More Junkmail from Bob

Friday, April 06, 2001
Important Stuff.

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Only in California

California politicians agreed to raise electric rates, after vowing only weeks ago not to. They apparently were following Dubbya's lead in reversing promises about power companies. This will lower electricity usage and allow the utilities to buy more out-of-state power. In response, PG&E filed for bankruptcy. Strange, but true.,1283,42898,00.html

Why don't the power companies just build more plants in California? Would you, if the state is likely to limit on the price you can charge even when your costs go above that price? What if it costs you millions of extra dollars just to meet California regulations? I might consider Nevada, too, if I was a power company.

Stealth GPS

Want to know where your car's been when someone else was driving it? Use a GPS. For $375, you can get a small GPS and hide it in your personal or company car. It logs the location of the car at all times. Then you can download the data to a PC.

If you're more serious about it, you can spend a little (or a lot) more and get a GPS transmitter. It uses a GPS to get the car's location, and then it transmits by radio. There is currently receiver coverage in several major metro areas, and I think you can use a mobile receiver for tracking if you're really after someone.

Some privacy advocates are protesting because the ATF used this device in the prosecution of a high-profile anti-government activist.,1283,42895,00.html

A common misconception about these devices is that the data is not transmitted to a satellite, and a satellite is not used to track a vehicle. That's impractical because there are too many people and not enough satellites. They work by getting the vehicle's position with GPS satellites and then transferring the data, either real-time or after-the-fact, to an earthling.

VFR into IMC

I occasionally feel the urge to harp on how stupid it is to kill yourself by flying a perfectly good airplane into bad weather. This remains to be the number one cause of airplane deaths in the U.S. Here are some fatal airplane crashes just from last month. They involved people flying VFR (visual flight rating) into IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions, or clouds). There may be other contributing factors in these accidents, and the pilots may be excellent pilots. But there's common theme -- flying VFR into the clouds.

(1) On March 10, 2001, at approximately 0845 mountain standard time, a Cessna T210L, N222ED, was destroyed following impact with terrain near Howard, Colorado. The non-instrument rated private pilot, the sole occupant in the airplane, was fatally injured. The airplane was being operated by the pilot under Title 14 CFR Part 91. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed for the cross-country personal flight that originated from Hollis, Oklahoma, approximately 3 hours 35 minutes before the accident. The pilot had not filed a flight plan; family members said the pilot was en route to Salida, Colorado.

(2) On March 3, 2001, about 1425 central standard time, a Piper PA-32RT-300T, N911PL, registered to Southern Air Systems, operating as a Title 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight, crashed offshore near Gulfport, Mississippi. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed, and a VFR flight plan had been filed, but not activated. The airplane was destroyed and the private-rated pilot, the sole occupant, is presumed to have received fatal injuries. The flight departed Tampa International Airport, Tampa, Florida, about 1215 eastern standard time.

(3) On March 6, 2001, at 2200 hours Pacific standard time, an experimental RV-6A, N46KA, collided with rising terrain west of Inyokern, California. The airplane was destroyed and the pilot and his pilot-rated passenger both received fatal injuries. The pilot/owner was operating the airplane as a personal flight under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91 when the accident occurred. The flight had originated from Zamperini Field in Torrance, California, and was en route to Mammoth Lakes, California. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed in the area and no flight plan had been filed.

(4) On March 9, 2001, at 2003 central standard time, a Piper PA-28-180, N55893, operated by a private pilot was destroyed when it impacted into a cornfield 1-1/2 miles northwest of Erhard, Minnesota. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The ferry flight was being conducted under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91 without a flight plan. The pilot sustained fatal injuries. The flight originated at Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, at 1940, and was en route to Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

(5) On March 9, 2001, about 1420 hours Pacific standard time, a North American Navion, N91445, was destroyed when it collided with terrain near Santa Ysabel, California. The private pilot/owner was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The pilot sustained fatal injuries. The personal cross-country flight departed Gillespie Field, San Diego, California, at 1348, en route to El Centro, California. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed. No flight plan had been filed. The primary wreckage was located at 33 degrees 06.525 minutes north latitude and 116 degrees 43.288 minutes west longitude. The GPS elevation was 2,870 feet... A review of Federal Aviation Administration records revealed the pilot held a private pilot certificate. He did not possess an instrument rating.

(6) On March 9, 2001, about 0950 hours Pacific standard time (PST), a Piper PA-32R-300, N1965H, was destroyed when the airplane impacted a mountain at the 4,800-foot msl level, 15 miles south-southeast of Essex, California.  The airport operator added that the weather was "bad" the day of the accident. The airport is in a valley and it was clear overhead; however, the mountain tops were obscured above 4,000 feet in dark clouds in all directions.  A flight instructor, who operated a flight school at Eagle Airpark, was acquainted with the pilot of the accident aircraft and recognized the airplane. She recalled the weather at Eagle Airpark was "fine" but there were some rain showers moving through the area. The mountain tops were obscured in clouds and the accident location was "probably" obscured in clouds.

(7) On March 12, 2001, at approximately 1215 mountain standard time, a Beech A36, N1080A, was destroyed when it impacted terrain at 10,400 feet above sea level on Pinnacle Peak, 15 miles southeast of Jackson, Wyoming, while in cruise flight. The private certificated, non instrument rated, pilot and his four passengers received fatal injuries. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the accident site and no flight plan was filed for this cross-country flight operating under Title 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated from Garden City, Kansas, at 0700.

I admit this doesn't hold a candle to drunk driving, but I still like to rant and rave about it on occasion.


Cloning is something that a lot of people don't understand. I don't want to say cloning animals or humans is good or bad, particularly since I don't know. But there are some people who have the impression that cloning a person is the process of making a duplicate of that person, body and soul. That's not true.

Cloning a person makes an embryo using the genes of one person instead of two. The product is a baby. That baby will be formed by its genetics and by its environment. It will be a separate person, a lot more different from its parent than identical twins are from each other.

If you assume, for the sake of argument, that there is nothing inherently immoral about cloning humans, you'll run into some other problems. People have genes that deteriorate over time. The faulty genes are usually replaced by good genes when an embryo is produced by two people because for some reason I don't understand, the faulty genes are weaker or less dominant. This is why in-breeding is a bad idea. This is also a simplified explanation since my understanding of this is pretty simple.

When researchers clone animals, they run into the bad-gene problem and have a fairly high failure rate in cloning. About 97% of clones don't survive. The failure rate will be reduced as people learn more about it, but it's not a simple matter to clone an animal. With this high a failure rate, most researchers won't consider trying to clone people.

But it will happen in the not-too-distant future, right or wrong. I don't think I want there to be a clone of myself, but I hesitate to say it's morally wrong (or right). When some form of new technology is automatically denounced by the righteous, it reminds me of Galileo and his jail time for saying the earth revolves around the sun.

Is it (a) or (b)?

        (a) "If people were meant to fly, we'd have wings."

        (b) "If people were meant to fly, we'd have brains."

And if the answer is (b), why are we flying anyway?

Spam Laws Coming

Finally, it looks like Congress is going to pass a law making some rules about spam, or unsolicited email. It will require bulk emailers to send their mail with a legitimate return-address. For my Junkmail just use for the return address. Dubbya will handle it for me.,1367,42707,00.html

I might mention that I agree with some of Bush's policies and disagree with some of them. The main reason I use the unflattering name Dubbya is that it sounds neat and I like making fun of the President. So there.

Iridium Flares Get a Reprieve

The Iridium Satellite system has been up and running for a week now. How can the new company (Iridium Satellite LLC) make it when the last one (Iridium LLC) couldn't?

I can see a couple of major differences. First, the new company got a $72 million government contract. Second, and more important, while the old company spent about $5 billion to launch and build the network of 50+ satellites, the new company bought the whole thing for $25 million. That means the new company pays interest (or the equivalent cost of money) of about $1.5 million a year compared to $300 million a year for the old company. That's a very significant amount.

Stocks and Markets

I would like to point out that I have maintained my perfect record in stock market predictions. Last fall I made the astute observation that the stock market had fallen to about where it ought to be, and would start going up. Since then, it has got down a lot more. It adds support to my foolproof method of getting rich on Wall Street -- watch what I do and then do something different.

I would also like to point out that I was actually correct about one thing. A company does, in fact, have to eventually make money in order to stay in business. You can only operate for a limited period of time as a pyramid scheme. Hundreds of dotcoms have closed their doors, after finding out the hard way that web traffic and notoriety does not always translate into cash. Profitability is inevitably required to keep a business alive, with the possible exceptions of Amtrak and the U.S. Postal Service.


The V-22 Osprey is a tilt-rotor airplane that has two huge propellers that can be pointed up for takeoff and landing, or tilted forward for cruise.

The U.S. Marines would like to use these to replace the 25 year old helicopter technology they use today. The problem is, they've been crashing a lot of V-22s.

It looks like a primary cause of this is that the hydraulics used to tilt the rotors take a lot of power and operate under higher than normal pressure. They use titanium hydraulic lines because they're strong and light. But titanium hydraulic lines crack easier than steel ones. Several of the V-22s have had hydraulic leaks. This can be bad in an airplane.

To complicate matters, there was a software bug that's related to this. Last December a V-22 crashed, killing all 4 people on the plane. It had a hydraulic leak. This should not have been a major deal. The proper procedure when this happens is for the pilot to press the control reset button. The pilot did this. Then the bug kicked in and caused the pitch of the blades to change a lot, causing the plane to veer out of control. So the pilot hit the button about 10 more times until the plane crashed.

I guess if they fix the hydraulics and the software, the planes should work pretty good. I don't know how cost-effective it is. At any rate, politicians will decide for political reasons whether to cancel the V-22.



Pictures of Today

The Crab Nebula.


I went to the RC Model Show in Toledo today. Here are some pictures of some nice planes and a couple of boats:


The model jet engines are really neat. Some of them have electric starters. They use the same oil and fuel that the TBM-700 uses. Here's one of the more popular ones:

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