Archive for April, 2005


April 27, 2005

Just got in from doing a little work at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. While I was at the base, the First Fighter Wing did a “Heritage Flight.” A Heritage Flight features several airplanes from a Wing or Squadron’s history flying together for photographers and/or spectators.

In this case, I was treated to the greatest fighters from the first and second halves of the Twentieth Century flying in close formation with the reigning greatest fighter of the Twenty-First Century. Cool stuff.

If you missed it, they’ll do the same flight again at the Langley Air Show in a few weeks. Catch ’em if you can.

UPDATE: Don’t say I never post anything cool for you guys:

flyby (2).jpg



April 25, 2005

The redoubtable Lileks had a run-in with a BestBuy drone over the weekend:

At the checkout counter the clerk asked for my phone number. “Why?” I said. I hate this new wrinkle. I just hate it. I hate the fact that I can’t buy a frickin’ candy bar without a procedure that rivals a mortgage application. I’m always interested in the rationale they give.

“We need the phone number before we can let the merchandise leave the store,” the clerk said. Practiced response, right out of the employee handbook.

My reaction to this kind of thing is a firm, and not-always-polite “No,” repeated as necessary when the clerk gives me a ‘you-can’t-do-that’ look. I refuse flatly to give any personal information to any store that doesn’t need it–i.e., if they’re delivering something to me, fine, you can have my address and a contact number–work, not home. Otherwise, you don’t have any business having that information, and I’m not giving it to you, especially if I’m paying with cash (I’ve long since quit writing paper checks at stores). I used to avoid Radio Shack stores explicitly because of the third-degree they’d give me when all I wanted to do was buy a patch cable (they’ve since quit asking for your name, address, and a note from your mother for every purchase).

As for the business about ‘We need the phone number before we can let the merchandise leave the store’, no offense to James, but that would have sent yours truly into a frothing gimme-my-damn-money-back-and-who’s-the-biggest-boss-I-can-yell-at rage. If I’m paying you for something, don’t you ever tell me you’re going to hold my privacy hostage before I get what I’ve already paid for.

Maybe it’s just me, but life’s too short for that crap. I would hope the smarter retailers have figured that out–but BestBuy has never been accused of hiring smart people, have they?

Big Daddy Like Podcast

April 24, 2005

Dash Rip Rock, the greatest bar band that never quite made the big time, has joined the hordes of podcasters with a recurring show hosted by founder Bill Davis. A feast for Dash-o-philes and a treat for just about anybody who likes music, it’s chock full of demos, rarities and live tracks, as well as comments and stories from Bill and a sampling of his faves from other artists. Check it out, it’s Dash-tastic.

Speaking of Dash fans, if anybody out there can hook me up with a copy of “Ned, Fred and Dickhead,” the live disc Bill mentions in podcast #1 (which features a killer version of “Operator” from that CD, recorded by the original Dash lineup in 1986), or even just tell me where I can buy a copy, you will get a Genuine Certified Thing. Drop me a line if you know where I can get that one.

The Needle Is Way Too Good For Him

April 23, 2005

Zacarias Moussaoui pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring with the Sept. 11 attackers and declared he was chosen by Osama bin Laden to fly an airliner into the White House in a separate assault.

Over the objection of his lawyers, Moussaoui calmly admitted his guilt in a courtroom a few miles from where one of the hijacked planes crashed into the Pentagon in 2001, setting up a showdown with prosecutors who quickly reaffirmed they will seek Moussaoui’s execution.

“I will fight every inch against the death penalty,” Moussaoui told U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema as he became the only person convicted in a U.S. court in connection with the Sept. 11 plot that killed nearly 3,000 people.

The unshackled Moussaoui, wearing a beard and green prison jumpsuit, told the judge he had not been promised a lighter sentence for his guilty pleas. Then he added, “I don’t expect any leniency from the Americans.”

Nor should you, you murderous son of a bitch.


Coalition Of The Bribed

April 22, 2005


The Canadian company that Saddam Hussein invested a million dollars in belonged to the Prime Minister of Canada, has discovered.

Cordex Petroleum Inc., launched with Saddam

Oh, That Liberal Media

April 22, 2005

The first time I read this New York Sun story, I almost figured it was a put-on. I mean, it’s got ‘punchline’ written all over it: Ted Kennedy’s brother-in-law pleads guilty to political corruption related to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, it’s revealed that he’s been a secret informant to the FBI for years, and oh, by the way, he’s also under investigation for trying to lure young girls into his car using a fake police light. But it’s not a joke–it’s a real story.

And what a story! It’s got corruption, Kennedys, secret informants, Clintons, even weird sexual allegations. You’d think it would be the lead headline from coast to coast.

But funny thing–you can’t find it much of anywhere. It’s nowhere to be seen at, even on the Politics page. It’s not on the front of the New York Times website, and the only mention within the site is a canned AP story.

Gee, I thought the Times was supposed to be the ‘newspaper of record,’ with the best reporters in the world–they couldn’t even spare one of them to cover a story involving the Democratic Party’s two most prominent elected officials, Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton?

The Washington Post, allegedly the Times’ biggest competitor for political news, doesn’t mention the story at all. A search for “Raymond Reggie” at WaPo gets no relevant hits.

Golly, I wonder why not.

But have no fear, I’m sure Steve Lovelady and the Columbia Journalism review are on top of things, and will weigh in with a scathing Corey Pein condemnation in no time.

Of course, it’ll be a condemnation of the Sun for daring to print the Reggie story in the first place…

PR and the MSM

April 21, 2005

Very interesting piece on here by Paul Graham, who was around in the early days of web start-ups. It’s about how public-relations firms inject memes into the mainstream media for their clinets. In Graham’s words,

PR is not dishonest. Not quite. In fact, the reason the best PR firms are so effective is precisely that they aren’t dishonest. They give reporters genuinely valuable information. A good PR firm won’t bug reporters just because the client tells them to; they’ve worked hard to build their credibility with reporters, and they don’t want to destroy it by feeding them mere propaganda.

If anyone is dishonest, it’s the reporters. The main reason PR firms exist is that reporters are lazy. Or, to put it more nicely, overworked. Really they ought to be out there digging up stories for themselves. But it’s so tempting to sit in their offices and let PR firms bring the stories to them. After all, they know good PR firms won’t lie to them.

Further down, Graham notes that the standard PR methods aren’t working so well with one particular manifestation of new media:

Remember the exercises in critical reading you did in school, where you had to look at a piece of writing and step back and ask whether the author was telling the whole truth? If you really want to be a critical reader, it turns out you have to step back one step further, and ask not just whether the author is telling the truth, but why he’s writing about this subject at all.

Online, the answer tends to be a lot simpler. Most people who publish online write what they write for the simple reason that they want to. You can’t see the fingerprints of PR firms all over the articles, as you can in so many print publications– which is one of the reasons, though they may not consciously realize it, that readers trust bloggers more than Business Week.

I was talking recently to a friend who works for a big newspaper. He thought the print media were in serious trouble, and that they were still mostly in denial about it. “They think the decline is cyclic,” he said. “Actually it’s structural.”

In other words, the readers are leaving, and they’re not coming back.

Why? I think the main reason is that the writing online is more honest. Imagine how incongruous the New York Times article about suits would sound if you read it in a blog:

The urge to look corporate– sleek, commanding, prudent, yet with just a touch of hubris on your well-cut sleeve– is an unexpected development in a time of business disgrace.

The problem with this article is not just that it originated in a PR firm. The whole tone is bogus. This is the tone of someone writing down to their audience.

Whatever its flaws, the writing you find online is authentic. It’s not mystery meat cooked up out of scraps of pitch letters and press releases, and pressed into molds of zippy journalese. It’s people writing what they think.

Good stuff. Check out the rest, and have a look at Graham’s archives while you’re at it.

Sekimori Is Going To Want A License Fee

April 17, 2005

Who says the MSM doesn’t take cues from the blogs? Check out Drudge. Looks like Martini Boy may have more than one lawsuit to file…

Hat-tip to prolific Vodkacommentor Chuck(le) Pelto.

Working The Problem

April 17, 2005

Via Slashdot, here’s a wonderful article about the engineers in Apollo 13 mission control (today is the 35th anniversary of Odyssey’s safe splashdown). Although it’s in an electrical engineering professional journal, the piece is extraordinarily well-written, and should be understandable and enjoyable even if you don’t happen to have a technical background.

There’s way too much good stuff to quote, but here’s a tidbit that I recognized from my own career experience as a flight test engineer:

Confidence was part of the bedrock upon which mission control was built. When prospective controllers joined NASA, often fresh out of college, they started out by being sent to contractors to collect blueprints and documents, which they then digested into information that mission controllers could use during a mission, such as the wiring diagrams the lunar module controllers had used to figure out how to power up the Aquarius. After that, the proto-flight controllers started participating in simulations. The principal problem NASA had with these neophytes was “one of self-confidence,” explains Kranz. “We really worked to develop the confidence of the controllers so they could stand up and make these real-time decisions. Some people, no matter how hard we worked, never developed the confidence necessary for the job.” Those not suited for mission control were generally washed out within a year.

Having spent several years as a young engineer in the telemetry room for live-fire missile tests, I can vouch for that last conclusion. There are some guys (and gals) who are never going to be ready to wear the headset and man “the button.” That’s not their fault, and it’s better for everybody if they’re identified early, so they can move on to a job they’re better suited for.

Anyway, the article is a really great read, chock-full of stuff that didn’t make Ron Howard’s fine movie, or even most of the documentaries since 1970. Check it out.

UPDATE: From an AP story about the engineers who came up with the now-famous square peg/round hole CO2 scrubber fix:

Among the biggest concerns was whether the astronauts had duct tape, Smylie said. He later learned duct tape was commonly used on the spacecraft to clean filters and for other tasks, such as taping bags of food to heating lamps.

“I felt like we were home free,” he said. “One thing a Southern boy will never say is ‘I don’t think duct tape will fix it.'”

Damn right.

You Can Lead A Columnist To Water…

April 17, 2005

Sylvester Brown, a columnist in St. Louis, offers up this trite eye-roller to the Blogfaddah, in response to a Reynolds post on US efforts to oust dictatorships in favor of democracies, by force when necessary:

Sorry, bloggers. When it comes to regime change and nation-building, I can’t follow the wisdom of Bush and his crew. I lean more toward the words of a real straight shooter, Mohandas Gandhi:

“The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.”

Gandhi, of course, is the patron saint of pacifism for the Western Left. What they tend to leave out in quoting the above and other pacifistic platitudes is Gandhi’s extremism, if his philosophies were carried out to their logical conclusions. Concerning the threat of Hitler’s Germany, Gandhi counseled Winston Churchill to surrender peacably, and then pursue a strategy of non-violent resistance.

Now, you do know what happened to everybody who pursued non-violent resistance against the Nazis, don’t you? What do you think the world would look like today, had Churchill and Roosevelt taken that advice?

Gandhi, like Nelson Mandela in South Africa and Martin Luther King, Jr. in this country, had one tremendous advantage in their own quite remarkable efforts–they were opposing governments and/or structures that were, in the end, ameniable to moral persuasion. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Saddam–these were not reasonable men who could be shamed or convinced into stepping down quietly and calling elections. These were barbaric monsters who recognized no higher morality than their own whims. Today’s closest parallel to Gandhi is the Dalai Lama, and all his own pacifism has won for his people in Tibet is fifty years of brutal Chi-Com occupation, with no end in sight.

Brown should know as much, and I suspect he probably does, but between the old leftie blame-America syndrome and simple Bush-hatred, he apparently can’t bring himself to admit the obvious. Rather sad, really.