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February 08, 2008

Comments

The NY State Senate has a three vote Republican majority. 32/29, and one vacancy. "The Senate has had a Republican majority since 1965."

That's primarily on upstate votes.

Balance of Revenue & Expenditure Among NYS Regions: Fiscal Years 4/1/97-3/31/98 Thru 4/1/00-3/31/01
5/1/2004
:

CGR analyzed information from various sources, including four years of the General Ledger of the State of New York , to trace the revenue and expenditures of New York’s budget by region. Contrary to the beliefs of many upstate residents, CGR’s study confirmed the conclusion of an earlier CGR analysis, that the City of New York is a large net contributor to the state, as are the NYC suburbs. Upstate New York, on the contrary, is a net recipient of funds. This study covered State Fiscal Years 98-01.

"I should have just stuck with NASA ;)"

I've followed NASA's ups and downs and ins and outs over the years to a moderate degree, though not remotely as closely as my friends who are active in the space community, and while there are certainly arguments to be made about various specific NASA decisions, and the question of the role of private enterprise in developing access to space is another big issue, but I'm not aware of any reasons to think that NASA became or has become unable to manage or accomplish large missions with the primary problem being a lack of sufficient all-around budget to accomplish all the missions they're tasked with, combined with endless Congressional budget cuts.

It's not as if NASA couldn't have done endlessly more, or better, just with more money.

The safety issues on the shuttle arose because of pressures to keep up an unreasonable launch schedule, given the limitations of the shuttle. The limitations of the shuttle exist because it was a big fat compromise of a design, because of compromises over money. The excessive launch schedule could have been dealt with another couple of shuttles, which again, would have cost more money. And so on.

I'm not saying that every problem NASA developed because of these isssues would have been cured purely by throwing money at them, because that's wrong. But it's unclear that most of the problems would have occurred in the first place, or are otherwise inherent simply because NASA is an American enterprise, and Americans aren't good at doing large longterm technical projects, or whatever the precise argument is.

Meanwhile, NASA has had a ton of brilliant successes with science missions -- and an occasional failure.

Turb: Are upstate voters really disenfranchised? As in, does NYC get a larger share of state money than it should based on its share of the population? Or are you saying that NYC voters are so numerous that the upstate denizens can't outnumber them?

Upstate is a dustbowl, a rust-belt. It’s died. I can’t express how depressing it is when I visit up there these days.

I should have said cities – with an S. It’s not just NYC, its Albany too. But yes – your vote in Franklin County is not worth the ink or even the chad.

Also, I should say that my first reading of your comment was similar to Dr Science's.

I’m baffled by that. My entire comment:

Not often I disagree with you, but let the cities run everything?

To me it is an urban v. rural thing. Period. I actually scratch my head and try to think how anyone could get something racist out of my comment.

DS: I think OCSteve is arguing that in a strict majority-rules democracy, the urban majority would get their way 100% of the time, whereas it would be more fair for urban areas to get their way 80% of the time, rural 20% of the time. Am I right, Steve?

What the hell was I arguing? It was a one line, 12 word comment.

"But yes – your vote in Franklin County is not worth the ink or even the chad."

Could you be a bit less metaphoric, and a bit more specific, as to how you mean, exactly, perhaps, please?

Thanks.

I'm not saying that every problem NASA developed because of these issues would have been cured purely by throwing money at them, because that's wrong. But it's unclear that most of the problems would have occurred in the first place, or are otherwise inherent simply because NASA is an American enterprise, and Americans aren't good at doing large longterm technical projects, or whatever the precise argument is.

There are two different problems here: 1. NASA's budget is too small for its mission and 2. NASA's leadership is incompetent.

If the US government is consistently unwilling or unable to provide agencies with sufficient funds to perform the tasks appointed to them, then that bodes poorly for a massive government run centralized nuclear power program, doesn't it? The same structural and institutional problems that keep NASA from getting a budget commensurate with its responsibilities will surely affect any other large central technology program as well.

I never said that Americans were too stupid to make technological things work given an infinite budget. What I did say is that the US government's track record in carrying out massive centralized technology projects has been poor. Over the last few decades at least; there's no need to talk about how awesome various engineering feats that were completed before anyone reading this was born are. I think that's true in part because we're culturally more hostile to massive centralized projects than the French are but also because elected representatives don't want to pay for such projects.

Beyond the money though, NASA's leadership has screwed up. If your boss tells you to do the impossible, the correct answer is "no, I can't do that safely because it is impossible". Functional leadership would never have approved the shuttle design in the first place and would certainly not have decided to build more shuttles after early operational experiences with the first one. This is the first rule of holes: you have to stop digging. So while we can talk about how NASA was underfunded, NASA also might have had more money to spend on alternatives if didn't waste billions of dollars on fundamentally unworkable designs like the shuttle. Certainly, having your spacecraft repeatedly explode imposes some fairly serious costs.

I'd argue that the combination of a government that consistently refuses to provide sufficient investment and insists on making do when there's not enough cash to get the job done safely is a recipe for disaster with a massive centralized nuclear program.

The Space Shuttles are an extraordinary feat of engineering that should never have been attempted in the first place -- a boondoggle pursued in lieu of many better options -- and so far NASA's managed to blow up two of them. Even if the NRC is twice as competent as NASA, one meltdown is one too many.

This analogy seems pretty straightforward to me. What are we arguing about?

I was wondering why Charles hadn't done his end-of-the-month report that we need another six months in Iraq.

Turns out he has. He just apparently decided not to post it at ObWi this time.

It's going to really surprise people to hear this, but Charles finds good news to report. Who could have predicted it?

I think he probably did mean to use pimp in its sense of being controlled by another. Of course Chelsea is going to volunteer for her mom and do her best to get her elected; she doesn't need to be coerced into doing that. At the same time, the continuation of the hands of media policy which was started by her parents (for good reason), telling kid journalists "I don't talk to the press," and strategically targeted appearances (like to Stanford sorority members) raises the question to some as to how free her activism actually is. All campaigns want their speakers to stay on message and not blather on about whatever they feel like talking about, but the parent-child relationship, carried over in a scripted setting in which the child is being unveiled deliberately and carefully in contrast to the many years of shielding and seclusion, makes her seem like a tool. Blunt, crass, sure, but he's also a pundit, not the news anchor and I think most people were clear what he was suggesting. He could have said: "they're using her as a chip," but he went for the flippant shorthand. James Carville was a pretty bombastic figure and the cameras loved him. Matthews is the slippery bastard.

WHy be surprised OBama won Eastern washington? He cleaned up in Idaho next door.

Concerning Chelsea Clinton
Photographs at her wikipedia entry show her speaking at events (though not the big ones).
One point for her working the phone lines instead of the crowds may be that she is not what most people would consider pretty. There were more than enough bad jokes about her being so ugly* that she can't be actually the natural child of her parents (that both can be considered good-looking). And at least since "JFK's hair won againt Nixon" this plays a non-negligible role.

*I have seen worse; she should do something about her hair though imo.

My dad forwarded to me this deeply moving poem by 12-year-old Cameron Penny, which appears in Voices in Wartime: The Anthology - A Collection of Narratives and Poems (2005):

If you are lucky in this life
A window will appear on a battlefield between two armies
And when the soldiers look into the window
They don't see their enemies
They see themselves as children
And they stop fighting
And go home and go to sleep
When they wake up, the land is well again.

One point for her working the phone lines instead of the crowds may be that she is not what most people would consider pretty.

Absent a poll of "most people," I'm not inclined to put much credence in this. I think Chelsea ain't half-bad, myself.

I continue to find it strange. You will collectively admit any kind of incapacity in execution of large projects (despite many examples to the contrary) rather than an incapacity of will.

That is the bottom line.

If the powerful, capable, dynamic United States of America truly wanted a well implemented, standardised, safe nuclear power programme it would come to pass. If the USA truly wanted to get people out of cars and into fast and efficient public transport and bikes it would come to pass.

Given the other large-scale activities (admittedly unproductive and badly executed) that the current administration has recently undertaken I think I can safely say that the money and effort would be well spent. What would you rather have, Guantanomo or urban rail? Foreign wars or stable base-line power provision for the eastern seabord?

This links back into the Clinobama cheerleading thread: who has the leadership needed to give your country what it needs, rather than what it thinks it wants?

More news on the Ohio ballots from the Plain Dealer. Looks like the county, at least, is going to be allowed to use a central-count optical-scan system for the primary, while the larger question of how the general will be handled remains open.

The central count system, unlike a precinct-count system, means no chance for voters to correct incorrect ballots, but there aren't enough scanners to have one at every voting precinct. So looks like there may still be votes that go uncounted. But hey, no big deal -- some of the ballots don't work in the machines anyway!

(This particularly bugs me: "A failure to test ballots before the May 2006 primary forced elections workers to hand-count thousands of absentee ballots that were rejected by scanners. The printing errors resulted in final election results being delayed by nearly a week." So what? Why can't we as Americans be as concerned with getting it right as we are with getting it quickly?)

FWIW, one of our local weeklies has this to say about Obama's chances in Ohio. Small number of data points, but in this county it's not insignificant:

As Ohio goes, so goes the nation, it's been said. Sixteen Cuyahoga County Democratic groups joined forces to host a straw-poll forum at Lakewood's Masonic Temple last Thursday to try to get some idea of which way Ohio's going in the presidential primary.

More than 100 politically engaged voters drank coffee, ate cookies, warded off marauding mobs of judicial candidates and cast ballots for Barack Obama, "Hilary" Clinton (call a proofreader!), the recently departed (from the campaign) John Edwards - or someone else.

Also working the crowd were all but one of the five candidates vying for the 10th District congressional seat. Rosemary Palmer, Barbara Anne Ferris and the incumbent Dennis Kucinich all passed out flyers and chatted with people as they came in, and Joe Cimperman arrived later. Prior to the presentations from the designated Clinton and Obama speakers, Kucinich told the crowd, "I've campaigned alongside Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Both are worthy candidates and both are ready to serve," clearly indicating he doesn't expect those who supported his own recently ended presidential campaign to sit home and pout.

State Sen. Dale Miller spoke on Clinton's behalf, noting first that he would enthusiastically campaign for whoever got the nomination, then keying in on his candidate's stances on issues of local interest, such as the foreclosure crisis. Lakewood Mayor Ed Fitzgerald spoke for Obama, remarking that prior to Obama's emergence, his own political heroes - Robert and John Kennedy - were dead before he was born, and expressing his excitement at having such an inspirational figure now. He too said that it was important to work to elect whichever candidate was anointed.

Finally, the vote was tallied by a "neutral, non-partisan" representative from the League of Women Voters. The end result: one vote apiece for Mike Gravel (yes, he's still in the campaign) and Joe Biden, two for Kucinich, seven diehards for Edwards, 34 for Clinton and 73 for Obama.

Clinton and Obama are debating at Cleveland State University on Feb. 26. If it's at all possible for me to attend I'm going to.

Barnabas,
I'm not sure if that is a plural you or a singular you, but there is a small addenda to make. You wrote
If the powerful, capable, dynamic United States of America truly wanted a well implemented, standardised, safe nuclear power programme it would come to pass. If the USA truly wanted to get people out of cars and into fast and efficient public transport and bikes it would come to pass.

What you have to add to that is if there were an overwhelming perceived need that was generally agreed upon by the American people. That is, something like WWII or Sputnik.

I believe that Americans are hopelessly independent to the point that they will attribute group successes to individuals. This may sound like making excuses, but the fact that the US is the only OECD country without an organized health care regime, or the only one that not only tolerates but encourages gun ownership are just two examples of how Americans value their perceived independence, even when it might be argued to harm them. I don't think there are any other countries where a notion of libertarianism has grown into the plant that you see now (a possible exception might be Australia I suppose)

That a whole series of related barriers has sprung up preventing the US from moving towards public transport or nuclear energy should be seen as facets of a perverse drive towards independence.

OCSteve:

What the hell was I arguing? It was a one line, 12 word comment.

-- in reply to hilzoy. It was certainly part of an argument in the sense of "discussion", though not in the sense of "yelling".

"WHy be surprised OBama won Eastern washington? He cleaned up in Idaho next door."

How much time have you spent in Eastern Washington?

It doesn't have Moscow, for one big reason.

"One point for her working the phone lines instead of the crowds may be that she is not what most people would consider pretty."

? I haven't see one of those cracks since she was a child. She seems perfectly normally attractive and pretty to me, and I've heard plenty of similar comments. Do you have something against curly hair? Do you have some objective polls to cite, or are you just pulling this out of... your personal opinion?

Thanks for the reports, Phil; but the Ohio meeting only accounted for Cuyahoga County, right? How representative of the rest of Ohio is that?

LJ: "What you have to add to that is if there were an overwhelming perceived need that was generally agreed upon by the American people. That is, something like WWII or Sputnik."

This is just trivial sloppiness I'm picking on for amusement, but I had no idea that America either started WWII in 1939, or launched Sputnik, due to perceived need. :-)

Anyone want a good laugh? Here's one.

Chelsea Clinton is definitely not ugly. So says I, at least.

DS: -- in reply to hilzoy. It was certainly part of an argument in the sense of "discussion", though not in the sense of "yelling".

I’m still looking for the linkage – mentioning rural v. urban = racist.

On the broader question though – what happens with smaller states? Rhode Island, Delaware, etc. Screw ‘em?

LJ. Your remarks on WWII and Sputnik suggest that the US accepts centralized projects only in response to a clear external threat. Now that brings us nicely round to current reality of course...

I think that creating a percieved need in the population could alsmost be the defining feature of polical leadership.

I am a project manager by trade and when we see one of our own flailing around after a host of symptoms without addressing the core problem we call it firefighting. It seems to me that, even given fiercely independant spirits, there has been a vacuum of strategic leadership.

I’m still looking for the linkage – mentioning rural v. urban = racist.

I know people that use urban as shorthand for black. They tend to be afraid of cities, but they certainly exist.

On the broader question though – what happens with smaller states? Rhode Island, Delaware, etc. Screw ‘em?

Um...yes. Why should voters in RI get a larger voice in government? I mean, our agriculture subsidies provide some evidence that increasing the political power of rural states far beyond their share of the population leads to poor policy outcomes.

Oh agriculture policy, if you didn't exist, we'd have to create you. You're the one thing that conservatives and liberals can agree is just totally broken.

Thanks for the reports, Phil; but the Ohio meeting only accounted for Cuyahoga County, right? How representative of the rest of Ohio is that?

To the extent that any city is representative of an entire state the size of Ohio -- which you and I would probably agree is "not much" -- the answer is, er, not much. It's a definite bellwether for Northern /Northeast Ohio, and probably for central Ohio as well; Columbus and Cleveland, as the largest cities in Ohio and in their respective regions, are pretty demographically similar and tend to vote similarly to my recollection. (Columbus obviously differs in having the gigantic Ohio State University and all the that engenders; although Northeast Ohio is peppered with medium-to-large liberal arts colleges like Oberlin, Baldwin-Wallace, John Carroll, etc.)

The vast swaths of Ohio between Cleveland and Columbus, and between Columbus and Cincinnati, are like rural areas anywhere else, and Cincinnati is of course extremely conservative. (We're trying to get Kentucky to annex it.)

So, like I said, with such a small data point, I wouldn't put any check marks in anybody's column just yet. But it's encouraging, in a county where a lot of the Democratic base is made up of old-school labor union Democrats who are otherwise kind of socially conservative.

It seems to me that, even given fiercely independant spirits, there has been a vacuum of strategic leadership.

I think this gets to the heart of the matter.

The debate about nuclear vs. coal vs. wind vs. whatever is very valuable. But, in the public debate at least, making basic changes in the way we live is simply not on the table.

American culture is designed around the assumption that everyone owns a car, and everyone drives everywhere they go. There's no reason that has to be so. It might take a couple of generations to change that. That's actually not that long of a time. Any other solution is going to take just as long.

Changes in the way we live need to be on the table.

I know people that use urban as shorthand for black.

That's true, but the commenter in this case was OC.

Your basic point here is valid -- race is factor in almost any public issue in the US. I'm just saying I find it doubtful that it's what OC had in mind.

Thanks -

Since it's an open thread, switching topics, some people spend a lot of time worrying about the dire threat of radical militant Islam, and support for al Qaeda, rising in Pakistan.

Actually:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Sympathy for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and the Taliban has dropped sharply in Pakistan amid a wave of deadly violence, according to the results of a recent opinion poll.

The survey, conducted last month for the U.S.-based Terror Free Tomorrow organization, also identified the party of assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as the country's most popular ahead of Feb. 18 elections, and said most Pakistanis want President Pervez Musharraf to quit.

The poll suggests Pakistanis are looking to peaceful opposition groups after months of political turmoil and a wave of suicide attacks.

According to the poll results only 24 percent of Pakistanis approved of bin Laden when the survey was conducted last month, compared with 46 percent during a similar survey in August.

Backing for al-Qaida, whose senior leaders are believed to be hiding along the Pakistani-Afghan border, fell to 18 percent from 33 percent.

Support for the Taliban, whose Pakistani offshoots have seized control of much of the lawless border area and have been engaged in a growing war against security forces, dropped by half to 19 percent from 38 percent, the results said.

[...]

Only one percent of Pakistani voters would cast their ballots in favor of al-Qaida if it was running in parliamentary elections, the survey results said, adding that the Taliban would get 3 percent.

In case anyone was wondering.

Barnabas, I agree with you insofar as, "I continue to find it strange. You will collectively admit any kind of incapacity in execution of large projects (despite many examples to the contrary) rather than an incapacity of will.

That is the bottom line."

Here's what you need to understand. The U.S. has an excellent historic record as far as creating huge, revolutionary advances in all sorts of areas (The Manhattan Project, Apollo, the Hoover Dam, etc., etc.). The fact is that our follow-through frankly sucks. Case in point: Bell Labs invented the transistor, but no one here saw a use for it, and voila: Sony.

I have little doubt that the U.S. could build the biggest, baddest, coolest nuclear reactor in the world if we set our minds to it. But I also have little doubt that within 5 years we'd have moved on to the next cool thing and forgotten all about it.

And the thing is, for nuclear reactors, that's pretty important. After you build them they require a lot of ongoing maintenance and support, year after year after year. The way our bureaucracy works, projects that aren't immediately visible to the public tend to get their budgets squeezed into oblivion.

[OK, quick primer in U.S. Administrative Agencies, and please excuse the alphabet soup:]

You can pretty much look across the entire field of U.S. bureaucracies, and the only ones that work at all are the ones that have high visibility, affect the public directly, and don't cost much, like the SEC, the OMB, and NOAA.

And even then most of the high-profile agencies are somewhat defective in their own right: FCC, NLRB, EPA, OSHA, FTC, Social Security (SSA), INS, FDA, PTO, BLM... They all kind of suck to different degrees, but they at least kind of work. Usually. They certainly don't work as well as a lot of their foreign counterparts.

But the agencies that have to work behind the scenes and that don't have natural constituencies are near useless: FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, NASA, the NRC, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (gack), the entire Dept. of Education, the entire Dept. of Energy, the entire Dept. of Transporation... the scary thing is that these are what, from a high level, you'd consider the "important stuff" -- i.e., our highways, electricity, schools... but they're not sexy issues, and so they get underfunded and don't really work.

(Please note that there are a lot of good, brilliant, dedicated people working in all the federal agencies, e.g. NASA -- some of whom are good friends of mine -- but I think that many of them will agree that the agencies themselves often don't work nearly as well as they're supposed to.)

It's just an unfortunate failing of the U.S. political bureaucracy that the first programs that get put on the chopping block are the long-term, upkeep-and-maintenance stuff. It just doesn't cause a big fuss if you cut education budgets by 5%, because the impact isn't immediately apparent. So it happens again the next year, then the year after that, and after that...

And this is why some of us think that nuclear power is just not a good fit for the U.S. (and really, the history of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does bear this out). Our follow-through is bad, and for nuclear reactors that's simply not acceptable. If you squeeze the budgets like you do with education, no one notices that all the plants are being run by people with no training and that parts aren't getting replaced on time until one of them blows up.

Now, if you propose to me that the U.S. start up a new Apollo program to make a working fusion reactor, I might support that, because that's the sort of thing we've traditionally been good at. But our expertise is in building better mousetraps, not in keeping the mousetraps we have in working order.

Concerning Chelsea
I do not think that she is ugly (although imo another hairstyle would suit her better, which again is not an objection to the hairstyle per se). I just remember the claim to be made* (and not just a decade ago but also recently) and that some pundits use(d) to make bad jokes on that enough to turn it into a meme. From the Clinton campaign's point of view that could be a reason to not put her as much into the limelight as they could. I would not be surprised to see the "French Kerry" replaced by the "Clinton horse" in the fair and balanced reporting on the alopecine fishing tool mill (did it matter whether Kerry "really" looked French? I don't think so).
Should Hillary Clinton get the nomination the rumors (=lies) about Chelsea's siring will be brought up again in any case.
I fear reality will again be at best a secondary issue.

*also by people that have no interest to push any view but simply make a statement of personal taste. Personally I find most "official" beauties rather unattractive.

Case in point: Bell Labs invented the transistor, but no one here saw a use for it, and voila: Sony.

Sony was actually somewhat of a latecomer to the game. I suspect they were successful not because they were innovative in technology so much as they were innovative in mass-production cost control.

Which still supports your point, I think, only it wasn't quite as simple as we invented the transistor (actually, transistors were invented by several people over a span of decades) and didn't know what to do with it; Sony is just a company that built a whole lot of radios using them. IIRC the first commercial, mass-production application was hearing aids.

Sony was actually somewhat of a latecomer to the game. I suspect they were successful not because they were innovative in technology so much as they were innovative in mass-production cost control.
That's kind of my point -- Bell Labs invented the transistor but didn't really exploit the technology because of their arrangements with the government granting them their phone monopoly; one of the side effects of the Kingsbury Commitment was that Bell had to divorce themselves from their research division, so Western Electric (the research arm) was just supporting Bell and doing work for the U.S., and they weren't try to monetize the technology.

Texas Instruments, Raytheon, Zenith and RCA took some shots, but no one in the U.S. was really able to monetize the technology. Sony convinced Bell to license it to them and built the TR-55. The amazing thing is just how unexceptional it was.

The moral of the story, for the purposes of this discussion, is that the transistor, one of the the most important technological innovations of the 20th century, was patented by a U.S. company in 1948 (meaning the patent would have extended to 1965) and licensed to a tiny Japanese company for peanuts -- and Sony used that technology to produce a radio in 1955 that gave birth to one of the most dominant consumer electronics corporations on the planet. Sony did nothing with the technology except build from the ground up and use smaller components. They invented nothing, but it didn't matter -- all they had to do was follow-through.

Even putting the radio aside, Bell Labs had a patent on freaking transistors and Sony was the company that got rich off of it. Transistors! That move makes IBM's screwup with Microsoft look like small potatoes!

Unfortunately, Sony seems to be crapping out lately. They are getting their clocks cleaned by Nintendo.

Unfortunately, Sony seems to be crapping out lately. They are getting their clocks cleaned by Nintendo.

Yeah, and AT&T's not exactly doing too shabby as of late. (In terms of money, not Price/Evil ratios.) Still, it's a good story. :)

licensed to a tiny Japanese company for peanuts

Sony was small enough at the time that if it'd been much more money, they wouldn't have been able to swing it. At the time, they gave the licensing fees some very serious consideration. Recall that Sony has a decent magnetic-tape (IIRC, could have been some other magnetic storage medium) business in the works, and they could have just stuck with that.

They invented nothing, but it didn't matter -- all they had to do was follow-through.

Not necessarily true. Designing something and turning out a product are two very different things.

I think inventors, for the most part, don't wind up reaping the rewards of their inventions. Sometimes they get screwed out of the credit, too.

Back to Sony, though, you could nearly equivalently point out how Sony has let the bulk of the transistor business slip through its grasp by not building computers, at some point, but I'm not sure where that would lead.

I guess I could have expanded the above into some sort of generalization to the effect that inventors are not well-suited to manufacture, and possibly manufacturers are not well-suited to invent, but I really don't know. There are lots of examples one could point to support that, and doubtless some counterexamples as well.

Yeah, there's tons of different anecdotes you can provide on either side here -- my personal favorites are Leslie Graves in the Manhattan Project and Edison's machine shops -- but in this case I was just trying to tell a story. To reiterate: freaking transistors. Even Tesla's got nothing on that.

Hmmm...Farnsworth invented the TV and sold the patent for $1 million.

Nope, probably nothing like the transistor. But they didn't have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight back then, either.

If only you knew then what you know now. Why, you'd have bought up cheap orange-grove land around where Disney now is, invested in IBM, and bought into Apple and Intel early.

I know a guy who did two of those things, and it made me suspect the existence of time-travel.

Slarti, I assume we're just shooting the breeze now, but I'm enjoying it, so I'll run with it. (At least you're not accusing me of being a torture-lover.)

Obviously, all of the 'follow-through' examples can be answered by the "if hindsight was 20/20 argument," but in the case of the transistor, it wasn't just that it was invented by Bell Labs (an experience R&D outfit who arguably should have known how to monetize it) and that TI, RCA, Raytheon, and Zenith couldn't do anything with it, it was also that the value was pretty easy to recognize even back then, and the patent was effective for at least 10 years after Sony built the TR-55 (IIRC, Bell still retained the license), and they still didn't do anything with it.

It's a debatable point, but it's still a good story. And there's good counterexamples to every story, of course; but to bring the discussion back to where it began, I'd still maintain that, speaking very broadly and admittedly stereotyping more than a little bit, the U.S. doesn't have a very good track record at follow-through.

We do big projects very well. But we even seem to prefer to systematize maintenance and boring management tasks (See, e.g., Eli Whitney, Edison's idea factories, Ford's assembly line, the great pre-war and post-war R&D labs, etc., etc.) -- anything to avoid having to fill out TPS reports or do anything that even resembles bureaucracy!

Sometimes I wonder if Germans and the Swiss just actually enjoy filling stuff out in triplicate. Different strokes, I suppose. They make better watches than we do.

I know a guy who did two of those things, and it made me suspect the existence of time-travel.

So you've seen that episode of Futurama too. The Farnsworth reference was the giveaway...

We do big projects very well.

If by well you mean on time and on budget and working correctly, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask for an example in the last twenty years.

I assume we're just shooting the breeze now

Absolutely! Although I'm not convinced that Bell Labs was ever all that motivated to turn ideas into moneymakers, through licensing agreements.

So you've seen that episode of Futurama too. The Farnsworth reference was the giveaway

Nope, never seen a single Futurama episode. I'm culturally stunted, you know.

If by well you mean on time and on budget and working correctly, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask for an example in the last twenty years.

Human Genome Project. Transitioning ARPANET into the current Internet. GPS.

Hmmm...GPS had been in the works since the early 1970s, at least, and the supposedly-bulletproof encryption put on the P-code solution was neatly cicumvented in short order by enterprising private-sector companies. By stating that SA would never be implemented, P-code level positioning accuracy was delivered to customers who don't hold GPS crypto keys.

I'd be amazed to learn that they were on time and under budget, given that it's a DoD program.

Just for fun and less off the top of my head: Artificial heart; Bose-Einstein condensate. High- capacity fiber; Asymmetric crystalline structures (Penrose tiling, etc.)

This is a fun game!

Are you saying someone invented a Bose-Einstein condensate, Adam?

;)

GPS reached full operating capacity in 1995. It was such an incremental project that I'm not sure how you'd define "on time" or "under budget," but it does work pretty well for the cost.

On the other hand, I would have put Hubble on the list too, despite cost overruns, because it strikes me as having been well worth it. ::shrug::

Are you saying someone invented a Bose-Einstein condensate, Adam?

Sort of -- the more they looked for it, the less they knew!

Did some one mention something about some technological feats that no one reading this thread is old enough to remember? I saw Telstar launch(on TV), I heard the words "Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed ".
We didn't build an SST because there was no money in doing so (do you see any now)and if you think all we got from going to the moon was a few technological advances, well you are just plain wrong.
Man do I feel old. Are the Monkees still around?

PS as a Field Artillery Forward Observer, I used GPS targeting in 1976. As well as a laser range finder( I couldn't estimate range worth a flip without it)

GPS in 1976? Wow. The first Block I went upin 1978.

Targeting systems still, for the most part, use laser rangefinders, Wayne. It's still hard to get range passively in a hurry. You guys could probably have done a decent job with triangulation, but that relies heavily on being able to accurately compute sightline azimuth.

Ok, 'nuff boring stuff.

"Nope, never seen a single Futurama episode."

Generally pretty funny stuff that I'd recommend, FWIW. A fair amount of obscure references tucked away hither and yon, including the variables in the opening credits.

"Did some one mention something about some technological feats that no one reading this thread is old enough to remember?"

Unlikely, since we've had people as old as 99 comment more than once, a number of regulars are in their sixties, and comments from people in their seventies aren't so rare as to make anyone lift an eyebrow.

Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz are "still around."

I'll have to put it on my Tivo list. Which might actually work, now that I've mostly worked my way, in no particular order, most of the episodes of Smallville.

Thanks, Gary,
Now I don't feel so old.
BTW Slartibartfast, the only way I know of to get range passively, is to look at the target and guess. Some guys are pretty good at it.

As I said, there's triangulation. That's completely passive, and can be fairly accurate, depending on how much you're willing to sink into equipment to determine sightline azimuth. There's also doing an inertial track on the target from a moving platform, which is a great deal like triangulation, only it takes a while to get enough baseleg.

And then there's map-registering an aerial photograph of the target, but that's not always possible. Measurement is probably your best bet, overall; you can laser-range a target to an accuracy of a couple of meters or less, over a distance of several miles. That's plenty good enough for artillery, I'd think.

I find it interesting that everyone called me out on GPS. I thought my ARPANET fudge was way worse. :) And the Human Genome Project was international (though arguably U.S.-centric).

I'm not sure it was an answerable question. I mean, the Internet and cell phones seem like the two obvious answers, but both were incremental technologies.

And it's a loaded question, too -- the U.S. has done all kinds of cool crash programs (Hoover Dam, Apollo, Manhattan Project, Hubble, etc.), but... budgets? We laugh at your so-called "budgets"!

BTW Slartibartfast, the only way I know of to get range passively, is to look at the target and guess. Some guys are pretty good at it.

Rule of thumb:

Hold up your thumb at arm's length over your target, look through one eye, then the other, estimate the distance between the two points marked out by your thumbs at the target's range, multiply by 10.

Supposedly.

I just read that yesterday. Haven't tried it yet.

I just read that yesterday. Haven't tried it yet.

OK, I gave in and tried it. I think the factor for me should be more like 8. But in theory, it seems like it should work if you know your own multiplier, right?

Adam's got fat thumbs!

We laugh at your so-called "budgets"!

Have I mentioned that I work for a defense contractor? We don't laugh at budgets so much as renegotiate them.

Slarti, being a science guy as you are, I can confidently predict that you will love Futurama. Pound for pound it was the most nerdlicious show on TV: Exec Producer David X. Cohen has a BA in physics from Harvard and an MS in comp sci from UC Berkeley; frequent writer Ken Keeler has a PhD in applied math; and many of the writing staff are math/science people.

See also Dr. Sarah's Futurama Math. A typical joke, in which the robot sidekick Bender meets his "evil" twin:

BENDER
Hey brobot, what's you serial number?



FLEXO
3370318.


BENDER
No way! Mine's 2716057!


[They both laugh. Fry joins in then stops.]


FRY
I don't get it.


BENDER
We're both expressable as the sum of
two cubes.


[Flexo cheers and they high five.]

As for Monkees, my wife has actually met Peter on several occasions, and has partied with Davy and Mickey after a show. I, on the other hand, have yet to meet a surviving Beatle or even Pete Best.

Being an open thread, I note with regret the deaths of both Tom Lantos and Roy Scheider.

Adam's got fat thumbs!

No, short arms! Wait, long arms! Widely-spaced eyes? ... I suck at trig. I'm think I'm actually better at calculus than trig. I would have made a horrible artilleryman. Especially with the thumbs.

Have I mentioned that I work for a defense contractor? We don't laugh at budgets so much as renegotiate them.

So kind of like, "Well, you can either have the front half of the plane now for free, or if you give us $40M more, you can get the back half..."?

I imagine the laughing comes afterward :)

But seriously: who could ask, with a straight face, for the rear end of a plane? Just think of the two-dimensional harrassment suits!

But seriously: who could ask, with a straight face, for the rear end of a plane? Just think of the two-dimensional harrassment suits!

"Now that's a hot piece of aft."

I, on the other hand, have yet to meet a surviving Beatle or even Pete Best.

Wait: please don't tell me you've met a Beatle that didn't survive.

who could ask, with a straight face, for the rear end of a plane

Someone did, just the other day, but we couldn't find it. We even called an All Hands meeting, but we couldn't find it will all hands.

Slarti, being a science guy as you are

Bless you, Phil, but I'm just a lowly engineer, and am largely unencumbered by sciencey talents. If I were to have, say, attempted to construct a particle accelerator in middle school, it was purely to impress the girls.

Well, maybe not. I honestly can't recall why I might have elected to start such a project.

Unfortunately, the design I picked sort of needed some glass-blowing skills that I was not in possession of, or the application of several hundred dollars toward a vacuum pump, and I didn't have the squeeze.

A real nerd would have finished it, and written the name of his true love with a beam of electrons on a piece of gold leaf.

On the original topic of this post, this piece by Jesse Sheidlower of the OED (who I used to chat with at panix.chat, back in the Nineties) is typically informative.

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