Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Bitchin' Dave's Newsletter - Feb 27

 Dave’s Musings

I recently re-watched The Spanish Prisoner, Steve Martin's foray into the non-comedy world (from 1997). It was as good as I remember it; well done with a fair amount of intrigue - even if the protagonist gets reeled in kind of stupidly. In summary, a guy gets caught up in an earlier version of the Nigerian Prince scam with Martin in the con artist role, and it turns out no one is who they seem to be.

But that's just the thing. There are stories nearly every day about people getting reeled in by elaborate (and sometimes exceedingly simple) schemes, with the end result of someone taking the persons money because there's just enough believability, and often the person wanted to believe in it.

Its a lesson and a reminder to all of us. When someone comes to you with an offer, or even a veiled threat with an offer to help, think about whether its right - and pay attention to that little voice inside your head that is asking questions.

The movie also has some subtext about work. Guy invents something that will make a lot of money. His boss won't talk with him about a bonus until "after a board meeting" and then they want him to sign some new agreement to protect THEMSELVES. And it turns out his boss was behind the theft in the first place.

While exaggerated, this is the nature of office politics to a large degree. You work hard, and rarely get a reward, and then some higher up gets the credit and you're left to fend for yourself.

NASA contracted with a private company to put a lander on the moon. Intuitive Machines launched their Odysseus lunar lander (via SpaceX) about a week ago, and the craft touched down last Thursday evening.

It was a tense period of time, as they lost contact with the lander, and the control room was collectively holding its breath. But then, they received a radio signal and knew everything was going well.

But....it wasn't perfect; the craft tipped over and they've had to realign the antennas to communicate with the craft and it will still take some time to retrieve data. And they may not be able to keep the craft fully powered for a long time.

Even so, its an exciting time as the United States has returned to the moon for the first time in 50 years. And its the first time a private company has made a successful landing.

There's a saying that we know more about the surface of the moon, than we know about our own oceans.

Recently, that proved true once again, as a team of scientists exploring a section of the Pacific Ocean, near-ish to Chile, discovered underwater mountains that are between a mile and a mile and half tall (as measured from the ocean floor).

Imagine if we understood more about our oceans. Maybe we could have a better feeling for how to work against climate change.

By the way, among other things, its expected that these mountains will contain a significant amount of life, which we can further study and explore. That may prove to be most interesting.


For many years, Disney owned tourism and generally owned Central Florida. And then in the late 1980s, along came Universal Studios to challenge them. I recall a higher up at Disney telling me they welcome the competition, because it will keep Disney on its game.

And here we are 30+ years later, and the "battle" is perhaps a little more even. Universal opened a second themepark, and a water park, and announced a third themepark. They've managed to poach Imagineers, and have created a less-immersive but fun environment that parkgoers seem to enjoy.

Recently, some travel blog rated Disney World as the worst value among themeparks (based on cost vs what you get), in spite of the parks still having good attendance. In general, Disney doesn't like news like that, so I'm sure they're taking notes.

And in the end, don't ever count Disney out. They are planning for a massive park expansion, and to enhance on the guest experience. And their aim is to retain the crown as THE destination, while actively working to change the perception.

How this plays out with an ongoing proxy war, battles with the state, some of the nonsense around the district in which they reside, and generally with the cost of doing business will prove interesting.

The astronauts headed to the moon on Apollo 11 faced enormous dangers, and it was uncertain whether they would complete the mission. At very many points before we saw their rescue in the ocean, there were places where they might have died.

President Nixon was well aware of such a possibility, and had written an epitaph for the astronauts, in case he needed to let a nation know that they were heroes who gave their lives in the pursuit of exploration.

But I just learned something new: the astronauts made plans for their families' futures in the event of them not making it home. Obviously, life insurance was not something they could get, so they turned to memorabilia.

They autographed pictures of themselves while they waited in quarantine before their mission, and mailed them to their families. The intent was that their wives and children could sell these pictures of the heroes to support themselves.

That's crazy, and a little wild. And thankfully was never needed, though a few have been sold over the years.


Latest video

This is the story about the Columbia space shuttle disaster. https://youtu.be/z2DJR063YEI?si=saVAmGl9ysmbrlDp

One Little Spark … 

This is a story about Ed Dwight, who nearly was the first black man in space - if he had been selected among the first group of astronauts in the 1960s.

But sadly, while Kennedy had wanted Dwight to be part of the story, when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, that dream died along with him, and Dwight was excluded. And it would be another two decades before a black man would go into space.

Chuck Yaeger years later said that Dwight "wasn't good enough," which perhaps could be true (though probably not), but we'll never really know if that's accurate or a fanciful account to ignore the racist overtones (it likely was).

In any event the story is interesting, and you can. read more here - or watch an historical account called "Space Race" on Disney+. Its really quite good.


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Bitchin' Dave's Newsletter - Feb 20

 Dave’s Musings

The streaming world remains enormously complex, with way too many options, and prices ranging from next to nothing to fairly expensive on a monthly basis, for maybe a few things you might want to watch. And with the ability to stop and start at will, its hard for companies to make profits or adequately forecast for the future.

I've heard people talk about the "Bundling of unbundled services" to try and help. Mostly, its theoretical as companies want their own profit margins and don't want to revenue share, in particular.

Except in the world of Sports. There's a partnership happening between ESPN, Fox, a few regional players, and Warner Brothers (TNT, etc) to provide a pretty comprehensive package of everything EXCEPT for what's on Paramount/CBS and Peacock/NBC.

But here's the rub. This package might cost north of $50 per month. In which case, you would be better off getting nearly all of that content, plus live channels, and some additional content (on demand movies for example) by subscribing to YouTube TV for about $70 per month.

And there's another factor that can't be simply dismissed: there is opposition. You have the DOJ looking at this as perhaps anti-competitive, and they may stop it. And the NFL is upset that they weren't alerted to this in advance; each of the major players in this service has NFL broadcast rights, and the fear is that this partnership may all generate additional revenue, without the NFL getting a cut.

The BBC recently produced a documentary about the NASA failures that led to the Space Shuttle Columbia burning up on re-entry.

It's a retrospective that reminds us what happened and how - but adds a more human touch by interviewing the families of the astronauts, and talking with NASA personnel that continue to carry guilt about what transpired.

The thing that hit home for me was that the NASA engineers never took the threat of missing heat tiles seriously, in spite of the inherent danger, and the fact that some tiles had gone missing before and caused some (non-catastrophic) damage to the vehicle.

To me, its personal. I was on a NASA funded project in graduate school - a project that examined heat tile replacement, and safety protocols. Our team found risks, and suggested that the damage could be catastrophic even though to this point, the program had been lucky. We suggested remedies, for which the NASA engineers thanked us. But these suggestions were ultimately ignored, dismissed, and in one case, literally thrown out.

Even though I did everything I could as a grad student, I carry a little of the guilt, too. And I sometimes think about the people who actually replaced the tiles, and how their lives were impacted.

Oh and by the way, something that I also think about is how Richard Feynman saw much of this same thing when he joined the team that looked at the Challenger disaster a decade before I worked there. You can read more of those details in the second link



Here's a cool story about a 16 year old who created something to help the visually impaired. When I first read it, I started thinking about Geordi LaForge, who was in Star Trek the Next Generation. He had a visor that gave him sight in the 24th century land of science fiction.

But this application is different. Here, Tiffani Gay has created a device that essentially uses haptic feedback to let the user know when they are near something.

I love seeing young people who create something to change the world!


In general, Disney has been a good neighbor in the state of Florida. Taxes are collected, Disney does some philanthropy, promotes volunteerism, and tends toward environmental consciousness.

Of course, they are a large corporation, and they have somewhat selfish motivations at times. But at least they make an effort.

Recently, they announced they would be setting aside 80 acres of land to build 1,400 units of affordable housing. And just this week, they were granted zoning approval and construction will begin shortly. This will not be a Disney branded enterprise; but vacant land on the west side of the property that Disney owns will be used. It will be built and operated by a company with more experience in this area.

There's no question that outward appearances aside, this will benefit them on two fronts: there was an economic incentive offered by the state to create housing, and it provides some low cost housing which would be convenient for people who choose to work at the theme parks.

Still, I take it as a net positive outcome. Affordable housing is hard to come by in Florida for very many reasons, so this is a step in a good direction.

I was reading the attached article about Chief White Calf, the model for the Native American head that served as the Washington Redskins logo for many years.

To set the context, this article did appear originally in Fox News, so you have to take some of what they mention with a large amount of salt. (hint: they focus on cancel culture)

That said, I certainly will concede that losing Chief White Calf to history - the man, not the mascot - is rather a shame. We should celebrate those who were here when the Europeans arrived and remember who they were and how they lived.

But the thing that they completely and totally missed on is why the football owner decided to part ways with the image: money. The Supreme Court ruled that they did not have control over the likeness, and therefore the team couldn't protect its logo via copyright. And that meant that anyone could (and for a short time many did) create unofficial merchandise and sell it - and the team had no recourse.

The logical thing to do was come up with a new copyrighted logo that they could then profit from. This was not about anything else. And fans petitioning the new owner for the name to revert to "Redskins" simply will not happen, for that reason.


Latest video

Here is the history of the phrase "I'm going to Disney World" https://youtu.be/hMvm6ljIy9I?si=vDUxyWm9csdrrs20

One Little Spark … 

I find it disheartening that as a society we’ve started normalizing gun violence. Its been 6 years since the attack on a school here in Florida, and little has changed. If anything, gun regulations have been loosened, or have been brought into question.

And in the past week, there was a shooting at a mega Church in Texas - where parishioners said they felt safe up until then, and couldn't imagine a shooting happening there. And there was another shooting at a superbowl victory parade - where people simply gathered to celebrate and have fun. Children who went to enjoy a moment were wounded.

Its well past time to actually do something, rather than just hiding behind the 2nd Amendment. If you read in its entirety, you realize it has some limitations:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Surely it is open to some interpretation, and maybe we can have an honest discussion about what it says, its intention, and the "Oxford Comma."

It certainly seems to me that "well regulated" could mean licensed federally, and there is absolutely no need for high powered, high capacity weapons of war in regular people's hands.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Bitchin' Dave's Newsletter - Feb 13

 Dave’s Musings

There was a big event over the weekend that you might have heard about: Taylor Swift performed a concert in Tokyo and then jetted back to Las Vegas to see her boyfriend. And all the hype around that was absolutely hilarious. There were were people breathlessly following it. There were proposition wagers put out by the casinos (would she make it? how many times would she be shown? what would she wear? And on and on). And of course there were a few people who saw it as some sort of political conspiracy.

I was just amused by how entertainment and football overlapped to such a large degree. And then I found out that the entire game would be simulcast on Nickelodeon and would feature Spongebob and Patrick - talk about entertainment and sports crossovers! I watched it. It was delightful, and honestly, much better than watching the game on your typical broadcast.

You can check out the hilights here, put out by the NFL, no less. https://youtu.be/PuYNuxBiEKw?si=BRASKbqJcYM6nFHO

And as to the game, one team won, and the other lost, because that's how it works. But it was close and exciting down the stretch. And spoiler alert! Taylor's boyfriend was on the winning end.

SpaceX has had a lot of success in launching space craft. And they are close to having success with Starship - which will allow for bigger payloads to be sent into higher orbits (or deeper space).

The Department of Defense has taken notice, and is considering its own options for the future. A little history may be helpful here: the DoD has operations it carries out on Earth and in space that have some national security implications. For Earth-bound missions, they have some planes that they own and fly, and they have contracts with some flight operators to lease planes on an as-needed basis.

For space, to this point, they have used existing rockets (most of which were holdovers from the cold war), and are currently considering options for the next generation. What they would like to do is to contract with SpaceX to launch their rockets, but in some cases - when there is a mission with some sensitivity - to "take over" the operation and launch the rockets themselves.

That's an unusual use case that I'm sure SpaceX is willing to consider.


While he was busy conquering the world, Napoleon was thoughtful about how he could improve life in France. He often brought scientists with him to newly conquered regions to understand the area and see what he could bring back.

In the case of Egypt, his intent was to see if he could make the water from the Nile drinkable, and how to make some advancements with foods.

But, as the story notes, Napoleon returned to France and left some troops and these scientists in Egypt. And that's when the scientists did what scientists do. They studied the natural world and pieced together a history of the people that once lived there.

As a result of Napoleon's actions, these were the first archaeologists, and really that is how archaeology became a thing. Its kind of remarkable.


A week or so ago, Disney announced the date for their annual shareholder meeting (to be held on April 3) - and they said it would be virtual. Surely a strategic move to further limit the Peltz bid for board seats.

Then late last week, Disney released their latest earnings report and it was good. It exceeded the estimates, so Iger remains hopeful that he can make this somehow work out in his favor.

Disney also scored two wins that bolster their bottom line. They bought a controlling stake in Epic Gaming (they make Fortnight), and they got the Taylor Swift Eras Tour streaming rights (so she'll be on Disney+ starting in March). Both of these moves do show additional progress in making course corrections.

But of course there's still the matter of succession planning. No word on where that stands at this point other than for Disney to make a comment that they have several candidates, which is utterly meaningless.

A funny thing happened in the MLS (US pro soccer). Lionel Messi (maybe the best player of all time) signed with InterMiami at the midway point last season. He was fun to watch, but wound up getting injured and missed most of the end of the season.

This offseason, as a means to try and further promote the league, Miami signed a few of Messi's former teammates and went on a multi-country exhibition tour.

The team didn't fare well against the local teams, and Messi got injured along the way (again), appearing briefly against Al Nassr, where Ronaldo didn't suit up at all (so much for that hyped matchup with another great player). And Messi only played "off the bench" near the end of games in several, and not at all in one game.

And that one game in Hong Kong has China complaining because ticket prices were high, and people travelled from far away, to see the world's best soccer player (Messi of course). They claimed all manner of things including false advertising. There was also a little matter of hurt feelings over cancelled games in mainland China.

In any event, ultimately fans got partial refunds.

Now we head into his first full MLS season. I think its clear that Messi won't start every game - and may play sparingly in some games, or not at all in others. Which will upset people who paid top dollar just to see him.

This phenomena is very strange, indeed. And I think it reminds us that the MLS is not quite ready for primetime, and fans are only interested in seeing that one player.

Latest video

I'm talking about the prospect of Elon Musk making $50 billion dollars from Tesla


One Little Spark … 

The end of the Civil War in the United States may have officially ended slavery. But, there were a number of new problems that came as a result, and we weren't quite ready to address them. Among the questions were: What happens to the newly liberated people? How can they become productive members of society? And what should the plantation owners do to remain profitable without "free" labor?

Of course, there were suggestions about granting land to the emancipated population, or Lincoln's thoughtful but misguided idea to send people to somewhere in Africa where they could be educated and later brought back to integrate into society. But those didn't happen.

Land owners worked hard to maintain control through low wage jobs, indentured servitude, and (with the help of the criminal justice system) forcing prisoners to work the crops as laborers, for free. Small crimes among blacks and other immigrants could be harshly punished to ensure a supply of labor.

Mostly, this practice died out over the ensuing 150+ years. Or did it? The Associated Press followed inmates-made-to-be-day laborers, and it would seem this practice is (very sadly) still in use today.


Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Bitchin Dave's Newsletter - Feb 6

 Dave’s Musings

Blue Springs State Park in the central part of Florida is a beautiful, natural wonder that offers various water activities in the summer. But in the winter, its a warm, natural spring that attracts manatees. The manatee population was on the decline for some years (due to climate issues, and poor behavior by humans!). But the numbers have been increasing over the last few years (thanks in large part to getting boaters to be more mindful).

At the park, they count the manatees every morning as a part of the conservation effort. And this weekend, they recorded the highest number of manatees ever - 973. They were very excited, and it caught some national attention as well.

You can read more here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/nearly-1000-manatees-converge-florida-state-park-record-breaking-sighting-180983683/

The park also offers a wildlife kayaking tour around the river, with a stop near the manatee protected area. We took it last year, and I had a delightful interaction with a young manatee.

Methane is a key contributor to trapping heat, and leading to climate change. Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have come up with a way to use the spectrometer on the ISS (and a few other satellites) to "see" methane emissions in real time, which they then share.

In some cases, countries can use the data to help them pinpoint areas that need some help. And in other cases, the pressure comes from an international coalition. But in any case, we have an ability to see where methane emissions are high.

It's amazing how we can use technology to help address climate change.

Image from Tehran in 2022


Cool story out of Philadelphia about a deaf boy who was given a gene treatment, via an injection of a virus. The gene allowed for the body to correct for an abnormal gene that affected his ability to hear.

Its an interesting starting point for potential gene therapy in the future, though at the moment this is one specific person with a very specific issue. But the possibilities are really intriguing!


I was reflecting on a flawed idea that Disney had a little over a decade ago to play with attendance a little. They offered a free Disney day on your birthday. What a fantastic guest promotion!

The concept was that you would go to the gate on your birthday and show ID, and they would grant you free admission on that day. On paper, it was great.

But in reality, maybe not so much. They had hoped more people would book vacations around their birthday and bring their families. The thinking was that there would be more paid days than they gave away.

There were three main problems: First, you couldn't book it in advance, so people had to do some planning to take advantage of it. How that worked related to purchasing a length of stay ticket was very unclear, and caused a lot of confusion and dissatisfaction.

Second, locals were the main beneficiaries of the program since they could easily just go over on their birthday.

And third, it was unannounced that there were a limited number of these admissions available for the entire year, so they ran out of the free tickets in about March.

And so the promotion was short lived, and caused a lot of dissatisfaction for anyone with a birthday anytime after the first few months. At that time, a day pass was probably around $50, so I still can't figure out why they made this so difficult.

But yet, this is a mostly forgotten footnote in history. That's how good Disney is at manipulating things that happen to their advantage.

Here's an interesting story about the quest to find Amelia Earhart's long-missing plane.

Short primer: Earhart was to be the first woman to fly around the world, in the late 1930s. She apparently got lost in the Pacific near the Howland Islands (between Australia and Hawaii), and there has been much speculation about what happened to her, her navigator, and her plane in the 80 years since.

Hobbyists and even some professional organizations have searched but come up empty - but have a lot of speculation. And now a former aviator has found something on a sonar trip around the area that very well could be Earhart's Lockheed plane. It will take some time for him - or someone else - to pass over the area again to see if they can gather more details about the craft that's there. It could be another lower-profile missing plane, or perhaps a WWII craft that was sunk. But its definitely intriguing, and we may be close to solving the mystery.


Latest video

I'm talking about the Polynesian Resort Hotel at Walt Disney World. Its got its own little story to tell.



One Little Spark … 

Recently, I was getting quotes to paint my house. One guy came out and was pretty chatty. He had a lot to say about many topics. But the one that caught my interest was that hails from a third world country and sees the United States as a "third world country with first world infrastructure" - he went on to tick the boxes for how to define a third world country, and I think he kind of summed it up well.

I've stated in the past that the US really doesn't fit the definition of a first world country and should probably have a new category like "fourth world" or something.

But specific to his comments, the income disparity came to mind. We hear stories every day about people struggling just to get by. People work two jobs and maybe can make ends meet. But certainly, they can't grow wealth, can't hope to reach some sort of financial independence.

And yet, we are on the verge of creating the worlds first TRILLIONAIRE. And at the moment, we've got around 750 Billionaires.

Meanwhile 53% of the US population (~180 million people) have less than $10,000 saved, and 15% have between $10k and $50k (that's ~50 million people).

Something is wrong with the system in that case. And of course, people we consider minorities are disproportionately represented in what we might consider the "poor population."