Friday, November 17, 2006

Killer Asteroids and Risk Management 101

"The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don't have a space program, it'll serve us right!" --Larry Niven

Captain’s Quarters points out a fairly good ‘dead tree’ media piece on the threat of killer asteroids. In the UKGuardian article there are the obligatory ‘experts caution’ kind of references - to try and play down any hysterics from earlier citing unprovable statistics I guess – but on the whole it is a pretty good writeup (especially so, considering the source).

The Captain closes with “but let's make sure we're tailoring the budget and the mission to the real threat, and not some hysterics intended to sell books and buy tax money”, and I agree.

So how do we think about the ‘real threat’? Risk management techniques were made for this kind of easy example. We don’t even have to deal with nuances.

First, what is the ‘risk’ to us from such an event? Generally speaking, and without considering action and intervention, ‘Risk’ is a two-dimensional concept. To characterize it we must assess the probability of an event happening and the consequences of such an event if it did happen.

Given what we know: a. we’ve been hit before and b. we don’t always see them coming, I can think of no reason to characterize the near-term risk of a killer asteroid in any way other than ‘low probability – dire consequences’ = taking no preparation against a possible ‘killer asteroid’ should be considered ‘High Risk’.

But we should and would intervene and take action if we could wouldn’t we? How fast could a threat appear and how fast can we come up with a way to deal with it? These factors can modify the ‘Risk’. Again, a simplified risk chart can illustrate the importance of the time factor:

Since large astronomical bodies have been first observed as they have already passed their closest point, and we don’t always get a long look at inbound threats we do see ahead of time, the speed the threat can materialize has to be considered ‘Quickly’. Since we haven’t developed a counter to the threat yet, and any program you can conceive will take longer to develop than the time it takes for one of these things to appear, the 'Risk' can still be considered 'high', even if we start developing a counter today.

When we DO develop a counter to the threat, how effective must it be to reduce the 'Risk'?

Since we already characterize the raw threat as ‘Great’, unless whatever counter we come up with is VERY effective, we (as in the whole freakin’ Earth ‘we’) will still remain at a high risk to a cosmic collision.

There are a lot of 'more probable' things that we have to worry about, but none have a greater consequence than wiping out the planet surface and current ecosystem in the blink of an eye. So stop fretting over unverified ‘man-made global warming’ and tell me why we don’t have a full time deep space watch and a long range counter-asteroid system yet?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Yes, We Should Judge the Election Outcome by the Joy it Brings Our Enemies

...and we should judge our political parties by their willingness to give and/or sustain our enemies' joy.

Powerline is right.

Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters is wrong.

Captain Ed's "high-mindedness" reminds me of a conversation I was having with a colleague last year. In our exchange, my learned friend pointed out that one problem with a metaphorical "Aunt Martha" was that "she thinks that these mullahs preaching Jihad in the mosques are 'just like Reverend So-and-so their Baptist Minister'. After all, 'they're both men of God' aren't they?" I think the Good Captain (with whom I agree with on many many things) is experiencing the same sort misplaced identification with the Islamist enemy and sees them as fellow human beings.

Oh, they are humans and no more or less human than we are of course. It's just they're not fellow humans. They are not our 'fellows' in the sense where we would have the same dreams, the same aspirations, the same core beliefs, the same sense of honor and human dignity. Their culture and the lives they lead don't allow such things. This is one of the reasons Islamists hate the West so much: our existence is a threat to their ability to sustain the feudalism and fascism that is at the root of their power.

I wouldn't even call Captain Ed's postion to be 'high-mindedness' but would characterize it more as 'optimism unsupported by events or evidence'. These enemies have a long history of saying exactly what they are thinking and what they are going to do. I believe them when they gloat from a safe place.

If the Dem leadership wanted to at least pretend they were good Americans, they would have sounded off on this immediately. Instead we hear......crickets.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Airbus Aircraft Design Culture: Update

I've been following this since the Airbus 300 series airplane went down over NY right after the 9/11 attacks. Airbus and others insist that the pilots used too much control input to shear the vertical stabilizer off the fuselage. The question in my mind was and is: How is it even POSSIBLE to use too much control input?

I'm still waiting to see it explicitly stated, but I'm pretty certain Airbus used a McDonnell Douglas or maybe Boeing (now all Boeing so it doesn't matter which) proprietary design under license for the aircraft in question. I'm equally certain after reading several articles including the one linked in the header that Airbus chose NOT to implement the feature of the design that would have limited rudder deflection angles under the same conditions and prevented the crash. Why didn't Airbus think it was needed, when it was part of a proven design?

I'm not a huge fan of Airbus as I've readily acknowledged previously. But they may have a viable contender for the tanker replacement "KC-X" program since they are teamed with Northrop Grumman. An injection of common sense airplane savvy from Northrop Grumman could spill over to help other Airbus programs but significant cultural barriers would have to be broken down for that to happen. In any case, a USAF involvement could improve the Airbus passenger version similar to how improvements that created the KC-10 helped the DC-10/MD-11 airliners.

Full disclosure: I have deep vested interests in Northrop Grumman.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

My Election Post Mortem

I think Hugh Hewitt drives a spike in the root cause of the Republican downfall today over at

A Short summary of my take:
Too many Republicans acting like Democrats,
Too many Liberals masquerading as Conservatives,
And the Media Snake (big media) was a Snake because that is all it knows how to be.
The good news (I suppose) is that there is no way Nancy Pelosi and the rest of her gang will behave for the next two minutes, much less the next two years. Like I noted above: Snakes just gotta be snakes.

A prediction: This will be either the most highly fractured or the fastest self-alienating Democratic House ever!