Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Spendthrifts, a New Resolution, and GM Did What?

Did any of you happen to catch THIS article last month? 

I honestly don’t know where to begin.  IF (and that is a big all-caps IF) the article’s figure is accurate, it reflects everything that’s wrong with the current budget crisis in Washington.  With all the talk of cutting entitlement programs and raising taxes as grand solutions, nobody seems willing to address the mastodon in the room—runaway contract spending.  Sure, I’m one of those patriotic Americans that believe our troops deserve the best of everything, as do our professors, police officers and other government employees—even you, Mr. Garbage Collector.  No argument here.  But why is it that politicians insist on using this straw man-ish argument to finance the absurd or worse, their corporate-lobbied pork projects? 

$20 billion dollars spent on air conditioning some of the most climate-inefficient military structures in Iraq and Afghanistan.  As the headline states, this is more than NASA’s entire budget!  Another article posits that the amount is also more than BP spent on the Gulf oil disaster, and more than the G8’s budget for developing economies in Tunisia and Egypt.  Incredible.

You might have read THIS one too.  By law, congress insists on minting unused and extremely costly dollar coins until the full production run is complete…in a few years.  They are doing this to the tune of a cool $1 billion.  Waste discovered; yet no action.  But then there was the headline a couple of weeks ago that our country withheld nearly $900 million in financial aid to Pakistani intelligence.  “Well, that’s a tidy savings,” you think to yourself…and then it hits you.  “We were planning on giving almost a billion dollars to help Pakistan’s intelligence bureau?  After the OBL debacle?  Absurd!”

These aren’t the first instances of government waste, of course, and not likely the last.  It makes one wonder just how, exactly, wasteful our government really is, and why there isn’t any real oversight.  No, my fellow citizens, we don’t have a revenue problem, and we don’t need to give away our entitlements in which we’ve invested dearly.  We have a spending problem—a big one.  It’s as though the kids in congress have stolen their parent’s American Express card and ran to the shopping mall.  Someone needs a spankin’!


Inevitably, someone laments the pace of technological change.  The last grumble I overheard concerned replacing DVDs with Blu-ray discs.  Well folks, I believe the corporate marketing gurus at Sony and other glacial-speed conglomerates, as well as the FCC Gods of Resolution, will keep us in 1080p and broadcast 720p “High Definition” for several more years.  What you may not know, however, is that many movies have been shot using higher resolution cameras from Red and Sony for a few years now.  Red’s latest marvel has 5K resolution, and they are working on a 28K version that filmmakers say is better than 65mm film.  Impressive!  And, they are developing a player for these resolutions too—RedRay.  That leaves poor old broadcast HD pretty much in the dust, but really, how much is enough?

I don’t think there is an end to it, frankly.  I saw a Sony 4K screening of 8MM at an old IMAX venue last month and it was astonishing.  Extremely crisp picture, little if any noise, no flicker, and no reel changes.  Forget nostalgia, I’m sold!  Alas, I still see room for improvement.  Even at four times the resolution of Blu-ray, 4K still isn’t a match for the human eye.  I suspect 28K won’t quite do the trick either, but once camera and digital storage developers achieve the 50-100K mark with frame rates sufficient for slow motion work…  Oh forget it; the resolution chase won’t end until we sit inside an infinitely zoomable, 3D spherical screen—and then there’s the discussion concerning the actual media storage device.  So, you may wish to wait before rebuilding your collection, or ax the idea entirely.  Me?  I’m happy with streaming HD, or using my “old” DVDs and a good upscaling player…at least, for now.

More Cars

Cars, again?  Okay, I’ve been helping my daughter select a compact sedan she hopes to purchase in the next couple of months.  I’ve got cars coming out of my ears.  If you want to know the interior hip room of a Honda Civic, sadly, I probably know it.  The young lady’s test driven her fifth model now and remains undecided.  This is mostly due to the fact that the car she likes most (for the moment!) is unavailable in her favorite color.  Figures.  We still have a few more to go, and I’ll post the results afterward.

While helping her research online, some interesting news came out of Detroit…

GM, yes, the behemoth that gladly accepted billions of your tax dollars in an epic bailout, has apparently put your money to good use.  “What?”  That was my first thought upon hearing the news of a brand new Chevrolet subcompact called the “Sonic”.  At first, the name threw me.  Right—they named it after a failing hamburger drive-in; it also conjured up painful visions of the world’s coolest commercial jetliner, Concorde, shuttered after that frightful crash.  Worse, it reminded me of that dated video game.  Sonic.  Oh dear.

Ah, but then the actual details about the car emerged and I soon forgot about the name.  It didn’t matter.  What the car represents matters most—and I’d like to tell you about it. 

This article from the New York Times excellently describes what GM has achieved, and this is something I’ve griped about for years.  Innovation.  In short, GM has done something that would make Fredrick Taylor proud: complete an old-school efficiency study, and totally reconfigure the entire manufacturing process of an idle plant.  New and improved robotics, streamlined processes, and a radically downsized labor force now working for half of the typical union salary.  Behold!  An American company now competes in a segment lost over 25 years ago.  Sonic represents the first subcompact car manufactured on American soil by an American company since the (ugh!) Chevette.  Hundreds of new jobs have been created and likely thousands more in support sectors, all due to some basic managerial thinking.

Way to go, GM.  Lady Justice should award your board by bringing certain congressional spendthrifts into your chambers for a televised grilling.

T. Nelson Taylor | Official Site | DusT | Bolita