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  1. Jets: Freedom of Placement
  2. Zdeno on Materialism and Free Will
  3. Hawaii Notes
  4. A Gehry Encore En-Corpse
  5. Time Management and Dating
  6. Vanished Buildings Seen

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jets: Freedom of Placement
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As noted from time to time here, the advent of new technology tends to create a burst of experimentation, the testing of new configurations in the hope of finding the best one. (That's "best" in terms of a compromise dealing with functional efficiency, ease of manufacturing, cost, customer acceptance and others.) Eventually a configuration evolves that fills the bill, though competing products embody small variations from the norm. Of course, small changes in technology will keep the "best" or "ideal" form changing or drifting over time. The exception is when a large technological shift occurs. Then everyone dealing with the product has to scramble. Effects of these sudden changes can be interesting to watch. Just for kicks, consider the early effects of the introduction of jet engines to aircraft design. In the propeller era, the arc of the blade was a significant factor in shaping the configuration of the aircraft. For instance, the propeller and (usually) the engines had to be placed so that the tips of the blades wouldn't touch the ground or other parts of the aircraft. This contributed to a lot of head-scratching by engineers regarding wing placement (high, medium or low relative to the fuselage center-line), length of landing gear assemblies and a number of other issues. Jet power eliminated the propeller (if turboprops are disregarded), so planes could now be designed without regard to propeller arc. Freedom!! Well, not quite. There was the matter of ducting air to the turbine while taking into account pesky details such as boundary airflow and the fact that long exhaust ducts tended to reduce propulsive efficiency -- that is, short tailpipes would be nice to have. Still, the comparative freedom created by the jet engine led to a good deal of experimentation in aircraft shapes from mid-World War 2 well into the 1950s, the greatest burst in the late 1940s. Some examples are shown below. Gallery Yak-15 In an effort to get a jet fighter into production, the USSR's Yakovlev design bureau used a piston-engine design with a jet engine placed in the front where the piston motor would have been. Actually, the jet engine had to be placed lower to allow for a short tailpipe. Front-mounted jet engine layouts proved to be impractical. (The U.S. firm Republic considered adapting its P-47 prop fighter to jet power, but didn't pursue this approach beyond the paper stage.) Bell XP-83 This is a scaled-up, long-range version of America's first jet fighter, the Bell P-59. The engines are tucked under the wings and have minimal ducting, a nice thing in the days when jet engines didn't create much power. On the other hand, the placement combined with the width of the engines added the the plane's frontal area and, therefore, drag -- resulting in lowered performance. McDonnell FH-1 Phantom The Phantom was the U.S. Navy's first operation jet fighter. Like the XP-83, it had two engines, but these were of the thinner, axial-flow variety, resulting in... posted by Donald at December 12, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Zdeno on Materialism and Free Will
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here are some comment-reactions and philosophy from Zdeno: * * * * * In case anyone, for reasons unfathomable to me, skips the often-more-interesting-than-the-post-itself comment threads here at 2Blowhards, I’ll briefly catch you up to speed: At some point, the question of Ideological Inconsistencies was overtaken (in a good way) by a discussion on free will and strict materialism. My claims to soullessness, which would have resonated well with some of my ex-girlfriends, did not persuade PatrickH and Vladimir, who I feel got the better of the exchange. Fortunately, I have let guest-posting privileges go to my head (Le blog, c’est moi!) so I will use the cheap trick of responding above the fold. I have considered myself a strict materialist well before I heard the phrase, originating with a line of argument taken by my 10th-grade English teacher, a man I later learned was high his entire waking life. I’m not sure how he worked it into our discussion of A Separate Peace, but here it is, as I vaguely remember it: Imagine you were to smash a teacup on a concrete floor. The pieces would scatter throughout the room according to the strength and angle with which you had thrown the cup, the irregularities in the floor where it smashed, and every other material object that interacted with it, all the way down to the air currents and dust motes that nudged the shards of glass in their trajectories. We could not hope to predict the exact placement of each shard, lowly mortals that we are, but in the sense that the final distribution of glass is a function of the physical properties of the room, we can say that the outcome is predetermined. If we were to somehow recreate the exact physical properties of the room and throw the same teacup in exactly the same manner, we would get exactly the same result, perhaps with some variability resulting from quantum randomness. Now extend the analogy to a person walking into (say) his office first thing in the morning. He walks in, grabs a coffee, says hello to a co-worker, then sits down and fires up SPSS. All decisions made via free will, right? But how is the person any different from a teacup? We are all the products of our genes and our experiences. If we could recreate the exact same scenario for our hypothetical office worker – same physical office, the people he interacts with behaving in the exact same way, etc – what reason do we have to suspect that his behaviour would be in any way different from the first time we ran the simulation? Even if we posit the existence of a soul, would the same soul not make the same “choices” over and over again, if we regressed it through the same situation repeatedly? If this logic applies to everyone, than the outcome of any particular scenario we find ourselves in is predetermined – we are... posted by Donald at December 10, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hawaii Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * It does add to trip expense, but it can be worth it. Renting a car. We had a car in Maui last spring and it was useful and fun getting us into town and to more distant parts of the island. My previous visits to Oahu were public-transportation-only affairs; this time we had a car because it was part of a package deal. As a result, I got to see a good chunk of the island. Oahu strikes me as being more scenic than Maui due to the rugged cliffs that apparently are residue from a volcanic caldera. The surfin' North Shore was interesting too, and we were lucky enough to avoid high waves and resulting large crowds for a meet currently underway. Another nice byproduct of the car trip is that I can re-read accounts of the Pearl Harbor attack with a better feel for the locations of military facilities and the terrain in their areas. * Hawaii sections of bookstores sometimes have books about Hawaiian history. Some of those books are by writers who (judging by book covers) seem pretty upset about how the United States came to possess the Sandwich Islands. Indeed the process had its messy spots -- but then, most things political can be messy. But so what? Would Hawaii have been better off under a hereditary-feudal system of the sort found on most of the islands for centuries? Or under the Japanese? Or as a weak, independent country? British rule probably would have been okay -- up till 1940 or so. My guess is that what happened was for the best. And it can't realistically be changed anyway. * Now I have to catch a plane for freezing Seattle ... Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 9, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Gehry Encore En-Corpse
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's in Las Vegas. I drove past it a couple of weeks ago. And what is it? Architect Frank Gehry's latest, an institute dealing with brain disease; more info here, and a wordless take by John Massengale here. There's one thing about the structure that makes me curious: what will the interior be like once it opens for business. Gehry, in my judgment has become the sorry victim of his apparent compulsion to be "creative" at all costs. This architect needs help or, failing that, instant retirement before he does more visual damage. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 8, 2009 | perma-link | (18) comments

Time Management and Dating
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's Zdeno with a topic that ought to be of prime interest -- or, as he implies, perhaps not. * * * * * Random Question of the day: What percentage of your lifetime happiness is the result of finding the ideal mate? Compared to everything else – career advancement, hobbies, even your choice of friends – the choice of who to settle down and start a family with seems like it should be of supreme importance. And yet, if we apply the Peters/Casnocha theorem of priority assessment, it looks like finding, screening and selecting the best, most compatible lifelong partner is very far down the average person’s list of priorities. How much time do we invest in our careers, our friends, and our favourite NFL teams, relative to the time we spend introducing ourselves to people we’re interested in, going out on dates, and putting ourselves in situations where we’re likely to meet the person we end up creating a life with? Most people that I know wind up dating, and (presumably) eventually marrying someone from the small group of similarly-aged, similarly-attractive friends that they spend the majority of their time with. If there is such a thing as compatibility, this is sub-optimal. Finding the right person should be the priority of a our years as young adults, but most of us spend them overworked, over-scheduled and flitting from one drunken casual encounter to the next. Anyways, that’s my quarter life crisis, transition-from-early-to-mid-20’s rant of the day. Younger Blowhards: What are your perspectives on this? How much time and energy do you invest in your long-term romantic future? Older Blowhards: How did you find your significant other? What advice would you have for man in my shoes, still intent on racking up belt-notches, but with a for-now dormant desire to one day settle down? * * * * * Me? I devoted a good deal of time to chasing women during my singles days, searching for an ideal. As with Zdeno, early on this was tempered by another notion: that I wouldn't marry before age 25. Being in the Army and then grad school created sets of conditions that prevented my from getting hitched till I was in my late 20s. But the most important thing is that most of the bad (non-marriage) decisions in my life directly or indirectly involved women. Mate selection is difficult because so many unknowns are involved -- how will each partner behave once all is "legal," for instance. (Courting couples often hold hands; married couples, not so much. Obviously the dynamic changes, though not hand-holding doesn't necessarily mean diminished affection.) Making things even more difficult is the "it takes two to tango" factor -- person A has serious hots for person B, but person B doesn't fully reciprocate. Or, worse, doesn't reciprocate at all; a common event in my younger days. Another factor is the decreasing supply of desirable single women as a guy advances into his... posted by Donald at December 8, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Vanished Buildings Seen
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There are a few benefits of getting older, but not all that many. One can be a pretty good degree of savoir-faire in the literal sense of knowing how to function in the world; it's the obverse of being a teenager. Another is the bragging rights (such as they are) of saying that one has seen certain sights that are impossible for younger folk to view. I was having coffee yesterday with a 2Blowhards commenter and we yakked about Japan. Afterward, it popped into my head that I should have mentioned having seen a certain building during my hikes around Tokyo many years ago. Expanding on that, herewith are three important buildings I've viewed that haven't existed for more than 40 years. Gallery Pennsylvania Station - New York - waiting room A Pennsylvania Station remains, but it's what was left after the above-ground part of the original building was scraped off. I was there in the early 1960s when it was a lot dingier than the early photo above indicates. As a result, at the time I didn't appreciate it as much as I suppose I should have. That's how things go sometimes. Singer Building - New York Little known today, the Singer Building was, briefly, the tallest building in the world. It had an odd, bulged top that was distinctive, if not exactly distinguished. Again, I saw it during its final years and it simply struck me as being old and funny looking. Now I wonder how it might look had it been preserved and restored to a bright, shiny state. Imperial Hotel - Tokyo - by Frank Lloyd Wright This famous Wright building definitely attracted my attention and I tried to walk through it whenever I was in its neighborhood -- across the street from MacArthur's former Dai-Ichi headquarters and across the moat from the Imperial Palace where Hirohito hung his hat. I felt its loss far more than the other two. Even in this age of historical preservation, some architecturally important buildings don't survive. Readers are welcome to chime in about missing ones that they've witnessed. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 6, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments