Archive for January, 2016

Shares Of Misery, Miserly

2016/01/31

Of the 500 companies on the Standard And Poor’s 500 Stock Index,  most pay a dividend, a cash payment to owners of stock.  Dividends amounted to over 200 billion dollars last year, money paid out simply for owning stock, which is a form of lending to the company.  So these companies are expected to grow their market share, compensate their workers fairly; invest in the plant and equipment, training, technology; AND pay a cash dividend to those people who have lent the company money.  The whole idea of buying stock in a company was based on the belief that the stock would grow in value, returning a profit on the investment at the time of the stock being sold.

Sometime after World War Two, American companies were making so much money that they could not spend it all, it seemed.  So, rather than paying bonuses to the workers who had been creating all of this wealth, the companies decided to award the shareholders with a cash, one time payment.  This process was repeated and repeated, and spread to other companies, until living on dividends became a way of life for many people.  Companies will pay dividends even when they have lost money, out of fear that people will not want to hold the company’s stock.

Keeping the customer happy has become less important to keeping the shareholders happy, which is the main reason that wages have been flat since the 1970’s; the huge improvements in productivity and efficiency during that period have all resulted in better compensation for executives and shareholders.  The difficulty in maintaining those dividends drove many companies to move production to China, which has resulted in huge short term profits, but the shrinking of the buying power of the consumer class in the United States.

Flying to Space. Outer Space.

2016/01/30

The majority of people think that a step rocket, like the Apollo rockets, or the Space Shuttle, is the only way to get things into orbit around the Earth.  But what is important in getting into orbit is going really, really fast, not straight up, but around the planet.  If there were no atmosphere, we would launch our rockets sideways.  But the air rips apart anything going too fast, that is until you go a few kilometers up.  Once you are about 15 kilometers above the ground, you can start going as fast as you want.

But accelerating really quickly is not necessary to reach orbit, just going faster and faster, because the faster you go, the faster the Earth curves away from you, causing your altitude to increase.  So we don’t need big, powerful rocket engines to get into space, just several fairly small ones.  By lifting our launchpad 15 kilometers into the sky, we make it possible to launch sideways.  The spaceship would be carried on the back of a big wing, and would fire its engines and fly off of the wing, heading towards the horizon as the wing dives away.  At no point in the process are super powerful engines burning exotic fuels needed, which makes the journey much safer.

Exploration off-planet means getting people into space.  The first 100 kilometers are the most difficult part, because of the atmosphere.  Orbital velocities are measured in kilometers per second, so coming and going means major changes in velocity.  Making those changes in the atmosphere is challenging, but we can use it to our benefit.  Building a really large flying wing has never been of any interest before, because, when people wanted to put something on a plane, they wanted to send it somewhere.  So airplanes have become big tubes with wings that are usually swept back, to aid in going faster.

And everyone knows that aircraft take off from runways, which means that a big airplane must have some kind of landing gear, and a runway thick enough to support it.  Wrong!  An aircraft can be launched using a track, and a catapult.  That makes it possible to use ground-based energy sources to accelerate the airplane to take-off speed in a comparatively short distance, while at the same time supporting the airplane.  By combining different technologies, we can create a launch system that can put people in orbit safely, reliably, and in numbers greater than 3 or 4 at a time.

Buy! Spend! Consume!

2016/01/23

You are expected to spend all that you make, and then some.  Borrowing to enable consumption is considered reasonable, spending money that you have not made yet on things that you don’t need.  You are supposed to feel rewarded when you spend, like you have done something to better yourself.  But often, our purchases leave us feeling hollow, unsatisfied, because we know deep down inside that we did not really need what we just spent money we have not made yet to buy.  The more that you have, the less happy you are likely to be.

Materialism is the belief that material things are as important as spiritual things, that buying something can make you feel valuable.  It may, for a short time, but buying things does not fill the emptiness, does not bring friendship, does not make us feel wanted.  Sharing things does help to make friends, does give us feelings of belonging.  What good is it to have something which is never used?  Especially when you know that there are people who need what is sitting unused in your garage?

Sharing is how we have survived, and thrived.  Hoarding is destructive, counterproductive.  Being wealthy often means being lonely, because you can’t trust anyone.  So we aspire to have more than we can use, to prove that we are worth having as friends.  Our lives may be spiritually destitute, but we got some great deals!

No Families Anymore

2016/01/21

In an era where a single person with a child is called a ‘family’, we are seeing the demise of the institution central to humanity’s evolution.  Humans have evolved to be needful of feedback from others regarding how we are fitting in to the group.  The extended family, the tribe, the clan, these are the names of the community that has been essential for human survival.  While able-bodied people of child-bearing age worked practically all the time supporting the group, the elderly took care of the children, with the assistance of the older children.  And children belonged to the tribe, or family, with the strong bonding of an aunt, grandfather, or some other person more than one generation removed providing the nurturing young children need.  And there was always someone there for the children, someone who had time on their hands, a story to tell, songs to share, or encouragement.  Affirmation was abundant.

Our sense of belonging is under attack; we are finding it harder and harder to identify with others, creating ‘us versus them’ feelings.  Our children are shunted aside to day care centers where harried young adults ride crowd control over 30 children.  Our elders are wheeled off into concentration camps, where they wait to die, alone.  Family has always been about more than just blood relations; friendships equal belonging, shared sacrifice brings inclusion.  Somehow, we need to make new families, new groups that we can belong to.  Without community, there is no future.  I will die, but my community has a chance of continuing.  If I put my energy into it, help it along, give to it.  It need not consume me, but my community should always be in my thoughts, remembered.

Fat Bottomed Girl

2016/01/21

There is a new platform for ocean racing with big sailboats, called super maxi’s, which are very powerful. A recent entry to this fleet is called Comanche, and she sails under the U.S. flag.  Comanche is a single masted monohull sailboat, made entirely of carbon, including the sails.  She is 100 feet long, and needs a crew of about 22 or 23 strong, able-bodied sailors, because her sails are huge, and weigh hundreds of kilograms.  She made her debut in the 2014 Rolex Sydney-to-Hobart Race, when she was less than a month on the water.  Comanche still managed to take second line honors, behind Wild Oats, an Australian supermaxi.

About 10 years ago, a novel concept hit the world of off-shore sail racing.  A sailboat usually has a ‘keel’ which helps keep the boat upright, as well as reducing the amount of sideways movement the boat experiences.  Somebody had the crazy idea of making a hole in the bottom of the boat, and attaching hydraulic rams to the keel fin, so that the whole keel, including the big bulb at the end of the long fin which is several tons of lead, can be swung from one side of the boat to the other, providing more resistance to the wind blowing the boat over.  When the wind is coming from the right side of the boat, the keel is swung over to the right side, which helps to hold the boat upright against the wind.  This is called a ‘canting’ keel, and they have been on the big sailboats during many recent races.

Comanche has a canting keel, as well as dagger boards, which can be lowered to help counteract the sideways motion sailboats experience when sailing upwind.  Comanche is also very wide across the beam, compared to her length, thus the nickname ‘fat bottomed girl.’  But that fat bottomed girl has been getting faster and faster, until she set a new record for the distance traveled in 24 hours for her type of boat, with 618 nautical miles traveled in one day.  That means that Comanche must have maintained an average speed of about 27 knots, which is 31 mph.  Even at night.  Just with wind power.

The Yule Tide Season

2016/01/18

Almost a month ago, the Christmas season was approaching its climax.  People were in a frenzy, attending to all of the physical trappings of the holiday.  Finally, in a crescendo of activity and shopping, lasting from Christmas Eve to morning of Christmas Day, the annual rite of materialism concluded.  The season was already jaded, worn out, with “What did you get?” being the main topic of conversation.  New Year’s Eve is an anti-climax, the real ‘celebration’ of the season, with high spirits and friendship,  excessive consumption of alcohol being the only marketable aspect.

Then comes that long, weary plod towards Summer.

Meanwhile, the days are beginning to get longer, Night has ceased its advance.  The Sun is no longer slipping lower and lower in the noonday sky, portending endless darkness, death, finality.  People often would wait until early January to celebrate the return of the Sun, the Yule, so that they could be sure that they were not early.  You did not want to upset the gods by being so smart-alecky as to celebrate something before it happened.  We celebrate materialism while the nights are getting longer.  The celebration of Light, and Life, started when the Night began to retreat.

This land is not your land

2016/01/05

Immigrants, we call them, different than us, we say, keep them out, you hope.  Change, they are, new ways, new thoughts, new languages, strangeness.  Learn, we will, share, we must, life, we seek.

The sound of children laughing is understood in all languages.

Everything that you have can be taken from you in a moment, so share it with someone before you lose it.

Someone else was here before you, and those who follow won’t know you.  This is not your land.

Driving In The Ice And Snow

2016/01/05

Crystalline sunshine, snow, is falling all around these days, and people insist of driving in it.  You can always go faster than you can stop, and if you have to slow down and turn, don’t try to do both at the same time. (A good rule even in dry conditions.)  Watch out for the other guy!  Look at his wheels, are they turning, or is he sliding?  There is nothing more fun than being on slippery roads when you can hardly see out of the car, because you didn’t bother to clean the windows off.  Relax, that way it won’t hurt as much.

Spaceship Earth

2016/01/05

You and I and everyone else are passengers on a spaceship, one which is traveling very fast, in giant whirlpool of stars.  Many people don’t like to think about this, because it is too real, too big, too scary.  What I don’t like to think about is what happens if we screw up this spaceship.  I would feel a lot better if we could learn how to do things somewhere else other than here on Earth, so that we don’t screw up Earth.  Either that, or a back-up spaceship.

A sea of radiation

2016/01/04

We live in a sea of radiation, created by the stars, including our Sun, and even planets.  Jupiter emits huge amounts of radio noise, which passes through us just like TV signals, cell phone calls, and GPS signals.  Then there are the cosmic rays, the highly charged particles that zip through all kinds of stuff.  At any moment, natural radiation is drenching your body.  We would not be here without radiation, because it stimulates evolution through mutation.  Even deep underground, there are particles or wavicles or something that goes right through the Earth like it is not even there.  Even we emit radiation, in the form of heat, as well as an aura of electrical fields.