Weekly Roundup, Friday 10 June 2016

It is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland.
It is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland.

Good morning

A shortish newsletter today.  The main purpose of it is to convey the following article, which makes for dismaying reading.

Congress – ever sensitive to the varying gusts of the political wind – decided, unanimously, to hop on the bandwagon of blaming the TSA for the long delays going through airport security.  This is a bit ironic because it was Congress that created the TSA, congress that empowered the TSA, Congress which has constrained the TSA, and Congress which has stolen $13 billion of the TSA’s funding.

The thought of Congress acting unanimously intrigued me, and the thought of Congress fixing something it had largely caused intrigued me even more.  So I went and read the (mercifully short) Act they passed.  What did it contain?  Read the article to find out, but prepare to be astonished to discover that there’s precious little sign of any substantial fixes.

More distressing is there is no sign of any solid objectives or service standards, or of any consequences if any such objectives, whether vague or definite, are not met.  If you were writing a contract with a builder to build a house, you’d have costs, timings, building standards, and leadtimes all clearly defined, and hopefully you’d also have penalty clauses and possibly bonuses written into the contract as well.

Congress knows how to do this.  Any time it writes a criminal statute or a taxing statute, it can build in exact measurements and onerous penalties for non-compliance.

But, as you read the Act in the article below, you’ll find none of this.  And none of much else either, just platitudes and multi-syllabic nonsense phrases.

This merely shows in even clearer focus that the true solution to the problem we have and will continue to have is not going to come from Congress but by privatizing the TSA and bringing back the efficient effective airport security we had up until 9/11/01.  Allow the TSA to set screening standards and to monitor compliance with them, but also allow private enterprise to then implement those standards effectively and efficiently – two concepts that remain totally outside of the TSA’s comprehension.

The last couple of years and the next couple of years have been full of centenaries of notable events during World War One, and I’ve generally not chosen to mention them, due to there being so many of them.  But I’ll make an exception this week for the Battle of Jutland – notable for being the only time ever that massed fleets of dreadnought type battleships confronted each other in an extended sea battle, with the British and German fleets experiencing a 12 hour encounter that ended ambiguously with both sides claiming victory, and both sides also having suffered major losses.  While the Germans actually won ‘on points’, the greater numerical superiority and aggression of the British Grand Fleet saw the German High Seas Fleet stay in harbor for the balance of the war, meaning the British actually secured a strategic win from the encounter.

In particular, the reason for mentioning this anniversary is an excellent website which includes a compelling 20 minute video; with one of the interesting parts of this being that it was all put together by a guy who is very humble and anonymous – it is hard to find much about him on the site and there are no credits for the video he put together.  We know him as ‘Nick’, but it is harder to uncover that his last name is Jellicoe – he is the grandson of Lord Jellicoe, who was the commander of the British Grand Fleet at the battle, subsequently an unfortunate scapegoat in a matter that alas was typically not helped but rather hindered by that marine meddler extraordinaire – Winston Churchill.  I always thought him to be a fine but cautious Admiral, and subsequently, a respected Governor-General of New Zealand, too.  An honorable man in the finest tradition.

One really needs to have read a book or three on Jutland and the naval forces and build-up going into WW1 to put this into perspective.  If naval history has any appeal, you might have already done so!  One such excellent book is Robert Massie’s ‘Castles of Steel’ – a surprisingly easy read of a complex subject.  I see his earlier work, ‘Dreadnought‘, is also now available on Kindle, I must get a copy of that.  Alternatively, just about any of the books by Richard Hough are also reliably excellent, and if you wanted to go off-topic, Hough’s book ‘The Fleet That Had to Die‘ is on sale in its Kindle edition for the next three days, only 99c.  A fascinating story about a Great Power war and the almost comic ineptness of Russia that most of us know nothing about.

Plenty of summer reading for you!

What else this week.  A few quick things.

  • Disappeared Planes – MH 370 and MS 804
  • Flying Cars – Closer to a Reality than we Thought?
  • The Swiss Build the World’s Longest Rail Tunnel – On Budget and On Time
  • More Mixed Messages from Tesla
  • And Lastly This Week….

Disappeared Planes – MH 370 and MS 804

It is now over 15 months since the mysterious disappearance of MH 370, and the equally mysterious dissembling and outright lying by the Malaysian government about the events surrounding the plane’s disappearance.  This has caused some speculation that maybe the plane was ‘kidnapped’ and held for ransom, but the Malaysian government did not respond positively in time to save the plane.  Why else, this line of development continues, is the Malaysian government obfuscating?

There is another/related interesting theory that has been recently and gently put forward.  While based on the slimmest of nuances of what we know about the flight, it ties together a number of anomalies and aspects of what we know and think we know.  It is worth reading.

There have been an increasing number of plane fragments which reasonably seem to have come from the disappeared plane appearing on beaches (most recently in Mozambique) and the locations of such pieces of debris appear to at least confirm that the plane probably did crash somewhere in the Great Southern Ocean, rebutting some of the more fanciful theories that have been offered – although with the amount of planning that would have gone into some of the alternate theories, it would be only the smallest of extensions for the people creating such plots to then deliberately arrange for bits of the plane to wash up on far-away shores to further distract people from the truth.

Until we find the plane and its black boxes, it all remains a mystery.

It is also now three weeks since MS 804 plunged into the Mediterranean, close to the coast of Egypt.  We have the estimated location of this crash to a much greater degree of precision than we do the MH370 flight.  But, astonishingly, neither the plane itself nor its black boxes have yet been located, and with an approximate one month battery life within the black boxes for their pingers, if they are not located soon, they will become very much harder to locate after the pingers die.

There are plenty of guesses as to what caused the plane’s crash, but utterly no solid knowledge or proof supporting any of the guesswork currently.  With the A320 in service by the thousands, all around the world; if it was an airplane failure rather than a manmade event, we should know about this asap.

The failure to locate the black boxes is a humbling reminder of the limits of our technology – it is far from as capable as we might expect and wish.

Flying Cars – Closer to a Reality than we Thought?

Flying cars, personal jetpacks, and supersonic/hypersonic planes – the three concepts that keep appearing and promising to be translated into new realities, but which never actually eventuate.

There’s nothing impossible about the essential concept of a flying car, and nothing blocking the development of such a device other than the need for copious funds.  Lack of funding has certainly been a constraint for some of the many flying car projects out there, but perhaps isn’t quite such a limitation when your major backer is Larry Page, co-founder of Google.

Here’s a great article that talks about the flying car company Page is backing, and which also gives optimistic updates on some of the other flying car projects out there, and explains why maybe what has proven stubbornly impossible for decades might now be finally approaching a reality.

We hope so.

The Swiss Build the World’s Longest Rail Tunnel – On Budget and On Time

Talking about things that are perpetually delayed and never happen, let’s switch to the happier side of that coin.  A new 35.4 mile tunnel – the world’s longest – through/under the Swiss Alps has just opened after a 17 year construction project – slightly ahead of schedule and on budget.  It is expected that 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will use the new route every day.  The remaining loans used to finance the tunnel will be paid off within ten years.

Contrast that with how, a couple of weeks ago, we mentioned that the California High Speed Rail project has just had a further four year pushback/delay in its timelines.  Oh – the California rail project has already been in the making for 20 years, and the first trains are not expected for at least another 13 years.  As for any semblance of being on budget, or a future repayment schedule, the budget is, ahem, very fluid and funding hasn’t been found.

Or contrast the approximately 2 miles of finished tunnel every year the Swiss project achieved with Seattle’s new road tunnel, which has managed to progress at a rate almost exactly one tenth that speed – 0.22 miles/year.  Seattle’s project is neither on time nor on budget.

We built the largest engineering/public works project in the world – the 42,500 mile interstate highway system – starting from the 1950s.  This included 54,000 bridges, and enough aggregate to build a wall – not just on the border with Mexico, but around the entire world’s circumference at the equator, that would be nine feet wide and 50 feet high.

But now we can’t dig a single tunnel or run a single length of train track without tripping over ourselves.  Progress is a funny thing, isn’t it.

More Mixed Messages from Tesla

Taling about progress, there were some interesting Tesla related developments this week, including their rejigging their Model S lineup, bringing back the earlier unpopular lower range model S60, but offering to upgrade its battery from 60 kWhr to 75 kWhr at any time for an extra $8,500.  Interestingly, the car comes with the 75 kWhr battery – the extra $8,500 merely has Tesla send a software code to the car to enable its full capacity.

There’s nothing new about that concept – the long since disappeared model S40 actually had a 60 kWhr battery in it, and that too was software limited to only 40 kWhr until the owner paid a hefty surcharge to enable the rest of the battery.

This gives Tesla a new slightly lower entry price, with a car claiming 210 miles of range and a $66,000 sticker price (before options).  It is interesting to see the $66,000 sticker price alongside the 210 miles of range – that is almost exactly twice the price for the same range as Tesla expects to be selling its Model 3 for – a car which, in theory but probably not in practice, will go on sale in 15 – 18 months time.

Would you pay an extra $30,000 to get a car 18 months sooner than you’d otherwise get it?

One of the reasons for the comparatively affordable price of the Model 3 is Tesla’s ability to make its own batteries at a very low cost once it gets its own ‘Megafactory’ just out of Reno fully commissioned.  The Megafactory promises to make batteries from raw materials to finished products, giving Tesla complete control over the process and ownership of all the profits along the way.

So it was surprising this week to read a report suggesting that Tesla is not only going to continue sourcing batteries from its present preferred supplier (Panasonic) but is also looking at buying batteries from Samsung too.  What about the Megafactory?

Tesla quickly denied the story, saying it would remain loyal to only Panasonic, and that it intended to source batteries from Panasonic for the Model 3.  But what I don’t see is any explanation about where the Megafactory fits into all of this.

And talking about batteries, one of Tesla’s selling points has been the ability to quickly do a partial recharge of a Model S at one of its super charger stations, dotted about the US and elsewhere in the world.

But news this week is of a comparable fast charging network being built in Europe that will be compatible with most other electric vehicles and which also will quickly charge batteries – up to 80% of a full charge within 30 minutes.  Tesla’s ‘first to market’ advantages are eroding and crumbling.

And talking about ‘first to market’, GM’s Bolt remains on-target for a release earlier this year, easily a year before the Model 3.  Similar car, similar range, similar price, but available a year before the Tesla Model 3.

And Lastly This Week….

The student had just graduated summa cum laude from Pacific University in OR, but he wasn’t smart enough to heed the warning signs at Yellowstone.  Tragedy unsurprisingly followed.

Good news for T-mobile subscribers.  They’re about to give you an hour of free Wi-Fi on all US flights that use the Go-Go network.  We want to see the fine print of the offer, but it sure sounds good.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






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