On the Backs of Giants

In any society that has moved beyond the hunter-gatherer band level of organization, the greatest benefit of society is the sharing of information. To be sure, hunter-gatherers enjoyed the fruits of collected knowledge, but it could be argued that individuals gained more from the group security than from the group knowledge pool. Regardless, individuals in a preliterate society can only even gather what knowledge has been successfully passed along an unbroken line from progenitor to the current generation.

Now, however, a single contribution by a single individual may earn him or her (or, more likely, someone else) vast wealth beyond the kings and queens of old. Do the minor innovations merit tens or hundreds of billions of dollars? No. They do not. I have nothing against the individuals who so profit. Indeed, to shun the potential profits would be foolish. It would be foolish, that is, because the system has been so rigged. If we were to dissect the making of vast fortunes through history, we would see that many or even most were made on the cornering of a market. In some cases, the market was a literal market (such as the East Indian trade or the cotton trade in the time of the sailing ship). In other cases, the a patent or set of patents stifled any potential competitors.

And now we live in a day when intellectual property rights are expanding at an accelerating rate. And the profits for said properties rarely meets the originators. In most cases, the lion’s share of these vast sums go to feed the unquenchable greed of the incestuous packs of leeches at the boards of major corporations. And we forget that even those innovations themselves, be they in science, technology, or art, owe a great debt to all the prior practitioners of any particular pursuit and often others outside it.


When I was in college, I often heard the call of business majors:

Business Major: “Hey, [some bar] has a live band! Let’s check it out.”

Me: “I have a test tomorrow.”

BM: “So do I. So what? Let’s go!”

I eventually managed to get a degree in physics. That means I will never make the sort of money my partying college comrades can expect. According to Ayn Rand’s “Greedy Asshole” Fan Fic, the brilliant inventor should get rich on the fruits of his labor. I know engineers working for top companies like Lockheed and Boeing. The reality is that, while these often brilliant engineers and scientists make a pretty good living, they are not pulling in “businessman” income. Okay, maybe I chose the companies poorly, as Lockheed and Boeing have a disproportionately high number of engineers in their top tier of earners. But the fact is that the brilliant guys that make the magic happen will never enter the executive ranks. So those who actually provide the genius behind most innovations are rarely rewarded on a significant scale when compared to executive compensation. That’s a large part of the reason Rand is so patently absurd. Unless he or she owns the company, the top mind behind any new invention or discovery will almost certainly receive little or no financial compensation. Ayn Rand’s followers and their belief that magical inventions ill enrich their inventors live in a fantasy world. A fantasy world population entirely by assholes.

Bundy Ranch

Swarthy folks that fail to pay rent – freeloaders.

White guys with cowboy hats who fail to pay rent – patriots.

The ridiculously low grazing fees for public lands were so fixed in order to suck up to ranchers. Even a pittance is too much for the ever-oppressed rich white asshole whose entire net worth is inherited.

Attention Credulous Boobs: Amazon Drones!

In the community, UAVs are not the same as drones. Drones are unmanned targets. Drones are designed to be shot down. The unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV is mean to be used over an extended period of time. Since someone is apparently employed full time at the Pentagon with the sole task of creating unnecessary abbreviations, UAVs are now also known as UASs (unmanned aerial systems) or RPVs (remotely piloted vehicles).


Some large UAVs, such as the Predator, are extremely reliable. That is to say, they have a mean time between failures of thousands of flight hours. These cost four millions dollars apiece. Of course, “reliability” is relative. A passenger jet is expected to have a mean time between failures of millions of flight hours. UAVs and passenger aircraft, you see, are held to very different standards. Note, as well, that the pictures provided by Amazon show UAVs much smaller than the massive and expensive military UAVs. In the UAV world, reliability tends to scale down with size.

The image invited by the headlines is of a rotary-winged aircraft dropping down to your front lawn cradling Aunt Zelda’s Christmas cookies in a bow-bedecked box. With this in mind, I think I’ll write down the first five objections that come to mind:

First, what fraction of the population lives in a place that could easily be reached without hazard to or from overhead power lines, trees, or transmission towers?

Second, surface winds and weather in general are extremely important to low flying aircraft, especially the small variety. Is there a vast real-time weather grid operating at the 100 meter scale across the nation that I don’t know about?

Third, any UAV large enough to carry cargo and with enough range to be useful will produce lethal debris when (not if) it fails mid-flight.

Fourth, an enormous hazard that would be posed by thousands of vehicles. In order to make this venture profitable, the government would have to preemptively absolve the carrier of any liability for the deaths and damage to property that would inevitably result.

Fifth, there is a reason we never got the jet packs and flying cars we were promised decades ago. Those things are not economically feasible. A vehicle to cargo mass ratio of 100 to 1 may work with ground vehicles, but I really doubt it would work with any rotary-wing aircraft.

And any of dozens of other questions follow, about protection from the elements, signing for packages, ethics of surveillance, reliability of operators, right wing loons shooting them from the sky, and the list goes on. But I think you get the idea.

In conclusion, this is farce masquerading as science fiction. Any government official unscrupulous enough to sacrifice public safety in favor of corporate profit would be … well, to be fair, would be just about any political appointee confirmed by the Senate in the last couple of dozen years.

But regardless of the abrogation of the public trust this entails, it is a crackpot idea. I have only ever heard of one crackpot who succeeded in technology: Guglielmo Marconi.

But that is another story (see Erik Larson’s excellent book, Thunderstruck).

A Tantrum Costing Americans Many Millions

I was away for a while.

So in the 52 days since I last posted, a few things have happened. First, Tbogg returned from retirement. Second, the raging crackpot wing of the House Republican caucus followed the lead of the raging crackpot wing of the Senate Republican caucus (pretty much just Ted Cruz) in threatening to take the ball an go home.

In the context of a game (it really is, in a political sense), we can view all the proceedings thus:

  1. Wishful-thinking-based-polling tells the Republicans they will defeat the Affordable Care Act
  2. “Negotiations” are held
  3. Democrats spinelessly capitulate on all fronts, allowing Republicans to weaken ACA to something extremely friendly to “the healthcare industry”
  4. Votes are held, with the greatly watered-down legislation passing both houses
  5. The President signs ACA into law
  6. People who don’t appear to understand the Constitution challenge its Constitutionality, taking the case to the Supreme Court
  7. Oddly enough, the extremely Corporation-friendly Supreme Court declares the extremely Corporation-friendly law “Constitutional”
  8. Looking around for other ex post facto means to pretend all of the above never happened, someone thinks to dust off the two decades old Newt Gingrich gambit
  9. The Republicans say that they will now refuse to do the one required task of their job description: pay the bills
  10. Blame the black guy

Now, in the context of sport, we could look at it thus:

  1. Before the game, one side continually reduces the value of the prize
  2. The game is held
  3. The expected side wins
  4. The losing side cries foul and demands a review by the refs, knowing the refs are “their guys”
  5. The refs allow the decision to stand
  6. The losing side puts the trophy in a closet, while sitting in front of the closet door holding the ball and rocking back and forth
  7. Nobody’s getting the prize until the losing side can further “negotiate” down its value
  8. No games of any type will be played until these demands are met
  9. Losing side is puzzled at booing from the stands

As always, a sizable fraction of the American populace is still of the shit-your-pants-at-the-approach-of-a-brown-person bent. For this reason, two things occurred. First, military were exempted, helping to hide how financially precarious is the situation of many. Second, most DoD civilians are recalled, as their absence makes the military mission difficult in many places and nearly impossible in others.

These people must be the most embarrassing companions imaginable in Las Vegas. I doubt, though, that the bouncers in Las Vegas will be as accommodating as the American Press Corpse.