Boeing may be screwed

By Erik Dolson

Airplane manufacturer Boeing announced earlier this month that a safety committee had been formed on the board of directors after two crashes of the company’s 737 Max aircraft took 346 lives.

A safety committee! On the board! Thank god. Shareholders and passengers alike can fly much relieved.

I’d like to add a couple of other suggestions, distilled after talking to current and former Boeing employees over the last few months.

First, fire CEO and board chair Dennis Mullenburg. These tragedies occurred on his watch, and he lost all credibility while repeating the demonstrably false “safety is our top priority.” The crash of two 737 Max planes due to faulty software, faulty systems, and faulty processes made that claim absurd. Mullenburg is partly reponsible for the aggressive focus on profit that led to these tragedies.

Boeing exists to make a profit. Safety is central to that goal, but not the primary. Ask any employee who answers to a Boeing manager who himself or herself is under intense pressure to reduce costs on a regular basis.

The 737  Max was a bit of a kludge in the first place, an end run around regulations that would have required a completely new certification if Boeing had fielded an entirely new design. Recertification would have been expensive and caused delays, adding even more expense. So, Boeing told regulators and customers essentially that the 737 Max was “the plane you know and love, only better!”

But the company had installed new engines on the plane, and placed them farther forward. The engine pods cause lift when the nose of the plane is pointed up. The new location resulted in forces that pushed the nose up even further. This “divergent condition” can eventually cause a stall, and the airplane to fall out of the air.

Normally, a divergent condition is not allowed in passenger aircraft, which are supposed to return to a stable position if no forces are applied to the pilot’s controls. So Boeing came up with software that pushes the nose down when sensors indicate a stall is imminent.

It appears a sensor malfunctioned in the two planes that crashed. The airplane “thought” it was nearing a stall, and pushed the nose down. Pilots repeatedly tried to pull the nose up, but the planes were stronger and persisted, until they flew into the ground.

The central questions here are why didn’t Boeing catch this problem before people died, and can it be fixed?

I suggest that Boeing didn’t catch the problem because of the “culture” within the company. The end run around certification set the ball in motion. Constant pressure to cut costs and speed up development added momentum. So did the policy of not requiring and then informing airlines that pilots would need more training on the new systems.

These decisions were not the result of “safety is our number one priority.”

Can the planes be fixed? Certainly more sensors can be added (ONE!? Boeing allowed planes out the door with a single critical sensor!? There should have been three!). The software is being modified to give pilots more control.

The FAA in the United States may allow the 737 Max to fly again soon. After all, Boeing has a huge lobbying force in Washington D.C. Money matters.

However, transportation safety agencies in other countries may require that the plane not have a divergent condition at all, and/or that pilots be able to recover the plane from any flight situation with the software completely inoperable. Can the 737 Max do that?

Can the 737 Max recover from a near stall with the current engine design without software assistance? Can Boeing recover if only the FAA certifies the plane and it can’t fly in other countries? Would anyone fly on the plane?

The problems for the 737 Max go deeper than a software glitch, and the troubles at Boeing will not be fixed by adding a safety committee to the board of directors. At some point, the plane and the company may require a more significant change in design.

If not, I suggest that the entire Boeing board of directors and top management be on the plane as it goes through the more extreme flight tests. Then shareholders and passengers alike would be assured that the planes are as safe as they can be.

Foolish fuel funsters

Tesla pickup, art from Gear Junkie

by Erik Dolson

Well, that happened a lot sooner than I thought it would. Pickup drivers blocking access to charging stations for electric vehicles.

Fighting the future is natural, I suppose, and no one wants to be a dinosaur (did they really become diesel fuel belching from those truck exhausts?) either.

Now, I’m not going to suggest this ill-considered “protest” is the result of efforts by Marathon Oil or Koch Industries or the American Petroleum Institute to delay the electrification of transportation. That would be baseless and irresponsible. Maybe they used Facebook.

Industries in America are certainly capable of such chicanery, as the sugar industry blamed fat for obesity, cigarette makers had “scientists” deny the link between smoking and cancer, and Facebook paid PR firms to say they just want to bring people together while working on anti-semitic smears against George Soros.

Morals don’t scale nearly as heavy as profit when it comes time to weigh the gold.

But pickup owners blocking charging stations? Hey, guys? (Call it sexist, but I just don’t see women doing something this juvenile). I have a hobby that burns more fuel per mile than the thirstiest of your rigs, and I have a big diesel to get me there and back. I love my truck just like you love yours, though if the new Tesla pickup can pull an 11,000 pound trailer, I might want to look into that torque monster.

But I’m willing to let the electrics have their share of the road. Unless that damn Prius doing 54 miles an hour won’t get out of the fast lane. That’s not his share of the road, that’s mine.

But even if it was the Russians who started this (they are pretty good at sowing this type of discord), one does have to wonder what you truck owners intend. What exactly are you thinking, here? What’s your goal? What’s the outcome?

Yelling obscenities at people driving an electric vehicle, and preventing them from getting their fuel? I don’t get it. Are you defending a lifestyle? Depriving them of choice so you can gaurantee yours? Just having fun with a little harmless bigotry? Defending America? These are Teslas, men, probably with as much U.S. sourced content as your Dodge Ram, Ford F250 or Chevy 3500.

Do you really think that tractor trailers pulling tankers are less susceptible to disruption than power lines? Do you really think when the tipping point comes and there are more electrics on the road than diesels, and you continue this stupid, childish behavior, you won’t pay a price? Do you really think that in depriving others of freedom of movement, you won’t sacrifice yours?

Or are you just being manipulated by those who profit on oil into doing something that isn’t really in your own interest?

You’ve been selected for … !

by Erik Dolson

Marriott Hotels has selected me for a special, low cost vacation. Windham Hotels wants me to view a resort property and tell all my friends (both of you)  how great it was. Credit Card Services is giving me a low, 6 percent interest rate on my Visa and Mastercard balances. To top it off, someone is going to give me better health insurance at NO ADDITIONAL COST!

All that by noon today. By bedtime, especially around the dinner hour,  I imagine I’ll have received another four or five spam calls. Up until now I would listen to the pitch, ask questions, hoping the caller would put me on a list that says that calling my phone number was a giant waste of time, and after all, time is money.

Then I was on the phone with James, a gentleman who sounded like he was in India.

“You just want to take my time!” he yelled after I asked him for the fourth time to tell me which credit card he was talking about. He cut the connection before I could say that his call and others I’d received today cost ME time, and aggravation. Good thing I am on an unlimited plan.

James and those on the other end of spam calls are just trying to eke out a living wherever their call center is located: India, The Philipines, South Carolina. I doubt it’s a high paying gig, but since I can’t get to his boss, or the boss’s boss, I’d hoped there was a feedback loop somewhere and they’d stop letting me waste their time as they wasted mine. It was about all I could do.

But James caused me to think again about “time is money.” So is electricity. And bandwidth. Battery usage. I wondered if there is anyplace in the system where AT&T and Verizon might be making money off spam. Because, after all, they make money off nearly every other use of bandwidth (at one time those were “our” airwaves. Another story).

Given that AT&T and Verizon are happy to store our information and share it with the U.S. government if asked (as a run around the law prohibiting the government itself from doing so), it’s not unreasonable that they know who is flooding the world with and profiting from the spam.

Could it be that AT&T and Verizon sell me service and then sell me to others? Why don’t I get a cut of that deal? Does spam take up bandwidth that AT&T and Verizon have said is in such short suppply? Could they stop spam, and if so, why don’t they? It’s not unreasonable to think they’re making a profit from the calls somehow. Someone is, or the calls would not exist.

Yes, there are other telecoms and they are not innocent. But sometimes you just want to aim at the head of a snake.

Spam calls are not just an annoyance. We should not have to go to lengths to block, screen, or otherwise avoid these intrusions into our lives. At one time, with landlines and later for unlisted cell phones, unasked for intrusions were illegal. They could be again. Perhaps it’s time for a person of authority to take an interest.

Free speech, you say? Nothing is free in a market economy. Spammers have just shifted the cost onto  me. They call my phone again and again and again, running down my battery and stealing my attention. I’d like it to stop. Time is money, and I don’t have enough of either one.

Oil men put Santa in chains

By Erik Dolson

Merry Christmas.

It’s that time to turn away from the scourge of Trump and look for kinder, gentler souls. Recent news gives us many candidates, but we’ve heard enough about foreigners with names like Putin or Erdoğan or Assad.

Fortunately, we can focus much closer to home on Gary R. Heminger, Chairman and CEO of Marathon Oil, and the Koch brothers, David and Charles,

These oligarchs are or soon will be responsible for killing thousands of innocent people around the world, many right here in the U.S. These three, especially, are attempting to get Americans to burn an additional 300,000 to 400,000 barrels of oil per day. Read more…

Lost in Spaaaaaace

By Erik Dolson

Tesla Roadster prototype (CC BY-SA 4.0)

NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine said that Elon Musk smoking pot on a podcast was “not appropriate,” that it “did not inspire confidence,” and may have prompted a safety review of both Musk’s SpaceX and Boeings United Launch Alliance.

The companies are vying to ferry astronauts into space.

Here’s an alternate point of view, just for discussion. Maybe the NASA chief has it backwards.

Read more…

Democrats are screwed

By Erik Dolson

Donald Trump won the midterm elections yesterday. Democrat victory in the House of Representatives gives Trump exactly what he needs for the next two years to win the presidency in the year 2020.

Trump said as much when he congratulated Nancy Pelosi, presumed to be the new Speaker of the House. Trump said that Pelosi deserved the Speakership, and added that he might give her a few Republican votes on key issues in the future.

Trump thus sets himself up as a dealmaker, ready and willing to cooperate with the other side. Trump actually believes Read more…