals I have made. He is not affiliated in any way with the America 3.0 Institute.]

    We wrote America 3.0 in 2012, mostly, and it was published in 2013. In the book we present a picture of America in 2040. We predict the demise of the industrial-era political and economic order, which is visibly failing today, and the rise of a new set of institutional arrangements for the country. A big part of this change is the development of several important new technologies which will undermine the existing order, and democratize the economy in radical ways.

    We focused on 3D printing, driverless cars, cheap desalination and personalized health care and medication. We were not trying to write a comprehensive book about future technology. Rather, our goal was to indicate the scale of the changes in technology which were coming, and the disruptive impact they would have. If we were to write it now, we would have said more about robotics, drones, and blockchains, for example. Nonetheless, the general trend of things is as we predicted. And as we suspected, things are moving much faster, and the world will be even more different by 2040 than we rather conservatively predicted.

    I recently ran across some outstanding videos by John Hornick, an intellectual property attorney at the Finnegan firm in DC. His Twitter is here. Mr. Hornick is an expert on the law and the technology of 3D printing. I have spent a few hours immersed in his videos.

    Mr. Hornick has a video, entitled “3D Printing State of the Art: Industrial” from May of 2015 which gets into detail about the current state of the art in 3D printing. It is a good primer if you are interested in the field. His deep knowledge as well as his enthusiasm make for a compelling presentation of a highly technical subject.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Tech | 33 Comments »

    Much Talk These Days About “the Internet of Things”

    Posted by David Foster on 16th September 2015 (All posts by )

    …but few seem to have noticed that the Internet of Very Big Things, aka Positive Train Control, is having some difficulties—and  the consequences could be pretty serious.

    via Cold Spring Shops, which has comments here and here.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Tech, Transportation, USA | 16 Comments »

    Your Evolving Home Network

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 6th September 2015 (All posts by )

    Our building recently upgraded to 100 MB per unit internet using “microwave fixed wireless” rather than the traditional AT&T / Verizon / fiber solution. Here and here I wrote about this incredible technology and its potential to disrupt the cable and internet industries.

    After the upgrade we were receiving screaming fast performance from wired connections but slower ping and downloads on my wireless clients. Thus I asked my friend Brian for a wireless router recommendation and he mentioned the TP Link Archer A9. I picked it up on Amazon for $129 and recently hooked it up. With all the security threats that abound, it is important that you have a modern network router and are aware of weak security points on your network, particularly some of the new “Internet of Things” devices that are proliferating nowadays.

    Routers have changed significantly over the last few years in terms of power, capabilities, and ease of use. For instance the A9 has a simple console when you sign in and you can “hover over” and see your wired and wireless connections that are currently on your network. They have a cool error page and I am just starting to dig in to the various errors that I see on the panel and will be working with my ISP to resolve them – these aren’t typical “errors” in that the internet doesn’t work, but I do believe that frequent connections and re-connections and slower link times are caused by these events.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Privacy, Tech | 7 Comments »

    The Map is Not the Territory

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd September 2015 (All posts by )

    I was reminded of this old saying, from  Alfred Korzybski, by an article about an LNG plant in Qatar and the ships that serve it…in particular, the following passage:

    Miroslav Ahmetovic, the chief officer, spends much of his workday in a room below the bridge monitoring the L.N.G. cargo on screens that display indicators like pressure and volume. Every few hours he dons hard hat, gloves, goggles and protective clothing and goes out on the sweltering deck to see that nothing is amiss.

    “I want to make sure my video game conforms to reality,” Mr. Ahmetovic said…

    Very well put, Mr Ahmetovic.  And in an era of obsession with “big data” and “analytics” systems, the users of these systems in organizations of all types would do well to remember that the output of such systems…whether presented in the form of a “dashboard” or a spreadsheet or some form of elegant 3-D graphics…is not the reality, but merely a necessarily partial representation thereof.  The output of the information system is not a substitute for going to the Gemba, to use the Lean management phraseology.

    Related post: management mentalities

    Posted in Management, Tech | 16 Comments »

    You Can Drown in a Lake Whose Average Depth is 6 Inches

    Posted by David Foster on 29th August 2015 (All posts by )

    Where electrical power is concerned, it seems quite difficult for many people to grasp the importance of peak versus average demand and of  peak versus average supply.

    A letter in today’s WSJ argues in favor of solar power, noting that “unlike large generation plants, enormous wind turbines and especially nuclear reactors, all of which require years of planning, personal and small industrial solar installations can be planned and installed in a month or so”  The writer says that utilities are seeing these installations diminish their income, and hence “understandably are fighting back by charging not just for electricity, but separately for connection to the grid.”  He argues that as utilities raise their connection charges to compensate for the newly disconnected, more and more people will think that utility power is a bad deal and will disconnect totally, which will “ultimately result in electric utilities holding sway only in urban or perpetually cloudy areas.”

    What happens with solar will be largely dependent on the future improvements in battery or other energy storage technologies, but I think it is most unlikely that most people will be comfortable disconnecting from the grid totally.  With any economically-reasonable level of local storage, a run of bad weather is likely to result in running out of power totally, with very uncomfortable consequences.

    What most people who invest heavily in solar are likely to do, IMO, is to maintain a backup grid connection for those exceptional cases.  The problem is that the exceptional conditions will occur for thousands of households and other sites at the same time over a broad area…requiring the utility’s generation and transmission facilities to be sized for these exceptional conditions, with capital expenditures made accordingly.

    Continuing financial viability of the utilities will require these costs to be recovered, either via a connection fee (“readiness-to-serve charge”) or a very high kwh charge for these infrequent and difficult-to-handle customers.  But the solar people will argue vehemently against these charges, asserting that they represent nothing more than corporate greed and hostility to new technology, and are likely to gain considerable political support.

    In this scenario, in those areas with substantial distributed solar power, the utilities will be driven into financial distress or will have to raise rates considerably on their non-solar customers…which in turn will encourage more people to invest in solar, but will create great economic pain from those people and businesses who cannot do this, and eventually result in the costs of the entire vast grid infrastructure and its maintenance being allocated against an ever-declining base.  This seems unlikely to end well.

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Tech | 25 Comments »

    How Systems Get Tired

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd August 2015 (All posts by )

    This great post by Richard Fernandez  reminded me of a quote from George Eliot:

    The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

    (from Silas Marner)

    Posted in Big Government, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Political Philosophy, Tech | 20 Comments »

    More on Politics and Social Media

    Posted by David Foster on 29th July 2015 (All posts by )

    some thoughts from the UK:

    A lot of what happens on Facebook, as with Twitter, is “virtue signalling” – showing off to your friends about how right on you are.

    via the Assistant Village Idiot, who says:

    I mentioned this long ago in terms of Not In Our Name, and also suggested that Jonathan Haidt overlooks those places where liberals are just as purity vs. disgust* concerned as conservatives. (See also environmentalism, vegetarianism, NASCAR and a host of other disgust issues, including, I think wealth – though that is more ambiguous in both camps.

    *And authority driven, another trait supposedly more common among conservatives.  The imprimatur of Roberth Reich or Paul Krugman is enough in economics; climate change catastrophe is based on choice of authorities.

    See also my related post  Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is…do you, Mr Priebus?

     

    Posted in Britain, Human Behavior, Internet, Leftism, Media, Politics, Tech | 1 Comment »

    Something is Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What it Is

    Posted by David Foster on 20th July 2015 (All posts by )

    …do you, Mr Priebus?

    A study by Pew Research says that Americans are increasingly getting their news from Facebook and Twitter.  The study indicates that 63% of both FB and Twitter users says that they get news from these sites, up from 47% and 52% in 2013.  (Bear in mind that 66% of US adults use Facebook, whereas only 17% use Twitter.)  In general, it seems that FB users are more likely to pro-actively share and comment on politically-related posts, whereas Twitter users are more likely to follow stories from “official” news organizations.

    Of course, the fact that someone gets news from FB or Twitter does not by itself say anything about how important that site is to them within the universe of possible news sources.  Another part of the survey attempts to answer that question.  Among people 35 and over, 34% say Facebook is “the most or an important” way they get news; the corresponding number for Twitter is 31%.  But among those 18-34, the number is 49% for both FB and Twitter.

    WSJ recently reviewed a new book,  The Selfie Vote,  by political analyst Kristen Soltis Anderson, who says:

    “I’ve spent the last six years trying to crack the code on young voters.  What I’ve found should terrify Republicans.”

    She believes the current Republican approach to political marketing does not mesh with the way Millennials (“who view their comfort with technology as what makes their generation ‘special'”) tend to get information.  Quoting the WSJ piece:

    “Take the 2012 presidential race.  Mitt Romney’s campaign stuck mostly with network TV ads during prime time, sometimes…paying nearly six times as much as Barack Obama’s campaign for an ad of the same length during the same time slot.  Team Obama made use of individually targeted ads for satellite subscribers, tailoring the campaign’s message to specific voters in swing states and spending less money on network TV.  The Obama campaign also developed cost-effective online ads that targeted Facebook and YouTube users based on personal-preference data, even running ads in online videogames…As more millennials pull the cable plug and spend their free time exclusively online, Republicans can’t expect to compete by pouring resources into 30-second spots during “Jeopardy!””

    I think Facebook is a poor source for news and a very inferior venue for political discussion.  But the Left is using it very effectively to circulate memes, usually in the form of simplistic poster-like images with a photo or graphic of some kind and a few words or dubious statistics.  There does not seem to be any coherent effort on the part of the RNC, or any other Republican campaign organization or conservative/libertarian organization, to rapidly generate refutations of these when called for, nor do I see very many counter-leftist memes that I judge to be good enough, from a marketing standpoint, to be worth circulating.  And there is very little of marketing value to be found on either the FB page of the RNC or the FB page of RNC chairman Reince Priebus.

    My sense is that while the RNC leadership may understand old-style get-out-the-vote campaigns and precinct organization, they have little concept of social media marketing, and have also been outdone in the use of “big data” for campaign management.  (See my post Catalist, “The 480,” and The Real 480.)  I don’t think they’re really all that good at old-fashioned direct-mail marketing, either, based on what shows up in my mailbox.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Blogging, Book Notes, Elections, Human Behavior, Media, Politics, Rhetoric, Tech | 31 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 1st July 2015 (All posts by )

    Propaganda:  turning human beings into automatically responding machines

    Victor Davis Hanson:  Progressive mass hysteria, enabled by the Internet

    Sarah Hoyt thinks we are suffering from  the political equivalent of an autoimmune disease

    Tolerance for ambiguity can be an important career asset

    It seems that color movie film was often used in early cinema, going back to the 1890s

    If  railroads are a gauge of a society’s health, then it sounds like Sweden is in serious trouble.  See also  railway socialism and safety

    The story of  Pyrex

    A visit to the Le Creuset factory

    Virtual reality for football training

    Once there was a “know-nothing” movement in America;   today, we have the “know-betters”

    Why we should study the ancient Greeks

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Business, Civil Society, Film, History, Human Behavior, Internet, Leftism, Management, Society, Tech, Transportation | 15 Comments »

    Cool Retrotech

    Posted by David Foster on 16th June 2015 (All posts by )

    Flight simulation technology, 1958-style

    Posted in Aviation, History, Tech, Transportation | 2 Comments »