April 22, 2008
The latest Russian Soyuz spacecraft just returned from the international space station, arriving via an emergency “ballistic descent”. No one knew where they were for a half hour, during which they were lying in a burning field where car loads of locals showing up to help them out of their craft; not exactly the homecoming most of them envisioned I’m sure. MSNBC has an article detailing the multiple system failures that must have occurred for the emergency descent (autopilot), losing them (ground based radar), and not being able to talk to them (radio beacons on Soyuz) until one of the Cosmonauts stumbled out and phoned home on a satellite phone. While these are all valid concerns to have if you are planning on riding in one of these things, it is hard to criticize a program for a few non-fatal glitches when your country is operating the most dangerous space craft to ever fly. It shows the robustness of the initial design that it can suffer all these problems and still have a perfectly safe landing.
When approaching a difficult problem sound design choices are paramount. Intelligent initial design choices will save untold work and problems later on, brute force solutions are almost never desirable. While many of the ideas for the space shuttle were innovative and good, they were apparently to ambitious and didn’t mesh with reality.
This is just as true for smaller projects, people waste a lot of time trying to following initial faulty decisions instead of figuring out a more intelligent approach that would dramatically improve reliability, functionality, amount of time to develop, or all three. Work smart not hard.
April 11, 2008
I filled out my taxes today, I ended up owing a little, but then I found out I was eligible for the $600 stimulus tax rebate. $600 is good news, who wouldn’t want $600? However, this good feeling is tarnished somewhat when I think about the mind numbing deficit that our Republican government is once again pushing us through. I seem to remember something about fiscal responsibility being associated with Republicans, but this is apparently no longer the case. Unfortunately the country appears to be run by short sighted idiots who only care what happens for the four years they are around. They in turn are surrounded by savvy bankers who are more then willing to up the limit on their credit card. I honestly think that the country is being run by the Bluths. When you think about it Gob’s management style actually bears a striking resemblance to the policies of George Dubya.
To protest this lack or foresight and out of pure spite I will be spending my $600 economic stimulus package in another country, the Czech Republic to be exact. At this point I figure the only party that takes fiscal responsibility seriously is the Libertarians. As there is virtually no chance of them being elected I have decided to be petty. I am taking my stimulus package and I am leaving the country.
April 7, 2008
I just found out about a great program here in Detroit called green currents. Detroit Edison (DTE) has negotiated contracts with existing renewable energy producers, they buy green energy credits and then pass them on to customers who sign up for the program. The electricity provided to the customer is then effectively provided by the renewable power plant (wind, solar, hydro, biomass, geothermal). Better yet is that DTE has been able to sign contracts with new renewable projects enabling them to be built. This has allowed the construction of a large new wind farm in Michigan, a farm biomass digester, and a landfill generating station. The best part is this will only increase my power bill by about $2 a month, or roughly 10%. To my knowledge Michigan isn’t exactly a wellspring of renewable power, it doesn’t have tons of hydro or wind (yet), so if they can provide customers with renewable options for only 10% more what is the big hold up in other places.
I don’t understand the reluctance to sign Kyoto or some similar agreement. A 10% price bump (and it would almost definitely be less) isn’t going to grind the economy to a halt, and the extra money that is spent will just be reinvested in the country (infrastructures, jobs, etc). It seems to me a better economic stimulus would be to take whatever amount of tax money they are giving back to people and invest it in research and/or building of either renewable power (wind, solar, etc) or renewable transportation. I think a few billion would go a long way in making some progress there.