Monday, June 29, 2009

Rover astronomy

It seems the Spirit Mars rover has a new job: astronomer. It's currently stuck in loose soil and not able to move, and a recent gust of wind cleaned off it's solar panels so it's got more power than it can use. So rather than wasting it, mission control has set Spirit up to stay active overnight and photograph the Martian sky.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Republicans know all about foreign affairs

The governor of South Carolina went MIA for a week. The first thing I question is, how could anyone possibly think it acceptable for someone in that kind of position to go missing like that for that long. It shouldn't matter why, you simply can't drop off the map like that when you're responsible for an entire state. Drop out of public view certainly, if it's a sensitive matter, but your staff at least should know how to reach you if it's neccesary.

The real kicker, though, is why he went missing. It turns out he was having an affair with a woman in Argentina. I find this amusing, because for all their preaching about morality we seem to be seeing far more Republicans than Democrats caught having affairs. At least in this case the affair was with a woman, not another man. I think the Republicans need to take a long hard look at themselves and why they seem so prone to doing exactly what they condemn in others.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Back home from PA

Blargh. I made it back home. Between errands I had to run and getting unpacked and everything back in it's place I don't feel like I've slowed down yet. I had lots of stuff to deal with back there, and lots of "That'd be nice to keep, but I don't have anywhere to put it or use it." going on. And tomorrow it's back to work to find out how many disasters are waiting for me. Feh. What else is new.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Things I won't work with

While I'm killing time, some chemistry fun:

Things that make nitroglycerin look downright tame. You know those old leather coats they show steampunk chemists wearing? There's a reason for those, OK? They weren't just made-up, real chemists wear those when working with reactions that sane people don't work with. This collection of stuff goes downhill from there.

Pennsylvania trip 2

It's not 5 yet and I'm just about ready. Most of the bags are packed, I just have to put the toiletries in the main bag and it's done, then put the stuff in the carry-on bag. Last-minute addition: digital camera. This may be the last time I get a chance to take pictures of where I spent the first 5 years of my life. Mom's got her laptop there, so I should be able to upload photos from the camera and put them on USB drives to bring back. A few places I want photos of:
  • The house and the trailer where we lived. Word is the trailer's pretty much collapsed though.
  • The old Bottorf place.
  • The rail yards in Renovo where Dad worked.
  • Hyner Run bridge. Good fishing there.
Off to finish packing.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pennsylvania trip

Just about ready for the trip back to Pennsylvania. Tomorrow's list: do laundry, pack bags, clean car. Then in the evening I get a ride to the airport, and I'll be back on Monday evening. I'll be pretty much cut off, no cel-phone coverage, no Internet and we're not entirely sure whether phone service will be on or not.

I hope this all goes OK. There's a bunch of paperwork about the farm to deal with, and the memorial. Some of the family have been real twits, it may take some work to avoid telling them off.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Well, the deal is done. Most of Chrysler's operations have been sold to Fiat, and a good third or so of their dealers are no longer dealers. Most of their debt load is gone, and their pension obligations are too which reduces their labor costs. But that's not going to help Chrysler too much.

The portion sold to Fiat is going to take at least a year to pick up steam. Fiat isn't a well-known brand in the US, and the kind of sub-compact they make is smaller than the popular size here too. It's going to take them a year to get the factories re-tooled, ramp up production and start actually getting cars into showrooms, with no guarantee people'll buy them over more well-known brands. The portion that remains Chrysler is in even worse shape. It's line-up is still heavily skewed towards large trucks and vans and SUVs, exactly what's not selling well anymore. It's going to take them at least a year, maybe two, to get new designs more in line with consumer demand into production. And both of them will be competing with GM's new models, with Ford's existing line-up, and with Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Acura, Nissan et. al..

Normally I'd consider a bail-out of a company in this bad a shape as an all-around bad deal. But to be honest the point of the bail-out isn't to save Chrysler the company. It's to keep the majority of it's employees on the payroll, to keep the factories open and buying parts from suppliers, to generally stave off the complete dissolution of a major US auto manufacturer until the stock market isn't wavering and economy isn't ripe for any small push to send it tanking further.

I'd note that this is something the Republicans seem to be forgetting. The choice here isn't between good and bad choices. 8 years of Republican policies has left us with choosing between bad and horrible. It's like a tourniquet: it's a horrible idea, one of the worst things you can do as first aid, topped only by letting the patient bleed out. So when you can't stop the bleeding any other way you put the tourniquet on anyway, knowing you're likely costing the patient their leg but at least he'll be alive long enough to worry about that.

Monday, June 1, 2009


I'll be spending about a week back in Pennsylvania, with 12-hour plan flights each way. I was looking at getting a laptop to keep occupied on the plane and keep up with e-mail and such while I was there. The problem is the ones I really want are just a hair out of my price range and it turns out I won't even have cel-phone coverage where I'll be. Lack of coverage means no Internet connectivity of any sort at all, laptop or no. And while I can find laptops within my price range that'll do, I'd rather not spend money on "it'll do" unless I absolutely have to. So, I think I'm going to find a couple of books to read on the plane and save the money for later.

Two US automakers down

Well, it's official: GM has filed for Chapter 11 (reorganization) bankruptcy. They join Chrysler who filed back in April. Chrysler plans to sell most of it's assets to Fiat, and it's union will end up owning a majority stake in what's left. GM will be selling off at least half it's brands (including Hummer), and the majority of it's stock will end up being held by the US government (the majority, as security for loans), existing bond-holders and the union. In both cases, pre-bankruptcy shareholders will likely end up with nothing. They may still own shares, but they'll have been diluted so much by the new equity being issued that they'll be essentially worthless. GM plans on closing a large number of it's manufacturing plants and idling several more. That'll hurt employment figures. The only positive part is that, unlike Chrysler, GM will still be building cars when it's all over. They'll be half their former size, but they'll still exist. Chrysler looks to be a shell after everything goes to Fiat.

That leaves Ford as the only US automaker still in full operation. And even they're paring things down quite a bit, eliminating lines that aren't selling well and cutting dealerships with overlapping territories.