Saturday, March 31, 2012

Road Trip

My wife and I made a road trip to Pensacola to attend the wedding of one of our nieces. As a child she used to spend New Years Eve at our house with her older brothers and sisters where we would make peanut brittle and shoot fireworks. Now she is marrying a retired Navy pilot. What the hell happened to the time?
The wedding was held at 511 Palafox. Older hands may remember that this was the site of Trader Jons, a somewhat infamous pilot hangout known for its collection of Naval aviation memorabilia and a Blue Angels Museum.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Thresher Base

April 10 will mark the 49th anniversary of the loss of the USS Thresher. A small group of submariners have dedicated themselves to preserving the memory of the Thresher and those lost with her. They call themselves Thresher Base and their website can be found here. They will be holding a memorial ceremony this year on April 14 at Traip Academy in Kittery, Maine.

If you happen to be near Portsmouth, NH on that weekend, you might want to attend.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Armed Escorts

I made a promise to myself several years ago that I would no longer travel to countries where I needed an armed escort for protection. I had two very practical reasons: (1) I doubted that my guards could shoot accurately and didn't trust them to hit the bad guys and not me, and (2) I wasn't sure that they would actually fire on their own people in order to protect me.

So I drew the line and said "no more". But now it seems that I need armed escorts in my own country.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Obama was bragging recently that his administration has quadrupled the number of drilling rigs ("Don't tell me we're not drilling!") This is an exaggeration. If you look at the Baker Hughes rig count data you see that the current rig count is not quite 2000. You have to back before 1999 to find a rig count as low as 500.

Obama is running scared from gasoline prices and is trying to find shelter - so he lies.

The other thing to remember is that Obama is a victim of his own success at raising the price of oil. If the price of oil goes up it will stimulate more drilling as oil companies try to take advantage of a rising market. Take a look at the charts and see how many of those rigs are looking for oil. But never forget that this increase has nothing to do with Obama. This was done by private industry in spite of Obama. Those rigs are drilling on private lands where Obama can't contol the permitting. He's just trying to take credit for something he didn't do. What do you call people who take credit for things they didn't do?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Made in China

Clay has posted a book review about doing business in China - especially as relates to quality. As engineers, we are being forced by bean counters to consider Chinese manufacturers even though our email boxes are filled with examples of catastrophic failures in Chinese construction. If you are in the same situation, or concerned about the quality of products you see on your store's shelves, this is a good book to read.

In Louisiana we have had to deal with the problem of drywall that gave off fumes that corroded copper electrical wires and plumbing. This dealt a second blow to folks trying to rebuild after Katrina. And we all remember the problem of lead paint in children's toys. And for myself, I routinely check frozen crawfish tails to make sure they came from Louisiana and not China.

While it could be considered a business book, it is written in a narrative style as the author relates his experiences acting as a business consultant for a US beauty products importer. He describes a phenomenon he terms "Quality Fade" where the manufacturer starts cutting corners once an order has been placed. More importantly, he gives insight into how the Chinese culture affects its approach to business dealings with the west. Look for it and read it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Head Count

One murderer and three druggies were beheaded last month in Saudi Arabia. So far this year, there have been nine executions in the Kingdom.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gender Bending

You may have seem the recent news article about Northeastern University banning Chick Fil-A from campus because they were deemed to be "anti-gay" because of the charities the company supports. You might be surprised to learn that this is not the first time the University was involved in gender bending controversies.

Back in the dim ages of 1970, when PE was just a wee engineering student who also played trombone in the university band, a fellow student and band member learned that there was no gender requirement for Winter Carnival Queen. Upon discovering this, one Everett Nau, a solid citizen from the State of Maine and a drummer, decided to enter the competition. NUB, the Northeastern University Band, sponsored him. (The band was deemed an extracurricular activity as the university had no music major. Therefore, we students were alowed to run the asylum and did pretty much as we pleased - within limits)

To make a long story short, Everett, complete with mutton chop sideburns, won the competition and the right to represent the university as Winter Carnival Queen. His accomplishment became renown throughout the land and also landed him a guest spot on the quiz show, "To Tell the Truth".

Some people have tried to rationalize our prank as a backlash to the womens' lib movement or as an offshoot of the anti-war protests going on at that time. In truth, it was nothing more than a few students poking fun at the university establishment while blowing off a little steam in Boston's dark winter days. As a result of our endeavors, the rules were changed in subsequent years to limit the field to female persons only.

In the picture below, guess who is Everett.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Margin Call

I rented this movie because it had Kevin Spacey as one of the stars. He always does quirky stuff and sometimes its good. This happened to be one of those times. Other stars in the cast included Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany and Jeremy Irons. The movie was the first major film by director/writer J.C. Chandor.

The movie opens with Tucci's character, the head of the risk management department, being fired during a general personnel purge at the investment firm where he works. If you have never seen the process in action, this was a realistic representation - cold, quick and brutal. As he walks out the door, he hands a memory stick to a young colleague and warns him that it may contain dangerous stuff. The young trader spends the night figuring out the risk model and realizes that it spells doom for the company. He sounds the alert. This kicks off an all night session with top management to try to reduce the damage to the firm while knowing that the economy in general will be heading down the tubes.

The appeal of the film is in the reactions of the various characters to the impending economic doom while they struggle with moral and ethical issues in the face of extreme financial losses. If you liked Glengarry Glen Ross, you will like this film.

While this film did not cause box office raves, it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing/Screenplay as well as several other awards including an Independent Spirit Award. If you see this movie on the hotel or airline movie list, be sure to see it.