Category Archives: Producer royalty

A tribute to Frank Ryan, a Producer Class HERO

 

Frank Ryan passed in April 2021. He was a close friend who led one of the more interesting lives imaginable. He was a builder of complex and difficult things. And he made a decent living fabricating some of the parts of our complicated existence.

For example, he made what he laughingly called "terminator" parts—titanium pieces that were used by an orthopedic surgeon to re-enforce and replace bones during a long-term research project going on over at the University of Minnesota Hospital. The surgeon would ask for Frank by name and together, they created a whole line of prototypes that resulted in a serious expansion of what orthopedic surgery can actually fix. The doc had great ideas that Frank turned into titanium parts that were often so light, they fell like a leaf if dropped.

The shop where Frank worked had an established reputation and so received every month perhaps eight metal-bending journals directed at high-end fabricators. These publications were paid for by the machine toolmakers so I am pretty sure they were just junk mail for the shop. Fortunately, someone in the administrative offices carried these magazines down to the shop floor break room. Frank would wait a few days so anyone interested could look at the articles, and then would bring them home.

Which is how I got to see them. And I thought they were absolutely wonderful. And this is where the story gets complex and fascinating. The reason I was so interested in reading journals directed at the machine-tool industry, is because I was trying to understand what had happened to the USA economy (and by extension the global economy) during the late 1970s and the 80s. The trigger for my curiosity was an argument I had in 1982 with the highest-ranking civil servant I knew in Washington DC. We were discussing the effects of the Recession of 1980-1. His take on events was that Reaganomics was going to herald a new day of economic growth and prosperity. My take was that this economic calamity had wiped out hundreds of thousands of small and mid-sized farmers and businessmen and much of the destruction was permanent.

It was about that time I discovered that the political economist Thorstein Veblen had been very careful in drawing a distinction between business and industry. I had long assumed that these two words were simply synonyms. Not so! argued Veblen. For him, industry was the organization of the community's necessary work—growing food, building infrastructure, inventing, etc. Business, on the other hand, consisted of the efforts employed by those who could not or would not do the necessary work themselves and gained their incomes through force and fraud—imperialism, rents, usury, tithes, taxation, the whole predator-class list.

The business vs. industry dichotomy is one of those ideas that once you have seen it, it is damn difficult to unsee it. Ever! Veblen's famous "The Theory of the Leisure Class" in 1899 described the antics of the Business / Leisure classes. It took until 1914 for him to describe the characteristics of the industrial classes. He called that description "The Instinct of Workmanship: and the state of the industrial arts".

The implications of Veblen's Business / Industry dichotomy were, and still are, absolutely staggering. For one thing, the numbers suggested that while the Leisure Classes were culturally dominant, the overwhelming majority of humanity had to struggle through life employed in jobs that had little status and pay. On the other hand, the industrial classes were far more accepting of science and technological advancement. They had discovered that one sure way to advance themselves out of their subservient status was to invent and build a new world. 

When Veblen was born in 1857, the vast majority of the population farmed with brute labor—harvesting wheat with a scythe or picking corn by hand. 100 years later, plumbers owned Corvettes, radio and TV allowed everyone to have their own soundtrack, and food was so plentiful that anyone remotely interested could become a food snob. And all of this was made possible by a torrent of inventiveness that allowed for the mass production of high quality metals and tools that could output products to the accuracy of microns. The Industrial Revolution was the first and only revolution that provided real material progress to folks who had previously been slaves, share-croppers, serfs and peasants. 

I learned NONE of this tale of Industrial Class revolution during my years in school. And yet when I discovered these social histories by reading Veblen and others of the era of scientific invention, I immediately believed them because of my good friend, Frank Ryan, was a living example of why they were true. 

That Frank Ryan was this production genius is one in thousands of examples for why the USA Midwest became the global heartland of invention. If he had grown up in someplace like Detroit or Chicago or Muncie Indiana, he would have known dozens of people with his eventual mechanical skills. But Frank was born in a tiny, desolate, wind-swept burg near where the Missouri River exits the state of South Dakota. And while Ole Rolvaag was correct in asserting that it was only the Giants in the Earth that could settle the brutal environments that were the high prairies, these were not the high precision skills that produced substitute human body parts. The nearest such operation was probably at least 100 miles from where Frank spent his childhood.

But Platte South Dakota wasn't nowhere. In fact, it had a lot of the same characteristics of the industrial incubators that gave us Henry Ford and the thousands of farm-kid inventors who would follow his recipe. In farm country, inventiveness is a survival skill. Being able to figure out a novel way to solve problems becomes a highly admired attribute. Frank's father was a veterinarian back before licensing procedures had been instituted. He was a vet because he successfully treated animals so it was farmers who kept him in business—not diplomas. He was successful because he was scientifically literate enough to understand causation.

Frank also grew up during the early heyday of model airplanes and apparently built a lot of them. Kits could be had for $0.10 and usually took a couple of months to assemble. Considering it took from the dawn of recorded history until 1903 to figure out powered flight, the fact that by the 1930s, models that flew were considered a children's pastime was really a stretch. For a model to fly, it must follow the same laws of nature that a full-sized airplane does. Frank never bragged about how well his models flew which suggests they probably usually crashed. Folks who build those large-scale models you see flying on YouTube are fabricated by middle-aged men (or older) with considerable skills and persistence. But simply building those $0.10 models taught a host of fabricating skills merely to get them to the stage where you could hang them from the bedroom ceiling.

And then there was the Army. Frank was hardly the first small-town kid that the military tapped to operate and maintain its technologically advanced tools of war. In fact, rural kids were considered prime recruits. Frank easily passed the Army entrance test which sought out technical skills and was told he could select any training path that interested him. He selected the skill that had the longest training. The Army got the last laugh—his training made him qualified to operate the over-the-horizon radars which supposedly gave an early heads-up on missiles launched over the North Pole. This meant he spent some long winters in places like Greenland and Alaska. Even a South Dakota upbringing does not prepare someone for the sheer brutality of a Greenland blizzard. There was a limit to how long someone could tolerate such an assignment especially since in practice, this meant that, at best, North Americans could be terrified for 20 extra minutes before their world would end.

After 7 years, Frank left the Army to join the post-war economic expansion. His military skills had no civilian application so he found himself selling temporary classrooms to frantic school boards facing the results of the baby boom. Sales gigs would become an increasingly difficult way to make a living so one day, a few years later, he walked in the door of small punch-press shop and was hired by someone who assumed that anyone with reasonable personal habits could feed one. But even in a small punch shop, there is a hierarchy of skills. By the time I met Frank in the early 1970s, he had become a premiere set-up specialist—the guy who arranges tools precisely so they make accurate parts. This was obviously a critical skill—not the least reason was the fact that even tiny mistakes could result in the destruction of $thousands worth of specialized tools. What made all this especially ironic was that those difficult jobs Frank would come to excel at, he had probably never even heard of that day when he went to work as a punch-press operator.

When I first met Frank, I took an instant liking for him—he was from a small prairie town, he understood and appreciated those rural survival skills, and most importantly, he had built flying model airplanes made of balsa and tissue—a hobby that had occupied a significant portion of my youth. He told interesting stories about the struggles to make difficult parts from a wide assortment of alloys. 

But most of all, he wanted to help me with my big problem. I had teamed up with a couple of dreamers who believed we should rehab a vacant building in a neighborhood that had deteriorated from fashionable to thoroughly dilapidated. I had built houses as a carpenter to help finance my college education and so I confidently assured them I could fix their building. It soon became apparent that the skills necessary to build tract houses did not obviously transfer to restoring late 19th-century Victorian and Queen Anne mansions. I was WAY in over my head. I had to figure it out on the fly and so I got together with Frank each night when he got off work and we would plot my next move. Frank was amazingly helpful. Not once on that project did I have to take something apart because I had taken a wrong turn.

Sometimes, I would have a project where I really needed an extra set of hands. Frank was an incredible sidekick. He would keep track of tools and materials, he would help organize the workspace, and when I needed those extra hands to guide large parts through tools, he always knew where to hold on and which way to push. One project involved making a teak room divider in a room with a 10' ceiling. It would have glass doors and shelves, it would be lit with a bulb on a dimmer, and there would be a a wooden cabinet to store the booze. No drawings had been produced so Frank had only a vague understanding how everything would go together but he soldiered on being his very useful self. The end result was stunning. The woman whose crystal collection this room divider would house showed up when Frank and I were sitting around and admiring our handiwork. She asked Frank when he actually understood what we were building. He laughed, "Oh, about 1/2 hour ago." It was at that moment when I realized what Frank had brought to my life—expert help, loyalty, trust, and understanding.

When Frank started supplying me with those machinist trade journals, he became someone who was more than an example of raising usefulness to an art form, he was making a critically important contribution to my intellectual understanding of the world. Veblen argued that the industrial classes were the numerical majority. What he left out of his argument were speculations on how amazingly stratified his giant industrial class was. Frank's magazines just exploded this point into my consciousness. Frank had more practical skills than anyone I had ever met, yet compared to the people who designed and built the machine tools he operated, he was a hobbyist. Hyper-accurate machine tools are one of the more critical elements of a science-based civilization. One of the easier ways to judge the technological sophistication of any social order is to examine the quality of their machine tools. Of course, even the finest machine tools are pretty worthless unless operated by passionately skilled and imaginative people...like Frank.

Once I had become acquainted with the nearly limitless possibilities and crazy difficult problems that could be solved by the nearly miraculous tools available to humanity, the question then became, "Why are we not creating this available utopia?" And I became fixated on expanding Veblen's class theories because it provided a believable answer to the question "Why are modern societies run by people who have NO IDEA how their world actually works?" Veblen's social theories provide a brilliantly simple response. The highest goal of the Leisure Classes is a life of uselessness. The highest goal of the industrial classes is usefulness. So while a Leisure Class occupation like politics has, if anything, deteriorated in the last 150 years (think Abe Lincoln to W. Bush) the Industrial Classes have invented miracles (like the progress from the telegraph to the satellite-based Internet). So it turns out that folks determined to live useful lives WILL significantly outperform the people determined to be absolutely worthless.

Soon I would write a book inspired by my new insights into Frank's world. When I had a first draft, I showed it to to him. He was absolutely delighted and read it in three days. We got together and he began to read some of the passages that truly amused him. A couple provoked genuine belly laughs—some a giggle. I was flattered beyond words that he thought I had captured the world-view of a prime set-up man.

Frank lived an important life. Everything that is truly amazing about this country was the result of the hard work, inventiveness, and determination of men like Frank Ryan. Folks like him still exist—though there seems to be fewer of them these days and their social situation seems nearly hopeless. 40+ years of USA de-industrialization will do that. So here's a toast to a Producer Class hero. R.I.P.

So what does a true Producer do when he retires? Why build a ridiculously complex trimaran, of course.

Nerdgasm—Thoughts on Tesla’s Battery Day

Like many, I was looking forward to what Elon Musk would say about what is easily the most critical and expensive part of building an electric vehicle—the batteries. The presentation was literally breath-taking. Several times I found myself holding my breath as I tried not to miss any important details. Musk and company had gone to great lengths to simplify their descriptions of what they were attempting. Unfortunately for me, I hadn't taken a Chemistry course since 1966 so I found myself fishing in some forgotten waters. Fortunately, it was easy to watch repeats on YouTube so eventually the requisite understanding returned. (I needed four tries ;-)

There is really no sustainable energy future without effective storage. Anyone who has ever lost their electricity knows that life gets extremely difficult VERY fast. Yes, I know humans survived without electricity in hazardous places such a North Dakota in winter. But those people were unusually hardy, strong, and clever. Even so, preparations for winter began the first days of spring. If you had trees, you chopped wood. Trees are stored energy. Unfortunately, there aren't many trees in North Dakota. Fortunately, there are energy sources that will sustain human life up there—lignite coal and then after the 1950s, oil and natural gas. Now that burning fossil fuels has become a big no-no, North Dakota also has abundant wind power but harnessing it as a practical matter requires storage.

Energy storage has been the big scary boogieman since the invention of fire. We like to treat the problem socially the same way we treat hauling out the trash and for many of the same reasons—it is UGHLEE. Clear-cut forests, oil refineries and tank farms, and the like smell funny and in myriad ways are offensive if not serious health hazards. Storage is especially tricky when the energy is electricity. Electricity moves at roughly the speed of light. With tiny exceptions, therefore, electricity must be used the instant it's produced. While this nearly instantaneous speed is easily electricity's most useful characteristic, it seriously hampers more widespread adoption of renewable energy.

The best and most useful way of storing electrical energy is by using batteries. This option has earned its important status because the alternatives don't work very well, if at all. Some proposed building huge flywheels. This scheme never got off the drawing boards because of the problems building a wheel precise enough to store massive amounts of energy. Bearings large enough to support a large flywheel at even slow rotational speeds were probably physically impossible. One scheme—pumping water into an elevated reservoir only to be released when the grid needs more electricity has several working examples operating in Norway. But these are only possible due to Norway's unique geography. There are also supporters of compressed air. Big money has been spent trying to make hydrogen the default storage medium. But in end, the most useful and reliable method of electrical storage is still the humble battery.

But just because batteries work, after a fashion, that doesn't mean they don't have serious problems. They are heavy, and expensive, and don't store all that much power. They are an environmental headache from mining to disposal. Lots of money and brainpower is being directed at solving those problems. There has been a lot of chirping about the potential for a solid-state battery while Samsung has made them a company goal.

But Tesla has a different sort of problem. They must use a technology that already exists at scale which means lithium-ion. So their solution is to throw resources and effort into production innovation—they intend to make terawatts of these things, after all.

In the early days of industrialization, folks who could create factories and make them run smoothly were called "millwrights"—a prestigious occupational category. Now the term has fallen into serious disuse as more and more companies that make complex products tend to outsource difficult tasks. Tesla and Musk has made a public declaration that they do NOT intend to follow that path. Instead they intend to employ the method used by most early industries—vertical integration. If someone is building a product that has not been built before, this is the only choice. If the tools of production cannot be purchased, the only alternative is to make them yourself (or find someone who can make them for you).

Musk most certainly did NOT invent vertical integration. In fact he has a ways to go before any of his manufacturing facilities equal the sophistication of Ford's River Rouge (Model A-1927) or Willow Run (B-24 bomber—1942). But while Musk did not invent vertical integration he is most certainly a true believer in its principles. This is his presentation for battery day.

Elon Musk

 

Reaction to the Elon Musk / Drew Baglino presentation fell into two main categories—the disappointed and the breathless. The investor classes were the most reliably disappointed. It wasn't flashy enough. It didn't introduce a new model of something. The promised new product timelines were often in the range of 2-3 years, NOT next quarter. The unearned-income crowd considers descriptions of the nuts and bolts of technological innovations to be a snoozefest—especially at the level of battery day.

On the other hand, the folks who stayed awake in science classes had what one wag called a nerdgasm. That's what it felt like to me. A friend called two days after battery day and less than one minute into the conversation he asked, "What's up with you? I haven't heard you so happy in 35 years." Guilty as charged.

There are several main reasons Tesla's battery day was so appealing.

It was strategically solid. The Tesla scheme requires the least amount of social change. I am a HUGE fan of high-speed rail and live on what would be an important link if USA built up its passenger-rail system. However, I am reasonably certain USA will never build such a system for the simple reason that the cities we have in USA were built during the age of petroleum and individual transportation devices. Cars and filling stations can serve such cities—light rail, buses, etc. cannot. The roads are built—assembling the land for dedicated high-speed rail alone is an unimaginable nightmare. The zero-carbon transportation future will be a function of electrifying the existing infrastructure. The success of this venture will be a function of how efficiently we can convert the internal combustion transportation system into an electric one.

The devil's in the details. Instead of chasing a breakthrough such as a solid-state battery, Tesla chose to chase smaller production upgrades. The reason this works is that it addresses a host of problems that needed attention anyway and if there are enough "small" improvements, they are likely to add up to breakthrough numbers.

Borrow, steal, copy. The example that made me giggle was the admission that Tesla had learned a LOT from the food-packaging industry—specifically bottling. This technology has been around for awhile. The all-aluminum beer can has been around since the late 1960s and it is still used as an example of metal-forming sophistication. The amount of pure genius expended on food packaging is usually beyond belief. So it not surprising that kind of genius could accelerate battery assembly speed by 7x.

And on it went—one technological triumph following another. Elon and Drew just rapping like they were sharing a barbecue. No notes or teleprompters—just a sound industrial pragmatism on an intense search for what will actually work in the real world. The biggest advantage the Producer Classes have is that they can subject their theories to real-world testing pretty easily. Objects that cannot perform are culled pretty quickly. Industrial pragmatism turned up past 11. 

Elon Musk often claims that manufacturing doesn't get nearly the appropriate amount of respect AND has vowed to make Tesla manufacturing world-class. Apparently he learned some important lessons trying to make the Model 3 assembly line work. In a few 120 hour weeks, Musk discovered why "millwright" has been the most difficult job humans do.

Running on empty


DW looks at the institutional impediments to change in the all-powerful automobile industry. And OMG are the car folks all powerful—for some very good reasons. Germans invented the internal combustion engine—both gasoline and diesel. The nation's driver associations have even managed to keep parts of the autobahn speed-limit free. And should a driver do something seriously stupid and crash, the authorities have access to rescue crews on hair-trigger alert. This is not to say the rest of the country always approves of these James-Dean wannabees setting transportation policies. Environmental activists recently managed to ban automobile traffic in central Stuttgart—the home of Porsche and Mercedes Benz.

But the serious power is still held by the manufacturers and their conventional wisdom which says—the automakers are the most important element of the German economy and you tamper with them at great risk. In that nearly rules-free environment, they twiddled their thumbs and made fat profits from ICE cars. Now their biggest market, China, is demanding that they get serious about selling electric cars. This is proving much harder than it looks—and WAY more expensive. Here DW has captured a fascinating look at smug auto executives spouting the conventional wisdom / Institutional Inertia.


The triumph of the squares


The 50th anniversary of the first moon walk has caused me a full-blown geek-out. I remember the space race with fondness. Aerospace was the biggest story out there. The 50s and 60s saw an explosion of technological growth. Some favorites of mine from that era include the F-104, the U-2, the SR-71, the Boeing 707, 727, and 747—the "jet age" planes that changed travel and even music by democratizing flight.

I "graduated" from my Erector Set stage straight into model airplanes—the ones that flew and made a bunch of noise. And even though the space race was on, I was never seduced into model rocketry. It was expensive and the available examples didn't do much—restricted as they were by the same sort of regulations as fireworks (which where I lived were essentially outlawed.)

Real-world rockets were kind of boring as well. The most notorious of the test pilots out at Edwards Air Force Base (Chuck Yeager) even labeled the early astronauts as nothing more than "spam in a can." After all, the first "American" in space was a chimp. But that wouldn't last long. The original astronauts were extremely competent test pilots and before long, they were demanding greater control of their missions.

Even so, I was far more interested in the flight testing at Edwards where they pushed the limits of supersonic flight with real airplanes like fighters jets. But soon, they eventually embraced rocketry with the incomparable X-15. They had to. If you want to set speed and altitude records, eventually you run out of atmosphere where air-breathing power-plants simply do not work. The X-15 was insanely fast, complex and dangerous. It wasn't going to be piloted by a chimp. In fact, these things required the skills of the best pilots we could find. And I had a favorite—Neil Armstrong.



Armstrong was a superb pilot. On one mission a failure of a new instrument caused him to fly nearly 50 miles beyond where he was supposed to turn back to Edwards. His propulsion was spent so he was flying a glider with the aerodynamic performance (4:1 glide ratio) of a brick. He nursed that X-15 back to Edwards coming over the lake bed at less than 100'. This would be the same guy who landed on the moon with less than 30 seconds worth of fuel.

His degree in aeronautical engineering came from Purdue. This is NOT a school that grants engineering degrees to goof-offs. In fact Purdue would contribute a serious fraction of the top engineers to the space program. The rest mostly came from State Universities in the USA Midwest like Michigan.

He grew up in Wapakoneta, Ohio about an hour north of Dayton—the home of the Wright Brothers. His father paid for a ride in a Ford Tri-motor at 6. He soloed an airplane on his 16th birthday (the legal minimum age) and spent much of his childhood building model airplanes. This last fact is what endeared him to me. I too built model airplanes which were insanely difficult to get to fly well. The problem is that models and real airplanes conform to the same laws of nature which means to indulge in this hobby, it really helps to learn things like fluid dynamics, lightweight structures, and drag coefficients. You know—kid stuff.

Yes that is me with a model that required at least 150 hours to build. Didn't fly very well—too little power and too much paint.



Flying is something that only happens on the boundaries of perfection. You can get 15,000 things right and one wrong and your precious airplane is a flaming heap. Good pilots are followers of check lists—as diligent on the 1000th time through as the first. They read the operator's manuals. They know what all those switches do. They understand that dishonesty and corner-cutting could end their lives.

Armstrong was notorious for insisting on understanding every part of his aircraft. He wanted to know what everything was supposed to do and what it COULD do in an emergency. But even better, he understood that flying is a team effort and it was critical for every member of the team to take their jobs seriously. Here's what he says about the people who built Apollo.
Armstrong: Each of the components of our hardware were designed to certain reliability specifications, and for the majority, to my recollection, had a reliability requirement of 0.99996, which means that you have four failures in 100,000 operations. I've been told that if every component met its reliability specifications precisely, that a typical Apollo flight would have about [1,000] separate identifiable failures. In fact, we had more like 150 failures per flight, [substantially] better than statistical methods would tell you that you might have.

I can only attribute that to the fact that every guy in the project, every guy at the bench building something, every assembler, every inspector, every guy that's setting up the tests, cranking the torque wrench, and so on, is saying, man or woman, "If anything goes wrong here, it's not going to be my fault, because my part is going to be better than I have to make it." And when you have hundreds of thousands of people all doing their job a little better than they have to, you get an improvement in performance. And that's the only reason we could have pulled this whole thing off.

The Triumph of the Squares

Nearly a year after the landing of Apollo 11, NASA head Thomas Paine gave a commencement address at Worcester Polytechnic Institute where he declared that the successful moonshot was a triumph of the squares, the validation of the values of "Squareland" which he listed as foremost a profound faith in reason. It was "outward looking and mathematical," was "time oriented...and deeply concerned with future consequences." It "accepts as true only rational facts and theories which predict future events with mathematical precision under rigorous standards of reproducibility. Only Squareland's rationality could ensure the "crops yield, lights light, bridges carry loads, children avoid polio, and men walk on the moon." In fact. to Squarelanders, a solid definition of "truth" might be "that which successfully takes two men to the moon."

This speech made me groan and roll my eyes. On one hand, going to the moon really DID require the "square" virtues that Paine so celebrated. Beside, I was clearly a prototypical "square" (see photo above.) Building airplanes sort of demands squareness. I was also the son of a small-town clergyman—building airplanes was one way of staying above the reproach of the church ladies. On the other hand, this speech set off the scolds who assumed that "square" virtue included an unquestioning support of the Vietnam War, a marked preference for booze over pot, white shirts and neck ties, and above all, short hair for men.

Unfortunately, the space race had been sold as Cold War macho and a real-live Nazi named Wernher von Braun was chosen to head the effort. So the link between the space race and unbridled militarism was pretty damn short. NASA was acutely aware of this problem. It was one of the reasons that Neil Armstrong was chosen to take the first step—he was the only civilian pilot to have reached his advanced status. This turned out to be an excellent choice. In the goodwill tour following the moon landing, he charmed his listeners around the world into believing that this was a triumph of human (not American) genius. The reason this worked is because Armstrong deeply believed it was true.

But while the moon landing was clearly a triumph of the squares, the squares would not triumph. By 1972 the Apollo program was ended and no human has gone beyond low-earth orbit since. The can-do attitude of Apollo has so completely disappeared from American culture that many now actually believe the landing was a hoax. It is probably more accurate to call Apollo "Peak Square" because the vast majority of my fellow citizens in 2019 look on a profound faith in reason as a weird psychological disorder.

BBC calling

In the summer of 1970, I found myself in UK. I kept running into people who wanted to talk about the moon landing. Most of them were very well informed. I had to scramble to keep up at times. One night in London, a waitress in a pub sat down next to me and asked if I was the American space expert she had overheard. I humbly admitted I was probably who she was looking for but I was FAR from being an expert. Then she asked, "How did they know how long the burn for the lunar insertion midflight correction should be? And how did they know they were pointing the engine in the right direction?" I didn't have a canned response so I pulled out my understanding of inertial navigation. It wasn't a very good answer but she seemed to understand, smiled and went back to work. I was left wondering just how a random London barmaid knew enough to even ask such good questions.

In 1978, PBS would air a 10-part series called Connections starring a fascinating storyteller named James Burke. (There was a companion coffee-table book by the same name). Burke had carved out an awesome assignment for himself. He wanted to explain the products of the modern world (computers, plastics, powered flight, etc.) in such a way that his listeners would understand how their world came to be. It was absolutely brilliant. Episode #1 The trigger effect traced the development of a modern city like New York back to the invention of the plow. The nine that would follow were equally good. Somewhere along the way we are informed that Burke was the man who covered Apollo for BBC.

AHA! That explained why the Brits knew so much about the moon landing—at least partly. So in the near-infinity of Apollo 11 at 50 coverage on YouTube, I went looking to see if I could find any of Burke's descriptions. I found a good one—an hour of Apollo highlights.




Just in case you need a reminder of how utterly lame the Apollo coverage was on USA corporate media, here is an example from ABC. I am pretty sure all the CBS and ABC coverage of the whole mission can be found at YouTube.

Of all the footage of the Apollo 11 mission that I have uncovered in the past few months, the following may be my favorite. It was done by NASA and has even more in capsule footage than the recently released Blu-Ray of Apollo 11. Of course, the new version has far superior imagery because restoration techniques are so much better. But this one is narrated by Wernher von Braun himself and the technique he used is to compare the 1969 effort against the description of a trip to the moon from Jules Verne's 1865 From Earth to the Moon.





As for the speculation that the Apollo program could provide a template for how this nation should take on the challenges of climate change, my responses are:

It might work
  • If we can restock our seriously depleted supply of "squares."
  • If we can find leadership that understands that this problem will be at LEAST 1000 times more difficult than the moon landing—and that's the best reason to do it.
The HILL looked at this possibility in more depth: Apollo as model for climate change.

Sandy Munro does a teardown analysis of Tesla


This YouTube interview of Sandy Monro is interesting to the point of being profound. Some background.

Monroe lives in Michigan and has a bunch of commercial ties to the car business. His specialty is tearing down cars to see how they were built and whether better production practices could make a better car. His company has about 100 employees, because cars are incredibly complex with dozens of systems so he needs a wide assortment of specialists.

The reason Monro has become a sensation is because he tore down an early Tesla Model 3. At first he was pretty critical but as time has gone on he has become convinced that most legacy automakers are now almost hopelessly behind. He has some wonderful stories about how institutional inertia works at a place like Ford Motor. His inside look at Teslas will probably sell well for at least a decade

And then he says some really enlightening things about China and their rapid industrialization plans. His observations may be skewed because he is probably meeting their best and brightest, but even taking a hefty discount for that, the story is still about as compelling a look at China as anything I have seen in a long time—maybe ever.