Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Renewable energy on the battlefield.

From Battle Rattle, the blog at Marine Corps Times. 

New solar system powers Marines in Afghanistan

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – The Marine Corps has widely fielded a new solar panel system that can power a variety of radios, computers and other devices common in combat operations centers, officials here said...

Each Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System, or GREENS, includes eight solar panels that are about four feet high and three feet wide, and four batteries that each can store 500 watts of power.
There are currently 106 GREENS systems in Helmand, 75 of which have been fielded to operational units, Schilke said...
GREENS also is now in use on Leatherneck by Tango Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marines, which uses it to keep radios and fire control systems for trucks mounted with the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System,  or HIMARS, running.
“They’ve had a problem for years with maintaining power on those systems and keeping them in a ready status,” Schilke said. “Everybody is thinking about this as a FOB solution, but we’re also looking at this as a way to power weapons systems.”
Finally, renewable energy has a chance of being considered perhaps somewhat beneficial by conservatives.
Well, not so fast.  This article points out that the Tea Party / GOP Congress would rather fillibuster than go solar.  Source: Clean Technica

That brings us right back around to the political situation in the U.S. regarding domestic renewable energy policy. The Obama administration has been pushing hard to ensure that the U.S. provides its military with a vigorous research, technology, and domestic manufacturing platform that supports the goal of reducing costs – and reducing casualties – by transitioning out of fossil fuels and into renewables. Meanwhile, some members of Congress are pushing back against renewables just as vigorously in the opposite direction. So the real question is this: while the 3/5 is out there in the line of fire, do your representatives in Congress continue to promote more oil drilling, or do they support our troops?

And here, a Congressman from California makes it very clear what he thinks about renewable energy. Solar power funding threatened by Congress
 "If you take a gun and force taxpayers to hand over their earnings to a solar company, that solar company is going to do very well, but the taxpayers end up getting screwed with nothing to show for it at the end of the day," said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., who has led efforts by House conservatives to end loan guarantees and grants for the solar industry and other renewable-energy industries. "We've spent billions on technology and research and subsidies, and it's still the most expensive way of generating electricity."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day isn't just for the ones who died..

On Memorial Day we have parades and ceremonies for US veterans who were injured or gave their lives while serving for the armed forces around the world.  This local story is a reminder that some of our veterans come back with injuries that aren't so easy to see.      

ROCKWOOD: Police from four departments needed to subdue ex-Army Ranger

During the altercation, a Rockwood officer was able to help handcuff the man, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tried to calm him, but he would not comply with any of the officers’ commands, according to police.
After he was handcuffed, officers attempted to turn him around, but he tried to jab them with elbow strikes.
Another Rockwood officer arrived and attempted to assist putting the man in a patrol car, but he again started to kick and use elbow strikes.
After a warning that he was going to be shot with a Taser if he did not settle down, the man kicked officers multiple times on the legs.
Police attempted to apply “flex cuffs” on the man’s ankles, but he broke them and the officers were not able to maintain control of him, the report said.
The officers holding him were told to turn the man loose so the third officer could shoot him with a Taser. He was shot in the lower abdomen and upper back. The man fell to the ground, hitting his chin on the pavement...
After returning to the police station with the man, officers said they had trouble getting him to get out of the patrol car and into the building. Officers had to carry the man into a cell and his restraints were removed.
Officers could hear the man kicking the glass and concrete walls in the cell. The report said the man threatened to “find and kill” one of the officers and threatened to shoot another.
Gibraltar and Flat Rock officers assisted Rockwood officers with the man in the cell. The Rockwood Fire Department also was called.
The report said the cell had blood all over it and the man was bleeding from his face. Police said he was smiling while talking with them and punching the windows.
The man’s wife came to the station and told officers that her husband is a skilled combat fighter and she is afraid of him. She said she considers him dangerous, saying he sometimes “just snaps.”
She told police that her husband routinely carries a gun and recently, while driving, he grabbed a gun and put a bullet in it because he thought another motorist was staring at him.
The man was taken to Southshore for psychological evaluation.
Well, it would be a disgrace if the Army had lost track of this former Ranger and had no idea of the psychological problems he is apparently having, perhaps related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  from his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There is no telling what horrors this soldier has faced and survived through.

So when the article said the former Army Ranger was taken to Southshore hospital for psychological evaluation, it pointed out a systemic failure.  Southshore is a country clinic where helicopters come to pick patients up to take them to a real hospital pronto.   Any psychologist there is unlikely to be prepared to to treat former soldiers with PTSD.  The call should have been to the VA to come get your Ranger and the doctors there should already be familiar with this case.  And in my opinion this former ranger should not be allowed to carry firearms until he is deemed safe to himself and those around him.

If there are people around him who have been turning the other way to pretend there is no problem, they are doing him a disservice.  If there are people in the VA or the Army who have been giving his loved ones the runaround to keep the Army from having to pay for treatment then shame on them.  And if the problem is that we as a nation don't care all that much about combat injuries we cannot see directly, them shame on us all.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Sermon.. Thomas Aquinas on faith and reason

Thomas Aquinas on the subject of faith and reason..

Natural law is an instance or instantiation of eternal law. Because natural law is that which human beings determine according to their own nature (as rational beings), disobeying reason is disobeying natural law and eternal law.
Thus eternal law is logically prior to reception of either "natural law" (that determined by reason) or "divine law" (that found in the Old and New Testaments). In other words, God's will extends to both reason and revelation.
Sin is abrogating either one's own reason, on the one hand, or revelation on the other, and is synonymous with "evil".  Thomas, like all Scholastics, generally argued that the findings of reason and data of revelation cannot conflict, so both are a guide to God's will for human beings.

To propose that reason must coincide with faith is a radical position in the modern political climate. As the collective human knowledge base expands through new discovery, then it follows that articles of faith that originally filled a void in human knowledge might have to change.  But along the line, some Christians picked up the notion that articles of faith handed down can never change even if they fly in the face of facts and reason.  Better to cling to ignorance than seek the truth.  Don't look for that message in the New Testament.

For example, many conservatives support the theory of young earth creationism, an anti-science that defends their religious belief that the creation of earth pretty much matches the literal account in the Book of Genesis, therefore the earth is only about 6,000 - 10,000 years old.  To them the underlying truth is that if it was written in the Bible it must be true.

Informed and educated people know there is overwhelming scientific evidence and analysis proving the earth is actually billions of years old, not just thousands.  Any person with access to information and a science education would have to be willfully ignorant and abrogate reason in order to accept young earth creationism as a viable theory.  They promote anti-science and work to prevent public schools from teaching real science to the students lest it offend their religion.   Apparently God's existence relies on their mission.

If you think this is only a small fringe of the GOP, peruse the website Conservapedia where true conservatives (not the RINO variety) go to find out what to think about any given topic in order to pass the conservative litmus test.  Every single Conservative talking point is listed there.  And for your sheer entertainment here is how they break down the science behind the age of the earth for the Conservative faithful.
The Age of the Earth has been a matter of interest to humans for millennia. The subject is still debated today, particularly between young-Earth scientists, who explain that the Earth is only approximately 6,000-10,000 years old, and Old Earth creationists who believe that Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old.  The scientific evidence points to a young age of the earth and the universe, and the biblical creation organization
The fatal flaw in Old Earth arguments is their overreliance on the assumption that the rate of radioactive decay remains constant over thousands of years. In fact, a large number of physical processes, such as neutron capture and fluctuations in solar radiation, can affect the rate of radioactive decay of elements in the Earth's crust and render radioactive dating measurements unreliable with errors up to 5%, depending upon the specific methods used. 
Abrogating reason.  Behold true Conservatism in 2012.  Keep in mind GOP candidates have to suck up to these people and promise to push their creationist agenda in the public schools to gain their support.

Many centuries ago, before the microscope or printing press were invented, Thomas Aquinas had a more sophisticated perspective about the interaction of faith and reason than the true conservatives do today.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

WSJ offers amateurish advice to avoid meeting killers.

Wall Street Journal contributor Sue Shellenbarger brings up an interesting topic but then fails at providing realistic advice to address the problem.  Caution: Don't follow her advice unless you want your co-workers to think you are either a jerk, a whacko or a clueless dingbat. My word, if you really think putting an Elmo Doll in the middle of the table at a corporate meeting will make you more credible, you will get eaten alive.
Meet the Meeting Killers
When it comes time for a meeting, co-workers can be deadly. Discussions get hijacked. Bad ideas fall like blunt objects. Long-winded colleagues consume all available oxygen, killing good ideas by asphyxiation.
Co-workers wander off topic, send texts, disrupt decision-making or behave in other dysfunctional ways. Even the best leaders can resort to desperate measures to keep the discussion on track: chocolate rewards, Elmo dolls and ice-cold rooms.

OK.  True enough that some people tend to be meeting killers.  The most common type is the person who won't shut the hell up.  If there are ten people in the room, at least one of them is a habitual yapper.  This person loves the sound of their own voice and they specialize in long soliloquies.  When it appears that some in the room aren't following their line of thinking, they simply start over and say the same thing over again with a slightly different twist.   This person needs to be interrupted. Just to let them go on and on is to endorse their long windedness.  I have no problem stopping them via interruption.  They get the point eventually.  They may sulk after that, but that's OK.  They'll come around.  And keep in mind, they may very well have a perfectly good point underneath all the words.  If you recognize that and sum it up in a sentence, you will gain their trust and hopefully they will appreciate how you heard them and simplified the message so well.  So even if they are a pain in the arse, don't automatically reject them.  Learn from them, but teach them as well.  The fewer words it takes to make your point the better.

Then there is the person who always wants to go off topic and extend the scope of the discussion to include solving world hunger.   They too need to be interrupted.  Politely point out that what they are bringing up is beyond the scope of the meeting and it should be brought up in another forum.

There is the side conversation guy.  The is the person who has to have hushed side conversations with those around him. It may or may not be related to the meeting discussion and it may or may not be disruptive to the rest of the people in the room, however it is highly annoying to anyone who might be listening in on the phone if it happens to be a conference call.  "One Meeting!" is the phrase you say to rein them back in.  If you have to tell them a second time, a dirty look is in order.  The 3rd time, just the dirty look.  If all that doesn't work, let it go but don't invite them next time.   Disclaimer: if that person happens to be your boss or reside above you in the organization, just pause the meeting when they are having the sidebar.  No need to cheese off the boss.  

The mad texter or the e-mailer who is taking time to be at your meeting but only so they can pipe up if need be.  I don't have a problem with them if they aren't disrupting the whole meeting, and I see no reason to insist that everyone in the meeting gives you their undivided attention. People are too busy these days to not try to keep up with the other 20 things they are working on.   But if they are tapping like a mad man on their keyboard and disrupting the conversation in the meeting, a request that they not beat the hell out of their keyboard is a good hint.  It might be a clue that your meeting is boring to them.  If you keep their attention, they will most likely stop.  You know you have the e-mailer's attention when they shut the laptop and start contributing.

The smart ass and/or naysayer who tries to disrupt the meeting with sarcastic, negative comments.  For the first couple offenses, smile it off, ignore it and plod on. But if keeps happening, take them head-on.  Explore their comments and ask for feedback from the group about their comments.  They should get the message.  If they are political in nature or otherwise inappropriate for the environment, then a bit of ridicule is in order.

The sleeper is the guy who took the time to come to your meeting but is nodding off and tuning in and out.  I don't recommend stopping the meeting to embarrass them for sleeping, unless of course they start sawing logs. Then wad up a piece of paper and throw it at their head to wake them up.  But leave the quiet sleeper alone.  Some people do their best thinking when they are sleeping.  This person might just wake up with a great idea.

Try to sprinkle the conversation with some light humor here and there.  Not biting sarcastic mean spirited humor, but some polite and clean humor to lighten up the mood.  People who are smiling are more at ease and more likely to offer insights.

Don't set out to create as a group.  Individuals come up with ideas. Individuals create.  Groups can discuss the pros and cons of someones idea and vet proposals, but creating ideas is not a group function.  A roomful of people is no more likely to come up with a good idea than all of those same people working alone are.  In fact, brainstorming as a group is a sure way to take a dumb idea and decide as a group that it is actually a good idea when no one wants to be the first to object to it, especially if it was the boss's idea.   Instead of having a brainstorming meeting, just tell people to bring their own idea(s) on the subject to the meeting for a group discussion.

And maybe the most important idea is to limit the size of the group.  Meetings should be attended by no more than 8 people unless it is for a manager to give his direct-reports an update.  If you have a large crowd  at a meeting but 90% of the conversation is between just a handful of them, then have the meeting with just the handful next time and e-mail the highlights to the others. Don't waste people's time.  If they don't need to be there, let them use their time more productively.

Try to keep meetings within an hour, but if it needs to go longer than that, take a break about once an hour for 5 minutes or so.

Be honest and direct and treat every person there with respect regardless of their rank.  If they were important enough to invite, they are important enough to have a chance to speak up. In fact, it makes good sense to reach out to the younger and less experienced ones to invite them to participate.  Sometimes the best ideas come from the people who know the least about your business.  Their minds are more open to fresh thinking than the grizzled old veteran who already knows it all and has the attitude, "If it was a good idea, I would have already had it!"

Discourage "Death by Powerpoint"  Nothing glazes eyes over like a 40 slide presentation.  10 slides max.

Embrace the Devil's Advocate type.  Better to have your co-worker ask you the difficult to answer obvious question than to have an executive ask you the same thing.  A good devil's advocate is a highly recommended type of person to keep around.  They may drive you nuts with their counter points, but they will help you prepare for the next round much better than a roomful of bobbleheads who agree with everything.

But above all, please leave the gimmicks like the Elmo Doll or the role playing nonsense out.  Credible managers don't need gimmicks to motivate people to behave well.  They lead by example and treat people how they want to be treated.     

Monday, May 14, 2012

Massive rise in Asian eye damage from lack of sunlight.

As long as I can remember, I have been hearing about how the Asian nations will eventually dominate the world economy because Asian students are so far advanced in their studies compared to the American kids who don't take their studies nearly as serious.  But this story points out the underlying problem with turning children into robots who study day and night to claw their way to the front of the curve.  This is downright scary.  I'd even  call it abuse.  

BBC:  Massive rise in Asian eye damage
Up to 90% of school leavers in major Asian cities are suffering from myopia - short-sightedness - a study suggests.
Researchers say the "extraordinary rise" in the problem is being caused by students working very hard in school and missing out on outdoor light.
The scientists told the Lancet that up to one in five of these students could experience severe visual impairment and even blindness.
In the UK, the average level of myopia is between 20% and 30%...
Professor Morgan argues that many children in South East Asia spend long hours studying at school and doing their homework. This in itself puts pressure on the eyes, but exposure to between two and three hours of daylight acts as a counterbalance and helps maintain healthy eyes...
Cultural factors also seem to play a part. Across many parts of South East Asia, children often have a lunchtime nap. According to Professor Morgan they are missing out on prime light to prevent myopia.
"Children suffer from a double whammy in South East Asia," says Professor Morgan.
"As a result of massive educational pressures and the construction of a child's day, the amount of time they spend outside in bright light is minimised."

So parents are best to find a balance between academics and sports and other outside activities for their children.  A slighter higher GPA, SAT or ACT test score is not worth ruining your eyesight for the rest of your life.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mitt Romney, privileged bully since the age of 18.

The Christian Science Monitor asks..  Does it matter if Mitt Romney was a bully in high school?

Does it matter if Mitt Romney misbehaved in high school? That question arises due to a report in Thursday’s Washington Post that when he was a senior at suburban Detroit’s Cranbrook school, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee led a “posse” that held down and forcibly cut the long blond hair of a nonconformist junior.
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Mitt said at the time, according to fellow student Matthew Friedemann, quoted in the Post.
Mr. Romney himself said Thursday that he cannot remember the incident. The longhaired student in question, John Lauber, is now deceased. But Romney gave some legs to the story by apologizing repeatedly for any pranks he may have pulled in high school that hurt or offended his fellows.
My answer to the question raised in the headline? Yes it matters. It matters a lot that Mitt Romney was a bully in high school.

Mitt wasn't just your average bully with a chip on his shoulder and a toadie by his side. 18 year old Mitt was the privileged son of the Michigan Governor at the time and his high school was Cranbrook, a school for the super elite rich kids in suburban Detroit.

And for context, read from this book to learn more about Mitt's role model growing up, his father George Romney.  The Romney Riddle by Gerald O. Plas  

"The governor is a self-righteous, fiercely ambitious man with a bad temper and a messianic sense of destiny."  Friendlier critic, Richard E. Cross, former board chairman of American Motors, comments that Romney believes "the Lord meant him to be a leader, and he has a sacred obligation to do it."

In story after story in this book, George Romney is shown to be an egomaniac, a manipulator, a liar, a political opportunist and a man driven by blind ambition for political power. George Romney was a bully.

So it's not a huge surprise to find out that Mitt was a bully as well. A super-privileged rich kid raised to believe that the rules are for other people and that words and opinions should be whatever they need to be to whoever is listening in order to advance your position.

The acorn didn't fall all that far from the tree. So yes, CSM, it does matter.  The personality traits that drove Mitt Romney to be a bully at age 18 are still there.  You might even say it's in his DNA.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Incubus, If Not Now, When?

I first heard this song from Incubus on the in-flight entertainment center while I was flying to Tokyo a few weeks ago. This is the first song on "If Not Now, When?" album. Vocalist Brandon Boyd shows off his amazing range and power in a song that has been rolling around in my head ever since. The way each verse starts low, almost in a talking voice and then builds line by line until Boyd is belting out the last few words is a vocal style I don't recall used in any other song from Incubus or any other group. I think this song would make a fine choice for a young singer looking for a song to showcase their talent in their voice recital or at an American Guild of Music competition. The lyrics, the melody, the range. Just incredible.  

And on a semi related note, President Barrack Obama announced earlier today that he was in support of Marriage for same-sex couples, an issue that no other American President has ever supported.
Obama Says Same-Sex Marriage Should Be Legal
“The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule — you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated,” he said. “And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president.”
If Not Now, When?  Indeed. I applaud President Obama for taking this stand now.  Let the haters hate.  Its all they know how to do.  But the world moves forward even with them digging their heels in.

 Here are the lyrics to the song..

I have waited
Dined on ashes
Swung from chandeliers and climbed Everest
None of it's got me close to this

I've waited all my life
If not now, when will I?

We've been good
Even a blast, but
Don't you feel like something's missing here?
Don't you dare

I've waited all my life
If not now, when will I?
Stand up and face the bright light
Don't hide your eyes
It's time

No umbrellas
No sunglasses
Healing Hallelujah everyday

I've waited all my life
If not now, when will I?
Stand up and face the bright light
Don't hide your eyes
It's time

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cool old Faygo sign found on a building in Detroit

Click for larger photo.. 

I drove past this building on Mt Elliot in Detroit the other day.  When they demolished the building next door it revealed an old sign for Faygo Pop that goes well back into the last century.

Here is the Faygo logo from the 1930's.  It changed in the 1940's.  I suppose its possible that the original painted sign goes back 70 years or more.  Most of the city does.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Euro Zone is learning they can't shrink their way to prosperity

I wonder if the budget hawk Tea Party is watching events unfold in Europe.  After all, the dream of the Tea Party and the GOP has been to hack and slash spending in order to reduce budget deficits, the same remedy that Europe has subscribed to the last few years.  Well, it turns out that you can't fix an economy by shrinking it into recession.

Eurozone Unemployment hits Record High..

Unemployment in the eurozone rose by 169,000 in March, official figures showed Wednesday, taking the rate up to 10.9 percent — its highest level since the euro was launched in 1999. The seasonally adjusted rate was up from 10.8 percent in February and 9.9 percent a year ago and contrasts sharply with the picture in the U.S., where unemployment has fallen from 9.1 percent in August to 8.2 percent in March. Spain had the highest rate in the eurozone, 24.1 percent — and an alarming 51.1 percent for people under 25.
Austerity has been the main prescription across Europe for dealing with a debt crisis that's afflicted the continent for nearly three years and has raised the specter of the breakup of the single currency. Three countries — Greece, Ireland and Portugal — have already required bailouts because of unsustainable levels of debt.
Eight eurozone countries, including Greece, Spain and the Netherlands, have seen their economies shrink for two straight quarters or more, the common definition of a recession.
Economies are contracting across the eurozone as governments cut spending and raise taxes to reduce deficits. That has prompted economists to urge European Union policymakers to dial back on short-term budget-cutting and focus on stimulating long-term growth.
"The question is how long EU leaders will continue to pursue a deeply flawed strategy in the face of mounting evidence that this is leading us to social, economic and political disaster," said Sony Kapoor, managing director of Re-Define, an economic think-tank and policy advisory company.

This is the same strategy that Mitt Romney and anyone else who wants to be a somebody in the GOP/Tea Party  have proposed to fix the USA's budget deficit.  Slash, baby, slash.  Heck, Texas Governor Rick Perry was so excited about eliminating entire Federal Departments, he couldn't even remember all of the Departments he would have axed.  Likewise, Ron Paul wants to cut entire Federal departments and his budget plan didn't even show what would happen to the tens of thousands of displaced employees, seeing as the same budget plan showed no additional Federal retirees left in his wake.

Anyone with even a basic working knowledge of how the economy works already knew that a business or a government can not fix budget problems simply by shrinking.  To fix the economy, you have to grow it, not shrink it.  Of course, when you have it drilled in your brain that there is nothing the government can do to spur private sector job growth, shrinking the economy might seem like the best option.

But that assumption is wrong and the shrink strategy is wrong too.  Europe is proof positive.  How long until the Tea Party /GOP are forced to recognize the same?   My guess is that they will not acknowledge this one bit, rather they will double-down on the failed strategy and claim that shrinking didn't work for Europe because it didn't go far enough.

If there is one thing for sure, it is that politicians are unable to acknowledge they were wrong about a strategy.  The story is always the same, it didn't work because it didn't go far enough.  If the medicine doesn't work, just keep increasing the dosage until it does.      

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Delta Air Lines buys a Refinery to stabilize fuel costs. Vertical Integration Forward.

I think this is a great idea for a company that spends so much money on one particular commodity, particularly a commodity with a market price tied to current events and investor speculation.  Why not just refine your own jet fuel?   Great idea Delta... This is how corporations and capitalism survive.  Eliminating waste and lowering costs. 

One question I will have to research is how they plan to get the refined fuel to their hub airports where its needed.  Maybe its just some sort of credit agreement maybe they actually ship the fuel by rail, pipeline, or tanker.   

Delta Air Lines said Monday that it will buy a refinery near Philadelphia in the hope of slicing $300 million a year from its jet fuel bill.
Delta said a subsidiary will buy the Trainer, Pa., refinery from Phillips 66, a refining company being spun off from ConocoPhillips. Delta is paying $150 million, including $30 million in job-creation assistance it expects to get from the state of Pennsylvania.
Delta estimates the deal will cut its fuel bill by $300 million a year.
Delta's Monroe Energy LLC subsidiary will spend $100 million to make changes to the refinery to maximize the production of jet fuel. Even though Delta will make as much jet fuel as possible at the refinery, the oil refining process still produces other products such as gasoline and diesel fuel. Delta said it will exchange those other products for jet fuel, so in effect the Trainer refinery would cover about 80 percent of its U.S. jet fuel needs.

I hope this starts a movement and more fuel users make long-term tie-up agreements with refineries to provide refining services for particular distillates or blends. It would improve the stability of the cost of refining oil.  It might even work eventually to help more people realize that to support an expanding economy and increased standard of living, gasoline should become more like a public commodity. 

Delta Air Lines just started something by buying a refinery.  Wait a couple years and watch what happens..