Must Read: “Elon Musk” by Ashlee Vance

Just when I was despairing of hard engineering efforts in the 21st century, I picked up this book on my public library’s Overdrive service.  Author Ashlee Vance captures the intellect and drive of this remarkable innovator as Musk disrupts three huge and ponderous industries: space rocketry, automobiles, and solar energy.   This effort after two successful internet startups that left him set for life. Instead of stepping aside to invest in more digital companies, Musk literally went all in with his personal fortune to deliver SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity.  His methods are like those of Lockheed’s Skunk Works but absent Lockheed’s deep pockets and defense connections.  His personality is a bit warped and it distorts some personal skills and family life but on balance his achievements far surpass his limitations. Just read it.

We Lived in a Remarkable Century, Part 3: Lockheed’s Skunk Works

Skunk Works is the story of Lockheed’s fabled  prototype and black production outfit that produced the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117A stealth fighter among other projects.  The Blackbird is a must-see at several air museums today, notably the Smithsonian at Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

The accelerated schedules and almost routine technical breakthroughs are a breath of fresh air compared to today’s decades-long projects that result in disappointments like the B-2 and F-35.

This book is worth the price just for the summaries of Blackbird training flights: literally coast to coast and border to border and return in less than four hours! – leave home in Sacramento, take off about nine am, refuel over the Pacific, fly cross country and north-south, refuel again near Miami, return in time to play tennis before cocktail hour.

Photograph all of North Korea in ten minutes (that’s how they found the USS Pueblo sequestered in a North Korean port.)

And on and on.

h/t Philip Greenspun’s Weblog





Coach Popovich on the Election

Coach Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs sees it pretty much like me. I’m placing his remarks here for posterity:

“Right now I’m just trying to formulate thoughts. It’s too early. I’m just sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor and tone and all of the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.

“I live in that country where half of the people ignored all of that to elect someone. That’s the scariest part of the whole thing to me. It’s got nothing to do with the environment and Obamacare, and all of the other stuff. We live in a country that ignored all of those values that we would hold our kids accountable for. They’d be grounded for years if they acted and said the things that have been said in that campaign by Donald Trump.

“I look at the Evangelicals and I wonder, those values don’t mean anything to them? All of those values to me are more important than anybody’s skill in business or anything else because it tells who we are, and how we want to live, and what kind of people we are. That’s why I have great respect for people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain, John Kasich, who I disagree with on a lot of political things, but they had enough fiber and respect for humanity and tolerance for all groups to say what they said about the man.

“That’s what worries me. I get it, of course we want to be successful, we’re all going to say that. Everybody wants to be successful, it’s our country, we don’t want it to go down the drain. But any reasonable person would come to that conclusion, but it does not take away the fact that he used that fear mongering, and all of the comments, from day one, the race bating with trying to make Barack Obama, our first black president, illegitimate. It leaves me wondering where I’ve been living, and with whom I’m living.

“The fact that people can just gloss that over, start talking about the transition team, and we’re all going to be kumbaya now and try to make the country good without talking about any of those things. And now we see that he’s already backing off of immigration and Obamacare and other things, so was it a big fake, which makes you feel it’s even more disgusting and cynical that somebody would use that to get the base that fired up. To get elected. And what gets lost in the process are African Americans, and Hispanics, and women, and the gay population, not to mention the eighth grade developmental stage exhibited by him when he made fun of the handicapped person. I mean, come on. That’s what a seventh grade, eighth grade bully does. And he was elected president of the United States. We would have scolded our kids. We would have had discussions until we were blue in the face trying to get them to understand these things. He is in charge of our country. That’s disgusting.”

A reporter then interrupted him.

“I’m not done,” Popovich said. “One could go on and on, we didn’t make this stuff up. He’s angry at the media because they reported what he said and how he acted. That’s ironic to me. It makes no sense. So that’s my real fear, and that’s what gives me so much pause and makes me feel so badly that the country is willing to be that intolerant and not understand the empathy that’s necessary to understand other group’s situations. I’m a rich white guy, and I’m sick to my stomach thinking about it. I can’t imagine being a Muslim right now, or a woman, or an African American, a Hispanic, a handicapped person. How disenfranchised they might feel. And for anyone in those groups that voted for him, it’s just beyond my comprehension how they ignore all of that. My final conclusion is, my big fear is — we are Rome.

Trump vs. Clinton: A Coin Toss With No Heads

I spent a lot of this day-after reading  Clinton vs. Trump election post mortems. Commentators dismissing millions of voters as ignorant and stupid. This is too many people in too many states to wave them away so simply.

 Our politics delivered the two worst simultaneous candidates in my lifetime. Years ago Bob Dole was awful, and Mike Dukakis was awful, but they didn’t come together. 2016 was Hobson’s choice and one was elected by a tiny sliver, even as the other could have been. I’m NeverTrump but the election did not offer me a real alternative, just another flavor of unsatisfactory. 

There’s a core of genuine supporters for both, but also enough people like me who support neither (but chose one) to move the election either way. It was a coin toss with no Heads.

Election as Pro Wrestling – Lights Out

The Presidential wrestling match is entering the final out-of-the-ring frenzy. Team Hillary was body slammed by the FBI so they tagged Beyonce for the rescue. Time for all the surrogates to jump in and out, throw chairs, and deck the ref. The lights go out as Hillary grabs the comb-over and Trump grabs the butt of the starlet who announces the match. Tuesday can’t come soon enough. 

(A few people liked this on Facebook so I put it here for posterity.)

Trump in Panama City Beach

I went out to the Trump venue last night as planned.  It is an outdoor amphitheater at the Pier Park mall and town center, SRO capacity about 10,000.  Reportedly about the same number outside; the venue was overwhelmed and parking slammed throughout the mall complex and feeder streets.  The weather was excellent.

The assembling crowd  was 99.99 percent white, mostly older although many children and younger couples. Signs and demonstrations were discouraged, and except for just a few over-the-top t-shirts no untoward behavior. I found a spot outside the fence but in earshot of the stage. The warm-up speakers were local and regional politicians, ministers, candidates, and Republican officials.  Trump ran almost an hour late;  I left before he arrived.

The warm-ups were disturbing to me.  The atmosphere was almost Pentecostal camp meeting, with Hillary Clinton as Satan and Donald Trump(!) as Savior. 

 One candidate did a chant exhorting: “Christians, hold on! Donald Trump is coming!” “Nation of Israel, hold on! Donald Trump is coming!”  “Neglected military and veterans, hold on! Donald Trump is coming!” …and on through the unemployed, the displaced, a litany of despair to be relieved by… Trump.  Rousing cheers in response to each declaration of this mystical Coming of Trump.

Other speakers brought up other lost or endangered causes: gay marriage, guns, abortion, law and order, deep trouble across the land.  All laced with Hillary Clinton’s crimes and malevolent plans to degrade society.

About 7:30 PM the outside crowd had realized there was no hope of getting inside, so people started finding listening spots along the fences. This seemed to disturb the authorities and police, who commenced herding the crowd back to the hopeless entrance and yellow-taping the street to keep people from some of the remaining spots with audio access. When the police  got stern and brought out their K-9, I left. I have zero tolerance for police dogs.  Still no Trump.

I drove 30 miles home and watched Giuliani and Trump on local TV (kudos to WMBB-TV, the local ABC station that pre-empted ABC’s network schedule).

Rudy Giuliani’s intro was heavy on Hillary’s crimes and FBI special treatment, and his total confidence in Donald Trump to restore order.  Trump gave his usual word salad stump speech, with little evidence he even knew where he was.  The crowd loved it and interrupted often with applause.

I’m concerned about what happens after this election.  These candidates and speakers left no space for reconciliation or engagement with Democrats, win or lose. It seems quite possible a Trump loss would move a large faction to isolate themselves even more from government, becoming a large hostile tribe akin to the Orange after the Northern Ireland Troubles.  Let’s hope and pray not. 

Sully: The Official Accident Report is Great Reading

This cross-posted from my comment on Philip Greenspun’s Weblog. Went to his link from a post on the Sully movie and read the accident report. Long but you don’t have to read it all. Sully did a great job but not just stick-and-rudder. He instinctively started the auxiliary power unit and thus retained all the automation and hydraulic power needed to ditch in the “normal law” fly-by-wire regime which protects the plane from stalling. I had presumed he was in one of the degraded regimes that are more dicey. They were also fortunate to be in one of 20 USAir A320’s equipped for over-water (more than 50 miles offshore) so they had slide-rafts and did not have to depend on 150 shocked passengers finding and donning life vests. A few people did, and some more removed their seat cushions, but the rafts plus the wings kept everybody out of the 42 degree water, which would have killed some trying to swim unassisted. Finally, it was also very fortunate to land on a busy ferry route with professional crews. And, as philg said, the airframe exceeded it’s structural design by remaining almost intact despite an impact almost double the design conditions.

I have not seen the movie but it can’t be much better than the report for a tech or aviation enthusiast. Lots of background stuff on FAA , engine design, Airbus and the bird strike problem in general.