Friday, March 22, 2019

When value added costs lives or "Do you want your plane super-sized?"

"Want fries with that?", an innocuous seeming phrase that is the basis for modern marketing. I wonder how many business school graduates have "value added" tattooed in latin on their private parts as they undertake a career of sticking to the unwary.

At the fast food counter value added marketing just makes you fat, and of course you will eventually die but not today. This can be an even bigger problem when the decision isn't just a hunger impulse of the consumer but the choices are made by somebody who doesn't really understand the implications of the so-called cost savings of blindly avoiding this sort of marketing. The ObamaCare debate showed us how happens when actual healthcare isn't included in the basic health insurance policy. 

But 'value added' is a more common problem than one might assume. Take the Boeing Max 8, it seems that along with better seats and fancy lighting, the plane is offered to buyers with an optional indicator light for the control panel. The angle of attack sensors tell the pilots if the plane is trying to climb at too steep an angle and risks simply falling straight down. A big blaring alarm sounding indicator light that tells pilots the angle of attack sensors are sending conflicting signals to the autopilot, then even the most junior pilot knows he should shut the computer system off and assume manual control. If you don't have this alarm it's up to the pilots to figure out why the plane continues to pitch the nose down and add speed at the expense of altitude. 

What Boeing did is actually even worse than allowing the computer to get conflicting signals and not telling the pilots, the computer actually only accepts data from one sensor and the pilots have no way of knowing that the backup sensor isn't even connected. 

The pilots will pull back on the yoke to correct this nose down situation but the computer just keeps repeating the nose down maneuver more aggressively each time until there's not enough slack left in the controls to pull the nose up with the yoke and the plane flies into the ground.  

The FAA is supposed to review all aspects of a new plane's design but thanks to conservative government they no longer have the resources to do this. Doing something so stupid as selling a plane with vital safety equipment on the option list is why we need the regulatory oversight that conservatives rail against. 

Boeing told the FAA that the MAX 8 was just a minor upgrade to the same plane they've been building since the 1960s. It's not. The new efficient engines don't fit under the wings so they moved them and this makes the plane inherently unstable. To fix this problem they wrote a very aggressive computer program to control stall situations (this is where you push the nose down to increase speed).  

And they didn't tell anybody because potential buyers don't want to know their shiny new plane is inherently unstable. Exotic military aircraft are designed this way but they have ejection seats. From now on pay close attention to the flight attendant giving the safety talk, "In the event that the Eject light comes on remember to fasten your seat belt before pulling the handles to eject yourself. If you are flying with children turn the selector to Family Eject...."


Friday, March 8, 2019

Well here we go - Today's economic report from the circling drain

With today's abysmal jobs number coming in at 20,000 new jobs, a tenth of what was projected, we find ourselves caught in the whirlpool of The Orange Moron's incompetence meeting the confluence of economic down trends. The straw that the administration is trying to cling to is a significant jump in hourly wages but there is absolutely nothing to maintain a trend of 'rising wages' in a labor union free economy. Wages are so low that offering slightly higher pay to attract people to change jobs is not going to calm the raging river of economic collapse. The average hourly wage today is roughly equal to the minimum wage paid in 1968 and those weren't great wages back then.

The next biggest problem that this country has is its trade deficit and Trump has managed to drive that to an all time record high. Nobody is going to invest in making things in the US because they know Trump's tariffs are not permanent and will only last until he gets what he wants. With China, Trump wants their cash in Trump's pocket, he's already gotten $500 million funneled into Trump development in Malaysia but it's not clear if China is willing to make him into a real billionaire or if they'll simply wait him out. It's not that they can't bribe him, they don't have that pesky 'rule of law' problem that our other major trading partners must deal with. But destroying the US is their ultimate goal and they may just let Trump do it for them.

At a joint White House photo op with the Chinese Vice President announcing progress in trade talks, Trump embarrassed himself by saying that the memorandums of understanding (MOU) that they were showcasing were not to his liking "because a MOU didn't mean anything". The US trade negotiator couldn't help himself and interrupted to correct Trump by pointing out that the MOU was very detailed, legally binding like any contract and that they are what trade deals are based on. Trump doesn't actually know anything about the Art of the Deal, his book on the subject was ghost written. Not accepting any correction from an underling he gave the hapless trade expert a tongue lashing repeating his earlier nonsense. The stoic Chinese responded by laughing out loud in Trump's face. He doubtless took it as a compliment.  

We are living in those interesting times the Chinese curse refers to.