Sunday, December 6, 2009

Andrew's Temperature Adjectives

I'm getting prepared to start writing in here a little more. Meanwhile, the mercury has finally begun dipping into more normal wintertime levels up here. It made me think about giving some regularized descriptive terms to common temperature ranges. I've created this list to standardize on some adjectives for the hot and cold!

Temperature Characterizations

C F Character
40+ 104+ Death Valley! (routine summer dry-heat temps in the major deserts)
35 95 Scorchio! (exceedence rare for hot North Dakota summer)
30 86 Hot (typical summer North Dakota)
25 77 Warm
20 68 Room temp
15 59 Cool
10 50 Chilly
5 41 Very Chilly
0 32 Freezing
- 5 23 Frosty
-10 19 Cold
-15 5 Very Cold
-20 - 4 Frigid
-25 -13 Cool Arctic
-30 -22 Arctic (typical cold winter North Dakota)
-35 -31 Cold Arctic (rare North Dakota cold)
-40 -40 Frigid Arctic (unlikely except for winter polar regions)
-45 -49 Extra Frigid Arctic
-50 -58 Super Frigid Arctic
-55 -67 Ultra Frigid Arctic
-90 -130 World Record Cold (Vostok, Antarctica: -89.4C 1983, current record)

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Am Your Keeper, Brother

As your master, I am worthy of your respect. And to the extent you know me to believe this as a core moral and ethical value, then so you ought work all the harder for me.

I've taken some liberty there with chapter 6 of 1st Timothy in the New Testament to shed some light on how I'm feeling with Obama's irreligious religiosity.

I do not take the President to be a religious man, or a believer in the Christian faith, nor do I care that much. America, however, is populated with a heavy number of religious and faithful people. It seems to me that Obama believes it's worth a shot at using the faithfulness of America's religious as a lever to shove them toward his side in the healthcare debate.

Obama turns to faith leaders
Holy O Turns Faith Healer
Amend the Constitution to Include the Separation of God and Obama

It causes me to wince when I see religion manipulated to then go out and try to manipulate people. The line he uses, "I am my brother's keeper," extended into political-correctness with the further addition, "-I am my sister's keeper.", is once such wince-inducing agent.

What's he getting at here? On the surface it's the common-sense sensibility that we each have a certain ethical duty to help out those needing help around us, if we can. I think that just about goes without saying, and I further think that scarcely anyone in the whole frakkin' world would disagree!

By couching that sentiment in apparently biblical phraseology, he's seeking to add weight and imperative to this obligation, and to elevate its stature in the minds of religious Americans. To shift responsibility to fulfill this obligation from the individual to the state, he's attempting to attach some of the bible's authority to his own cause, and he does this by simply making stuff up.

I think one steps onto a vast ocean of quicksand when one attempts to debate the meaning of the Bible. It's broad and contradictory enough to mean almost anything to anyone at anytime. But, for the sake of my indulgence, I shall now see if I can swim in quicksand.

The only mention of "brother's keeper" in the Bible comes out of Genesis 4:9, where Cain indignantly responds to God's query as to the whereabouts of his brother Abel (who Cain has just murdered), "I don't know, am I my brother's keeper?"

God never appeared to imply at any time that Cain was the keeper of his brother. In fact, it was that God appeared to favor Able instead of him (for reasons that appear to have been beyond Cain's control) that drove Cain to murder.

The charge by God, "You are your brother's keeper." doesn't exist in the Bible; Obama's public injunction to that very end is simply something he's made up for political expedience.

Most religious traditions somewhere advocate for families and more broadly members of social orders to look out for one another. But I argue that this moral precept didn't arise because religion taught it to us. Though religious expression can be reflective of it, we did not receive our inbuilt sense of morality from religion. Rather, we evolved it.

To me, it makes perfect sense. Our species (and its progenitors) had a better chance of surviving (as individuals, families, orders, and even a whole species) if it was magnanimous toward other members whenever possible. This serves as a helpful buffer against the uncertainty of daily life and experience. If I'm strong and can assist someone who could use the help, if fate should ordain that I get into trouble at some future point, it will be all the more likely that I will then receive the help of others too. By being magnanimous and practicing reciprocating behavior, we help better the total odds of our survival as a whole.

Now such a population would also be vulnerable to the parasitism of freeloaders, and so that does happen, and a freeloader can exist or even exploit the charity of his social group to his own advantage. But only to a point. If the parasite load becomes too heavy, the parasites will threaten to kill off the host and both parties will die off. So past a certain threshold, the charity flowing toward more parasites will end. Both the hosts and the parasites have an interest in keeping the parasite population under control. (For more on this, I recommend Richard Dawkin's, The God Delusion.)

In this way we evolved an inbuilt ethical sense. It's natural, and while certain religious practices reinforce this, we weren't given it by religious edict.

Let me wade into the quagmire of the Christian holy book once more: regarding 1st Timothy again, chapter 5:3-4 obliges the able children of widows to help support their family's needs, repaying the support given them by their parents and grandparents. Further along in verse 16, women with widows in their family are also compelled to help them out, so as to free the church to help those others who are truly in need!

You can interpret this to convey the sort of sentiment Benjamin Franklin made famous on early American coinage, "Mind Your Business!"

It's both a command and a retort. You can think of "mind your business" in the usual way you might rebuke someone interfering in your affairs. But you can also think of it as an obligation to put yourself first.

Think about that for a second.

Doesn't it make for the soundest of advice? It's far from selfish. If you've seen to your own interests (not at the expense of others, mind you) to make sure you can live in a self-supporting manner, then you won't be dependent on others for support. Moreover, you will then have the ultimate freedom to be magnanimous to others who need supporting around you. You can judge for yourself who is most deserving of your charity and sponsor those, the better they might be able to soon regain their footing and again become self-supporting. By making yourself up the best you can, you'll also have the freedom to take pity on some lost-cause case if you choose.

There are always those among us who will never survive without our charity, but perhaps deserve that charity out of basic human dignity. Or the promise, however fleeting, that they might be able to contribute to someone something of noble value.

Our modern, progressive-inspired government has wed itself to the idea of a social-contract with the governed in which it will care for the needs of the people if the people will see to its needs, taking a perverse abstraction on the principle of individual reciprocal support.

I do not believe this slowly built-up development had been the intention of the framers of our system. They labored to extricate themselves from such an overarching government, whose demands upon them were increasingly preventing them from becoming self-supporting, and had coerced them into a sort of co-dependence. Because they couldn't support themselves, they had to depend on the government to help them out, and the price of that support would be their willingness to become chattel for the government.

President Obama has made a crutch of his "I am my brother's keeper," line. He brings it out anytime there is a need to reinforce his notion of a social-contract wherein the government shall provide for you, so long as you provide for it.

2004, 2006, 2008 (1) (2) (3) (4), 2009

He massages the speechifying to suit the audience, becoming more suffused with religiosity when before faith-based groups or clergy, and appealing more to simple secular progressivism elsewhere.

But underlying this is an implication to each group that government will step in to ease your burdens if you help it forward its agenda to coerce property from the others who aren't yet committed. And, some are motivated simply by that prospect alone (i.e. Wal-Mart, which very surprisingly acquiesced to the Obama healthcare plans only because it offers them an advantage by forcing expenses up for their competition).

I think our framers were trying to craft a system which left the business of social-contract making to society itself, collectively and individually. It would have no role here, except to protect the ability for this to naturally arise by protecting property rights (you have title to what you've earned).

Only by each of us first looking to our own self-interest, will there ever be any surplus with which to be charitable. The extent to which each of us achieve success in this regard, makes for one less person which government needs to support.

And by moving in this direction, we deprive the government of this role of "keeper" its taken for itself. Without the depredations of an impossibly capricious and inefficient government largess machine, we regain the ability to more readily satisfy our own necessary self-interests. In the surpluses we accumulate, we finally reserve the individual freedom to be charitable to those few of us who might remain to seek out our help minding their business.

Then, brother, I can be your keeper.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Prayer to Government

Oh Government, you rain down upon me with benefits to provide for all my needs. You have programs to redress nearly every social injustice, and provide for most wants. The scope of your magnanimity grows day by day.

Oh Government, though I know not where from which these numerous blessings flow, I beseech thee to not staunch them, for out of loyalty to thee I have rightly cast off my old ways and means,

and now depend upon thee for my daily bread. Only You have the power to make all things affordable.

Into your wise administration, I commend my freedoms, for what use have I of they, if by their exercise I am forced to live outside your gracious providence?

I shall shut out the heathen influcences of skeptical thought and critical analysis. Apparent failures of your many programs are due not to inefficient and corrupt execution, but lack of true faith in Your wisdom, and the solution to failure is bigger and more.

I humble myself before you and acknowledge my personal inability to provide for my own desires.

Forgive me, and give to me...gimmie gimmie gimmie gimmie!

Yes we can (has cheezburger)!


Sunday, June 21, 2009

The mystery of N10TM

So, I'm out driving to get groceries here in the south-end of Grand Forks, ND, and down the avenue comes this heavy pickup truck with a kingpin thingy to haul this semi-sized flatbed trailer. What's on the trailer immediately gets my attention, I mean, you don't just see stuff like this every day. It's a wrecked airplane! And by the looks, it had been a really nice medium GA airplane.

I see the trailer turn into the parking lot of the Super One strip mall area. It appears the driver's going for a break or pizza at the Pizza Hut or something. I cross over the lanes and follow him into the parking lot and then come to a standoff distance alongside, gawking over the awesomeness of the man's cargo.

He jumps out of the heavy pickup, and heads for the Hut. I want a picture, but I don't have a camera on me, but it appears I'll have some time, so I complete my grocery shopping and return 30 minutes later with a camera.

I arrive just in time to meet the driver as he's emerging from the Hut. He proceeds to check the straps securing the load of wrecked airplane: mangled engine pods forward, mostly intact fuselage in the middle, and wings, bit of gear, and empennage at the back of the trailer.

I quickly go for my camera and approach, snapping a few shots on what's about the end of my memory card (still nearly full after a wedding shoot).

The driver notes my interest and I engage him with questions. He's hauling salvage. This airplane wrecked in 2007. Ran out of fuel and crashed into a truck in a parking lot almost exactly like the one we were in now. I didn't recognize the model immediately. The driver tells me it's a King Air, and I mentally note from the three rows of cabin windows that it must be a C90 King Air. I note the tail number. Since it wrecked in 2007, the NTSB probably has an accident report up on it by now.

The driver shows me pictures of the accident scene. I note to him how the cabin is squished a bit under the nose, but is otherwise fully intact and ask if there were serious injuries. "Yes," he replied, "pilot and three passengers got thrown around pretty bad."

"He ran 'er out of fuel," the driver explained.

"Wow, do you know how high he was when he ran out, I mean, was he on approach to an airport?", I asked.

"Oh God no."

I gave a grimace in acknowledgment. The driver offered all he knew, which was that he appeared to run out of fuel at a bad moment, and didn't seem to have the height necessary to execute any better a forced landing, like on an airport or away from people and cars and buildings. Considering this, some unoccupied wrecked cars and no fatalities seemed to be a decent outcome to a bad situation.

He explains that the stalling speed of this airplane is something like 90 mph, so coming into the parking lot would be like wrecking your car at full interstate speed.

He's preparing to depart, so I quickly walk around a shoot a couple more pictures, filling the memory card and hoping for the best, and then thank him and allow him to be on his way. This was a privilege. The airplane crashed in Chattanooga, TN and sat around there, and now was sold for scrap and though I didn't catch the final destination, I got a little insight into the life cycle of downed airplanes.

So, curious to know more about the circumstances, once home again I plug the tail number into the NTSB's database and get the accident report.

If you're reading this, skim the report and come back. Okay? Now it felt to me that the NTSB didn't care all that much about this incident, doing a phone interview of the pilot. It doesn't appear anyone else was too much involved. An FAA inspector confirmed the absence of fuel in the wings, but the pilot's story begs some questions in my mind:

He reported gauge readings between FULL and 3/4 and estimated by this he had fuel for 3 hours at least, more than enough for the 1h20m flight. Now...I don't know the preflight procedures for this type of airplane, but I do know that aviators generally regard fuel quantity gauges in GA airplanes to be liars. I guess certification standards are such that they must read accurately when the fuel tanks are full, and when they are empty, but the middle indications that come during operation may mean only that the tanks are neither full, nor empty, but by how much...? Are you timing your flight? Do you have any sort of totalizer measuring fuel burned?

Well, I was almost right on my guess as to aircraft model. It was a B90, the late 1960s forerunner of the C90 which I had guessed. The changes amounted mainly to perhaps a slightly buffed engine model and longer wingspan, so I mostly nailed it.

Pulling some B90 performance specs off the internet, I see that in cruise the airplane ought to burn about 64 gallons/hour. Now if the gauge indications are anything like my car's, when the gauge reads 3/4, the actual level is more like 1/2. And having half-full tanks in this airplane at that cruise burn rate would yield something close to 3 hours cruising time. So the pilot's estimate of flying time available seems to check here.

To my total surprise, still had the accident flight's history in its database! Humorously, it listed the destination as Chattanooga (it was really Georgetown, KY), and that the airplane had "arrived." Yeah, I'll say that's true. One way or another, they always arrive. This data features prominently later.

According to the report, the airplane had reached its cruise altitude of FL210 when the pilot noticed that two of the four gauges suddenly read practically empty. Reassessing his situation, he reported to the NTSB he estimated having about 50 gallons of fuel aboard at this point, and opted to make a diversion to Chattanooga. emergency. It's quite strange that the left side gauges went from nearly FULL to empty in just 22 minutes, but...maybe there's some sort of electrical fault with the gauges. Who knows?

Do I dare to call shenanigans on the pilot, and on the NTSB for not making this clear in its report? Not being a real-world pilot myself, just an enthusiast (for now?), I'm about to get pretty presumptuous. But, this is the internet after all.

Again, according to the data on the B90 from the internet, in cruise power the airplane will burn approximately 64 gallons per hour. So that means with 50 gallons estimated remaining he ought to be able to continue up there in cruise for another 45 minutes at about 200 knots.

According to the report, it's with this estimate in mind that our dear pilot elects to prudently divert to Chattanooga, about 45 nautical miles away. If he stays at altitude and cruise power, he'll get there inside of 14 minutes, leaving 30 minutes to descend and execute an approach (at cruise power, which he wouldn't use of course, so he may have even more absolute reserve).

But instead, he's out of gas and crash-landing on some guy's pickup in the middle of a strip mall parking lot! How could this be?

Well now I turn to the Flightaware data for N10TM on the 19SEP07 incident flight. Flightaware gets its data on aircraft position from the same data network air traffic controllers use to monitor the skies. Radar sites get controllers the raw data. Their terminals process it for their needs. After that it goes into a network to which other entities may acquire special access for fleet monitoring, ground service planning, traveller updating, etc.

From this data, I noted that the airplane never reached its cruising altitude, and entered a turn toward Chattanooga near the apex of its flight, around 19600 feet. From this point the flight proceeded more or less direct to the field in a continuous descent. The descent rate and airspeed appeared to be not always stabilized, but averaged 1300 feet/minute at 180 knots groundspeed. That's enough height and speed to go 45 nm, and the straight line distance between reported radar points was in fact 45.6 nm. The field was about .6 miles further along.

It appears from internet sources that a best glide speed isn't published in the POH for the B90, but one source inferred one from data published for a C90 and listed it as about 125 knots. I don't know what sort of descent rate that would translate into, but 1300 fpm doesn't seem out of the ballpark to me.

Now in his report to investigators, he'd estimated having 50 gallons aboard about the time he noticed the two empty gauges and elected to divert. In descent, the power is normally pulled back somewhat, in some cases (certainly for jets, but maybe less so for turboprops like this) all the way to idle. This allows essentially a gliding descent and initial approach, making up for the excess fuel used on the climb to altitude by now using very little on the descent back down, certainly much less than that used on cruise. So the picture should still be okay.

Somewhere in this descent he reported he ran out, and too late to do anything but strap down tight and pancake on the nice pickup truck, like it was a last minute happenstance. I don't buy it. If his estimate had been right, he ought to have ample fuel to make a normal approach and landing. Maybe even enough to afford one go-around if he messed up flying his approach path. How could this be?

In my view, simple: he's shading the truth to investigators. He doesn't appear to have made it to cruising altitude at all (about 1400 feet under it). At the time he decided to divert he was probably already out of gas or very close to it. He didn't methodically consider and then execute a diversion while still carrying at least some reserve of fuel. He hastily and with OK, but somewhat less than perfect form beat a hasty retreat to the nearest suitable airport that came to his mind.

He turned direct from his climb heading, to the airport at Chattanooga, and didn't even try to line up for an approach to the closest runway end. He appeared to be trying to make a B-line for the field and I think he hoped to kick the airplane 'round at the last second to line up and touchdown on the runway there.

Only, he didn't even make it that far. His groundspeed and descent rate suggest a path that might not be unreasonable to expect from a gliding aircraft of this type. Surely if he were still powered, as he suggests when he elected to divert, I would expect he'd want to keep his altitude until he was certain of making his diversion airport. This would mean a delayed descent by some amount.

Even in normal circumstances, one wouldn't choose to make a continuous descent from the point he had, as obviously it's still too far out, and the data doesn't suggest any level flying segment. I think under normal circumstances one might plan to be in the airport vicinity at around 3000 feet, so as to have some flexibility to set up a normal approach.

In my armchair cockpit, I think I'd keep at cruise altitude to benefit from the fact that my fuel burn would be more efficient up there. I'd start down only if an approach and landing was assured, and for utmost margin, I might even fly until overhead the field at cruise altitude, and then enter a descending holding pattern above the field and inbound to a holding fix lined up with the landing runway. You can be certain of gliding in, in that situation.

None of this happened, and I believe that's because he'd already lost power. And while the outcome was a fair one for he and his passengers, he got lucky that no one was injured or killed on the ground. The track data had him near a golf course just before the parking lot. That might have been a safer forced landing site. I think he was fixated on just trying desperately to make it to that field.

The NTSB might have been wise to this pilot though. They didn't seem to care about the obvious possibility that there might have been a gauge problem when the gauges seem to be showing close to FULL, or maybe some sort of fuel leak. A conservative assumption of 1/2 full tanks at this stage would, as the pilot mentions, rightly given him at least 3 hours of cruise flight. Yet only 22 minutes after takeoff, he's noticed two gauges reading about zero (it's not reported what the other gauges read). And fifteen minutes and 45.6 nm later, he's glided that bird to the deck. I'd say his gauges were all probably reading closer to empty all along.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Using ATA over Ethernet saves the day (and data)!

Hey... a non-political post for once!

Welp, this week I got an unrequested opportunity to put my PC technologist hat back on and fikits my laptop, whose hard drive had gone nearly tango-uniform.

I flexed my dusty skills and, after much mafipulation, managed to extract the win! Dead 40GB drive out (hey, it's like a 2002 model!), new inexpensive 160GB drive in, all data salvaged, unit operating like nothing ever happened.

My wife and I share the laptop and use it considerably. She noted earlier in the week that it was making strange noises. I didn't hear them, but ran SpinRite across the disk to verify its integrity. That passed and no problems were noted. The hard drive is OEM, and my rule of thumb is that one ought to expect a HDD failure in a laptop at least once in a 5-year ownership period. They have to take lots of mech-destroying bumps and jolts, and so are more at risk than a well isolated desktop unit. I've never owned a laptop that made it from purchase to trash without a drive dying.

A few days later, the most horrible noises did begin to emit from the unit. Not the clicks of head-resets, not the ray-gun of stuck platters or stuck head armature. This was a lower pitch metallic growl which sounded almost exactly like a large sleeve-bearing case fan whose aforementioned sleeve bearing has become contaminated and is now loose and buzzing.

During these growls, the drive couldn't move any data, and Windows halted. The situation was serious. I powered down immediately, hoping to preserve a chance to salvage the data, and resigned to procuring a new drive.

We had backups, mine were up-to-date, Jane's were weeks old. Just the same, I was hoping not to have to play endless hours of setup reloading Windows and Ubuntu and getting all the apps reconfigured and so-on.

I had no access to a 2.5" IDE drive adapter cable for a desktop or USB enclosure. So instead, with a cold drive, the plan was to boot the laptop with the failing drive to Knoppix and connect it to my network. Then, I would also boot my wife's Windows desktop PC with Knoppix and use it as a repository for rescued data (all my big drives were too full!).

I cleverly hit upon ATA over Ethernet as an expedient means of accessing the faulty drive and moving its content to an image file on the desktop PC.

The process for setting up ATA over Ethernet was as follows:

Both PCs:

Verify AoE support in the kernel

grep ATA_OVER /boot/config-`uname -r`

A result denotes support. If you've ever configured/compiled your own kernel, this bit seems self-explanatory.

Assuming support's been modularized, insert the module

modprobe aoe

Target PC (the PC whose block device you want to make available on the ethernet):

Install the vblade EtherDrive emulator. This software exports any local block device, partition, RAID, LVM volume, or even flat image file, as a network block device.

aptitude update

aptitude install vblade

Then export the chosen block device to the LAN

vbladed 0 1 eth0 /dev/hda

In this case, the above line exports my failing hard drive to shelf 0, slot 1. This concept of shelf and slot numbers is how you differentiate various block devices that might be available on the same LAN. Most PCs have only one connected ethernet interface, but if you have more, you can specify each one you want to make your device available on, and if your initiator PC has multiple interfaces to the same network, you'll get automagic channel ganging for faster throughput, if your device's native interface throughput is faster than a single interface.

Anyway, on the initiator PC (the PC which is going to access the remotely shared block device):

aptitude update
aptitude install aoetools

That should install the needed support software to attach an AoE-shared block device, and the status command should show you the device which was discovered and made available to you, in my case e0.1.

The system's already attached to the drive at this point. There's no security or per-machine restrictions. If there is more than one machine which may want to access the device, I think you'll have to manually coordinate access. While I think many could simultaneously access a device for reading, mounting a filesystem shared this way read-write on more than one initiator is going to result in damage to the target's data structures.

Everything that happens next is from the initiator PC. I used GNU ddrescue to image off the failing drive in a manner that would allow me to backup and retry unreadable areas if necessary.

ddrescue /dev/etherd/e0.1 fail_drive.img /home/knoppix/transfer.log

Specifying the transfer logfile allows ddrescue to record its progress, skip over errors, resume if interrupted, and using extra options, go back and retry previously failed areas.

Ddrescue is a super handy tool. If SpinRite's dynastat sector reading abilities were available to this tool, it would be perfect (sidebar: I consider it a big failing that SpinRite has no convenient means of redirecting successful sector reads to another device or imagefile. Often, when dealing with a failing drive, you next good read is likely to be your last, and the mechanism may be continuing to degrade around you. In such situations, the less you have to touch the source drive, the better. You want to transport Scotty's pattern out of the damaged transporter buffer and into a fresh one you've got waiting. You don't really want to just reconstitute the degraded pattern inside the same degrading transporter. What if after all it's many hours of beautiful dynastat recovered and reallocated sectors, the mechanism's occasional clicks become a permanent repeating clank, rendering the drive inaccessible? Steve, think about this for SpinRite 7. Consider the wealth of block device connection options a live Knoppix environment gives us. That's the rich platform for attaching revival storage, and spinrite's internals would be the muscle.)

Well...this tool ran for about 90 minutes, and the drive occasionally emitted those painful shrieking buzzsaw sounds, but eventually ALL the data was salvaged. Hooray!

The second act was to be far more thorny. The original drive was 40GB and held a majority Windows partition with system volume Truecrypt encryption (to protect private personal data in the event the laptop was ever stolen), a minority Ubuntu partition, and a few hundred MB in a partition at the end as linux swap.

To be sure that was getting quite cramped, and a happy side effect of the drive replacement was the prospect of much more space to work with. But, how to transplant these bootable partitions onto the new drive in such a was as to ensure they would remain usable (in the case of the Truecrypted Windows system volume), bootable, and enlargeable.

This turned out to be a more formidable task than I'd originally bargained for. I think I won't go into fail details, but simply report that in the end, after much experimentation and head scratching over partitions that then failed to boot, I was finally totally successful. Here instead is the shorter story of the process which worked:

I began by using the previous AoE process to write back the 40GB drive image to the new drive.

In my prior failures, I learned that the best my BIOS was going to do was 32bit LBA, meaning that only 137GB of the 160GB drive capacity would be addressable by the BIOS (28 bits are used for the sector address, the rest for other junk). This had bearing in my repartition plan. Prior experimentation moving the Windows partition around left it unbootable for unknown reasons, I decided to leave it in place, but later would expand it. Ubuntu would exist below the 137GB barrier, to give Windows the most space, and prevent boot problems by way of a partition which straddled the barrier. To boot Ubuntu then, required a small boot partition which could load the kernel. Once running, the kernel could do 48bit LBA and so mounting the root partition past 137GB would be no problem. After expanding the Ubuntu partition some, the remaining space could be allocated to additional NTFS storage and Linux swap.

I started by noting down the sector layout of the partitions. Frak cylinders, sectors are just fine in LBA, so ignore cylinder boundary warnings when partitioning.

The structure was:
[30GB Win/Truecrypt][8GB Ubuntu][2GB swap][**unallocated**]

To move the partitions around, I needing something sector precise and unafraid of JFS or crypted garbage. This ruled out parted. It insists on knowing the underlying filesystem to do moves and resizes, but this isn't strictly necessary. I went manually.

I would define a temporary 4th partition at the sector positions I desired for my destination, then use ddrescue to copy the data from the current location to the new location. After test mounting the filesystem on the new temporary partition, I would note the sector locations, then delete that partition, and use #4 for setting up another new partition location.

In this way I first setup a 250MB boot partition spanning so as to end precisely on the last addressable sector inside the 137GB boundary. I next, used fake 4 to reposition the Ubuntu root partition to its new home starting after the boot partition. I next mounted both and transplanted /boot to the new boot partition, made arrangements in root to splice this partition back onto it's normal /boot location within the VFS once Ubuntu was booted (so automatic kernel updates would work), and then used the grub shell to install the grub bootloader into the superblock of the boot partition, pointed properly at the needed files in the partition.

Once satisfied, I could delete all the partitions, recreating them one-by-one in their new larger sizes.

Now the structure looked like this:

[136GB Win/Truecrypt (30GB filesystem)][.25GB ext2 BOOT]|137GB Boundary|[16GB Ubuntu root (8GB filesystem)][6GB extended -> [4GB NTFS][2GB Linux swap]]

At this point, I tested bootability and was pleased to find both OSes bootable by normal grub selection. The Truecrypt MBR password dialog to open up the Windows partition for use worked as normal.

Finally, to resize the filesystems to encompass their entire partitions. With the Truecrypted Windows volume, I thought orignally I'd have to decrypt, resize, and recrypt, but I cleverly worked around that inside Ubuntu.

I booted into Ubuntu and installed the ntfsprogs (for ntfsresize util). ntfsresize works on the filesystem inside a partition. To get it access, I used software by Jan Krueger which does the truecrypt authentication magic and passes the results onto dm-crypt, which can then handle the realtime blockwise encrypt/decrypt. The output is a mapped block device which gives decrypted data and accepts clear data for encryption, and works just like any normal, unencrypted block device.

Under normal circumstances, this is what I do to get access to my documents on the NTFS filesystem, as I store finance data there, which I use in Ubuntu on GNUCash.

I passed this device as the argument to ntfsresize, which WAS able to then resize the encyphered filesystem to span the whole partition! No laborious decryption necessary for the tool to work! Sweet!

Resizing the Ubuntu partition was far simpler, thanks to the "resize" remount option for jfs. I booted the Knoppix live-CD once more, mounted the Ubuntu root partition, then remounted it with that option specified. Leaving off any size specification to the option causes it to expand the underlying jfs filesystem to fit the whole partition. Unmount.


I now have a secure Windows partition with much more free space, a larger Ubuntu side, and some residual swap and unencrypted NTFS storage. Best of all, aside from the space benefits, it's like nothing bad ever happened to the lappy.

Finally, a tidbit if you ever need to very quickly create a large image file for the purpose of storing or preparing a filesystem.

The tradition is use of the trusty dd program, with /dev/zero as the source, but this results in a laborious and needless writing of zeros to the entire desired span and size of your diskimage file. The tip uses the sparse file writing capabilities of most modern filesystems.

dd if=/dev/zero of=your-sparse-diskimage.bin bs=1 count=1 seek=1G

Note how the above command uses a single byte as a block, writes just one single-byte-block, and then seeks 1 gigablocks (1GB since a block = a byte, now) further out on the new diskimage file. This results in a file which is 1GB in size, but actually uses only 1 cluster (generally 4KB for most filesystems) on disk!

By seeking to the desired end, you cause the filesystem to generate a hole between that endpoint and the last written byte. The file appears to be the size of the full seek, but its size on disk in this cast would only be one byte. Cool! Of course once you put a filesystem into the image file, mount it, and start throwing data into it, its size on disk will grow to approach the reported size.

While I've posted this mainly for my own future reference, to any passers-by out there who happened to read it, I hope you found it of interest! Cheers!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Prudent Virtue

While reading, "What has Government done to Our Money?", by Murray Rothbard and available on, I was enchanted by Rothbard's use of a quotation, uncredited, "Liberty is the Mother, not the daughter, of Order." (see pg. 49)

I thought about this for several minutes, and decided that it was self-evidently true. I wanted to know what man was so brilliant as to have uttered this phrase, selected by Rothbard as I'm sure many others before him, to with great brevity capture the proper relationship of order to liberty.

How masterful. Government would have us believe that to enjoy liberty, we must first order our world. Government then offers insists to do this for us by its regulation and coercive power (often by appealing to our base sense of envy, and offering to use that power of coercion against some fashionable "them" to the popular benefit of poor "you"). But in so doing the order which results only confers more liberty to the state, not its people, by restricting the liberties of the people.

Some internet searching yielded an answer as to the identity of the originator of that quote, and also an expansion of its idea to yield a sort of family tree of the virtues which generate individual liberty. Foremost among them is prudence.

Today I offer that article as a source of inspiration to you, dear reader.

It is my hope that this humble blog helps convey some of these Libertarian ideas which your own curiosity impels you to explore further.

On the political talk circuit, folks are always calling the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin and pleading with them about what possibly they could do that would make a difference in the present situation. It seems hopeless that mere individuals of limited means could have any power to frustrate the plans of enlarging state control. But, I think it must be far simpler than we imagine.

If we all practice prudence in our lives, relationships, and economizing, then prudent culture will naturally spring forth. And that culture will have the awareness and expectation necessary to naturally diminish state control and restore natural individual liberty. We know how to behave, and we know what's good. Thousands and millions of small, individually prudent actions in all facets of life naturally have the effect of restraining government authority.

Demand for the services of a coercive government will be reduced, because we assert our ability to govern ourselves, and by prudence extricate ourselves little by little, from our imprudent reliance on government, instead of ourselves, as a provider of all our needs.

Prudence begets Thrift. Thrift begets Liberty. Liberty begets Order.

Maybe I can suggest one more offspring to this tree of virtues: Order begets Peace.

If you hadn't already, do check out this article.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's Fascism we're moving to, not Socialism

For a progressive, subordinating your will to the will of the state is the second-noblest goal to which you can aspire. Becoming part of the thin circle of thoughtful, expert, progressive men or women of action, rightfully ready to represent the public, is the noblest goal.

That public's consent of your good governance doesn't matter. Your credentials attest to that. If the public could govern themselves there would not have been need for your ascendance. You may then assess matters and, representing the nation, dictate the best course of action. One that will produce to your highly educated and comprehensive judgement, the greatest good for the greatest number. Social justice.

Many of you will endure some pain. In the eyes of those people of just action who represent you, this is unavoidable and necessary to provide for those whom are judged more worthy. You wouldn't have been able to help yourselves anyway, for you haven't been ordained with the wisdom and intellect for the just application of power which those who represent you can claim. Subordinate your will to the state. The state can expertly judge your worth, and thus weighed, care for you as that worth deems appropriate. Thus, ensuring a fair and just distribution of limited resources to those who are most deserving, in the sole judgment of the progressive elite, and preventing inefficient waste on individual desires.

Critics of the policies and politics of the present administration, and opponents of progressivism more generally, often comment that we appear to be on the road to socialism or Marxism.

I beg to differ a bit. It's more unsettling to me than this. You might be simply looking around and seeing a diminished importance and role of private enterprise and free (unfettered) markets in our economy, and calling that socialism. Socialism as the opposite of a private, free market approach.

But we need to be more clear. While socialism prescribes a state-run economy, the state owns the factors of production, and dictates their use. All workers work for government owned and managed concerns, for the benefit of their fellows and themselves.

We (probably) won't ever have that in America, I believe. What we're getting now is a gradient into fascism. Fascism prescribes a state-run economy, as does socialism, but under fascism, the factors of production remain in private hands. The government doesn't own the factors of production per-se (Obama's said he doesn't want to be in the car business), but it does dictate to the owners how they will run their companies, invest their capital, market their products. Bureaucracies and departments will take in economic data, operate on it according to their desired objectives, and generate a compulsory program to be taken up by the owners of firms to direct production and attempt to satisfy the wants of the economy as those wants come to be expressed by the progressive policymakers (not by individual buyers).

It is and will remain General Motors after all, not Government Motors. But, it is now obliged to acquiesce to the will of the state and produce those sorts of cars which the state desires, in volumes the state determines appropriate, and pay the wages the state shall determine though its "pay czar".

This is done not to satisfy the desires of the consumer, but for the good of the state. Whatever the state's objectives might be (low-cost models for increased car ownership by the poor, or better environmental friendliness, perhaps even lower utility to encourage use of public transport alternatives, etc. and whatever).

Suppression of individual will and desires for the good of the state. "We have determined, it's for your own good." "It's for the good of the nation, by our decree." "You must buy a private health insurance package from one of these two government sanctioned private providers, because it's for your own good, and for the good of all Americans." That would not be socialism, that would be fascism.

In the end, I believe this is the destination of all progressive ideology, whether supporters of such ideas and policy understand it or not. One need only look to 20th century history. During the golden-era of progressivism, American progressives were supremely enamored of the action and efficiency which seemed to embody the fascist personalities and governments of the 20s, 30s, and 40s. To them, people like Mussolini were take-charge kinds of folks who imposed their will and got things done. Because such action was in their view in the best interests of the state. It wasn't a dirty word then, and many progressives openly expressed their support for fascists and lobbied for fascist-inspired policy here in America.

How is this so different from the Obama administration and its pantheon of extra-Constitutional czars? Or the Bush administration's Hank Paulson, crafting the TARP program and dictating its compulsory acceptance and program features to major banks?

The individual? Who cares about him? He must make is desires subservient to the needs of his nation. He must learn to give up a little for the good of his country, so that others may instead benefit. It's what JFK extolled. We must act to save the whole economy! It's for the good of the nation! (And by extension, you.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Quick Hit: The Forgotten Man

So, I'm currently reading Amity Shlaes' work, "The Forgotten Man," which for those who are in the dark is a fresh revisit of the history of the US Great Depression era. Her telling is enjoyably very narrative. She's telling the stories of the people who figured prominently in the era as agitators or policymakers or movers/shakers/experimenters and so forth.

Her real goal, however, is to in this way tell the story of the Depression's "Forgotten Man," the part of the public which was not a direct target of all the activities of the people above, but whose lives were impacted the most because of them. These were the vast majority of people who were not given a choice about whether or how best to help their fellow men, down and out. The starlets of the Depression era would re-cast this notion of the "Forgotten Man" to instead represent those who needed help. Hardly forgotten, these people were most of what the Depression was about. It became a major turning point for the nation onto the politics of meaning.

Now for the Quick Hit: early in the book, Amity recounts that from the founding through the 1920s, the size, spending, and influence of the Federal Government was barely as large as any one of the nation's large cities, like New York or Chicago. After the Depression, the Federal Government blossomed to become the very biggest economic entity in the nation. This single era so fundamentally changed our country. No longer was a limited government working to protect the interests of the nation. The nation was now working for the interests of government.

Now the book: "The Forgotten Man" so far has been reading more like a period piece private detective novel than an the academic treatise that my present comments might paint it. It's an easy and informative read, and I'm having much fun with it. Anyone liking history and a good story ought to get a kick out of it.

Becoming schooled in Austrian economics as taught to me by the Mises Institute, I find myself taking somewhat strong exception to Amity's direct economic opinions and statements, in the rare occasions they've so far presented themselves in the book. This I find fascinating, as she's so followed by media conservatives like Hannity, Beck, and others. On this point so far I think I find her right for the wrong reasons. There will be more on that later, I'm sure.

Friday, April 24, 2009

How Three Mile Island informs us about our current economy

For this post, I muzzle myself and let a real pro take over. This is a good read. Engineering-minded types reading ought to get excited. Robert X. Cringely reminisces about personally witnessing the TMI incident thirty years ex post facto; steps through why it was all to likely to happen; how we dodged a bullet while struggling to regain control, and how all this seems to mirror and serve as an instructive model for our present economic situation and our handling of it.

I, for one, haven't feared nuclear energy, but have been fascinated by it. Chernobyl is a favorite subject of mine.

In the end, it's all about risk management. Example: we fly in the sky. We weren't designed for that. Technology enabled it, and disregarding the limits and risks associated with the technology has led to fantastic disaster, but we've never turned away from human flight. We strive to absorb as much as we can from tragedy and let it inform us on how to improve and manage the technology and risk, to make the process ever safer.

Today, it's the safest form of human transport. Failure still occur, and sometimes that means a sizable cluster of deaths, but on average, it's the least deadly mode. Hardly any of us seriously considers not flying, even in the face of news of air disasters. We see the benefit, it outweighs the risk. We also see management improving the odds. Disaster incidents are far less numerous now, and when disaster does strike, it tends to be ever less deadly. Reference the recent US Airways water ditching after bird strike. Not a single life lost!

For nuclear energy, we can manage the risk and develop the technology. We don't even have to repeat the mistakes of other industries first if we just look toward them and absorb the lessons they have learned.

Development of very-high-voltage DC transmission links will enable future nuke plants to be located further away from the rest of the populated grid, diminishing the NIMBY effect. Development of advanced breeder reactors like the Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor concept will enable re-use of current spent fuel to extract the remaining 95% of presently unrecoverable energy contained therein, as well as consuming our dangerous Pu from decommissioned weapons.

Developed as fully as air travel has been, this sort of nuclear energy could get very close to the ideal conceived in the 1950s, of nuclear power becoming plentiful, cheap, and ubiquitous. Replacing coal-generated electricity and used to charge up future electric vehicles, this would be very green indeed. I don't subscribe to the Gorey idea that global warming/climate change is anthropogenic, or that we even have the present capacity to influence climate much even if we really wanted to, one way or the other. However, if human-generated CO2 is something you want to minimize, this is the way. It may be the only way.

Friday, April 3, 2009

What ended the Great Depression?

Since becoming a student of Austro-Libertarian economic and political thinking, I've been intrigued with the Great Depression. How did it occur, why, and what transformed it from the typical sort of depression America had previously and regularly seen, into something which was truly Great?

Murray Rothbard's, "America's Great Depression" is a wonderful book for answering all these questions. If you're the sort of standard-candle Keynesian product of our present economic post-secondary education machine, this book will provide you with the first major cracks in your Keynesian castle walls. If you don't consider yourself much of an economic thinker, or just haven't travelled in such circles before, Rothbard's book will lay for you a sound small foundation and likely pique your interest in learning more about what the Austrian School has to say on the fundamentals of any economy.

If "America's Great Depression" has a fault, however, in my view it's in failing to address the question which naturally follows after reaching its end, "What ended the Great Depression?"

Although not obvious from the start of the book, apparently it was not the book's aim to talk about the end of the depression, but to explain how it happened and why it became so intense.

Whenever I get into discussions with family and friends on these sorts of topics, however, my potential converts to the Austrian School always want most to know, "What ended the Great Depression then, huh, smartypants?"

To them (and me too in my time before learning about Austrian School theory), of course the New Deal led us though the dark years and eventually returned us to prosperity.

One thing Rothbard's book does show, is that the New Deal did nothing of the sort, it added the Great to the depression.

Only by integrating the knowledge I'm building up on Austro-Libertarianism, am I slowly coming to the answer to that question on my own. That quest got a nice boost this week while watching the Glenn Beck TV program.

I watch a lot of Glenn Beck, so the specific people to credit are lost to me now, but one of his guests, when confronted in interview with that question said that Franklin Delano Roosevelt's death was what ended the depression. That and the offshoring of unemployment.

So I thought on that a moment, and it makes sense. WWII gets the credit usually for ending the GD, but I think often for the wrong reasons. The conventional wisdom is that massive gov't spending to wage war juiced up the economy, and that this coupled with the New Deal programs already ongoing, lifted the USA out.

No. The New Deal only made things worse, before the war. But though the war harmed us, the war did set the stage to pull us out, but not the way we normally think.

Military service was a viable option to many otherwise unemployed Americans. Initially, there was tremendous enlistment. Later we instituted a draft, but the effect was to sweep virtually all the unemployed out of the economy and set them to work fighting the war.

I think, ultimately, this is no different than the idea of using gov't funded public works to end unemployment, and in that way is unsound from the Austrian viewpoint. But for now, I will give wartime offshoring of unemployment a little bit of credit because of its sheer scale. People had the opportunity to mentally reset and view labor properly again as another marketable good.

Scarce domestic labor led to reflating of wages and demand for women to enter as replacements. This was an apparent prosperity boom for them, were it not for the fact that rationing for the war effort cause there to be little the women could do with the money they were making, other than buy war bonds, or pay dramatically up for goods made more scarce by the war on black markets. Real wealth was hardly any better than during the pre-war depression period.

With the end of the war came the realization that the country would soon be flooded with labor, and the gov't demand for military materiel (financed with wealth transferred from the public) would drop off. This should have had the effect of resuming the effective depression. It didn't, and the argument Glenn Beck's guest made was that with the demise of FDR, the public understood that the private sector would be allowed to operate more freely and less encumbered by gov't regulation than had been the case during his Presidential tenure.

It was this reality, ignited by the flush of optimism having just won major victories and the banishment of uncertainties which would've continued to linger had FDR still been around to command the economy, which actually pulled the economy out of depression.

My argument is that the depression persisted all throughout the war period itself. Americans still at home had to work long and hard and sacrifice much to enable the war machine to be funded. This was not wealth creation, but a transfer of wealth to the gov't to rain down as needed on the war machine.

But this work ethic decayed slowly after the war. Americans allowed themselves a little rest of course from that austere grind, but that productive effort was not all dissipated, and the fruits of that labor were now allowed to be redirected back at the working people via a less encumbered free-market. Investment in longer-dated factors of production made possible grander economies of scale and great productivity boosts, allowing people to get what they desired, while at the same time working less.

The result was the new modern American middle class. The hard-work and savings ethos took time to fade over the post-war span. While it largely endured, private saving and investment in business (the stock market became popular again, with stocks bought more with cash than thin-air created margin, this time) financed the productivity gains needed to make future life incrementally better.

So it wasn't the New Deal, or the war itself, but rather the knock-on intangible effects the war period induced in people. It primed us mentally. FDR's death and the war's end then set the stage for renewed real growth via lowered uncertainties about future gov't interference in the market, and a willingness (even eagerness) on the part of the public to continue to work and save for a brighter tomorrow.

-----'t would step back into the picture with Cold War era spending. This would distort the market yet again and foster an illusion of greater prosperity via increased economic activity in the military-industrial complex.

Once again, though, that's not real, it's just transfer. Conspicuous consumption by gov't in this period translated into ceaselessly growing gov't debt, borne on the public by increasing taxes, persistent inflation, and the post Bretton-Woods era of pure fiat money, in a final decoupling of the US dollar from gold by Nixon. This has lead to staggering inflation, and necessary busts have been succesively sold into the future via increases in interventionism and inflationary monetary-base expansion. Each time recession hearalds our arrival in the present, to that point to which the prior treatened bust was sold, a new and larger gov't effort is undertaken to sell the bust still further forward. The ossilations growing each time, to the present crisis.

Adjunct comments on inflation.

My dad grew up in the early post-war years. As a child I was amazed by his tales of Coke and Pepsi available for 15 and then 20 cents. In my childhood, this was more like 50 cents at the vending machines. Now, it's more like $1.50-$2 at many vending machines, or around 75-99 cents in the grocery.

Assuming no benefits from improvements in the cola industry, $1 USD, in cola terms has lost as much as 92.5% of its value ($1 buying 6 2/3 Cokes from the vendor in my dad's day, vs 1/2 a Coke from a vending machine today)!!!

Family legend has it that my grandfather has stashed away a small fortune in cash in some unknown location in the basement of his home (the regular production of musty-smelling fivers from the 50s in birthday cards being the fodder for the legend). To think of that rumored pile, buying now less than a tenth of the stuff it could have bought when it was stashed...debilitating. Government and public policy have passively removed the other 9/10ths of real stuff that cash could have bought, and squandered it on largesse and social programs.

This is inflation. If the dollar were not merely paper, but backed up by something impossible to counterfeit, like gold, the real economies of scale and productivity increases we've actually seen in the cola industry would have translated into less expensive drinks, perhaps say 10 or 12 cents. We'd all also be making way less money in dollar terms, but if one translates wages into colas (or any other real commodity), you can then see how even though you appear nominally worse off in dollar terms, you're actually much better off because what few dollars you have would actually buy you way more stuff than they do in our present, inflationary, reality.

Law and Order | UK - Part 2

In my earlier post, I wrote of the potential of the new spinoff of L&O, the UK edition. It was off to an auspicious early start, but rapidly lost momentum as it couldn't seem to find a voice to communicate the same level of drama as its American forebears.

Happily, two additional episodes' play after writing that post, I'm pleased to report that the ship is righting itself, and its promise to be a great addition to the L&O franchise, is renewed.

The characters are finding voice, the plotlines are less 2D, and there is reason to be optimistic that it will quickly approach the level of production quality we see in the American versions.

It's not now being run on BBC:America, so about the only way to see the show is via the BitTorrent scene. There's a great private community which is easy to join called "TheBox" which promotes sharing of exclusively British generated television content. You can find the show there.

Off topic: One thing I hate about BBC:America is it's complete disregard for the integrity of the production season for the shows it rebroadcasts. Once a show's run long enough on the BBC, BBCA may pick it up for the American audience, but will only run a smattering of selected episodes from a mix of various production seasons already in the can. Only after discovering TheBox, did I realize just how much "Top Gear" I was missing, and how its ongoing UK run was not getting any sort of timely pickup by BBCA.

Also, if BBCA makes a mint reselling BBC content into the American market, why must brit taxpayers continue to subsidize the BBC via their insane "yearly priviledge of owning a TV" type taxes! To the extent American's find the content popular and pay cable and satellite operators to carry it, I think the brits who pay those TV taxes are entitled to some dividends.

But then, don't get me started on this, because the whole way in which TV in the UK is state-controlled and socalized, while the brits can put out _some_ good content in spite of themselves, if it were wholly privatized, there would be soo much more to love!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Law and Order | UK

I've just finished the second episode of this newly launched series on Britain's ITV. As a huge fan of the US franchises, how is the UK version stacking up?

Not well, unfortunately. But it's still early days.

A reviewer on IMDB wrote that he didn't expect a spin-off of a show to be as good as the original. But, this is Law and Order we're talking about! In my opinion, each of the spinoffs (exception to the ill fated "Trial by Jury") has taken on its own unique flair and become just as successful it their own right.

Before I comment on the UK show per se, I would like to quickly recap what to me makes the US franchises continually successful:

The original L&O has run nearly 19 years now. Crap! And it's still fresh as ever, because it's allowed to evolve but the production crew also remains true to the elements that give it its verve.

The platform upon which the characters act is going to be what draws you in and gets to interested. It's why some like L&O but not Battlestar Galactica. You have to enjoy the surroundings. In this case it's the legal process. Curiosity about crime, motives of perpetrators, process of investigation, the working of the legal system. The legal maneuvers are always great TV. Courtroom dramas aren't new, but we enjoy watching the system.

But, character development is key to any successful series, above pretty much everything else. The L&O staff in the US have deeply understood this. The pains taken to weave the complex stories of the lives of the characters gives them depth and dynamism. It's part of the acting. It helps the acting to be more subtle, and then often better, because we know the thoughts occurring behind the characters eyes.

The L&O staff also are not afraid to gamble their characters. We see them in challenging situations which, at first, may not seem to fit into the greater premise of the show, but when they pay off (as happens more than not), it's big. There have been many character swapouts over the life of the franchise. Each time I've approached the new character with guarded suspicion (how could they be better than Lennie Briscoe or Robert Goren?), but after a few shows grew to love the new people just like the old. Chemistry between the pairings is important also, in this regard.

The other major aspect which L&O gets right consistently is storyline. They are adept at having simultaneous threads weaving a tapestry and having multi-episode arcs featuring an overhanging plot, or having some bit of plot return regularly, perhaps many episodes later (like DA McCoy's struggle with the Governor and his political machine, or Goren's battles with nemesis Nicole Wallace).

The overstory elements add richness, continuity to the characters lives, and believability overall. The episodic plots are never ordinary, even when they appear so at the outset. A subtle twist of purpose, situation, or reveal of the mundane bit as piece in a larger and more interesting framework is frequently involved. Above all, it's captivating and believably plausible. Their technique of "ripped from the headlines" story ideas has helped them beat out writing doldrums to great effect. As you watch, you realize the action feels as though it's mirroring a well publicized real dramatic crime.

The last bit for me is the operation of the system. The narrator's sole appearance is to tell you in a few seconds that you're about to enter into the specially structured world of criminal justice, here are the groups, and these are their stories. Hook!

Now: the UK version

My first thought as I watched the titles and the narrator spoke a variation on those famous words was, "Oh boy! I'm going to learn all about the UK system. Virgin territory!"

Well so far, the show's plots haven't helped illuminate how the mechanics and structure of the UK system differ from the US. That may not be the goal, I understand, but the US show is better at showing you how the US system is organized...and that's for the US audience. I mean, not all of us came out of public school with perfect scores in our American civics classes. If the UK show gave the same treatment to it's audience, both they and myself as a foreigner, would likely learn a thing or two, and find it more entertaining.

The first episode featured too much ragged camera work. Handheld shots are good for building tension in the field, but more polish of setup dolly and steadycam shots for office, interior, and building work would give the visuals more credibility. Episode two was an improvement in this regard.

"Dun-dun!" Any fan knows that trademark breathy, ominously dramatic clink-clank sound. It serves to keep the tension up, while linking widely diverse settings. But UK...don't overdo it. Frak! In episode one, it was "dun-dun"-ing with practically every cut (except, strangely, the very first cut from the titles to scene one, which is mandatory on the US serves to be the opening of the doors to the start of the story). You have to know when to hold back. In the US, the dun-dun sound is reserved for major setting shifts, primarily between the groups of actors, like the police vs. the DAs vs. courtroom. It usually also signals a shift between whole plot aspects. More minor or naturally following scene changes do not require it. Use sparingly for best effect UK! Episode two was better at this.

Most disappointing of all so far have been the central plots. What a letdown. There may be a bit of culture distinction to this, but I've found them contrived. Mundane overall, but also preposterous in certain aspects. Passerby finds unattended bag, notices it wriggling, thinks its a bomb? Police find baby inside? Well...obviously he'd've been crying like crazy, huh? And...bombs don't wriggle. At worst, they tick. The episode was based on S02E18 from the US version, and the US plot is much better and better executed by the action (even then, it wasn't the best the US either).

The plots also would be better if they were designed to connect with and be more relevant to present real life situations and current events. This is why the "ripped from the headlines" episodes in the US versions have been very popular. The audience can easily relate to what they're seeing.

The second episode dealt with the nature-nurture question, but in a clumsy and ham-fisted way. The interaction with the young child murderer was well acted, but over-dramatic and assumed a more adult style of relationship which was inappropriate for a boy.

Time is growing short for me tonight, so let me wrap by saying this: with a great show, you know it when you see it. You feel it. It finishes and you say, "dang, that was awesome!" For the US series, my wife and I have exchanged these moments often. If it's particularly good, we find ourselves continuing to talk about plot points well on after the show.

So far for the UK version, I've found myself wanting, badly, for it to be good. I realized it hasn't so far been working out when I noticed that during the show, I was mentally trying to convince myself it was good. In short, I wasn't "feeling" it.

On characters, so far I don't care for DI Natalie Chandler. She doesn't have much chemistry with the DS's and saps their energy. This is an important role. Think of Lt. Van Buren, Captains Cragen, Deakins, and Ross. They're all hard-bitten career veterans of the force. You sense their history in the way they herd their "cats" and act as liason between the political worlds of the chiefs and DAs, and the raw realities on the ground faced by their officers. The relationship can be poignant at times, as all of these characters have fallen on their swords to protect their people at one time or another.

I get none of this energy out of DI Chandler. See seems a simple gov't bureaucrat to me. I don't sense a history of a veteran cop in her. The police force also seems to end with her. She makes it seem like the post office. In the US, the police are a force, not merely an institution. You sense the overhang of an organization which extends far beyond the Lieutenant or Captain in the squad room.

DS Devlin...well, we've got the star power in Bamber. But in the US, not all the Det.'s were obvious stars, but if they weren't noteworthy before taking their role on the show, they certainly became so because of it. I can't write Bamber off, but the stories haven't played well to him (or any of them, frankly) so far. DS Brooks, however, has character which is seeping out. I'm growing to like him much faster.

The whole team on the Crown Prosecution is great. Fells much like the US shows here. But they're all being let down by the poor plots at the moment.

Writers, writers, writers! Listen up! The show is ready to roll. The team need you to bring it for success to happen. Steep yourselves in the best eps from the US versions and then translate that into the UK sphere. I want depth, I want outrageous, ethically challenging, yet believably plausible stories. Take the most sensational of your true crime and stamp its elements into this mold. How about: confronting the nanny state, struggle against islamofascism, touchy political relationships (aren't their thorny conflicts at times between England and Scotland and Ireland? What are the hot-button political issues in the UK? Craft a stories that probe deep into them unapologetically and without fear at-all of being politically correct!) Challenge the viewers! We're smart. Hide details and create dramatic revelations. Make it hard on the audience. One of the things we love to do with the US show is guess about the plot developments to come. It's become a social game when we have friends over!

Intrigue! We need intrigue!

Meh... I'm hopeful it will find its legs. I want it to be good. But within a few more episodes, if I'm still not feeling it, I'll need to write it off. Season 8 of L&O:CI is coming, and I cannot wait for it!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

On the measure to seal our destruction

The yeas have it, motion carries. Enjoy your new tax hike to pay for the "free money." While you were so busy voting yourself some money at the expense of some other group, you missed your own pocket getting picked.

Just because the majority wants something does not mean that the greater good is really served; just because the majority wants something doesn't mean that anyone has the right to expropriate it from the owner; and just because the majority wants something doesn't mean that the process itself is "sustainable" — the new catchword used to limit all innovation and progress.

(excerpted from "Voters Hate Socialism Except When They Love It," by Tim Kern on Mises Daily.)
Text or MP3 audio version of the article available via the link.

If you check out the article, I think it pays to keep in mind that voters can, with equal validity, refer to the voting public, but just as importantly to our elected representatives. These who so often think that their vote causes stuff to appear or disappear as desired, like magic. Delusion of the first order. So many of we the average citizens voted for the hopey-changemas promised by "O." We failed to understand the costs and ramifications.

We believe in global warming climate-change and we want tax relief for 95% of us, and help with our car payments and mortgages, and changes to government for a more hopeful tomorrow. Thus, rapt in awe, you cannot wait to vote for Obama, the promissor of your desires. Congratulations! Through Obama, you've just voted for a carbon-tax on business and energy producers which will more than consume any temporary tax relief you are or expect to receive when you open your future utility bills. Any products requiring energy to produce will likewise cost more, and those added costs will be passed along to you.

As Tim's article demonstrates, In the long run, voting doesn't produce things, it only sanctions taking. People having their production taken by coercion will naturally try to shield it, or will give up and stop producing. Unable to beat 'em, they'll start to consider joining 'em in voting for further sanctions on taking the production from others. And, we'll all end up impoverished for the effort.

This is called, rent-seeking [PDF].

Friday, February 20, 2009

comments on: The Crisis of Credit Visualized (a video)

I watched an entertaining and fabulously animated video, derived from link to a Digg story via tweet from Kevin Rose.

The Kevin Rose/Twitter/Digg effect are, as of this writing, overloading the original site and the Vimeo mirror of the video, so you can catch it on YouTube:


While oversimplified, the video's explanation is better than your drive-by news has given, but not perfect. However, the graphics and presentation are sooo slick, I couldn't resist sharing!

The video either doesn't or under represents the role government played via promotion of loose-lending by various homeownership programs (Community Reinvestment Act), via applying funding to pressure groups like ACORN to agitate bank lending, and via the Federal Reserve (the base of the inverted monetary pyramid, and chief engine of magic money creation).

The video properly characterizes the idea of leverage used to magnify the returns of mortgage originators and investors in the securitized products.

(Incidently, MBS refers to pure mortgage backed securities, depicted in the video as CDOs. While MBS are a form of CDO, CDOs can and did include other types of debt, like consumer loans and automobile loans. The video mischaracterizes the risk of the CDOs issued to investors. While it's true that different risk pools existed, frequently, some prime mortgage debt would be mixed into a batch of CDOs containing mostly junk consumer debt or low-quality subprime mortgages, so as to garner a AAA rating from Moody's or S&P. This was an exploitation of lax standards of the ratings agencies, and their cloudy debt-type requirements. This is why these securities are now called toxic. It is now very difficult to separate the quality and worthy debt from the junk debt in any given traunch of CDOs, making them all the harder to value on the open market.)

The situation goes bust because it was credit expansion which supplied the $ to underwrite the mortgages. Up to $40 would be magically created from each $1 from an investor or investing institution. 39 of the $s were not real, they were bank magic. Even some of the $1 coming into the banks weren't real, they were Fed magic. Prices go up so long as the _rate_ of this magic money creation remains fixed.

The process of securitizing mortgage debt for resale to individual and institutional investors was a signal of the end-game.

See, the banks ran out of reserves, having levered 30:1 or 40:1 (the prev. limit of about 10:1 to 15:1 having been extended by Congress at the request of Hank Paulson, when he was Goldman Sachs' CEO, before he became Treasury Sec'y!), and needed more investment. Investors buy the CDOs, and the banks could take the proceeds and underwrite new mortgages up to 40x again.

Eventually the supply of dollars at the bottom of this inverted pyramid of inflation dries up and is fully invested. There are no new dollars to buy the next round of packaged mortgage CDOs. Thus the rate of money creation slows, bringing about the bust. Magical "paper" dollars evaporate and start to change back into the tiny pile of original real dollars, with the effect of falling home values (the inflated high values weren't real), bankruptcies, and investment portfolio loss.

That's fractional-reserve banking at work, and a boom-bust _always_ occurs with this system. Perversely, free-market forces act as a check on this leverage, keeping it small by magnifying the risks of bankruptcy by banks magically creating money. Banks don't want to be bankrupt (and it's this fear that helped _contract_ the magic money supply!).

Our gov't is embarked on its plan to try (in vain) to keep unsound banks solvent by puffing them with magic Fed $s (via Fed interest rate reductions and "quantitative easing"). The idea is to keep the highest levels of the inverted pyramid from contracting any more by injecting money into lower levels.

This money comes from TARP and other programs. And it came to those programs via our taxes or (more properly) via foreign investment and outright "printing" via Fed FOMC purchases.

You can think of that foreign investment as like a 2nd tier of CDO selling. Our gov't is absorbing the mortgage debt, and repacking it into gov't debt "CDOs" to sell to China.

As the 1st tier was an end-game signal for Wall St., unless we reverse course this 2nd tier signals the end-game for gov't!

The proper course is for government not to be involved, because this is the only way we will vanish away all the magic dollars on paper, and come back to actual dollars. The banks don't want to lend today because they understand this, that to do any more lending would cause them future bankruptcy, and that to secure solvency in the face of their existing bad debts means hoarding onto deposits and seizing any chance of selling the bad assets to someone else (though I disagree with any plan for the gov't to buy them, as this socializes the risk, and creates future moral hazard).

Allowing failures to occur will make for a very sharp, but also very short depression, like 6-18 months, as all depressions were prior to the Great one.

Our fear of the pain, and for purely political reasons, our government's fear of allowing us to feel that pain, is prompting the present bailout and stimulus effort.

The best-case outcome for our gov't intervention is a delaying action as the _rate_ of magic money creation is temporarily stabilized (or worse, reflated) and prevented from further contraction. This can be perpetuated only to the extent that we can continue to get ever more tax and foreign funding.

When we use up that credit, gov't will be forced to tax to crazy levels (unpopular, ultimately riotous), or monetize the debt ("print" the needed dollars to repay). Given the quantity of debt outstanding and forecast future debt, this monetizing would cause the money supply to become truly monstrous, meaning Zimbabwe-type inflation (an indirect sort of tax).

Bottom line as I've said in this blog elsewhere, is that we got here via a government-subsidy of business risk, leading to excessive risk taking which wouldn't have happened in a free and unfettered market. By a now decades long government culture of preventing failures, we've interrupted the free-market feedback mechanism that limits risk and contains leverage. The longer we continue this trajectory, the more we trade smaller amounts of present pain (peversely, even pleasure in the case of reflation), for greater amounts of future pain. By dialing back government involvement, we reconnect the risk-mechanism, experience more pain now, but are rewarded with a future of honest prosperity, rather than looming and protracted depression.

For more, read on:

  • Jaguar Inflation - credit expansion illuminated entertainingly
  • The Bailout Reader - for more on the mechanics of the crisis and our efforts to overcome it
    (also contains excellent gateway articles into the Austrian theory of business cycles)

Monday, February 16, 2009

A couple degrees of Twitter

Yep, so I was scrolling the Twitter feed overnight, seeing what had to be said by the folks there I'm following. I harkend upon an exchange between Leo Laporte and a dedicated follower of his media, who was shocked by a bit of liberalism Leo had espoused in a show. Leo had taken the interesting tack of kindly answering this man by citing Christian gospel.

But, Leo has missed a crucial element. Christian gospel socialism is voluntary. According to some Christians, you might be placing your soul in jeopardy if you don't play along. Nevertheless, it is still voluntary, just the same. Publicly eschewing the brand of socialism in Christianity is likely to get you prayers for your salvation.

Eschewing a government program of socialism...that's likely to get you fined or jailed, or perhaps worse. At least it will earn you additional deprivation of freedom.

The magic of Twitter, linked me back to the gentleman's own blog, where he commented eloquently on his experience.

I responded in the story's comments, in solidarity.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The kernel of the argument: liquidate the Federal Reserve

[...the supply of money is indifferent or "neutral" to the real processes of the economy. But, unfortunately, changes in the supply of money can have untoward and even devastating effects on the real processes of production.]

The Federal Reserve System is a central bank created to manage our currency. It's creation was supposed to be for our benefit, among its roles is one to ensure that cash can be obtained by banks to satisfy demands for cash from a bank's depositors. It was conceived as a way to "help" the free market operate.

Its very presence offered a new tool of influence by our government on the economy of the nation. It enables the government to change the supply of money within the economy. While this was possible even under a money made of and/or backed by gold (and silver) coin, the final disconnection of our US dollar from such intuitively limited and scarce commodities as precious metals finally allowed our government to control the supply of money with full, unrestrained freedom.

In a free and unfettered market (one in which regulation may either not exist, or exist only to facilitate exchange, enforce lawful agreements and protect property) grounded on hard money (such as gold coin), the money substitutes we enjoy for convenience (electronic bank card transactions, paper checking, paper banknotes) self-regulate and attain a stable equilibrium and purchasing power (or value) with respect to their backing.

Market forces beneficially conspire to keep participants and banks from magically creating too much credit. If people begin to feel that their checking deposits and private banknotes on a bank are going to be difficult to redeem for real, hard money, such individuals will act quickly to compel redemption. A bank run may ensue as rumor spreads, in the aftermath of which the bank will be found to be solvent and trustworthy, or it will be found a fraud and its assets seized upon by depositors and quickly liquidated, thus rapidly removing fraud.

In such an environment, it becomes very difficult to change the money supply. Only the convenient substitutes can be manipulated, and then only to the extent that a wary public is willing to trust their financial institutions to conduct business honestly.

With a stable money supply, the value of money is likewise stable. Inflation vanishes permanently (to be rigorous, inflation would only occur to the extent by which new supplies of the underlying hard money commodity, i.e. gold, could be mined, and even then, only a finite amount of the metal exists, whether in accessible bullion, coin, or inaccessible in minuscule ore deposits). To the extent by which technology and population available increase supplies of goods and services and productivity by which they're produced, a natural and gentle deflation persists!

We've been taught in the mainstream to believe that both inflation and deflation are bad things. What's bad is manipulation of the money supply! In the aggregate of the whole economy, with a fixed and unchanging money supply, modest deflation represents increases in efficiency and productivity with respect to production. The value of your dollar would be increasing. You savings, whether in a bank or under a matress, would still reflect the real value of our work when saved, and an appreciation of the increase in bounty that better productivity has afforded.

Rather than tales to your grandchildren of a can of Coca-Cola costing $0.75, and they being in awe of how cheap that price level seems to them in the present, they could instead be in awe of what it says about our economic fitness and vibrancy that Coca-Cola is now less expensive at, say, $0.40.

New young employees entering into the workforce to do your job would be hired at lower wage rate in dollar terms, but those dollars would be stronger and represent an increased purchasing power to what they had when you started.

Arguments for central-banking and its supposed necessary roles of fostering price-level stability and lender of last resort to banks are all nonsense. If a money supply is fixed and an economy growing, that growth will be manifest to the extent to which natural deflation is occurring. An economy that's stagnant will have a naturally stable price-level. And one which is shrinking will see inflation.

The Keynesian model views an economy and seeks to maintain an economy in a fixed state. Even if that could work, which it cannot and does not, a fixed economy would represent the end of human growth and achievement. We would have thus reached the limits of our abilities and from that point on, any improvement in any one area would have to be paid for by effacement in one or more other areas. Nobody could become rich without making others poor.

It's that last part to which Keynesians play for your political support. Every gain is another's loss.

But this isn't true. You participate and buy what you want to satify your own needs and desires. You're happy to make the trade because, to you in that moment, it represents a better alternative than remaining as you were. Maybe that was a new, more comfortable pair of shoes. Maybe that was at last a satiation of long endured hunger. Whatever the circumstance, you benefitted. In the end you may be compelled to work to earn money to facilitate similar exchanges. You want to work (even though there is a possibility you might not "like" your work), because the alternative is less appealing. Perhaps you striven and sacrificed and succeeded finally in finding work you absolutely love. Congratulations! And still this truth holds, you want to work because the alternative is less appealing. In so doing, whether you're enjoying your work or not, you're providing others with the things they want, and enabling yourself to acquire what you want in exchange.

Keynesianism, in the final analysis, is only a mechanism facilitating a race to live at the expense of, rather than in support of, others. You become dis-incentivized to support your fellow man because some or all of your wealth will now be given to you without any contribution on your part. Or, from the opposite end, some of the wealth derived from your work (which supports others) is now confiscated to support still others without your consent. You're deprived of the benefit your work earned. The harder you work the more you're deprived of those added benefits, so your incentive is suddenly to work less.

Both the wealthy and poor are similarly incentivized to work less. Now we all become poorer, because as a result of less work, there will be less stuff available. The best Keynesianism can hope for is stagnation, but more often you'll see recession and a growth industry in misery.