Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Where is the Louisiana National Guard?

Let this stand for a meme I've seen in several places today.
Bush cut the budget for the army corps of engineers (needed to reinforce and expand the levees) by 40%...and now says give to the red cross, expecting private agencies to deal with it...while the Louisiana National Guard watch helplessly from Iraq.

Which would be a reasonable thing to say if the Guard really was 100% fully deployed to Iraq. Except that they are not. From the IP mail list today
From: Brock Meeks
Date: August 31, 2005 10:47:45 AM EDT
Subject: RE: [IP] isn't the Louisiana National Guard is needed at HOME?!

I did a story on this, Dave. The Guard troop strength in LA alone is at
65 percent of all guard members; 35 percent of them are in Iraq and are,
in fact, due home next month.

There are a total of 124,000 guard troops across 17 states either
activated or ready to be if needed.

Even with the heavy rotation into Iraq and Afghanistan, no state has
less than 50 percent of its total available guard enlistment available
at any one time. This was an agreement made with the Department of
Defense. And in fact, most states have 75 percent of their guard at

All this according to official deployment and enlistment figures
released by the Pentagon and in interviews with the National Guard.

In addition, regular military are now being mobilized (some 22,000 at
last count) to come and help with the effort.

Okay yes it bites to be deployed while things happen at home - I know this from experience. Guard members are volunteers, they are all adults, and they signed a contract. This is life and sometimes life is not fair.

Just doing my part to dispell fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Not Maximizing Shareholder Value

“Instead of being managed “in the best balanced interests of stakeholders,” corporations [in the 1980’s were] managed exclusively to “maximize shareholder’s value”… Managing a business exclusively for these shareholders alienates the very people on whose motivation and dedication the modern business depends: the knowledge workers. An engineer will not be motivated to work to make a speculator rich.”

Peter Drucker, 1993
Post-Capitalist Society

I have worked organziations such as Drucker described. I second that emotion.

Hat tip to Nivi

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rebuilding New Orleans

Jeff at The Shape of Days asks should we rebuild New Orleans?
I’m sure that we have the technology to repair the levees and drain New Orleans and rebuild the city, but … should we? I mean, at some point doesn’t it make more sense to just write the whole thing off?
I say rebuild.

* We can afford to do this.

* Doing so will allow us, as a culture, to amass a large body of skill and practical knowledge in this area. This may come in handy in the future; it may not. But the lessons learned from rebuilding won't be lost, and knowledge is always useful.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Mosse Lecture Series

More people should know about this, I think.

Mosse Lecture Series

The following list includes lectures given by George L. Mosse in the Fall of 1982. The topic of these lectures is European Cultural History 1660-1870. They were recorded for the WHA -Radio Series, "University of the Air."

Thanks to Seth for reminding me about this.

The lawn mower had to die

Because .. you know .. who hasn't wanted to shoot a lawn mower with a really big rifle?

Warning - my 10 year old laughed like a fiend. You have been warned.

Hat tip to Kim Dutoit

T.R. Fahrenbach: When a soldier dies in battle, there is no tragedy

T.R. Farenbach is now a columnist for the San Antonio 'Express' and is author of two of my favorite books 'Lone Star' (a history of Texas) and 'This Kind of War' - the book to read on the Korean War. I'll post the entire column below the excerpt - the Express content goes away after a few weeks. In When a soldier dies in battle, there is no tragedy he writes;
But if my mother had condemned my service and my dying, I would have felt that she dishonored me. I was not a child, her little boy. I did what men do, though women may weep. The way it's always been, and probably always will be, world with or without end.

When men or women make honest choices, families should respect those choices and honor them, whether the girl I married or the peril I accepted, as due course.

I was in a war with great popular support (we're right behind you) and one with little of it. To the real soldier, it does not make all that much difference. When you take the shilling, pledge to serve your country right or wrong, your home becomes the service and war, any war, your profession.
I wish I could write that well. I wish others could read this free of preconceptions.

T.R. Fahrenbach: When a soldier dies in battle, there is no tragedy
Web Posted: 08/28/2005 12:00 AM CDT
San Antonio Express-News

In 1969, my grandmother and a cousin died.

I remember saying to someone that there was no tragedy in either death. My grandmother was 89, long past normal life expectancy, and her last years were not good. In fact, she was kept alive on medications, which in consultation with family and doctor, we stopped. Shortly after, she passed peacefully away. She had lived a long and splendid life.

My cousin was young, a recent graduate of the Air Force Academy. He was killed at a fire base in Vietnam. He was an only son, and this was a bitter blow to family.

Unfortunate, painful, but hardly tragic. He had taken the shilling, a regular officer, and he was doing what men do when he died. He did what he wanted, a short but also a splendid life.

I think we dwell too often, when soldiers die, upon the living rather than the dead.

And in doing this, we dishonor our honored dead.

Every soldier has a mother. I had one, of course. She was not happy when, at age 18, I went to war. However, then every mother's son was going, in the great fatherland patriotic war, sometimes called World War II.

There were some 300,000 Gold Star mothers before it ended. A Gold Star in a window signified a child killed in action, and it was both proudly and sadly displayed.

But that kind of war was different. Everybody was involved; cosmic consequences were at stake. We have not fought that kind of war again.

Mothers react in different ways. My closest friend in school, again an only son, died in combat in the Ardennes. His mother never forgave me for living while her boy was killed. When I met with her after the war, she had nothing to say, and I did not call again.

Which made me wonder about my own mother, when I took the shilling and voluntarily went to a new war. She didn't like it, nor did my grandparents. Which I understood. But it was my decision; I was of age, and men untie the apron strings. We do it when we marry and when we go to war.

Had I been killed, I would have expected my mother to grieve. She grieved when one of her cats died. In fact, if no one grieved at my passing, my life would not have been worthwhile.

But if my mother had condemned my service and my dying, I would have felt that she dishonored me. I was not a child, her little boy. I did what men do, though women may weep. The way it's always been, and probably always will be, world with or without end.

When men or women make honest choices, families should respect those choices and honor them, whether the girl I married or the peril I accepted, as due course.

I was in a war with great popular support (we're right behind you) and one with little of it. To the real soldier, it does not make all that much difference. When you take the shilling, pledge to serve your country right or wrong, your home becomes the service and war, any war, your profession.

If you argue this is wrong, I point out that we have never been free of armies since before the flood. We have soldiers because the human race has always had to have them. We are not a peaceful species, and some tribes always permit the others no peace. So Thucydides wrote, and nothing's changed since his day.

Spartan mothers, it is said, told sons to return with their shields or upon them. In other words, death before dishonor.

Our culture does not allow us to say such things today. But the ethos still lives. Which is why we honor the valiant dead.

I cannot speak for others, but I would hope my mother would have done so had I not returned.

Cindy Sheehan and Families of the Fallen

NPR: Cindy Sheehan and Families of the Fallen.

I make no editorial comment save that ... if my mother went around talking like this I'd reach out from the grave in a huge ectoplasmic spasm and yell "Shut up you are embarrassing me."

The best part is when she cuts the host off mid-question and says "I have to go now .. thank you" and breaks the connection.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Michael Yon - Added to the blogroll

I've added Michael Yon to the blogroll. Yon is performing a service for all of us, getting his boots dirty on the ground reporting in Iraq. It's dangerous work (see his latest entry 'Gates of Fire') and seemingly work that isn't being done by most other journalists in Iraq.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Howstuffworks - How Space Elevators Will Work

HowStuffWorks has updated their entry on space elevators;
When the Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off on April 12, 1981, from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., to begin the first space shuttle mission, the dream of a reusable spacecraft was realized. Since then, NASA has launched more than 100 missions, but the price tag of space missions has changed little. Whether it is the space shuttle or the non-reusable Russian spacecraft, the cost of a launch is approximately $10,000 per pound ($22,000 per kg).

While the space shuttle is reusable, missions are still very infrequent and expensive, with each launch costing an estimated half a billion dollars. A new space transportation system being developed could make travel to Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) a daily event and transform the global economy.

A space elevator made of a carbon nanotubes composite ribbon anchored to an offshore sea platform would stretch to a small counterweight approximately 62,000 miles (100,000 km) into space. Mechanical lifters attached to the ribbon would then climb the ribbon, carrying cargo and humans into space, at a price of only about $100 to $400 per pound ($220 to $880 per kg).

In this article, we'll take a look at how the idea of a space elevator is moving out of science fiction and into reality.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Eating right. Or at least 'healthy'.

Cian has consumed the following for dinner;

A hamburger patty, no bun.
One slice of wheat bread with honey.
One bowl of Rice Kispies, no milk.
Small serving of raspberry cobbler.

He's at that funny age where he has some very strong dislikes and likes for food, obviously.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I would never do this to my kids

Who am I fooling? Of course I would - in a heartbeat.

Bad Parents

Thanks, Dave - you're truly a bad influence, God love ya.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Jerry Pournelle - NASA

Jerry Pournelle, on NASA
The NASA discussion may turn out to be useful. It probably won't. We are fighting entrenched interests with a lot of money, and although they are incompetent at rocket science, they are more than competent at extracting money from the public purse and delivering nothing but paper and time slips in return. They do not work; they expend effort. And the worst is that I expect most of them do not even understand the difference. "We work hard!" No. You expend effort.
From Current View - 8/20/05

Thursday, August 18, 2005

ideas are just a multiplier of execution
To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.



SO-SO- EXECUTION = $10,000
GREAT EXECUTION = $1,000,000

To make a business, you need to multiply the two.

The most brilliant idea, with no execution, is worth $20.
The most brilliant idea takes great execution to be worth $20,000,000

Tip to Infectious Greed

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Manners and a dying culture

Panic ensues in rush for cheap laptops.
People threw themselves forward, screaming and pushing each other. A little girl's stroller was crushed in the stampede. Witnesses said an elderly man was thrown to the pavement, and someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd.

Jesse Sandler said he was one of the people pushing forward, using a folding chair he had brought with him to beat back people who tried to cut in front of him.

"I took my chair here and I threw it over my shoulder and I went, 'Bam,"' the 20-year-old said nonchalantly, his eyes glued to the screen of his new iBook, as he tapped away on the keyboard at a testing station.

"They were getting in front of me and I was there a lot earlier than them, so I thought that it was just," he said.

Well it's just a riot - things get out of hand. I'm sure that is all that it is, nothing to see here . . .
"Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms . . . but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot . . . . This symptom is especially serious in that an individual displaying it never thinks of it as a sign of ill health but as proof of his/her strength."
R.A. Heinlein 'Friday'

Monday, August 15, 2005


Shamelessly stolen from Dave at Garfield Ridge

The Other Army

Daniel Bergner writes an interesting article in the New York Times - The Other Army. Twenty five thousand armed men working for a variety of private companies in Iraq. Mercenaries, private security companies, whatever. He frets that the scope of this activity is going to cause us to loose .. something in our society.
There may be a danger that something else could erode eventually, if there is a drift toward using more private gunmen -- in yet more military ways -- to compensate for the inevitable reduction of troops in Iraq or to wage other wars. There may be the loss of a particular understanding, a sense of ourselves as a society, that we hold almost sacred. Soldiering for profit was taken for granted for thousands of years, but the United States has thrived in an age when soldiering for the state -- serving your country -- has taken on an exalted status.

Maybe. There have been times when soldiers were authorized to wear civilian attire off base because their uniform marked them as little better than trash, unfit to hold an honest job.
We often question the reasons for making war, but we tend to revere the soldiers who are sent off to fight. We honor their sacrifice, we raise it up and in it we see the value of our society reflected back to us. In it we feel our special worth. We may not know what to think of ourselves if service and sacrifice are increasingly mixed with the wish for profit. We may know less and less how to feel about a state that is no longer defended by men and women we can perceive as pure.

Times change. The very excellent British Army traces it's heritage - if not her regiments - to The New Model Army. To quote Cromwell "I had rather have a plain, russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else." That Army smashed the Crown and put such a hurt on the Irish that the insult is still remembered, and exaggerated, centuries later.

Times change and life is not static. Statistical blip or a harbinger of sea change?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Five Questions — And An Answer is an excellent poem by Alma Hromic, published in Swans on September 22, 2003. 'Why do we want the far horizon' is an old question.

The quoted bit shows us the way back when the path becomes muddled.
The dream is a seed; it needs good earth,
And clean water, and the sun's light to grow it.
If the dream has been lost in interoffice memoranda
And budget amendments
And a wild fear of the price we must pay —
NASA, you need to do more than to prevaricate and to pray.
You need to rekindle the awe.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Little Red Books by Kelly Tsai

I don't remember where I read this - but I know why I saved it.
My friend signs off all of his e-mails:
“Siempre luchando, paz y revolucion”
As if the two were possible: peace and revolution
As if bloodless wars didn’t still tear psyches apart
Change hurts
Living it is hard
We’ve got to be ready if we decide to…
Zan qi lai

Stand up

Update: I googled and discovered that the title of the poem is 'Little Red Books' not 'Mao'. Complete prose is here. Very moving stuff.
Update the second: Ms. Tsai's website is YellowGurl.

The Belmont Club: Unintended Consequences

The Belmont Club is worth reading. Here is Wretchard on what Pournelle called The Strategy of Technology
Islamic terrorism, by threatening ruthless destruction, has provoked 21st century technological civilization into responding without limit; every scientific advance, every mathematical discovery, every material, method or craft will be brought to bear at a geometric rate on the Jihadi problem until it is solved.

This may overstate the case, but only just.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Grokspace and Institute for Space Law & Policy

Because you can't do business without a legal framwork to protect your interests.

Institute for Space Law & Policy
The mission of the Institute for Space Law & Policy is to aid in creating the legal regime of free markets and property rights that will allow private enterprise, supported by sound public policy, to open the space frontier to all mankind.

In the model of Groklaw, the leading legal blog for the open source community, this dynamic Institute project will offer:
* A high-quality blog on space law and policy issues
* A public forum for the discussion of such issues among members of space-interested legal profession, the traditional aerospace industry, the entrepreneurial space community, the frontier movement and the general public
* A virtual library that not only brings together the wealth of existing but scattered resources on such issues, but also allows users both to add new content and to add value to content through comment & discussion

We encourage participation in Grokspace to help define the needs we seek to meet.

A milestone from Return to the Moon VI.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Liftport on NPR's Weekend America

Good news from the office

NPRs Weekend America had a good segment about LiftPort and the space elevator. You can find their blurb about the segment in the broadcast summary (scroll down about halfway through hour 2). And you can download the podcast MP3 file here (26MB) - the space elevator/LiftPort segment is about halfway through.

What Business Can Learn from Open Source

Paul Graham is one smart cookie. From What Business Can Learn from Open Source
I think the most important of the new principles business has to learn is that people work a lot harder on stuff they like. Well, that's news to no one. So how can I claim business has to learn it? When I say business doesn't know this, I mean the structure of business doesn't reflect it.

Business still reflects an older model, exemplified by the French word for working: travailler. It has an English cousin, travail, and what it means is torture. [2]

This turns out not to be the last word on work, however. As societies get richer, they learn something about work that's a lot like what they learn about diet. We know now that the healthiest diet is the one our peasant ancestors were forced to eat because they were poor. Like rich food, idleness only seems desirable when you don't get enough of it. I think we were designed to work, just as we were designed to eat a certain amount of fiber, and we feel bad if we don't.

You should read the whole thing. He makes three points;
People work a lot harder on stuff they like.
The average office is a miserable place to get work done.
Ideas can bubble up from the bottom, instead of flowing down from the top.

None of which is news. But it is true that many companies produce mediocre crap while open source efforts make stuff that just works. Over time the points outlined above will produce better companies - not because the existing orgs will change but because new orgs will come along, embody these principles and stomp them into the ground.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Why economics should matter to the community

From Larry Niven's "How to save civilization and make a little money"
A. E. Van Vogt never worried about what a spacecraft cost. I don't think Isaac Asimov did either.

Nobody ever did until, in the 1950s, Robert Heinlein published "The Man Who Sold the Moon". And nobody did again for a long time. Imitating Heinlein used to be normal, but the science fiction writers of the day couldn't imitate this. None of us had trained for it. The excitement of travel to other worlds is in our nerves and bones, but where is the excitement in economics?

Then we watched mankind set twelve human beings on the moon for a few days at a time, come home, and stop.

We saw our space station built in Houston, orbiting too low and too slow, at ten times the cost.

Thirtieth anniversary of the first man on the moon, celebrated by grumbling.

My tee shirt bears an obsolete picture of Freedom space station and the legend, "Nine years, nine billion dollars, and all we got was this lousy shirt," and it's years old and wearing out.

Now is economics interesting?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Working in IT

I have

Worked in a fast food store at the mall.
Worked in a bakery.
Carried a rifle for my country.

And working in IT beats them all. Just saying.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

HP Tech Support

Me: My server is broken, here are the symptoms: X, Y and Z.
HP Guy One: Any lights on the mother board?
Me: Just solid green ones
HP Guy One: Take out the 2nd processor - let's simplfy the problem set
Me: Done. Hey look X, Y and Z don't happen! You're a genius
HP Guy One: I've dispatched a tech with a new processor he'll show up in the a.m.

Me: Great (hang up) now to reboot the server one last time ...

Me: My server is broken here are the symptoms: X, Y and Z. You'll note you've dispatched a tech to fix the processor but the processor can't be the problem - it's on the bench. And look - we've had four servers with this same model number, same symptoms and it's been the motherboard.
HP Guy Two: How old is your BIOS?
Me: Unhhhhhh hey look it's two years old but ...
HP Guy Two: That's it. Update your BIOS. That will fix your problem. Call us back if it doesn't
Me: But, but ..
HP Guy Two: Bye now!

Me: Just for the fun of it I apply the BIOS. Why not? It's after working hours (or nearly so) - the folks who use this application aren't using it much at this point in the day. I've given up on my evening.

Me: My server is broken here are the symptoms: X, Y and Z. You'll note you've dispatched a tech to fix the processor but the processor can't be the problem - it's on the bench. And look - we've had four servers with this same model number, same symptoms and it's been the motherboard. Please contact the guy coming out here or have him call me so he doesn't waste a trip ... and my time ... and our user's time ... hauling the wrong part from Chicago.

HP Guy Three: Can do .. okay .. he's been notified to call you.
Me: Wow.

I'm on hold with Ariba about their authentication service which was sitting on the server that needs a new motherboard. No authentication, no user access. This service is poorly understood and supported at the best of times. Sounds like I got an intern on her first day in the shop. This is going to be a long night.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Bound for Hacker's Heaven

Filk, for your entertainment. Chords at the link. Leslie Fish probably does this justice but I'd really like to hear this with an alt-country twang.
When you're building complex systems there are two ways to proceed;
Take the safe and sane and cautious road, or go flat out for speed
If we leave it to the bureaucrats we'll never get to space;
But turn some crazy hackers loose and see who wins the race.

Let the laser launch you skyward with a hypersonic yell
And you're blasting into Heaven on a billion watts of Hell
Let committees squawk of safety, let the politicians lie;
We're bound for Hackers' Heaven in the sky.

Ten-G cargo launchers never were designed to lift a man,
But when you're in a hurry you'll grab any ride you can.
Use a waterbed for padding, throw some algae in for air;
It may not look like a spaceship, but just ask me if I care.

And when we reach high orbit, we'll hack around the clock
With shuttle tanks and baling wire and melted lunar rock.
It would take too long to balance, so to spin it we'll not try:
Besides who wants to walk when we've already dared to fly?

So pack up all your memories, your programs and displays
Leave the losers down on Earth to go their meek and cautious ways
Let their politicians tell them to stay safely in their beds
We'll be hacking out our dreams here in the sky above their heads.

Hacker's Heaven © 1988 Stephen Savitzky