Sunday at the Duke’s

They say the Duke of Wellington, after he retired, pretty much chose to not talk about politics. I’ve heard that, anyway, that doesn’t make it true. But I think it makes sense, politics gets old, doesn’t it, and eventually one wants to talk about important things instead.

What are important things? Well, whoever they are, they say that for the Iron Duke it was horses, guns, hunting, and pretty Tory women. Sounds pretty sensible to me.

Well, I don’t know much about horses, other than how to lose money on them, guns, well we can, but we do that pretty regular, and hunting leaves me kind of blah, at the moment. But a history video might be good. And while I have no idea if she’s a Tory, I’m pretty confident that Susannah Lipscholm’s looks would please the Duke (and the rest of us). The fact that she is in fact a brilliant historian is even more pleasing to me, and I hope the Duke would agree. Probably he would, after all Tories, like our conservatives are supposed to be the smart party. (Somebody please tell Dave Cameron!)

Media Companies Spin Off Newspapers, to Uncertain Futures – NYTimes.com

English: Headline of the New York Times June-2...

English: Headline of the New York Times June-29-1914 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is quite interesting, in a ‘I told you so’ sort of way. It seems that the big media companies are finding it quite difficult to make a profit printing newspapers. from the New York Times

A year ago last week, it seemed as if print newspapers might be on the verge of a comeback, or at least on the brink of, well, survival.

Jeff Bezos, an avatar of digital innovation as the founder of Amazon, came out of nowhere and plunked down $250 million for The Washington Post. His vote of confidence in the future of print and serious news was seen by some — including me — as a sign that an era of “optimism or potential” for the industry was getting underway.
Turns out, not so much — quite the opposite, really. The Washington Post seems fine, but recently, in just over a week, three of the biggest players in American newspapers — Gannett, Tribune Company and E. W. Scripps, companies built on print franchises that expanded into television — dumped those properties like yesterday’s news in a series of spinoffs.
The recent flurry of divestitures scanned as one of those movies about global warming where icebergs calve huge chunks into churning waters.
The persistent financial demands of Wall Street have trumped the informational needs of Main Street. For decades, investors wanted newspaper companies to become bigger and diversify, so they bought more newspapers and developed television divisions. Now print is too much of a drag on earnings, so media companies are dividing back up and print is

being kicked to the curb.

Media Companies Spin Off Newspapers, to Uncertain Futures – NYTimes.com.

Well, yeah, I don’t doubt much of what he says here, and American companies are far too focused on the quarterly bottom line. But they brought the problems on themselves, in large measure.

First, their product is horrendously overpriced-even the Wall Street Journal, which I grew up reading has priced itself out of what I think it to be worth, and it was always a premium product. The main problem is that the print media has become the twenty-first century version of the buggy whip–they’ve been rendered obsolete, mostly by the internet, and its various news service. Not entirely, of course, when I travel, I’ll often buy a print version of the Journal, if I don’t have wi-fi available. I’m glad it’s there but I won’t mourn when it too goes away. Progress, you know.

It also strikes me that if a paper was to provide something other than a conventional liberal slant (on the news pages) it might do better. I, and I suspect others, would spend the time to read the news, as opposed to the Democratic Party propaganda line of the day. To lend point to that, how many of us now read the online Daily Telegraph, or should I say The Torygraph, in preference to all domestic papers? Yeah, that’s what I thought. There’s that funny old term that conservative rant about, and have ever since Adam Smith wrote the book called the market.

Competition–It’s what’s for dinner

In addition, the media’s relentless pursuit of progressive education is starting to bite it on the backside, if people can’t read effectively, they’re unlikely to buy a newspaper, unless, I suppose, they need a lining for their birdcage.

And so, to use terms the NYT is familiar with, “Nothing to see here, move along”.

Creative destruction at its finest

Computer Programming in the Curriculum? K-12? Really?

flath-departmentThis is interesting, apparently starting next fall every student in Great Britain, from K through 12 will start to learn coding. I see the point, of course, but I think this may well be misguided.

There is no question that Britain like the States needs many, many people who know how to craft code, as you’ll note in one of the linked articles, coding is mostly developing into a trade, like being a practical nurse, or hitting close to home, an electrician. And that’s why I think this level of instruction is exactly wrong. You see, not everybody coding needs a CompuSci degree, that is serious overkill, in the same way that requiring an electrical engineering degree is for being an electrician.

Some classroom theory is good, I think, and lots of practical experience, which is why electricians have an apprenticeship. Yes, that also has problems that we’ve never solved, but that’s a whole other series of articles. The best electricians will collect a fair knowledge of the theory and practice of the work, but in the main, most will do what the print says, in many ways, that’s the difference between an electrician like me, who mostly works as a control technician, a heavily computerized field, and the electrician that does residential wiring.

But taking an hour a day out of every school day from kindergarten through high school wouldn’t have made me any better (or worse). It’s all about the interest. In truth, I can do the work of almost any traditional electrical engineer, I just can’t sign off on it, nor do I get paid as well. That’s fine, that was my choice.

Coding is, I think, similar, some one has to lay out the system and choose how to accomplish the mission, others, usually with quite a lot less experience can do the job, and the senior can solve problems along the way, and check out the final project. That’s how physical construction works, and building software is similar.

But the real problem with what the Brits are talking about is this. Software changes fast. So fast, that it’s likely that what you learn as a junior will be obsolete by the time you graduate. So what use is what you learned in 1st grade? That is not to say that some exposure to something in the field in the primary grades is not a good idea, it’s a trade but, it’s also a language (actually many languages). we all know that it is easier to learn languages when you are quite young, so maybe the right way to do this would be to teach something very common, that has been around for a while, say ‘C’ or HTML in about second and/ or third grade.

Then because this all comes down to ‘1’ and ‘0’; ‘yes’ and ‘no'; IF ‘A’ THEN ‘B’ and so forth, in about junior high teach a very robust course in logic. And then in high school make these types of topical courses available.

This is not a basic curriculum necessity like English, or Math, or History that all students need a good grounding in. Some will be interested and willing to do the work, many will not. And while the special pleaders will say that one cannot live a life in the twenty-first century without being able to code-that is simply nonsense. You perhaps need to be able to logically lay out a block diagram of what you need a program to tell you, like you want the exhaust fan in the bathroom to operate with the light-or to operate separately, both are fine but they are different. Susie Homemaker doesn’t necessarily have to know how to wire it, that’s the electrician’s job.

But even as an electrician, the job has changed drastically over the last twenty years, what I learned say thirty years ago is not particularly useful or valid, except for some non-obvious and forensic purposes. What I learned ten years ago for controlling industrial machinery is useful only in service work now, everything has changed in new ones.

And this happens faster and faster. Schools are bureaucratic systems, even the good ones are. if they implement this, this fall with bleeding edge programs, they will be four years behind in five years. I don’t think it can be helped. Where schools are at their best is in teaching the basics we need to function in society. You know, ‘readin’ ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmatic’ and a few more, like science, music (whose importance is much underrated), civics, basic economics, and team sports (which are also underrated).

And this, of course,

Computer Programming Is a Trade; Lets Act Like It – WSJ. [Behind the Journal's permeable paywall]

More on Computer Programming: Starting Kids Early

All Gone

At 08:15:15L on 06 August 1945, the Enola Gay, dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima, and many things changed. Strangely, other than being the first use of an atomic weapon in war, there was actually little new about it. It wasn’t the deadliest raid of the war, that likely was the Tokyo fire raid, or perhaps the joint USAAF/RAF raids on Dresden, nor was it the first time an atomic weapon went off, that was Trinity, we spoke of that the other day. It was likely the most efficient, for whatever that is worth.

What Hiroshima did (along with Nagasaki, a few days later) was shock Japan, and perhaps give the Emperor the excuse he needed to end the war. Whatever the cause, the war did end, without the invasion of Japan that was reckoned would cost one million American casualties, at least.

But the reason I mention this today is that the crew of Enola Gay is all gone now. Theodore “Dutch” van Cleef, the crew’s Navigator, died the other day, and so BGEN Tibbetts’ crew have all passed now.

All gone: The crew of the Enola Gay is debriefed in Tinian, Northern Mariana Islands after returning from their mission over Hiroshima, Japan. At foreground left, seated at the corner of the table, is Capt. Theodore Van Kirk, navigaton. He died Monday at 93 Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2710104/Last-crew-member-Enola-Gay-dies-Georgia.html#ixzz399MlAZCz Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

One of the things that I always recall about these men, who remained friends, and got together all their lives, was just how committed they were to doing it right. Tibbets reportedly, for the rest of his life, gave van Cleef grief because they dropped the bomb 15 seconds late. On a mission of thousands of miles over open, enemy held, ocean. That was how the war was won, discipline, duty, and attention to detail. We succeed in great measure according to how well we learn that lesson. We also need to learn, as they knew, that the crew is greater than the sum of its parts, as well. There are other lessons from them as well.

But for the moment let’s just remember, and commemorate the passing, of a man who helped to save millions of lives. Although I do note that he, like many others, wished we could put this particular genie, back into the bottle. I honor that as well.

Dodging Bullets

While dodging bullets is not a recommended practice, it is considered far superior to not dodging bullets. What is he talking about?, I hear. This, apparently we got lucky last month, and missed getting hit by a good sized Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). NASA seems to think that if it had happened a week earlier, it would have made a direct hit. Could be, it has before.

Back in 1859, there was the Carrington Event, a series of powerful CMEs that were powerful enough to set off telegraph instruments all over the world, even causing them to spark and set some telegraph offices on fire. It also caused the Northern Lights as far south as Tahiti. Now the thing is, in 1859 the telegraph was about as high tech as it got, and electric/electronics technology is the most susceptible to plasma events; steam locomotives don’t care, computer controlled diesel -electric ones do.

And that’s why it matters now. In 1859 we could afford to rebuild an occasional telegraph office. Now our entire world is tied up in it. Let’s think about this a bit. The backbone of the internet may, repeat may, be somewhat resistant, given that it is fiber optic, but most of us have metallic links, either telephonic, or cable to that backbone. Satellites depend, the plasma may take them apart, (I can see a couple of ways, but don’ know enough in the field).

But the biggie here is the power grid. If you are old enough, you may remember the New York Blackout in 1965. Here is a bit from Wikipedia about it

The cause of the failure was human error that happened days before the blackout. Maintenance personnel incorrectly set a protective relay on one of the transmission lines between the Niagara generating station Sir Adam Beck Station No. 2 in Queenston, Ontario. The safety relay, which was to trip if the current exceeded the capacity of the transmission line, was set too low.

As was common on a cold November evening, power for heating, lighting and cooking was pushing the electrical system to near its peak capacity. Transmission lines heading into Southern Ontario were heavily loaded. At 5:16 p.m. Eastern Time a small surge of power coming from the Robert Moses generating plant in Lewiston, New York caused the improperly set relay to trip at far below the line’s rated capacity, disabling a main power line heading into Southern Ontario. Instantly, the power that was flowing on the tripped line transferred to the other lines, causing them to become overloaded. Their protective relays, which are designed to protect the line from overload, tripped, isolating Beck Station from all of Southern Ontario.

With no place else to go, the excess power from Beck Station then switched direction and headed east over the interconnected lines into New York State, overloading them as well and isolating the power generated in the Niagara region from the rest of the interconnected grid. The Beck generators, with no outlet for their power, were automatically shut down to prevent damage. The Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant continued to generate power, which supplied Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation customers in the metropolitan areas

But the thing is the grid in 1965 was a mechanical beast, it could cascade tripping out like it did, but men had to go around and reset many of those devices, find enough power to flash generators and sundry other tasks, that’s why it took as long as it did to get everybody back on. [...]

But now, we have the super-duper computerized grid, that we can control all those protective devices from our power control centers. It is an incredible accomplishment, but nothing is perfect. I suspect that a plasma event will set up surges in these lines that will trip out overload devices, over much more territory than the northeast, because we are much more connected now. If that’s all it does, it’ll take a bit but our power will be back in a few hours or days, no big deal.

But power lines collect stray energy like nothing else, men have been killed by a lightning strike on a line a hundred miles away. What happens if that plasma event get into electronics that control the grid, or for that matter the office you work at, your house, our world really. What then? All those computers installed in your appliances are built in computer controlled factories. The food you eat comes to you on railroads and in trucks. Both are controlled by computers. So are our cars. they are all more, or less liable to damage from a surge. And a CME is the great grand-father of surges.

How long do you think it will to replace all this stuff to the level of say 1980? I’d say it will be measured in years, not months. I would also say that if you are not prepared both mentally and at least to some extent physically, you likely will not see it.

You know, we have talked about EMP attacks occasionally, this is an EMP attack on the entire world.

Or not. No one really knows.

Reflections on a Train Trip

[This was the very first post on Nebraska Energy Observer, and I doubt many have seen it. So I thought for the third anniversary of the blog, which is today, I would bring it back. I hope you enjoy it, because I still think it speaks to some important things.]

The United States Steel Company paid $385,000 toward the construction of this $1million Gothic beauty in Gary, Indiana, in the 1920s, but now the church lies in decay

The United States Steel Company paid $385,000 toward the construction of this $1million Gothic beauty in Gary, Indiana, in the 1920s, but now the church lies in decay

I recently had an opportunity to travel by train back to Nebraska from Philadelphia. As most of you who have ever traveled by train know, it gives you a fair amount of time to think about whatever crosses your mind. For some reason this trip (which I actually take roughly every year) caused me to reflect on the industrial powerhouse that was America. If you travel by train, you see a lot of industrial areas new and old.  What struck me this time was coming through Pittsburgh, northern Ohio and northwest Indiana was remembering these areas when I was a kid back in the 60’s, when it was very common still to see the black smoke and flames shoot into the air at the steel mills. These were the mills that industrialized America and made the steel that built the machines that won two World Wars and conquered a continent and fed the world.

It is commonly said that steel built the railroad industry and the railroads built the steel industry and it’s true; if one includes coal in the steel industry. What awesome plants they were, for instance, the main street of Gary, Indiana (itself named for a steel executive) ends at the main gate of US Steel Gary Works. And remember a basic element of US Steel; Carnegie Steel produced more steel than Great Britain in the 1890’s. Pittsburgh was much the same, only possibly more so. Here was the steel produced that made the railroads, which then made the largest common market in the world, and the steel for the agricultural equipment that still feeds the world, and the steel for the American automobiles and the weapons and transportation of the American military that won two World Wars  and the Cold War. Just a few weeks ago, USS (X) was dropped from the Standard and Poor’s 500 because it was no longer valuable enough.

On this trip you pass by the old Pullman Plant in Michigan City, Indiana that built railcars, mostly freight cars in this plant (the passenger cars came out of the plant in Pullman, Illinois). Now it is an outlet mall, and American passenger trains have Canadian built cars. You also pass the ruins of the Studebaker plant in South Bend as well as the old Bendix plant (this one is still operating, now owned by Robert Bosch AG).

Most of the plants are still there, many in ruins, some still operating, that gave this region the nickname of the Rust Belt. There are a lot of reasons why it is now the rust belt; without going into those reasons, it is a melancholy sight for a person that remembers these areas in full operation to see it half-shut down and falling into ruin. This may truly symbolize the greatness of America in the future, the country that provided a far better living to the average man than anybody had ever dreamed possible; and provided much of it to the entire world as well.

Has that America gone forever? I don’t know, but I doubt it. I think the individual drive to succeed still exists. The one that caused Henry Ford to remember the hard life on a 19th Century farm and create the Model T to make the farmer’s life easier, the Cyrus McCormick that made the reaper, the John Deere and Oliver that made plows so much better than had ever been dreamed of, the Andrew Carnegie that started as telegrapher on the Pennsylvania Railroad and built the largest steel company in the world (and then built Libraries all over the country, to further help the common man) or for that matter Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They all made everyone’s life easier and more fulfilling. They also got very, very rich in a society that rewarded the man who would take a planned risk with a product that worked.

Where is that flamboyant public endeavor now? I think it’s still there, but now instead of trying to emulate the successful man (or woman) we castigate them for making money. Note that I said making money, for that is what they do. Without them, going back to Paul Revere (yes, the famed horseman) who founded the Revere Copper Works to provide the copper bottom for the USS Constitution and Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin (and the interchangeable parts in the Springfield 1793 musket) we would still be a strip of dirt along the Atlantic seaboard doing little more than subsistence farming, as a bunch of upstart rebels to the rightful King.

Am I the only one able to remember the glory of the early space program, I doubt it. Recently, I saw a clip of Neal Armstrong speaking at the dedication of Purdue’s new Engineering Administration building (Armstrong Hall, of course). After all, it couldn’t be Aeronautical Engineering (That’s in Grissom Hall). (There is also a dorm called Earhart Hall as Amelia Earhart was on the faculty and Purdue provided her Lockheed Electra.) Purdue isn’t called the ‘Cradle of Astronauts’ for nothing, besides having both the first and the most recent men on the moon as alumni. We may be called Boilermakers but engineering (as life, itself) marches on. What glorious days those were for America, I recall the entire world stopping to watch Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon. We need that daring, that quest back, to me, that is the essence of America.

And, so, the eternal question, Quo Vadis, where are we going now? Will we choose to subsidize half of our population indefinitely so they don’t have to work or will we go back to our individualistic, self-reliant past.

Yes, we had wreckage along our route, lots of it. Living here in Willa Cather country you can still see how and why this country broke the weak, he sickly and the unlucky. But, you know, it was a fairly small percentage and what a country they bought with their lives and courage and blood and toil and tears and sweat.

We must never forget that we; the whites, the Hispanics, the Native Americans, and the blacks, and even the Chinese, all were here and had a hand in the epic that is America. We are the descendants of the people who one way or another had the courage to come here and build lives and fortunes and hold on to that sacred honor that Jefferson spoke of. You know, all my life I’ve heard that mutts are the best dogs; I guess it true of nations too, If you can’t find a descendant of any nationality on Earth that is an American, you are not trying very hard!

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