Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's called the Nanny State for a reason

The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (hereafter to be called E+15) and the subsequent six day closure of most European airspace brought a whole new level of meaning to "shlamozzle".

What should be -- actually, probably is -- infuriating to those stranded travelers in their thousands was that the reason for their torment was not E+15, but rather bureaucrats who apparently operate under the notion that zero tolerance is somehow an intelligent means of risk assessment:
When the news about the volcano broke, we [writes Dame Hutton, who is in charge of the CAA] at the Civil Aviation Authority were faced with a huge challenge. The unequivocal guidance from manufacturers – based on such events as the multiple engine failure that affected a British Airways flight in 1982 – is that aircraft encountering volcanic ash must "AVOID AVOID AVOID", and make sure there is absolutely no interaction between jet engines and ash.
This is utter tosh. It is certain that jet engines routinely ingest volcanic ash. After all, the stuff girdles the globe following a large eruption. Further, this amounts to an hysteric's counsel: the CAA reacted to the volcano with the same calm, cool, analytical approach one expects from a pre-teen girl confronted with a spider.

The air safety threats entailed by clouds of the stuff compared to dispersal sufficient to achieve invisibility are wildly different that orders of magnitude do not suffice: the former is a near certainty, the latter is zero.

Let me repeat: flying through volcanic ash clouds insufficiently dense to be visible to the human eye poses absolutely no threat to flight safety.

What gasts even the most unflappable flabber is this zero tolerance approach absolutely turns operational risk assessment on its head. Planes have crashed, and people killed, due to run ins with our avian friends. Are we to suspend all flying where birds roam? Thunderstorms have exacted an aviation body count far exceeding that of volcanoes, which is thus far hovering at zero, yet the forecast of convective activity does not lead to cots clogging concourses across an entire continent.

If rational people, rather than place holding quangocrats with approximately the same aviation background as my dog, had been making airspace decisions, they would have looked to history and noted the number of in flight emergencies due to volcanoes amounts to a whopping zero 600 miles from eruptions much larger than E+15. They would have further noted that distance gets one only as far as Glasgow.

Now, it is true that an aircraft has suffered damage from flying through an ash cloud 1000 miles away from a volcano. But there are two things worth noting. First, it was at night, and the ash would have been visible during the day. More importantly, though, is that the damage, while requiring premature removal of the engines, did not affect the safety of the flight.

Then, at least initially, they might have: imposed 600 nm exclusion zone and a day, visual meteorological conditions (cognescenti talk for clear air) requirement extending to 1000 nm to allow see-and-avoid; required sufficient fuel to reach an alternate 1500 nm from E+15. Then they would have added a post-flight inspection requirement to look for fan blade erosion.

Which, in the event, would have closed airspace in northern Scotland and the northernmost reaches of Ireland. It would have required re-routing, or canceling, flights between Europe and US destinations west of Detroit, since great circle routes between the two regions pass within 600 nm of Iceland. Pilot reports would have quickly shrunk the exclusion zone and eliminated the day/VMC restriction outside it.

Number of aircraft damaged or endangered? Zero. Ability to react to unforeseen changes? Same as all the other meteorological phenomena the air transportation system deals with daily.

Only the warders of the nanny state think life can be made risk free.

Friday, April 23, 2010

No Effect, no Cause II, The Sequel

Last year, I noted, that where there is no effect, cause is also absent:
Using a cell phone while driving is A Very Bad Thing. Studies clearly show the accident risk while texting is eight times greater than when keeping both eyes on the road, and all ten thumbs on the wheel. People talking on cell phones are four times more likely to cause a crash.

No doubt.

That undoubtfulness leads to a hypothesis: Since cell phone use while driving is risky, and cell phone usage has become increasingly common since the mid-1990s, then there must be an increase in accident rates over the period.

Turns out that isn't the case.

At the time, my main beef was that The Sudies had assumed their conclusion before so much as getting their analytical key into the ignition. The fact of a declining accident rate in the face of skyrocketing cell phone usage would seem worth something more than deep silence: by assessing risk without regard to actual consequences, they were trafficking in crimes against statistics.

Secondarily, and to some very well mannered derision, I surmised that cell phone usage simply does not cause enough accidents to be statistically noticeable.

As it happens, my original surmise might have been close to the mark:
A new study suggests laws banning the use of hand-held devices while driving have not reduced the rate of accidents in three states and the District of Columbia.

In addition to the nation's capital, the report by the Highway Loss Data Institute reviews insurance claims in New York, Connecticut and California. It also compares the data to other areas that do not have cell phone bans.

"The laws aren't reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced hand-held phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk," said Adrian Lund, president of the Highway Loss Data Institute.

There were no fluctuations in collision rates before and after the laws were put in place, the report said.

"So the new findings don't match what we already know about the risk of phoning and texting while driving," Lund added.

The reporter didn't say whether Lund's head exploded immediately afterwards.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

This is for erp

Friday, April 16, 2010

Grey Lady gets the vapors

Yesterday's NYT had an editorial that sounds just like the hysteria that says a fainting spell is close behind.
[The] he gun lobby has extracted too high a price [for giving DC citizens a vote in Congress]: the scuttling of vital local gun controls intended to keep the capital city’s residents safe.

The district’s — nonvoting — representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has reluctantly accepted this extortion. “The strength of gun forces in Congress has grown, not diminished,” she declared in explaining why she felt forced to abandon her long fight for a measure free of gun lobby abuses. She estimates that her cause and the Democratic majority may only be weakened in the next election. And she feels the gun lobby is powerful enough to oppress the district with a stand-alone measure.

No need to consider the Constitution, or voters, or how gaping the chasm is between intent and reality.

In an alternate universe, one that has sparkly pastel unicorns, guns do not exist.

Unfortunately, in this universe, they do. Reality isn't sparkly, and advocating disarming the law abiding is evil to the extent it isn't the sad consequence of profound mental defect.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kindle Stumbles

Having been a Kindle user for a few months, it is time to take stock of it.

People's dwellings, no matter what form they take, say many things about them.

Take my house, for instance.

Even a casual observer would immediately note that the inhabitants' abysmal lack of appreciation for art is exceeded only by a pervasive lack of photographic talent, and whose sole contribution to the interior decorating arts is regular dusting.

Just a few more moments would suffice to note that artless does not, mercifully, mean illiterate. The well stocked bookshelves show some inclination towards non-fiction, particularly history and science; a fair smattering of novels, with Patrick O'Brian and Kingsley Amis featuring prominently; and every Calvin and Hobbes book ever to see the light of day.

From this, without so much as a howyadoin, said casual observer could conclude that the inhabitants have eclectic tastes, which is really a polite way of saying failed intellectual whose breadth has no depth, but whose personal qualities are more or less wonderful, depending upon the observer's non-fiction point of view.

Fair enough.

All of this is by way of bringing up the Kindle's major failing: every book on my shelves could fit into a Kindle or three, and in so doing, would cut off one aspect of personal display to the wider world. In effect, it is no different than shifting everything from the walls into a box and labeling it "pictures".

Stepping beyond signifiers, there are a few other, ummm, issues.

Pricing is bizarre. Nearly all ebooks still under copyright are $10; new releases are more. Oddly, though, it is often possible to get a dead-tree version of a book for far less. For example, a Raymond Chandler novel is $10 when delivered as bits; $2 as used flattened cellulose.

Which leads to the next major irritation. Having coughed up $10 for a dose of noir, I can't loan, or give, which is what loaning often means in practice, it to anyone.

I absolutely do not get that.

Oddly, a great many books are simply not available at all, and with no indication they ever will be, which could, depending on the title, have a great deal to do with the fact that the Kindle hits the limit of its competence at displaying text; images are completely beyond it.

So, except for frequent travelers, TDD is, regretfully, having to award the Kindle a Do Not Buy. Perhaps that won't send Amazon execs through the nearest window.

I'll bet the iPad will, though.

Followed closely by college textbook publishers.

Friday, April 02, 2010

When it comes to Climate, No Rights or Wrongs. Yet.

From the NYT, of all places, this game-changing report:
Suppose, as some climate experts advise, that the new national GHG guidelines due this spring will lower the recommended level of carbon dioxide. Suppose further that climate experts in New York and Washington succeed in forcing industry to emit less CO2. What would be the effect?
Stepping away from predicting the consequences for ice caps or rainfall, this report takes a more human approach:

  • More than 44,000 deaths would be prevented annually (as estimated recently in The New England Journal of Medicine).
  • About 150,000 deaths per year would be prevented annually (as estimated by the IPCC).
  • Hundreds of millions of people would be subjected to an experiment with unpredictable and possibly adverse effects
  • Americans would use even more energy than they do today.
  • Not much one way or the other.

Don’t worry, there’s no wrong answer, at least not yet. That’s the beauty of the climate debate: there’s so little reliable evidence that you can imagine just about any outcome.

A refreshing blast of candor, a final admission of the blindingly obvious from the MSM?

Hardly. Just some Daily Duck™ misdirection. Replace all climate terms with their salty variants, and you will get the published story.

What did not get their attention, but should have, is uncertainty in the face of a system that is amenable to controlled studies, statistical comparisons, and actual outcomes, compared climate scientism, to which none of these things apply, and about which they are absolutely certain.

Slices of Paradise

We recently-ish got back from a week and a half in Hawaii. Here are some slapshots.

Even though Alaska is nothing like an island, in some ways it has the same feel. Very isolated and, practically speaking, impossible to get off of save by boat or plane.

Our journey outbound had something of a forced-march feel to it. 0100 takeoff, three hours to Seattle. Five hours in the terminal. Not quite two hours to San Francisco. Two hours in the terminal. Four more to Honolulu.

Although perhaps I should have, I don’t think I missed a single opportunity to say to TOSWIPIEAESW and the woman and man childs: “Welcome to my life”.

Having come out of an Alaskan winter, the first, and most wonderful, thing about Hawaii is being warm to the bones for the first time in months.

We spent only a day on Oahu, most of it spent touring Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona memorial takes your breath. It is sobering to stand on the death place of nearly 1,200, knowing it was the first step on a bloody trail ending in Nagasaki.

While pondering the ship’s skeletal remains just below the surface, I was struck by a great strategic irony. The Japanese used aircraft carriers to attack battle ships.

Think about it. The whole attack plan proved that the point of the attack plan was made irrelevant by the attack plan itself.

You’d think someone could have mentioned that ahead of time.

It has been awhile since I have gone on a religion rant, but having traversed airport security as a passenger five times in the space of nine days, I can’t help it.

I hate Islam.

There, I said it. Before anyone throws intolerance brickbats, though, remember this: turn about is fair play. Islam hates me, too. It wants me converted, subjected and taxed, or dead.

As for the third option, blowing up westerners in airliners seems to be the debacle of choice.

Hence the ever increasing impositions of cattle-in-a-chute airport security. With every fanatically ingenious advance in splodeydoping — box cutters, shoes with a bang, on-board chemistry, and punch packing panties — millions have to put up with security procedures ever more teeth gritting with every real or near outrage.

We didn’t buy sunscreen before leaving Alaska, despite being obvious candidates for the stuff. It is one of those dreaded creams to be separated from us until eternity, and, at $25 a whack, we weren’t going to check luggage just to shift a tube of goo.

So we bought the stuff in Honolulu, but, having our minds on other things, like not being cold, for a change, we bought the family size.

Which we didn’t use, because we weren’t outside all that much.

Which we did throw away, unopened, the next day at airport security, before our flight to the big island.

I think there might be an unholy alliance between Islamists and the airlines. This whole liquids, gels and creams thing mean many more people are put in the position of having to check luggage.

Hence the recent proliferation of checked-luggage charges.

You would think that flying for a job might suggest a certain willingness to forego flying for a vacation. I would, anyway. But I would be thinking in error, for the plan as ordained from on high involved four islands in seven days.

Which gave me three opportunities to cast room-reddening hate beams in the direction of Hawaiian Airlines. In that universe, perhaps for fear the Islamists will find a way to achieve critical mass with summer weight vacation clothes, anything greater than 25 lbs must be checked.

At $10 a whack. It was bad enough that, due to having a roll aboard designed to shrug off the rigors of professional travel, I was 13 lbs into that 25 before loading so much as my first Hawaiian themed shirt, I was getting stung every time.

What was worse, what added insult to that injury, was this required weighing everything bigger than a forbidden tube of sunscreen, which meant a check-in line long enough raise the suspicion of having stumbled onto an American Idol casting call.

Dove tail that with the TSA tango, brought to you by the Religion of Peace, and showing up an hour fifty early turned out to be scarcely enough. Going through that rigamarole once, never mind three times, amounted to a free medical test: I am now certain I harbor no aneurysms.

After getting to Hawaii (the island this time, not the state), we had to engage in a protracted search to find sunscreen. This is like not being able to buy mittens in Alaska.

Important travel tip. When going on vacation in Paradise, when doing a windshield tour therein, cell phone cameras are not a satisfying substitute for the purpose bought SLR left lying smack dab in the center of the hotel room bed.

The most useless person on the planet is not a sleeping congressman, or Paris Hilton. No, not even an awake congressman.

That honor goes to the Hawaii weatherman. This is the job description:

Low: [ 67 | 68 | 69] Hi: [ 79 | 80 | 81] [Breezy | Slightly Windy] [Partly Cloudy | Some Clouds | Mostly Sunny] [Intermittent Showers | Scattered Showers | Occasional Showers]

Select one from each.

Overtasked? Use this short-form weather forecast: tomorrow, just like today.

We did some snorkeling. Lots of turtles and very colorful fish on the payroll, never mind far stranger things.

Most surprising, for those who haven’t spent any time in the ocean, is how noisy it is underwater, kind of like being in a bowl of Rice Crispies just after the milk shows up. On top of that, there were some whales about 10 miles away, which is well within earshot.

They are as talkative as a pod of mall-crawling teenage girls.

I take no small amount of stick at home for my invisible internet friends, a good many of whom, thanks to my job, are not actually invisible at all. Still doesn’t stop the stick, though.

Recent family trips have dropped the cloak a couple times for the rest of my family, as well. Last year Brit, this time Harry.

We got to the restaurant first — right next to the ocean, with the sun setting behind Lanai a dozen miles away. It was a lead-pipe cinch to make sure the maître d' steered Harry and his wife, Tricia, to our table: “we are waiting on Santa Claus.”

Ordinarily, sitting down for dinner with someone you don’t know makes for awkward conversational pauses. Not so much, though, when you’ve been pixleing up a storm for a half dozen years or so.

BTW, Harry is a very good conversationalist who has an uncommon grasp in person as he does via the intertubes on a very wide variety of subjects: a walking Google.

Our last couple days were in Kauai, which cranks the paradise control knob, already at eleven, a little further to the right. A normal person, faced with an adult beverage, gentle breezes ruffling the ocean, and tiki torches making sure you get the point, will do one of two things: put the brain in neutral, or, failing that, think that this would be a great place to move to so as to put the brain in neutral.

Not me. All I could think about was how I — and millions of other tourists — had saddened Gaia by flying all over heck and gone to be here, then spicing that insult with those shameless torches which, for no other reason than our enjoyment, were further choking Gaia with even more CO2. Clearly, for the love of Gaia, all of this must stop.

Our global warming overlords are going to have a heck of a re-edumacating job on their hands; camps will be required.

After a week and a half, our slice of Paradise reached its other end: the bloody all night and a goodly chunk of the next day slog back to Alaska, where I did not further hector my family more than several hundred times about “welcome to my world.” When they asked for separate seating, the flight attendants were most apologetic. Full planes, which were all the ones we were on, simply don’t allow for much shuffling around, no matter how dire the cause.

That slog, though, really only deserves being called “bloody” by the very debased standards of the modern age. The Hawaiian visual feast was separated from its Alaskan version by only 15 hours. In case you have trouble with the concept behind the words “polar opposites”, this transition will hammer the point right home:

Hawaii, pleasing to the eyes, lush, and welcoming.

Alaska, pleasing to the eyes, would just as soon kill you.

(Taken the day after we got home from my office window, about 15 miles north of my house).

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Thursday Task Avoidance