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  • Archive for the 'Transportation' Category

    Consistent Group Membership for Epidemic Control

    Posted by David Foster on 30th April 2020 (All posts by )

    This paper argues that having a mutually-consistent and reasonably small network of contacts can help in controlling coronavirus spread…for example, if a group of 7 people work together and also socialize together, they are better-off from a potential infection standpoint than if individuals in the group are socializing with different, and frequently changing, sets of people.

    Somewhat related:  the Federal Aviation Administration is taking steps to limit the spread of coronavirus in air traffic control facilities:

    Each air traffic control facility is establishing separate teams of controllers that will stay together throughout the duty week. Each crew will contain the same employees, limiting the possibility of cross-exposure to COVID-19 that would come through normal shift rotations. If a person on one team gets sick, the only people who would be exposed are the other people on that team.

    So, presumably, if one member of a team gets sick, all the team members would go home until they can get tested and found coronavirus free, and a new team will be swapped in to support operational needs. Not sure how large these teams are: in a control tower for a medium-sized airport, a team might consist of all the people working on a particular shift, but for a large facility like Potomac Approach or Kansas City Center, I imagine that the teams must comprise only subsets of the total workforce; probably people who work in close proximity to one another.

    Posted in Aviation, COVID-19, Transportation | 4 Comments »

    Texas Aggie Doctor Reports — Clinical Pearls Covid 19 for ER practitioners

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 26th March 2020 (All posts by )

    The following information is from a front line ER doctor using the handle of ‘nawlinsag’ on a Texas Aggie web site.  I’ve included the link below. I’ve also included the complete text of his post in full in hopes medical professionals and lay people could get the most benefit from his observations of the course of COVID-19 in a small front line Louisiana hospital.

    Short form: This is not the flu.  It is a horror show of death and disablement that is crowding out all other medical care including an immediate downgrade of life saving cardiac care.  Only on in seven people put on ventalators in this hospital is surviving, and then only after 10-t0-12 days of ventalator support.

    —–

    https://texags.com/forums/84/topics/3102444?fbclid=IwAR3s13SRnw7YNgtu-7LZyrMUSMIRRWScU67lwbuwZM8fna-6R8k4tqrtO3w

    I just spent an hour typing a long post that erased when I went to change the title so I apologize to the grammar and spelling police. This one will not be proofread and much shorter.

    I am an ER MD in New Orleans. Class of 98. Every one of my colleagues have now seen several hundred Covid 19 patients and this is what I think I know.

    Clinical course is predictable.
    2-11 days after exposure (day 5 on average) flu like symptoms start. Common are fever, headache, dry cough, myalgias(back pain), nausea without vomiting, abdominal discomfort with some diarrhea, loss of smell, anorexia, fatigue.

    Day 5 of symptoms- increased SOB, and bilateral viral pneumonia from direct viral damage to lung parenchyma.

    Day 10- Cytokine storm leading to acute ARDS and multiorgan failure. You can literally watch it happen in a matter of hours.

    81% mild symptoms, 14% severe symptoms requiring hospitalization, 5% critical.

    Patient presentation is varied. Patients are coming in hypoxic (even 75%) without dyspnea. I have seen Covid patients present with encephalopathy, renal failure from dehydration, DKA. I have seen the bilateral interstitial pneumonia on the xray of the asymptomatic shoulder dislocation or on the CT’s of the (respiratory) asymptomatic polytrauma patient. Essentially if they are in my ER, they have it. Seen three positive flu swabs in 2 weeks and all three had Covid 19 as well. Somehow this ***** has told all other disease processes to get out of town.

    China reported 15% cardiac involvement. I have seen covid 19 patients present with myocarditis, pericarditis, new onset CHF and new onset atrial fibrillation. I still order a troponin, but no cardiologist will treat no matter what the number in a suspected Covid 19 patient. Even our non covid 19 STEMIs at all of our facilities are getting TPA in the ED and rescue PCI at 60 minutes only if TPA fails.

    Diagnostic
    CXR- bilateral interstitial pneumonia (anecdotally starts most often in the RLL so bilateral on CXR is not required). The hypoxia does not correlate with the CXR findings. Their lungs do not sound bad. Keep your stethoscope in your pocket and evaluate with your eyes and pulse ox.

    Labs- WBC low, Lymphocytes low, platelets lower then their normal, Procalcitonin normal in 95%
    CRP and Ferritin elevated most often. CPK, D-Dimer, LDH, Alk Phos/AST/ALT commonly elevated.
    Notice D-Dimer- I would be very careful about CT PE these patients for their hypoxia. The patients receiving IV contrast are going into renal failure and on the vent sooner.

    Basically, if you have a bilateral pneumonia with normal to low WBC, lymphopenia, normal procalcitonin, elevated CRP and ferritin- you have covid-19 and do not need a nasal swab to tell you that.

    A ratio of absolute neutrophil count to absolute lymphocyte count greater than 3.5 may be the highest predictor of poor outcome. the UK is automatically intubating these patients for expected outcomes regardless of their clinical presentation.

    An elevated Interleukin-6 (IL6) is an indicator of their cytokine storm. If this is elevated watch these patients closely with both eyes.

    Other factors that appear to be predictive of poor outcomes are thrombocytopenia and LFTs 5x upper limit of normal.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in COVID-19, Immigration, International Affairs, Law Enforcement, Management, Media, Medicine, Middle East, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, Tradeoffs, Transportation, Trump, Uncategorized | 50 Comments »

    How to Think About 2019-nCov

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 8th February 2020 (All posts by )

    In the wake of Ebola, NVD-68, and Zika, we should have all learned our lesson by now. We haven’t. This is 2020—Iowans took a week to count the votes of 5% of their population, and an elderly white Northeastern president is principally opposed by a gaggle of downright ancient white Northeasterners. There aren’t any quick fixes for emergent idiocies like those, but a few simple heuristics will go a long way toward avoiding panic over coronavirus.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Business, China, COVID-19, Current Events, Health Care, International Affairs, Markets and Trading, Predictions, Society, Transportation, USA | 45 Comments »

    What Future for the Global Auto Industry? Discussion Post

    Posted by David Foster on 7th January 2020 (All posts by )

    In December, I announced an upcoming discussion of the future of the auto industry and, in particular, of the role and impact of electric cars.  In that post, I included a number of links to worthwhile reading on the subject.  Let’s do the discussion this week, in comments to this post.  I have a few thoughts to get things going:

    –It is true, as Vitaliy Katsenslson points out in his essay, that electric cars are much simpler than conventional cars…but I would qualify this statement as mechanically simpler than conventional  cars.  They are significantly more complex electrically and especially in terms of the electrochemistry of the battery…a hidden kind of complexity, but important nonetheless. From what I have read, there seems to be considerable uncertainty about the expected lifespan of new lithium-ion battery models..which lifespan, of course, has a major impact on the overall economics of electric cars.

    EVs are expected to have lower maintenance costs and requirements than conventional vehicles, based on their relative mechanical simplicity.  This is probably true, in general, although a lot of the problems with cars these days seem to be with systems other than the engine and drivetrain..airbag sensors, seat actuator motors, various sensors, etc.

    –Range limitations and “range anxiety” have been significant inhibitors to EV sales.  Vitaliy K makes the excellent point that it is much easier to set up an electric-vehicle charging station than a conventional gas station, with its underground tanks and consequent regulatory complexities, and he believes we will see tremendous growth in the number of such charging stations and consequent reductions in EV range anxiety.

    It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to fully charge an EV (using Tesla as a model and assuming a high-power charger such as Tesla’s “Supercharger’), which implies that people are going to need something else to do while their vehicles are charging, away from home or the office.  Restaurants and shopping centers become obvious venues for charging; however, this leads to another issue, that the driver may wind up being away from the car for a couple of hours or more, tying up the charger for that whole interval: this issue would need to be reflected in the pricing of the charging facility.

    Also, while it is true that setting up EV charging is simpler than opening a gas station, it is not necessarily trivial if one is setting up multiple high-capacity chargers.  A Tesla supercharger draws 150KW, so putting 30 of them in a parking lot would result in an incremental peak demand of up to 4.5 megawatts.  I doubt if the electrical systems feeding many restaurants, or even shopping centers, could accommodate 4.5MW of additional demand without some work by the utility supplying the power.

    –Efficiency:  It is true that the conversion of stored energy into motion is much more efficient in an EV than an internal-combustion-engine vehicle; this is mainly a matter of the engine thermodynamics.  BUT, if the charging electricity comes from a natural gas plant of a coal plant, you are looking at best at a 60% fuel-to-electricity conversion efficiency, and there will also be losses in power transmission and distribution.  If the electricity comes from solar or wind, then..depending on the time of day and weather conditions of the charging..you may be faced with a double battery storage situation, where energy is stored in a utility or home battery until needed for charging, and then stored again in the vehicle’s battery.  That double-storage situation carries both efficiency losses and, more significantly, additional capital costs.

    EVs do have the ability to capture much of the energy that would otherwise be lost in braking, and this is especially valuable in start-stop driving situations, as with local delivery operations, and probably extends the lifetime of the mechanical brakes.

    –Performance…EVs have excellent acceleration capability (when adequately powered) due to the torque characteristics of electric motors.  They may be able to achieve very good handling if battery installation provides for a very low center of gravity.

    –Climate…not speaking here about ‘climate change’, but about climate in its ordinary meaning.  In a conventional car, heating is basically free, using rejected heat from the engine (ignoring the energy used to power the fan, but that’s a small part of the picture), whereas in an electric car, heat must be generated using electricity from the battery, which of course has a negative impact on range.  Also, the battery itself will have lesser performance in cold weather.  (And the regenerative braking feature is also limited in very cold weather.)

    –Relative Costs…a high % of EVs today are either sold with subsidies by national/local governments, are built and sold in response to government edicts, or are bought in significant part for status purposes by individuals and organizations. Can EVs compete on cost head-to-head with IC vehicles on a nonsubsidized, free-choice basis?  This would seem to be largely a matter of how successfully battery costs are further driven down and how long battery lifespans turn out to be in actual service.

    It should be noted that electric vehicle sales in China have cooled rapidly…down 44%…since the government reduced most subsidies at the end of June.  What would be the ‘true’ demand in the US without consumer incentives and mix requirement on the manufacturers?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Marketing, Transportation | 43 Comments »

    Business Stories

    Posted by David Foster on 8th December 2019 (All posts by )

    We’ve talked before here about the point that most fiction seems to be about people who are lawyers, policemen, criminals, soldiers, spies, students, politicians, and noble but struggling writers. But there are indeed some works of fiction, and some vivid personal memoirs, in which business plays a central role without being portrayed simplistically or as stereotypically evil. Here are some that I like…please add your own favorites in the comments.  (I posted this at Ricochet, in slightly different form, about a week ago)

    The Current War, a recent movie about the late-1800s power struggle to determine which technology…AC or DC…will dominate America’s electrical distribution system. Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla are the key characters, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, and Nicholas Hoult respectively. My review is here.

    The Big Short, a 2015 film about the 2007-2008 financial crisis, based on Michael Lewis’s book. A hedge fund manager concludes that the subprime-loan market is not sustainable, and makes a billion-dollar bet against the relevant mortgage-backed securities. Based on real events. I thought it was very well done.

    God is an Englishman, R F Delderfield. Following his return to England from the Crimean War, Adam Swann identifies a business opportunity: although railroads are being built throughout the country, there will always be sources and destinations of freight which are not on the tracks. Hence, the potential for a nationwide gap-filling road haulage business based on the systematic use of horse-drawn wagons. (This is the first book of a three-book series called the Swann Family Saga.)  Reviewed here.

    Oil for the Lamps of China, Alice Tisdale Hobart. This 1933 novel is about a young American working as a sales rep in China, focused on selling oil for his employer (unnamed, but clearly based on Standard Oil) and increasing volumes by promoting the kerosene lamp as a better alternative to traditional lighting methods. The book was the basis for a 1935 movie of the same name…the film has its moments, but overall is not worthy of the book.

    Father, Son, and Company, by Thomas Watson Jr. This is the best business autobiography I’ve read. It’s about Watson Jr (the long-time CEO of IBM), 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. I reviewed it here.

    A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe. The central character of this 1988 novel is Charlie Croker, an Atlanta real-estate developer who has gotten himself into way too much debt. Other characters include Charlie’s current and former wives, the Black mayor of Atlanta, the bankers who must deal with the debt problem, and a warehouse worker at one of the Croker enterprises. The book also casts a not-very-complimentary light on the Atlanta society/arts scene.

    Trial by Fire, Stephen Buck. The adventures of a Honeywell field engineer in the early days of process-control computing. The book’s title reflects the point that the industrial processes being controlled frequently involved combustion, sometimes in scary circumstances. Much of the author’s work took place outside the US, in countries ranging from Poland to Brazil.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Aviation, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Economics & Finance, Film, Tech, Transportation, War and Peace | 8 Comments »

    What Future for the Global Auto Industry?

    Posted by David Foster on 7th December 2019 (All posts by )

    **An upcoming Chicago Boyz group discussion**

    There is much media and analyst discussion lately concerning possible sea changes in the auto industry..which would, of course, likely have major impacts throughout the economy and on society as a whole.  Some of the driving factors worth considering include:

    –The government incentives put in place in many countries…in some cases not just incentives but absolute requirements…in favor of electric cars

    –The emergence and growth of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft

    –The development of partial ‘autopilot’ functions for cars, and the anticipated development of full automatic driving at some future point

    –The apparent reduction of interest among young adults and older children in driving and automobile ownership

    –Technological factors, including the continued improvements in battery energy storage capacity–but still very limited in comparison to liquid fuels…the continued incremental improvements in internal-combustion engines…and the emergence of new manufacturing technologies, including 3-D printing aka ‘additive manufacturing’.

    I’d like to have a group discussion of the possible future direction and shape of the industry…let’s do this sometime next week.  If you’re interested in participating, here are some links that are worthwhile thought-starters.

    Vitaliy Katsenslson is a fund manager; his blog is Contrarian Edge–I generally like the way he thinks.  Concerning electric cars in general and Tesla in particular, he says:

    You don’t really know the company until you buy the stock. It has happened to mea few times. We did hundreds of hours of research, bought a stock, and that act of buying activated new senses. I started seeing new angles. Something similar happened to me with Tesla, except I didn’t buy the stock, I bought a car.

    His ownership experience, and the thoughts triggered by the “activated new senses”, are captured in an 11-part series of posts.  You can get it emailed to you by signing up here.

    https://contrarianedge.com/signup-for-tesla-article/

    Concerning self-driving cars, here are three articles reflecting various degrees of enthusiasm versus caution:  from Forbes, from Investor’s Business Daily, and from Road/Show.  Also this Financial Times article, which is about the difficulties involved in the interaction of automated systems with humans in other cars or with human pedestrians.

    An interesting general discussion of AI misinformation and hype…not primarily focused on driverless cars although it does touch on that subject.

    Concerning battery technology, here’s a link on the trends in $/kWh and the future possibilities.  See also my 2017 post on battery materials constraints.

    Homework:  Please take a look at the above articles, at least the ones that aren’t behind paywalls..  I’ll put up a post as a place for discussion sometime next week.

    Posted in Business, Energy & Power Generation, Tech, Transportation | 20 Comments »

    Diseconomies and Dysfunctions of Scale

    Posted by David Foster on 24th November 2019 (All posts by )

    Why are short-line railroads able to survive, and sometimes thrive, in an industry dominated by a few giant companies?  An article at Railway Age suggests some answers. These points are relevant, I believe, in other industries as well.  To excerpt summarize the points in the article:

    –Short lines are formed with a much lower manpower cost structure that includes more-flexible work rules.

    Short lines are very effective at negotiating service and shared capital project business deals with their face-to-face local customers. That was always a hurdle when the corporate headquarters of a railroad like Conrail was hundreds of miles away in Philadelphia compared to sites like Cairo, Ill., or Kewaunee, Wisc. 

    –Short lines are focused directly upon industrial development along their limited geography service tracks. They are not distracted by competitive locations that want their location to be the next job creation site.

    –Short lines have a simple way to calculate customer profitability as a guide for managing their service responsiveness.

    –There is an ease of doing business with short lines. The difficulty of transacting business has long been an internally acknowledged Class I issue. Local small railroads have successfully addressed this with local managers dealing one-on-one with local customers.

    –The short line railroads have worked to grab growth opportunities. They developed local community and state railroad DOT programs that gave them access to development and rehabilitation capital.

    Most of these advantages could, in principal, be achieved by the large railroads through improved organization design and better internal measurements/incentives. And similarly in other industries…but it rarely seems to actually work out that way.  Re the profitability-measurements point, the article notes that Class I’s have tried for decades to calculate and then share with their remote train crews information about branch line financials. The Class I’s even tried to create regional cluster profit centers that would better focus attention on local branch line customers and new business development.  The results were at best a mixed success.

    and hence

    Selling off or otherwise leasing “troubled lines” to a smaller company typically became the favored big railroad divestiture business process.

    Any thoughts on similar factors at work in other industries?

    Posted in Business, Management, Transportation | 17 Comments »

    Ayiti Pa Nimewo Yo

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 26th October 2019 (All posts by )

    I. Departure

    Our transportation to Aéroport International Toussaint Louverture was a decrepit Honda Civic with no working inside door handles, no exhaust system, and a barely functional starter. The guesthouse driver poured a liter of water into the radiator immediately before starting the engine so that it would not overheat, even though the drive was only 3 kilometers. Our luggage proved too big for the trunk, so most of the team’s belongings were wedged in beneath the open trunk lid, which was not secured by so much as a single bungee cord. Threading through the remnants of at least a dozen barricades on Avenue Gerard Téodart half an hour before sunrise, we high-centered on some rubble and dragged a sizable rock for several hundred meters before the driver backed the car up to dislodge it. After we made the turn onto Boulevard Toussaint Louverture, there were no more barricades, thanks to the proximity of a MINUSTAH logistics base and a Police Nationale d’Haïti station. There were pedestrians, of course—Port-au-Prince is very much a city that never sleeps—but not many, and few vehicles thanks to severely interrupted fuel deliveries, which had nearly stranded us altogether. One of the team members riding in the back seat later told me that the gas gauge was on “E.”

    What is happening when a Third World country loses a key component of its energy supply, and what might be the lessons to learn for those apprehensive over a significant breakdown of logistics in the US?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Civil Society, Current Events, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Latin America, North America, Personal Narrative, Society, Systems Analysis, Transportation | 24 Comments »

    Journalists

    Posted by David Foster on 20th October 2019 (All posts by )

    Financial Times recently had an article about a projected luxury dirigible.  Being an airship fan, I wish the venture success. I was struck, though, by a paragraph in the article contrasting the planned aircraft, called the Airlander, with the airships of the 1930s with their “flammable hydrogen fuels.”

    Uh…no.  None of the airships of the 1930s used hydrogen as a fuel.  Some of them used hydrogen as a lifting gas, which is a totally different thing from the fuel consumed to power the craft forward. And most American airships didn’t use hydrogen for any purpose…the American airships that came to bad ends mostly did so as a result of weather-related structural failure…which point, one would have thought, might have been relevant to someone writing about the possible future of airships.

    But airships are a pretty esoteric subject, after all, so maybe it’s unreasonable to expect a journalist to spend (or get his assistant to spend) half an hour actually learning something about whatever he is writing about.  So let’s talk about something that isn’t esoteric at all, but rather about as timely and important as it gets.  Energy.

    I’ve noticed that in articles about energy storage…of which there have been a lot…the writer rarely seems to grasp that kilowatts are not the same thing as kilowatt-hours, and you can’t express the storage capacity of a battery or other storage system in kilowatts. It would be like stating the capacity of your car’s gas tank in horsepower.  (The same principle applies to megawatts and megawatt-hours, or gigawatts and gigawatt-hours)  Yet all the time, I see articles…not just in the general media but also in the business media…talking about the wonderfulness of a battery or whatever that can store 4 megawatts.

    For example, here’s a Barrons article referring to a town which has installed batteries “that can hold two megawatts of power.”  Actually, the batteries at this facility can hold 3.9 megawatt-hours of energy…the 2 megawatts of power is about the rate at which energy can be added to or drawn from the system, and has nothing to say about the amount stored.  So if you withdraw power at 2 megawatts, you can do so for a little under 2 hours before the battery storage is exhausted. You need the megawatt-hour number to know that; “2 megawatts” tells you nothing about the storage capacity.

    Turning now to television journalism:  I think Tucker Carlson is far superior to most TV commentators in terms of focusing on issues in some depth, rather than just obsessively circling in on whatever is hottest at the moment.  But when recently introducing a guest who was going to talk about a highly-questionable sale to China that was made during the Clinton administration, he said that sale had been of “machine parts.”  Actually, it was of machine tools, as the guest correctly explained.

    Machine tools are one of the essential cornerstones of industry, and have been for a long time.  Shouldn’t a person who frequently writes and/or speaks about economic issues know what a machine tool is and why it matters?  Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but I think Tucker’s “machine parts” phrasing indicates that he has no such awareness.

    Ben Rhodes, an Obama operative, said of the current generation of reporters:  “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

    No doubt true of a large number of those younger reporters who Rhodes manipulated while feeling contempt for. But there are journalists–older and younger–who do have a pretty good grasp of history, geography, and comparative political systems…some of them even have some education or reading in political philosophy.  But even among these, knowledge of technology–and by “technology” I do not mean just “computer stuff”–is pretty close to nonexistent.

    And with the vastly increased influence of government over all aspects of the economy–and the even greater (much greater!) influence being sought by the current Democratic Party–such knowledge is pretty important.

    Posted in Aviation, Education, Energy & Power Generation, Media, Tech, Transportation | 26 Comments »

    Telemigration

    Posted by David Foster on 26th May 2019 (All posts by )

    It has often been asserted that the US doesn’t need to worry overmuch about our position in Manufacturing, because Services are the future and that is where we will have the most competitive advantage.  And, indeed, the balance of trade in services is more favorable than that in the goods-producing industries: for 2018, exports of services totaled $821 billion, whereas imports of services were only $557 billion.

    However, while imports of services are today small compared with imports of goods, which for 2018 were almost $2.7 trillion, it would be a mistake to conclude that services businesses and services jobs are immune to offshoring.  Indeed, for many types of services, offshoring/exporting is easier than the offshoring/importing of goods:  there are no transportation issues, and, in the case of imports to the US, there are no tariffs at all.

    Telemigration…the term was introduced by Richard Baldwin in his book The Globotics Upheaval…is the ability to have remote workers doing things that previously would have required their physical presence.  Obviously, the ability to do this has been greatly enhanced by the availability of the Internet and other forms of high-bandwidth low-cost communications.  Today, medical images and legal documents are being reviewed in low-cost-of-labor countries.  Software is being developed for American companies in countries around the world.  Offshoring of clerical operations has been practiced by US firms for a couple of decades, and, of course, the offshoring of customer service is common.

    Baldwin also argues that telemigration will be greatly enhanced by the availability of machine translation technology, especially Google Translate.  I think he may be overstating the case here–from what I’ve seen, the quality of GT translations is highly variable.  Not sure how well this approach would work in facilitating the interaction that is often required among team members to create something or solve a problem, and I am sure I wouldn’t want to trust it exclusively for something like, say, translating the functional specifications for a life-critical avionics system to be programmed by non-English speakers.

    But there are a lot of English-speakers in the world, and a lot of activities in which fluency in a common language is not essential.

    One area in which a lot of telemigration seems to be occurring is in software development and maintenance.  Here for example, is a company which acquires application software companies and offshores much of the ongoing work (which presumably includes incremental product enhancements as well as problem-fixing) to contract programmers: company’s chief recruiter asserts that the current cloud wage for a C++ programmer is $15 an hour. As the Forbes article notes, that’s what Amazon pays its warehouse workers.  (Well, at least in the US–and $15/hour for a programmer in, say, India is surely worth a lot more than $15/hour in this country.)  What makes this story particularly interesting is that the founder/CEO of the company was noted, in his earlier incarnation in a different software business, for paying software people very well indeed and going to great lengths to recruit them.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Business, Deep Thoughts, Immigration, International Affairs, Internet, Tech, Transportation, USA | 36 Comments »

    Book Review: The Caine Mutiny

    Posted by David Foster on 18th May 2019 (All posts by )

    The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

    —-

    (reposted in honor of Herman Wouk, who died yesterday at the age of 103)

    Just about everyone has seen the movie based on this book, featuring Humphrey Bogart’s famous performance as Captain Queeg.  The movie is indeed excellent–the book is even better, and contains a lot that is absent from the film.  And while the film ends basically after the court-martial scene, the book continues to follow the USS Caine and  key characters for the duration of the war.  In this review, I won’t worry about spoilers re plot elements that were included in the movie, but will try to minimize them as far as other aspects of the book are concerned. After summarizing the story, I’ll comment on some of the issue raised by the book. (A 2005 article, referencing The Caine Mutiny, refers to Wouk as “the first neoconservative.”)

    Lieutenant Commander Philip Queeg, a rigid and insecure man, is appointed during WWII to the command of Caine, a decrepit old destroyer-minesweeper…the ship and its slovenly-appearing crew are described as being part of the  “hoodlum navy.”  This is Queeg’s first command, and he is desperately concerned to make it a success, deeply afraid of making a mistake which will lead to his failure.  Ironically, it is specifically this fear of failure and perceived need for perfection which is responsible for many, perhaps most, of his troubles. When Caine runs aground the first time Queeg takes her out, he fails to submit the required grounding report for fear of higher authority’s reaction. When the ship cuts her own towline while assigned to target-towing duty, Queeg cannot make up him mind whether or not to attempt recovery of the drifting target–and radios in for instructions.  Incidents like these do not inspire confidence in Queeg on the part of his superiors.

    The officers and crew of Caine also lose confidence in the captain as his obsessive-compulsive behavior becomes increasingly problematic.  As a result of several incidents during combat, there are also concerns about Queeg’s personal courage. While no one aboard Caine likes Queeg once they get to know him, the captain’s most vocal critic is an officer named Thomas Keefer, an intellectual who is an aspiring novelist. Keefer has a cynical attitude toward the Navy, which he refers to as “a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots,” and advises Willie Keith, a young officer who is his subordinate,  that “If you’re not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one.”

    The ship’s executive officer is Steve Maryk. In civilian life a commercial fisherman, Maryk now hopes to make the Navy his career. Maryk is a fine seaman and a good leader, but not a highly-educated man–he is somewhat in awe of Tom Keefer’s intellectual attainments.

    In repeated conversations, Keefer tells Maryk that the captain must be mentally ill, using psychological jargon and concepts that Maryk does not pretend to understand. Maryk is concerned enough about Queeg’s behavior that he begins keeping a “medical log” on Queeg, with the idea of presenting this to higher authority if necessary and possible. The time seems right when Caine shares an anchorage with the battleship carrying Admiral Halsey:  Maryk takes his log, takes Keefer in tow, and heads over to the New Jersey to see if they can speak with the Admiral.  But Keefer, at the last moment, chickens out, asserting that Halsey, with his experience aboard large well-managed ships, would never be able to understand the state of things aboard a hoodlum-navy ship like Caine, and that raising the issue with him would only get the two of them in trouble.  Feeling unable to make the case without support, Maryk gives up on talking to Halsey and the two officers return to Caine.

    But soon thereafter, the old ship encounters a typhooon. Fleet course is 180 degrees, due south–away from the wind–and Queeg refuses to adopt the safer course of heading into the wind even though communication with other ships, as well as radar contact, has been lost.

    An unbelievably big gray wave loomed on the port side, high over the bridge. It came smashing down. Water spouted into the wheelhouse from the open wing, flooding to Willie’s knees. The water felt surprisingly warm and sticky, like blood. “Sir, we’re shipping water on the goddamn bridge!” said Maryk shrilly. “We’ve got to come around into the wind!”

    “Heading 245, sir.” Stilwell’s voice was sobbing. “She ain’t answering to the engines at all, sir!”

    The Caine rolled almost completely over on its port side.  Everybody in the wheelhouse except Stilwell went sliding across the streaming deck and piled up against the windows.  The sea was under their noses, dashing up against the glass.  “Mr Maryk, the light on this gyro just went out!” screamed Stilwell, clinging desperately to the wheel.  The wind howled and shrieked in Willie’s ears.  He lay on his face on the deck, tumbling around in salt water, flailing for a grip at something solid.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, Management, Military Affairs, Nautical Book Project, Reruns, Transportation | 9 Comments »

    The Transcontinental Railroad is 150

    Posted by David Foster on 9th May 2019 (All posts by )

    This month marks the 150th anniversary of the US Transcontinental Railroad… surely one of the most important ‘infrastructure’ projects of all time. Railway Age reprints the contemporary coverage from their predecessor publication, Railway Times.

    Union Pacific has completed the restoration of their ‘Big Boy’ steam locomotive, #4014, and will be running it, together with Living Legend #844, from Ogden, Utah to Cheyenne, Wyoming, as part of the transcontinental commemoration.

    Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy is, as the title suggests, about the Canadian transcontinental railroad rather than the American, but is a fitting song for the occasion nonetheless. Also, the Smithsonian website Folklife has a playlist of 20 songs that are in some way related to the transcontinental, with some information about each.  (only short samples available unless you have Spotify)

    It seems likely that, absent the transcontinental railroad, the United States would not have been able to stay together as a nation on a continental basis–certainly, long-distance transportation technology acts as a centripetal force to counterbalance the many centrifugal forces that tend to separate geographies politically.  I’ve previously cited the thoughts of Edward Porter Alexander, a Confederate general turned railroad president, on this topic, while raising the question as to how far this effect can and should extend.

    Posted in History, Tech, Transportation, USA | 31 Comments »

    Robot of the Week

    Posted by David Foster on 9th March 2019 (All posts by )

    Fedex local delivery robot.

    I can think of some conditions that might be problematic for these things to deal with.

    Posted in Customer Service, Tech, Transportation | 3 Comments »

    Tariffs, Trade, and the British Corn Laws

    Posted by David Foster on 8th October 2018 (All posts by )

    Stuart Schneiderman linked an article by Robert Samuelson on the 1846 British repeal of the tariffs on food imports, which further linked an Economist article arguing that:

    With the repeal of the tariffs, instituted to protect British corn farmers, liberal economic policies ascended. Free trade, free enterprise, free markets and limited government became the rule. And the world has not been the same since.  (Schneiderman’s summary)

    To me, it is highly questionable how much the elimination of tariffs had to do with limited government and internal free enterprise. The view that the British 1846 action was economically a very good thing for almost everybody is, however, generally accepted.  From the Economist article:

    The case for getting rid of British tariffs on imported grain was not a dry argument about economic efficiency. It was a mass movement, one in which well-to-do liberal thinkers and progressive businessmen fought alongside the poor against the landowners who, by supporting tariffs on imports, kept up the price of grain…When liberals set up the Anti-Corn Law League to organise protests, petitions and public lectures they did so in the spirit of the Anti-Slavery League, and in the same noble name: freedom. The barriers the league sought to remove did not merely keep people from their cake—bad though such barriers were, and strongly though they were resented. They were barriers that held them back, and which set people against each other. Tearing them down would not just increase the wealth of all. It would bring to an end, James Wilson believed, the “jealousies, animosities and heartburnings between individuals and classes…and…between this country and all others.”

    Again, this is all mostly generally-accepted thinking.  But Stuart’s post and the links reminded me of something I read–oddly enough, in a 1910 book on railroad history.  The author (Angus Sinclair) describes the transition to steel rails (from cast iron) and the heavier trains they enabled, and then discusses the political-economic impact of this transition:

    The invention of cheap methods of making steel rails has exerted a tremendous effect upon railroad transportation, and has created social revolutions in certain part of the world…It threw many farms in New England and along the Atlantic seaboard out of cultivation; it caused a semi-revolution in farming business in the British Isles, and strongly affected the condition and fortunes of millions of people in other countries.  Irish peasants used to go in thousands to England and Scotland to work in the harvesting of grain crops and thereby earned enough money to pay the rent of their small holdings.  Steel rails and Consolidation locomotives stopped the cultivation of so many wheat fields in the British Isles that the help of the Irish worker was no longer needed…

    The woes of Ireland were merely the preliminary manifestations of hardships inflicted through the grim ordeal of competition worked out by our cheapened  methods of land transportation.  (The heavier locomotive enabled by steel rails) is steadily forcing more grain raising farms of Europe out of cultivation and is raising a demand for protection against cheap land, just as our politicians have so long urged the necessity for protection against the cheap labor of Europe.

    About 60 years ago Great Britain abolished all duties on grain…By curious reasoning the statesmen believed that this policy would not only make the British Isles the manufacturers of the world, but that it would increase the prosperity of the agricultural communities as well.  The first thirty years’ experience of free corn did not seriously  challenge the correctness of the free trade theory, for more of the American wheat lands were yet unbroken prairie or virgin forests, and our steel rail makers and locomotive builders were merely getting ready…In 1858 the rate per bushel of wheat from Chicago to New York was 38.61 cents.  The rate today is 11.4 cents…

    The effect of that cheapening of transportation in the United States has been very disastrous to Great Britain, for during the last thirty years there had been a shrinkage of 3,000,000 acres in wheat and another of 750,000 acres in green crops; an enormous amount of land had reverted to pasturage…and the number of cultivators of the soil  had declined 600,000 in thirty years–1,000,000 in fifty years.

    That is a high price to pay for the devotion to a theory which fails to work out as expected.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Business, Capitalism, Economics & Finance, History, Ireland, Libertarianism, Taxes, Transportation, USA | 36 Comments »

    Sputnik Anniversary Rerun – Book Review: Rockets and People

    Posted by David Foster on 4th October 2018 (All posts by )

    Today being the 61st  anniversary of the Sputnik launch, here’s a rerun of a post about a very interesting book.

    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.

    Some vignettes, themes, and excerpts I thought were particularly interesting:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech, Transportation | 4 Comments »

    China, Taiwan, and the Third World

    Posted by David Foster on 28th August 2018 (All posts by )

    China has been making many investments in third-world countries, often in exchange for resource concessions.  There is growing concern that some of these projects leave the host country with too much debt–indeed, last December, Sri Lanka sold control of its port of Hambantota to a Chinese state-owned company after falling behind in repaying $1.5 billion in loans from Beijing.  Further such situations seem likely.  (See interesting article about Chinese investment in Malaysia here.)

    China has also been accused of using aid and investment funds to influence other countries’ policies toward Taiwan, an accusation that they unsurprisingly deny…and Taiwan is now down to only one diplomatic ally in Africa, the kingdom of eSwatini  (prevously known as Swaziland.)  El Salvador, too, has recently dropped diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

    See also my recent post about Chinese influence efforts targeted at other nations, including the limiting of US film content and the firing of an American employee of Marriott for liking a tweet which offended the regime.

     

     

    Posted in Business, China, Economics & Finance, Transportation | 10 Comments »

    A Jobs-Based Complaint About Technological Change, circa 1850

    Posted by David Foster on 20th July 2018 (All posts by )

    Come all ye bold wagoners turn out man by man
    That’s opposed to the railroad or any such a plan;
    ‘Tis once I made money by driving my team
    But the goods are now hauled on the railroad by steam.
     
    May the devil get the fellow that invented the plan.
    It’ll ruin us poor wag’ners and every other man.
    IL spoils our plantations wherever it may cross,
    And it ruins our markets, so we can’t sell a hoss.
     
    If we go to Philadelphia, inquiring for a load,
    They’ll tell us quite directly it’s gone out on the railroad.
    The rich folks, the plan klonopintabs they may justly admire,
    But it ruins us poor wag’ners and it makes our taxes higher:
     
    Our states they are indebted to keep them in repair,
    Which causes us poor wag’ners to curse and to swear.
    It ruins our landlords, it makes business worse,
    And to every other nation it has only been a curse.
     
    It ruins wheelwrights, blacksmiths, and every other trade,
    So damned be all the railroads that ever was made.
    It ruins our mechanics, what think you of it, then?
    And it fills our country full of just a lot of great rich men.

    Read the whole thing here.

    Posted in Tech, Transportation | 6 Comments »

    DC-3 plus 82

    Posted by David Foster on 7th June 2018 (All posts by )

     

     

    June 7, 1936 marked the first delivery of one of the most important airplane types ever developed:  the Douglas DC-3, which has been called “the Model T of aviation.”

    The story of the DC-3 begain with a very long telephone conversation between the heads of American Airlines and Douglas Aircraft.   AA had been conducting coast-to-coast overnight sleeper service using Curtiss Condor II biplanes, and CR Smith of American wanted a more advanced aircraft for this service. Douglas Aircraft was then fully occupied with production of DC-2s (which were too small for sleeper berths) and Donald Douglas was reluctant to undertake the project.  He was persuaded of the merits of the project over the course of a 2-hour phone call, the bill for which came to something like $5400 in today’s money.

    The DC-3 could accommodate 14-16 passengers with berths–see this promotional film–or, alternatively, 21 passengers in a seating-only configuration, which was the more common arrangement.  The type quickly became a huge success.  According to Delta, by 1940 the DC-3 carried 80% of the world’s airline traffic. Thousands of DC-3s (under the military designation C-47) were built in support of the Allied effort in WWII, and after the war a high proportion of these found their way into passenger and freight service.

    Perhaps the best way of discussing the characteristics of the DC-3 is in the context of a walkaround and flight.  (I’ve had two opportunities to fly DC-3s with instructors, the first in 2006 and the most recent in 2017)

    The most noticeable thing about a DC-3 on the ground is its nose-high attitude: this is a tailwheel airplane, whereas most planes today have a nosewheel.  The tailwheel is better for operations on grass and other unpaved strips, but it does make ground handling and landings a little more tricky.

    The airplane has two engines…a few years prior to its introduction, three-engine airplanes had been the thing for passenger traffic, the theory being that the loss of one engine in that case would represent only a 33% loss in total power rather than 50%.  Eliminating the third engine (in the nose) reduced noise and vibration, but required that there be enough reserve power for single-engine flight to be feasible.

    The wings have a noticeable sweepback.  This has nothing whatsoever to do with supersonic or near-supersonic aerodynamics, but was done for reasons of balance.  Wing construction used a stressed-skin approach with a cellular, ‘honeycomb’ internal structure.

    Entering via the rear passenger door, you walk up a fairly steep inclination to get to either a passenger seat or to the cockpit.  (Douglas devoted considerable attention to ensuring that the passenger seats were comfortable, and also to soundproofing the airplane as much as possible.) Pilot and copilot seats are also reasonably comfortable . Electrical switches are on the overhead panel, engine controls in the center:  prop, throttle, and mixture.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Russia, Transportation, War and Peace | 18 Comments »

    Automation, Aviation, and Business

    Posted by David Foster on 10th April 2018 (All posts by )

    A thoughtful post about the impact of automation in aviation, and how some of the problems occurring in this field are also relevant to potential problems with automation in business:

    Since the 1980s, automating various flight management operations has contributed to a profound improvement in air transport safety and effectiveness. But a related human issue — automation dependency — has emerged as a significant challenge to further improvements in safety levels. Automation can contribute to diminishing manual flying skills and increasing complacency, as pilots avail themselves of automatic flight management and navigation systems to aid much of their decision-making.

    In some cases, pilots don’t fully understand the automatic processes controlling their sophisticated aircraft. The ironic enquiry “What’s it doing now?” is sometimes heard in the cockpit, as pilots struggle to figure out the actions of the “automatics”, as these systems are referred to on the flight deck.

    Crucial as this is in the cockpit, automation dependency is equally problematic in many businesses today, whenever there is a disconnect between what managers think is going on and what is actually happening. The automation in question is not just technological, but also pervades the processes, algorithms, and reporting on which managers rely to inform their decision-making.

    Aviation is addressing this phenomenon as a major problem and is seeking solutions. We suggest that many companies should do the same before their “business automatics” put them at risk of losing control.

    RTWT

    Reminds me of this aviation classic, a 1997 talk by an American Airlines pilot:  The Children of Magenta.

    See also: Automation is Fragile, People are ‘Antifragile’ and my posts When Humans and Robots Communicate and Blood on the Tracks

    Posted in Aviation, Business, Management, Tech, Transportation | 19 Comments »

    The Details of Work and the Realities of Automation

    Posted by David Foster on 5th February 2018 (All posts by )

    An interesting piece on the automation of trucking, with an extensive comment thread.  Many of the commenters have practical experience in the trucking industry and in automation work in other industries such as sawmills.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Tech, Transportation | 7 Comments »

    I Am a Barbarian

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 23rd December 2017 (All posts by )

    Scott, James C. Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.

    Scott has hit another metaphorical grand slam with this one, a worthily disconcerting follow-on to his earlier work. I have previously read (in order of publication, rather than the order in which I encountered them) The Moral Economy of the Peasant, Seeing Like a State, and Two Cheers for Anarchism, and found them congenial. Scott is particularly good at encouraging a non-elite viewpoint deeply skeptical of State power, and in Against the Grain he applies this to the earliest civilizations. Turns out they loom large in our imagination due to the a posteriori distribution of monumental ruins and written records—structures that were often built by slaves and records created almost entirely to facilitate heavy taxation and conscription. Outside of “civilization” were the “barbarians,” who turn out to have simply been those who evaded control by the North Koreas and Venezuelas of their time, rather than the untutored and truculent caricatures of the “civilized” histories.

    By these criteria, the United States of America is predominately a barbarian nation. In the order given above:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Anglosphere, Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Society, Crony Capitalism, Culture, Current Events, Education, Entrepreneurship, History, Immigration, International Affairs, Latin America, Law Enforcement, Libertarianism, Markets and Trading, Military Affairs, National Security, North America, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society, Systems Analysis, Tradeoffs, Transportation, USA | 7 Comments »

    Learning the 777

    Posted by David Foster on 12th October 2017 (All posts by )

    Airline pilot Karlene Petitt is doing transition to the Boeing 777 and blogging about what she learns:

    Aircraft overview

    Structure and materials

    Flight controls

    Roll controls detail

    Series will continue at Karlene’s blog

    Posted in Aviation, Tech, Transportation | Comments Off on Learning the 777

    Sputnik Anniversary Rerun – Book Review: Rockets and People

    Posted by David Foster on 4th October 2017 (All posts by )

    Today being the 60th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, here’s a rerun of a post about a very interesting book.

    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.

    Some vignettes, themes, and excerpts I thought were particularly interesting:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech, Transportation | 15 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 28th September 2017 (All posts by )

    Things that were once common knowledge…and now are not

    Advice on leadership for Naval Academy cadets…applicable in other walks of life as well

    A time-lapse video of 30 days at sea

    Animated films:  a transition both in technologies and in implicit political messages

    Who murdered beauty?…an analysis of some trends in the world of art

    Cedar Sanderson asks What do Environmentalists, JRR Tolkein, Luddites, and Progressives all have in common?

    Company towns, then and now

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, Deep Thoughts, Film, Science, Society, Tech, Transportation | 8 Comments »

    Self-Driving Cars: When and What?

    Posted by David Foster on 4th August 2017 (All posts by )

    A collection of some opinions

    Posted in Tech, Transportation | 35 Comments »