Thursday, June 26, 2008

Odd Times

Today has certainly started out on a bizarre note. For starters, you can tell the economy is getting bad when strippers feel the need to drum up business. After all, this is not normally an industry segment that advertises much (outside Vegas), as there is, shall we say, a built-in demand for their services.

Which is why I was surprised (and amused) this morning as I turned on to Lawrence Expressway, and saw two young, relatively attractive women holding up pink signs that said "Kit Kat Club -- $15 Lunch Buffet".

Afterwords I got in to work and began my early-morning work-avoidance routine (reading the news). While doing this I saw this CNN article about the D.C. handgun ban being struck down. There were a variety of supporting and opposing opinions filed by various groups. Coming in on the side of gun owners was not only the NRA, but a group called the Pink Pistols -- a group which promotes gun ownership for "gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or polyamorous persons".

I wonder what the rest of the day has cooked up for me. It's not even 10AM yet.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Not Lacking in Chutzpah

I have to admit, Blackwater has really outdone themselves on this one.
The widows of three U.S. soldiers filed suit against Presidential Airways after Blackwater Flight 61 crashed in 2004 while carrying the men over Afghanistan. The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the crash on procedural problems at Presidential.

But the News & Observer says lawyers for the military contractor argued in a recent court filing that the case should be decided based on the laws of Afghanistan.

After securing agreements in Iraq that their employees there should not be subject to Iraqi law for their actions, it wants this case tried under Sharia law because the plane owned and operated by a U.S. company operating for the U.S. government carrying U.S. soldiers happened to crash into Afghani soil.

When trying to be despicable, they really pull out all the stops, don't they?

Cool or Cold Fusion?

A researcher in Florida claims he is on the path to having a workable flying saucer. It works by ionizing the air around the saucer, causing air currents that provide lift. The best part is that it's all solid state, with no moving parts.

Initially I laughed it off, although apparently this is the culmination of years of government-backed research into this area of fluid dynamics. Now I'm at "I'll-believe-it-when-it-flies".

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sexy, but...

Just read a couple news articles on the launch of the new ICON amphibious aircraft. It's a good-looking plane, with nice lines and clearly a lot of auto-type industrial design having gone in to it. I just wonder if they remembered the "plane" part.

Once you get past the sexy looks, the proposed specs don't look so attractive. First, all the numbers are estimated, so should be taken with a grain of salt. Compared against the closest competitor, the Czech Aircraft Mermaid, it's about the same speed (120 mph vs. 118), both of which are slow relative to other light-sport aircraft, which can cruise at 135-140mph. That seems to be the price of the amphib.

At $140k, it's fairly pricey relative to competitors at $85-110k, and 420 lbs of load makes it effectively a one-seater, since you can't carry 2 180lb adults and reasonable fuel. The Mermaid has a load of 505 lbs, and non-amphibs are usually good for 600lbs.

The dash is a triumph of design for non-pilots. To the uninitiated, I suppose it looks futuristic but comforting in a sports-car way. To a pilot/owner, it looks like a bunch of useless plastic taking up perfectly good panel space that will have to be ripped out at the first avionics upgrade. Speaking of which, if I'm going to pay top dollar for an aircraft, it should come with top-of-the-line avionics, and not gussied-up steam gauges. Important items such as an audio panel, transponder and 2nd comm radio are absent and have no obvious home. I can only hope that the interior is a mock-up and that sanity will prevail once they start rolling down the production line.

In short, I won't be lining up to buy one, but then again I already have a plane. The styling and the automatic swing wings are attractive, and I have always liked the amphib's ability to use any water area as a runway. But ultimately the ICON seems overpriced for what you're getting.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pretty, But Pretty Useless

It's no secret that I'm not a huge fan of the current administration, but it seems like defense secretary Gates has got his priorities straight. He is seeking to curtail production of advanced fighter aircraft like the F-22 and focus on the needs of immediate conflicts, which run more to UAVs and transport aircraft.
Gates has often singled out the cutting-edge Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor as a prime example of what he deemed misplaced military priorities. "The reality is we are fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater," Gates told a Senate committee in February.

Gates sacked current air force head General Mosely and his suggested replacement will be the first head of the air force in 25 years who is not a former fighter pilot.

Like most large institutions, the Air Force fights for its own aggrandizement rather than looking to the good of the whole, and is actively trying to increase the amount of porkfunding going its way. But the reality on the ground is that the Air Force is increasing irrelevant for modern conflicts -- airpower over the battlefield is most likely to come from a carrier, or from ground-support aircraft like the A-10 or attack helicopters (which the Air Force hate). Strategic bombing is passe for modern low-intensity conflicts, our nuke inventory is being gradually reduced, and cyberwarfare is much-hyped but of improbable use on an actual battlefield. So the Air Force needs to find a new mission or risk being downsized into a military version of UPS.

Would that be a bad thing? Perhaps not.

Engineer Humor

I was reading through the IEEE specification for Ethernet (thrilling stuff), when I noticed the following bit definition: STFU (1.30.14)
When this bit is set to a one, the PMA/PMD sends a message to the link partner instructing it to be silent for
the silence time (see

To translate that into english, there is a bit called "STFU" which informs the other end of the link to cease transmission ("stop talking"). For those not up-to-speed on their instant messaging/texting shorthand, "STFU" is short for "Shut The F*** Up".

I'm sure someone had a laugh when they snuck this one into the spec.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Muddy Water

I generally don't expect to stumble across political controversy when I'm reading my morning aviation news, but this morning read that Blackwater is apparently expanding the scope of its operations by purchasing Brazilian figher aircraft.

This implies that Blackwater is branching out from the basic security work it did previously and planning on being a full-fledged army, including air support. They already manufacture their own APCs.

Most disturbing is the almost complete lack of oversight of a group whose actions represent and reflect upon the American people. Blackwater contractors are not accountable under military law (as they are civilians), are exempt from Iraqi law (by executive order of Paul Bremer), and may not even be accountable under U.S. civilian law (proper jurisdiction, evidence may not meet U.S. evidence requirements). Qui custodiet ipsos custodes?