OF MG, and Lotus, and Jaguar, and Chevy and Dodge

1953_mg_td-pic-7992610729001336577I don’t know how many of you became fans of Top Gear, the UK version, I never really got into the US version. The UK version could perhaps be best described as ‘quirky’. In truth, it was a good bit like a bunch of drunken teenagers playing with their dad’s quarter of a million dollar cars on TV.

Yes, there was some real information conveyed but mostly it was about how fast you can wear out a set of tires. That’s fine, I remember those days fondly, myself, and in many ways that’s what it was about.

The lead presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, whom I gather had much to do with reinventing the show as a ‘bloke show’ as I described above, actually is a fairly intelligent guys, and a British patriot as well. He has a show out about what happened to the British car industry and it’s pretty good.

Like most guys my age, I grew up loving cars, especially those ones with names like Charger, GTO, Cutlass, Camaro, or pretty much anything with a bowtie combined with the letters SS. It was a good world, cars were reasonably priced, and gasoline was about a quarter a gallon. Then the EPA and Arabs showed up and the party ended, and much else besides. When the exhaust recommendation made almost all cars pretty much into boxes as exciting as mom’s washing machine, most of us went to trucks, and that is about the only reason that the US makers survived. Nobody else in the world seems to be able to make a proper pick-up, only Toyota even came close.

But Britain was different. My first encounter with a British car was an MG TC (or maybe TD) when I was in college. It was slow, rough riding, ridiculously small, colder than a witch’s body part encased in brass, completely unreliable, and leaked like a sieve. You know, something else, I loved that fool thing, if dad would have let me, I’d have bought one myself. The thing is, the one I drove, it belonged to a friend, was about a 1960 model, of a pre-war car, and very few changes had been made. It got its start here when some of them came home with our soldiers, next best thing to a British bride, I think. :)

Then somebody showed up with a Lotus, it was all of the above, except slow. My biggest trouble with it was, in fact, that at 20 years old or so, I could just about, almost, get into the fool thing. The one that was around was bright yellow. We called it ‘arrest me yellow’, in fact, and the car was nicknamed the Screaming Yellow Zonker, and it was very apt.

Then like us all, I went to work and mostly drove Chevys and Dodges, and maybe an occasional Buick. They weren’t bad, really, for appliances, but nobody ever called a LeSabre a screaming yellow zonker.

Our nanny state pretty much made it too expensive for almost any interesting car to be sold here, and if it was, it was so compromised by regulation, that it wasn’t worth it anyway, that’s why we got aberrations like Mustang IIs, there wasn’t anything even close to reasonable.

Apparently Britain was a bit smarter, which wouldn’t have been hard, because all those interesting cars kept getting built and sold. Not all were British; Renault, Fiat, Ferrari and such kept on, you just hardly ever saw them in the US. We got what GM wanted, and we the customers were increasingly irrelevant.

In any case, the Brits had/have trouble with the auto industry as well, and Clarkson does, I think a fair job at describing what its problems were that pretty much killed it. It’s still unfolding here, but our auto industry (and many others as well) are following the same path, so this is kind of a prophecy of what the future will bring here as well, if we don’t change our ways.

Enjoy the video, in any case.

The ‘Good’ Old Days, or Were They?

plow1930sWe often talk here about ‘The Good Old Days’ but you know, for those of us who have been around a few years, we often look back through our rose tinted rear view mirrors. In many ways, things are much better than they ever have been.

I’m an electrician, mostly. I can hold my own in a few other trades, mostly those that serve farmers, what we usually call millwrights. These are the guys that put together the grain (and occasionally livestock) handling equipment used in agriculture today. It’s come a long way in my lifetime, from storing ear corn in a crib to dumping wet corn in a pit and automatically storing (and maintaining) corn at about 14% moisture until the market is right.

It’s always good to talk about farming because for almost all of us, our ancestor’s were farmers, some here and some like mine in other countries (Norway, in my case). But my family came here in the late nineteenth century and got in on a small scale bit of the Bonanza farms up in northwest Minnesota and eastern North Dakota. That land, the old bed of lake Agassiz) was so flat that you could see a water tower about forty miles away.

This came up because I ran across a post (actually a series) from Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom, where she talks about the changes in farming. The link above takes you to the series from her label #TBT for Throwback Thursday, I think. The articles are all excellent, and will explain a lot about how our farmers feed the world, and how it has changed.

The article I want to highlight today is called The Changing Face of Farming, and like reading Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, it will give you good insight on why and how specialization occurs.

So learn and enjoy, I think you should subscribe yourself but don’t be surprised if I feature her here every once in a while as well!

200 years ago my family was farming, but the farm looked much different from our family farm today.

Chickens scoured the yards and fields for something to eat and when a chicken was needed for dinner one was butchered.

A milk cow grazed the pasture during the day and was milked both morning and night to provide milk and butter for the family.

Pigs wallowed in mud outside the barn and provided pork, bacon and lard to cook with.

My great-great grandfather worked in the fields of Illinois raising crops to feed and sell to make a living for his family.

My ancestors did their own banking…in a mason jar in the back yard.

They did their own milling of their wheat and oats for flour on the table.

They did their own taxes, made their own clothes, probably built their own house,

Over the years our family farm has evolved.  In the early 1900’s my family moved to Kansas.  Somewhere along the line someone decided they were tired of milking a cow two times every day and that one of my farm mom’s before me could buy the milk and probably it was delivered to their doorstep. 

Chickens are not found on our farm today.  The coyotes and raccoons really like the taste of them.  I am guessing my ancestors also found it hard to keep a small flock of chickens.  Neighbors could raise bigger groups in open barns even back in the 1950’s.  The butchering process is often messy (I have heard and not witnessed).  It was easier to have the neighbor with all the right equipment take care of that job, so time could be freed up to go to the lake.

My family from my great grandfather to my father all raised pigs outside on dirt and in the weather.  Pigs were never my favorite.  I remember watching my dad’s fingernail grow back oh so slowly after a pig bit it off.  It is much easier to go to the store to buy the cuts of pork I do wish to eat when I want pork.

My farmer ancestors before me probably did their own taxes.  Today, things are so complicated that I am thankful for an accountant to take care of those matters for me.

My grandmothers made most of the clothes my mom and aunts wore growing up.  I have a quilt that used the scraps of those dresses and I used to love it when they would sit around and point at the patches telling me whose dress that was and how old they remember they were when they wore it.  I am guessing that your family history is much the same.  You may have to go back a few more generations than I did, but at one point in your family’s history it is highly likely that your family had a farmer.

Farms today did not become bigger overnight.  It has been an evolution since the beginning of farming.  Michael is better at growing pigs than Raymond.  Raymond doesn’t like growing pigs so sells the family farm and moves to town.  Michael raises a few more pigs to make up for the ones that Raymond no longer grows.  Raymond follows his dream of being an accountant.

Keep reading The Changing Face of Farming, and do follow the other link and subscribe. It’s good stuff.

Amtrak, Frankford Jct, and the Laws of Physics

Amtrak Train 188 carrying 238 passengers and five crew derailed late Tuesday night, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The train was traveling 106mph when it entered a 50 mph curve at Frankford Junction, the NTSB said.

Amtrak Train 188 carrying 238 passengers and five crew derailed late Tuesday night, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The train was traveling 106mph when it entered a 50 mph curve at Frankford Junction, the NTSB said.

Well, I guess we know enough that we can talk a bit about the Amtrak wreck in Philadelphia. I note that lack of knowledge hasn’t really stopped anyone else, who seem to mostly be special pleaders for increased Amtrak funding. Well, guess what? I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Amtrak. I tend to take it east about once a year. But that’s a planned trip, and I have the time, and I enjoy the relaxed pace. If I have to go any other time, or on a schedule, well, I fly like everyone else.

Here’s the thing, in the northeast corridor, given it clientele, which is business travelers, going downtown to downtown, there is absolutely no reason Amtrak can’t make a profit. It’s basic fare should be based on flying between Washington, New York, and Boston, including surface travel from the airport to downtown on both ends, because that is the service it provides. Last time I looked it was slightly cheaper than the bare airfare between those points, therefore it is enjoying an unfair advantage in its fare structure. I’d bet that if you’re going downtown in those cities, it’s also faster, especially the Acela service, so it should command a premium price.

Understand rail service has costs that others don’t. Nobody who can add two plus two really thinks that gasoline taxes fund all the road building and repair that we do, they likely collect enough but far too much gets siphoned off. Neither does air travel pay for all the infrastructure involved. Railroads are expected to maintain their own rights-of-way and that’s not overly fair until the other modes do as well. But, I personally, am not willing to talk about increased subsidies in the corridor, until they are willing. to charge a fair price for the service they provide. Do that for a couple of years, and then we’ll see.

That’s the corridor. I see no reason at all, except perhaps an unwillingness to anger its supporters amongst the elite for Amtrak not to make a profit in the corridor. That’s a political decision, and a poor one, in my mind, if you can make a profit, well, why not?

Outside the corridor, it’s an entirely different ball game. Like I said, I enjoy taking the train but, it’s neither efficient, nor cheap, nor convenient. Out here, I drive almost as far to get the train as I do to get on a plane (also subsidized) and once I do, it will take me about 36 hours to arrive, if it stays on time.

Frankly the diner sucks, it’s better than the airlines, which is not much of an accomplishment but, not as good as say Perkins. Back in the day, eating in the diner was a fine dining experience, I doubt I’m the only one who had his first really good food on the train, so it can be done but its not being done, probably because it’s not demanded. The cafe car/lounge car/snack car really sucks, unless you have a liking for microwaved frozen pizza to go with a six dollar can of Budweiser.

The thing is, a bank of vending machines would be as good, with a couple of microwaves, there must be a vending machine that can read an ID for controlling sales of beer and such, instead of paying somebody (and to be honest they are nice somebodies, I’ve yet to meet one I didn’t like) around $40/hour to send that car.

That’s true incidentally for all the train service people, I’ve absolutely nothing bad to say about them, nice people doing their best. But long distance train travel in a country this big just doesn’t make economic sense, it perhaps did, when we shipped the mail this way (mail service was better then too, by the way) but without that, it can’t possibly make money, it hasn’t since about 1900 in fact, and the railroad tried hard for most of the twentieth century..

But by comparison, even out here on the prairie, I’m nearly as close to an airport (the time of day is more convenient as well) and my trip takes about six hours, and that mostly because I have to change planes in Denver, and yes, it also costs less. Quite a lot less, in fact. And so, as much as I enjoy taking the train, I’m considering giving up and flying as well.

This particular wreck increasingly looks like it was simply a case of the engineer speeding, something like 107 mph in a 50 mile curve, that would make it completely analogous with the wreck of the Lake Shore Limited on the New York Central on Gulf Curve in Little Falls, New York back on 19 April 1940. You just can’t break the laws of physics, and when you try, people tend to get hurt and die.

You just can’t fix stupid, not even with tax money.

Taylorism, or “My Steam Engine is Broken”

English: Frederick Winslow Taylor lived from 1...

English: Frederick Winslow Taylor lived from 1856 to 1915 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Business and Industry in this country is screwed up, I suspect you’ve noticed that. There a fair number of reasons for that. One of the big ones is that the regulatory agencies are completely out of control.

In my field, industrial electrics, there are procedures that are all but essential to troubleshooting but one can no longer use them because you cannot comply with OSHA rules and implement them. So, we all, even the best of us, have to grope around in the dark, almost randomly changing parts based on our experience, and hoping we get lucky. Eventually. we do, but it’s often slow and frustrating because we know there are better ways. That’s one way.

Another is that the lawyers and the accountants have taken over, and so we are restricted to doing things that will reflect on the monthly or quarterly (at most) bottom line. You don’t build a great company by making a profit in this quarter and the devil take the next, we’ll worry about that, then. You build a great company by doing thing the right way at the right time, not patching things together to get through the day. And with the lawyers so deeply involved, anything approaching honesty, or even admitting you might have made a mistake, will cost you your job, and likely your career.

It’s rather like letting the umpires and scoreboard operators run baseball, regardless of the owner, players, and spectators. It just doesn’t (and can’t) work very well.

Then there is management philosophy. If you’ve ever worked for an old-line manufacturing corporation, you likely noticed the sign over front gate, the one that said:

Thinking is neither allowed nor encouraged

Do as you’re told!!

Yeah, me too. frustrating wasn’t it? In large measure, it comes from what is called Taylorism, and there is another book that is on my wish list about it. In truth, if you are building 50,000 widgets, just alike, it works fairly well. It would be wiser to automate the whole line, and use your people for better purposes, though. Here’s a piece of the write up:

In the early 1900s, the US was swept up with a drive for improved ‘efficiency’ in every field of endeavor; a drive that was sufficiently significant to earn its own title, the Efficiency Movement. This movement is seen today as a part of the wider Progressive Era – the early twentieth-century drive to clean up corruption in politics, break up industrial monopolies and generally to allow the cleansing waters of modernism to flow through the mucky stables of late nineteenth-century American civic life.

Unfortunately, some aspects of the Efficiency Movement – particularly Frederick Winslow Taylor’s ideas about Scientific Management, often referred to as Taylorism – are still lodged in the modern corporation’s subconscious. These industrial-era, managerial behaviors are still affecting corporate behavior today – in ways that are entirely inappropriate to the knowledge economy.

Continue reading History News Network | The Mantra of the Industrial Revolution that’s Hobbling the Knowledge Economy.

Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that only thinking people can do work to my standards, and so that is part of my selection process, even above credentials. What I do is tell my supervisors what needs to be done, who they have to help them, what material they have, and when it needs to be done, and let them run. They can, of course, talk to me if they need to, but it’s their mission to get it done, safely, on time and on budget. Their career depends on it, and I’m not particularly interested in excuses.

In other words, I think the employee’s brain is at least as important as his back, but I’m kind of lonely sometimes.

Obesity and Orwell

English: Picture of George Orwell which appear...

English: Picture of George Orwell which appears in an old acreditation for the BNUJ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reality check time here!

Last week I mentioned a widely reported article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine which claimed that ‘physical activity does not promote weight loss’. The article was taken down by the journal last week due to ‘an expression of concern’. It remains offline as I write this, but the controversy rumbles on. At the risk of further upsetting the low-carb community (who seem particularly antagonistic to the doctrine of ‘calories in, calories out’), I am returning to it today.

Let’s start by looking at a series of blog posts by Jason Fung of Intensive Diet Management that have been doing the rounds on social media. He, too, argues that ‘there is no measurable association between obesity and physical activity’. In his first post, he argues that people are exercising more than ever and yet are becoming fatter and fatter. The positive correlation between obesity and exercise, he says, shows that physical activity really doesn’t make much of a difference.

OK, we’re exercising more than we ever did, huh? When? During the commercial breaks on that long walk the fridge to get another beer?

Look, don’t get me wrong, I love our modern devices with all of their advantages, but I know I don’t get the exercise even my father did, let alone his grandfather.

A quick example, after he retired, Dad decided he needed a bit more exercise and the electric bill was too high, so he decided to heat his 1800 sq ft house with wood, using his Heatilator fireplace. he found that in a normal winter, he would burn about a half to three-quarters of a cord per week, about an eight-foot pickup bed, level full, per week. Given his woodland, that’s about two trees, that he felled cut up, split by hand, and hauled to the house, every week.

No, he never went to the gym. :) But I’ll tell you something else, he was forty years older than me, and I played football, and he could easily outwork me, and that’s before he retired to do physical work, instead of being in the office. And do it irregardless of the weather.

Yep, it made me feel like a wimp, but you know something,? Now I’m the age he was then, and the same thing is true, there are very few 25-year-olds that can keep up to me, and I mostly sit on my butt, running a computer, and have for years.

That’s something I’m proud of but, likely not in the way you think. It means that my generation, like my dad’s and like most (at least since the founding of the Republic) have made the life of our fellow countrymen better, or at least easier. And that really is something to be proud of. It takes less of your money (proportionately) and/or physical effort to house, feed, and clothe your family than it ever has.

I know that’s true when I look around one of our job sites today, the tools we use every day, would have turned my dad green with envy, let alone his dad. Yes, my family has been doing electrical work since Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse were active in the field, long before Fein invented the portable drill motor.

That’s true in nearly every field, but most of our ancestors were farmers, and it is especially true there. The guys that were instrumental in getting electricity on the farms of America thought that the single addition of the fractional horsepower electric motor was worth more than one man per farm, and that has nothing to do with the locomotive tractor, or all the other things, including the personal computer.

It simply revolutionized farming, in the same way, that steam power revolutionized industry, and transportation.

The article I linked below also says this:

In his 1946 essay, The Politics of Starvation, George Orwell noted that the average Briton was eating ‘about 2,800 or 2,900 calories a day’ despite rationing and a shortage of food that was on the verge of leading to civil unrest. This would be enough to fatten up most Britons today, which is why we are advised to eat just 2,000-2,500 calories a day.

This was not journalistic licence on Orwell’s part. Two years later, the British Medical Journal published a study which found that the average Briton lost weight if he consumed fewer than 2,900 calories. Unless you believe that human metabolism has evolved dramatically in the last 70 years, the only explanation for our grandparents eating more yet staying slimmer is that they burned more energy in their daily lives.

Why are we getting fat while exercising so much? Try reading George Orwell – Spectator Blogs.

To which I say, Yup!” For me, now, even 2000 calories is pushing it, I try to stay about 1500, or over time I start to gain weight. But I, like most of u,s miss that 2-pound T-bone and the big baked potato, and dessert, and a six-pack of beer.

So, again like most of us, I cheat but, perhaps unlike most of us, I realize I will have to either work it off or not eat so much for a time to even it out.

We never had it so good

and we haven’t learned to live with it yet.

EU Preps for War Against the Internet: Decides to Lose Again

AAEAAQAAAAAAAANYAAAAJGU4MmZmYjg2LTg5NjQtNDFiNS04MWRkLTcwZmMyNmY0M2RkMAWell, this is interesting, although not very surprising, really. Does anybody really think that Europe (especially Germany and France) can compete with the US on a level playing field? No, me neither. The UK, maybe, but nobody else has a chance, and if good sense ever breaks out in the ruling clique in Britain (or they lose the election) they’ll likely get with the program and with their friends and run away from Europe, again.

I say that because I’ve noticed something. If you look at European technical prowess, especially innovation, in anything from civil engineering to the internet, you’ll find the British leading, and everybody else following, while they whine about ‘the Anglo-Saxons’.

They’re right, as well. The American Interest noted today that the EU wants to regulate Google et. al., much more than they do.

THE EU VS SILICON VALLEY

EU Preps for War Against the Internet

EU Preps for War Against the Internet – The American Interest.

As an aside, I’m no huge fan of Google, I think they’re more than a bit intrusive, and I’m not overfond of their data mining and selling my information to all and sundry. But you know what, I use Google products because they work, I don’t have to. There are other providers, just as I no longer use Microsoft products. But it’s remarkable that a company that started in an American garage a few years ago has all Europe scared of them :)

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned but I hope they do. Why? because if they do, the US will simply increase our lead over the hidebound, over-regulated Europeans, while the best Europeans will again come to America where they can innovate much more freely than they can at home. (And make us still richer, and more innovative!)

Funny thing, isn’t it? We’ve built this powerhouse of a country (not that we don’t have plenty of problems, ourselves) on the freedom to try new things and see if you can make a living with them. We’ve done this since about 1650,nd we have built the most powerful economy in the world, and protect it with the most dominant military the world has ever seen with our pocket change. We’ve done this by letting people try and fail, and try and fail, and finally try and succeed.

It’s a hard model. It’s follows from that old saying about the Oregon Trail, “The weak never started and the sick died along the way,” But, you know, there was nearly always someone around to feed the hungry and nurse the sick, and the dead got a decent burial. And the ones that made it, built a world that their grandfathers couldn’t have imagined, where one of the consequences of being poor is being too fat, because you eat too much while playing video games.

I don’t condone such a lifestyle but I’m in awe at a system that can take a world that nearly starved for billions of years and in a few generations make that happen.

And that is what America has done, with some British help (and gold) and with the people who were stifled by Europe. It’s a logarithmic curve, if you haven’t noticed, constantly accelerating, if we keep going there is no way to know where we’ll be in twenty-five years, let alone a hundred.

Carroll Bryant once said:

Some people make things happen.

Some people watch things happen.

And then there are those who wonder, ‘What the hell just happened?”

I know where I want to be. How about you?

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