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  • Archive for the 'Tech' Category

    On the Internet

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 18th April 2014 (All posts by )

    Recently a few loose threads have come together on the Internet and some “old school” high tech companies.

    Yahoo! – Yahoo! (I guess I need the exclamation mark) has a value that is less than the sum of its component parts. The market capitalization of Yahoo! comes in the fact that it owns a significant portion of two Asian internet companies. Per this pithily titled article “How Is Yahoo So Worthless“:

    Yahoo is huge. It is the fourth-biggest Internet domain in the United States. It is the fourth-biggest seller of online ads in the country. It is the most popular destination for fantasy sports, controls one the most-trafficked home pages in news, and owns the eighth-most popular email client. In the last three months, it collected more than $1 billion in revenue. It’s very rich.

    It’s also totally worthless.

    Technically, it’s worse than worthless. Worthless means without worth. Worthless means $0.00. But Yahoo’s core business—mostly search and display advertising—is worth more like negative-$10 billion, according to Bloomberg View’s Matthew C. Klein.

    The math: Yahoo’s total market cap is $37 billion. Its 24 percent stake in Alibaba, the eBay of China, is worth an estimated $37 billion (Alibaba hasn’t IPO’d yet, so this figure will vary), and its 35 percent stake in Yahoo Japan is worth about $10 billion. That means its core business is valued around negative-$10 billion.

    This isn’t just a random business article; there is some actual financial science behind this analysis. At my trust fund site Yahoo! is one of the stocks I selected since I believe that their new CEO Marissa Meyer is a badass but according to the math she is still losing the battle.

    At one point in my career I worked for a public company that had $300M in cash on hand and a market value of $200M. Your business plan could be to fire everyone and drink in a bar all day and you’d be much closer to $300M than $200M (after all, how much can you drink). The market is anticipating that bad things are going to happen or that Yahoo! won’t be able to successfully sell and repatriate the cash for these investments. It is like that famous postcard my relatives in Montana had that said “If I won a million dollars I’d just keep ranching until it was all gone.” That is what the market today thinks of Yahoo! – even if they successfully extracted the cash from these investments, they’d invest it into something of less value (by $10B or so, apparently).
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Tech | 3 Comments »

    RetroTech: Lighted Airways and the Radio Range

    Posted by David Foster on 18th April 2014 (All posts by )

    When airplanes first started to be used for serious transportation purposes, sometime after World War I, the problems involved with flight at night and in periods of low visibility became critical. Transcontinental airmail, for example, lost much of its theoretical speed advantage if the plane carrying the mail had to stop for the night. Gyroscopic flight instruments addressed the problem of controlling the airplane without outside visual references, but there remained the problem of navigation.

    An experiment in 1921 demonstrated that airmail could be successfully flown coast-to-coast, including the overnight interval, with the aid of bonfires located along the route.  The bonfires were soon displaced by a more permanent installation based on rotating beacons. The first lighted airway extended from Chicago to Cheyenne…the idea was that pilots of coast-to-coast flights could depart from either coast in early morning and reach the lighted segment before dusk.  The airway system rapidly expanded to cover much of the country–by 1933, the Federal Airway System extended to 18,000 miles of lighted airways, encompassing 1,550 rotating beacons. The million-candlepower beacons were positioned every ten miles along the airway, and in clear weather were visible for 40 miles. Red or green course lights at each beacon flashed a Morse identifier so that the pilot could definitely identify his linear position on the airway.

    Lighted airways solved the navigation problem very well on a clear night, but were of limited value in overcast weather or heavy participation. You might be able to see the beacons through thin cloud or light rain, but a thicker cloud layer, or heavy rain/snow, might leave you without navigational guidance.

    The answer was found in radio technology. The four-course radio range transmitted signals at low frequency (below the AM broadcast band) in four quadrants. In two of the quadrants, the Morse letter N (dash dot) was transmitted continuously; in the other two quadrants, there was continuous transmission of  the Morse A (dot dash.) The line where two quadrants met formed a course that a pilot could follow by listening to the signal in his headphones: if he was exactly “on the beam,” the A and the N would interlock to form a continuous tone; if he was to one side or the other, he would begin to hear the A or N code emerging.

    The radio range stations were located every 200 miles, and were overlaid on the lighted airways, the visual beacons of which continued to be maintained. The eventual extent of the radio-range airway system is shown in this map. All that was required in the airplane was a simple AM radio with the proper frequency coverage.

    The system made reliable scheduled flying a reality, but it did have some limitations. Old-time pilot Ernest Gann described one flight:

    Beyond the cockpit windows, a few inches beyond your own nose and that of your DC-2′s, lies the night. Range signals are crisp, the air smooth enough to drink the stewardess’s lukewarm coffee without fear of spilling it…Matters are so nicely in hand you might even flip through a magazine while the copilot improves his instrument proficiency…

    Suddenly you are aware the copilot is shifting unhappily in his seat. “I’ve lost the range. Nothing.”

    You deposit the Saturday Evening Post in the aluminum bin which already holds the metal logbook and skid your headphones back in place…There are no signals of any kind or the rap of distance voices from anywhere in the night below. There is only a gentle hissing in your headphones as if some wag were playing a recording of ocean waves singing on a beach.

    You reach for a switch above your head and flip on the landing lights. Suspicion confirmed. Out of the night trillions of white lines are landing toward your eyes. Snow. Apparently the finer the flakes the more effective. It has isolated you and all aboard from the nether world. The total effect suggests you might have become a passenger in Captain Nemo’s fancy submarine.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Tech, Transportation, USA | 7 Comments »

    Book Review: Father, Son, & Co., by Thomas Watson Jr and Peter Petre (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 8th April 2014 (All posts by )

    (Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the IBM System/360 series (original press release here)…seems like a good time to rerun this book review, which I originally posted in 2011)

    Buy the book: Father, Son & Co.

    —-

    When Tom Watson Jr was 10 years old, his father came home and proudly announced that he had changed the name of his company. The business that had been known as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company would now be known by the grand name International Business Machines.

    That little outfit?” thought young Tom to himself, picturing the company’s rather random-seeming collection of products, which included time clocks, coffee grinders, and scales, and the “cigar-chomping guys” who sold them. This was in 1924.

    This is the best business autobiography I’ve read. It’s about Watson Jr, his difficult relationship with his father, the company they built, and the emergence of the computing industry. It is an emotional, reflective, and self-critical book, without the kind of “here’s how brilliant I was” tone that afflicts too many executive autobiographies. With today being IBM’s 100th anniversary (counting from the incorporation of CTR), I thought it would be a good time to finally get this review finished and posted.

    Watson’s relationship with his father was never an easy one. From an early age, he sensed a parental expectation that he would follow his father into IBM, despite both his parents assuring him that this was not the case and he could do whatever he wanted. This feeling that his life course was defined in advance, combined with fear that he would never be able to measure up to his increasingly-famous father, was likely a factor in the episodes of severe depression which afflicted him from 13 to 19. In college Watson was an indifferent student and something of a playboy. His most significant accomplishment during this period was learning to fly airplanes—-”I’d finally discovered something I was good at”–a skill that would have great influence on his future. His first job at IBM, as a trainee salesman, did little to boost his self-confidence or his sense of independence: he was aware that local IBM managers were handing him easy accounts, wanting to ensure success for the chief executive’s son. It was only when Watson joined the Army Air Force during WWII–he flew B-24s and was based in Russia, assisting General Follett Bradley in the organization of supply shipments to the Soviet Union–that he proved to himself that he could succeed without special treatment. As the war wound down, he set his sights on becoming an airline pilot–General Bradley expressed surprise, saying “Really? I always thought you’d go back and run the IBM company.” This expression of confidence, from a man he greatly respected, helped influence Watson to give IBM another try.

    The products that Watson had been selling, as a junior salesman, were punched card systems. Although these were not computers in the modern sense of the word, they could be used to implement some pretty comprehensive information systems. Punched card systems were an important enabler of the increasing dominance of larger organizations in both business and government: the Social Security Act of 1935 was hugely beneficial to IBM both because of the systems they sold to the government directly and those sold to businesses needing to keep up with the required record-keeping.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Biography, Book Notes, Business, Management, Tech | 13 Comments »

    Radar Wars: a Case Study in Science and Government

    Posted by David Foster on 17th March 2014 (All posts by )

    In 1960, the British scientist/novelist C P Snow gave a lecture–later turned into a book–which was inspired by the following  thought:

    One of the most bizarre features of any advanced industrial society in our time is that the cardinal choices have to be made by a handful of men: in secret: and, at least in legal form, by men who cannot have a first-hand knowledge of what those choices depend upon or what their results may be…and when I say the “cardinal choices,” I mean those that determine in the crudest sense whether we live or die.

    Snow discusses two very cardinal cases in which he was personally if somewhat peripherally involved: the pre-WWII secret debate about air defense technologies, and the mid-war debate about strategic bombing policies. This post will focus on the first of these debates, the outcome of which quite likely determined the fate of Britain and of Europe. (Snow’s version of these events is not universally accepted, as I’ll discuss later.) Follow-on posts will discuss the strategic bombing debate and the issues of expertise, secrecy, and decision-making in our own time.

    The air defense debate had two main protagonists: Sir Henry Tizard, and Frederick Lindmann (later Lord Cherwell.) These men were similar in many ways: both were scientists, both were patriots, both were men of great  courage (involved in early and dangerous aircraft experimentation), both were serious amateur athletes. They were “close but not intimate friends” when they both lived in Berlin–Tizard was a member of a gym there which was run by a former champion lightweight boxer of England, and persuaded Lindemann to join and box with him. But Lindemann proved to be such a poor loser that Tizard refused to box with him again. “Still,” says Tizard, “we remained close friends for over twenty-five years, but after 1936 he became a bitter enemy.”

    Snow, who makes no secret of his preference for Tizard, tells of a conversation with Lindemann in which he (Snow) remarked that “the English honours system must cause far more pain than pleasure: that every January and June the pleasure to those who got awards was nothing like so great as the pain of those who did not. Miraculously Lindemann’s sombre, heavy face lit up…With a gleeful sneer he said: ‘Of course it is. It wouldn’t be any use getting an ward if one didn’t think of all the people who were miserable because they hadn’t managed it.’”

    Some people did like Lindemann, though–and one of them was Winston Churchill, who though still in the political wilderness was not without influence. Indeed, the future PM considered Lindemann (later to become Lord Cherwell) to be his most trusted advisor on matters of science. If Snow’s version of events is correct, Churchill’s trust and advocacy of Lindemann could have driven a decision resulting in Britain’s losing the war before it even started.

    During the inter-war era, the bombing plane was greatly feared–it was commonly believed that no effective defense was possible. PM Stanley Baldwin, speaking in 1932, expressed this attitude when he said “I think it is well also for the man in the street to realize that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed, whatever people may tell him. The bomber will always get through.” Indeed, the problem of air defense was very difficult–the bombers could arrive at any time, and by the time they were sighted, it would likely be too late to get fighters in the air. Maintaining standing patrols on all possible attack routes was unfeasible. The only detection devices were long horns with microphones and amplifiers, intended to pick up enemy engine noise a considerable distance away–but their value was limited to say the least.

    In early 1935, the British government set up a Committee for the Scientific Study of Air Defense, chaired by Tizard. It reported to a higher-level committee, chaired by Lord Swinton, who was the Air Minister. One member of that higher-level committee was Winston Churchill, and he insisted that his favorite scientist, Lindemann (who had been quite vocal about the need for improved air defense), should be appointed to Tizard’s working-level committee.

    Radar had only recently been invented, and was by no means operationally proven, but all of the members of that Tizard committee–with one exception–viewed it as the key to successful air defense. That exeption was Lindemann. While not hostile to radar, he believed the committee should given equal or greater attention to certain other technologies–specifically, infrared detection and parachute mines…the latter devices were to be dropped from above, and were intended to explode after getting caught on the wing or other part of the enemy bomber. He also thought there were possibilities in machines that would create a strong updraft and flip a bomber on its back.

    “Almost from the moment that Lindemann took his seat undisturbed in the committee room,” says Snow, “the meetings did not know half an hour’s harmony or work undisturbed.” Exercising his novelistic talents, Snow imagines what the meetings must have been like:

    Lindemann, Hill, and Blackett were all very tall men of distinguished physical presence…Blackett and Hill would be dressed casually, like academics. Tizard and Lindemann, who were both conventional in such things, would be wearing black coats and striped trousers, and both would come to the meetings in bowler hates. At the table Blackett and Hill, neither of them specially patient men nor overfond of listening to nonsense, sat with incredulity through diatribes by Lindemann, scornfull, contemptuous, barely audible, directed against any decision that Tizard had made, was making, or ever would make. Tizard sat it out for some time. He could be irritable, but he had great resources of temperament, and he knew that this was too serious a time to let the irritability flash. He also knew, from the first speech that Lindemann made in committee, that the friendship of years was smashed.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Britain, History, Management, Military Affairs, Tech | 10 Comments »

    About Those Smart Machines

    Posted by David Foster on 12th March 2014 (All posts by )

    Lots of talk these days about smart machines, brilliant machines, even genius machines.

    For balance, read this post about Stupid Smart Stuff.

    See also my post when humans and robots communicate.

    Posted in Aviation, Tech, Transportation | 4 Comments »

    Descent of the Chioula, and GoPro

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 27th February 2014 (All posts by )

    Last year on my annual pilgrimage to cycling valhalla in the Pyrenees I took my GoPro camera for the first time. Below is my descent of the Col du Chioula, headed back toward Ax les Thermes (best viewed in HD).

    This was probably my best descent of last year, the road surface and weather being just right. Everything fell into place. For those wondering, my top speed on this descent was 48.2 mph.

    I took an insane amount of footage with my GoPro last year, and I am glad I did. But the problem is that when you bring back these hours and hours of video, there is nowhere for you to go with it. Options are buying an external hard drive and storing them there, or uploading them to one of many websites that do this sort of thing. I am about two thirds of the way done uploading my videos to YouTube, and it takes absolutely forever. A 15 minute video takes several hours to upload. I usually start one video a night and begin the uploading process before I go to bed.

    Cross posted at LITGM.

    Posted in France, Sports, Tech, Video | 4 Comments »

    It Isn’t Nice to Kick Someone When He’s Down…

    Posted by David Foster on 6th February 2014 (All posts by )

    …but the woes at Sony Corporation remind me of a couple of my posts about the path this company has been taking.

    From March, 2005:

    The New York Times (3/13, registration required) quotes Sir Howard Stringer, the new chief executive of Sony, arguing for mutual benefit between his company’s electronics and entertainment divisions. At the Consumer Electronics Show last month, Sir Howard said, “A device without content is nothing but scrap metal.”

    Following the chain of logic he seems to be developing, we could also argue that a car without fuel is scrap metal…and therefore, auto companies need to own oil companies. Or that computers are useless without software…so all computer manufacturers need to possess large software operations.

    Randall Stoss, author of the NYT article, observes that Sir Howard’s remark is “a platitude beneath mention–unless, perhaps, one were a mite defensive about owning both a widget factory and an entertainment factory.” Stoss goes on to credit the success of the iPod (far greater than Sony’s competitive product) to the fact that Apple has not pursued synergies between device and content…

    A company thrives when it has all that it needs to make a compelling product and is undistracted by fractiousness among divisions that resent being told to make decisions based upon family obligations, not market considerations.

    From September 2012:

    In his Financial Times article Why Sony did not invent the iPod, John Kay notes that there have been many cases in which large corporations saw correctly that massive structural changes were about to hit their industries–attempted to position themselves for these changes by executing acquisitions or joint ventures–and failed utterly. As examples he cites Sony’s purchase of CBC Records and Columbia Pictures, the AT&T acquisition of NCR, and the dreadful AOL/Time Warner affair. He summarizes the reason why these things don’t tend to work:

    A collection of all the businesses which might be transformed by disruptive innovation might at first sight appear to be a means of assembling the capabilities needed to manage change. In practice, it is a means of gathering together everyone who has an incentive to resist change. 

    I’d also note that the kinds of vertical integration represented by the above mergers don’t exactly encourage other companies–which were not competitors prior to the merger but have become so afterwards–to participate in an ecosystem.
    Kay references the work of Clayton Christensen, whose book The Innovator’s Solution I reviewed here.  See also Mergers, Acquisitions, Princesses, and Toads.

     

    Posted in Business, Management, Tech | 19 Comments »

    Fear of Robots: Mainframe-Era Version

    Posted by David Foster on 6th February 2014 (All posts by )

    New Yorker cartoon by David Langdon. (click to expand) I can’t find a date for this, but it was probably sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Tech | 3 Comments »

    San Francisco and a Sneaky Win for the Red

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 25th January 2014 (All posts by )

    In San Francisco recently there has been a minor hubub about the buses that ferry technology workers from San Francisco (where they live) to Silicon Valley (where they work). “Activists” have been blocking the city bus lanes where the technology companies pick up workers, and the city of San Francisco recently voted to charge the buses $1 for each time they stop in the bus lanes to pick up passengers, per this article. However, the “real” challenge isn’t with the buses, but the impact of Google, Facebook and other technology companies in the valley that are contributing to a rapid gentrification of the entire city

    But while logistical details of the pilot program were the reason for having the hearing, they also had nothing to do with it. For many residents, the high-ceilinged room at City Hall was a forum for airing much bigger grievances about inequality, for articulating angst against an industry attracting bands of well-paid workers to town while long-term residents are losing their homes. “These companies are filthy rich,” said a resident born in San Francisco. “We need to squeeze them for everything they’re worth.” Some speakers wanted the buses to be banned and for companies to take the money spent on shuttles and funnel it into the city’s transportation budget — advice the committee approving the proposal didn’t find too compelling.

    A similar difference in approach played out at the protest that morning. While some activists made careful arguments about the tornado of wealth, growth and housing shortages that has thrown the city into an affordability crisis, others held a giant sign with a much less nuanced message: “F*** off Google.”

    This thread crystalizes two key threads that I’ve noticed in my visits to California for work and for pleasure (Dan and I have been there a couple of times to run the Presidio 10) and I often travel to the valley to visit various companies as part of my job. The first item is that San Francisco has been completely remade, from top to bottom, and there are almost no “bad” neighborhoods left in the entire city. I’ve walked through most of the city or taken the streetcars, or driven, and since the 2008 bust the entire city has been part of an enormous revitalization as wealthy tech workers and related professionals have bought up property in the city. There still are a bunch of drunks in the Tenderloin, aggressive panhandlers everywhere, and some projects and worse neighborhoods in the corners of the city, but by and large it has been completely upgraded.

    The second thread is that the workers in Silicon Valley are so completely opposite of these “activists” that it is difficult to know how to begin the comparison. At all of the companies I’ve visited the professionals are engaged in their work and have a very “capitalistic” view of being the best and beating the competition. While California is a completely “blue” state on the map, these technology professionals couldn’t be more “red” on the issues of free markets, access to capital, and the nature of the world-wide competition that they face (I don’t know about social issues because we’d never discuss that sort of thing). These firms leverage overseas workers without a second thought, and ruthlessly prune inefficient parts of their organization to focus on their core differentiators.

    While the world was focused elsewhere San Francisco transformed into a post-industrial city full of aggressive technology workers and professionals. Due to some remaining elements of rent control there are still some of the characteristic “activists” milling around but the relentless and unstoppable force of high property values will find solutions and will eventually demolish and buy out their remaining haunts until it is just the ruthless face of the post industrial economy that can afford to live in the city.

    The “activists” will end up packing their belongings and heading over to Oakland or somewhere else where the rents are affordable and they can pick up their protests there. Unfortunately for them San Francisco’s compact size, beauty, and absence of large scale government subsidized housing will drive them completely out of the city. The college students will likely pick up some of the protests but since they don’t really vote or build a substantial power base up the wealthy firms will soon control local government and then policy and reality will align.

    If you really want to look at long term opportunities I’d recommend property in Oakland. Oakland has a great location, it just needs to be terraformed via gentrification and rising property taxes until every activist and poor person is driven out, just like it is occurring today in San Francisco. Maybe this is a 20-30 year vision, but it will happen.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Big Government, Economics & Finance, Tech, Transportation | 24 Comments »

    Selected Posts from 2013, continued

    Posted by David Foster on 17th January 2014 (All posts by )

    One more batch…

    Freedom, the Village, and the Internet. Will social media re-create the kind of social control once often found in the village community?

    301 Years of Steam Power. What they told you in school about James Watt and the invention of the steam engine was very likely wrong.  Related: 175 Years of Transatlantic Steam.

    An Age of Decline? Is America in one, and is the situation irretrievable?

    The Baroque Computers of the Apocalypse. The remarkable air defense system known as SAGE.

    Book and Video Reviews:

    Fly the Airplane. Two flight instructors write about their romance, their flight around the country in a 1938 Piper Cub, and the life lessons that can be derived from aviation.

    Elective Affinities. Goethe’s novel about a love quadrangle.

    Wish Me Luck. A very good TV series about Special Operations Executive agents working in occupied France during WWII.

    Author Appreciation: Rose Wilder Lane. RWL was both an astute and thoughtful political philosopher and a pretty good novelist.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Aviation, Civil Society, Energy & Power Generation, History, Human Behavior, Military Affairs, Political Philosophy, Tech, Transportation, USA, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    Are We Living in a Post-Literate Society?

    Posted by David Foster on 11th January 2014 (All posts by )

    Was 1950 the high point of literacy in North America?

    An interesting if depressing piece here: Post-Literacy and the Refusal to Read.

    The author notes that the post-literate individual resembles the person from a pre-literate oral culture in many ways, BUT:

    On the other hand, post-literacy is not a relapse into orality, which, in its intact form, has institutions of its own such as folklore and social custom that codify the knowledge essential to living.  Post-literacy can draw on no such resources, for these have only been preserved in modern society in literature, and post-literacy has not only lost contact with literature, but also it simply no longer knows how to read in any meaningful sense.  It cannot refer to the archive to replenish itself by a study of its own past.

    …which implies, of course, that people in post-literate societies are more susceptible to manipulation than are those in either oral or literate cultures.

    Note also the description of the private college which is so desperate for tuition revenue that it forces its professors to tolerate almost any level of bad performance and outright laziness from its students. As I’ve observed before, the idea that “non-profit” institutions are inherently morally superior to for-profit entities is ludicrous, and increasingly obviously so.

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Human Behavior, Media, Tech, USA | 32 Comments »

    Selected Posts from 2013, continued

    Posted by David Foster on 7th January 2014 (All posts by )

    A Winter’s Tale. An appropriate post given today’s temperatures.

    Saint Alexander of Munich. Alexander Schmorell, a member of the anti-Nazi student resistance group known as the White Rose, has been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.

    Deconstructing a Nazi Death Sentence. The transcript of the verdict passed by the “People’s Court” on members of the White Rose provides a window into the totalitarian mind.

    Despicable. US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Istanbul, compared the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing to the nine Turkish activists killed by the IDF as they tried to break Gaza’s naval blockade.

    Appropriate Reading and Viewing for Obama’s Surveillance State.

    Six Hundred Million Years in K-12.

    Some 3-D Printing Links.

    Aerodynamics, Art History, and the Assignment of Names.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Aviation, Christianity, Current Events, Education, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Israel, Obama, Philosophy, Religion, Tech | 1 Comment »

    Selected Posts from 2013

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd January 2014 (All posts by )

    I’m reviewing my posts over the last year, and will be linking some of them here, in some cases with additional commentary. Here’s the first batch…

    The bitter wastes of politicized America, on the toxic social effects of ever-increasing government power.

    Also relevant to the subject of this post are some of Sebastian Haffner’s observations on inter-war Germany. He notes that during the Stresemann chancellorship, when a certain level of stability and normality was achieved, “there was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness”…BUT a return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:

    A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddenly ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.

    I’m afraid that in America today, we also have a fair number of people who expect to have “the content of their lives delivered by the public sphere,” and this is another factor in the growing politicization of absolutely everything.

    The Dream(liner) and the Nightmare (of Social Toxicity). How reactions to the problems with the Boeing 787′s battery system exemplify the declining levels of trust in American society.

    Excusing Failure by Pleading Incompetence.  Hillary Clinton’s testimony on the Benghazi debacle clearly demonstrated her inability and/or unwillingness to understand the nature of executive responsibility. It is truly appalling that anyone could seriously consider this woman for the job of United States President.

    Respect her Authoritah. Nancy Cartman-Pelosi thinks it would be disrespectful to cut congressional salaries because it would reduce the dignity of lawmakers’ jobs.

    Connecting the World. Undersea cables, and their social & psychological impact.

    Posted in Aviation, Civil Society, Germany, Leftism, Management, Politics, Tech, Transportation | 1 Comment »

    ETAOIN SHRDLU

    Posted by David Foster on 1st January 2014 (All posts by )

    I was trying to figure out the not-very-intuitive interface for presetting stations on my car radio, and remembered a car radio we had when I was a kid: it could “memorize” the frequencies of selected stations in an entirely mechanical manner. IIRC, you pulled out a setting button when the radio was on a station you wanted to “remember,” and when you later wanted to return to that station, you simply pushed the appropriate button in. (I believe this feature was mechanized via clamps gripping a continuous string that drove the tuning mechanism.)

    Which got me thinking: there was once a whole range of cunning mechanical devices that performed memory, logic, and arithmetic tasks that would now be done with a microprocessor or some other form of digital logic. Things that come to mind include railway signal interlocking systems, Linotype and other typesetting machines, mechanical calculators, mechanical analog computers, and ship and aircraft autopilots.

    Googling around, I found that there is actually a feature film about the Linotype:  a bit about the history of typesetting, the development of the Linotype machine, the basics of how it works, some of the social/economic implications, and much nostalgia from former Linotype operators (and also from younger operators, who are working to keep the trade/technology alive.) The film is available free to those who have an Amazon Prime membership.

    This video explains how the Linotype works and then goes into considerable detail about the mechanism.

    Regarding the social/economic implications, the first video notes that while Linotype reduced typesetting labor requirements by a factor of 6:1, it also drove an explosion in the volume of printed material, and a concurrent increase in literacy, and wound up actually increasing the number of people involved in the printing trade. I would also suspect that the high capital cost of Linotype equipment was one factor that drove a consolidation of the newspaper industry toward a small number of highly dominant papers in each city.

    One place where a Linotype can be seen in operation today is the Baltimore Museum of Industry, which has a machine which is periodically activated.

     

    Posted in History, Media, Tech | 11 Comments »

    The Procurement / Bureaucracy Excuse, and the Drive for Expanded Presidential Power

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd December 2013 (All posts by )

    President Obama has been unwilling to admit that the problems with the Obamacare roll-out might suggest that he needs to work on improving his management skills. Instead, he has chosen to blame the complexities of government bureaucracy, and in particular the complexities of the government procurement process–all matters that have seemed to be rather surprising to him–and this view has predictably been echoed by some in the pundit class.

    I have several thoughts on this matter:

    1) It is not yet clear to what extent the Obamacare systems problems are a function of too much bureaucracy in the procurement process versus too little bureaucracy in that process as employed in this specific case. In particular, were Serco and CGI and other key contractors selected based on the robot-like processes of the Federal procurement system…or was heavy political influence involved? I don’t think we know yet.

    2) A good workman understands the limitations of his tools and materials. We wouldn’t think much of a civil engineer who designed a high-traffic-carrying bridge without paying close attention to the load-bearing characteristics of the steel girders and cables used; nor would we think much of an architect who designed a house in which a family was investing much of their financial net worth without considering the weather resistance of the wood and other materials he was specifying. Shouldn’t Obama, before embarking on a plan to greatly increase the Federal Government’s role in healthcare, have seriously considered the characteristics and limitations of the tools and materials that he was using–the Federal agencies and their policies and procedures–for this purpose? He stands convicted out of his own mouth for not performing this basic level of due diligence.

    3) Whatever the encumbrances of the Federal bureaucracy–and yes, we all know they are significant–nothing prevented Obama from taking a more serious and responsible executive role in supervising the roll-out, and/or putting effective people in key leadership positions. Can there be any doubt that if a person of the quality of General Bernard Schriever, for example, had been put in control of the technology and paperwork process implementation, the odds of success would have been considerably better?

    4) Most important: Obama and his media/academic sycophants refuse to understand the inevitable limitation of government micromanagement.  I’ve previously quoted Peter Drucker:

    Whether government is “a government of laws” or a “government of men” is debatable. But every government is, by definition, a “government of paper forms.” This means, inevitably, high cost. For “control” of the last 10 per cent of any phenomenon always costs more than control of the first 90 per cent. If control tries to account for everything, it becomes prohibitively expensive. Yet this is what government is always expected to do.

    The reason is not just “bureaucracy” and red tape; it is a much sounder one. A “little dishonesty” in government is a corrosive disease. It rapidly spreads to infect the whole body politic. Yet the temptation to dishonesty is always great. People of modest means and dependent on a salary handle very large public sums. People of  modest position dispose of power and award contracts and privileges of tremendous importance to other people–construction jobs, radio channels, air routes, zoning laws, building codes, and so on. To fear corruption in government is not irrational.

    This means, however, that government “bureaucracy”— and its consequent high costs—cannot be eliminated.  Any government that is not a “government of forms” degenerates rapidly into a mutual looting society.

    (I’m confident Professor Drucker would agree that whether the forms are paper or electronic makes no difference at all in this context.)

    As I also noted earlier: the expansion of government into all aspects of human life leads to increasing inefficiency–while the increasing frustration with bureaucracy results in a widespread demand to “make government more responsive” by giving more discretionary authority to administrators and to their political superiors. This is exactly what we are seeing with Obamacare, with the emphasis at present being on an increase of discretionary authority for the political superiors of the administrators. This, in turn, must result in a government which is not only a looting society (Obamacare waivers or special privileges for politically-well-connected groups, for example)  but increasingly a tyranny. Yet at the same time, there will still be enough baroque proceduralization (selectively enforced) to ensure high levels of inefficiency and very high government administrative costs. And the discretionary authority–the movement away from a Government of Laws and toward a Government of Men–must create widespread uncertainty and, consequently, equally widespread economic damage.

     

    Posted in Health Care, Management, Obama, Tech | 13 Comments »

    The Cluelessness Was Not Just About “Tech”

    Posted by David Foster on 20th December 2013 (All posts by )

    Michael Wolff, writing in USA Today, says that Obama’s strange comments about the Obamacare technology debacle are symptomatic of a broader problem: CEO’s being “clueless” about technology.

    Uh, no. The problems with the Obamacare systems do not particularly reflect Obama’s cluelessness about technology, they reflect his complete lack of competence and experience in the field of executive management. Basic executive functions such as organizing work carefully and appropriately, putting the right people in charge, checking up to see how things are going, and making adjustments as necessary rather than just “hoping that something will turn up” are not specific to software and telecommunication systems. I have no doubt that Obama’s approach to management would be equally disastrous if he were running a railroad or a factory or a retail store…even a railroad or a factory or a retail store in pre-computer days.

    The very strong support for Obama among people who write and talk and create images for a living reflected, in many if not most cases, an arrogant belief that their own skill sets were applicable to just about any important task, and a failure to understand that in order to run things effectively, a person has to have some experience in running things, and, even more important, an interest in the process of running things. An individual who has been “bored to death his whole life,” as Obama’s close friend Valerie Jarrett said of him, is most unlikely to either possess such an interest or to develop it.

    Posted in Management, Tech, USA | 6 Comments »

    Here’s Something Different…

    Posted by David Foster on 9th December 2013 (All posts by )

    Jane Austen: the role-playing game

    More here.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, Tech | 1 Comment »

    Interesting Post

    Posted by David Foster on 5th December 2013 (All posts by )

    Bruce Webster writes about the parallels (and differences) between the design of legislation and the design of software systems.

    (via a thread at Bookworm)

    Posted in Health Care, Law, Political Philosophy, Politics, Systems Analysis, Tech | 3 Comments »

    “I Am Not a Crook”

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd November 2013 (All posts by )

    …said Richard Nixon, famously. Comes now Joe Biden, with “I am not a geek.” Specifically, in responding to questions about the problems with the Obamacare website and its supporting systems, Biden said:

    “Neither (the president) or I are technology geeks and we assumed that it was up and ready to run.”

    I don’t think the main problems with this implementation have to do with a lack of geekitude–most likely, there are many quite competent software developers working on this project–but rather with a lack of effective management. (And if there is a shortage of competent developers on the project, well, that’s a management issue, too, isn’t it.)

    Real managers, real executives, don’t assume that important things will be ready when they’re supposed to be ready, and they aren’t satisfied with superficial answers to superficial  questions, either. These effective leaders are people who have developed effective questioning skills so they can find out what is really going on. They establish open, non-fear-based organizational cultures so that people with concerns feel able to bring them forward. As I noted in my post about Benghazi (excusing failure by pleading incompetence), it is the responsiblity of an executive to establish an information and decision-flow architecture…including clear assignment of responsibilities…to ensure that the right things are seen and acted upon by the right people at the right time. Failure to do this..and to maintain and tune the system over time…will predictably result in catastrophes.

    Later in the interview with Biden, the Vice President also said he didn’t know the specifics of why the website isn’t working, but that he was told the platform “is fine, but they have to change an awful lot of the inputs.”

    “Look, all I know is they talk about 50,000 lines of this and this, I don’t know the technical reasons,” Biden said.

    ”So I don’t know, I wish I could tell you, that’s why I became a lawyer,”

    A pretty flippant response to a serious situation. Slow Joe might not be able to understand the technical reasons for the failure, but he should be able–if he were competent at his job–to investigate and understand the management reasons for the failure.

    Some of the questions that come to mind about this debacle are: How were the contractors selected? Why was it decided to have the government (CMS) act as prime contractor, rather than choosing an external company for that role? What do the contracts with the outside contractors actually specify, in terms of deliverables? What remedies are provided in the contracts for failures in delivery? If these remedies are inadequate, why did the government not require that they be more stringent? What coordination vehicles were there between the government group writing and interpreting the Obamacare regulations and the separate group that was attempting to act as prime contractor? Was there a single individual in charge? What project scheduling and tracking methods were employed throughout this effort?

    These are not issues that are specific to software technology–the above questions are ones that any good executive, whether his background is in construction or in theater or in wholesale distribution, would understand that he should ask.

    A United States President is not elected as a philosopher king; he is elected to run the executive departments of government and to faithfully execute the laws passed by Congress. The members of the present administration have repeatedly demonstrated their utter incompetence to perform these tasks.

    An administration that seeks endless expansion of government’s role–but is at the same time completely incompetent at carrying out basic executive tasks–will drive expanding circles of chaos throughout ever-broader reaches of American society and the American economy.

     

    Posted in Big Government, Health Care, Management, Tech | 23 Comments »

    On Being an IT Project Manager

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 23rd October 2013 (All posts by )

    My profession is much in the news at the moment, so I thought I would pass along such insights as I have from my career, mostly from a multibillion-dollar debacle which I and several thousand others worked on for a few years around the turn of the millennium. I will not name my employer, not that anyone with a passing familiarity with me doesn’t know who it is; nor will I name the project, although knowing the employer and the general timeframe will give you that pretty quickly too.
    We spent, I believe, $4 billion, and garnered a total of 4,000 customers over the lifetime of the product, which was not aimed at large organizations which would be likely to spend millions on it, but at consumers and small businesses which would spend thousands on it, and that amount spread out over a period of several years. From an economic transparency standpoint, therefore, it would have been better to select 4,000 people at random around the country and cut them checks for $1 million apiece. Also much faster. But that wouldn’t have kept me and lots of others employed, learning whatever it is we learn from a colossally failed project.
    So, a few things to keep in mind about a certain spectacularly problematic and topical IT effort:

    • Large numbers of reasonably bright and very hard-working people, who have up until that point been creating significant wealth, can unite in a complete flop. Past performance is no guarantee, and all that. Because even reasonably bright, hard-working people can suffer from failures of imagination, tendencies to wishful thinking, and cultural failure in general.
    • Morale has got to be rock-bottom for anybody with any degree of self-awareness working on this thing. My relevant moment was around the end of ’99 when it was announced, with great fanfare, at a large (200+ in attendance) meeting to review progress and next steps, that we had gotten a single order through the system. It had taken various people eight hours to finish the order. As of that date, we were projecting that we would be doing 1,600 orders a day in eight months. To get an idea of our actual peak rate, note the abovementioned cumulative figure of 4,000 over the multi-year lifespan of the project.
    • Root cause analysis is all very well, but there are probably at least three or four fundamental problems, any one of which would have crippled the effort. As you may infer from the previous bullet point, back-office systems was one of them on that project. Others which were equally problematic included exposure to the software upgrade schedule of an irreplaceable vendor who was not at all beholden to us to produce anything by any particular date, and physical access to certain of our competitors’ facilities, which they were legally required to allow us into exactly two (2) days per year. See also “cultural failure,” above; most of us were residing and working in what is one of the most livable cities in the world in many ways, but Silicon Valley it ain’t.
    • Not to overlook the obvious, there is a significant danger that the well-advertised difficulties of the website in question will become a smokescreen for the fundamental contradictions of the legislation itself. The overall program cannot work unless large numbers of people act in a counter-incentived (possibly not a word, but I’m groping for something analogous to “counterintuitive”) fashion which might politely be termed “selfless” – and do so in the near future. What we seem likely to hear, however, is that it would have worked if only certain IT architectural decisions had been better made.

    This thing would be a case study for the next couple of decades if it weren’t going to be overshadowed by physically calamitous events, which I frankly expect. In another decade, Gen-X managers and Millennial line workers, inspired by Boomers, all of them much better at things than they are now, “will be in a position to guide the nation, and perhaps the world, across several painful thresholds,” to quote a relevant passage from Strauss and Howe. But getting there is going to be a matter of selection pressures, with plenty of casualties. The day will come when we long for a challenge as easy as reorganizing health care with a deadline a few weeks away.

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Commiserations, Current Events, Customer Service, Health Care, Internet, Law, Medicine, Personal Narrative, Politics, Predictions, Systems Analysis, Tech, USA | 6 Comments »

    Why the Obamacare site is not working.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 14th October 2013 (All posts by )

    I hadn’t thought of this situation, only because I didn’t have enough imagination to see that politics trumps all with Obama.

    A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally-sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping. This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government verifies your information and decides whether or not you’re eligible for subsidies. HHS bureaucrats knew this would make the website run more slowly. But they were more afraid that letting people see the underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans would scare people away.

    This just didn’t occur to me. It should have. After all, what was Benghazi about ?

    This political objective—masking the true underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans—far outweighed the operational objective of making the federal website work properly. Think about it the other way around. If the “Affordable Care Act” truly did make health insurance more affordable, there would be no need to hide these prices from the public.

    It is just amazing that the politicians know so little about technology (this was the guy with the Blackberry who made fun of McCain) that they did not understand that saying something doesn’t make it happen.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Big Government, Health Care, Obama, Organizational Analysis, Politics, Tech | 26 Comments »

    When Humans and Robots Communicate

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd October 2013 (All posts by )

    …they do not always achieve mutual understanding. And when misunderstandings do occur, the consequences can range from irritating to expensive to tragic.

    On July 6 of 2013, Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed on final approach to San Francisco International Airport, resulting in over 180 injuries, 3 fatalities, and the loss of the aircraft. While the NTSB report on this accident is not yet out, there are several things that seem to be pretty clear:

    –The flight crew believed that airspeed was being controlled by the autothrottle system, a device somewhat analogous to the cruise control of an automobile

    –In actuality, the airspeed was not being controlled by the autothrottles

    –The airspeed fell below the appropriate value, and the airplane dipped below the proper glidepath and mushed into the seawall

    It is not yet totally clear why the autothrottle system was not controlling the airspeed when the captain and first officer believed that it was doing so. It is possible that the autothrottle mechanism failed, even that it failed in such a way that its failure was not annunciated. It is possible that an autothrottle disconnect button (one on each power level) was inadvertently pressed and the disconnection not noticed. But what seems likely in the opinion of several knowledgeable observers is that the captain and FO selected a combination of control settings that they believed would cause the autothrottle to take control–but that this setting was in fact not one that would cause autothrottle activation…in other words, that the model of aircraft systems in the minds of the flight crew was different from the actual design model of the autothrottle and its related systems.

    Whatever happened in the case of Asiana Flight 214…and all opinions about what happened with the autothrottles must be regarded as only speculative at this point…there have been numerous cases–in aviation, in medical equipment, and in the maritime industry–in which an automated control system and its human users interacted in a way that either did or could have led to very malign results. In his book Taming HAL, Asaf Degani describes several such cases, and searches for general patterns and for approaches to minimize such occurrences in the future.

    Degani discusses human interface problems that he has observed in common consumer devices such as clocks, TV remote controls, and VCRs, and goes into depth on several incidents involving safety-critical interface failures. Some of these were:

    The airplane that broke the speed limit. This was another autothrottle-related incident, albeit one in which the consequences were much less severe than Asiana 214. The airplane was climbing to its initial assigned altitude of 11,000 feet, under an autopilot mode (Vertical Navigation) in which speed was calculated by the flight management system for optimum efficiency–in this case, 300 knots. Air traffic control then directed that the flight slow to 240 knots for separation from traffic ahead. The copilot dialed this number into the flight control panel,overriding the FMS-calculated number. At 11000 feet, the autopilot leveled the plane, switched itself into ALTITUDE HOLD mode, and maintained the 240 knot speed setting. Everything was fine.

    The controller then directed a further climb to 14000 feet. The copilot re-engaged VERTICAL NAVIGATION MODE and put in the new altitude setting. The engines increased power, the nose pitched up, and the airplane began to climb. But just a little bit later, the captain observed that the airplane wasn’t only climbing–it was also speeding up, and had reached almost 300 knots, thereby violating an ATC speed restriction.

    What happened here? Degani refers to events of this sort as “automation surprises.” The copilot was apparently thinking that the speed he had dialed in to override the flight management system would continue to be in force when he re-enabled the vertical navigation climb mode. But that wasn’t the way the system was actually designed. Selecting Vertical Navigation mode re-initialized the source of the airspeed command to be the FMS, which was still calling for a 300-knot Best Efficiency speed.

    Degani says that the pilots were well trained and understood how the speed reference value actually worked…but that the unintuitive nature of the interface caused this knowledge to be effectively forgotten at the moment when the additional climb was requested. He draws an analogy with the user of a cordless phone, who picks up the ringing phone and pushes the TALK button..a seemingly-logical action that actually turns off the phone and disconnects whoever is calling.

    The blood-pressure monitor that didn’t monitor.  A surgery patient was under anesthesia; as is standard practice, his blood pressure was being monitored by an electronic device. The patent’s blood pressure showed a high reading, and the surgeon noted profuse bleeding. The anesthesiologists set the blood-pressure monitor to measure more frequently. Periodically, they glanced back at the monitor’s display, noting that it still showed an elevated blood pressure, actively treating the hypertension–as they believed it was–with drugs that dilated blood vessels.

    But actually, the patient’s blood pressure was very low. The alarmingly-high blood pressure values shown in the display were actually constant…the machine was displaying the exact same value every time they looked at it, because after the measurement-interval reset, it had never made another measurement.

    What happened here? The blood-pressure monitor has three modes: MANUAL (in which the pressure is measured immediately when the “start” button is pressed), AUTOMATIC (in which pressure is measured repeatedly at the selected interval), and IDLE. When the interval is changed by the anesthesiologist, the mode is set at IDLE, even if the monitor were already running in AUTOMATIC.  To actually cause the automatic monitoring to occur, it is necessary to push START. In this case, the pushing of the START button was omitted, and the machine’s display did not provide adequate cues for the anesthesiologists to notice their mistake.

    Critiquing the machine’s design, Degani notes that “The kind of change they sought is not very different from changing the temperature setting in your toaster over…On almost every oven, you simply grab the temperature knob and rotate it from 300 Farenheit to 450, and that’s it. You are not expected to tell the system that you want it to stay in OVEN mode–you know that it will.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Tech, Transportation | 18 Comments »

    Yarn, Fabric, Sweatshirt

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd September 2013 (All posts by )

    Bruce Springsteen, 1983:

    They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
    Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they aint coming back to
    Your hometown

    Some of them are

    Posted in Business, China, Tech, USA | 10 Comments »

    301 Years of Steam Power

    Posted by David Foster on 15th September 2013 (All posts by )

    In 1712, Thomas Newcomen erected a steam engine of his own design near Dudley, in the West Midlands of England, thereby kicking off the age of steam. (Yes, this would have made a better post last year, to mark a round 300-year anniversary, but better late than never..)

    We were told in the 5th grade that the steam engine had been invented by James Watt after noticing the way that the steam pressure in a teapot could cause the lid to lift a little. A nice story, but (a) James Watt did not invent the steam engine, and (b) early steam engines did not work the way that the teapot story would suggest.

    In ancient Greece there were some experiments with the use of steam power to create mechanical motion; thereafter nothing significant happened in this field until the late 1600s, when Thomas Savery invented a device for raising water by steam: it was intended to address the growing problem of removing water from mines. Savery’s invention was conceptually elegant, with no moving parts other than the valves: unfortunately, it could not handle a water lift of more than about 30 feet, which was far insufficient for the very deep mines which were then becoming increasingly common.

    Newcomen’s engine filled a cylinder with low-pressure steam, which was then abruptly cooled by the injection of a water jet. This created a partial vacuum, which pulled the piston down with great force–these were called “atmospheric” engines, because the direct motive force came from air pressure, with the role of the steam being simply to create the vacuum when condensed. After the piston reached the bottom of the cylinder, it would be pulled upwards by a counterweight, and the cycle would repeat. (See animation here.)  Conceptually simple, but modern reconstructors have found it quite difficult to get all the details right and build an engine that will actually work.

    These engines were extremely inefficient, real coal hogs, requiring about 25 pounds of coal per horsepower per hour. They were employed primarily for water removal at coal mines, where coal was by definition readily available and was relatively cheap. But as the cotton milling industry grew, and good water-power sites to power the machinery became increasingly scarce, Newcomen engines were also employed for that service. For example, in 1783 a cotton mill–complete with a 30-foot waterwheel–was constructed at Shudhill, near Manchester..which seemed odd given that there was no large stream or river there to drive it. The mill entrepreneurs built two storage ponds at different levels, with the waterwheel in between them, and installed a Newcomen engine to recycle the water continuously. The engine was very large–with a cylinder 64 inches in diameter and a stroke of more than 7 feet–and consumed five tons of coal per day.

    Despite their tremendous coal consumption and their high first cost, a considerable number of these engines were installed, enough that someone in 1789 referred to the Newcomen and Savery engines in the Manchester area as common old smoaking engines. The alternative to the Newcomen engine described above would have been the use of actual horses–probably at least 100 of them, if my guesstimate of 40 horsepower for this engine is correct. These early engines resembled the mainframe computers of the early 1950s, in that they were bulky, expensive, resource-intensive, and limited in their fields of practical applicability…but, within those fields, absolutely invaluable.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Energy & Power Generation, History, Tech, Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

    History Friday: Technological Surprise & the Defeat of the 193rd Tank Battalion at Kakuza Ridge

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 30th August 2013 (All posts by )

    In April 1945 the US Army’s 27th Infantry Division launched an attack against the Kakuza Ridge position held by the Imperial Japanese Army on Okinawa with the 193rd Tank Battalions 30 thirty tanks, self-propelled assault guns, and attached armored flame throwers from the 713th Flame Tank Battalion. When the battle was over, 22 of the 30 armored fighting had been destroyed in a coordinated ambush by Japanese anti-tank guns, artillery, mortars and suicide close assault teams. Among the dead was the battalion commander of the 193rd, on whom blame was laid for attacking without American infantry in close support. This battle is referenced in almost every narrative account of Okinawa as proof of the tougher defenses American soldiers and marines would face in an invasion of Japan.

    This is a M4 Sherman Tank after striking an aircraft bomb land mine in front of Kakuza Ridge

    This is a M4 Sherman Tank after striking an aircraft bomb land mine in front of Kakuza Ridge

    It turns out that while this particular narrative has a great deal of truth, it isn’t the whole truth and hides the most important one. In a photo film negative image of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s comment that “In war, The Truth must have a bodyguard of lies,” This narrative has a huge lie buried in a bodyguard of truth.

    The most important truth of this battle was that American troops suffered a technological surprise. The Japanese were listening to the SCR-300, SCR-500 and SCR-600 series frequency modulated (FM) radios of American infsntry, tanks and artillery forward observers at Kakuza Ridge (and other battles through out the Pacific in 1945) with Japanese Type 94 (1934) Mark 6 walkie-talkie radio that was issued to every Japanese infantry battalion.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, Okinawa 65, Tech, USA, War and Peace | 15 Comments »