EgyptAir 804 explanations?


Friends keep asking me to explain the loss of EgyptAir 804, but of course I am just as confused as everyone else.

The only thing that I learned from my airliner-flying days (sample) that might be relevant is that most of the important stuff in an airliner is under the floor. I still wonder “Why doesn’t a passenger spilling a Diet Coke take out half of the radios?”

The flight deck door is now armored but the floorboards under the bathroom aren’t. So in theory a malicious passenger could perhaps open a hole in the bathroom floor and put an incendiary device into the avionics bay. This would explain the “lavatory smoke” message that was received and also result in a catastrophic problems for a fly-by-wire Airbus A320. Perhaps a malicious passenger could shortcut the process by pouring explosive/flammable stuff down the drain and lighting it on fire? I don’t know enough about the plumbing in an A320 to make an educated guess about that. (I do know that the Ryanair proposal to charge passengers to use the bathroom made a lot of sense; it is hard to think of anything more costly than putting tanks of liquid into the pressure vessel of an aircraft.)

It is sad that 66 people died to leave us this puzzle, but the puzzle yet remains.

Federal government: Do what we say, not what we do


“FAA Taking Its Time On ADS-B Equipage” is about the contrast between what the FAA says (install the 25-year-old ADS-B technology in your airplane well before the January 1, 2020 deadline) and what the FAA is doing (taking a leisurely and minimalist approach toward equipping its own aircraft).

Anubha wins America’s Greatest Makers!


A bunch of us got together this evening with our friend Anubha Sacheti Surati to watch the final episode of America’s Greatest Makers in which Grush, a smart child’s toothbrush, won a $1 million prize.

All of the finalists had sensor-heavy creations perhaps due to the fact that Intel is a big sponsor and Intel makes… sensors.

It was unclear how people qualified to be judges:

Of course it is not easy to succeed as an actor or a basketball player, but why does an actor or a basketball player have a special appreciation for engineering achievement or business potential? I guess I should just be happy that they like Anubha!


Eisenhower biography reminds readers why a lot of folks hate America


Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith helps explain why the country with the most Social Justice Warriors is perceived in many parts of the world as acting out of expediency and greed rather than as part of a search for justice. Eisenhower kicked off a new policy of having the CIA run covert operations to overthrow elected governments, typically to protect American commercial interests and typically with the public story that it was part of a fight against global Communism. The 1953 coup in Iran was the first example, with a Guatemalan coup to protect United Fruit Company assets shortly afterwards (Eisenhower had received a cable from his friend William Prescott Allen: “Yes, Guatemala has a very small minority of Communists, but not as many as San Francisco.”) Smith characterizes Eisenhower as a political genius, but points out that in this case he failed to see the long-lasting consequences of being discovered.

I’m wondering if in the long run the Chinese will be seen as the honest foreign power. The Europeans are tarnished by their colonial history. We’re tarnished by the above and other adventures.

Who has been on a Royal Caribbean cruise?



I want to take my mom to Latvia, Lithuania, and St. Petersburg. Mom is 82 this year and she has some ancestors from Latvia for sure (originally from Spain but detoured through the Baltic countries). She is an art lover and has never been to Russia so St. Petersburg is a must-see. This is going to be added onto a July 20 wedding in Paris that I’m attending.

It turns out that Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas is visiting all of the above places (except Paris) at a convenient time. Has anyone been on this ship? Or a similar Royal Caribbean line? Mostly we just want a comfortable hotel that will take us from city to city and then let us poke around once there, ideally with good support for a person who is beyond her best walking years (but not wheelchair-bound). We don’t need a fabulous six-course meal every night or to drink more than a glass of wine per day.

I don’t think of myself as a “cruise person” and mom has never been on a cruise, I don’t think. Are we going to have a good time? There’s a crazy expensive cruise line doing a somewhat similar itinerary: Regent Seven Seas Voyager. Even if the price were the same I’m a little concerned about the smaller size of the ship. The monster Serenade of the Seas at least has enough space to walk around. Also the Royal Caribbean folks seem to have invested heavily in high-speed Internet, which is a plus considering that I will probably have to do at least some work.

Online reviews of cruises seem to include a lot of negative experiences, but I am wondering if this is volunteer bias. Or if these are people who are expecting more than we are (a floating hotel and some basic meals).

Thanks in advance for any advice.

[Note that my dad is not joining on this trip. He’s 86 and gets enough adventure driving around suburban Maryland…]

Success of Donald Trump shows the failure of Presidential versus Parliamentary System?


Republicans in Congress have complained that Donald Trump, until 2009 a registered Democrat, does not espouse what they consider to be “Republican” ideas. I wonder if Trump’s success thus far is a good example for why other countries use the parliamentary system rather than our mob-rule Democracy. In Britain, for example, and countries that have imitated its system of governance, the prime minister must be approved by a majority of legislators from that party (Wikipedia). A Trump v. Established Republicans situation could simply never arise.


Mechanics of illegal immigration


“The Cost of Caring: The lives of the immigrant women who tend to the needs of others.” is a New Yorker story that reveals some of the mechanics of illegal immigration.

That year, after her two oldest daughters entered college, Emma, who was forty-four, realized that she could never afford to pay tuition seven more times, so she applied for a tourist visa to America. At her interview, at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, she said that she wanted to go to California, to visit Disneyland. … Her application was rejected. She waited three months and applied again. This time, she paid a wealthy friend to provide her with “show money”: the friend temporarily deposited half a million pesos, roughly twelve thousand dollars, into Emma’s bank account, so that officials at the embassy would believe that she was a wealthy tourist. The friend owned a rice mill, and she created papers for Emma that made it appear as if she were the owner of the business. On the day of the interview, in July, 2000, Emma fasted and prayed all morning. Her sister Nella, who accompanied her to the embassy, said that after the interview Emma ran toward her shouting, “I got it!” “She was jumping,” Nella said. “She was so happy. I said, ‘Go, go—before they take it back.’ ”

[One interesting sentence is “A tenth of the population now works abroad, supporting nearly half of the country’s households and leaving some nine million Filipino children missing a parent.” I.e., it is supposedly bad when a child is cut back to one parent, yet most U.S. states provide large cash incentives to Americans who want to do just that to their own children.]

The article is also interesting because it shows how much demand there is for labor in the U.S., despite our sinking labor force participation rate. Probably a U.S. citizen could earn more from collecting welfare than these immigrants from the Philippines, but if there were no welfare it seems as though jobs would be waiting. Alternatively, if there were no immigration these jobs might start paying more than welfare.

Obamacare penalties for small companies that pay Obamacare premiums?


I’m wondering if small companies have been put at a disadvantage by Obamacare. It used to be the case that a small company could compensate employees with tax-free cash by paying their individual health insurance premiums, just as a big company can compensate employees with tax-free cash by paying their group health insurance premiums. “Large Penalties Await Employers Who Reimbursed Certain Employee Health Insurance Premiums In 2014” (Forbes) suggests that companies that continue to do what they had been doing for decades are now subject to a $36,500/employee annual penalty.

What do readers know about this? This would seem to put small companies at a significant competitive disadvantage to big companies unless there is some straightforward way for a typical small-company W-2 employee to deduct health insurance premiums paid (the 1040 form has a line for “self-employed health insurance deduction” but it seems to be for 1099 workers or S-corporation owners).

Is this another example of the “go big or go home” U.S. economy? Or is there some straightforward way for a small company to get back to parity in terms of the tax treatment of its employee compensation?

[Separately, let’s put the $36,500 into context. The median pre-tax household income in the U.S. is about $52,000 (Wikipedia). So the penalty is a little smaller than the after-tax median household income. But the median net compensation for an individual worker, according to the Social Security Administration, is about $28,850. So the penalty is actually more than what a company would typically pay a worker. Someone who had a one-night sexual encounter in New York State with a partner earning $214,706 per year and obtained custody of the resulting child would collect the same $36,500 in annual tax-free child support. A typical welfare family costs the taxpayers a lot more than $36,500 per year but as of 2013, the total value to the recipient of a welfare package was more than $36,500 in only 11 states (CATO Institute study).]

Why aren’t there a lot of backyard miniature golf courses?


Everyone (I hope) loves miniature golf. A lot of Americans have big backyards and plenty of time/effort/money to spend on said backyards. Why do we therefore seldom see backyard miniature golf courses? It can’t be more expensive than a lot of the landscaping that one does see, can it?

Could a security-conscious government listen to all citizen conversations via smartphones?


A lot of smartphones now have explicit “always-listening” modes. There are also devices such as the Amazon Echo whose primary purpose is to listen to what is being said in a home or office.

Could a security-conscious government tap into these devices that citizens have voluntarily purchased, grab the data stream, and figure out in advance who is going to commit which kinds of crime? Maybe that kind of mass data gathering isn’t practical until better AI listening software is developed, but what about a warrant to tap someone’s Amazon Echo stream or smartphone audio stream? Could it be possible for a suspect to effectively bug himself or herself by purchasing a smartphone? No need to go into the suspect’s house; just run some packets out of an Amazon, Apple, or Google server farm.

But what if the day comes when speech recognition software is good enough? Will people decide voluntarily that the government’s robots should listen to every microphone output in order to protect them from terrorist attacks, etc.?

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