Politics, culture, business, and technology

I also blog at ChicagoBoyz.


Selected Posts:
Sleeping with the Enemy
Dancing for the Boa Constrictor
Koestler on Nuance
A Look into the Abyss
Hospital Automation
Made in America
Politicians Behaving Badly
Critics and Doers
Foundations of Bigotry?
Bonhoeffer and Iraq
Misvaluing Manufacturing
Journalism's Nuremberg?
No Steak for You!
An Academic Bubble?
Repent Now
Enemies of Civilization
Molly & the Media
Misquantifying Terrorism
Education or Indoctrination?
Dark Satanic Mills
Political Violence Superheated 'steem
PC and Pearl Harbor
Veterans' Day Musings
Arming Airline Pilots
Pups for Peace
Baghdad on the Rhine

Book Reviews:
Forging a Rebel
The Logic of Failure
The Innovator's Solution
They Made America
On the Rails: A Woman's Journey

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betsy's page
one hand clapping
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joy of knitting
lead and gold
damian penny
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no credentials
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a constrained vision
victory soap
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right reason
quid nomen illius?
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dean esmay
brand mantra
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right on the left coast
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Sunday, June 30, 2013  

What archaeologists are finding in the lost city of Heracleion

10 qualities of exceptional interviewers

Is too much collaboration hurting worker productivity?

12 old words that survived by getting fossilized in idioms

Some photos of the New York subway being built

How typeface can influence the believability of written communications

How a kids' clothing consignment business...started as a small home business and now operating in 22 states...is being threatened by mindless government regulation

Speaking of government regulation...Indiana man faces possible jail time for nursing a bald eagle back to health

Another fine photo essay from Bill Brandt: in the footsteps of Hemingway

Paintings that look like photos. More photo-realistic artwork here. (via Don Sensing)

On the failure to learn from history

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:00 AM

Friday, June 28, 2013  

Michael Skapinker, writing in yesterday’s Financial Times:
A few weeks ago I received an email from a US professor whose dean had reprimanded him for trying to teach his students how to write. The professor, who has been teaching business and law students at some of America’s top universities for 50 years, told an MBA class that clear writing would be essential in their careers.
Each week, the professor assigned the students to compose a one-page memo, which he would read and mark. The objective was to improve their skills at conveying information clearly and concisely.
The students complained vigorously to the dean, and the dean urged the professor to discontinue the memo-writing exercise. He (the dean) supported the view of the students that in business today, they did not need to know how to write…that with emails and tweets as the medium of exchange, the constant back-and-forth would provide an opportunity to correct misunderstandings caused by unclear writing. Ultimately, the dean insisted that the writing exercise be made voluntary, with the result that by the end of the term only one student (a non-native English speaker) was submitting the assignments.
For those who think bad writing is okay because it can be clarified and corrected by emails and tweets, try sending a really badly-written sales proposal to a potential customer. You are likely to find that the sales opportunity has been blown in a way that will not allow for all those endless back-and-forth emails and tweets. Or, if your actual and apparent authority within the corporation are sufficiently high, you may find that you have unintentionally made a legally binding and potentially very expensive offer on behalf of your company.
The consequences of bad writing within a company can also be quite malign. If your proposal for an improvement to the Gerbilator product line is sufficiently confusing, it’s likely nobody is going to bother investing the time needed for all that back-and-forth to understand what you are actually trying to say. More likely, they will choose to devote their attention to someone else’s crystal-clear and well-reasoned proposal to spend the engineering and marketing efforts on something else entirely.
Skapinker notes that it is very odd that in an era when parents are seeking all possible advantages for their children (“exposing them to Paul Klee at the age of four…and teaching them to sing ‘Heads, shoulders, knees, and toes’ in Mandarin”) these parents do not pay serious attention to developing and improving the writing skills of the kids.

Both clear writing and effective speaking (with or without PowerPoint) are tremendous advantages in business, and surely in other types of organizations as well. Anyone who graduates from a university without developing these skills has been cheated…or (more accurately in most cases) has cheated himself with the university’s collusion.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

7:34 AM

Tuesday, June 25, 2013  

(Originally posted in July 2009. I’m re-running it now for obvious reasons)
Many Unhappy Returns, by Charles Rossotti, is the story of Rossotti’s experiences as IRS Commissioner, which position he held from 1997-2002–having previously spent his career in the private sector and been cofounder & chairman of American Management Systems Inc. I picked the book up for a dollar at a library book sale, thinking it might offer an interesting case study on the challenges of managing and improving a very large bureaucratic organization.
And I’m sure it does. On the very first pages of the book, though, are some stories which are very relevant to our current political situation.
During the 1990s, public dissatisfaction with the IRS reached new levels, resulting in a series of Congressional hearings beginning in 1996. Rossotti excerpts some of the stories told by taxpayers (and IRS agents) at these hearings, and grim reading they are indeed.
For example, a woman from California told of her 14 year struggle to pay off a tax debt incurred by her first husband prior to their 1983 divorce. “Kafka himself could not have invented this real-life tale of an ordinary person caught in a maddening bureaucratic maze with no maps, no exits, and no explanation,” says Rossotti. Her ex-husband had gotten all the notices, but she alone had gotten the bill for interest on the unpaid balance. When she tried to pay it, the IRS repeatedly refused to accept payment, telling her she didn’t owe anything and even sending her refunds. But years later, the IRS threatened to put a lien on her new husband’s home because of her prior “debt.” She paid it but five years later, her second husband’s salary was levied for payment on the same “debt,” leaving the couple with only $18 a week to live on.
“The IRS is judge, jury, and executioner–answerable to none” said the woman in her Congressional testimony.
An IRS agent–the only one willing to testify without concealing her identity–claimed that it was an intentional policy of IRS management to pick on weak taxpayers to make the IRS’s statistics look better. She said that “to the IRS, vulnerabilities can be based on a perception that the taxpayer has limited formal education, has suffered a personal tragedy, is having a financial crisis, or may not necessarily have a solid grasp of their legal rights”…that “if the taxpayer does object or complain, every effort will be made by the IRS to run up their tax assessment, deplete their financial resources, and force them to capitulate to IRS demands.”
A Newsweek story said that “According to more than a dozen agents…(management) pushed for ever more property seizures from delinquent tapayers, even though the IRS manual says such moves should be a final resort, riding roughshod in some cases over their rights to appeal. They closed cases an sometimes slapped on levies and liens prematurely–which boosted the enforcement stats that the IRS rewards with cash awards for top officers.” There’s lots more of this stuff in Rossotti’s book.
Government is inherently dangerous. As a Delaware construction contractor said during the hearings, “believe me, when the resources of the government are unleashed on you, you are in trouble, no matter how good your case.” And this point is not specific to the IRS.
 Reading these stories reminded me of a passage that has been attributed to George Washington:Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.It’s not clear that this quote really came from George Washington–but whoever said it, it captures an important truth. Yes, government is essential, but it is inherently very dangerous and there must be constant vigilance to keep this danger in check. Yet the dangers to individuals that come from a tremendous expansion of government seem entirely invisible to the “progressives” who currently dominate our national politics. This despite the fact that over the last century, hundreds of millions of people have been killed by their own governments and billions more subjected to lifetimes of unnecessary poverty.
And I would assert that the organizational and systems issues involved in enforcing the IRS regulations fairly, although not simple, are far less complex than those involved in a national healthcare program. And the time criteria are much more stringent in healthcare–a delay of a week usually won’t matter in an IRS case; in a healtcare situation, it may literally be a matter of life and death.
In virtually every aspect of American life, we are now seeing efforts to vastly expand government power, while ignoring or minimizing the dangers associated with such expansion.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Original CB discussion thread here

8:04 AM

Sunday, June 23, 2013  

It appears that in 2008 there was considerable collusion among journalists to ensure that Barack Obama’s relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright did not receive serious attention. Be sure to read the piece at the link. I feel sure that there are numerous people who voted for Obama who would not have done so had this matter been properly covered. But these journalists–who no doubt consider themselves Your Moral and Intellectual Superiors, as Glenn Reynolds puts it–did not want you and other Americans to have and consider this information, but arrogated to themselves the power to decide what voters should see and should focus on, based on their own views of which candidate should win the election. Morally at least, what these journalists did is analogous to selling stock in a company while hiding material adverse information about the company…except that the stakes in this case were much, much higher.
More recently, 60 Minutes performed what PowerLine calls “a  classic hit job on Israel ,” alleging that Israel is responsible for the exodus of Christians from the West Bank and Jerusalem. PowerLine notes that:
The story was short on facts and context, particularly the context of the assaults on Christians and Christian sites in the Muslim Middle East. Anyone who has ever been to Israel knows that the authorities treat all religious sites as a sacred trust. At the American Spectator, Aaron Goldstein asks: “How many Christian churches have been burned down by Israelis? How many Christians have been murdered inside Israel?” Simon failed to “report” the answer to that question, but I’m pretty sure Power Line readers have a good bead on it.
Watch the CAMERA video at the PowerLine link, which shows that CBS News made false statements about Bethlehem and the Israeli security fence. CAMERA also says that CBS, even after being advised of its error, has thus far failed to correct the misinformation it has propagated.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:33 PM

Saturday, June 22, 2013  

(Originally posted in May 2009. A recent post by Captain Capitalism reminded me of my post about Mindless Verbal Taylorism…while searching for it, I came across this post, which indeed seems due for a rerun.)
Diana Senechal, guest-blogging at Joanne Jacobs, tells the following story:
I run two lunchtime literature clubs at my school. The fourth graders just finished reading A Little Princess. During our discussions, I encourage delving into the text and discussing it on its own terms. I am not a big fan of “accountable talk,” “making predictions,” “making connections,” and so forth when they assume precedence over the subject matter itself.
One student brought up the part where Sara spends her money on hot buns for a beggar girl. “She made a self-to-self connection,” the student said. I felt sorry that students are learning such ghastly terminology, however well meant. Why are students not encouraged to say, “She understood how the girl felt” or “She felt compassion for the girl”?
Why, indeed? It’s bad enough to impose verbiage like “self-to-self connection” on college students: to do it to a 4th grader is really unforgiveable. It adds nothing to understanding–indeed, it very likely interferes with the true understanding and appreciation of the story by creating an emotional distance.
Strange, awkward, and unnatural verbal formulations, used ritualistically and without contributing to understanding, are becoming increasingly common in our society: although this phenomenon is arguably at its worst in education, it is by no means limited to that field. These word and phrases are not similar to the traditional jargon of a profession or trade. “Self-to-self connections” is not the same kind of thing as “amp” or even “kanban.”
Mark Helprin, in an essay about art, writes about people who are so obsessed with their tools and techniques that they lose sight of the substance of the work:
Modernism is by necessity obsessed with form, much like a craftsman obsessed with his tools and materials. In my climbing days we used to call people like that “equipment weenies.” These days you can see it in fly-fishing, where not a few people go out once a year with $5,000-worth of equipment to catch (maybe) $5-worth of fish. What should have been the story of the man, the stream, and the fish becomes instead a romance between the man and his tools. In this century the same thing happened in art.
Athough Helprin is talking here about art, the same excessive focus on methodology is visible in other areas as well.
Who are the people who perpetrate and cling to these fake-erudite verbal formulations? I suspect that they are generally those who have an education which is extensive–in terms of total years spent in the classroom–but not deep.
Bruce Fleming, who teaches English at the U.S. Naval Academy, has some interesting thoughts on the teaching/misteaching of literature, which are highly relevant to this topic. Excerpt:
Literary study in the classroom nowadays offers views of the work of literature rather like the views of Mt. Fuji in Hokusai’s celebrated spring series on “100 Views of Mt. Fuji.” In each view, the mountain, while present, is frequently tiny and in a corner, viewed (in the most famous print) beyond the crest of a wave whose foam seems to make fingers at the edges, or (in another) through a hoop that a barrel-maker is shaping.
Those are not the front-and-center shots on a postcard. They foreground the angle of the mountain, its treatment, much the way a literature professor does with a funky viewpoint that got him or her tenure. Of course the postcard shot has its own point, but in a real sense it’s more neutral than the angled treatment. It doesn’t push our noses in its approach: It defers to the object it is depicting. We’re far more conscious of the treatment of Mt. Fuji in an artsy Hokusai print than we are in a postcard shot. And that means, we’re all but compelled to see the mountain the way it’s presented, rather than being able to work on our own presentation. That’s why literary studies is intrinsically coercive.
I think the blatherification of America is an important issue. It inhibits clear thought. It is harmful to the enjoyment of art and of literature. It is destructive of intelligent policy-making in both business and government.
What say you? Do you agree that blatherification is happening and that it matters? Thoughts on causes and possible countermeasures?
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Original CB discussion thread here.

12:41 PM

Wednesday, June 19, 2013  

By this date in 1940, the Battle of France was clearly lost. British troops had been evacuated at Dunkirk by June 4. Large numbers of French soldiers had been killed or captured, the French Air Force had been largely crippled, German armored units were marauding across wide areas of France. Columns of refugees were blocking the roads,  seriously interfering with military operations. The French government had evacuated Paris for Bordeaux, and on June 16 the combative Paul Reynaud resigned as premier, to be replaced by the aged Philippe Petain.
And by June 18, the cadets of the French Cavalry School at Saumur, in obedience to the orders of their Commandant, had taken position to defend the bridgeheads across the Loire. It was a military operation that had been the subject of war-game exercises at the school for years, but few had imagined it would ever be carried out in earnest. The 800 cadets and instructors were joined by 200 Algerian riflemen, by various units in the vicinity, and by volunteers whose units had disintegrated but who wished to continue fighting. Arrayed against this small and ill-equipped force would be the German First Cavalry Division—more than 10,000 men, well-equipped with tanks and artillery.
The Battle of Samaur is the subject of an excellent photo essay….there is also a Wikipedia page.
The German attack started just before midnight on June 18. The cadets and their associated units held out until late on June 20. French casualties were 79 killed and 47 wounded–one of those killed was the composer Jehan Alain.  German casualties are estimated at 200-300.
The German commander, General Kurt Feldt, was very impressed by the tenacity of the French defense, and so indicated in his report. On July 2, someone in the German command structure–probably Feldt–decided that out of respect for their courage and sacrifice in the battle, the cadets would be allowed to leave the school and transit into the Unoccupied Zone, rather than being interned as prisoners of war. He advised them to get going quickly, before someone in higher authority could countermand his order.
The most comprehensive English-language source on the Battle of Saumur is the book For Honour Alone, by Roy Macnab.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

9:12 PM


Several years ago, I was having lunch on the restaurant deck at my local airport. At the table next to me was a couple with a young girl, maybe about 4 years old.
“What makes the airplane fly?” asked the mother.
“Buh..buh,” said the little girl.
“That’s right,” the beaming mother completed the phrase, “Bernoulli’s principle!”
Now, I give this couple credit for taking the kid to the airport and trying to encourage cause-and-effect thinking about why things happen. But I really don’t think that teaching a 4-year-old to parrot “Bernoulli’s Principle” is the right way to do it. Far better, IMO, to say something like “When the airplane goes fast, that makes a wind under the wings, and that holds the airplane up.” This explanation would not pass muster with an aerodynamicist, but is far more useful, in terms of actual understanding, than giving the girl a keyword as explanation. To tell someone that Bernoulli’s Principle makes airplanes fly, when they don’t know what Bernoulli’s Principle IS,  is no more useful than telling them that lift is generated by friendly invisible fairies under the wings. (And the fairies are much more charming.)
I was reminded of this little incident by a story in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Scientific American MIND. The headline says that “the trend in early education is to move from a play-based curriculum to a more school-like environment of directed learning.” An excerpt from the story:
On a perfect Southern California morning not long ago, a gaggle of children gathered in the backyard of a million-dollar home in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood to celebrate the birthday of twin four-year-old girls…Most of the kids at the party attend the same preschool. The father of one child enrolled there, where tuition is $14,300 a year for half a day, was asked what he likes about it.
“I like that my daughter can tell me what kind of whale it is we see in a movie,” said the man, sporting a seersucker jacket. “They seem to be teaching things that other schools don’t.”
“You ask them what they did in school today,” chimed in another day, “and they’re like, ‘Oh, today we learned about pointillism.’ There’s a whole series on Picasso, a four-month project on Klimt.”
I submit that, for a four-year-old, it would be much, much more valuable to spend time doing their own painting and drawing than on learning to categorize well-known works according to the accepted categorization scheme. Having them also view the works of great artists is also fine, but should be done with an emphasis on seeing, not on name and category recognition.
Forty years ago, in The Age of Discontinuity, Peter Drucker commented on the role of the arts in education:
Today music appreciation is a respected academic discipline (even though it tends to be a deadly bore for the kids who have to memorize a lot of names when they have never heard the music). Playing an instrument or composing are considered, however, amateurish or “trade school.” This is not very bright, even if school is considered vocational preparation for the scribe. When school becomes general education for everyone, it is lunacy.
The art program in the preschool described above sounds a lot like the kind of music appreciation courses that Drucker was criticizing.
I’m afraid that American society is increasingly dominated by a kind of faux intellectualism that values “smartness” very highly (Smart cars! Smart diplomacy! Smart power!) but defines such smartness largely in terms of being able to fit everything in the world into approved categories.
Moliere, in The Imaginary Invalid, mocked a group of physicians whose “explanation” of the effects of opium was that the drug induced sleep because it contained “dormative powers.”  There is still plenty of this kind of “thinking” going on today.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:01 AM

Sunday, June 16, 2013  

Suppose you had historical information from the 1300s showing in which German cities pogroms had occurred…and in which German cities pogroms had not occurred.
Would you think this data would be of any use in predicting the levels of anti-Semitic activity in various localities in the 1920s thru 1940s….almost six hundred years later?
This study suggests that the answer is “yes.”
(Full paper available on SSRN, here.)
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:59 PM

Saturday, June 15, 2013  

John Barnes asks: Are we as a society putting too much emphasis on abstract categorization rather than practical application? The so-called Flynn Effect says that average IQs worldwide rise by about 3 points per decade, but:

Stuart Brown has described younger engineers at advanced research facilities who are "good at filling in bubbles" but don't seem to be able to make a machine work. Senior engineers lament that the next generation overvalues its high test scores and undervalues the things that get the job done. Fine arts teachers tailor assignments to students who want to express simpler ideas with easier tools rather than acquire more open-ended and sophisticated skills.

A smug and depressing post on "innovation" by a French bureaucrat. Reminded me of my old post Leaving a Trillion on the Table (although "trillion" probably considerably understated the real amount of potential wealth left on the table in this matter.)

Should Apple get into the 3-D printing market?

Speaking of 3-D printing, GE is running a couple of interesting contests. First, there is the GE jet engine bracket challenge--participants submit a design taking advantage of additive manufacturing capabilities to meet all performance criteria while minimizing mass. Submitted designs will be evaluated by simulation: the top ten will then be fabricated and subjected to actual loads. There is also the 3-D printing production quest: high precision and advanced materials. This one is focused on making parts requiring extreme precision with complex geometries, especially for healthcare applications--entrants are going to need production as well as design capabilities, and in addition to the $50K prizes there may be an opportunity to become a GE supplier or otherwise "collaborate" with the company.

John Hawkins and friends select the 20 hottest conservative women in the new media. (photos, obviously)

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:12 AM

Wednesday, June 12, 2013  

I’m currently reading 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War, by Charles Emmerson. The book describes the social and political climates then existing not only in the major European countries, but also in other places around the world, ranging from Australia to Canada to China.
In his description of Jerusalem–then under control of the Ottoman Empire but with a population including residents and pilgrims from many countries–the author says:
Different countries even had their own postal services, circumventing the Ottoman telegraph service, which was widely thought to be a nest of spies reporting communications back to Constantinople.
Fast forward 100 years….In the wake of the reports concerning NSA surveillance programs, there is widespread concern..among non-Americans as well as among citizens of this country…that the American telecommunications and information-processing services may be “a nest of spies” reporting communications back to Washington…and from there, possibly, to other shadowy recipients. These concerns may have serious economic ramifications.
Non-US customers of any US business will immediately evaluate their exposure to these new risks and look for alternatives. European, Canadian, and Australian tech companies will profit from this. Competitors in those regions will offer alternatives that will also draw US customers away from the compromised US services.
“The German business community is on high alert,” said Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “It’s not just about listening in on some bearded guy from Ulm who bought a ticket to Afghanistan and makes conversation with his friends in Waziristan. . . . The suspicion in large parts of the business sector is that Americans would also be interested in our patent applications.”
Think for a second about just how the U.S. economy has changed in the last 40 years. While a large percentage of our economy is still based in manufacturing, some of the most ascendant U.S. companies since the 1970s have been in the information technology sector…
Let’s say you ran a business in (Japan, India, Australia, Mexico, or Brazil)  that relied upon information services from a U.S. company. Don’t these revelations make using such a service a business liability? 

I don’t think these revelations, even if they are fully validated, will really “kill” US tech companies or “destroy” the US Internet industry…the headlines are a bit over the top, as headlines often are. I do believe, however, that the American information technology industries will be significantly harmed, with implications for the entire US economy…something that we really cannot afford at this particular point in time.
I think it is obvious that the US government needs to conduct anti-terrorist surveillance programs, which must encompass telecommunications networks…the idea that NSA should be abolished, as some have suggested in recent days, is to my mind very unwise. But non-Americans as well as Americans have every right to be concerned about the scope of what has apparently been going on, and the apparent lack of proper controls, and furthermore, to raise questions about how the information gathered is actually being used.
continued at Chicago Boyz

2:08 PM

Sunday, June 09, 2013  

Here’s Peter Drucker, writing way back in 1969:

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
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.
(Emphasis added. I’m confident Professor Drucker would agree that whether the forms are paper or electronic makes no difference at all in this context.)
If government operations are fully proceduralized, to the point of eliminating individual employee and frontline manager discretion, they will be cumbersome and inefficient. If they are not fully proceduralized in this way, then they will be subject to widespread corruption and tyrannical behavior.
Hence, the expansion of government into all aspects of human life leads to increasing inefficiency, eventually resulting in sluggish performance across the entire economy–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, in turn, results in a government which is not only a looting society but 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.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:15 AM

Friday, June 07, 2013  

The government of Sweden didn’t do a very good job of protecting its citizens and their property from the rampant rioting that took place in late May.
Government agents did, however, fulfill their duty of issuing parking tickets…to burned-out cars.
I’m reminded of an old SF story, “Dumb Waiter,” written by Walter Miller, who is best known for his novel A Canticle for Leibowitz. This story, which dates from 1952, lacks the philosophical depth of Canticle, but seems quite relevant to the events in Sweden.
In the story, cities have become fully automated—municipal services are provided by robots linked to a central computer system.  But when war erupted–featuring radiological attacks–some of the population was killed, and the others evacuated the cities. In the city that is the focus of the story, there are no people left, but “Central” and its subunits are working fine, doing what they were programmed to do many years earlier.
The radiation levels have died down now, and the city is now habitable, from a radiological standpoint–but the behavior of the automated systems, although designed with benign intent, now makes entry to the city very dangerous.
Mitch, the protagonist, resolves to go into the city, somehow get control of Central, and reprogram it so that it will be an asset rather than a hazard for future human occupants of the city.  The first thing he sees is a robot cop, giving a ticket to a robot car with no human occupants. Shortly thereafter, he himself is stopped for jaywalking by another robot cop, and given a summons to appear in traffic court. He also observes a municipal robot mailing out batches of delinquent utility-bill notices to customers who no longer exist.
Eventually Mitch establishes contact with Central and warns it that a group of men are planning to blow it up in order to have unhindered access to the city for looting…that the war is over, and Central needs to revise its behavior to compensate for the changed situation. The response is that he himself is taken away for interrogation. He hears a woman crying in an adjacent cell—she has been arrested by a robot cop for some reason or other, and her baby was separated from her and is being held in the city nursery.
continued at Chicago Boyz

8:53 AM

Thursday, June 06, 2013  

Today, June 6, is the 69th anniversary of the Normandy landings. See the Wikipedia article for an overview. Arthur Seltzer, who was there, describes his experiences.

Don Sensing points out that success was by no means assured: the pivot day of history.

Two earlier Photon Courier posts: before D-day, there was Dieppe and transmission ends.

Pictures from Sarah's 1999 trip to Normandy.

Neptunus LexThe liberation of France started when each, individual man on those landing craft as the ramp came down – each paratroop in his transport when the light turned green – made the individual decision to step off with the only life he had and face the fire.

Neptunus Lex also wrote about the Battle of Midway, which took place from June 4 through June 7, 1942. See also his post from 2010 about this battle.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:17 AM

Wednesday, June 05, 2013  

General Electric posted a cool video of  jet engine fuel nozzles being fabricated–in one piece–with a 3-D printing process. Extensive data collection during the process is done for quality control purposes (they use the term “big data,” of which I am not overly fond.)
GE says:
Welders have monitored weld pools for centuries with shaded glasses, listening to the “bacon sizzle” of the molten metal, and later using infrared sensors, cameras, and pyrometers. GE is collecting all this data, as well as information from sensors checking the mechanical stability of the 3-D printing machines and the laser beams, and feeding it into algorithms that reduce terabytes of raw data to megabytes of useful information.
It seems that certain skills, such as understanding what is happening to molten metal via direct sensory perception, are becoming less important in this manufacturing process…other skills, surely, are becoming moreimportant. It would be both interesting and worthwhile for someone to perform a multi-decade analysis of the actual skill mix required to produce a particular product.  For example, how does the set of skills that built the J-47 jet engine in the early 1950s compare with the set of skills for building the engines being produced today? Millions of words and trillions of pixels have been devoted..by academics, journalists, consultants, educators, and even the occasional practitioner…to talking about “jobs of the future,” but a high proportion of this writing and talking is of the hand-waving variety. It would be nice to see some serious historical (and quantitative) comparative research.
More on 3-D printing in today’s WSJ. Note that the Ford and Mattel examples are for 3-D printing of prototypes, not of actual customer products.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

2:29 PM


...at Apple today?

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:59 AM

Monday, June 03, 2013  

Bookworm discovered and embedded a video by Professor Anthony Esolen, in which he challenges the common belief that the Middle Ages were a dark and dreary era with few redeeming attributes. Book adds thoughts of her own, and there is a good comment thread on the post.
Pseudodionysius posted the same video at Ricochet, resulting in an extensive discussion thread…192 comments so far…which includes significant pushback against the Esolen thesis. The thread became pretty contentious…unpleasantly so, at points, but it includes some worthwhile discussion and useful links, especially on the comparison of Medieval with Classical technologies.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:42 AM

by Meredith and Dana Holladay

Airplanes, dogs, romance, adventuresounds like a good set of ingredients for a successful book, does it not?
Meredith and Dana Holladay are both pilots and flight instructors. They met in 2010, fell in love, got married, bought a 1938 Piper Cub and flew it around the country–to all 48 states in the contiguous United States–and they recently became parents of a baby girl named Alexandra. A busy 3 years.
This is quite likely the only romantic story ever written that begins with a citation from the Code of Federal Regulations, specifically:
Federal Aviation Regulations 91.3 Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command
(a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

Meredith suggests that the above rule not only provides guidance for the conduct of aviation, but also provides a good principle for the management of one’s own life.
 The title of the book is taken from a phrase frequently spoken by flight instructors to students, often in a sharp tone: Fly the airplane. The point being that no matter what other important things need to be done–adjust the mixture, communicate with Air Traffic Control, change the settings on the GPS–the pilot must first and foremost maintain control of the aircraft. Again, Meredith suggests that the applicability of this principle goes far beyond aviation.
After the breakup of her first marriage, Meredith decided to give on-line dating a try and put up a profile on Match.com. She included a photo of herself taken the previous summer after landing at a grass strip in Pennsylvania with a student and his girlfriend. Dana–himself an experienced flight instructor–could tell from the photo that Meredith was an instructor as well as a pilot, since she was sitting in the airplane’s right seat.
 After a lightning courtship and marriage, they decided to move forward with their idea of a trip covering all the 48 contiguous states. The aircraft they chose for this project was a Piper J-3 Cub, a type for which Dana had long had a strong affection:
 I like that they are mechanically simple with minimal instrumentation. I also like the door and window design, which allows you to fly with both opened wide to provide a mostly unobstructed view of the world. It also allows people on the ground to get a good look at you as you fly overhead, and they’ll often wave and can see you waving back. I’ve never had that happen in any other airplane.
(Taking a trip in a Cub does require, though, that you keep your baggage to a seriously absolute minimum. The Cub also lacks a self-starter: one person turns the prop over by hand while the other manages the throttle and magneto and holds the brakes.)
Highlights of the trip included flying over the New Jersey Turnpike (with Simon & Garfunkel’s America playing in Meredith’s head), up the Hudson River corridor at about 1000 feet, right past the Statue of Liberty and over the George Washington Bridge, and through a mountain pass near Yellowstone. On-the-ground adventures included a scary climb up a cliff in Acadia National Park, a visit with a friendly/hungry seal in Oregon, and many more.
This is a fun and meaningful book, whose appeal will not be limited to pilots
I’ve flown with Meredith several times for flight reviews, etc…if you’re looking for flight instruction in the Washington DC metro area, you might want to consider getting in touch with Meredith and Dana. Their website is here, and they also have a Facebook page.

The book is available through Amazon in both paper and Kindle formats.
 Related: Retro-reading…some interesting content in the March 1939 issue of Aviation magazine,  including an ad for the then-new Piper Cub Coupe model for $1995.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:01 AM

Saturday, June 01, 2013  

Here's some color footage of London in the 1920s

For comparison: Bill Brandt's photos of London from 1974 (more here)

More old color film: New York City in 1939

38 foreign words we could use in English

Why so few French kids have ADHD

Following a scary mammogram experience, a GE researcher is working on the development of high-resolution MRI technology

Using 3-D printing to make a dress

The trouble with taxonomies

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

1:26 PM

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