Wednesday, August 31, 2011

More on recent airline disasters

A couple of weeks ago I published an article on 'The Tragedy of Air France Flight 447', conveying (in a video report) the views of David Learmount that today's pilots are simply not trained to react to such emergencies in an appropriate fashion.

Now comes further confirmation of Mr. Learmount's perspective from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Pilots’ “automation addiction” has eroded their flying skills to the point that they sometimes don’t know how to recover from stalls and other mid-flight problems, say pilots and safety officials. The weakened skills have contributed to hundreds of deaths in airline crashes in the last five years.

Some 51 “loss of control” accidents occurred in which planes stalled in flight or got into unusual positions from which pilots were unable to recover, making it the most common type of airline accident, according to the International Air Transport Association.

“We’re seeing a new breed of accident with these state-of-the art planes,” said Rory Kay, an airline captain and co-chair of a Federal Aviation Administration advisory committee on pilot training. “We’re forgetting how to fly.”

Opportunities for airline pilots to maintain their flying proficiency by manually flying planes are increasingly limited, the FAA committee recently warned. Airlines and regulators discourage or even prohibit pilots from turning off the autopilot and flying planes themselves, the committee said.

. . .

Safety experts say they’re seeing cases in which pilots who are suddenly confronted with a loss of computerized flight controls don’t appear to know how to respond immediately, or they make errors — sometimes fatally so.

A draft FAA study found pilots sometimes “abdicate too much responsibility to automated systems.”

Because these systems are so integrated in today’s planes, one malfunctioning piece of equipment or a single bad computer instruction can suddenly cascade into a series of other failures, unnerving pilots who have been trained to rely on the equipment.

. . .

The ability of pilots to respond to the unexpected loss or malfunction of automated aircraft systems “is the big issue that we can no longer hide from in aviation,” said Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Va. “We’ve been very slow to recognize the consequence of it and deal with it.”

. . .

Airlines will have to rethink their operations fundamentally if they’re going to give pilots realistic opportunities to keep their flying skills honed, said Voss, the flight safety expert.

There's more at the link.

It's interesting that Mr. Learmount blamed regulatory agencies (such as the FAA) for mandating outdated training standards for commercial pilots, whereas the FAA and other regulatory agencies appear to be blaming the airlines and/or training establishments. I daresay this exercise in blame-shifting and finger-pointing is inevitable in our litigious society. Nevertheless, whoever's ultimately responsible, one hopes that the problem(s) will be resolved sooner rather than later. Until they are, everyone who sets foot on a commercial airliner is at unnecessarily greater risk . . . and that's not acceptable.


Light blogging tonight

I'm a tired puppy. Miss D. and I have been catching up with what we left behind during our recent trip to Ohio and Indiana. She's off to Dragoncon tomorrow with Oleg and Mad Mike, so it's been a hectic day of tying up loose ends and making preparations.

I haven't had much time for blogging tonight, so I'll put up just a couple of quick posts before I hit the sack. More tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Driving in Russia

A few days ago I put up a video clip about driving in Asia, showing many of the accidents and mishaps that plague drivers there. Now comes this one about drivers in Russia.

No wonder Russian life expectancy is so low . . .


Homeland Security: Money down the drain?

The Los Angeles Times has published a very thought-provoking article about the massive expenditure on homeland security in the USA, asking whether we're getting value for our money. Here's an extract.

A decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, federal and state governments are spending about $75 billion a year on domestic security, setting up sophisticated radio networks, upgrading emergency medical response equipment, installing surveillance cameras and bombproof walls, and outfitting airport screeners to detect an ever-evolving list of mobile explosives.

But how effective has that 10-year spending spree been?

"The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It's basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year," said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.

"So if your chance of being killed by a terrorist in the United States is 1 in 3.5 million, the question is, how much do you want to spend to get that down to 1 in 4.5 million?" he said.

. . .

The expensive and time-consuming screening now routine for passengers at airport boarding gates has detected plenty of knives, loaded guns and other contraband, but it has never identified a terrorist who was about to board a plane. Only 14 Americans have died in about three dozen instances of Islamic extremist terrorist plots targeted at the U.S. outside war zones since 2001 — most of them involving one or two home-grown plotters.

Homeland Security officials say there is no way to compute how many lives might have been lost had the nation's massive security apparatus not been put into place — had the would-be bombers not been arrested before they struck, or deterred from getting on a plane because it was too hard.

. . .

State and local emergency responders have undergone a dramatic transformation with the aid of $32 billion that has been dispensed in Homeland Security grants since 2002, much of it in the early years spent on Hollywood-style tactical gear, often with little connection between risk and outlay.

"After 9/11, it was literally like my mother running out the door with the charge card," said Al Berndt, assistant director of the Emergency Management Agency in Nebraska, which has received $163.7 million in federal anti-terrorism and emergency aid grants. "What we really needed to be doing is saying, 'Let's identify the threat, identify the capability and capacity you already have, and say, OK, what's the shortfall now, and how do we meet it?' "

The spending has been rife with dubious expenditures, including the $557,400 in rescue and communications gear that went to the 1,500 residents of North Pole, Alaska, and a $750,000 anti-terrorism fence — fashioned with 8-foot-high ram-proof wrought iron reinforced with concrete footers — built around a Veterans Affairs hospital in the pastoral hills outside Asheville, N.C.

West Virginia got $3,000 worth of lapel pins and billed the federal government for thousands of dollars in cellphone charges, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting, which compiled a state-by-state accounting of Homeland Security spending. In New York, $3 million was spent on automated public health records to help identify bioterrorism threats, but investigators for the department's inspector general in 2008 found that employees who used the program weren't even aware of its potential bioterrorism applications.

In some cases, hundreds of millions were spent on ill-fated projects, such as when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano earlier this year pulled the plug on the Secure Border Initiative, a Boeing Co. contract that was to set up an ambitious network of surveillance cameras, radar and sensors as a 2,000-mile-long "virtual" barrier across the U.S.-Mexico border. Originally intended to be in place by 2009, the endeavor was plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines and wound up costing $1 billion before it was canceled.

Large sums of Homeland Security money, critics complain, have been propelled by pork barrel politics into the backyards of the congressionally connected.

There's much more at the link. Recommended reading.

I'm personally very doubtful whether this extraordinary expenditure can be justified. I've worked in security and related fields for many years, including a stint as the Sector Officer for a large part of a major city's Central Business District, training for very real threats such as a meltdown or other accident at a nearby nuclear power station; terrorist attacks; and civil unrest. I therefore know something about security. I've seen nothing to persuade me that the US security apparatus is even remotely prepared for the kinds of attacks we're likely to face. I regard the Department of Homeland Security and most of its agencies as ridiculously incompetent, and trust them about as far as I can throw them . . . which isn't very far at all. They can't even secure our borders, for Heaven's sake - the most basic requirement for security against foreign terrorists!

For a start, if terrorists wanted to shock and stagger this nation as much as - or even more than - 9/11, they could do it with a Beslan-style or Columbine-style attack on an elementary school. There are thousands of such schools across this nation, all woefully inadequately prepared for and protected against such an attack. Terrorists wouldn't even have to risk importing the equipment they'd need for such an assault. They could obtain firearms from criminal contacts in this country, or even have them legally purchased by sympathizers, and could prepare explosives from commonly available components such as ammonium nitrate fertilizer, diesel fuel and a few other bits and pieces. All the security precautions designed to protect aircraft, other transport systems, etc. would be meaningless in the face of such an attack; and unless local security forces such as police and sheriffs departments learned of the planned onslaught through informers or other intelligence, they couldn't possibly provide enough proactive security to deter the terrorists (who could, in any event, simply move one or two towns away and pick a less alert target).

(In case anyone thinks I'm being reckless in discussing such an attack, for fear I may give wannabe terrorists ideas, I'm afraid it's way too late for that. Such attacks have been discussed many times in jihadist circles, most recently by a Maryland teenager. That cat's long been out of the bag.)

No. As long as the authorities are throwing money at the problem, rather than stopping to think through the risks involved and take concrete steps to thwart the most likely attacks, I believe we remain appallingly vulnerable to another 9/11. It won't necessarily involve aircraft or skyscrapers, but it's likely to be just as devastating, if not more so.


Of bear poop and biofuels

I was highly amused to read a report that panda poop may become very important to the biofuels industry. CBS Denver reports:

It turns out panda droppings could solve one of the major hurdles to producing biofuels.

. . .

“It’s probably the most pleasant fecal material to actually work with,” Dr. Ashli Brown said.

Brown and grad student Candace Williams discovered something amazing in panda excrement. They analyzed the fresh feces of bamboo-eating pandas at the Memphis Zoo. They found microbes in panda droppings break down super-tough plant materials — grasses, corn stalks and wood chips.

Giant pandas at Washington Zoo (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

“Once you have the bacteria you can grow them outside of the intestinal track of the panda,” Brown said.

Eventually the scientists want to try engineering the digestive enzymes on a large scale so plant waste could be used to make biofuels, instead of relying on food crops like corn.

. . .

“There is a future in feces. As you know a lot of animals produce a lot of waste and taking that resource and putting it in something to create a clean renewable energy is an exciting process,” Jennifer Hale with the Denver Zoo said.

There's more at the link.

Y'know, panda bears are all very well, but they're a bit exotic, aren't they? How about using our native fauna to produce the same result? For that matter, we could match the animal and the end user of the product to one another.

  • Winter driving = polar bear biofuel
  • Inner-city driving = black bear biofuel
  • Redneck driving = grizzly bear biofuel
  • And, according to Miss D., members of the US Congress and Senate should use Yogi Bear biofuel, "because they can't keep their hands off everyone else's pic-a-nic baskets!"

I know, I know . . . I mustn't give up my day job!


World's biggest truck wash?

What's said to be the world's biggest truck wash is located in Lloydminster, Canada. It apparently consumes almost 20,000 US gallons of water (about 75,000 liters) to wash a single truck!

The undercarriage wash alone (i.e. wheels, suspension and frame) uses almost 1,500 gallons each minute. I guess that's necessary to get rid of the salt, slush, snow and ice from winter roads, or the dust, mud and grime of summer runs. It cost $140 (Canadian) to run the truck shown above through the wash.


I can hear the inter-service jibes already . . .

I imagine the US Air Force is making all sorts of jokes at the expense of US Naval Aviation right about now. Military Times reports:

A Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet became the first U.S. fighter jet ever to be flown home from war inside a cargo plane on Aug. 18.

. . .

From an Air Force announcement:

In March, while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, the Hornet experienced malfunctions which caused it to divert and land at Kandahar Airfield. Upon landing, the aircraft experienced hot brakes and upon stopping, both brakes were engulfed in flames. The Kandahar, Fire and Rescue extinguished the fire, but the right fuselage was severely damaged.

. . .

I’m sure the C-5 crew was pretty amused by the fact that they were carrying a hot $h*t Navy fighter back to the ‘states in their cargo deck.

The whole effort required the help of ‘units across the base” according to the Air Force. The air service’s expeditionary RED HORSE civil engineers even had to build wooden ramps to help ease the fighter onto the C-5’s aft cargo ramp. Meanwhile, Marine aircraft technicians helped Navy officials dissemble the aircraft and prep if for its journey home. Apparently, transporting the Super Hornet home cost a third of the $65 million price tag for a new F/A-18E/F.

There's more at the link, including another photograph.

Why do I think that the pilot who landed it at a USAF base in Afghanistan, rather than back aboard his carrier, is still living down the jibes of his Navy colleagues? (For those who haven't served in the military, you wouldn't get it; but for those who have, I'm sure you're chuckling as hard as I am!)


Monday, August 29, 2011

Awesome - NOT!

The video below speaks for itself.

(LANGUAGE ALERT: As well as being an idiot, the 'star' of the clip is somewhat foul-mouthed. The soundtrack probably isn't safe for work.)

I don't think I want to know what he wants to be when he grows up . . . it probably won't be safe!


A piece of history flies to Oshkosh

The good people at Vintage Wings of Canada recently restored a Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber (the type of aircraft that, in 1940, carried out the famous raid on Taranto, inspiration for the subsequent Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and in 1941 damaged the Bismarck, allowing the Royal Navy to catch up with her and sink her). Very few of these historic aircraft survive.

Having completed the restoration (her first flight is described in detail here, complete with pictures), they flew her down to Oshkosh in Wisconsin to display her at EAA Airventure earlier this year.

They've just published a photo diary of the trip down, the aircraft on display at Oshkosh, and the flight back home to Ottawa in Canada.

I've copied a few of the many photographs they've posted, to whet your appetite to read the whole article. Their Web site is worth any aviation enthusiast's attention, as is the Vintage Wings collection if you find yourself near Ottawa. They try to fly as many of their aircraft as possible, unlike some other museums that are content to restrict their planes to static displays. I prefer to see them in the air, and hear their engines.



Another vintage Rolls-Royce is coming up for auction. The auctioneer (Bonhams) reports:

One hundred years old this year, chassis 1683 is one of the most instantly recognisable of its breed. It has been owned by a roll call of those appreciative of the Silver Ghost starting from day one when it was ordered new for the Delhi Durbar.

The Delhi Durbar celebration of the Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in December 1911, was one of the most spectacular displays of Indian pageantry that the world had seen. And with the automobile now firmly part of the Indian Princes' culture, fleets of automobiles were purchased to provide transport for their honored guests and the rulers themselves. Eight of these were identical 40/50hp Rolls-Royce and each were to be Landaulettes built by the most noted British coachbuilders such as Barker, Hooper, H.J. Mulliner and Windovers. 1683 was the one exception, being an entirely closed car. In one of the more detailed orders that one will see for a 'Ghost, with many notes of liaison between the client and the company, the factory build sheets note that H.J. Mulliner were required to construct Pullman Limousine coachwork, finished in dark green with white coachlines. With nickel brightwork, it must have been a handsome conveyance, which was luxuriously appointed and came with many of the latest 'options' that the coachbuilder and manufacturer could offer. Topping it off, the Coat of Arms was to be 'emblazoned on the panels'. As denoted on the factory order, this was for the use of the Maharajah of Mysore, to whom it passed after the Delhi Durbar.

Rolls-Royce were virtually always in touch with the car, their records list parts supplied to their Indian agency for fitting to it. At some point early in its life, quite possibly in 1920 when a complete set of wire wheels were dispatched to India for 1683, the formal coachwork was replaced by the lightweight Ceremonial bodywork that it still retains to this day. It is understood that this was a particular favorite of the Maharajah, it allowed him to survey his land and to be seen by his people on public occasions. Behind the 'cape cart' Victoria hood was a ledge for his bearers to stand on and they were thoughtfully protected from the sun by a large umbrella.

Over the course of the last Century, #1683 has been cherished and prized throughout its life. Among numerous pictorial references, it is featured in the Lawrence Dalton book 'Those Elegant Rolls Royce' and was immortalised in the Melbourne Brindle/Phil May book Twenty Silver Ghosts where it is illustrated with the Taj Mahal as its backdrop. Its mileage is thought to have been extremely modest in its Indian service, perhaps less than 10,000 and the succession of noted Silver Ghost collectors who have owned it have ensured that its condition has remained appropriately fine. There is no greater statement of this than the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Class win that it achieved at the 1995 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, following a refurbishment at the hands of noted specialist David Hemmings, although its condition has aged just a little since.

There's more at the link, including many more photographs (scroll down the linked page to see them). Definitely drool-worthy to historians and automotive enthusiasts alike!


Doofus Of The Day #513

Today's winners are from a security firm in England.

A one-legged criminal had an electronic tag attached to his false leg – enabling him to remove it and go wherever he wanted without arousing suspicion.

Christopher Lowcock wrapped his prosthetic limb in a bandage to fool private security staff when they set up the tag and monitoring equipment at his home.

Now the two workers from G4S have been sacked after their blunder allowed the 29-year-old to detach his false leg and leave it at home with the tag on when he wanted to go out.

There's more at the link.

I wonder what gave him away . . . an urgent order for a spare leg, perhaps?


A fascinating portrait of a modern jurist

The New Yorker has published a long and very interesting study of Justice Clarence Thomas of the US Supreme Court. Here's a brief series of extracts.

In several of the most important areas of constitutional law, Thomas has emerged as an intellectual leader of the Supreme Court. Since the arrival of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., in 2005, and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., in 2006, the Court has moved to the right when it comes to the free-speech rights of corporations, the rights of gun owners, and, potentially, the powers of the federal government; in each of these areas, the majority has followed where Thomas has been leading for a decade or more. Rarely has a Supreme Court Justice enjoyed such broad or significant vindication.

. . .

The implications of Thomas’s leadership for the Court, and for the country, are profound. Thomas is probably the most conservative Justice to serve on the Court since the nineteen-thirties. More than virtually any of his colleagues, he has a fully wrought judicial philosophy that, if realized, would transform much of American government and society. Thomas’s views both reflect and inspire the Tea Party movement, which his wife has helped lead almost since its inception. The Tea Party is a diffuse operation, and it can be difficult to pin down its stand on any given issue. Still, the Tea Party is unusual among American political movements in its commitment to a specific view of the Constitution—one that accords, with great precision, with Thomas’s own approach. For decades, various branches of the conservative movement have called for a reduction in the size of the federal government, but for the Tea Party, and for Thomas, small government is a constitutional command.

. . .

From the moment Thomas arrived on the Court, he has been a committed originalist; he believes the Constitution should be interpreted as the words were understood by the men who wrote it. “When faced with a clash of constitutional principle and a line of unreasoned cases wholly divorced from the text, history, and structure of our founding document, we should not hesitate to resolve the tension in favor of the Constitution’s original meaning,” Thomas wrote in an opinion from 2005.

. . .

Early in the New Deal, the Supreme Court struck down several of President Roosevelt’s signature initiatives as violating the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. If the law did not directly affect commerce “among the several states,” in the words of Article I, the Nine Old Men on the Court said that Congress had no right to pass it. F.D.R. responded to these setbacks with his infamous court-packing plan, but a change of heart by Justice Owen J. Roberts in 1937, followed by Roosevelt’s own appointments to the Court, transformed the understanding of that provision. In a series of cases, the Justices gave Congress essentially unlimited power to regulate the national economy. In Wickard v. Filburn, from 1942, the Court said that the federal government could regulate the amount of wheat grown on a farm, even if none of the wheat was sold across state lines, or even if no wheat was sold at all. Because the production of wheat, taken in aggregate, did affect interstate commerce, the regulation was permissible. With that, the issue of the Commerce Clause more or less vanished from the Supreme Court’s docket for decades—until Thomas and the Tea Party brought it back to life.

In 1995, the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, did finally strike down another law as violating the Commerce Clause. In United States v. Lopez, the Court rejected a federal law that made it a crime to possess a gun near a school. Rehnquist’s opinion said, in essence, that possession of a gun in or near a school was so completely remote from the national economy that Congress had no right to prohibit it.

Thomas agreed — and then some. In a concurring opinion, he said, “I write separately to observe that our case law has drifted far from the original understanding of the Commerce Clause. In a future case, we ought to temper our Commerce Clause jurisprudence.” Even Rehnquist had acknowledged the long line of cases that said the Commerce Clause was satisfied if the activity in question “substantially affects” interstate commerce. In a characteristically lengthy and detailed opinion, Thomas said that the early New Deal Court — the Nine Old Men — was right, and all the Justices over the following six decades were wrong. Thomas wrote, “From the time of the ratification of the Constitution to the mid 1930’s, it was widely understood that the Constitution granted Congress only limited powers, notwithstanding the Commerce Clause.” By Thomas’s reading, Social Security and the National Labor Relations Act, to say nothing of Medicare and Medicaid, might all be unconstitutional. “Justices can be influential by indicating to lawyers the boundaries of what’s possible,” Eugene Volokh, a professor at U.C.L.A. School of Law and a widely read blogger, said. “There is conventional wisdom about what’s possible, like ‘Whatever you think about the Commerce Clause, no one is going to go back to the pre-1937 approach,’ or ‘The Second Amendment is a closed issue.’ Thomas has shown that sometimes the conventional wisdom is wrong.”

There's much more at the link. It's a fascinating look at a man who's regarded by many as a seminal figure in modern US jurisprudence. Highly recommended.

Another long essay by Walter Russell Mead analyzes the New Yorker's article, and provides more food for thought. Here's a sample.

Thomas is not a fundamentalist reading the Constitution au pied de la lettre; the original intent of the founders can be established only after research and reflection. The Eighth Amendment ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” can only be understood if one understands the thought of the period, the types of punishment then widely used, and the political and cultural traditions that shaped the thinking of the founders on questions of justice and punishment. One then takes that understanding, however tentative, and applies it to the circumstances of a given case today.

It is not the only possible way to read the Constitution, but it is a very interesting one and it may be the only politically sustainable way for the Court to read it in a contentious and divided country. Without some rule of interpretation that the average person can understand and accept as legitimate, the Court gradually loses legitimacy in the public eye. The originalist interpretation, whatever objections can be made to it intellectually and historically, is politically compelling. It resonates with the American propensity for commonsense reasoning. To say that the Founders meant what they meant and that the first job of a judge is to be faithful to their intent is something that strikes many Americans as sensible, practical and fair.

As Toobin tells the story, the revival of the Second Amendment was the first great triumph of the new approach. Thomas and others assembled a mountain of evidence that convinced increasing numbers of legal scholars that the Second Amendment must be read as conferring an individual right to bear arms — not merely a generic endorsement of the right of each state to maintain a militia. More, this right was intended as political: to check the power of the state to overawe and crush the people. As a result, the once seemingly unstoppable movement toward gun control has gone into reverse gear.

The startling possibility now beginning to dawn on some observers is that these same methods applied to the Tenth Amendment would lead to a much more far reaching revision to constitutional doctrine. The text of the Amendment is simple and short:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The standard interpretation is that this merely restates an assumption that undergirds the Constitution as a whole and so has no special meaning or significance in law. If reading the rest of the Constitution leads you to uphold some act or law as constitutional, this amendment would not affect that judgment. Therefore it can be and usually is ignored. That is certainly what we were told to do with it in the hallowed halls of Pundit High.

But there is another view of this amendment. The Constitution of the United States confers specific, “enumerated” powers on the Congress, and many of the things that Congress does today are not listed among those enumerated powers. On his last day in office, President James Madison vetoed what today we would call an infrastructure bill. He thought the bill was a good idea, that the country needed the infrastructure and that the federal government was the right agency to provide it, but believed that the Constitution he had helped write provided no authority for Congress to act in this way. If Congress wanted to support infrastructure in the various states, the right way to proceed was to get an infrastructure amendment into the Constitution. Barring that, nothing could be done.

Taken seriously today, that approach to the Constitution would change the way Washington does business. Radically. The list of enumerated powers is short and does not include, for example, health care, education, agricultural subsidies, assistance to the hungry or old age pensions. Most of the New Deal and Great Society (with the interesting exception of civil rights laws which enforce the Civil War era amendments) would be struck down. Whole cabinet departments would close.

The federal government would not wither away completely; even on a narrow reading of the commerce clause (the clause that places the regulation of interstate commerce among Congress’ enumerated powers), Washington would exercise considerable authority over the national economy. But the balance between the states and the feds would change, and among other things, our federal tax burdens would fall, but the costs of state government would rise.

This is pretty much a Tea Party wish list, and it is why the Tea Party movement is so strongly identified with originalist interpretations of the Constitution. Unleashing the Tenth Amendment would move the constitutional status quo back towards the early 1930s when the “Nine Old Men” struck down one New Deal law after another. For Toobin and most New Yorker readers, it is hard to imagine an idea that more radically and totally runs against everything they believe.

Again, more at the link, and also highly recommended.

For anyone interested in current US jurisprudence and the Constitutional implications of much of President Obama's program, these two articles are indispensable reading.


(With) what were they thinking?

The video below shows what happens when men can't keep their minds (not to mention other portions of anatomy) on what they're doing. It also demonstrates that an attractive woman in a short skirt can be a weapon of mass destruction!


Doofus Of The Day #512

I'm seeing red at this report in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Raised in a $1.5 million Barrington Hills, Ill., home by their attorney father, two grown children have spent the last two years pursuing a unique lawsuit against their mom for "bad mothering" that alleges damages caused when she failed to buy toys for one and sent another a birthday card he didn’t like.

The alleged offenses include failing to take her daughter to a car show, telling her then 7-year-old son to buckle his seat belt or she would contact police, "haggling" over the amount to spend on party dresses and calling her daughter at midnight to ask that she return home from celebrating homecoming.

Last week, at which point the court record stood about a foot tall, an Illinois appeals court dismissed the case, finding that none of the mother’s conduct was "extreme or outrageous." To rule in favor of her children, the court found, "could potentially open the floodgates to subject family childrearing to ... excessive judicial scrutiny and interference."

In 2009, the children, represented by three attorneys including their father, Steven A. Miner, sued their mother, Kimberly Garrity. Steven II, now 23, and his sister Kathryn, now 20, sought more than $50,000 for "emotional distress."

Miner and Garrity were married for a decade before she filed for divorce in 1995, records show.

There's more at the link.

Why did no-one teach these precious little darlings to suck it up? All parents screw up occasionally, usually on a pretty regular basis. It's part of being human. None of us are perfect. Those parents who screw up more publicly and/or spectacularly and/or criminally than usual normally lose their children to foster care, where they'll (at least in theory) have a better chance of a decent upbringing. However, that's the exception. The rest of us take the good our parents give us, learn to live with the not-so-good, and (hopefully) do our best not to repeat their mistakes with our own kids when they come along. (We usually manage to make more than enough mistakes of our own, without our parents' help . . . )

For these kids to turn around and sue their mother for 'bad parenting' demonstrates how mind-bogglingly out of touch they are with reality. As for their father not only allowing the suit to go forward, but actually representing them in court, I can only presume he wanted to make his ex-wife look bad. If not for that, I daresay he'd remember that when it comes to parenting, both father and mother have their part to play, balancing (and sometimes correcting) the other. The very fact that he appears never to have bothered to teach that to his children, speaks volumes.

The 'children' (now 20 and 23 years old, respectively) and their father appear to qualify in spades for our Doofus award.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Friends, food, firearms and fun!

Miss D. and I had a busy (read: exhausting!) day, with a great deal of fun and enjoyment. We started with breakfast at our hotel's restaurant with Old NFO this morning. Large quantities of eggs, toast, bacon (BACON!!!), sausage, orange juice, coffee and laughter followed before we headed out to the gun show.

We spent a couple of hours of walking the serried ranks of tables, ogling much assorted ironmongery in one form or another. One dealer had a few Colt revolvers in the magnificent Royal Blue finish, which Miss D. had never seen before. Old NFO and I pointed out to her how it's such an incredibly rich, fluid gloss that one could probably shave in it if necessary. I didn't need (and couldn't afford) any of the Royal Blue guns on display, but I couldn't help drooling a little over them. (For the benefit of readers who've never seen it before, here's a picture of a Colt 1911 pistol and a Colt Python revolver in Royal Blue finish. However, the picture can't do justice to the reality. One has to see this finish 'in the flesh' - or should that be 'in the steel'? - in order to properly appreciate it.)

(Image courtesy of user 'jwise' in this post at the forums)

Many dealers offered knives and related accessories and services. Miss D. got her old pocket-knife sharpened to a wickedly dangerous edge, and we found a couple of Schrade lockback knives for very reasonable prices, so we now have matching 'his-and-hers' blades - just what every good couple should have! (To the purists among us: no, they aren't 'original' US-made Schrades, which are usually priced somewhere up there in the stratosphere! These are made in China under the Schrade brand name. Even so, their quality isn't bad for a working pocket-knife. They're certainly serviceable enough to use with confidence.)

Overall, prices at the Indy 1500 gun show were much better than those I've encountered at gun shows elsewhere. They weren't cheap, mind you, but they weren't up there at nosebleed altitudes either. I daresay the current state of the economy has dealers in a more realistic frame of mind. I hope the trend continues. For myself, I prefer private purchases and sales of firearms, and have done for some years now. It simplifies matters considerably, and allows for negotiation, swapping items in trade, and that sort of thing - all of which helps both parties to get value for their money and/or goods.

After the gun show we returned to our hotel for a quick meal before heading for the blogmeet. Lunch was interesting. I found a cheese-and-fruit plate on the menu, and Old NFO and myself decided to share one, while Miss D. had a salad. It turned out to be a very large and well-filled plate indeed - the more so after our waitress obligingly made a couple of raids on the kitchen to fetch more crackers and cheese. The three of us ended up sharing Heaven knows how many calories of the stuff! Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Camembert, provolone, smoked gouda and a couple of cheeses I couldn't identify were consumed in large quantities by all concerned. Very yummy!

The blogmeet this afternoon was a lot of fun. Something like twenty bloggers and relatives showed up, making for a crowded, noisy and highly entertaining afternoon. Brigid's already put up some pictures of the fun and games. Turns out today was the sixth birthday/anniversary of Tamara's blog, so congratulations and a few celebratory brewski's were in order.

Miss D. and I arrived back at our hotel exhausted, but happy. We fell into bed to sleep off some of the exertions of the day, and I'm typing this late in the evening after resurfacing. I'll put up a couple of posts, then it's back to the land of nod for yours truly. Normal blogging will resume tomorrow evening after our return home.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Yep - he's mad all right!

I couldn't help laughing at the way in which this highly irate frog makes his displeasure clear.


There are no words . . .

I was infuriated to read, two years ago, of the arrest of Delaware pediatrician Earl Bradley in 2009 on literally hundreds of charges of child abuse. I've just learned that he's been sentenced to 14 life terms plus 164 years in prison, without the possibility of parole. Unfortunately, his state doesn't have the death penalty any longer . . . but for those of you who think he should die for his crimes, take heart. As a former prison chaplain, I can assure you that child abusers lead very 'interesting' lives behind bars (in the Chinese curse sense of the word), so I don't think Mr. Bradley will have an even remotely enjoyable life.

What I still can't understand is why it took so long to nail this man. He appears to have chosen to be a pediatrician precisely in order to have access to a large number of targets for his predation. He allegedly molested hundreds of children. How could he get away with abusing 103 victims before being uncovered and arrested? Surely someone must have noticed something?

Because the people around him, and the parents of those children, weren't on their guard, many more children suffered before he could be stopped. I hope that the lessons of their failure will be taught to more people in future, to stop further offenders like Mr. Bradley.

I don't believe in wishing evil on anyone, and I strive to follow the Master's teachings as best I may, in my poor fashion . . . but today, I haven't been able to stop myself thinking that if anyone should burn in hell for all eternity, Mr. Bradley's got a head start in the race for that 'honor'.


Still on the road

Miss D. and I have been enjoying our run through parts of the Midwest. We spent the last couple of days in Ohio with members of her family, taking care of some business matters and catching up on family news. This morning we accompanied her brother, his wife and their two young daughters to the USAF Museum in Dayton, OH. It's a new experience for me to have to discourage an excited child from climbing into the open bomb bay of a Douglas B-18 Bolo patrol bomber, and to hear her contemptuously dismiss the depth charges displayed in front of it as 'not real bombs'!

From there we headed for Indianapolis, where we've joined forces with Old NFO to visit the Indy 1500 gun show tomorrow morning, and attend a blogmeet during the afternoon. He took us to a wonderful seafood restaurant this evening, so we're all stuffed to the gills with various fishy and finny things. Miss D.'s already gone to bed, and I'll join her soon, to allow our digestions to catch up with our appetites.

I'll put up a couple of posts for tonight and tomorrow night, and normal blogging will resume as of Monday evening.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Not a fisherman's friends!

This video clip shows a fisherman trying to carry a box of fish from his boat to a waiting truck . . . through a cloud of hungry seabirds!

I wonder how much of the fish made it from ship to shore? And why don't the fishermen simply cover the boxes? They must lose an awful lot of money to hungry birds . . .


Of lagers, laagers and fungus

I had a very interesting wander through the Internet the other day, sparked by a BBC news report.

The workhorse of brewing, the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is used worldwide to ferment fruit and grains to make wine, cider and ale.

Lager, which is fermented more slowly and at lower temperatures than ale, is presumed to be a later invention, and was likely stumbled upon when Bavarian monks moved their beer barrels into caves for storage.

In those caves, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which prefers to grow just above room temperature, is presumed to have been outcompeted in the fermenting beer by a species that thrived at cooler climes.

The modern-day lager-brewing yeast, Saccharomyces pastorianus, which is a fully domesticated species, is probably a hybrid of this cool-loving strain and the ale-brewing species, and survives because brewers keep back a little of the lager each time to seed the next batch with the same yeast.

"The hybrid almost definitely formed accidentally and people adopted it because the beer came out differently," said evolutionary biologist Chris Hittinger from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, US, who was one of the team behind the discovery.

But researchers have long wondered where the original cool-loving yeast species came from.

That is until Dr Hittinger and his colleagues isolated it from a beech tree in the forests of Patagonia this year.

These forests, where daily lows average around -2C, are the perfect cradle for modern-day lager-brewing yeast. The species has been designated Saccharomyces eubayanus.

"I personally prefer lagers to ales, and I am very grateful that these two distant cousins met up in a Bavarian cellar hundreds of years ago," Dr Hittinger told BBC News.

There's more at the link.

This led me to look up 'lager' on Wikipedia, which informed me:

While cold storage of beer, "lagering," in caves for example, was a common practice throughout the medieval period, bottom-fermenting yeast seems to have emerged as a hybridization in the early 1400s.

I speak Afrikaans, a colonial derivative of Dutch used in South Africa, but I'd never made the connection between 'lagering' - storing - and the name of a variety of beer. I also knew the word 'laager', meaning a fortification made of wagons pulled together, which is also derived from 'lagering' - in that particular usage, a place of safety for its defenders. Interesting that a fort, a storage place and a beer all have a common origin for their names!

Now I'm left to wonder . . . just how, precisely, did a Patagonian yeast make its way across the Atlantic to Europe in an age before transatlantic voyages were possible? I daresay I'll never know, but the possibilities for speculation are endless! Beer-loving aliens in flying saucers, perhaps?


A network of lightbulbs?

It seems that lightbulbs might power the next generation of computer networks. The Daily Mail reports:

Professor Hass, of the school of engineering at Edinburgh University in the UK, said that currently we use radio waves to transmit data which are inefficient.

With mobile phones there are 1.4 million base stations boosting the signal but most of the energy is used to cool it, making it only five per cent efficient.

By comparison there are 40 billion light bulbs in use across the world which are far more efficient.

By replacing old fashioned incandescent models with LED bulbs he claimed he could turn them all into Internet transmitters.

The invention, dubbed D-Light, can send data faster than 10 megabits per second, which is the speed of a typical broadband connection, by altering the frequency of the ambient light in the room.

It has new applications in hospitals, airplanes, military, and even underwater. Aeroplane passengers could in theory be able to surf the Internet from signals beamed out of the lights on board.

There's more at the link. Here's Professor Hass speaking at the recent TEDGlobal conference about his idea.

I wonder how it affects the network if a lightbulb burns out? Instead of the infamous 'blue screen of death', would one get the 'blackout of despair'?


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Driving in Asia

I thought I'd encountered the worst drivers in the world in various African countries (not to mention Rome in Italy!), but this video clip of driving in various Asian countries and cities has me goggling.

After seeing that, I think I'll stick to the relatively sane, safe roads of the USA for a while!


The world's most absurd warning signs

HappyPlace has published a lengthy selection of weird and wacky warning signs and labels from all over the world. Some are not safe for work, but all are amusing. Here's a brief selection to whet your appetite.

There are many more at the link. Fun reading.


Do algorithms rule the world?

According to Kevin Slavin, in many areas, yes, they do. The BBC reports:

If you were expecting some kind warning when computers finally get smarter than us, then think again.

There will be no soothing HAL 9000-type voice informing us that our human services are now surplus to requirements.

In reality, our electronic overlords are already taking control, and they are doing it in a far more subtle way than science fiction would have us believe.

Their weapon of choice - the algorithm.

Behind every smart web service is some even smarter web code. From the web retailers - calculating what books and films we might be interested in, to Facebook's friend finding and image tagging services, to the search engines that guide us around the net.

It is these invisible computations that increasingly control how we interact with our electronic world.

At last month's TEDGlobal conference, algorithm expert Kevin Slavin delivered one of the tech show's most "sit up and take notice" speeches where he warned that the "maths that computers use to decide stuff" was infiltrating every aspect of our lives.

Among the examples he cited were a robo-cleaner that maps out the best way to do housework, and the online trading algorithms that are increasingly controlling Wall Street.

"We are writing these things that we can no longer read," warned Mr Slavin.

"We've rendered something illegible. And we've lost the sense of what's actually happening in this world we've made."

Million-dollar book

Algorithms may be cleverer than humans but they don't necessarily have our sense of perspective - a failing that became evident when Amazon's price-setting code went to war with itself earlier this year.

"The Making of a Fly" - a book about the molecular biology of a fly from egg to fully-fledged insect - may have been a riveting read but it almost certainly didn't deserve a price tag of $23.6m (£14.3m).

It hit that figure briefly on the site after the algorithms used by Amazon to set and update prices started outbidding each other.

It is a small taste of the chaos that can be caused when code gets smart enough to operate without human intervention, thinks Mr Slavin.

"This is algorithms in conflict without any adult supervision," he said.

There's more at the link. Highly recommended reading - or, if you want a longer version, here's Mr. Slavin speaking on the subject at the recent TEDGlobal conference (also highly recommended).

It's a fascinating subject, one promising at least as many risks as it does opportunities. We used to ask "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Now it's "Who will guard the algorithms?" (And, before anyone else says it - no, I wouldn't trust Al Gore to guard Al-Gore-ithms!)


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Now that's a dog with control!

I'm frankly amazed that an animal out of its natural element can control itself so well.

If there were an Animal Olympics, I reckon that dog would stand a good chance of a medal!


On the road again

Miss D. and I will be on the road for a few days, heading to Ohio on family business for her, then nipping across to Indiana for this weekend's Blogmeet. I'll post from the road when I can, and set up some articles for automatic posting for the times when I may not have Internet access. Meanwhile, say a prayer or two for us for traveling mercies - and for the other bloggers at the Meet, many of whom have not yet had us inflicted on them!


Dumpster diving - by plane???

An aircraft accident in Buttonwillow, California had an unusual twist. The National Transportation Safety Board report states:

On June 13, 2011, about 1825 pacific daylight time, a Grumman G-164A, N5286 sustained substantial damage when it departed the runway and collided with two dumpsters at a private airstrip in Buttonwillow, California.

. . .

The pilot stated that on the day of the accident he had conducted numerous landings on the accident airstrip and the brakes where "a little worn out," but had operated well enough to allow stopping on the runway. The pilot further stated that he was fatigued and dehydrated after flying for nearly 8 hours. On the accident landing the pilot reported that he was slightly fast on the approach with a tailwind of approximately 5-10 knots. Upon touchdown he was unable to stop the airplane before the end of the runway and exited the right side. After the airplane exited the runway the airplane's right wing struck a dumpster. The initial impact with the dumpster caused the airplane to spin into a second dumpster with which the airplane came to rest against.

Immediately after the accident the owner/operator checked the brakes and found them to be operating normally.

There's more at the link.

Flight Global's John Croft adds:

What did he learn from the accident? Abbott and his employer told the investigators: "Emphasize to pilots the need to keep a clear head," he said. "Take breaks when needed even if there is more work to do. In the summer heat, they need to stay hydrated and take breaks. Never stop 'flying' until the plane is in the hangar."

Words of wisdom, which might also be augmented with - Keep dumpsters far away from the airfield ...

To that last statement - No s***, Sherlock! Fortunately, no-one was hurt, so it's a lesson learned relatively inexpensively - but who on earth made the decision to put dumpsters that close to a runway? The area surrounding them is supposed to be kept clear of all obstructions and things that can cause problems for aircraft running off them. Clearly, in this case, someone slipped up.


It seems that paintball and implants don't mix . . .

I was surprised to read that paintballs can be hazardous to some people's (synthetic) health. The Daily Mail reports:

A woman's breast implant was apparently ruptured when she was shot in the chest while paintballing.

The 26-year-old was hit at close range during the game in Croydon, south London.

Although she did not make a complaint at the time, she went to her GP two days later who told her that the implant had been punctured.

The woman, who has not been named, is now recovering at home following the alleged incident which is thought to be the first of its kind in Britain.

The company which runs the centre said they are now issuing extra padding to all women with breast implants.

An extra line has been added to an indemnity form warning paintballers that there is a risk implants can be damaged.

There's more at the link.

I guess, if paintballers shoot at each other, they can hardly be described as 'bosom buddies'!


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another insane wingsuiter!

Yet another great (and insane) wingsuit video has appeared on YouTube, this time of Jeb Corliss, who's made a career of such things.

I still shake my head in disbelief every time I see how close these wingsuiters come to the ground. How more of them don't end up smeared across the landscape like strawberry jam, I just don't know!


Their desperation is showing . . .

I've commented before that the loony Left's obsession with Sarah Palin shows itself in their desperate attempts to 'smear' her and destroy her credibility with the public. They make such a fuss about her that it's quite obvious they're terrified of what might happen if she catches the public's imagination.

The same thing now seems to be happening with Governor Rick Perry of Texas. Since he announced his candidacy for President, the screams of horror, outrage and denial from the Left have been deafening - and, for the most part, they appear to be bogus. I'm not one of Governor Perry's fans, and I don't know yet whether or not I'll become one, but the clamor of opposition is demonstrating very clearly that the Left views him as a major threat. The Pesky Truth blog has published an article in two parts outlining 17 attacks made on Governor Perry (and debunking them all), plus a third article containing more positive views. They make interesting reading.

Even more telling, to me, was the advertisement placed by one of Governor Perry's opponents, asking anyone who'd been sexually involved with him to come forward.

(Click the image for a larger view)

Turns out that Mr. Morrow is acting alone - CASH is a one-person organization. He's also alleged to be "a certified conspiracy nut, with a JFK-assassination fixation and a long record of harassing Bill and Hillary Clinton". Certainly, anyone who can simultaneously look for both heterosexual and homosexual (alleged) partners of Governor Perry (see the last line in the advertisement above) would appear to have a few things to sort out (in his own mind, at least) about his target's sexual preferences and tendencies. The mere fact of that advertisement's appearance discredits (in my opinion) anyone placing it, anyone responding to it, and anyone (or any party) using allegations produced by it to smear its target.

I note, too, that US trial lawyers have formed a special Political Action Committee [PAC] to oppose Governor Perry should he win the Republican Party's nomination. He's campaigned aggressively for tort reform, so they're running scared that he might do the same as POTUS. Since I'm one of those who strongly advocate tort reform, that's another reason to like what I see so far in Governor Perry. As I said earlier, I'm not one of his fans at the moment; but if the Left goes on frothing at the mouth about him like this, that could change . . .

I think Miss D. had the best idea. The other morning she turned to me, with a wicked gleam in her eye, and said, "Wouldn't it be fun if Sarah Palin ran for President with Allen West as her Vice-Presidential candidate?" When I'd stopped laughing, we agreed that it wouldn't really matter which one of them ran for President, and which for Vice-President. To have a decorated combat veteran (an African-American) and the former Governor of Alaska (an outspokenly conservative woman) on the same ticket is guaranteed to generate enough apoplexy to send the looniest of the Left into orbit!


Doofus Of The Day #511

Today's title goes to the unknown Chinese official who either took, or OK'ed the release of, a video clip showing what appears to be an actual Chinese-government-sponsored hacking attack on a Western Internet site. Ares reports:

A clip from a Chinese TV documentary purporting to show a Chinese military-launched cyberattack on a U.S.-based religious sect is attracting the attention of U.S. intelligence and defense industry officials and has made it onto YouTube.

A veteran National Security Agency cyber-warrior who viewed the clip classifies it as “very cool,” and says it could become an embarrassment to the Chinese government. In addition to YouTube, the footage, as of Aug. 23, could still be viewed on China’s CCTV website.

. . .

The Chinese school involved in the film clip purports to be the Electrical Engineering University of China’s People’s Liberation Army [PLA], and the reporters contend that the clip offers “direct evidence that the PLA is involved in coding cyberattack software directed against a Chinese dissident group.

“The software window says 'Choose Attack Target',” the reporters translate from the video. “The computer operator selects an IP address from a list — it happens to be — and then selects a target. Encoded in the software are the words 'Falun Gong website list', A drop-down list of dozens of Falun Gong websites appears. The computer operator chooses, the main website of the Falun Gong spiritual practice. The IP address ( belongs to the University of Alabama in Birmingham, according to an online trace. The documentary then show a big 'Attack' button on the bottom left being pushed, before the camera cuts away.”

There's more at the link. The video clip in question may be viewed on YouTube (or, at least, it hadn't been taken down as at the time of writing). The section described in the last paragraph above, and shown in the screen capture above, begins 36 seconds into the clip. (Of course, the narration and the screenshots are all in Chinese.)

I wouldn't like to be in the shoes of the person who took and/or released that video clip. I don't think the Chinese government is likely to be sympathetic to his excuses!



I was amused by this advertisement on the Nashville Craigslist Web site, which Miss D. brought to my attention.

Having problems with neighbors' dogs barking? Do I have a deal for you!

Early riser neighbors who like to cut their grass at 6am on Saturday mornings? No problem!

Perhaps a party crowd that prefers to rock and roll all night long? Payback is sweet, my friend!

Add one of these babies to your household and stand back! Each boy is completely environmentally friendly and is guaranteed to annoy the daylights out of close neighbors. If they are anything like their daddy, the entire block will be able to hear them when they tune up. Daddy has a lovely tenor crow and has been known to crow all day long. Usually tunes up around 4am and knocks off about sunset. Needs no batteries!

Other possible uses for these swell boys:

  • bug extermination: These guys can eat their body weight in random bugs. Good bugs, bad bugs, doesn't matter. They like them all. They seem especially fond of ticks, which makes me really happy in the summer.
  • Compost makers: Boy howdy are they excellent compost makers! You have never seen such compost. And they add to the compost pile daily without stop. Compost, compost, compost! (Some assembly required on the actual compost making. These guys just contribute to the mix. You will need to do some shoveling.)
  • Feathers for fly-fishing. Periodically they like to drop all their feathers just for fun. You can expect feathers everywhere just ripe for the picking. These are fabulous if you like to tie fly-fishing lures. Look at the money you will save. You could even start a thriving home business. Have small children? Tiny fingers tie tiny flies!
  • Dinner: If you have it in you, they would make a tasty dinner. Full grown they should dress out at 8+ pounds. These guys are hormone free, cage free and free range when they can be supervised. So far they have had a tasty diet of chick feed, scratch, bugs, vegi scraps and fruit. Mmmm... tasty! (They are currently 12 weeks old. You'll need to keep them another couple of months before they are full grown. Disassembly is definitely required. They will come to you kicking and screaming. You are on your own for the killing. If I thought I could do it I wouldn't be selling these fine boys.)
  • Security force: Having trouble with strangers in the yard? Add a couple of these delightful yard ornaments and they will scare the willies out of intruders. Nothing more impressive than a cranky rooster coming at you feet first! You could even get one of those little "Beware of Rooster" signs to add a little more emphasis. You would be the talk of the town.
  • Make more Chickens! Add a couple of hens and these guys will happily help you start a chicken empire. Seriously, their daddy is worse than a rabbit about making more chickens. If they take after their daddy even remotely you will soon have herds of tiny chickens peeping away.

I'm sure there are many, many other great uses for one of these fabulous roosters. Everyone will be wanting one soon. They are the next "in" thing!

There's more at the link.

The only problem I can foresee is that around here, most (all?) of the neighbors have shotguns. I daresay that after a couple of rather-too-early-in-the-morning squawks, the roosters' crowing would elicit a much noisier and rather more terminal response!