Life on Earth, Supervolcanos, NASA, and Tom Petty

“I must have started drinking again, because the woman who tried to activate a supervolcano with a giant fork is standing here, and you’re all acting like it’s a potluck.” – Warehouse 13

DSC04285A picture of Abraham Lincoln as he was fighting against both the Confederacy and German engineers.

“The world was a web.”

This wasn’t the quote from a Tom Petty song.  These were words that would echo through my head for two decades.

I started to write a novel back a long time ago.  It started with those words.

I still have it somewhere, buried in a backlog of data on one of my computers, right next to a resume that I first entered into a computer on . . . WordPerfect© (yes, that was a word processor before Corel® ate it).  I’m sure they still sell dozens of copies of it a year.

And the novel itself?  Oh my.  I’m sure that if it ever saw the light of day someone would name an award in its honor for the worst novel of the year.

But . . . “The world was a web.”

There are words that haunt you through your life, and this sentence haunts mine, just like wondering how it felt while the Roman Empire was ending (LINK).  I have been, since as long as I can remember, really fascinated by the unravelling of society.  Once I went to the Wikipedia entry for “Apocalyptic Novels” and just nodded.  I’d read nearly all of them.  (I just revisited the page, and it’s all filled with editorial stuff, so, much less useful.  I won’t link it.)

But the late author James P. Hogan (I read most of his stuff) wrote a novel called “Voyage to Yesteryear.”  It’s a good one, though out of print, but to me, it had a fairly stunning philosophical analogy.

We as humans think a lot (and live with) more or less reversible processes.  I put ice in the freezer, it freezes.  And then it melts.  Though once upon a time, I don’t think that there was anything at all in physics that would have predicted that the ice would have floated on the water (most frozen liquids sink – if you freeze gasoline, the frozen stuff drops to the bottom), but it turns out it’s pretty important, especially if you’re a fish.  You can stay in the nice liquid water while the ice freezes above you, which, I imagine is important to a fish.

But the second discussion from the novel is that some changes are irreversible – if you burn your laptop in your charcoal grill, there is simply no thawing it out afterwards to get your keyboard to not look like a bunch of charred Doritos®, or get back all of those downloaded pictures of Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones® or all of your Tom Petty MP3s.  Those are gone, dude.

The fire (presumably from a dragon?) goes beyond the phase change represented by freezing and thawing.  The physical structure has been changed to the point that it’s not remotely recognizable.  And you can’t go back.  There’s no way to find all the carbon atoms that baked off your display and combined with oxygen and put them back in the screen, let alone the same place in the screen that previously held them.

It’s gone, dude.  And even the Roman Stoics (LINK) knew this prior to Rudolf Clausius coining the term “entropy,” which led indirectly to the U.S. Civil War through a series of humorous translation errors that made Abraham Lincoln think that Clausius was making fun of his big hat.

But let’s go back four score years (that’s 80 years, for those who are used to the metric system) from that hatastrophe.  What happened then?  Besides Ben Franklin being in the prime of chasing every young lady who could spell “yes” there seemed to be this revolutionary event.  Pardon.  Revolutionary event.  Like the American Revolution.

If a president being elected every four years is a phase change from ice to water and back again, the American Revolution was burning King George’s laptop and then going after the glowing hard drive with a sledgehammer.  In a real and literal fashion there was no way to go back.  Instead of a political phase change, you had political chemical reaction – there was simply no way to go back from what the Founding Fathers had done.  They changed the way the entire world viewed government with the result that today almost every nation in the world where you can order a Big Mac® has emulated to the greatest extent possible the precepts of the American Revolution.  McDonalds® and Thomas Jefferson© changed it all.

And you just can’t go back.  You can morph into something different, but you can’t go back.  There are some ideas that are so radical, so amazingly simple that once they pop out – they hold the attention of almost everyone who hears them.  The American Revolution was one such thing – you could never turn back after that.

Unless you hit reset.  I was leafing through the Internet as The Boy piloted our car up the road for a short road trip – I alternated between reading and a light nap.  The light naps were ended with (small) bursts of adrenaline when our cars trajectory was different than my half-snoozing mind expected.  It’s like Dad radar.  Even asleep I was looking for that change we could never recover from.

On article popped up during the ride about the Yellowstone Volcano, and how NASA was developing a plan to stop it.

Reread the sentence above.  I’ll wait.

NASA has become convinced that a massive volcano is of greater threat to humanity than asteroids.  I mean, both would ruin your day, but Yellowstone seems to pop off a continent cleansing burst every 600,000 years or so (last one 630,000 years ago) and some folks with a LOT of time on their hands at NASA are convinced that they should be the ones that handle it.

bond volcano

What NASA thinks might be in the volcano.

They’ve even advanced plans on how to stop it.  And, I’ll admit that saving the lives of upwards of two billion people might even be considered a laudable goal in some circles.  But not me.

It’s not the saving all of those people that I object to.  I’m probably neutral on that, unless one of them is me.  Then I become a raving supporter.

I don’t give NASA any slack.  If it doesn’t involve activities that directly get humanity to Mars, I’m thinking that they should just close up shop and give the money to Elon Musk (LINK), who actually seems to be interested in space exploration.

But even worse, it appears that NASA is letting people write stuff that have NO understanding of math:  the NASA plan involves pumping water (which is not exactly in huge supply in the Rocky Mountains) into the magma chamber and to extract the heat.  Which has how much to do with NASA’s mission?  Zero.  Maybe less.

Here’s the latest mission I could find:

To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.

So, if this involves trying to cool hot coffee so you can drink it faster by adding an ice cube or two, I’m on board. Takes a few minutes, doesn’t distract NASA from their actual day job.

But in this case the coffee is 11,500 cubic miles of coffee.  At 1300˚F to 2400˚F.  And NASA wants to cool that.  With water.

Okay, I’m pretty sure that drug testing isn’t required to work at NASA.  But the amount of heat we’re talking about is simply staggering.  At a depth of five miles (that’s 8km to the “people who use money that looks like Christmas paper, and also happen to use metric”) to the top of it, keep in mind that this magma pocket sends pockets of superheated boiling water five miles through rock.  The amount of energy is stunning – almost as much energy as a D.C. NASA bureaucrat with a liberal arts degree uses to avoid doing work on a typical Tuesday.

First, the good news!

I won’t bore you with all the mathy stuff, since The Boy and I figured it out.  It’s not hard, it’s just thermodynamics done in hotel room on three sheets of hotel room note paper.

Let’s say you had to cool the Yellowstone magma chamber.  Latest number that I had on how big it was?  11,500 cubic miles.

Cubic miles.  Drive from Seattle to Los Angeles.  That’s 1137 miles.  Do it 10 times. Next to a mile high wall of magma.  Or just once.  Next to a ten mile high wall of magma.  That’s a mile thick.

Hmmm.

But, let’s pretend we can cool that 52,800 foot high wall with water.  Where do we get it?

Well, the Colorado River is a big one.  Let’s pump all of that to Yellowstone to cool it down.  I’m not going to bore you with even more thermodynamics, but you have to heat the water, and then add even more heat so it boils.  (I actually saw one billion dollar business venture implode because they didn’t know you had to add the extra heat to make it boil).

At the current flowrate of the Colorado River, it would take 435,843 years to cool the lava.

I know that NASA seems to not math very well anymore, but, given past rates, Yellowstone would have exploded at least one more time, if not two.  And the people in Los Angeles would have to go nearly a half of a million years between bottled-water drinks.

And that’s the good news – that only half a million years of concerted effort beyond anything the world has ever seen will maybe stop one human extinction.

But some scientists worry that the addition of the cooling water might turn the magma chamber brittle – increasing the likelihood that Yellowstone would explode in a big catastrophe.  And that’s the good news!

Second – the bad news.

But that’s really not the point.  There are a whole host of things that are much more likely (given the last 100 years or so) than a 600,000 year periodicity (like Yellowstone has) volcano to mess with our world.

But most folks look at this risk incorrectly – there’s a probability of occurrence, but also a severity related to the risk.  Low probability events occur everyday, but they have low severity.  I might lose yet another hair on my head, never to return.  But the impact?  Not very big.

An asteroid the size of Dallas heading towards, well, anywhere at 50 miles per second?  Bad day.  For everyone.  Yet heart disease is more likely to kill me than the kinetic impact of an asteroid.

As catastrophes go, that’s pretty bad.  But research (dating back 15 years or so) on genetics of humanity indicate that it’s likely that 70,000 years ago after the supervolcano Toba lit off, only 2,000 humans remained.  Not on Toba.  Anywhere.

We were that close to the lights going out on us forever.

These big, nonlinear events are very low probability, but they have a huge impact, and may impact the ability of the human race to appreciate Tom Petty.

Think aliens like Tom Petty?  They should.  But who can account for taste?

 

Columbus, Eclipse, and Used Car Negotiations

“Now there’s a girl who gives the word ‘hippy’ a whole new meaning.  Move over, Mama Cass!  Move out of the way, sweetie.  You’re blocking my light.  Is it an eclipse?  No, Edwina’s in the room.” – Absolutely FabulousDSC04293

This is the dolphin that Bonnie Raitt Tyler will ride when she sings “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

On March 1, 1504, Christopher Columbus was in the middle of really difficult negotiations.  Columbus was looking for the native inhabitants of the island we now call Jamaica (I believe they called it “home”) to provide him free food, and work for him in repairing his wormy old boats day and night.  In return, he was offering nothing.

Not a great negotiating position.

Columbus did have one advantage: he carried an almanac with him, and knew that there was going to be a lunar eclipse.  A lunar eclipse is really valuable if you have no idea where you’re going (or even how big the world is) like Columbus.

Why?

During a lunar eclipse, as long as you’re on the night side of the Earth, you see the Earth’s shadow start to block the light from the Sun shining on the full Moon.  And that happens for everyone at the same time – even if you’re in London, or in Spain, or in . . . Jamaica.

And that’s valuable, since, clocks in 1504 are really crappy.

It’s really easy to tell how far north or south you are on the Earth.  You can measure with just a quick sighting on a star.  But telling how far east or west?  Not happening, unless you know what time it is.  And since you know EXACTLY when the lunar eclipse starts, you know, at that point, exactly what time it is.

Knowing that, you if you measure the time from the eclipse to dawn, you know exactly how far east or west you are.

But Columbus had a different plan.  He told the natives he was going to take away the Moon, or, rather God was.  He made a big deal of praying.  When the Moon was in shadow, Columbus knew exactly how long the eclipse was going to last – and it was a really tense 45 or so minutes that Columbus timed out with an hourglass.  Tense for the natives.

Columbus said he’d prayed, and then told the natives that, hey, God was gonna put the Moon back in the sky.  But you’d better help us out.

Don’t make God angry.

The native Jamaicans complied, since if you’re negotiating with really no bargaining power, it’s nice to have a full range of supernatural powers at your disposal . . .

But that was a lunar eclipse.  And the eclipse that’s going to hit Monday is a solar eclipse – the Moon will totally block out the Sun only for a thin, moving swath of the United States.

nasa_eclipse_map

But, this is a Friday post, and it’s really supposed to be about health.  So, how do you combine health and the eclipse?

Don’t stare at the Sun.  See, that was simple.  But on Sunday every news story will mention that.  And Bonnie Raitt Tyler.  Who will be droning about wanting Bright Eyes to turn around in some boat somewhere.

I swear, this is the creepiest video every made.  Altar boys with glowing eyes flying through the air?  Check.  Conan looking dudes with furry loincloths?  Check.  Bonnie Raitt Tyler.  Check.  Yeah, creepier than Ozzy singing “Bark at the Moon” in Illinois during the eclipse.

So, don’t stare at the Sun.  It’s not that hard.

Well, kinda?  Isaac Newton, the scientist who formulated the laws of motion, of optics, and who invented calculus just to disprove a baseball trivia question about the infield fly rule, once stared at the Sun with one eye until he could only see reds and blues.  His eye recovered, but he experienced after images for months.

But even though the Smartest Man Who Ever Lived got better, I wouldn’t bet on you getting better.  There was even story about a guy who, since 1960-whatever, was still blind in one eye from staring at that eclipse back when Kennedy was still chasing starlets.

And there’s no reason for it nowadays since large numbers of eclipse glasses were/are available for free, or for a buck or two if the library is somehow toxic to you.  Unless you buy fake ones, which the news also seems to be upset about, or maybe the journalists are just reaching for something.  Nah.

Hint – if they spelled ‘eclipse’ wrong on your eclipse glasses and you can see your living room at night through them, those are bad signs.

I think that China has been preparing eclipse glasses for us since February 26, 1979, so they really are/were everywhere.

February 26, 1979 is the last time that a total eclipse passed over even part of the US.  Where I was at the time was only 83% covered, but, for some reason, I got sent to the office (which required me to go outside, since the art building was kept at a reasonable and safe distance from the main building) during the eclipse.  Since school administrators didn’t want to have to explain the whole “entire school is blind” phenomenon that might accompany a middle school during an eclipse, all of the classes were kept in session.  It was weird being out there, alone, even when I wasn’t under the path of totality.  The light was . . . different.  And, yes, I snuck a peak at the Sun.  Quickly.

If you’re under the path of totality (and only during totality) you’re okay to look straight up.  Pull off the glasses and enjoy the cool day as the Moon completely obscures the Sun’s healthful yet deadly rays and the stars peak through the day.

But that’s not the only health challenge on the day of the eclipse.  At least one group is claiming that a rogue planet, obscured only by the Sun’s healthful but yet deadly rays, will smack straight into the Earth during the eclipse.  What a coincidence!  What are the odds!  I’ve heard of being late, but it’s over four years since the world ended the last time in 2012.

I know, it seems unlikely, but you have to admit that one planet smacking into another at fifty miles per second would probably be a day where there might be some larger, “being crushed by a rogue planet” health problems showing up.  I imagine school bus routes would even be delayed the next day.

But, there might be a small chance that you can take advantage of the eclipse.  Let’s say you’re negotiating with the most poorly informed car salesman in the United States on Monday in Salem, Oregon who has NO idea that there’s going to be a total solar eclipse.

At 10:18AM Pacific Daylight Time, that’s when you should start with the hardball negotiation on that used Hyundai®.  Tell him you’ll bring back the Sun’s healthful yet deadly rays if he gives you a free fill-up.

Worked for Columbus.

Note:  John Wilder is not even a TV Doctor. DON’T STARE AT THE SUN!

 

The Lighter Side of Identity Theft

“Truth is, identity theft isn’t hard. A number and an ID is all you need to drain a bank account and return some money to some very surprised retirees. But why stop there? As long as you’re stealing someone’s identity, why not use it to contact some known terrorist organizations on unsecured phone lines? Why not use it to threaten federal judges and insult the local drug cartel? Most fun I’ve had in Miami.” – Burn Notice

DSC04251

Come and Take It was a Texan callback to Leonidas and his comment to the King of Persia.  Not an invitation to my bank account, weasels!

It was a Friday afternoon, and I’d just finished a business meeting about 250 miles from home.  As I got into my car for the drive home, literally as my butt hit the seat my phone rang.  It was an 800 number, so I have expected that it would be some sort of telemarketer selling off-brand Pez© knockoffs – the cheap stuff made by Elon Musk’s offplanet Martian robots (LINK).  I answered anyway.

Turns out it was my credit card company.  I only have two credit cards, pay ‘em off in full each month, and they’re issued by the same bank.  Why two credit cards?  That will become apparent shortly . . .

Bank Lady:  “Mr. Wilder, did you open an account with us on July 12?”

Since opening a credit card account is something I do, on average, every five years or so, I shook my head.

Since this isn’t the future, she just waited until I answered in actual words.  “No, I’m pretty sure I’d remember that.  Besides, I’m too busy digging in the blogging mine each night to take valuable minutes of my day to eat, or open a completely redundant credit card account.”

“Well, someone did.  And, Mr. Wilder, they have your birthdate.  And your Social Security Number.”

Great.  There’s another one of me out there – exactly like me, but with a goatee.  Oh, wait, no . . .

spockgoatee

I need a gold sash.  Does it matter if yours is on the left or right?

Name, birthdate, and Social Security Number are the trifecta for an identity thief.  Those were the Holy Grail of information.  With that information, anyone can open an account.  It wasn’t another person – it was a thief!

Me:  “How much did they charge?”

Bank Lady:  “This is weird – looks like nothing.  Only the annual fee.  We sent the card and it was returned to us.  I’ll cancel this account.”

Me:  “Where did they send the card?”

Bank Lady:  “Looks like Texas.”

Great.  Stupid hot summers, and now full of credit thieves.  Stupid Texas.

The Bank Lady (who was very nice) promised to send me information on the fraudulent account, along with an identity fraud kit.  She gave me the number for Experian©, which is one of the three credit rating agencies that lenders check with prior to issuing credit.  Experian®, she explained, would put out a fraud alert and let Transunion™ and Farkleknobber© (I forget the other stupid made up corporate name) know about the fraud.  Any new credit applications would have to be proceeded by a phone call to me prior to issuing credit.

And I wondered how I got hit?  I’ve tried very much to practice safe financial practices:

  • No online banking.
  • Shred all personal information and credit card offers before throwing away. Preferably treat like a witch and burn.  Bonus points if the credit card offers scream while burning.
  • Only share information with those that “need” it. I had to punch a Nun one time because she was too nosy.  My religion?  That’s “need to know.”
  • I wear latex gloves while in any bank. No reason.  It freaks them out, though.

I had dreaded this moment.  There is some portion of my personality that is works off of fear.  There is some part of your personality that works off of fear, too (LINK).  The oddest part of this fear coming true?

The dread was gone.  The identity theft had happened, and it was “go” time.  Let’s fix it!

cartman beard

Me meeting evil me.  Or is it me meeting nice me?  Probably me meeting nice me.

My second call was to my bank.  I verified my account balances and wasn’t missing any money, though I did tell my banker about the time that over 10% of my net worth went missing from my account (LINK).

She laughed.  (And you will too – read the story).

I also asked her about account security.  Since she wouldn’t talk to me without a special code that was texted to me, that was nice.  Additionally, she said:

“I see that you don’t online bank, and you don’t have a debit card.  You should be good.”

Let that sink in.  My banker just pointed out that online banking and debit cards are huge potential security holes.

And they are.  I did some research, and it turns out if you online bank and get hacked?  You’re screwed.  This one gentleman had nearly $1,000,000 lifted from his accounts over the course of months because his laptop was hacked.  And debit cards?  That’s like walking around a pitbull pen in porkchop panties.  Not a good idea.

My last call was to LifeLock®.  I vaguely remember the CEO put his Social Security Number (457-55-5462) on billboards, on commercials, and everywhere.  I also remember that someone opened a fraudulent line of credit on the guy.  And I seem to recall hearing that the CEO went to the thief’s house and kicked his butt – I think it was a story I heard on the radio.  I can’t find any record of this online, but I like the concept:  “If someone messes with you, our CEO will go to his house and beat him with a broken pool cue.”  That’s one way to earn a consumer dollar!

Signing up with Lifelock© was easy, if somewhat like talking to a living, breathing infomercial.  Everything was an upsell:  “Did you know that a fetus can have his identity hacked in the womb by skilled psychics who can take the baby’s Social Security Number . . . before it’s born????”

I normally hate the hard sell, but this day I was okay with it.

So, I got the double-platinum bejeweled version of LifeLock®.  Normally I like to think about financial decisions before I make them, you know, let a bit of reason kick in so I make a sound decision.

This wasn’t rational thinking.  It was total, complete reflex action.  Doctor taps my knee with rubber hammer?  Knee jerks.  Robber takes personal information?  Wallet jerks.  I want the best plan, you know, the CEO ass-kicking plan.  Can LifeLock™ waterboard?  If so, I want to add that to the plan.

Can I get the “Wet Electrodes on the Nipples” plan?  Oh, yes, I’d pay double.

In retrospect, I did some looking online about LifeLock©.  It turns out that it’s pretty highly rated, but it’s also thought to be a bit overpriced.

What the heck does LifeLock™ do for you, anyway?

What LifeLock® does is send you alerts on people messing with your credit or other accounts.  Since I don’t online bank, LifeLock© can’t see my accounts, but I’ll check those regularly.  LifeLock® also offers a pretty professional team to help you after your Social Security Number has been popped naked into the world.  And, in theory, it will replace up to $1,000,000 in losses, but I’d bet $10 that they’ve never (or rarely) ponied up that money, since they have fine print and lawyers, and also due to laws that limit your losses due to identity fraud.   Mainly, banks have to take the hit, and since they have skin in the game they’ve developed algorithms that look for fraudulent accounts and purchase patterns.  And they’re effective.

A thief took my information.  Could they get more?  Yup.

At 6:50 AM Monday morning, my bank (credit card) texted me, asking if I’d made a purchase from an online store at 5AM for $300.  They’d declined the purchase.

Did I make the purchase?  No.

If there is anything that all Wilder family members are in agreement on?  5AM is the devil’s time.  We should sleep through that.  And, my bank probably noticed that.  And also noticed I don’t live within 750 miles of the state where they asked the stuff to be delivered.

So a thief has my Social Security Number, my birthday, my name AND my credit card number.  One of those I can change (credit card).  Actually, two if I decided I was transgender.  Then I could change my name, too.  But I would be an UGLY woman.  But I could be Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Has a ring to it?

lorde

I have not been nor ever will be a geologist.  Just sayin’.

My bank politely asked me to call them.  When I did, they asked me if there were any purchases that I had to make today?

No.  I’m okay.

(THAT’S WHY I HAVE A SECOND CARD!  Two is one, and one is none.  Always have a backup on important stuff.  And I even carry emergency cash.  And a small parachute.  And a nosehair trimmer.)

The credit card number I’d had for nearly 14 years was cancelled.  A new one, with a new number, would be headed my way immediately, per my bank.

I’d gone through the data that LifeLock™ had provided.  LifeLock© also said my credit score was good, really good – 800, so any nonsense on my account had just barely started.

And it turns out this is fairly common.  11,000,000 people a year have to go through this.  So, statistically?  It’s not if, it’s when it hits you.  Sorry to be the voice of bad news.

But now I have to deal with other stuff.  Notify the IRS (there’s a number for that) and notify the Social Security Administration (there’s a number for that, too), because both of those are also conduits for fraudsters to mess with my life.  Somebody messing with my tax return, which in some years would buy a small country in South America (very small country, like an acre or so).  Somebody taking my Social Security (don’t want to get old and find out that somebody other than politicians has stolen my Social Security).

And it gets even more twisted – identity thieves are also stealing identities for getting prescription drugs.  And for having medical bills charged to other people.

And, honestly, I think that’s where my leak was.  I think an M.D. I went to hired a sticky fingered weasel that deserves to be nipple-electrocuted like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, since that’s one of the few places where I can see all the above information being in one place.

I’d pay extra if they let me be Gary Busey.  Not in the movie.  I’d pay extra just to be Gary Busey.

Note:  John Wilder has received no compensation for this post, or any of them, yet.  If LifeLock(R) offers me a big pot of money?  I’m on it.

 

 

Von Mises, Human Action, and Internet Cats

“Oh, king eh? Very nice. And how’d you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers. By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society.” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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The Mrs. took this picture when we visited San Francisco to see the renowned economist Ludwig Von Miller. 

Economics has been called “the dismal science,” which, really only contains one lie (hint, economics is “dismal” but economics is not “science”).  Much of the pain and suffering felt throughout the twentieth century, and continuing to today is the result of a clash of economic systems – Marxism and state-sponsored capitalism.  Marxism has huge numbers of supporters, which I could understand if it were the Marx Brothers, but in this case it’s the “starving while the economy burns” type of Marxism.

Capitalism, strangely, is much less popular.  One of the key proponents of an open, market economy was the Denver Bronco® football player, Ludwig Von Miller.

LUDWIG VON MILLER

voneconomics

Von leads the league in quarterback sacks and in economic theory.

Okay, that’s not really true.  The economist in question was Ludwig Von Mises.  He was Austrian, and is credited with a fairly rigorous study of economic theory, but, like most economists, really sucked at playing defensive end.  Also like most economists, Ludwig takes a good twenty pages of material and stretches it into nearly a thousand pages (more in some editions) of his book “Human Action.”  You know me – I’ll get you a superficial look at the good parts pretty quickly complete with cat illustrations.  There is no way I can recommend that you buy a book where the STUDY GUIDE is nearly 400 pages.

One of the things that economists miss is that people are human, and are not constructs that follow equations in the choices they make.

I recall back in macroeconomics class in college, the Hungarian teacher was attempting to explain the concept of utility, using pizza and beer.  If beer were cheap and pizza were expensive, he reckoned, you’d buy a lot of beer and not much pizza.

I had to nod at that point.

He then pointed at the other end of the graph where beer was expensive and pizza cheap and pointed at me, “Zo, if you ver goink to buy pizzas, at zis prize, how many vood you buy?”

John Wilder:  “One.  That’s all I can eat.”

Professor:  “No, ze equation zays you vill buy twelve!”

I think I got a “B” in that course.

But the thinking was wrong – pizza is no substitute for beer, and people act for reasons that are generally unrelated to false mathematical quandaries on a chalkboard.  Yes, lots of beer.  No, only one pizza.

What About Human Action?

Von Mises looked at the picture differently.  His commentary was that each action taken by a human was an internally consistent, rational act that followed some pretty simple rules.  Ludwig said that there were three necessary preconditions to any Human Action.  And, as a true economist, I will do it with the aid of Pusheen Cat, the wonderful creation of Belton and Duff (LINK):

  • There has to be a vision of a better state. This created the necessary fuel for action.  You have to see a state that’s better than where you are now.  Pizza nearly always meets that goal, unless I’ve just had pizza.

pusheenpizza

  • There has to be a path to get to the better state. Even if it involves riding a unicorn.  Or being a unicorn.

pusheenunicorn

  • There has to be belief that your action will result in the outcome, and that by becoming a unicorn you can get that pizza.

thinkingpusheen

Otherwise?  Unless you can see a path you won’t do anything.  Especially if you have don’t have a vision of a better state.

lazypusheen

What is satisfied?  You don’t see a better state than the one that you’re in.  Sounds almost like either you’re Self-Actualized (LINK) or you just ate pizza.  Satisfied is a particular condition where you’re okay with everything.  If you look at most advertising (and most social websites (LINK)) you’ll see that companies spend billions of dollars annually to make you dissatisfied with your life, with the big solution being that you can spend your money on their stuff, or in the case of Facebook® you won’t be satisfied unless you see the number of “Likes” that you’d like to see.

And these three conditions for Human Action can come in any order.

It can be Belief-Vision-Path, Path-Vision-Belief, etc.  When I think about some really successful people I know, they got better at their own skills (which makes the path easier) and then finally had their Vision of what they wanted to do, or even just stumbled into their Vision because they found that place they needed to be.  Other people develop the Vision (talkin’ bout you, Elon Musk (LINK)) and follow it through until they’ve created a changed world.

But, John Wilder, is there a Practical Application, or are you Naval Gazing?

But there’s a critical stopping point:  absence of any one of the conditions just stops action dead.

I recall one time I used Von Mises as a business analysis tool at work:

I was in the middle of a project that required cooperation between groups of contractors spread across the country.  The professionals I needed were spread out (literally) among the dozens of states.  And they weren’t producing.  One centralized group was producing about ten times the amount of work per person that the other groups spread all over the continent were producing.  And while being in Arizona might make you lazy, it wouldn’t make you that lazy.

I got on an airplane to go and visit the headquarters of the contractor since walking 500 miles would just take too darn long.  I interviewed the employees working on the project, and, while they understood the project vision, and saw a clear path to get to it (by working on the project) they also didn’t believe that working on my project would help them.  They believed that if they were working on my project, that they’d have to neglect their current customers.  If they neglected their current customers, when my project was over, someone else would be serving their steady customers when they finished my work.

They had belief, all right.  They believed that in helping me finish my project that they’d actually increase their chances of getting fired.  We centralized them for the month, and their management provided personal assurances that they wouldn’t get fired, and they managed to get the work done on time, I got a raise and a hot tub and new khaki pants . . . .

So, Von Mises provided a diagnostic tool for me to evaluate a real-life business situation, save my company over two million dollars, and get me several nice bonuses, since I had a real belief that failing would lead to my career being derailed.

So this Vision-Path-Belief Thing is Always Good?

No.  These three conditions also don’t require that what you’re doing be a good thing.

A heroin addict sees a better state with having heroin, sees a path to rob a house to get money to buy heroin, and believes that their action on the path will get them to that heroin.

Von Mises didn’t judge – just described the conditions required for human action.  People will be what they want – Stanford and marshmallows showed us that (LINK).

What about Marxism?

Marxism (except the Groucho kind) does judge.  It declares that people, at some point, somewhere, will overcome Von Mises’ laws of Human Action and do what’s in the best interest of the collective, regardless of their own best interest – From Each According to His Ability, To Each According To His Needs.  That might work in small groups like families, and kindergarten groups, and maybe even in bigger groups in the short run when the Vision (defeating Hitler and Tojo) is big enough, but besides that?  Not so much.

People work in their own interests.  And that’s okay.  It might be messy, but, in general, it leads to the greatest freedom for the greatest number of people, huge opportunity, and tremendous innovation as people compete to create great stuff so they can have your money.

I’m just glad that Ludwig Von Miller got his strip sack against Karl Marx and made MVP at Super Bowl® 50, all while working on the implications of voluntary economic transactions on the credit cycle!

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Lonely? Ditch Facebook, Find Real People. Live Longer.

“When a man of Scotty’s years falls in love, the loneliness of his life is suddenly revealed to him. His whole heart once throbbed only to the ship’s engines.” – Star Trek

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Why, oh, why does it not say Texas Pain RELIEF Institute?

Daniel and I were friends from second grade onward, until I moved away.

I’m not sure if it was our mutual love of Mad® magazine, parody, or wearing army fatigues that we found here and there and the unearned ranks, units, and qualifications we’d poorly sew onto the faded olive drab fabric (I’m pretty sure I was a sergeant of a unit that never existed).  We’d regularly sleep over at each other’s houses, throw up poorly breathing nylon tents in the back yard, and then go on maneuvers with our toy rifles; fording quickly flowing rivers or assaulting fortified hills.  Daniel even managed to find a Korean-era K-ration we were too scared to eat.  I mean, it smelled okay, but . . . .  And we each shared magazines we certainly didn’t want to let our parents know we had (hint: boobies).  And I still have one book he made me promise I’d return to him because it wasn’t his, this really has weighed on me, and I’m not kidding.

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What magazines we looked at may or may not have looked like. I plead the fifth.

During the school day we skipped lunch together, talked science fiction together, and told bad jokes together.  Our conclusion on Mel Brooks and Hogan’s Heroes?  The best things on television, ever.  Carrie Fisher and Sigourney Weaver?  Our goddesses, along with Madeline Kahn.  Especially when we saw Carrie in a bikini one night at Daniel’s house.  Wow.

It was also Daniel who taught me that in Tom and Jerry, Jerry was the evil one.

When I visited him at Easter I knelt and did the novena, even though I wasn’t Catholic.  We were brothers.  Daniel and I belonged to the same tribe, until time and distance pulled us (mainly me) away.

This week a study (really, a metastudy, or summary of other studies, which is like a summary of Game of Thrones for your friends who don’t watch Game of Thrones) was released about loneliness and how being lonely negatively impacts health.  (Hint, being lonely is worse than being obese, drinking too much, or not having enough Pez® to stick to your eyebrows on St. Johns’ Day in Nova Scotia.)

AARP commissioned a study that says that 42 million people older than 45 suffer from “chronic” loneliness.  Since there were only 120 million people older than 45 when they did the study, that means that over 35% of those people over 45 are . . . sad.  And it’s very sad when that many old people with that many wrinkles are sad.

What does chronic loneliness do to you?

Nothing good.

It increases your odds of death by . . . 50%.  That sounds like a lot, and it is.  That’s almost worse than the wrinkles.

So in the age of Facebook®, people are less connected to one another.  In fact, in another study they found that old people who relied less on email and social media for their social connections were . . . happier.  Let me write that in blazing letters across the sky:

Facebook® is no substitute for calling the people you know and love and talking to them.  Period.

I’ve watched Facebook™ grow, and I’ve viewed social media with skepticism.  I tried to get on Facebook®, but it never was able to engage me.  Facebook® seemed so much shallower than blogging.  Also, I’ve always thought that Facebook© was a tailor-made infidelity machine – putting people who used to have sex back together, while removing all of their bad qualities in a haze of boozy memories.  There is no way that I wanted to fight off all of the girls who were chasing me like I was a Roadrunner®.  Heavens, who has that energy??

Let this be a reminder, the people on Facebook™ have bad morning breath, have bad armpit smells, and leave their socks all over the place (except, of course, me).  But to a lonely spouse, or worse, and idealized memory?  Not so much.

Let’s pretend that Facebook© was really, really good at helping people really connect on a spiritual level?  They’d disable that feature in a second.

Why?

Facebook® makes money when you’re dissatisfied, and makes money upon your dopamine receptors which are always looking for novelty.  Facebook™ makes money when you hit refresh and scroll through more updates and see more ads, or look to see how many people “Liked” you.  Facebook© is free to you because your attention is the product.  And your dissatisfaction is the way to maximize their return.  Thank heavens for youtube videos of cats!!!

Why are older folks getting lonely?

Well, my parents had dinner parties.  When they were in their 50’s I was still a pup, and had to got to go to their dinner parties, at least when they were at our house.  The couples would get together, and they’d immediately split up.  The ladies would go the kitchen and drink whatever Mom made for ‘em, even though it smelled like something that would catch on fire if a stray spark veered by.

The men would retire to the dining room (nobody smoked anymore) and drink bourbon, scotch and talk about elk hunting, war (real, actual war) stories, or how the weather was, or what the crops were like.  Someone would make an off-color joke, and give me a wink and a nudge.  Really, it was always Vern that did that.  Honestly, most of the jokes were right over my head unless they were directly and obviously about boobs, but at least I was part of the game.

After drinks, there would be dinner.  Which would also include drinks.

Afterwards?  Cards and a communal gathering, until the time came that people would head home.  The game of cards itself was meaningless, merely a reason to sit around the table and talk more.  And drink more.  It was a good thing that they mainly left before Star Trek©.

The gatherings were even more wide ranging than that – on occasion we’d go spend the night, for instance, at a cabin deep in the mountains that one of the families owned.  During the course of that weekend we built a mountain road with a road grader, rode horses, and I outshot all of them with Pop Wilder’s .222.  Oh, I and won a game or three of Risk®.

We hunted together with Pop Wilder’s friends.  We went on wide-ranging 4×4 trips deep into the forest at 12,000 feet.  We rode snowmachines together.  Although I was certainly the junior member, more than anything it looked like a tribe – a group of friends that supported each other and shared in each other’s joys and sorrows as we snacked on ziplock-fresh sandwiches at 12,000 feet.

And today I don’t see that.  Although I know a zillion adults, most of them don’t get together like this.  Most of the adults I could get together with like this (there’s a pretty big implied trust) live very far away.

In our current world, we spend our time chasing our children on their adventures (wrestling, football, academics, Boy Scouts, etc.) and focusing on our spousal relationship, and finally, work.  I know that sounds like the best way to spend your time, but . . . is it, really?

Right now, as a family, we depend upon the iron triad of children, work and spouse.  All of my adult friends (locally) come from either my children or my work, or, IS The Mrs.  What happens when work changes (this is a minority of friends we see, so not much) or the kids get older?  Two thirds of the local social network dries up.  That day.

And, I recall that the social network for my parents lived on with them after I graduated.  After Pop Wilder retired.  It was a durable network.  They may have been alone, but they were never lonely.

In some weird way, we seem to have taken the informal support networks from men and women.  We seem to have replaced them with the evanescence of work and children.

We have, when those support networks crumble over time, ignored those left over.  And they get lonely.  They don’t have Vern attempting to turn the butter into my thumb when he passed it to me (it never worked, I was young and fast, and he was older and a bit inebriated).

Where are they now?  Are they in our past, those who trust us with their very souls?

There is an endless summer.

That endless summer contains every single day young boys spent together in a world bound only by imagination, in a world where each barley field represented a chance to crawl on our bellies toward enemy lines to stop the Germans in their tracks, or to stop the Cylons® before they could hit our main base.  One last swig from the canteen before we braved the minefields and tried to take out the German 88mm gun before it savaged our boys to pieces.

We played at life, at courage, at understanding where we fit in our tribe.  We discussed love before we knew what it was.  We discussed right and wrong when we were living it.  We displayed strength because it was intertwined with our being.

I called Daniel’s number tonight for the first time in years.  I remember their house, and I know right where they were when they picked up the phone, heck, the number was familiar with me.  They remembered me through the fog of ages.

I’ll talk to Daniel soon.

Why did I wait so long?  Guilt.  I felt (and still feel) that I’m the one who killed our endless summer with the starting of my car and the loss of my virginity.  I’d left the fields of play behind.  I’d left the best friend that I’d ever had or will ever have behind.

Tonight I gathered up the courage to make the call back towards summer, the call back to the innocence of boys bound together in blood, in bad comedy, in Steve Martin, in mutual, total trust.

And we’ll go back to the summer, where we belong.  At least for a few minutes when we talk.

Did it get dusty in here?  My eyes seem to be watering.

Nobody gets to be lonely in summer . . . especially not an endless one.

Self Control, Soviet Tanks, and Stanford Marshmallows

“Any problem caused by a tank can be solved by a tank.” – Family Guy

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The featured image is geology.  Which is way cooler than what the class made it seem.  This is one I took in Alaska.

The first all-night study session I that I did involved studying for finals the first semester of my freshman year at college.  I do recall getting increasingly tired, and at 4AM I jumped in my car to buy, for the first (and last) time ever:  No-Doze®.  No-Doze™ was awful.  I felt jittery.  I felt my teeth moving around in my gums.  I felt my eyes moving around in their sockets.  It felt like there were bugs walking around on the inside of my skull.  Thankfully, I was distracted by actual pain in my stomach (due, I’m pretty sure) to the No-Doze©, which is what kept me awake.

I ended up doing fine in my tests, but can only recall that “Cops On Streets Detain Crime” (Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian) and “Miss Pennie’s Panties” (Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene).   I think I’m missing a billion or so years of geologic history because there wasn’t a sufficiently naughty mnemonic involving underwear.

Oh, and I can also recall that No-Doze© is the work of the devil.

Looking back, it seems so simple.  A little effort each day would have paid off at finals.  Big time.  Study a subject (like geology – lots of memorizing) a little bit each day.  By the time finals rolled around?  With just a few minutes of study, I’d be ready to take the final, and do so on a full night’s sleep.

However, while study may payoff later, not studying always pays off now.  Present Me can have a beer, go to a movie, read a book, watch an episode of Twilight Zone®.  These are all better than studying geology.  Honestly, a dentist visit is more fun than studying geology, though it’s still probably easier to sleep through geology.

What has all of this got to do with Wealth?  It’s Wilder Wealthy Wednesday, so how does all of this tie in?

I’m glad I asked.

Everyone makes choices about how they spend their resources.  There are the needs of the Present, and those of the Future.  Example:  if retirement and putting The Boy and Pugsley through college weren’t issues?  I would own a tank.  You can buy them, you know.  (LINK)  Real tanks, sold by Eastern European arms merchants.  It sounds like Bruce Willis should be in this movie, right?  Oh, and I’d also own a swimming pool filled with Pez® that I would swim in like Scrooge McDuck™.

But I won’t.  I value Future Me enough to forego the fun of riding around the neighborhood in a fully functional WWII Soviet tank.

Barely.

And it’s mainly so The Boy and Pugsley can get jobs and not have to live in my basement and borrow my tank.  Future Me likes that Future.

This is also the way borrowing money works.  Present Me decides he wants something, like a house.   Present Me obligates Future Me for thirty years’ worth of mortgage payments.  Good deal.  Let’s pretend I don’t have the cash to buy what I want.

If that’s the case, I find someone who has cash, and trusts me enough that I’ll pay ‘em for the next thirty years.  For their trouble, they get, say 5%, of the unpaid balance each month as rent on their money.  They like that deal because they’ll have more money when it’s all done.  I like the deal, because I get the house now.

An economist would call the interest rate charged to me for borrowing the money a “discount” rate.  It’s the amount that the bank charges you so that they have a durable long-term investment that makes sense for them.  If you can’t afford to meet their discount rate?  The bank is required by Federal law to invest their reserves in Russian tanks and Pez®.

The discount rate in most cases is simply a numerical rating of your will power.  If you knew I was going to give you fifty dollars at the end of the month, how much would you give up to get it today?  Of you said, oh, five dollars, that means you are willing to give up 10% of the value . . . for one month.  That’s (we can quibble about this number, but we won’t for now) a huge premium, the equivalent of 314% annual interest.  If I could get a 10% monthly return, I’d retire . . . this afternoon.

So, our “discount” rate is really a numerical measure of our ability, our willpower, in delaying gratification.

Delayed gratification, it turns out, is a pretty significant human characteristic.

In the 1970’s, Stanford was known for several radical psychological experiments:

  • The Stanford Prison Experiment – A really creepy experiment where students dressed as guards and inmates and completely cost me my faith in Californians.
  • The Stanford Pizza Experiment – I think this was a 1970’s B-Movie. Adrienne Barbeau – don’t miss it!
  • The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment – The one that goes with this post.

In the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (SME), young children were given a marshmallow.  They could eat it now, or be given two marshmallows later.  I’m obviously simplifying this – they used cookies, too.

About a third of the children made it long enough to get the second treat.  Between this and a previous experiment, there were several primary correlations on just which kids would get the second treat.

  • The older kids were more likely to get the second marshmallow.
  • Intact family. If there was a dad in the house?    No dads around?  No second treat.

So what?  A lot, actually:

The longer a child could wait, the:

  • Better the expected SAT score,
  • More education the child would likely complete, and
  • The child would likely be skinnier.

Those are pretty positive, and pretty significant outcomes.  And, although there has been complaint about the study (small sample size, flawed methodology) since it matches my biases, I’ll assume it’s right.  (Hint:  this is how some journalists actually think, or rather, avoid thinking.)

Are there other examples of discount rates/willpower out there?  Sure.  We keep creating academics, and they have to look busy, so they keep writing papers for each other.  Thankfully Jesse Shapiro wrote one (LINK) just to prove a point in my blog.  Thanks, Jesse!

Shapiro looked at food stamp recipients.  He found that there was a 10% to 15% drop in calorie consumption from the start of the month when the EBT card was filled up to the end of the month.  Some people ate enough at the beginning that they had to skip meals at the end.  Additionally, it looked like the food that folks ate through the month also was . . . not as good.  The overall quality of the food consumed appeared to have dropped during the month as well.  Might there be other contributing factors to this?  Sure, but the data didn’t seem to indicate that was the case.  And that 10-15% discount rate is huge.  Over 300% annually (compounded).

So, why should you delay gratification?

  • When it’s clear that it’s good for you.
  • When there’s certainty to the payoff.
  • When the payoff is big enough to make Current You value it almost as much as Future You.

Most of the time we have enough real information to know if it’s good or not and how certain it is.  It’s that last bullet point:  making Current You care enough.  Why do people smoke?  Their Current You runs a big discount rate on the first two factors.  And maybe Future You just pisses Present You off?

One last thought on willpower.  Remember that study that showed intact families mattered?  Yeah.  If the Mom is impulsive enough to get preggers by a man she can’t have around, or if the man is impulsive enough to bolt?

Bad news for those kids.  Willpower and the ability to delay gratification is, like intelligence, highly inheritable.  Looks like it’s late nights and No-Doze® for the lot of them.

Elon Musk: The Man Who Sold Mars

“Actually, they theoretically can separate the hydrogen from the oxygen and process that into providing fuel for man’s space flights. Ostensibly, turning Mars into a giant gas station. So it’s a . . . yeah. We live in an amazing time.” – Breaking Bad

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The featured picture above the title is of the Saturn V.  It’s longer than a Harry Potter novel.  This picture shows the engines from the main stage of the Saturn V.  About 275,000 horsepower for all five engines, you can totally tell by the lens flare!  But it got over two miles per gallon of kerosene used (TRUE)!

This is the third and final part of Elon Musk Week® (sort of like Shark Week©, but with 100% less Discovery™ channel).  An annual feature?  Maybe!

Part 1 is here (LINK) where we take apart Tesla®, and Part 2 is here (LINK) where we understand Elon’s Matrix® plan.

I first read about Elon in (probably) 1977 or 1978.  Oh, sure, you’re saying, that would have made him six or seven years old, and at least a continent and two hemispheres away from me.  My only response is, “so what?”

When I was a kid, I lived fifteen miles from the town I went to school in.  My house was the farthest away on the school bus line, so I was the first to get on in the morning (7:15, every morning) and the last to get off (4:30, so I missed F-Troop).  I could stare out the big picture window and see the bus a mile away – Ma Wilder taught me it would be rude to keep the bus driver waiting – and out I would go to be there waiting when the big yellow bus pulled into my driveway.

For about two hours a day as the bus stopped to pick up and then let off children, I could either stare out at the mountain scenery, or I could drop with Johnny Rico and The Roughnecks into Klendathu.  Or I could visit Trantor, first with Hari Seldon, and then later with The Mule.  Or ride Sandworms on Arrakis with Paul Atreides.  Or be shocked at the mysteries when we Rendezvoused with Rama.  Or finish all the science fiction anthologies at the middle school library by the middle of my seventh grade year.

And reading wasn’t confined to just bus time.  There were only three channels of television available (no one ever counted PBS, unless Monty Python was on) an half the time nothing interesting was on.  So, if I had built all the model kits around (the usual condition – they didn’t last long) and it was too cold to go hiking or fishing, I always had a book ready to read.   And Ma Wilder said I had to go to bed, but she never said I had to go to sleep . . . my parents bought me a reading lamp that clipped on my headboard for my tenth birthday.

But I remember reading the Hugo®-winning “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” by Robert A. Heinlein fairly clearly – it wasn’t on a bus, but on the couch by a crackling fire on a cold (-20˚F) winter’s day.  And that’s when I met Elon Musk.

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(source, Wikimedia)

Delos David Harriman (better known as D.D. Harriman) is the billionaire who decides to go to the Moon.  Why?

He envisions a new economy – an opening of the Moon is the first step to opening the Solar System to humanity.  Rather than living in a world which with a fixed horizon, D.D. realizes that getting off this rock is the only possible positive future of humanity.  But getting there is possible, and only takes will.

To quote Harriman:

“In fact, the real engineering problems of space travel have been solved since World War II.  Conquering space has long been a matter of money and politics.”

Contrast with Musk:

“Boeing just took $20 billion and 10 years to improve the efficiency of their planes by 10 percent. That’s pretty lame.”

And how was Harriman going to do it?

“I’ll hire the proper brain boys, give them everything they want, see to it they have all the money they can use.”

Contrast this with Musk:

“The path to the CEO’s office should not be through the CFO’s office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design.”

And I could go on and on about the similarities but the one thing I know is this:

Musk read the same stuff I did when he grew up.

Musk knows D.D. Harriman.  Just like I did, Musk admired D.D. Harriman.  However, Musk has become D.D. Harriman.

And for that, my hat is off to him.  D.D. Harriman is much more important than Tony Stark®.

And Harriman was willing to do absolutely anything to open space to humanity, convinced it was too important to leave to governments and bureaucrats.  Harriman manipulated stock, forged fake space-diamonds, and extorted advertising dollars from soda companies.

Musk feels the same way.  Musk formed SpaceX™.  Musk got involved in Tesla®.  One is his passion, one (even though he believes in the mission) is there to fund his passion.  Make no mistake:  Musk has created more applied rocket engineering faster than any person in history except maybe Von Braun (though Bezos is giving him a run for his money and has super-cool biceps for an old man).

Why not NASA?  Isn’t it their job?

During the 1960’s, NASA had a mission.  It was going to get three guys to the Moon, by the end of the decade.  Lots of engineers worked lots of long hours and made it happen.  In July of 1969, NASA dropped the mic after “One Small Step” and walked off the stage.  Mission done!

Well, almost fifty years on from that date, and six of the twelve men who walked on the Moon are now dead.  During the middle?  NASA developed one (anemic) space launch system – The Space Shuttle, whose sole purpose appeared to be to construct the International Space Station.  Why construct it?  So the Shuttle had a place to go, silly.

And now we have no space launch systems available to us except through the Soviets, er, Russians, and . . . Elon’s SpaceX™, which currently plans to have a manned launch of its Dragon/Falcon taking place in early 2018.  The first manned Orion flight?  Maybe 2023.  Maybe.

Why is NASA so sick?

The original group they hired were engineers.  Their job?  Get into space, get onto the moon.  Then they fired most of them, but kept enough to send out a fairly constant stream of unmanned probes as well as lame manned space missions.  But during the 1970’s they also hired a lot of administrators.  And people who had no connection in any respect to a spacecraft, or science, or aeronautics.

Except for brief bursts of public interest when something worked really well (Viking and Voyager) or when something worked really poorly (Challenger and Columbia), NASA has reached an irrelevance in national policy.   NASA appears to only be important when it comes to funding large amounts of money to projects that take place in certain Congressional Districts in certain strategically important states.  In Houston they love NASA, or at least NASA dollars.  Efficiency?  Progress?  Why would you need those things?  Heck, we can have astronauts but not have spaceships!

These are the depths that NASA has fallen to showcase its technical bankruptcy:  it has a division called the “Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute.”  This division produced 5,000 braille books about the eclipse for the blind.

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These are the official shot glasses of the Manned Spaceflight Center.  At least it’s one way to blast off?

I am not opposed to a company doing this – I’m not even opposed to a government agency producing books in braille, especially those that aren’t available on audio.  But I am opposed to NASA doing it.  Why?

NASA’s mission is:

To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.

Nothing at all in there about getting blind people books about an eclipse.  Nothing close, so this is a symptom of a system that has gone beyond dysfunctional to trivial.  A dysfunctional system (or in this case, organization) just can’t get anything done.  A trivial organization works on everything.  It invents steps where none need be, make-work (like the books), bureaucracy (credentials for everyone!), and hurdles (did you file the right form?) until Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy is achieved:

From Jerry Pournelle himself:

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers’ union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

I think that in NASA they actively look for jobs that they can do that are:

NASA could spend time and effort designing a new hypervelocity spaceplane, but that’s hard!  And someone could get hurt, and that would be bad publicity.  And we know that we as a society will only allow people to be put upon the equivalent of 2,000 tons of TNT (Saturn V) if it’s totally safe!  Otherwise, it’s an outrage!

So, faced between making a new launch system that might help get people into space OR putting together a braille book?  Let’s go with the book.  It’s A. Easy and B. Safe.

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These are the official flip flops of the Manned Spaceflight Center.  They look Safe, unless you blow out your flip flop and step on a pop top and cut your heel and have to cruise back home.  It’s okay, because there’s booze in the blender and you have the Official Manned Spaceflight Center shot glasses.

The only way to avoid the Iron Law and the A. Easy and B. Safe people is to have a personality that keeps focus on the goal.

And since NASA administrators don’t go in and fire everyone in NASA not involved in the mission, you can be certain that they’re fine with . . . whatever the heck it is that NASA is doing.

How is SpaceX® Different?

Elon Musk is a laser of focus on getting spacecraft into the air.  People at SpaceX® want to work long hours, and if you look at jobs on their website, it notes that long hours, working evenings and weekends are probably going to be a thing for you.  And, want to get fired?  Talk about part of your “mission” at SpaceX® being producing coloring books on planetary nebulae.

Sounds like old Harriman himself, “. . . sweet talk them into long hours – then stand back and watch them produce.”

Some Libertarians HATE Musk because of the government subsidies that have driven money to Tesla® and even SpaceX©.  I can understand that, especially if their goal is less government.  Heck, I’d like less government.  But even though Musk has to go through roundabout ways to get only a portion of NASA’s funding, he’s running circles around them on talent recruitment, technology development, and actual results.  We have a choice if want to really get into space.  Elon appears to be the only winning answer (unless Bezos is holding back on a few aces).

Musk could fly people in space tomorrow, if they’d let him.  NASA is six years out.  Six years out.

What does Musk plan to do in the next three?  Send a capsule (unmanned) to Mars.

I’d be surprised if Orion ever actually flies people.  NASA seems incapable of spaceflight, and, really incapable of anything more complicated than Twitter.  But if Orion ever flies, I imagine that in orbit the Orion astronauts will get to see Elon’s butt pressed firmly against the window of his Mars Transfer Ship (Red Dragon 11) as he gives them a full moon (pardon) as a parting gift as he heads to Mars.

It’s a long trip to Mars.  I imagine that Elon might take a book or two along with him for the trip.  Probably not “The Man Who Sold the Moon.”  But maybe Dune, or Starship Troopers.

What would D.D. Harriman read?

I’d like to think he’d bring my blog . . .

Hey, everyone (including you, Elon) you can subscribe, and it gets sent out directly when I hit the publish button.