evil Bond villain unveils plans for Opticon One Moon base

It must be nice to be the world’s richest man (until the divorce paperwork clears) because you can come up with all kinds of harebrained schemes. Going to the Moon is awesome, I find it offensive to humanity that we haven’t been there in five decades, but do we really need to go there? Probably not. Maybe all of that money should be better spent curing malaria.

But Bezos (hereafter Scaramanga) has an ego the size of Saturn. It’s rumored he finds it personally offensive that SpaceX and notorious emo nutcase Elon Musk are considered the better bet for space travel. Scaramanga’s Blue Origin builds smaller rockets, has less clients, and in general was considered less ambitious in its goals. No longer. Now it’s the Moon baby!

Scaramanga seems to think he can meet the US government’s deadline to get back to the Moon by 2024. This is the NASA deadline favored mostly by Mike Pence and previously announced. It’s also a fantasy deadline because the plan relies on a rocket and space vehicle that do not exist and likely will never fly, ever. In other news, NASA is a joke.

SpaceX is focused on the more mundane (and actually profitable) business of launching satellites into space. This leaves plenty of room for Scaramanga to lose money on his vanity project. And so if Scaramanga is serious, and the technology is viable, he sure does have the cash to make this happen. It’s probably humanity’s best bet for getting back to the Moon.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish the best for this. Humanity needs something awesome to do other than the latest version of the iPhone. It’s just weird that the potential arm of humanity that will take us back to the Moon after all this time is Scaramanga, funded by a company that’s ruthlessly trying to take over every aspect of human life to the point they’ve even conned millions to put a live listening device in their own homes. Amazon is the Giant Octopus.

And so, here’s what Scaramanga really has planned for his Moon Base, code named Opticon One:

– Death ray (of course)

– Space based delivery drone concept that takes moon rocks and delivers them to your door (for a nominal fee)

– Shameless harem of the world’s most gorgeous women who wanted to go to space (don’t judge, the man is now single)

– Subterranean strip mine of Moon minerals worked by non-union slave labor (we’ll throw some poor cute kiddies in there too for good measure)

– Second death ray (you don’t build your own Moon base without being ridiculous)

– Amazon Web Services cloud servers capable of storing knowledge of all humanity (such knowledge is needed for Earth’s new citizens)

– Conveyer belt of spheres filled with weaponized nerve gas capable of wiping out all human life (and kitties too, one of them scratched Scaramanga when he was a child)

– One ordinary average employee who works in quality control (and happens to have steel teeth)

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Bond: You’ll never get away with this, Scaramanga!

Scaramanga: [laughs] Oh no, you’ll see, you can’t stop me, Mr Bond. For you see, when I’m finished, humanity will … [dramatic music] purchase household cleaning goods online at 13% increased profit margins to my fulfillment centers! [uncontrollable raging laughter]

Bond: …

Scaramanga: …

[bond shoots Scaramanga in forehead; rescues kiddies and harem]

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ordinary, average, human experience

Boss tells you to do something. You do it. Boss comes back, apologies, and says they wanted something different. Boss walks away. Boss then comes back, and yells at everybody for doing it wrong in the first place. Boss then sends an inflammatory e-mail to all impacted colleagues demanding said product now and asking why it’s late.

I would gather for most, this is not an uncommon experience.

You know, in so many different ways, part of me wants to take us back to the stone age. Back then, things like this could be handled so much more simply. I could just challenge the boss to a fight to the death. Only the strong, wise, or guileful got to lead. Now, anybody can lead, and be permitted by society’s ‘rules’ to fail and fail again and lead for years and years thus increasing the overall misery of others without consequence.

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Give me back my drunken club fights!

NASA loses keys

Imagine you’re taking two dogs to the mountains for the weekend.  It might snow, and you want your dogs to have a jacket in case they duel a grizzly bear and need to keep warm.  Both your dogs need medium sized jackets.  Do you:

a) Make sure you have two medium jackets, and if not, buy one or two

b) Not bother to check at all and hope it somehow all works out

c) Panic

d) Ask your dogs for money

e) Skip your mountain trip and sit on your floor playing with your dogs as you drink beer

Most normal people would choose option (a).  But apparently not NASA, you know, those people who are geniuses and make things go into space.  Last week NASA announced that it would have it’s first all female spacewalk.  Because apparently these diversity things matter to NASA when it currently doesn’t have a functional space vehicle with which to get it’s astronauts into orbit so we rely on the Russians.

But as it turns out they cannot conduct this two female spacewalk because, wait for it, they don’t have two medium sized spacesuits.  This is not a joke.  This is legitimately happening.  Apparently NASA planned a complex dangerous spacewalk but didn’t bother to make sure they had two appropriate spacesuits.  I mean how hard is this?  One of the flight engineers could have asked her five year old to look at an inventory list and see the word ‘medium’ next to ‘spacesuit’ and make sure the number said at least two.

In related news, Boeing (that company that has problems lately), has now burned through north of $5B, yes billion, to produce a rocket that hasn’t flown once (and will probably never fly) and will take longer to produce than it took NASA to get to the Moon.

Man, this organization used to be the pinnacle of technology and awesome.  But that was five decades ago.  Now these folks probably lose their keys on their way to the parking lot.

Just disestablish NASA and give its entire budget to help fund STEM scholarships for poor kids.  Let the commercial sector have a go at space awesomeness.  They’ll do a cheaper, probably safer, and at least remember to look at an inventory list before planning a mission.

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Have fun!  Make sure you remember your airlock keys to get back into the station!

Boeing has a lot to answer for

Everybody should withhold final judgement until the Ethiopians and the American investigators have gotten a crack at the boxes.  But eyewitness reports indicating that the aircraft was breaking up in flight are troubling.

I flew yesterday on a 737-800 which looks mostly like a 737 Max and I was glad when I got aboard and realized it was an 800.  I mean I’m not trying to be too dramatic, my rental car drive to the airport was 700 times more dangerous, but I did sleep better on the flight.

It used to be that Airbus built planes that killed people with wacky failures in the electronics and systems.  Airbus hasn’t done that since Air France 447 in 2009.  Has Boeing now assumed that tragic role?  And if so, why and how?

What we do know is that the Lion Air crash in Indonesia was partly a maintenance failure, but also Boeing’s fault.  The pilots had the correct input on the controls, the airplane ignored them.  The plane killed those people.  Again, we’ll see what Ethiopia says on this latest crash.

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eliminate most words (and other wise ideas)

So you’re at the grocery and you turn over some of your hard earned international gold reserves and in exchange are provided various food products.  You can then consume those various food products in order to sustain life.

And you stare down at the box containing (an ultimately mediocre) breakfast bars and they have this little nugget on the box:

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“New Look – Same Great Taste”

What exactly is the point of this?  Who on the planet could possibly care about the look of the box?  Even the text of this graphic is all squiggly and happy.  Like I’m supposed to assume the emotional core of a blissful meth elf because they updated the design of this box?

Does this sort of thing actually, really work on people?  It must, because it happens a lot.  Advertising goons do this all the time.  They throw out words in some desperate attempt to engage your brain.  For example, when they change the names of companies for no reason at all.

When The Onion isn’t busy shaming itself by getting in on the already overly tedious and incessant bash Trump wagon they put out some pretty darn hilarious stuff.  Years ago they put out something similar to this nonsense post when they wrote about “Under New Management” with this one.

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The only solution to this problem is to eliminate most words.  In order to put a word on a box of cereal bars, the advertising goons have to submit themselves to a trial by ordeal with a drunk thug from Valhalla.  The price goes up by each word used.

For example, if the ad executive uses the term “Great Taste” it’s 30 seconds in the ring with the thug.  Why is the thug drunk first thing in the morning?  It’s what he does.

Thus, “New Look – Same Great Taste” equals about one minute and 15 seconds of action with the thug.  Given that these folks are all losers (they work in advertising) I’m guessing they’d defer the thug battle.

And the rest of us would have less words to deal with in the daily course of our lives.  It’s win / win!

Please hold your applause at the display of brilliance contained within this post.  [claps hands in an empty room]

supersonic will soon be back, but it won’t be big

Sometimes technology seems to go backwards.  For example, the US used to operate the shuttle which was a relatively advanced reusable spaceplane.  Now NASA has nothing, and the replacement vehicle in development has more in common with the Apollo or Soyuz space capsules than it does with the shuttle.

Likewise, Concorde first flew in 1976.  Here we are over 40 years later and every single commercially viable passenger plane of any size is exclusively subsonic.  I’ll save my thoughts pf NASA’s failures for another day.  Today I want to focus on supersonic.  More and more in the news you see that several companies are trying to dive back into supersonic.

But first, what happened after 1976?  In short, supersonic failed for a number of reasons:

– It was never cost effective: Concorde burned a lot of fuel, had a large maintenance footprint, and could never get the cost per seat / seat vacancy ratios correctly to turn a consistent profit.

– Development: Because of the cost considerations, nobody saw a reason to develop a successor to Concorde.  By the end of the 20th Century, Concorde was a 20 year old design and the airframes were reaching the end of usable service.

– 2000: The Air France crash was the end of the road.  Adding up the cost and service life against the reality of a full crash was the end of the program.

And there we’ve sat for decades.  But now folks are willing to try again.  Why:

a) Air travel and airline technology has become so advanced as to be scary in terms of safety. Western airlines have a safety record that’s downright miraculous. Lawnmowers kill more people each year.

b) Modern super fuel efficient engines combined with advanced computing might be close to cracking the code on the cost problem. When you add in the composites that make the newer airframes strong and lighter I think they might cross the threshold on turning a profit per flight.

c) Humanity is more obsessed with time. In the business world, seconds matter whereas when Concorde last flew perhaps only minutes mattered. Think of it, in 2000 smartphones didn’t even exist.  The world has gotten faster, and so I think folks will be far more inclined to put down the cash when they’re staring at the reality of a flight time that gets cut in half.

But will it work?  Well, let’s examine the most realistic commercial supersonic venture.

Boom Supersonic has already booked aircraft orders, 10 from Virgin, and 20 from JAL.  The expectation is they’re flying commercially by 2025.  Its jets will seat 55 passengers, go across the Atlantic in half the current time, and cost approximately $5K per ticket.  Boom claims to have cracked the code on fuel efficiency and subduing the impact of the dreaded sonic boom.

My conclusions:

1) I searched online, trying to book over two months in advance, Heathrow to JFK with a one week dwell.  The cost for an Economy seat is $400.  Boom’s jet is single aisle, single seat each side.  To me, this is an exclusively Business / First Class jet.  Economy does not apply. For a Business flight it’s all over the place.  You can go on TAP Portugal for $2.1K.  Air France is $6K.  United is $7K  To fly BA is $7.5K.

So let’s get something straight.  If Boom states that it’s $5K per seat they either mean the cost to them and/or they’re fibbing on future prices.  When all the major carriers are already charging Atlantic rides for well over $5K for subsonic, then my back of the napkin math says a Boom supersonic seat costs closer to $10K.

So right off the bat you’re looking at a ticket that’s 20 times more expensive between Economy and supersonic.  Thus, to declare that the supersonic ticket is already in the realm of the super-rich is an understatement.  Already it’s the same high-risk niche market Concorde had to struggle with.

2) I don’t care what Boom or others claim, the sonic boom problem is a major problem.  Even if Boom can produce a severely muffled boom, they still can’t break physics, there will still be a boom.   And if there’s a sonic boom, it’s going to be regulated.  If it’s regulated, it’s not going to be easy.

All supersonic has to do is lightly tap one skyscraper apartment window in Manhattan and there will be people up in arms about how the boom is giving them phantom headaches.  Then the lawyers come out of the bushes and it’s a gigantic mess.  Can Boom and other companies get around this by only going supersonic over water, sure.  But in the end as with Concorde, the sonic boom problem is not going to be a rounding error.  It’s a big problem.

3) Think about the turnover rate of a standard subsonic jet.  Take a 737 flying inside the US.  On any given day, one jet is expected to fly over half-a-dozen flights.  They have to turnover at the gate in less than an hour and get back in the air.  They have to not seriously break over hundreds of hours of constant flight.  They have to do it at the safety rate of zero crashes.  Can Boom or other companies crack the code on this, keep the aircraft available enough to fly again and again to generate profit, and do it safely every single fight?  I think they can definitely do it.  But I’m not sure they can do it and consistently make money.  New technology is hard to master.  And going supersonic on a completely new airframe isn’t going to be an easy thing to do.

You need only look at the development hell Airbus and Boeing have gone through with their latest subsonic jets to realize how hard building airplanes is.  Going supersonic is going to generate a whole new level of difficulty.  Plus, Boom is a company that doesn’t have a sustained record of success with previous aircraft models.  Look at what happened with the Bombardier CSeries.  That jet crashed out in development hell because Bombardier made too many mistakes.  They had to sell out the airframe to Airbus for like $1 to avoid bankruptcy.  And the CSeries is a pretty basic modern subsonic jet, and it still was impossible for Bombardier to succeed.  I’m not sure I think companies like Boom truly understand how hard their task will be to develop and build supersonic without going bankrupt in the process.

In closing, I think we’ll see supersonic return and soon.  But given that the passenger market is still only the exclusive rich, the remaining associated problem of profit risk, and my concerns about technology development, I think the end result is supersonic is going to be a very, very small footprint by say 2030.  Only a handful of jets will fly and the companies that run them will be scraping by paycheck to paycheck on cost.  In the end, I don’t think supersonic is going to be viable for major airlines on anything but a small scale.  It’ll be a niche market, or perhaps become a major chunk of the private jet market.  But large scale from major airlines?  I just don’t see it.

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But who knows, maybe I’m wrong?

the false promises of doing good

It seems every few weeks something that was once benign is placed in the crosshairs and suddenly becomes beyond the pale.  Did you know plastic straws were evil?  Well, I guess they are now.  Because a bunch of people said so.

Accordingly, Starbucks is set to ban the use of all plastic straws within two years.  This will supposedly help do better for the planet by removing a source of plastic that for the most part can’t be recycled.

Here’s my problem though.  People might feel good about this, but in the end it’s not even a rounding error.  Plastic straws were fine, now they’re bad.  So folks will hate on them and get rid of them.  Just like plastic bags.

In the end though, what does all this actually accomplish?

I read an article that said in order to overcome the carbon footprint of making a reusable bag verses a plastic bag that you have to use the reusable bag like 150 times.  Let’s say the average shopper goes to the grocery once a week.  That’s three years of using your reusable bag before you were better off asking for plastic.

Are folks actually using their reusable bags for north of three years?  I do, but I’m not sure most people do.  And so banning plastic bags may have done some good, but not nearly as much good as folks probably think.

Think banning plastic straws is going to help the planet?  It might, but not nearly as much good as folks probably think.  Just take a gander as this report from The Economist which shows the life cycle of plastic throughout the planet.

The vast, vast majority of plastic that enters the oceans comes from Asia where consistent recycling and landfills do not exist.  So Starbucks can ban all it wants, but that’s not going to stop rivers of plastic from flowing down the Yellow River into the sea.

And Starbucks also doesn’t seem to love the planet enough to stop using disposable coffee cups that can’t be recycled.  I hope folks realize this.  That over 99% of disposable coffee cups are in fact not recycled regardless of what’s claimed or where they’re tossed.

But do you think Starbucks is going to do something about getting rid of disposable coffee cups?  I doubt it.  Why?  Because: $

There are ways to help the planet.  And even executing rounding error efforts like banning plastic straws helps.  But false promises can also be dangerous.  Solving ocean plastic is hard.  Just comprehend what it’d take to help all of Asia establish coherent trash and recycling policies.

But when all you’ve got from folks is easy answers like: “Oh, I’m not using a plastic straw, I’ve done good for the planet today. [pleasing sigh]”  Then that’s a false promise and in the end doesn’t really help the planet.  Particularly if the thought stops there, and doesn’t move on.

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