Sunday, May 31, 2009

Falling 15,000 Feet

pic from Wikipedia

Another Sunday, another cool email tale. I'm pretty much a skeptic who doesn't hesitate to point out when an email is a FARGING LIE - hit Reply All and point out WHAT AN IDIOT THE SENDER WAS FOR BEING TAKEN IN. If it's too good to be true, guess what? It probably is.

However, this particular email had a ring of truth, so to Google I went. The story is about Cliff Judkins - a pilot who had to bail out of a flaming F-8 Crusader, and who's parachute failed to open. He survived. The email mentions this is an excerpt from an upcoming book: Supersonic Cowboys by Ron Knott. I could find no information about the book. However, I did find supporting evidence the story was real:

Newspaper article
Best [Worst] Ejection
"Chapter Seven"
Straight Dope Digest Page
Ron Knott Page

So, I post this with the usual caveats - the work has been attributed and the veracity confirmed, as much as Algores' Intertubes allow. So, enough of the preliminaries - here's the story:


Needless to say that startling command got my attention. As you will read in this report, this was just the beginning of my problems!

It had all started in the brilliant sunlight 20,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean as I nudged my F-8 Crusader jet into position behind the lumbering, deep-bellied refueling plane. After a moment of jockeying for position, I made the connection and matched my speed to that of the slowpoke tanker. I made the graceful task of plugging into the trailing fuel conduit so they could pump fuel into my tanks.

This in-flight refueling process was necessary, and routine, because the F-8 could not hold enough fuel to fly from California to Hawaii. This routine mission was labeled "Trans-Pac," meaning Flying Airplanes across the Pacific. This had been going on for years.

Soon, after plugging-in to the tanker, my fuel gauges stirred, showing that all was well. In my cockpit, I was relaxed and confident. As I was looking around, I was struck for an instant by the eeriness of the scene: here I was, attached, like an unwanted child, by an umbilicus to a gargantuan mother who was fleeing across the sky at 200 knots as though from some unnamed danger. Far below us was a broken layer of clouds that filtered the sun glare over the Pacific.

In my earphones, I heard Major Van Campen, our flight leader, chatting with Major D.K. Tooker who was on a Navy destroyer down below. Major Tooker had ejected from his aircraft, the day before, in this same area, when his Crusader flamed out mysteriously during the same type of refueling exercise.

At that time no one knew why his aircraft had flamed out. We all supposed it had been some freak accident that sometimes happens with no explanation. One thing we knew for sure, it was not pilot error. This accident had to be some kind of mechanical malfunction, but what? Our squadron had a perfect safety record and was very disturbed because of the loss of an airplane the day before.

"Eleven minutes to mandatory disconnect point," the tanker commander said. I checked my fuel gages again, everything appeared normal.

My thoughts were, "In a few hours I knew we'd all be having dinner at the Kaneohe Officers Club on Oahu, Hawaii. Then after a short rest, we'd continue our 6,000-mile trek to Atsugi, Japan, via Midway and Wake Island." Our whole outfit - Marine All Weather Fighter Squadron 323 - was being transferred to the Far East for a one-year period of operations.

"Nine minutes to mandatory disconnect."

My fuel gages indicated that the tanks were almost full. I noticed that my throttle lever was sticking a little. That was unusual, because the friction lock was holding it in place and was loose enough. It grew tighter as I tried to manipulate it gently.

Then - thud! I heard the crack of an explosion.

I could see the rpm gauge unwinding and the tailpipe temperature dropping. The aircraft had lost power - the engine had quit running - this is a flame-out!

I punched the mike button, and said, "This is Jud. I've got a flame-out!"

Unfortunately, my radio was already dead; I was neither sending nor receiving anything via my radio.

I quickly disconnected from the tanker and nosed the aircraft over, into a shallow dive, to pick up some flying speed to help re-start the engine. I needed a few seconds to think.

I yanked the handle that extended the air-driven emergency generator, called the Ram Air Turbine (RAT), into the slipstream, hoping to get ignition for an air start. The igniter's clicked gamely, and the rpm indicator started to climb slowly, as did the tailpipe temperature. This was a positive indication that a re-start was beginning. For one tantalizing moment I thought everything would be all right. But the rpm indicator hung uncertainly at 30 percent of capacity and refused to go any faster. This is not nearly enough power to maintain flight.

The fire warning light (pilots call it the panic light) blinked on. This is not a good sign. And to make matters worse, jet fuel poured over the canopy like water from a bucket. At the same instant, my radio came back on, powered by the emergency generator, and a great babble of voices burst through my earphones.

"Jud, you're on fire, get out of there!"

Fuel was pouring out of my aircraft; from the tailpipe; from the intake duct; from under the wings, and igniting behind me in a great awesome trail of fire.

The suddenness of the disaster overwhelmed me, and I thought: "This can't be happening to me!"

The voices in my ears kept urging me to fire the ejection seat and abandon my aircraft.

I pressed my mike button and told the flight leader, "I'm getting out!"

I took my hands off the flight controls and reached above my head for the canvas curtain that would start the ejection sequence. I pulled it down hard over my face and waited for the tremendous kick in the pants, which would send me rocketing upward, free of the aircraft.

Nothing happened! The canopy, which was designed to jettison in the first part of the ejection sequence did not move. It was still in place and so was I.

My surprise lasted only a second. Then I reached down between my knees for the alternate ejection-firing handle, and gave it a vigorous pull. Again, nothing happened. This was very surprising. Both, the primary, and the secondary ejection procedures had failed and I was trapped in the cockpit of the burning aircraft.

The plane was now in a steep 60-degree dive. For the first time, I felt panic softening the edges of my determination. I knew that I had to do something or I was going to die in this sick airplane. There was no way out of it. With great effort, I pulled my thoughts together and tried to imagine some solution.

A voice in my earphones was shouting: "Ditch the plane! Ditch it in the ocean!"

It must have come from the tanker skipper or one of the destroyer commanders down below, because every jet pilot knows you can't ditch a jet and survive. The plane would hit the water at a very high a speed, flip over and sink like a stone and they usually explode on impact.

I grabbed the control stick and leveled the aircraft. Then I yanked the alternate handle again in an attempt to fire the canopy and start the ejection sequence, but still nothing happened. That left me with only one imaginable way out, which was to jettison the canopy manually and try to jump from the aircraft without aid of the ejection seat.

Was such a thing possible? I was not aware of any Crusader pilot who had ever used this World War II tactic to get out of a fast flying jet. I had been told that this procedure, of bailing out of a jet, was almost impossible. Yes, the pilot may get out of the airplane but the massive 20-foot high tail section is almost certain to strike the pilot's body and kill him before he falls free of the aircraft. My desperation was growing, and any scheme that offered a shred of success seemed better than riding that aircraft into the sea, which would surely be fatal.

I disconnected the canopy by hand, and with a great whoosh it disappeared from over my head never to be seen again. Before trying to get out of my confined quarters, I trimmed the aircraft to fly in a kind of sidelong skid: nose high and with the tail swung around slightly to the right.

Then I stood up in the seat and put both arms in front of my face. I was sucked out harshly from the airplane. I cringed as I tumbled outside the bird, expecting the tail to cut me in half, but thank goodness, that never happened! In an instant I knew I was out of there and uninjured.

I waited . . . and waited . . . until my body, hurtling through space, with the 225 knots of momentum started to decelerate. I pulled the D-ring on my parachute, which is the manual way to open the chute if the ejection seat does not work automatically. I braced myself for the opening shock. I heard a loud pop above me, but I was still falling very fast. As I looked up I saw that the small pilot chute had deployed. (This small chute is designed to keep the pilot from tumbling until the main chute opens.) But, I also noticed a sight that made me shiver with disbelief and horror! The main,

24-foot parachute was just flapping in the breeze and was tangled in its own shroud lines. It hadn't opened! I could see the white folds neatly arranged, fluttering feebly in the air.

"This is very serious," I thought.

Frantically, I shook the risers in an attempt to balloon the chute and help it open. It didn't work. I pulled the bundle down toward me and wrestled with the shroud lines, trying my best to get the chute to open. The parachute remained closed. All the while I am falling like a rock toward the ocean.

I looked down hurriedly. There was still plenty of altitude remaining. I quickly developed a frustrating and sickening feeling. I wanted everything to halt while I collected my thoughts, but my fall seemed to accelerate. I noticed a ring of turbulence in the ocean. It looked like a big stone had been thrown in the water. It had white froth at its center; I finally realized this is where my plane had crashed in the > ocean.

"Would I be next to crash?" were my thoughts!

Again, I shook the parachute risers and shroud lines, but the rushing air was holding my chute tightly in a bundle. I began to realize that I had done all I could reasonably do to open the chute and it was not going to open. I was just along for a brutal ride that may kill or severely injure me.

I descended rapidly through the low clouds. Now there was only clear sky between me and the ocean. This may be my last view of the living. I have no recollection of positioning myself properly or even bracing for the impact. In fact, I don't remember hitting the water at all. At one instant I was falling very fast toward the ocean. The next thing I remember is hearing a shrill, high-pitched whistle that hurt my ears.

Suddenly, I was very cold. In that eerie half-world of consciousness, I thought, "Am I alive?" I finally decided, and not all at once, "Yes, I think I am . . . I am alive!"

The water helped clear my senses. But as I bounced around in the water I began coughing and retching. The Mae West around my waist had inflated. I concluded that the shrill whistling sound that I had heard was the gas leaving the CO2 cylinders as it was filling the life vest.

A sense of urgency gripped me, as though there were some task I ought to be performing. Then it dawned on me what it was. The parachute was tugging at me from under the water. It had finally billowed out (much too late) like some Brobdingnagian Portuguese man-of-war. I tried reaching down for my hunting knife located in the knee pocket of my flight suit. I had to cut the shroud lines of the chute before it pulled me under for good.

This is when I first discovered that I was injured severely. The pain was excruciating. Was my back broken? I tried to arch it slightly and felt the pain again. I tried moving my feet, but that too was impossible. They were immobile, and I could feel the bones in them grating against each other.

There was no chance of getting that hunting knife, but I had another, smaller one in the upper torso of my flight suit. With difficulty, I extracted it and began slashing feebly at the spaghetti-like shroud line mess surrounding me.

Once free of the parachute, I began a tentative search for the survival pack. It contained a one-man life raft, some canned water, food, fishing gear, and dye markers. The dye markers colored the water around the pilot to aid the rescue team in finding a down airman. All of this survival equipment should have been strapped to my hips. It was not there. It had been ripped away from my body upon impact with the water.

"How long would the Mae West sustain me?" I wondered.

I wasn't sure, but I knew I needed help fast. The salt water that I had swallowed felt like an enormous rock in the pit of my gut. But worst of all, here I was, completely alone, 600 miles from shore, lolling in the deep troughs and crests of the Pacific Ocean. And my Crusader aircraft, upon which had been lavished such affectionate attention, was sinking thousands of feet to the bottom of the ocean.

At that moment, I was struck by the incredible series of coincidences that had just befallen me. I knew that my misfortune had been a one-in-a-million occurrence. In review, I noted that the explosion aloft should not have happened. The ejection mechanism should have worked. The parachute should have opened. None of these incidents should have happened. I had just experienced three major catastrophes in one flight. My squadron had a perfect safety record. "Why was all of this happening?" was my thinking.

In about ten minutes I heard the drone of a propeller-driven plane. The pot-bellied, four-engine tanker came into view, flying very low. They dropped several green dye markers near me, and some smoke flares a short distance from my position. They circled overhead and dropped an inflated life raft about 50 yards from me.

I was so pleased and tried to swim toward the raft. When I took two strokes, I almost blacked out due to the intense pain in my body. The tanker circled again and dropped another raft closer to me, but there was no way for me to get to it, or in it, in my condition.

The water seemed to be getting colder, and a chill gripped me. I looked at my watch, but the so-called unbreakable crystal was shattered and the hands torn away. I tried to relax and surrender to the Pacific Ocean swells. I could almost have enjoyed being buoyed up to the crest of one swell and gently sliding into the trough of the next, but I was in such excruciating pain. I remembered the words W.C. Fields had chosen for his epitaph: "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

In about an hour, a Coast Guard amphibian plane flew over and circled me as though deciding whether or not to land. But the seas were high and I knew he couldn't make it. He came in very low and dropped another raft; this one had a 200-foot lanyard attached to it. The end of the lanyard landed barely ten feet from me. I paddled gently backward using only my arms. I caught hold of it and pulled the raft to me. Even before trying, I knew I couldn't crawl into the raft due to my physical condition. I was able to get a good grip on its side and hold on. This gave me a little security.

The Coast Guard amphibian gained altitude and flew off. (I learned later that he headed for a squadron of minesweepers that was returning to the United States from a tour of the Western Pacific. He was unable to tune to their radio frequency for communications. But this ingenious pilot lowered a wire from his aircraft and dragged it across the bow of the minesweeper, the USS Embattle. The minesweeper captain understood the plea, and veered off at top speed in my direction.)

I was fully conscious during the two and a half hours it took the ship to reach me. I spotted the minesweeper while teetering at the crest of a wave. Soon, its great bow was pushing in toward me and I could see sailors in orange life jackets crowding its lifelines. A bearded man in a black rubber suit jumped into the water and swam to me.

"Are you hurt?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "My legs and back."

I was now very cold and worried about the growing numbness in my legs. Perhaps the imminence of rescue made me light-headed, for I only vaguely remember being hoisted aboard the ship. I was laid out on the ship's deck as they cut away my flight suit.

"Don't touch my legs! Don't touch my legs!" I screamed.

I don't remember it. Somebody gave me a shot of morphine and this erased part of my extreme pain.

An hour or so later a man was bending over me and asking questions. (It wa s a doctor who had been high-lined over from the USS Los Angeles, a cruiser that had been operating in the area.)

He said, "You have a long scar on your abdomen. How did it get there?"

I told him about a serious auto accident I'd had four years earlier in Texas, and that my spleen had been removed at that time.

He grunted, and asked more questions while he continued examining me. Then he said, "You and I are going to take a little trip over to the USS Los Angeles; it's steaming alongside."

Somehow they got me into a wire stretcher, and hauled me, dangling and dipping, across the watery interval between the Embattle and the cruiser.

In the Los Angeles's sickbay, they gave me another shot of morphine, thank God, and started thrusting all sorts of hoses into my body. I could tell from all the activity, and from the intense, hushed voices, that they were very worried about my condition.

My body temperature was down to 94 degrees; my intestines and kidneys were in shock. The doctors never left my side during the night. They took my blood pressure every 15 minutes. I was unable to sleep. Finally, I threw-up about a quart or more of seawater. After this my nausea was relieved a bit.

By listening to the medical team, who was working on me, I was able to piece together the nature of my injuries. This is what I heard them saying. My left ankle was broken in five places. My right ankle was broken in three places. A tendon in my left foot was cut. My right pelvis was fractured. My number 7 vertebra was fractured. My left lung had partially collapsed. There were many cuts and bruises all over my face and body, and, my intestines and kidneys had been shaken into complete inactivity.

The next morning Dr. Valentine Rhodes told me that the Los Angeles was steaming at flank speed to a rendezvous with a helicopter 100 miles from Long Beach, California.

At 3:30 that afternoon, I was hoisted into the belly of a Marine helicopter from the USS Los Angeles's fantail, and we whirred off to a hospital ship, the USS Haven, docked in Long Beach, CA.

Once aboard the Haven, doctors came at me from all sides with more needles, tubes, and X-ray machines. Their reaction to my condition was so much more optimistic than I had expected. I finally broke down and let go a few tears of relief, exhaustion, and thanks to all hands and God.

Within a few months I was all systems go again. My ankles were put back in place with the help of steel pins. The partially collapsed left lung re-inflated and my kidneys and intestines were working again without the need of prodding.

The Marine Corps discovered the cause of my flame-out, and that of Major Tooker, the day before, was the failure of an automatic cut-off switch in the refueling system. The aircraft's main fuel tank was made of heavy reinforced rubber. When the cut-off switch failed, this allowed the tank to overfill and it burst like a balloon. This then caused the fire and flame out. We will never know why the ejection seat failed to work since it is in the bottom of the ocean. The parachute failure is a mystery also. Like they say, "Some days you are the dog and others you are the fire-plug."

Do I feel lucky? That word doesn't even begin to describe my feelings. To survive a 15,000-foot fall with an unopened chute is a fair enough feat. My mind keeps running back to something Dr. Rhodes told me in the sickbay of the Los Angeles during those grim and desperate hours.

He said that if I had had a spleen, it almost certainly would have ruptured when I hit the water, and I would have bled to death. Of the 25 pilots in our squadron, I am the only one without a spleen. It gives me something to think about. Maybe it does you as well.

[Author's Note: Amazingly, Cliff Judkins not only survived this ordeal but he also returned to flight status. He was flying the F-8 Crusader again within six months after the accident. After leaving the Marine Corps he was hired as a pilot with Delta Airlines and retired as a Captain from that position.]

Pretty impressive, eh? Who knew that having no spleen makes a long fall followed by a sudden stop more survivable? It's also worth noting that this was not in a time of war. The "toys" our service members "play with" are dangerous cutting edge instruments, and living a long life is hardly guaranteed.
"We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."
Indeed. Thank you to all those applicable.

H/T Road Pig

Edit 06/25/2009 - An anonymous commenter (Ron Knott, perhaps?) left a link to Captain Knott's web page - If you are interested in his book Supersonic Cowboys that I mentioned above (and could not find if it had been published), you can preorder it (available 07/15/09) for $15.95 (s/h included) on this page. I get a lot of hits looking for Supersonic Cowboys, so if you have arrived here searching for the book, I hope this helps.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Stopped Clocks

ted rall

Even Ted Rall can be right - but probably not twice a day....

Anyhoo, he made me larf with this one - I can sympathize with his protagonist, with the character's anger at the typical treatment we endure from large companies and the results of his "revenge."

Friday, May 29, 2009

This Just In - From the Zoo

Don't eat the blue sno-cones!

USPS Down the Tubes

As a former employee of the good ol' Post Office, the coverage of their problems are of some interest. It sure looks like they are continuing to slide down the slippery slope of complete failure. Most of their suggestions are just stopgap measures designed for short term continuance of current marketing strategy and fiscal planning.

Rate hike? Raise the price of stamps? How does that increase their market share, reduce costs, or include some sort of productivity enhancement? How does the continual begging for more money help their image with the public? Hey, I'd like to get a raise every time I run short of money before the next paycheck, but that isn't the way the real world works. Welcome to the real world, USPS management.

I'm just a simple country boy, with nothing other than Econ 101 in college to buttress my knowledge of the global economy. I didn't even sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night. All I know is what I learned while in the aforementioned august assembly's employ. I really tend to come down on postal management and their missteps more than the various unions. The USPS has to deal with several unions - the APWU (American Postal Worker's Union), the NALC (National Association of Letter Carriers), and the National Postal Mail Handler's Union - the three largest. They are all affiliates of the AFL-CIO, but due to the personality conflicts of their leadership, none of them get along. It would seem to me that the USPS could have played them off against each other, but they have been largely unsuccessful in this regard. I can remember the NALC settled a contract dispute and the APWU didn't - but it made but a ripple in the larger scheme of things.

And, I'm not saying I'm pro union either. Far from it. Yep, the union contracts have tied management's hands in a lot of ways. But, they signed the dotted line - management did agree to abide by the terms of their various contracts. Do they? Are you kidding me? The corporate attitude is screw the unions and individuals every chance they get. A management up and comer won't get anywhere without a few greivances under his/her belt on their 991 (USPS form for the standard resume). The attitude is that when the punishment finally is meted out by an arbitrator, they will have moved on to other things and the damage won't be noticable. Management will have realized their short term plan, even though it was against the contract. If, as an up and coming supervisor, you get a reputation as someone who is "easy" on the rank and file - well, you are screwed as far as advancement is considered.

But you won't get fired. If there was an organization that embodies the Peter Principle, it would be the USPS. Anectodes do not make evidence, but in the ten years I was there, I never saw any member of management fired for any reason. Yeah, they were generally transferred - but usually to a higher paying job insulated from any decisions that got them in hot water in the first place. Since Western Kansas is not exactly on most urban professionals' hot list for places to live and work - we got a lot of people who were basically banished to Siberia for a time.

Plus, there is definitely a double standard applied to management personnel. For instance - we had a postmaster who had problems with her vertebral arteries plugging. This made for some interesting interactions when she was attempting to lead - she'd forget the order just given and threaten dire consequences for continuing the action she had just ordered, then an hour later be back - upset that the original order was not being followed. I'm not trying to be heartless - she finally got the medical help she needed, but her superiors didn't care about her spotty performance. After she actually retired, she was kept on the employment rolls as our postmaster until her sick leave and vacation time were used up. Easily over a year. So, we had a succession of substitutes looking to "pad their 991s" by changing some process just before a normal spike in mail volume to claim the application of their intellect caused the increase in productivity. Which meant we had no continuity in our job processes. And, as an aside, do you think a rank and file union member would be allowed to be considered "present" in order to use up their accumulated sick leave?

Like I said, I'm no fan of unions. Their constant nit picking about issues that were more about "not respecting my authoratah" than much of anything else got on my nerves as well. The USPS created the need for the unions by their cavalier attitude towards their employees, and their refusal to give and take put them in the penalty box with the rather liberal federal arbitrators. They made their own beds. And, just a thought, when you hear about how the USPS is hamstrung by their contracts with the various unions and how their costs are just out of control because of said sad condition, let me ask you this question. How is it that the UPS's employees are unionized and they don't have this trouble?

I'll just leave that issue with this thought: When management is actively trying to piss off their employees, what sort of response should you expect? But before I drop it, just one more dig. The "rank and file" employees are overpaid and underworked, according to USPS management. However, their pay scales have to be competitive with the rest of the business world. When considering the salaries of the Postmaster General and other high echelon positions, you should be looking at what other large corporations are paying their top managers. Gotta be competitive, doncha know. If you want to attract talent, you gotta pay. The rest of their workforce? Crush 'em.

So, yeah, I'm giving management a hard time, but they deserve it. They are the supposedly responsible parties in the equation. Like a lot of businesses, they have been obsessed with short term results rather than using long term thinking. IE: tracking packages. When their competitors invested in the technology to track packages and keep the consumer informed about the probable deliver time - well, that should have been a clue. The original decision was made to concede that part of the parcel business to their competitors rather than actually try to maintain their market share. Later, they saw their error and have been rather belatedly attempting to catch up. A consumer is still unable to send a package and have it tracked all the way from A to B. Priority Mail has the extra expense option to track when the package is handed over to the sending post office, and then when the package reaches the destination address, but not between. If you want true tracking that UPS and FedEx offers on everything, you have to use the premium and much more expensive USPS services (think Express Mail - yeah, the overnight or two day option). So, back when that fateful decision was made, UPS was a pretty small entity. Look what they and FedEx have become with just a small window of opportunity.

But, but, but - the USPS claims they are self supporting! They are the only government entity that doesn't get taxpayer funding! Well, hold on there buckaroo. Shall we look back on the anthrax scare in 2001? That was just $5 billion between friends. And, that was hardly the only time. Independent? Not so much.

Lets look at another poor decision just for kicks. In 1997, the USPS and Emory Worldwide (now a division of UPS), reached a historic agreement.
After conducting a three-year study on creating a separate, outsourced network to improve delivery times, the Postal Service reached an agreement with Emery Worldwide in 1997 to process and transport Priority Mail.

Four years later, the Postal Service’s Inspector General’s office audited the contract and concluded that “Priority Mail processed through the network cost 23 percent more than Priority Mail processed by the Postal Service without a network,” and that Emery “was not meeting overall delivery goals.”

Furthermore, the auditors found that network subcontractors had abandoned Priority Mail in Seattle, rather than transport it to Alaska as required in the contract. The audit also said that the contractor did not perform security screenings as required in the contract. (IG reports DA-AR-99-001 and MK-AR-01-003).

In November 2000, the Postal Service and Emery agreed to an early end to the contract after the private contractor tried to charge 40 percent more than the USPS expected to pay. The work was brought back in-house the following January.

Ending the contract cost the Postal Service $66 million in termination fees and another $235 million as settlement for Emery’s claims of underpayments.

Turns out Emory was headed down the tubes. Did anyone at the USPS ever read a balance sheet on Emory? Do you suppose any USPS honchos heads rolled over this?

Another issue that really resonates with people is the junk mail issue. I cannot tell you how many people would come in and bitch about how much crap they got and wanted it stopped. The customer is always right, correct? Why doesn't the Postal Service stop delivering junk mail to individual customers?

Well, when you are the recipient of mail, you are not the customer. The person or entity that sent that mail is the customer in the Postal Service's eyes. They paid the postage. Not you, hapless Joe Sixpack on Generic Drive. You just happen to have the mailbox at the address that is on the piece of mail. And maybe the name isn't the same? John Doe moved out over two years ago, and your name is Joe Sixpack? Why are you still getting HIS mail? WTF? Welp, look at the fine print. Deliver to addressee or current resident. Guess what - Joe Sixpack is the current resident. The mail was delivered correctly as far as the actual customer is concerned.

But, that is really all beside the point. For years, consumer advocates have held that the Postal Service gives mass mailers a sweetheart deal. They say that First Class mail - the mail the average schmuck (that means you and me) uses actually supports the costs of handling junk mail.

Picture from here

"Standard Mail" is the postal euphamism for junk mail. Look at the piece count comparing first class to standard. Roughly equal. Look at the weight. Standard mail weighs significantly more. Standard mail generally is held to a lesser delivery standard - up to a point. Most of the time, it is handled separately from first class mail. So, the latest JC Penny sale catalog can sit on a pallet for a day or two at a mail facility before delivery requirements say it has to be out the door. On the other hand, if you have a local non profit mail permit, and take your church bulletin in to be mailed on Tuesday, the bulletin is treated at first class mail and delivered on Wednesday.

The issue is with the very large mailers and the rates they are charged. The mass mailers have a very good lobbying front that keeps their issues in Congress's ears. They claim that any rate increase will cause them to take their ball and go home - they are already stretched too much paying what they already are. They threaten to use other advertising avenues. The Postal Service listens to this. So, the marketers have the heaviest load, and roughly half the piece count, only paying about half the postage. Most standard mail isn't shipped by air like first class, but once standard class mail is introduced into the mailstream, it is considered first class.

I ran one of several CSBCS machines - they are letter sorting machines capable of sorting carrier level mail into the delivery sequence. I spent many an afternoon running standard mail through those puppies, and the extra weight and thickness of the majority of those mailpieces was very hard on the mechanicals. High wear items wore out much more rapidly - belts broke more often, and feed strips and belts ground down in a hurry. There were more labor hours associated with handling that mail. The standard rule for the Postal Service and labor costs associated with classes of mail can be summed up with: "Don't burn overtime on junk mail," which means it's ok to do so with First Class.

I'm for thinking that standard mail rates should be cheaper than First Class Mail, but not as cheap as it is. Running your infrastructure into the ground to keep a loud minority happy is no way to run a business. The mass mailers might take their ball home, but not for long. Their own studies show how effective mass mailings are. Mass mailers could cut their costs considerably if they actually kept better databases on correct and current addresses. They're supposed to, but the reality is a bit different. The way they try to control their mailing costs pretty well tell me how much they consider the cost of mailing vs the cost of their spray and pray advertising (as opposed to tighter controls on targeting their potential consumers). It's cheaper for them to waste a significant portion of their mailings than it is to actually hit what they are aiming at.

There are plenty of other examples of mismanagement and excessive spending - but these will do for now. I blame a corporate culture obsessed with keeping themselves in power no matter the cost, a culture of obstinate employee relations, and very short term thinking. The unions have their share of blame as far as the continual nitpicking of largely inconsequential greivances, for instance. I think Moe Biller and Vince Sombrotto were dickheads. But, management is supposed to manage. They failed.

So, I'm sure there will be a postal bailout in the news soon. Why fix the problems when y'all can just toss more money in the mix? That's a recipe for success...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

If They Labeled Booze Honestly

H/T Spooge

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009 Part II

I finally made it in to the cemetery to decorate the graves again this year - I was watching the rain delayed Coca Cola 600, and it seemed to me that the final delay would be the last. If they had continued, I'd have been decorating in the dark if I didn't go to town. At any rate, it was a bit windy (normal) but not too hot, and the place was certainly dressed up.

The clouds tease us with the possibility of rain.

This year I decided to decorate some of the really old graves. This family plot actually holds four graves (and room for more), but I had forgotten just how many there were. I knew I needed to catch two for sure. This is in the "old" section - the "new" section doesn't allow large vertical headstones and markers. They have to be flush with the ground to allow easier mowing and maintenance.

These would be my great grandfather and great grandmother. My dad was named for "RJ," and I him. Technically, I should be a III rather than a Junior. Lavina Elizabeth Justice Borland is in a picture I posted some time ago. Both were from Illinois. When they married, she was 21 and he was 22. Thanks to my distant cousin Larry Rambo for the genealogical information.

Then we have my father and paternal grandparents. Leo, my grandfather, was the son of RJ. I decided last year that I wanted to put some flags up for these two as they both had served.

I usually get a bit misty when performing this task. This year, my Extra Mother happened by, and I got caught up with her and helped her with some grave tending tasks. When I was little, I hated being dragged along to visit and decorate graves, and found the whole thing a bit creepy at times. Nowadays, not so much. It's actually a good place, full of representations of memories of those we love that are not here any more. It's a stately and respectful area, housing our cherished past. I'm sure not ready to take residence there just yet, but the thought isn't frightening like it used to be.

Old Two Lungers

RT put up a post today with a video of an old two cylinder Volvo tractor idling - and some musicians use it as backbeat to play against. Pretty neat, actually.

Well, that got me to reminiscing about Dad's old John Deere 1958 720LP and how it sounded.

No, this isn't it. This tractor has been restored. You can see the hand clutch and the hand throttle. The drum on the right side just ahead of the rear tire is the clutch assembly. There is a "brake" in front of the drum that was used to stop the drum to help get the tractor into gear. When the tractor was running, that drum was spinning. Nope, no safety shield covering that up. Dad was generally pissed after getting the tractor back after loaning it out because people invariably used the clutch brake to stop the tractor rather than the separate wheel brakes. Abusing the clutch brake wore it out, which meant Dad replaced that pad a lot. The wheel brakes actually stopped some small drums mounted slightly below the floorboard. They spun when the tractor was moving - and nope, no safety shield there, either.

The controls were minimalist. Besides the clutch, throttle and twin brakes, there was a gearshift in the floorboard - the shifter rowed through slots cut in a box. There was a tachometer with approximate velocities indicated for each gear, an ammeter, and a liquid percentage gauge for the propane. The starter was a spring loaded plunger mounted on the left floorboard. The PTO kicked in and out with a foot control, and there were fairly conventional hydraulic controls for the three point hitch and the two optional plug-ins on the right side of the seat. It did have power steering, a fact noted in an insert on the steering wheel.

John Deere certainly had a history of being conservative - they stuck with the two cylinder power for decades. Thus, once you've heard one, you've just about heard them all. There is a reason they are called "Johnny Poppers."


This is an old Model D diesel, but under a load. It really reminded me of the old 720.

720 diesel john deere


This is a diesel 720 - it sounds a lot smoother than the old propane two lunger I grew up with. You do get a view of the clutch drum spinning, and the brake drum behind it. I wish whoever filmed that had focused in on the controls a little more - they got kinda jumpy there, too.

Running one of these old gems is a break from the air conditioned comforts of a modern tractor, but only up to a point. Once in a while was fine, but I was generally ready to get back to a cab after a really hot, windy day with a lot of dirt and trash blowing around. Otherwise, it was pretty neat to be out in the elements farming yer butt off - very similar to riding a bike or driving a convertible. A nice calm spring day, the comforting putt putt of the faithful old beast, the thrill of the mastering the crude controls - what more would a gearhead with dirt in his veins want? Throw the iPod away, turn the radio off, you are just gonna be alone with your thoughts and dreams, you and the ancient machine.

Memorial Day 2009

Something different - a cartoon look at this day. There weren't many that even noticed this year. I guess now that Teh One is in power, this sort of thing is passe - thus the only cartoonists who think Memorial Day is important are noted conservatives.

I will not forget, and for those applicable - thank you. I leave you with a quote from John Adams, letter to Benjamin Rush, April 18, 1808:
"Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

B-25 Flyover at Indy

Geez, is today a major fix for a racing junky or what. Unfortunately, I slept through the F1 race, maybe because it started at ODarkThirty.

When the National Anthem started playing at Indy there sure seemed to be a couple B-25s for the obligatory flyover. Sure enough, a bit of Googling:

Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the non-profit organization dedicated to helping wounded veterans, will be honored by a special flyover of two vintage B-25 Mitchell bombers at the 2009 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on Sunday, May 24.

The B-25s, named Special Delivery and Take Off Time, are fully restored, World War II-era aircraft. These warbirds will twice pass over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the National Anthem before the beginning of the race.

"The DAV is honored by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's decision to use the world's most prestigious auto race as an opportunity to turn the national spotlight on our wounded veterans," said DAV National Commander Raymond E. Dempsey. "It still amazes me to think about the brave men who flew these awesome aircraft into battle."

Said Joie Chitwood, president and COO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: "It is fitting that we honor our nation's wounded veterans with this extraordinary flyover. The sacrifices these brave men and women have made for their country make them true heroes."

While modern military aircraft are standard for such flyovers, IMS chose the venerable B-25 "War Dog" as a symbol of the courage and can-do spirit of our veterans and active duty military throughout history.

I've always thought the B-25 was cool. I built several models back in the day. Among many of their wartime accomplishments was the Doolittle Raid. Some argue that the B-26 was a better medium bomber. There is no denying that the B-25 is an icon. Nuff said, AFAIC.

Oh, and just a thought - just saw the Izod car crash - driver ok and uninjured - good. Ya know, this is one of the differences between the IRL, F1 and upper echelon open wheel racing vs NASCAR. The only place you might find Izod at a NASCAR race would be in the corporate suites. Just sayin.'

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Fervent Prayer

H/T Hoss

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mine's Bigger

Not only bigger, but better, too. This is Bang & Olufsen's BeoVision 4-103. It's a 103" plasma television - the biggest size currently available. The screen is actually made by Panasonic, whose version has far less bells and whistles for a cool price of $50k. Panasonic's version doesn't have the super cool stand - in order to "reduce it's prominence in the room and conceal all integrated applications." When the set it turned on, the pneumatic stand lifts the screen about three feet to the viewing height, with the center speaker (yeah, that speaker has to be nearly three feet tall) unfolding from hiding. The screen can be rotated twenty degrees horizontally, and four vertically. The sound system is included. The stand, by the way, is a $15k extra. If you want to hang this puppy on your wall, a site survey and the hardware and engineering is all up to you. Otherwise, after ordering (all sets are custom made to order), a suitably equipped crew shows up to set it all up for you. Since the thing weighs 1200 lbs, this is probably a good idea.

Other things to consider - this beast requires 220 volt wiring (using up to 1500 watts). There is a video at B&O's site linked above - you should watch it just to see the size disparity between it and the female model. Otherwise, with nothing else for reference, it looks just like any flat screen tv, with extra styling. The aluminum frame's colors will be customized according to individual preferences by the professional Bang & Olufsen retail organization and carefully selected specialist partners.

Oh, you say: "Jeffro, you've left out an important detail! How much does this baby cost?" If you must ask, perhaps you aren't quite the target demographic. I know I'm not! This beauty is available only directly from Bang & Olufsen (no Amazon sales for you, you plebe) for the introductory and exclusive price of $111,000.

Pic and story info NYT

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Today's Tee Hee

Sounds like a good excuse to me.

There is another way to eat ice cream? Who knew?

This one made me laff - entrepreneurship and American ingenuity strikes again! Upgrade your guns cheaply! I have my doubts that the cartoonists really intended the message I took. Gun "Buy Back" programs are ineffective, and it is possible to beat the system with a really cheap handgun when rewards reach $100 or more - take in a shot out Lorcin and get money? What a deal! But, the pendulum swings the other way, too. For instance, there was a Luger supposedly valued at $10k turned in at a recent "buyback" in LA.

Considering the artists' knowledge about guns (the magazine is in backwards or it shoots from the buttstock, and it kinda needs a trigger), I suspect their disapproval of the system is from a slightly different perspective than mine.


Man, the wind was blowing! Or maybe it's the camera phone through the windshield. Oh well, I've meant to capture this icon several times, but forgot before it was too late. I was ready yesterday. It's the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument near Kearny, NE along I80.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Jeremy Mayfield Controversy

I'm a NASCAR fan. There, I said it. I like the cars turning left mindlessly and endlessly in cars that are a throwback with not much futuristic technology in them.

NASCAR is pretty ruthless when it comes to controlling it's image, marketing, and just about everything else. So, Jeremy Mayfield got caught up in their new drug testing program. Jeremy claimed it was a combination of over the counter and prescription drugs that causes a false positive. The doctor - Dr. David Black of Aegis Sciences Corp., entrusted with the program released a statement claiming that explanation was impossible.

As a result, Jeremy is banned from competition as a driver and as a car owner - since he owns his own team. His wife Shana has taken over his ownership position at the track, and J.J. Yeley is his interim driver. NASCAR has not released any information about what the detected drug was, citing Jeremy's privacy as the reason, rather than HIPAA concerns. Someone did leak that it wasn't steroids.

Here is where it gets hinky for me. There is a comprehensive list of banned substances for crew members, but not for drivers. Jeremy now claims he has not been informed of the substance, either. NASCAR disputes this, claiming they have informed Jeremy of the offensive substance.

NASCAR's secretive ways are not a surprise - they have a tendency to obfuscate when the simple truth would have been far more productive. They claim if Jeremy wants the world to know what the banned substance was, he should report it. He claims he doesn't know. The NASCAR online and talk communities are pretty much aligned against Jeremy - he has been declared guilty. He has been an abrasive personality in the past, and has few friends in the garage. He wasn't happy while he drove for Penske, and was vocal about it. More famously were his allegations of a distracted Ray Evernham, involved in an affair with his young female driver Erin Crocker. Evernham switched Mayfield's successful team with the failing team of Kasey Kahne, and it didn't work, particularly with the owner away and playing. Jeremy alleged Evernham was having an affair with a female driver he had employed. Since Crocker was the only female Evernham driver at the time, that sort of narrowed it down. So, Jeremy has burned some bridges.

It's been a few days since college chemistry, but I do understand chemical receptors and gas chromotography and mass spectroscopy - which are what a lab uses to detect drugs. But, Diandra of Stock Car Science has a post up explaining it all, and why she supports the idea that NASCAR should make the driver's list of banned substances at least available to the drivers, and that they should release the information about the drug Jeremy is accused of taking. Go and read if you are interested at all, she does a fine job of explaining everything.

Connie's Campaign

Good thinking, Connie! I got a bad case of the gigglesnorts from this strip.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Kill the Wabbit!


Bereft of ideas for a post - so I'm stealing a concept from RT. She's got a video up of Tom and Jerry - Piano Concerto. I've always liked the Looney Tunes better, in particular Bugs Bunny. So, here is a view of the operatic culture from the Warner Brothers animators of the day.

I could watch these things all day, even if it did turn my brain into mush. It may be too late already - the mush part at any rate.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I Got the Musak In Me

Wanna play Philip Glass? Check this site out.

Jeff Daniziger's Exhaustive Research

Uhhh, no, Carrie Prejean isn't keeping her Miss USA crown - mostly because she didn't win The Miss USA pageant in the first place. She gets to keep her Miss California crown, which she did win.

Yep, I know I'm setting my standards too high, but I'm for thinking if you are going to parody politics and get paid for it, maybe, just maybe, you should be somewhat knowledgeable about the subject before breaking out the art materials. If you are going to opine on a subject and try to steer the emotions involved in a direction of your choosing, perhaps a minimum of effort should be expended towards avoiding false pretenses. Yes, editorial cartoonists are supposed to distort reality, but it should have a basis in truth.

Actually, I kinda agree with some of the sentiment Danziger is aiming for - the whole issue is pretty frivolous. Miss Prejean said what she thought and was excoriated for it. But, it seems to me she has striven to adapt herself to her fifteen minutes of fame and extend it for all it's worth. I liked The Donald's response - he threw moral relativism right back at the detractors when he said Prejean's views mirrored the President's. And The Donald is far from suspect as far as exploiting publicity for his or his organization's gains.

Danziger and his editors at his syndicate blew this one badly.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Marlow and Frances Cowan

Charming? I got yer charming right here:


This Ankeny, IA couple were at the Mayo Clinic for Marlow's annual checkup. Hanging out at an atrium, they discovered a grand piano with a sign inviting them to play. Luckily, someone with a video camera immortalized the moment.

The Des Moines Register has a good article explaining how this internet challenged couple became unlikely YouTube stars with a bit of background in their lives. Worth the read.

H/T Darin

C17 Model Airplane

Got it in an email - pretty kewl!

C-17 Globemaster 1:9 Scale - Click here for more amazing videos


C-17 GLOBEMASTER III.......nice toy

I've seen some other big jobs like this, but not this one.

This 1/9th scale radio-controlled C-17 model was built in the United Kingdom To date it has about 20 flights. It was built as the family centerpiece of a 15 program television series produced in the U.K. for the Home and Leisure satellite TV channel. Built with the aid of three friends, it took one year to build and is powered with 4 Jet cat P-120 turbines with a total thrust of 108 lbs. The models weighs over 250 lbs fueled, and carries 12.5 liters (3.3 US gallons) of 95% kerosene and 5% turbine oil fuel. Other details include 5 Futaba PCM receivers, 16 battery packs (93 cells), 20 Futaba servos, on board air compressor, electro/pneumatic retracts, etc. Wingspan is 20 feet 8 inches, and the top of the fin is 74 inches (6 feet 2 inches) above the ground. Takeoff weight is 264 lbs. The rear cargo doors open and they drop an r/c jeep on a pallet, as well as 2 free-fall r/c parachutists. The family model also has 20smoke systems both of the inboard turbines, and uses 2.4 GHz data link to provide real-time data to a laptop computer on the ground while in flight, this data includes airspeed, turbine RPM, EGT, fuel consumption, etc. It is covered in fiberglass and epoxy resin. Built mainly from balsa and ply wood with many glass and carbon fiber moldings to reduce weight. This C-17 Globemaster III is one of the largest jet models in the world today! Complete with retractable landing gear and pneumatically operated flaps. Although it is controlled by the Pilot on the ground, there is a tiny Flight Engineer in the plane to make sure the Pilot doesn't screw up.

There are plenty of websites that verify this data out there, and I'm gonna be lazy and not cite them.

Dad was really into R/C airplanes for quite a while. He was a hell of a builder - his planes were pretty much flawless. He never quite mastered flying, though. He started in the hobby in Control Line, where gross movement was the norm. Also, in the early days, R/C controls were pulse - which basically meant on or off. So, if you wanted up elevator, the switch was thrown and you got all the up elevator available. Control was achieved by sawing on the switches to try to achieve a happy medium. Later systems finally were digital proportional, which meant if you wanted a little up elevator and moved the stick a little bit, the elevator would go up a little bit. Continued input resulted in repeatable incremental output. This was quite the big deal in it's day.

I always figured Dad was pretty set in his ways and he was back in the pulse days driving a proportional radio. I only flew a plane of his once, and he was quite dismayed to see that I was far better. But, I was used to the early video games and "had the touch."

My uncle, Dad's brother, still flies R/C. He is into scale models and does very well, thank you very much!

H/T Road Pig

Today's Pelosi

Today's cartoons are brought to you by our esteemed Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D), who is "committed to a continuing review of our ethics processes and our ethics rules" - a new era of openness and accountability in Congress fer sure. For instance, working with Eric Holder to establish a protocol on how to handle "hopefully rare searches and electronic surveillance involving members of Congress," like, oh, say the impeccably moral and upright John Murtha, or Jesse Jackson, Jr., or Charles Rangel, or - oh well, you get the idea. Yep, she and her cohorts are sooo much more ethical, honest and open than the hapless Republicans were in their heyday.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Nine Years Ago

The four generations of Pettys - Lee, Richard, Kyle and Adam

Adam Petty, the first fourth generation NASCAR driver, was killed while practicing his Busch Series car at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH nine years ago today. His throttle stuck going into a corner and sent him hard into the wall. This was before SAFER barriers were invented and adopted by the tracks on NASCAR's schedule. His and fellow driver Kenny Irwin Jr.'s death at the same track led to the addition of a "dead man switch" on the steering wheels of the race cars so if a throttle stuck, the car could be shut off quickly.

Kyle and Patty Petty, Adam's parents, teamed with Paul Newman and the Hole in the Wall Camp to start The Victory Junction Gang Camp - which has grown since then with support from Tony Stewart and other NASCAR drivers and owners. Adam had wanted to start a children's camp, so his parents continued his dream.

Kyle never has been the same since his son's death. It seems to me most of his racing appearances have been more about promoting his son's causes than actual racing. He took over his son's number 45 and if he races in New Hampshire - it is in a black car as a tribute to his son.

I've mentioned before how one of my friends was a sports editor in Texas, and he got us media credentials for the NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway (back when there was only one race held there, in the spring). So, I had the opportunity to see Adam up close one day. One of the "grand poo-bahs" of the NASCAR print media had asked for an interview with young Adam in the media center. Adam came to him, dressed in a white t-shirt and blue jeans - all neat as a pin. Of course, I recognized him and listened in a bit, but mostly I remember my impressions of the eventual heir to the Petty racing throne. He looked more like his grandfather Richard than his daddy - the high cheekbones, the narrow jaw, the intense eyes and his height. He had long arms and legs, and large hands. He was extremely polite and soft spoken - giving thoughtful answers and showing respect to the sports writer. But what he really shared with his grandpa was the huge toothy smile that lit up his face. He looked for all the world to be a gangly teenager, but his movements were lithe and coordinated. He was at home in that world, confident in his membership.

The world truly suffered a great loss when Adam lost his life.