Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Best referee slam ever..... least since the eye exam one where the zebra is told "Well, actually, that's an E, but we'll let you work."

Speaking as a quality engineer, the troubles that the NFL has been having with their replacement referees demonstrate a clear principle; there are a limited number of people capable of making football play calls reasonably accurately, and if they want to preserve some plausible integrity in their sport (that hasn't already been trashed by steroids, player arrests, and such), they seriously need to talk with the umpires' union.

This'll work well in the coming Shari'a state!

Madonna has apparently (a) called President Obama a black Muslim and (b) said that she'll strip onstage if he wins a second term.  OK, if the beer-drinking pork-eater-in-Chief is indeed Muslim (call me skeptical), even of the "Black Muslim" variety, what exactly does Ms. Ciccione expect to happen if (God forbid) she gets a chance to do what she promises to do?

My hunch is that her awareness of Islam and Shari'a law is right up there with her awareness that she's 54.  That said, this is yet another great reason to vote for Romney.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

This didn't take as long as I thought it would

The UK Telegraph reports that, as part of a proposed law changing the definition of marriage to include homosexual couples, the nation of France is proposing to eliminate all references to "mother" or "father" in official documents.

Now note that in an earlier post, I commented that re-defining marriage to include homosexual couples would tend to obscure the very premiss upon which family law is based; that the ordinary processes of heterosexual love (or lust in many cases, I guess) tend to produce the vulnerable classes called "mothers" and "children."  Now if this law goes through in France, French law will no longer recognize the biological fact that mothers are uniquely vulnerable in a way that the fathers of their children are not, and that's not good news for either mothers or their children.

Now of course I'm not hoping for disaster here, in France, or anywhere else, but it does demonstrate the reality that when you forget what a tool is for, you will tend to act as if you've forgotten what the tool is for.

The U.N. in action

Mahmoud Achmadinutjob, on Yom Kippur no less, channeling his inner Austrian corporal at the U.N.  And somehow many people think we should trust his word and negotiate "peace in our time."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bad news on electronic medical records

According to experts in the field cited by Powerline, they are not yet at a point where they are intuitive to doctors to the point where they can be relied upon.  So for starters, let's repeat what we should have known already; you, and those who care for you, are the best patient advocates you've got.  Not your medical provider's records.

Moreover, as someone who has used databases like those they're trying to develop for a while, suffice it to say that it's just plain hard to get good data out of a database for a simple thing like a build of parts.  Now imagine that the database needs to cover the family medicine doctor, the cardiologist, an oncologist or two, and half a dozen other doctors.

How to remedy the situation?  Well, one would start with a little bit of what's called poka-yoke, or "error proofing".  You swipe the patient's card before weighing the patient to make sure the wrong weight isn't entered.  You put the blood pressure monitor into a USB port to automatically download that, and so on.

But even so, a toe can slip onto the scale, a cuff can malfunction, and a drug name can be misspelled.  And so we are left with a difficult fact; it's hard to do better than to keep your medical records for yourself, or have someone you love who is able to speak for you.  Speaking from experience, speaking up can result in getting rid of a couple of intestinal polyps, and that in a healthcare system whose founder basically invented the modern medical chart.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Keep your head down"

It is almost a proverb in sinking companies, that the way to survive is to quietly do one's job and "keep one's head down."  That said, is it wise?  If you keep your head down, you end up possibly keeping your job with a sinking company (yay for pathetically small raises!), but your resume shows nothing for it.  At worst, you lose your job anyways--which is the likely outcome for a business with the "siege mentality" to begin with.

If, on the other hand, you "keep your head up," you do risk losing your job as managers look for people to blame, but you also--to use the analogy--have the opportunity to find and destroy those business "machine gun nests" that are plaguing your company, and whether or not you succeed, it looks good on your resume.

Plus, in most countries, the worst thing that can happen is to lose one's job, as running actual machine gun nests to remove problematic employees is not quite legal.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On the embassy attacks.....

Apart from the fact that Libyan sources do agree that attacks on our embassy and personnel there were premeditated, it occurs to me that the attackers knew that the facility was relatively unguarded, might have been aware that the ambassador was clearly on the side of political reformers in Libya, and they just happened to come together on September 11 in force, including bombs.

Yup, sounds like random rioting to me. Don't we all happen to get enraged at the same time that has political and cultural significance, find several hundred others who are simultaneously angry about the exact same thing and bringing guns and bombs, and we all have the idea to attack and kill someone who opposes our ideology but has nothing to do with the supposed provocation?

It would seem that no one in Foggy Bottom appears to understand the use of logic.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Insane trade policies

Apparently, President Obama is suing in the World Trade Court because the People's Republic of China is said to be subsidizing auto parts sold in the United States--to the tune of about one billion dollars annually.  Now, I'm guessing here that the subsidies aren't simple payments to parts makers "here, sell it in Iowa and we'll chip in a hundred grand", but are rather fairly complicated tax provisions that took a few good accountants fluent in Mandarin a few months to decipher.

Whether that's true or not, let's take a look at the numbers.  Given that hundreds of billions of dollars worth of automobiles are sold each year in this country, and that the over hundred million vehicles on the road need a lot of parts to keep them going, I'm guessing that the 10% market share held by Chinese vendors is tens of billions of dollars. The subsidy is really less than 5% of the wholesale value, more or less, and we're risking a trade war because the Chinese government apparently wishes to help us pay for our auto parts.

Now if we had a sane tax and trade policy, we would realize that no government, no matter how stupid or generous to us, can go on subsidizing exports indefinitely, and therefore our best course of action is simply to tax trade according to what it costs us to keep sea lanes open (Navy, Coast Guard, and border control costs) while dropping income taxes accordingly.  Good luck getting anywhere with either party with what the Founding Fathers would have told us, though.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Real men wear pink....

Earlier this summer, I noticed that (a) I did not have very many short sleeved shirts for a hot summer and (b) that in the past, shirts and coats for summer use were of linen--that material being apparently just as cool or cooler than cotton.  At the same time, my wife and I agreed that most of the shirts I was wearing tended to have a lump form in the fabric behind my neck (my shoulders are squarer than most men's) and come untucked when I lift up my arms.

And so it was tempting to try the classic art of draping--more or less starting with a "yoke" of cloth, fitting it to the shoulders and marking the highest point thereof, and then proceeding to build the rest of the shirt around that yoke.  It took a while, and quite a bit of "rework," but the below is our first completed product.  It's not perfect--we need to refine the collar a bit--but it doesn't have the hump behind the neck, and it doesn't come untucked when I raise my arms. 

If you, or someone you love, is hard to fit and you've got a knack for sewing (or would like to develop one), we can heartily recommend this book by David Coffin.  Oh, and here's the picture:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Let's be fair to the Volt

A study finds that GM loses an estimated $49,000 per Volt, almost enough to buy a new Suburban for each Volt purchaser.  GM's response is only that the study doesn't allocate the development cost--an estimated $1.2 billion--over the full life of the design.  Let's figure out what the real costs will be.

OK, let's amortize the costs over, say, five years--a typical time between model updates.  We have a development cost of $1.2 billion, sales of about 15,000 annually (26,000 have been sold so far), and GM is currently paying about 6.5% on long term bonds needed to pay for this. Right? Right.  Each year, to pay off R&D costs, GM's first $300 million in revenues from the Volt must be devoted to this, or we will say it is a subsidy from....let's be fair, the taxpayer.

OK, year one, about 12,000 sold, so the R&D cost per vehicle would be about $25,000.  This year, maybe 20,000 will be sold, so the R&D cost per vehicle is about $15,000.  Overall, the company would need to recover $600 million in R&D and interest costs, so for about 32,000 vehicles, the R&D loss would be around $18,000 per vehicle.  Increase sales to the suggested 50,000 units per year, and the R&D cost lost is about $6000 per vehicle--count me skeptical on this one.

Next up is the BOM loss, and I don't think we'll be getting any precise information on this.  Suffice it to say that the estimated cost to replace the batteries with a Prius is getting into four figures, and then you've got a motor for a few thousand dollars as well.  I would have to guess that the BOM and assembly cost for the "Cobalt priced like a Bimmer" is about, or is somewhat higher than, the $40,000 sticker price.

Which is a long way of noting that my best guess about the loss GM the taxpayer is taking on this boondoggle is not quite $49,000, but is rather more in the range of about $25,000--the R&D cost not recovered plus the $7500 federal tax credit.  So in order to get a Volt in the hands of a driver, the taxpayer pays the equivalent amount for a well equipped Malibu.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Another great success of the federal student loan program

H/T Mr. D.   According to the New York Times, one in six people with a federal student loan to pay off is in default, meaning that they are at least a year behind on their payments.  It's exactly what you would expect if you were handing out student loans to students with no regard to whether they're qualified for the college of their choice, and with no regard to whether their proposed course of study gives them a reasonable chance at paying off the loans.

Which, of course, is exactly the case.  And in doing this, the federal government is doing exactly what any other loan shark would do--keep the record of the loan until death, ruin their credit, and so on.  It's a good business for the debt collectors, and a near violation of the 13th Amendment, but if we want to help students, maybe it's time to terminate the federal student loan program and let students face a real banker who will ask the relevant question:

Bob, your SAT scores are 150 below the average for the college you'd like to attend, and you're wanting to spend about $200,000 to get a degree in gender and ethnic studies.  What makes you think that you will be able to repay this loan?  

It sounds cold, but it's hardly as cold as allowing the federal loan sharks to have their way with vulnerable young people.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Best Thing to come out of Minnesota!

Yes, it's the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota.  Some neat things about the area;

1.  The SPAM Museum is only about a mile from the Hormel Institute for medical research.  I resisted the urge to go in and ask whether it was intended to deal with the effects of eating too much fatty pork!

2.  It's actually a fairly interesting summary of the history of the Hormel company as it changed from a small butcher of hogs into one of the world's largest meatpackers.

3.  My favorite advertisement is where the man of the house notes that a bowl of "Dinty Moore Beef Stew" was the best meal he'd had in ages.  If I said that to my wife, she'd still be crying, and I'd be learning how to make Tima let me use her doghouse.

4.  I was actually pretty sad to see the change of Hormel from maker of exquisite sausages and bacons to mass market purveyor of potted meat.

5.  The current product offerings pay some homage to the past, but the plethora of flavors of "SPAM" suggest that more and more, people don't know how to use a cookbook or spices.

6.  The videos of the plant in action are thoroughly depressing--the world has scarcely seen that much gray since Lee marched into Pennsylvania.

All in all, worth a visit (admission is free), but depressing in a way as it also shows some thoroughly depressing changes in our diets and lifestyles since 1937.  At least it's depressing until the last exhibit, which is a mock-up of the Viking cafe from Monty Python.

Wait, one thing was sadly missing.  Here we go:

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Why government bailouts go wrong

Michelle Malkin has a great piece today regarding the failure of the Obama bailout of General Motors and Chrysler the UAW.   Profits are falling, stock prices are falling, U.S. and European market share is plunging, and Forbes is arguing ( H/T ColdFusionGuy) that the upcoming Chevrolet Malibu is evidence that "The General" is losing its touch.  Along the same lines, it's worth noting that the government's loss on the bailout--about $20-25 billion currently--is about the same amount as the UAW received from the bailout arrangement.

Now, President Obama's stated goal here was to "stand on the side of the American worker," but if signs are right, what he's administered is not a hand up to hourly workers, but rather a kick to their collective crotch.  How so?

The reasons are basically twofold. First, paying off the UAW keeps the $2000/vehicle "UAW Tax" of pensions, wages, and benefits in place.  For a comparable vehicle, GM's profits will be $2000/vehicle leaner than those of Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagen.  Not a good situation, especially when you remember that product development funds come out of those same gross profits!

Worse yet, paying off the UAW tells every salaried employee and investor--engineers, stockholders, managers, bondholders, and so on--that they will play second fiddle to the UAW as long as they work for GM or Chrysler.  If you thought "That'll get some of 'em to Marysville and Georgetown!", go to the head of the class. 

In short, paying off the UAW ensures a lower quality effort in product development--lower quality for which the UAW will pay dearly in the not too distant future.

The problem gets worse, however, when we consider how keen the minority stockholder--our government--is to spend billions on niche vehicles like the $40,000 Cobalt, known otherwise as the "Volt."  If you thought "Hmmmm....wonder if that money could have been well used for a state of the art DOHC 4 cylinder for the Malibu?", again, go to the head of the class.

In a nutshell, Obama fails to grasp the fact that job security for hourly workers starts with having a first class product to manufacture, and that therefore you cannot pick "hourly workers" as the winner over "salaried workers and capitalist pigs" without simultaneously endangering the livelihoods of those very hourly workers you've just tried to help.

Or, put differently, government bailouts go wrong because they are an application of Marx's theories of class warfare.  23 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, can't we put Marx's theories to rest?

Monday, September 03, 2012

Let's be Pollyanna

Dear sister Elspeth's earlier post on this got me to thinking, and now--having just read the book--I've finally got some thoughts to add.  The term "Pollyanna" is used, regrettably, to describe someone whose optimism goes beyond all bounds into the territory of self-deception, much like listening to politicians talk about the results of their policies.

However, the book does not venture into such depths of self-deception, but rather presents Pollyanna as a little girl whose troubles are very real, to the point of tears, but who takes Romans 8:28 seriously.  She knows that, even as an orphan in the house of an aunt that knows duty but not love, all things truly do work out for good for those who love Him.  Should we not be like Pollyanna?

Pollyanna also wonders about many things, like how people can avoid a person they love for decades, and how the Ladies' Aid can care about boys in India, but not about little Jimmy Bean.  She realizes--scathingly--that too much of the action in social and church clubs of the time is not about real charity, but rather about looking good. 

It's worth noting here that part of the undercurrent is the transition between orthodox Christian theology--what today would be called "fundamentalism", "conservative evangelicalism", or possibly "conservative Lutheranism"--and the liberal theology that characterizes most mainline churches of today.  So Rev. Ford is caught, more or less, in the tension between the statements of faith he learned as a child and the higher criticism he learned in seminary and in letters from his bishops.

The end result is a dying, loveless church, and the solution is Pollyanna's reminder to the pastor that Scripture calls us to gladness and rejoicing.  It is a worthy reminder to the church of today, where all too often, we have our own standing that can interfere with what should be a Pollyanna-ish application of the Gospel.

Let's rejoice and be glad, for our Father's sake. 

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Democratic "logic"

Or, to be fair, liberal logic or "Chris Matthews logic."   The gem in question?  Apparently it's now racist to refer to political corruption in the Windy City.  So if you point out ballot box stuffing by Richard Daley's cronies, Rod Blagojevich's attempt to sell a Senate seat, or Rahm Emanuel's bizaare claim that he was a Chicago resident despite maintaining no residence in the city, you are a racist, despite the fact that the people you just criticized happen to be white.

Seems to me that if Mr. Obama really wants to bring about racial healing, he'll call out Mr. Matthews on such absurdity.  I'll be waiting, but not holding my breath.

H/T Mr. D.

Farmer's market victory!

Well, sort of.  We took six loaves of bread, brownies, and cookies to the farmers' market, and sold out all the bread and some of the cookies.  The brownies--perhaps the best bit of the whole lot--not so much.  But don't worry; they won't go to waste, though they will go to waist. Or, already have.  Monetary damages: about $9 in supplies, $16 in revenue, and then we spent about $20 on other cool things at the market.

If you'd like to try your hand at raising vegetables, making baked goods, and making garments (doll clothes, little kids' clothes, etc..), and don't have the capital to open up a storefront, I highly recommend going to the farmers' market and trying your hand.  You probably won't get rich, but you'll get an idea of whether people think as much of your product as you do, and you'll get valuable small business experience.  So go, bring a folding chair and sunscreen, get some funds to make change for those who will be paying with a $20 for your $1.50 baguette, and be sure to greet those who glance your way.  It will be a good time!