Thursday, February 19, 2009

Six Degrees of Darrell S. Cole

Lat 24 47 N
Lon 141 19 E

Iwo Jima

KIA on D-1 Medal of Honor Winner Sgt. Darrell Samuel Cole, USMCR. Sgt.
Cole’s heroism on 19Feb1945 was memorialized by the Navy with the June 1995 commissioning of DDG-67 USS COLE an Arliegh Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer.

USS COLE was attacked by al Qaeda terrorists in Aden Yemen on Oct 12, 2000.

Corpsman John Bradley, one of the 3 men in Rosenthal’s picture to survive the battle - said it best “We’re not heros, the heros are the ones who didn’t come home.”

My six degrees:
1) Sgt. D. S. Cole dies at Iwo Jima winning the congressional Medal of Honor
2) US Navy names DDG-67 in honor of Sgt. Cole
3) I was assigned to the Commissioning crew.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Doubling Down on Debt

ARRA is a classic example of a gambler down on his / her luck and doubling down to get even.

Our president, has explicitly stated this principle, by suggesting that we must aggressively prop up the economy by federal spending. It is an article of faith on the stimulation side that Japan's government did not act aggressively enough or fast enough. Even NPR can find the problem with trying to spend our way out of the problem.

Congressman Minnick's stimulus plan looks a lot better, if you buy into the idea that we need to have a stimulus plan

Closing the Loop: OODA, Feedback and Congress

My day job involves a number of electronic and electromechanical systems that test a value, make an adjustment and retest the value. A very common example of one of these systems is the household heating / air conditioning system. A simple one consists of little more than a temperature sensing device - a thermostat and a heat source. Operation is pretty simple - you set the desired temperature at the thermostat and when the temperature drops below a certain level the thermostat signals the heat source to go to work. The temperature rises until the thermostat goes over its upper limit and sends the heat source a stop signal. Viewed over time the temperature will average pretty close to the set value.

One of the systems that I have worked on in the past is the Helm control for the ship. There are a number of pieces in this system that work together to steer the ship in a particular direction. A quick outline of what is going on will help illustrate this - in a small sail boat sailing across a small lake we pick a point on the far side and adjust the rudder by hand to keep the boat aimed at that point. Now if we take this same system and apply it to a boat much too large to steer by hand, we might do it by sending an electrical signal to turn the rudder. So a very simple system only moves the rudder back and forth under our control but does not relieve us of the responsibility of stopping the motion or centering the rudder. A somewhat more sophisticated system will use a principle called feed back to allow us to select an end point to the motion. Now we have an option if we want to shift the rudder 10 degrees to the left we simply move our indicator to the 10 degree mark, now as the rudder shifts to the left as it gets closer to the 10 degree point, the feedback system begins reducing the signals driving the rudder left until we come to rest at the 10 degree mark. For safety reasons ships must have a rudder control method called non follow up or NFU where the operator acts as the feed back circuit to hold a specific course or rudder angle. A accessible example of NFU is the act of driving a car down the street. As we turn the wheel, the car moves in the direction the wheel is turned. The driver is adjusting the path of the car and making corrections as needed. Most of the time if no one is at the wheel of a moving car bad things will happen fairly quickly.

With the foundation of feed back laid lets move on to the Boyd Cycle or OODA loop. In essence it is a mental map of a generic decision making process. The four phases are Observation, Orientation, Decision and Act

  • Observation - This is where we observe a situation - sticking with our car example there is a pot hole down the road.
  • Orientation - We assess the size of the pot hole and seeing that it is large enough to damage the car determine that an action is required.
  • Decision - We decide that we should swerve left.
  • Action - we turn the wheel to the left
As proposed by the man who made OODA popular Col. John Boyd, it is a continuous process of adapting to conditions.

As practiced by Congress decision making tends to become fixated not on actual conditions but on favored solutions to problems. Dysfunctional decision makers often come to grief when confronted with situations that do not respond as expected or hoped for. One example for contemplation is the Maginot line, the assumptions that led to its construction, forced the opposing Germans to consider alternatives, and they decided to go through Belgium instead of driving headfirst in to the Maginot line as expected by the French.

"Life is hard, it's harder if you're stupid."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

ARRA and the Law of Holes

The first law of holes, famously states - that when one is in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging.

In theory our governments should be operating on the same basis as the average household, or company. That would mean that when income drops, expenses should be trimmed as well. As we have seen since the beginning of the National government, first under the Articles of Confederation and then under the Constitution, matching income with expenditures has always been a thorny problem.

Failure to understand and consider the effects of legislation has made Congress watching an unending circus parade of unintended consequences. ARRA or HR 1 is merely the latest in a long line of quick cheap fixes that have been for the most part neither quick, cheap or fixes. There is a large database that shows across history, and culture the effects of various types of economic policy. Still in Washington DC our representatives find new ways to explain to us why this time is different, why this time a policy that has failed every time it has been tried simply has to work.

That sort of blindness always reminds me of an episode of 3rd Rock From the Sun, where Harry, the communications officer is watching reruns of the Buggs Bunny Roadrunner hour. He decides to bet that Wiley will catch the bird on the basis that he had seen this episode before and the plan was too brilliant to fail twice.

On the other hand, maybe we the voters are Harrys - we've been voting the same people in apparently believing that they are too brilliant to screw up twice.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Flight Lessons for the Economy -- Updated

Airplane of State

--- Flash --- credentialed commentator Robert Higgs has similar idea.

An old and venerated image for our country in its interactions with the world is the Ship of State. While it was Longfellow's poem that I immediately thought of the image goes back to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who wins the priority award for having the good sense to include the image in his work The Republic.

I believe that we now need a more modern exemplar of our society and I humbly submit the aeroplane. As Longfellow noted in his poem there are many sound, bumps and thumps that discomfit the non-sailor.

Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
'Tis of the wave and not the rock;
'Tis but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!

If anything our modern methods of communication: Television, Radio, Internet make the background noise of insignificant sounds and shocks louder and more distracting. The faster speed of air travel and and the sensitivity of airplanes to up and down drafts can make for even more discomfit in the passenger section.

Despite what most passengers and some neophyte aviators may believe or claim to believe about airplanes, they come off of the design table with a great deal of inherent stability. The is especially true of training airplanes like the Stearman PT-17. Most beginning pilots have to learn the feel of the controls and most at some point in their career experience Pilot Induced Oscillation (PIO). The universal and sovereign remedy, in training, for this is to take ones hands off of the controls. The plane damps the oscillation and resumes level flight with no input from the pilot. Remember this point it will become important later.

The Jet age has given us several Iconic Aviation Disasters. I would now like to focus on three of them and try to derive some useful points. In the tradition ancient Greece and Rome we will introduce these events through the Heros of those events.

Alfred C. "Al" Hanes

Date: July 19, 1989
Aircraft: Douglas DC-10
Problem: Loss of Hydraulic pressure in flight control system - due to failure of #2 Engine.

Captain Haynes through brilliant management of crew and cockpit resourses and the presence of a DC-10 Instructor Pilot, Dennis E. Fitch, maintained sufficient control of the airplane to manage an approach to Sioux City's Gateway Airport. The airplane went through one last dutch roll cycle robbing Haynes of a successfull landing. But 185 people owed their lives to Captain Haynes' skill and professionalism

Robert "Bob" Pearson

Date: July 23, 1983
Aircraft: Boeing 767 - 200
Problem: Loss of Power, both engines failed due to fuel mismanagement.

By skilful use of available assets - Altitude, Airspeed and Brains Capt. Pearson sucessfully landed his airplane at Gimli Industrial Park Airport, Gimli Manitoba Canada. Captain Pearson and First Officer Quintal came to the incident with a unique combination of knowledge and skills. Quintal had served as a flying officer at Gimli, while Pearson was a skilled glider pilot. Pearson used his glider training to fly the 767 to a sucessful landing (a successful landing in aviation lore is one that you walk away from). The combination of local knowledge and glider training allowed these two ment to know when to follow the rules and the manual and when to trust their instincts.

Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenburger

Date: January 15, 2009
Airplane: Airbus A320
Problem: Loss of power due to bird strike.

Captain Sullenberger displayed great judgement and situational awarness by choosing to water land the airplane in the Hudson river rather than try to reach any of the airports in the New York metro area. In his spare time Capt. Sullenburger is a glider pilot.

Lessons to Learn:

No successful aviator argues with the big blue marble. It will always win on the basis of gross tonage.

You can't use what you don't have - Capt. Haynes used his engines, the only functioning controls to control altitude and attitude. Capt.'s Pearson and Sullenberger used their gliding skills to navigate the uncharted area of Airliner glider flights.

You have to know when to act and when to be still, when to follow the rules and when to dump the book and improvise.

Money is the Engine of our Economy

Our Airplane of State has suffered an engine failure. We need to determine if the problem is one of adequate fuel but a faulty pump system; loss of fuel; or some other problem.

While we are doing this we need to maintain an awareness of our attitude, altitude and air speed.

At the moment it appears that we are in a phugoid oscillation cycle initiated by government manipulation of the rules of finance. This is the finance equivalent of arguing with the blue marble. The rules of finance that make everything work are called, Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). GAAP is the standard language, the shared understanding, if you will. By following GAAP we are able to determine the status of a company, and estimate its potential. The danger comes when, the smartest men in the room, come up with something that is outside of GAAP. It may very well be a safe and useful practice, on the other hand as Enron, the Savings & Loan crises and the current credit meltdown have shown. It is equally likely that the departure from GAAP will lead us down a path where our best tools are giving us poor data.

My guess, since I am not an economist, and haven't slept at a Holiday Inn
® recently is that the best thing to do right now is nothing. I certainly don't believe that we will get anything useful out of a non-stimulating stimulus package.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Truth in Advertising

Alec Baldwin, is now one of the folks hawking the latest competitor to youtube and the other viral video vaults.


Sadly despite its tongue in cheek manner and its mocking of the Science Fiction genre staple of Alien Invasion, there is more than a little truth to the ad. After all we have gone from a nation of reader / thinkers to a nation of sound bite listeners and video junkies.

Yes, I too am a video junkie though I try to limit it, I have on rare occasions gone days without TV, Internet or Cell Phone. Usually followed by binging on one or more of the three upon return to "civilization."

Time to Super Shock the Meme Pool

Powerline notes that the MSM is trying to spin Senator Daschle's bowing out of contention for HHS Secretary as part of a vast conservative conspiracy to prevent the President from doing what is needed to save the country.

I'm thinking that the meme pool needs a double or triple dose of Chlorine Shock treatment to get the system ready for use.

I don't see it - especially when the President has pledged not to do business as usual, no lobbyists, no ethically challenged people, no good old boy network, .... All that is happening is that we are calling on the President to match actions and words. Something that he will need to do both at home and abroad.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Epiphany: The High Cost of Convienience

The last time I visited my doctor, she wasn't very happy with me, not only was I way over weight, but a lot of the other numbers that are indicators of health were out of whack HDL/LDL Cholesterol -- Sorry Mr. V.... that is unacceptable; A1C -- Sorry Mr. V... that is unacceptable; ..... She wanted me to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, and to watch what I was eating.

Being somewhat obsessive compulsive and in WWII British Slang a King Boffin (roughly translated into leet as an Uber Geek) I started a spreadsheet to track what I was putting into my body.

I'm about a month into the project now and I have made some interesting observations; none are of themselves earth shattering or new, but the aggregate is at least for me, very insightful.
  1. It hasn't been hard for me to keep the total calories under control.
  2. It is somewhat harder to keep the balance of total calories / calories from fat in the correct range, 20 - 40%
  3. It has been nearly impossible to keep the Sodium intake at or below 2500mg
  4. Convenience foods aren't.
  5. Oatmeal is your friend.
Some of these observations - particullarly number 4 seem to have application in other areas of life.

Information -- It is tempting to just get everything from CNN, FOX, MSNBC .... unfortunately that means giving control over what you see to someone you don't know and who doesn't know you. Worse yet many of the decisions that they make are based not on news value but on whether or not the sponsors make money during the breaks. The good news for us is that thanks to the internet there are lots of links to real time information that is either unfiltered or filtered by folks who tell you what their major filtering system is.

Health Care -- The convenience of health insurance is nice, but again you are giving control over what is done to some faceless bureau, doesn't matter whether it is a private insurance provider or your state / federal medicare bureau. Seems like their primary goal is the reduction of expense. As an example a friend of mine has been waiting for a month to get a bone growth stimulator to help heal a broken bone. The stimulator is covered by the insurance company, but has been held up for a month, by internal red tape. That shouldn't happen.

Government Benefits -- With few, perhaps no, exceptions the cost of any beneficial program sponsored, controled, or other wise manipulated by the government is not worth the cost. On my exception list:
  1. Health Care for Veterans -- Falls under the category of providing for the common defense. Our veterans, since the end of the Draft, have voluntarily given their time, lives and in some cases blood for the national defense. Paying for the treatment of their health problems is a bill that we assumed when they began to serve. Military service has been shown to have some unique long term health risks, one of which is a higher risk of developing diabetes.
  2. Education for Veterans -- See above. For amplification look at the post WWII boom in industry and science. Extra credit - search the education background of the movers and shakers in America from the mid 50's to the early 80's.
Or in a non-governmental area:
Economy of Scale -- The idea that bigger is always better.

  1. Peanuts are just the latest example of how ecconomy of scale is a two edged sword. While it made it possible for a large number of people to get their peanut products cheaply, it also expedited the movement of salmonela bacteria. Peanuts are just the latest in a continuing chaing of supply chain problems. Past examples include spinach contaminated withE-coli, beef and poultry products contaminated with E-coli.
  2. It's cheaper to send the operation overseas -- Yes, but we have seen some production line go overseas to be run by people who do not share our values, laws or sense of honor. Experience has shown that it it possible to get good work done overseas, but it is not a simple task. If anything the requirement for good oversight of foreign operations is higher. Failure to inspect carefully leads to lead based paint, phenol contaminated food products, and other ills.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

More Chlorine in the Meme Pool, Please

A comment at a blog that I read got me thinking - The subject was the Octuplet mom and the reaction from folks on both sides of the aisle. One of the comments suggested that we need to pay attention to the "meme pool."

Meme's are a relatively new method of examining the propagation of culture. Because they are new there is some controversy regarding them. Similar to the level of controversy that accompanied Mendel's discovery of genes, or Galileo's discovery of moons around Saturn and Jupiter. The controversy does not prevent us from using them as a working theory.

As one of the few species that has been shown to transmit memes it pays us to look at the way in which it has been institutionalized. Principly this has been done the education industry, yet we don't seem to be as concerned with the selection of those who select the memes. We have by and large ceded that task to the professional educators, and then at most grumbled about the outcome.

One of the most popular memes put out by the education industry is that quality of education is directly related to the money spent on education. Interestingly when the proposition is tested even allowing for outside influences the relationship does not hold. Yet our public policy makers, and the infrastructure for education at all levels treat this as a valid relationship.

Given the complemntary truisms:
If you do what you always did, you'll get what you always got


Insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results.

It may be time for the average man on the street to pay more attention to disinfecting the meme pool. Many will say, that it isn't their problem because they don't have kids; their kids are grown; or they just don't care. Sadly this is not the case as the quality of education affects our coworkers, our bosses, and our politicians. One of the best summaries of the problems in society was written in 1899 by author, iconoclast and businessman Elbert Hubbard, A Message to Garcia is a classic of American Literature, and to this day is studied by the cadets of Anapolis, West Point, and Colorado Springs as part of the character development curiculuum.