Sunday, March 29, 2009

Just Wondering

The US savings rate (defined as the unspent portion of after tax income) reached 5% in January. That amounts to $545 billion per year.

In 401k land, 63% of American workers participate in a 401k plan at an average investment rate of 8.3%. As a rough guess, that amounts to another $500 billion/year.

Regarding the much debauched world of real estate, 67% of American households are homeowners. Presuming not many households own their homes outright, that works out to roughly 40 million mortgages. Both for ease of calculation, and the unlikelihood of overestimating the actual number, I'll put the average monthly payment at $1000, or yet another $500 billion/year.

So, where does all this money go?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thar She Blows

Mt Redoubt ash cloud seen in the geostationary MTSAT data, courtesy of the National Weather Service. Picture Date: March 26, 2009 17:30:00. Image Creator: Jonathan Dehn. Image courtesy of the National Weather Service.

Caution: the following is self-referential twaddle.

Went to bed about 11:30 Sunday evening, less than 10 hours after the post below. Not 45 minutes later, the phone rang. My wife answered it. Understandably befuddled, "that was pilot scheduling, but I accidentally hung up on them".

Then it was my turn to be fuddled for the thirty or so seconds until the phone rang again.

"The volcano erupted. How soon can you get to the airport?"

Quick shower and shave. Throw stuff at my suitcase, and head out the door going who knows where until who knows when.

There were three airplanes still on the ramp. We all went to Oakland.

Between the crash and the volcano, everything was up in the air, so to speak. By Monday evening, I was all set to leave my hotel room at eight to fly I can't remember where, when another revision came down for a four am takeoff to Narita.


All things considered, I'd just as soon the Captain take that leg, but he gave it to me. I guess he decided he'd rather take a look at the wreck, while I took a look at getting the airplane on the ground.

I did catch a glimpse out the corner of my eye as we went by. A black slash that went off the left side of the runway a third of the way down. Not much recognizable, except for the front of the plane upside down.

At the risk of being melodramatic, there was a time when I was more or less used to this sort of thing. The F-111 was a dangerous airplane. It was kind of like being a race car driver. Very exciting, but a good way to get killed. Fourteen guys I knew bought the farm that way. Kind of hard to explain to women or other sane people, but we just took that as a stuff happens kind of thing. Not callous, exactly, but it was definitely a mindset that puts lie to any assertion that there is nothing to tell between men and women save curves.

This one was different. Partly because of getting to watch it on TV; mostly because I'm 53, not 33.

Seeing it on TV also made an impression because, being something of an expert by now, I could, to a fairly high degree of confidence, know what happened. For whatever reason, the pilot shifted his aimpoint towards the airplane as he got close to the ground, which caused a high sink rate he couldn't arrest before hitting the pavement hard. When he bounced, he should have gone around (i.e., full throttle and think about what went wrong en route to a redo). However, he tried to save it, and put the plane into a pilot-induced-oscillation, which caused the airplane to hit nose gear first, really hard. When the mains hit the pavement, the force on the left side was sufficient to break the wing at the root, and the resulting lift imbalance flipped the airplane over on its back.

NB: other than the crash video, I have absolutely nothing to go on, so keep in mind this is pure speculation.

Anyway, the point behind this whole litany is getting forcefully reminded how much doing this sort of thing relies upon self-confidence bordering on arrogance. Crappy weather, bad winds, slick runway, whatever: bring it on. I'm pretty sure I know how this mishap report is going to read, and I'm pretty sure it will point to pilot error that I wouldn't make.

I'm pretty sure.

Spent a day in Narita, then took Japan Airlines yesterday to where I am now: Hong Kong. The hotel is nearly full, so they put me in an executive suite, which means I get to raid the lounge while I write this, with a front row view of the harbor.

Tonight is an all-nighter back to Seattle instead of Anchorage, because the volcano had temper control issues again this morning. Saturday, unless Mt Redoubt has something to say about it, I will get home for nearly the first time this month.

All in all, I could do with less interesting.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

FedEx MD-11 Crash

At 0600 Tokyo time this morning, a FedEx MD-11 crashed on landing at Narita Japan.

Reports indicate there were strongly gusting winds at the time.

The aircraft landed hard and bounced, then hit again nose gear first. Because of the nose low attitude, there was a very high sink rate. When the main gear hit the runway, the left wing failed at the root. The lift from the right wing flipped the aircraft upside down.

Both crew members were killed.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Licensing to steal

My wife is a nurse. One of the things coming with that particular piece of territory is a license to commit nursing.

After we arrived in Alaska, my wife had to get an Alaskan nursing license, which differed in absolutely no particular from her Michigan license: it served as proof of having passed the NCLEX. Exercising the privileges associated with the license requires completing some amount of annual continuing education.

Despite still having two years to run on her MI RN license, my wife had to get an AK license.

This is the list of additional professional requirements required to become a registered nurse in Alaska: $256, payable by check or money order.

As it happens, in Michigan, the license is valid for three years from the issuing date. In Alaska, RN licenses become invalid on November 1st of even numbered years, even if the license was the day before (AK pro-rates the fee from 12 months prior).

In mid-February, my wife happened by sheer chance to look at her license, by then 19 months old, to discover it had expired three months previously. She self-reported to the licensing powers that be. Graciously, because of her honesty, they reduced her penalty from $1000 to a mere $500.

This is stampeding idiocy. If the license is indicative of anything at all besides coughing up an amount of money equal to one solid day's work, its valid period would not be subject to whims of the calendar. In what parallel universe is a license good for two years invalid after 19 months?

As if that wasn't sufficient sign of arbitrariness pure and simple, in re-issuing her license, they did not cast even the tiniest glance in the direction of her continuing education records. Precisely one thing mattered: the $756 (three solid days of work) check clearing.

Which made it glaringly obvious that Alaska's (and all states') RN licensing requirements are principally about extracting money. They do not prove competence, or experience, or proficiency. Such educational requirements that they do have are scarcely ever audited. They demonstrate nothing other than having passed the board exam, a task which one would think the test score itself would adequately demonstrate.

This brings to mind my last trip to the hair cuttery. Framed on the mirror (for some odd reason optically engineered to make my hair look completely gray) was the barberian's Beautician's License.

In what parallel universe does a such a license demonstrate anything worth knowing? Other than her check for some goodly portion of a day's work had cleared the bank, that is.

Are there any state licensing requirements that are anything other than jumped up theft?