~ Archive for Uncategorized ~

Germany wins World War I… 100 years later

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I’m listening to The Modern Scholar: World War l: The Great War and the World It Made, lectures by the late John Ramsden that demonstrate we should not entirely give up on the lecture method of instruction. On the 100th anniversary of the war it is still somewhat hard to believe that Germany invested so much in a war with such modest aims, i.e., obtaining economic hegemony over central Europe. During World War I, according to Ramsden, Germany didn’t have a grand plan to conquer most of Europe and rule the territory directly. They wanted to dominate trade and politics. In listening to the lectures about the millions of lives wasted, it occurred to me that Germany has finally achieved its war goals of 1914. It just took 100 years and the Germans’ main weapon was working harder and being more organized than their neighbors.

[Separately, I wonder if historians will look back 90 years from now and ask "Why did the Americans waste so many lives and so much money in Iraq and Afghanistan if they did not have a goal of direct imperial rule?"]

Old book for our new war

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It seems that we have started a new war (against ISIS in Iraq). If you’re looking for some related summer reading, let me recommend either the print or the audio version of The Suicide Run: Five Tales of the Marine Corps by novelist William Styron who was also a Marine during World War II and the Korean War (and who summered on Martha’s Vineyard, the island from which President Obama will be commanding the initial phases of this latest war).

Obama and New England aviation businesses start their vacation

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President Obama arrives on Martha’s Vineyard for a two-week vacation starting today. This effectively shuts down Cape Cod, the Vineyard, and Nantucket as aviation destinations (see tfr.faa.gov for maps showing the 70-mile (60 nautical) diameter circles of restricted/forbidden airspace) and therefore shuts down a lot of New England-based aviation businesses (flight schools that normally rent planes to people visiting these islands, sightseeing operators, aircraft maintenance, aircraft fuelers, etc.). There will ultimately be at least three different flight restrictions. Obama will fly in a Boeing 747 from Washington, D.C. up to Otis on the Cape. Due to the fact that the runway on the Vineyard is only 6000 feet long he will be transferred to a smaller aircraft (in previous years a Boeing 757 and also an Osprey?) and fly 5 minutes from Otis to the Vineyard. It is unclear why he wouldn’t prefer to take a Boeing 757 non-stop from D.C.

I spent the previous week on the Vineyard. The Secret Service was already encamped in rented houses with SUVs flown in from D.C. Ospreys thundered overhead in flights of three. “I thought it was odd that the newspaper carried an official government notice that it was ‘forbidden to welcome’ President Obama at the airport,” said one summer resident while crabbing with her daughter. “That’s not a phrase that I’ve seen before.”

We departed this morning about 1.5 hours before Obama was due to arrive. As we drove to the airport we found the highways clogged with black SUVs bearing D.C. plates and at least a dozen Massachusetts State Police cruisers. There were two Coast Guard Eurocopters parked on the ramp. In case those helicopters, plus the Marine helicopters that had been previously flown up in C-17 cargo planes, were not sufficient, the Massachusetts State Police was there with its own gold-plated Eurocopter (see this 2012 posting and this February 2014 posting for more on the state’s EC135). During the preflight we watched a $100 million Osprey land and depart. As we taxied out in our little four-seat airplane we heard an FAA ground vehicle communicating with the ground controller about a from-the-ground airport equipment inspection (weather was perfect for visual flying so in fact no equipment was necessary for taking off or landing). As we took off we heard the State Police call the Tower to request orbits around the field (at $2000 per hour) so that they could “conduct a runway inspection”).

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A Dutch friend asked if this pomp and circumstance was related to our English heritage. I replied that David Cameron regularly flew London/D.C. on British Airways (example). She replied “The Dutch Prime Minister rides to work on a bicycle.”

Jigsaw puzzles and American corporate taxes

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Some of my shorter and younger friends and I have been playing with jigsaw puzzles lately. We started with a few from Ravensburger. These are made in Germany. Every piece from every puzzle has been perfect. Then we moved on to a 550-piece puzzle from White Mountain Puzzles. The box is proudly stamped “Made in USA”. The price is about the same but the quality is ridiculously poor by comparison with “hanging chads” marring a lot of pieces as well as some delamination of the photo and cardboard. I thought “If I cared about making puzzles I would emigrate to Germany.”

This dovetailed with news reports of American politicians fulminating against multinational companies officially relocating from the U.S. to Ireland, Switzerland, England, and other countries with lower corporate tax rates. The language used is more or less the same as what I’ve heard from Third World leaders over the past four decades as various forms of currency controls are imposed in an attempt to stop capital flight. The main objection seems to be that the relocation is a sham and that the top executives stay put in the U.S. and run the company from here. I’m wondering if we wouldn’t ultimately be sorry if we got what our politicians say that we want.

Consider a multinational such as Procter and Gamble. Their executives sit in Cincinnati. The growth that they are supposed to be managing is mostly in Asia, Africa, South America, etc. The company might do better if the executives relocated to Dubai, for example, closer to growing markets, or to Switzerland, with its inherently international character. If we put a stop to corporate relocations where the top managers stay put in the U.S., pay U.S. income tax rates, pay U.S. property tax rates on their mansions, etc., wouldn’t the next logical step be a wave of corporate relocations in which the executives move as well? To save billions of dollars in corporate taxes would it be such a hardship to move from Cincinnati to Geneva? Just catch the company Gulfstream for a ride back to the high school reunion…

 

 

Aviation News from Oshkosh

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This is the time of year when everyone in the general aviation world strives to get stuff finished so that it can be shown at Airventure (“Oshkosh”). Things got off to a bad start with a USA Today expose on the dangers of flying around in 60-year-old machines flown by 75-year-old guys all regulated by FAA and NTSB bureaucrats who set deadlines for technological progress by reference to the timeline for the Sun entering its Red Giant phase.

The most exciting little airplane of 2010 was the Icon A5 amphibious seaplane. Deliveries were promised for 2011. I didn’t attend this year’s Oshkosh but apparently the company proudly showed off a prototype made from production tooling. This will be used for FAA-required tests in hopes of customer deliveries in 2015 (press release).

Honda is at roughly the same stage with the HondaJet, promising deliveries in 2015 as well. (release) The original delivery date was 2010.

Cirrus is claiming that its long-delayed single-engine jet will finally ship by “end of 2015″ (i.e., for New Year’s Eve). The plane was first flown in 2008.

Terrafugia, whose flying car I wrote about in 2009 (posting), did not bring a flyable aircraft to Oshkosh, indicating that 2015 might be an optimistic date for delivery to customers.

BendixKing (Honeywell) introduced a retrofit glass panel for turboprops such as the Beechcraft King Air. This could be exciting for about 700 owners of legacy Pilatus PC-12 who have not spent the $200,000+ to put in a Garmin G600 panel.

How is the aviation world doing? If you reflect on the fact that the proven way to add safety is a two-pilot crew, airline-style, the pace of progress in general aviation is indeed slow enough to lend credence to the USA Today series. (See my 2008 article http://philip.greenspun.com/flying/ground-monitoring, for example, for what might help.) As noted in this posting and associated comments about a recent Gulfstream crash, the level of systems integration and useful automation in piloted aircraft seems destined to remain low. If we take that as a given then the only way to achieve safety is via a two-pilot crew running checklists. Certainly the USA Today idea of bringing the entire general aviation fleet up to 2014 certification standards is not practical and probably wouldn’t even be very helpful. An original 1956 Cessna 172 can probably be flown more safely by a two-pilot crew than the latest four-seat propeller-driven airplane can be by a single pilot, who might be tired, distracted, or overwhelmed by circumstances.

Perhaps there is a product idea here. If the full two-pilot crew via telemetry idea (link above) is not practical, why not a self-contained robot second pilot in the aircraft? The robot would look at all of the gauges with a little camera, listen to the radio and intercom, and be able to say things like “Do you want to run the climb checklist?” and “You’re two miles from the final approach fix; shouldn’t you be putting in flaps and and slowing down?” and “You’re at 500′ above the runway and still working on the power, gear, and flaps. Should you go around and trying again to achieve a stabilized approach?” The robot could get additional inputs from the latest generation of portable AHRS and ADS-B boxes with WiFi/Bluetooth (see the Stratus and Garmin GDL 39).

Book review: Levels of the Game

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While the jet stream obstructed JetBlue’s progress toward San Francisco I read Levels of the Game from start to finish. In the era of HDTV the idea of reading a prose description of a U.S. Open semifinal tennis match that happened 46 years ago does not seem compelling. However, the fact that the description was written by John McPhee makes all the difference.

The match was between Clark Graebner and Arthur Ashe. McPhee covers the path that enabled these guys to reach the top. Here was Graebner’s:

Behind every tennis player there is another tennis player, and in Graebner’s case the other player is his father. Clark grew up in Lakewood, Ohio, and played tennis as a boy in Lakewood Park, at Lakewood High School, and at clubs in Cleveland and Shaker Heights. Paul Graebner, Clark’s father, grew up in Lakewood, and played tennis as a boy in Lakewood Park, at Lakewood High School, and at clubs in Cleveland and Shaker Heights. He was the state high-school tennis champion—a title his son would win three times. He was on the tennis team at Kenyon College and played briefly on the tournament circuit in the Middle West. He went to dental school at Western Reserve University and then went into practice with his own father, Clark’s grandfather. From then until now, the major diversion of Dr. Graebner’s life has continued to be tennis. His week revolves around Wednesday-afternoon and Saturday doubles games. When Clark was a beginner, however, Dr. Graebner completely gave up his own tennis for five years, and every Wednesday and Saturday and at all other practicable times he took Clark to a tennis court and patiently taught him the game.

When Dr. Graebner first hit strokes back and forth with Clark, they did not use a net. Dr. Graebner wanted Clark to hit a good flat stroke with follow-through, and not to worry about its altitude.

“He taught me everything. I don’t think he wanted to make me a champion. He just wanted to make me as good as I wanted to be. He hit balls at me for hundreds of thousands of hours, as if he were a Ball-Boy machine.”

Dr. Graebner says. “I wasn’t trying to build a champion. I was trying to get him interested in something he could do all his life.”

Ashe’s path was prepared by a medical doctor, rather than a dentist:

Dr. Johnson had built his court in the mid-nineteenthirties, when tennis had come to assume a priority in his mind second only to medicine. For him, this was the ultimate game in a lifetime accented with sports. … He took his training at Meharry Medical College. When he began his practice in Lynchburg, he was thirty-five. “I knew, from medicine, that I had built up big heart muscles and that they had to have exercise to avoid fatty infiltration. This is why athletes drop dead. I didn’t want to die that way. I tried a little basketball. That didn’t pan out. Then I went all out for tennis. I was self-taught. I learned by watching white players. Tennis was the hardest game to master that I had ever contacted.

Above the techniques of the game itself, he held certain principles before them as absolute requirements —in his view—for an assault on a sport as white as tennis. Supreme among these was self-control—“no racquet throwing, no hollering, no indication of discontent with officials’ calls.” Since players call their own lines in the early rounds of junior tournaments, he insisted that his boys play any opponents’ shots that were out of bounds by two inches or less. “We are going into a new world,” he told them. “We don’t want anybody to be accused of cheating. There will be some cheating, but we aren’t going to do it.”

If the Junior Development Team had a motto, it was “No horseplay”—the Johnson code. They learned to make their beds properly. Without fail, they hung up their clothes. When a lady came into a room, they got up, or wished they had. They learned an advanced etiquette of knives, forks, and spoons. “I want you to be accepted without being a center of attraction,” he said. “I want you to be able to take care of yourself in any situation where habits or manners are important, so that you don’t stand out. We are going into a new world.”

Year after year, two of them went to Charlottesville, and though “slaughtered” and “humiliated” were no longer the terms for what generally happened to them, none got particularly far. Meanwhile, Dr. Johnson got a call one day in 1953 from Ronald Charity, a recent graduate of Virginia Union, in Richmond, and a ranking player in the men’s division of the A.T.A. Charity said he had been working part time teaching tennis in a public park, and for several seasons he had been hitting the ball with a small boy whose physique was not prepossessing but who hit the ball well and seemed to care a great deal about playing tennis. Charity hoped that although the boy was only ten years old the doctor would let him come to Lynchburg. Dr. Johnson said, “All right, Ronald. I’ll take him for a while, if you want to carry him up here.” Charity drove to Lynchburg on a Sunday, and introduced Dr. Johnson to Arthur Ashe, Jr.

Ronald Charity, who taught Arthur Ashe to play tennis, was himself taught by no one.

“I guess by that time I was about the best in Richmond—you know, black tennis player,” Charity continues. “One day, Arthur asked me if I would show him how to play. He had had no tennis experience. I put the racquet in his hand. I taught him the Continental grip. That’s what I was playing with. At first, I would stand six feet away from him, on the same side of the net, and throw balls to him while he learned a stroke. The little guy caught on so quickly. When the stroke had been taught, I would cross the net and hit it with him. We practiced crosscourt forehands, forehands down the line, crosscourt backhands. We played every summer evening. There was a little backboard there. All day long, he would practice. We had a club—the Richmond Racquet Club, all grown men—and we let him join it.

Behind Dr. Johnson’s house is a combined garage and tool shed that contains a curious device. From a bracket on the floor to a beam above runs a vertical elastic cord, drawn fairly taut. About two feet off the floor, the cord passes through the center of a tennis ball. The height of the ball is adjustable. The developing tennis players hit this ball with pieces of broom handle cut twenty-six inches long, the exact length of a tennis racquet. The device, known as the Tom Stow Stroke Developer, was invented by the teacher of Sarah Palfrey, Helen Jacobs, Margaret Osborne, and J. Donald Budge.

The Junior Development Team has generally had eight or ten members. In recent summers, white boys have applied for admission, and Dr. Johnson has let some in.

What about money in the sport? It was a little different than today!

The Junior Development Team functioned in part on contributions from interested people in the A.T.A., but Dr. Johnson put thousands of dollars of his own specifically into Arthur’s career. Three white businessmen in Richmond—an insurance broker, a department-store executive, and a legitimate-theatre executive—contributed significant amounts, and Arthur’s father gave more than he could afford. Arthur once overheard him saying that he was a little sorry his son had chosen a sport as expensive as tennis. The cost of equipment alone was more than a thousand dollars a year.

His summation of the whole of Arthur’s development as a tennis player is “It hung me for some money.” His present landscaping and janitorial businesses grew out of odd jobs he took to help pay for Arthur’s tennis. He cut grass, scrubbed floors, washed windows, and when he still didn’t have enough he borrowed from the Southern Bank & Trust Co., whose branch banks he now keeps clean. Asked why he bothered to do all that, he gives an uncomplicated answer: “Why? Because Arthur was out there doing good.” He told Arthur, “Do what you want to do, as long as you do it right. But the day you slack up is the day Daddy is going to slack up with his money.”

Graebner lives in an apartment on East Eighty-sixth Street with his wife, Carole; their one-year-old daughter, Cameron; and their infant son, Clark. Graebner spends much of his time selling high-grade printing papers, as assistant to the president of the Hobson Miller division of Saxon Industries,

Ashe is an Army lieutenant, working in the office of the adjutant general at the United States Military Academy. He is a bachelor, and during tournament time at Forest Hills he stays at the Hotel Roosevelt.

Ashe and Graebner are both extraordinarily conscious of the stock market, and each thinks he is a shrewd investor. An amateur tennis player at their level can have something to invest, since he can collect in expenses and sundry compensations as much as twenty thousand dollars a year.

Attitudes toward skin cancer were apparently different back in 1968:

Graebner, for his part, sincerely wishes that he could play with his shirt off. He is aggressively vain about his tan. “After we played in San Juan two years ago, I was as dark as Arthur,” he says proudly. When he is sunbathing, he will snap at anyone who stands between him and direct sunlight for as much as three seconds.

What about fashion?

Love beads hang on a hook on the door. Ashe looks extremely contemporary when he goes off to New York for a date wearing the beads, a yellow turtleneck, and what he calls his “ru” jacket.

How about skin color?

Because Ashe is black, many people expect him to be something more than a tennis player—in fact, demand that he be a leader in a general way. The more he wins, the more people look to him for words and acts beyond the court. The black press has criticized him for not doing enough for the cause. He has repeatedly been asked to march and picket, and he has refused. Militant blacks have urged him to resign from the Davis Cup Team. Inevitably, they have called him an Uncle Tom. Once, in Milwaukee, he was asked to march with Stokely Carmichael but said no, and on the same day he visited a number of Milwaukee playgrounds, showing black children and white children how to play tennis. The demands of others have never moved him to do anything out of character. He will say what he thinks, though, if someone asks him. “Intrinsically, I disapprove of what black militants do. Human nature being what it is, I can understand why they have such a strong following. If you had nothing going for you and you were just a black kid in a ghetto, you’d have historical momentum behind you and it would be chic to be a black militant—easy to do, very fashionable. You’d have your picture and name in the paper because you’d be screaming your head off. They sound like fire-and-brimstone preachers in Holy Roller churches. But you must listen to them. You can’t completely ignore them. Their appeal is to the here and now. If I were a penniless junkie, I’d go for it, too. I’d have nothing to lose, nowhere to go but up. But you can’t change people overnight. If you took a demographic survey of blacks, you’d find, I think, that the farther up the socio-economic scale you got, the fewer people would be behind Stokely. I’m not a marcher. I’m not a sign carrier. I’m a tennis player. If you are a leader in any field, and black, you are a hero to all blacks, and you are expected to be a leader in other fields. It’s beautiful. People in Richmond look upon me as a leader whether I like it or not. That’s the beautiful part of it. The other side of the coin is that they expect the same of some lightheavyweight boxer that they do of me. But he doesn’t have my brain. He tries to get into politics, and we lose some leverage.

Progress and improvement do not come in big hunks, they come in little pieces, and the sooner people accept this the better off they’ll be.

We’re outnumbered ten to one. We’ll advance by quiet negotiation and slow infiltration—and by objective, well. planned education, not an education in which you’re brainwashed.

One of the saddest parts of reading the book was reflecting on the fact that Ashe died before his 50th birthday, a victim of heart disease and HIV. He had been influential in many areas of public life.

More: Read Levels of the Game

Nikon D810 sensor performance versus Canon

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DxoMark has tested the new Nikon D810 and it has even better dynamic range than the D800. The ability to hold detail simultaneously in highlights and shadows is the main limitation of digital cameras (compared to film) and Canon continues to stagnate while Nikon and Sony pull ahead. Check out this comparison on DxOMark of Nikon, Sony, and Canon.

Netflix in hotel rooms

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I’m at the Mark Hopkins here in San Francisco cheerfully billing $15 per day in Internet fees to a consulting client (on top of $600/night for the room by the time California taxes are added in?). At 9 pm yesterday the Speakeasy Speed Test measured the connection at between 0.3 and 0.5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. This morning it is a symmetrical 25 Mbps. From this can we conclude that nearly every guest is trying to stream Netflix and similar? Or maybe that the hotel just has a single 25/25 line?

Kids on Computers Update

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Folks:

Back in 2013, I wrote a post with an end-of-year charity idea of donating to Kids on Computers (the Gittes Family Lab is now up in running in Oaxaca as a result of my own donation (at least one person follows the advice in my blog!)). The most important thing that happened as a result of that posting was that a reader, Javier Henderson, stepped up to contribute his decades of network engineering experience as well as considerable organizational talents.

This posting is to remind readers that Kids on Computers is a useful resource when you’re trying to find a use for an unneeded laptop (e.g., if Windows 8 has inspired you to buy a MacBook). Also that the group is heading to Morocco in October and you might want to take your computer (and Arabic language?) skills there with them.

Insurers finding a clever way to exclude preexisting conditions despite Obamacare rules

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A friend in the healthcare biz told me that insurers have found a way around the Obamacare requirement that customers be welcomed despite preexisting conditions. The government left insurance companies and doctors the freedom of association. For conditions that are expensive to treat the insurance company will limit reimbursement to a handful of specialists with inconvenient locations, hours, and availability.

If it takes more than a year in Massachusetts to see a primary care doctor for a regular exam (see the end of my Bad Pharma review), just imagine how long it will take expensive-to-treat patients who choose one of these carefully crafted plans to see the specialist who can prescribe them a $100,000 per year medication!

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