This isn't just planes, this seems to be everything nowadays. Fission was discovered in 1938/1939 and we dropped two bombs on Japan in 1945. No chance we could do something like that in this toxic environment of today.
I know Peter Thiel is not popular here, but his conversations about technological progress seem to be spot on: we just cant build cool shit anymore. I really did want a flying car, and all I have is 140 characters and promises of AI that never come true.
Maybe, you could say there are some exceptions like CRISPR, but that is TBD.
The root of the F-35 program's problems is a cost plus style contract that gave Lockheed every incentive to overrun on cost and time table. Ash Carter fixed that by telling Lockheed if they didn't agree to his new contract he'd kill the entire thing. And oh hey what a surprise suddenly the marginal cost of a new F-35 started hitting the target numbers.
The aircraft itself is apparently excellent at what it does, but that doesn't erase just how much grift was involved in this program for decades.
The other big thing driving the Air Force to heavily restructure it's approach is they know they just can't have these decades long development programs. They want to be able to iterate much faster. It's all still classified, but apparently the first few attempts at this more agile approach are in fact actually working, like with the NGAD program.
I’m fond of the saying “once you understand people’s incentives, you understand everything” as it applies to contracting.
I will add, however, that fixed price contracts have their own problems as it relates to cutting corners. E.g., it can put downward pressure on retaining talent and performing best practices because it incentivizes under-bidding and then cutting corners to make a profit. E.g., “you cobbled together some VBA in a spreadsheet once 20 years ago and will work for pennies? Congratulations, you’re our new head of software development!”
A lot of the problems can be attributed to poor contract/spec management and poor oversight. Part of the key is having good requirements and also the contractual teeth/intestinal fortitude to hold contractors feet to the fire
I was NOT directly involved in F-35, so I can't speak to the exact amount of sleaze that occurred with the prime contractor.
I'd love to see a real competition! (new contractors, new ideas, new teams, new airframe ideas). And two engines, yeesh.
Anyways, cost plus is great at moving risk to the government. FFP is at the other end of the spectrum, moving all risk to the contractor.
[Unnecessary edit: I'm a fan of the textron scorpion-as a light attack fighter we could modify]
This is why R&D projects can't be treated in the same way as delivery of well understood tech that simply needs to be mass produced well and efficiently.
Of course, the contractors probably skim a little bit off the top of the 20 million back to themselves. They might for example bill for machine team on the CNC or charge $200/hr per an employee and only pay $60 (note that they have expenses for training, downtime, office space, equipment and management which that 200/hour needs to account for so the employee isn't getting screwed that badly.
Less moral contractors might build projects which intentionally fail but meet the specifications so that the gov't needs to execute a change order at which point they would get additional fee as part of the change order, however with the DOD you can get your company put on a blacklist which will mean you cannot win any more DOD contracts. But I have heard of a California construction company doing that repeatedly over the course of 30 years successfully. In the dod world, most companies try to propose improvements to the original contract. Typically they will have yearly goals associated with submitting and winning change orders as its an easier source of revenue than bidding and winning new contracts which typically have a 30% win rate.
I agree with your overall opinion but I do think the govt has a lot of residual risk in cost-plus. When a contractor is incentivized to cut corners, the mitigation is govt oversight. Meaning the contractor can keep cutting corners until caught. Since the govt ultimately owns these systems they can be left holding the bag (particularly when requirement specs are weak)
I ran across an interesting one earlier, understanding Maslow's Needs by negative example: We usually say that, when someone has food and shelter and safety, when they have friends and feel a sense of belonging, they can pursue higher stuff. And we know at some level that if someone is starving, they will do anything to find food -- civilized behavior goes out the window in that mode. But we forget that if someone has no friends and doesn't feel a sense of belonging, they will also stop at nothing to rectify THAT.
Suddenly so much conspiracy stuff makes sense.
Those are usually called “hygiene factors” in the literature.
"Hygiene" for the record has nothing to do with deodorant, at least not per se, but instead the willingness to remove negative traits. However, just because you remove negative traits doesn't mean you have any positives. Just cuz you took a shower this morning, wear clean clothes, and trim your fingernails doesn't mean you're not an asshole, and that we should friends with you.
Same deal with jobs, cultures, etc. The work may be risky and dangerous, but if there are enough positives to outweigh those negatives, people might stick around. But even if you strip out the negatives, people will eventually float away from jobs that aren't fulfilling or that don't offer any positives.
There’s a distinction to be made between excusing bad behavior, but rather they explaining it. The article seems focused on the former, I’m more interested in the latter.
There are intrinsic and extrinsic incentives. I think the important part not touched upon is that for those actors extrinsically motivated (e.g., status, money, etc.) the system incentive will influence behavior much more than those more affected by intrinsic motivations.
The article is right that extrinsic motivations don’t excuse immoral behavior but when morals are lacking external controls are still needed. Developing the right extrinsic incentives provides guardrails for those who tend to lack intrinsic motivation that align. The article seems to think the solution is to “just act morally” which works at the individual level but that’s not really a policy at a system level (especially once we acknowledge everyone doesn’t share the same goals/motivations/morals)
I.e. if you aren't willing to stand up in court and talk about why Tootie is better than Tito, despite Tito being 10% cheaper, you better be selecting Tito or looking for another job.
I’ve found people are very risk adverse in this regard and would prefer to select the lowest bid instead of potentially defending their decision during a protest.
select the best solution to meet your needs, mostly irregardless of cost, but be sure you can articulate why you are buying from A.
I.e. You can pick whatever vendor you want, provided you are happy to stand up, under oath, in court and talk about WHY you selected vendor A over vendors B, C and D.
So far so I have no experience in court defending our choices.
Does anyone have any views on what constitutes canonical reading on incentives? Some of the classic game theory works? Would love to hear opinions on this.
In fact, I will go a step further - most incentives are chosen by well meaning people. There is neither malice nor incompetence going on. What happens is that every incentive can be perverted, and will be perverted over time. Over time, then that incentive, that was once chosen with good intentions, becomes perverse.
> When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.
In my experience, it might actually be a useful approximation of reality.
Take the requirements for example. If they aren’t airtight, you’ll get into a wordsmithing scenario where the contractor claims they met the requirement and it becomes a game where the team with the best lawyer wins. Write the requirements too explicitly and contractors will push back saying “tell us what you want, not how we’re supposed to do it.”
A somewhat silly example is if you specify you want unit testing on all safety critical code paths a contractor may claim they define running a compiler as “unit testing”. A contracting officer may not be technically savvy enough to push back and when the subject matter experts try to leave negative contract comments (that get reviewed when awarding future contracts) they get scrubbed because its not worth the fight in the eyes of the contracting officer.
Unfortunately, just saying “do good work” just doesn’t...work
With DoD you have to add in various accountability steps, political footballs, public opinion, etc.
If you've spent time around the DC area you'd be shocked at the number of adverts for things like the F-22 that you see. One time I took the metro from NoVA to MD, with a stop off downtown, and counted at least 6. They're not just bringing lawyers and playing contractor games, they're aggressively marketing to everyone.
Those kinds of purchases being swayed by subway ads... I really hope it's a joke.
The F-20 may have been the last time an aircraft company ever pitched an airplane developed on the company's money. Despite being highly praised by all who flew it (including Chuck Yeager), it's ugly demise at the hands of politics (it was less than half the price of the F-16) was an example to all to never do this again...
The problem with massive development efforts like this is that there aren't a lot of competitors. In this particular field, there are two, and not really even quite two exactly.
Lockheed, Boeing, Northrup, etc...
"Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence'
Human societies have become incredibly more complex over time, and development of communication has contributed to it.
The point I am trying to make here is that this is not cultural decline, but rather a society that has grown incredibly more complex, while we humans have not learnt how to deal with it.
It failed to replace existing fleet of fighters, like the F-16, and on ground support, like the A10. That is not excellence.
All of the engineering problems of the F-35 have been well known from the early days of the project, I know because I have studied closely ever since Norway decided to buy it. But the massive propaganda from the weapons industry has clouded this debate from the start.
F-35 is a huge fiasco on multiple levels - policy, contracting, diplomacy, engineering, warfare, etc
Reason why it is even bigger failure than the F-22 is that the US decided to sell the F-35 overseas. This exposed the project to more scrutiny and increased the stakes. Can’t be hidden away like the embarrassing F-22.
If US decide to build a new fighter aircraft I predict it will be a failure too.
You also might want to consider its extremely good flight record. Until recently there hadn’t been a single crash.
The software issue isn’t great (I blame C++ to an extent) but it’s also improving. The plane is now certified for many different weapons systems.
With stealth as great of a game-changer as it is, the incremental cost of the F-35 isn’t much. Developing a new fighter that pretty well duplicates the F-35 except for stealthy materials probably isn’t worth the cost. The F-35A cost keeps dropping...
As to not replacing “existing fleet of fighters”, that sure isn’t what the pilots are saying. So far it’s been well over 10-1 kill ratios against Gen 4 airframes at all Red Flag type competitions.
I love jets and the F-22 is both my favorite fighter and likely the best air superiority fighter in the world, so I get where you are coming from, but it is not an excellent aircraft for the current USAF mission when you look at it as a whole.
Not only is the procurement cost of an F-22 extremely high, operationally it has been plagued by issues that hare only partially elevated by a maintenance program that even by fighter jet standards is considered expensive and frequent. The stealth coating in particular is very finnicky and has to be worked up constantly. Approximately half of F-22 are non-op at any given time, even getting training time is extremely difficult.
The F-22 is like an exotic sportscar. Nobody denies that if it's in the air and functional, it's a great performer, but we would never make the bugatti veyron the standard patrol car for all police - not only would it be mindbogglingly expensive, durability and high maintenance would make it impractical, not to mention overkill in most situations. To make another car analogy, it would be like buying a Ford F350 for picking up your groceries once a week.
It's like some of the pocket battleships produced between WW1 and WW2. The technology was incredible, but expensive. And by the time war actually came, they were outdated. I think the F-22 will meet the same fate (and the B-2 as well). Silver bullets that were never really needed.
I also think many of your criticisms are due to the small amount actually produced. Spares were never produced in adequate volumes, and when a single accident reduces your aircraft inventory by almost 1% it makes you risk averse.
Also pocket battleship mostly refers to the heavy cruisers that Germany built during their rearmament program.
For the UK, five King George class battleships were commissioned after the start of Britain's declaration of war in 9/39. They all saw combat.
France's Richelieu was commissioned in 4/40, and saw limited combat in Dakar.
Even Japan's Yamato class battleships were commissioned before Japan invaded China.
Perhaps you meant that no battleships that weren't laid down prior to the start of WW2 saw combat?
For the clueless like me, NGAD doesn't stand for "Not Give A Damn", but for "Next-Generation Air Dominance"; or less pompously, a sixth-generation jet fighter.
Sec. David Norquist  was another Deputy SecDef who helped reign in DoD costs. He also served as Comptroller before DepSecDef. There was whispers that he did actually fire people for wasting DoD funds.
I have heard the opposite from a test pilot who has flown it. He fucking hates it.
Chip Berke is an F22 and F35 test pilot, and the first F35 Squadron commander. He's probably the most qualified person on the planet to talk about fifth gen aircraft:
EDIT: Although to be fair, I wrote that before looking at your links, I feel like that context is important (although I stand by my statement).
The F35 has been badly politicized, but it has also been the victim of an absolute shitload of criticism from people who want it to be something it was never intended to be and are unhappy that the F22 was cancelled early.
If it were just that Colonel Berke liked the plane, it would be one thing. He really explains it in detail in the video. I'll admit I wasn't quite sold on the the plane years ago, but once I saw this video it pretty thoroughly changed my mind.
I realize the video is a bit long, and I almost never post links to videos -- but this one is well worth the watch.
What made his criticisms ironically stupid was he'd never even SEEN the jet up close, or spoken to an actual pilot, only reviewed documents and read memos, until the very end of his tenure as Director of OT&E. He was not retained when Gen. Mattis took over as SecDef.
I've heard nothing but praise for LtCol. Chip Berke. He is a great fighter pilot, although now retired from the USMC.
The man cannot criticize the project publicly. In fact, he and his squadron probably have real opinions that never leave their base locker rooms.
What Colonel Berke did in that video is quite the opposite of “not criticize”.
The concept of modularity is a sound one. Imagine this: You buy an F35 and it comes with 2 sets of wings. It has a empty bay just behind the pilot, and it also comes with a lift engine and a spare fuel tank, and a tailhook that can be easily slotted into place if you want it. A trained ground crew, in a couple of hours, can swap parts around and turn it into an A, B or C variant, and then into another one for its next mission.
The problem is that the materials needed to create such a F35 kit don't exist and won't for the foreseeable future. So what you end up with is 3 similar looking aircraft that happen to share the same name and have a vague resemblance but have surprisingly little in common, for triple the price.
The common bits are actually really useful to have in common. The radar is expensive to develop. The optical sensors are too. Engines are expensive, and the F135 engine is like 1/6 of the aircraft's cost.
Development is a bit more expensive, because you have 3 airframes with slightly different characteristics, but much of it the same between the three as far as systems that go inside.
It's definitely not 3x the price to develop the 3 different variants.
And they're buying new F-35s for cheaper than a new F-16.
I disagree, there have been cases where it could have been very useful. For example in the 1980s the RAF were operating the Harrier for the close support role (from austere forward airfields) and the RN were operating the Sea Harrier for air defence, but when the Falklands War kicked off, RAF aircraft were brought onto the carriers. The RAF were also operating the Tornado for long-range bombing and another variant of Tornado for air defence, plus the Jaguar. That's 4 different aircraft that could be merged into a "kit" F35 if it were possible to do so.
The F-35B is explicitly the replacement for the Harrier (Sea or regular). The F-35A is designed for both interdiction/strike (it is a "strike fighter"), as well as being able to swing role into air defense. The F-35C is explicitly only for USN requirements. No one else is going to be buying them, because the only allied country that operates CATOBAR aircraft is France, who likes their Rafales.
For all of the F135 being literally the most powerful low bypass turbofan in the world, it's still not enough power to be able to adequetely lift the F-35B without the B being lightened compared to the A. It's not just parts they left off, like the arresting hook, but different parts to shave weight. For example, the weapons bays are smaller. Tails are smaller. Airframe structure is lighter, which reduces durability, and also limits the maximum g-load (22% lower! than the A model). They also had to make the attachment of the wings more difficult compared to earlier plans, because the easier wing attachments weighed too much. The left shoulder of the aircraft are different, because the A model has a gun there that the others don't. These limitations are baked in, and unbaking them would make it too heavy to be able to perform the required role.
: Swing role is more than just being able to do more than one role, but being able to do both of them during the same flight.
Meanwhile F-35B exists pretty much only due to USMC to the point that I would be doubtful of any praise for the F-35 if it came from USMC crew. Then it got pushed as option for export, often seemingly presenting F-35B as being as capable as F-35A.
Meanwhile the ALIS without which F-35 is an expensive paperweight turned out to be a very expensive turd, that finally got renamed as ODIN after awarding the new contract to the same group that fscked up ALIS :/
The F-35B is obviously not going to be capable in the same way as the A. However it's significantly more capable than the Harrier, which is the important part for everyone buying it. There is no other current STOVL carrier fighter jet available. And the reduced capabilities may largely not matter to those users, in exchange for the increased capabilities for being able to launch them off ships/very limited area land strips. I think the only nation that is going to not be launching them off ships is Singapore, which is very restricted in land area.
You speak in the past tense but both are actually in the water now! One of them is working up for her first live deployment.
I personally don't believe that CATOBAR was ever an option on these ships, there are too many clues. One is that both cats and traps are enormous pieces of machinery that need to be integrated with the hull and dissipate enormous amounts of heat, they can't be pasted in afterwards, they have to be designed in from the start. The catapults require steam or electrical power for EMALS, the QE class can't do steam and can't generate that much power. Operating cats and traps needs lots of deck crew, there aren't enough people without growing the RN by a few thousand people all told. And finally keeping pilots current for arrested landings isn't feasible if you want the freedom to embark RAF crews at short notice, who have only used runways. Basically BAe said they could do it as a tickbox exercise in the planning stages, but when the government looked at doing it and switching to F35C, it would have cost as much as rebuilding them both from scratch.
Though AVM was killed by sequestrations, the work continued in other programs — and of course there was a lot of learning taken from various unclassified programs to behind the green door, so to speak.
I get this, but I also wonder if the same kind of bugs or unintended behavior in a software system aren't just as likely in the protocols, procedures, and chains of command we build for humans to deploy that weaponry. You've got AI doomsday (a la "War Games") on one hand, and bureaucratic doomsday ("Doctor Strangelove") on the other.
For example it's very possible that a "Should I launch the nukes?" algorithm would've come up with a different answer than Stanislav Petrov did. There's a similar story about US missileers disregarding a glitch in their own command and control system on Okinawa but the authenticity is suspect.
Repeating the same old "lol quadrocopter go 2000g brrrrrt" meme just makes you look stupid.
It’s a strategic bomber, not a fighter.
(it's not like these bombers are built to sustain high G forces anyway)
A cost-plus contract is a contributor, but not the root of why the JSF program went astray.
The fundamental flaw of the F-35 is that they tried to make one air frame for 3 very different sets of requirements. By doing so they compromised all three variants yet failed to achieve the cost savings they thought they would get from that approach.
Equally as important is the fact that it was politically engineered to be almost uncancelable. The future of US and allied air power was staked on this one platform so all of the stakeholders had very high motivation to keep pushing on long after it wasn't prudent to do so.
Then there's the fact the DoD and Congress removed some of the normal procurement guard rails to try to shorten the timeline, but also made it more difficult to cancel. "Concurrent development" with the JSF meant that series production began before all testing and evaluation was done. This meant that when problems were found there were costly retrofits. It also means that the multitude of serious shortcomings were found after production had began, making it more difficult to justify stopping the program.
Then consider that production of parts for the F-35 is spread out across over 40 states (I wanna say it was 47). Then there's the part where the DoD allowed the contractor to write a significant portion of the requirements. It's no wonder things went sideways.
> The aircraft itself is apparently excellent at what it does, but that doesn't erase just how much grift was involved in this program for decades.
But that's the problem, it is not excellent at what it does. When you read the DOT&E reports about its mission capabilities there are numerous serious defects and limitations to what the aircraft can do. Granted, some of those issues are getting addressed, but the costs of the program makes it harder to justify.
Ultimately the whole reason for the F-35 to exist was that the high parts commonality and the very high production numbers would save big money on costs. It failed to do that.
I think in order to be successful, they probably have to implement some sort of "small teams" approach; I'd imagine a lot of tech developed for JSF/F-35 can be rapidly rolled into a 5th gen+ fighter without reinventing the wheel...but they'd need to firewall the project into small focused teams who really know what they'd want to build.
We can build cool shit, but our government and most companies don't optimize for that.
Look at what states and districts get these big DoD contracts and then look at what committees the congressmen/women are sitting on.
They approve plans that benefit them then direct the funds right into their districts so they can campaign on it.
I mean it's not the worst form of corruption but it's pretty shitty when you realize how our infrastructure and defense is designed around congressional districts instead of what is best for our country.
I am reminded how we got existing rail line through much of the U.S. 19th century land acquisition for private parties who built that infrastructure is easy to spin as a travesty. In many cases it was blatant corruption. And the legacy lasts to this day. All of that land and infrastructure is still privately owned.
Fast forward to today. Is it right that the government should build infrastructure to compete with existing private businesses? Should they build and operate grocery stores? Automakers? ISPs? Textile factories?
There used to be some idea that the government should not compete with private industry. That idea is much murkier more recently.
But if you want to build public infrastructure to compete with the likes of Union Pacific, shouldn't you start by nationalizing the likes of Union Pacific?
See also USPS for more interesting examples of public vs private enterprise. Imagine that the USPS contracted local delivery and long-haul transfer. Imagine that a local mom and pop could bid on a local contract. Newspaper delivery bicycle contractors everywhere could double their money for little additional effort. Or FedEx/UPS/Amazon might really sharpen their pencils and win those contracts.
The USPS is legally obligated to deliver mail to every household, 6 days a week. The private carriers don’t come anywhere close to meeting that level of service. Most of the US is incredibly sparsely populated. There won’t be bicycle contractors lining up to deliver mail up the Adirondacks or across the Great Plains.
How would a network of private interests handing off parcels between each other under government regulation deliver better service than a single organization with the problem already solved thanks to 200 years of domain expertise?
I'm not in favor of this approach, either we have a really free market (with some limited regulation for things like anti-fraud) or you have the government manage the service. These public-private partnerships just seem to be grift programs write large. Let's not push for more corporatism. If there is already a private market, then sure, have the government bid for private contracts within that market. Otherwise you have companies whose full-time roles is figure out how to squeeze more money out of government, and they lobby hard to do so, often with much success (at filching taxpayers)
Where I live, USPS doesn't deliver to any household, but UPS and FedEx do.
But that is beside the point. Any party that contracted with the USPS would be obligated to meet the terms of the contract.
You might be surprised at who lines up to deliver mail up the Adirondacks. One of the virtues of a free market is the amazing ingenuity of entrepreneurs to meet market demand in the most efficient ways. The free market provides the motivation for such ingenuity whereas non-profit single-player monopolies often don't.
But still this misses my interest in this discussion. I think there is an optimum balance for publicly-owned infrastructure and privately-owned service providers. But that balance is not always obvious and usually not stable. I think there is great benefit in continuous discussion of the pros and cons to monitor and adjust how we leverage the strengths of both sides of the equation.
I like the idea of "build more rail lines." But it takes more that four words to make this happen. If you are just trying to replace the pork of military spending, then perhaps the details don't matter. Just trade one corruption for another. Let the power brokers beat each other up clamoring for the money.
But if you're making such radical changes to the redistribution of wealth, why not have some thoughtful discussion that people can reference for the next 100s of years. Who are the Lockes and Keynes of 2021? I know they exist. Let's bring them out in public discussion.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with building public infrastructure considering in many cases the infrastructure in question would form a natural monopoly. However, car manufacturers, grocers, textile factories have lots of competition. Those markets are very healthy.
American ISPs fail to provide good service even in wealthy locations. Google had to stop their gigabit fiber rollout. That's definitively a failing market where a baseline of service should be provided by governments. Private companies can always provide superior service and charge for it.
SpaceX is everyone's favourite private sector success story, but they're basically just a younger, leaner version of Lockheed— surviving off of NASA and doing what they're contracted to do.
I don't think the private sector is ever going to do ambitious things like build rail infrastructure all on its own, nor is the current PPP model necessarily the way either, but maybe there is some option out there to get things done which looks like the bakeoff that NASA held with CRS.
In 2020, SpaceX did 26 launches. Only six of those had NASA as a customer. The rest were a mix of US military, commercial customers, foreign governments (Argentina and South Korea), and Starlink. Even if you add up NASA and US military, that's still only nine out of 26 with the US government as the customer.
So while no doubt SpaceX does benefit from NASA's business, it is now only a minority.
There is no VC who would have accepted a pre-SpaceX pitch for low cost launches, Starlink, or any of the rest of it. It would have been straight up "lol Iridium amirite, get out."
SpaceX was funded by Elon Musk and later, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Peter Thiel's Founder's Fund. Starlink has been in part funded by a $1 billion investment from Google and Fidelity. And since then further funding rounds have been raised.
The DFJ and Founder's Fund investment was before SpaceX had any substantial NASA development contracts, let along their 2008 $1.6 billion launch contract.
Until the Dragon demo flights in 2012-2013, I think SpaceX would have been hard pressed to raise significant capital from anyone other than Elon's friends. I think the fact that so many private space companies have one or more wealthy benefactors bears this out (Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Armadillo to a lesser extent).
Another Musk inspired project is the hyperloop and of course the Boring tunnels for electric cars. These are novel transportation solutions that solve for the problem in a more creative way than simply "build more light rails". That's the type of stuff a government will never come up with. There needs to be a creative maestro with massive capital. Musks are rare in the world but they certainly can move in a more agile way when they do appear.
I would also argue, telecommuting has solved for some of the transportation problems alone. Think of how many less cars are on the road as a result of work from home.
Boring/Hyperloop don't have an idea like this. Boring's pitch is using conventional TBMs but making it cheaper by digging a smaller-diameter tunnel than the other guy. Does that meet the requirements? New subway systems are also reducing tunnel diameter by using LRVs instead of heavy rail cars... is there an actual innovation here?
Hyperloop is full of practicality issues, and addresses none of the real problems that are barriers to high speed mass transit projects today— specifically the fights over rights of way and station locations. The fact that it was initially pitched in 2013 as a system for moving around private automobiles should tell you a lot about how much understanding there is of the first principles of transportation— it wasn't until years later that this was acknowledged and corrected . It would be like someone proposing an airline where each plane carries 10 cars instead of 400 passengers ("so convenient, you just drive right on board!")— it doesn't matter how fast the trains are, 840 passengers per hour for a Hyperloop would be a complete nonstarter when a normal subway does 40k/hr.
Maybe Boring/Hyperloop will end up pivoting into something worthwhile, but at the moment there is good reason for skepticism.
The cost of reusing a rocket has not been proven to be cheaper than building a new rocket. Consider factors like the inability to reuse the entire rocket, the reduced payload. At best you can break even. Unless you somehow reuse the entire rocket and do 100 flights with the same rocket the savings are meager.
This isn't something new. The space shuttle suffered from the same issues. Building new shuttles was almost the same cost and less risky.
But now that the basic principle has been proven, really leaning into it is part of the point of Starship— a new clean sheet design that is built for full reusability from the get go.
He just took the 100 year old vac train concept and repackaged it. Back in his original pitch he constantly said and laughed how easy it is. Once the years went by he slowly backed off from every promise and ultimately reduced his involvement to 0.
> of course the Boring tunnels for electric cars.
He promised to make tunnel boring cheaper, yet his only tunnel costs exactly as much as every other tunnel. He constantly advertises 150mph travel when the tunnel isn't even long enough to reach that speed. Have you seen the tunnel? It's so tiny you can't even open your doors if you get stuck in there. If even a single car fire starts in that tunnel everyone in the tunnel will die.
Really this is more similar to VC investment where NASA funded it so they could get a return (better launches), but the future is that a probably large percentage of launches will be for commercial purposes (~50% of 2022 launches are for Starlink).
The cynic in me thinks it has to do with power projection and the economy.
The less cynical part of me wonders if it’s related to a cognitive bias that over-weights threats from rival “tribes” and the need to ensure stability
Especially for the states (and representatives) that the ice storm is 100 year. Dams fail, and when they fail, they don't affect the people that didn't want to live near a dam.
It seems like we’re just really bad at thinking clearly about low probability / high severity risks
The dam flooding isn't random, its an unfrequent event that will occur so it is something we should prepare for.
CEOs are graded quarter-to-quarter and politicians every 2-4 years. Low probability events (plane crashes, infrastructure failures, etc.) may not ever happen during their tenure, incentivizing them to defund preparing for them to favor other programs, understanding full well they’re bound to occur
You actually make a great point, even if the money has to go to defense and not other purposes, it should still be useful for the purpose of defense.
The reason why the USA uses the military as a jobs program is that it's the only thing that gets bipartisan support.
But what real communism did isn't even relevant here, I'm pretty sure GP is talking about imaginary communism in the sense that anything that is good for the general population is somehow called communism in US politics.
The Soviet whalers, Berzin wrote, had been sent forth to kill whales for little reason other than to say they had killed them. They were motivated by an obligation to satisfy obscure line items in the five-year plans that drove the Soviet economy, which had been set with little regard for the Soviet Union’s actual demand for whale products.
Whaling, like every other industry in the Soviet Union, was governed by the dictates of the State Planning Committee of the Council of Ministers, a government organ tasked with meting out production targets. In the grand calculus of the country’s planned economy, whaling was considered a satellite of the fishing industry. This meant that the progress of the whaling fleets was measured by the same metric as the fishing fleets: gross product, principally the sheer mass of whales killed.
Pure communists think that the government baseline should be enough for everyone, even if it means inferior service.
Pure capitalists think that superior service should be enough for everyone, even if it is unaffordable.
The obvious answer is to find the middle ground and reap the benefits of both.
I personally don't think that the F-35 is falling into that. A jobs program fighter jet doesn't really make sense since it is not a long term investment with a direct return. It's more of an insurance policy against an imaginary foe. Yes, you have jets but unless you use them to conquer land or defend yourself there is no direct return on investment.
As Inread that I think: basic services are too important to miss the feedback loop and become the equivalent of universal low grade government cheese. At the same time, maybe the poor quality of government provided baseline goods and services would incentivize people to attain better, which is an improvement over direct subsidies which act like high marginal taxes when they are reduced in response to income growth. Unfortunately a significant number of basic needs are commodities, such as cheese, and are subject to mismeasure and goal seeking instead of value seeking, similar to the Soviet whaling industry of the 1960s/70s.
The F-35: similar to SLS and Soviet whalers, political considerations are weighted higher than value ones. The F-35 also has the challenge of being developed at a transitional period, in the late morning of a period that will be marked by low observability, human optionality, and high speed and precision impact. The F-35s story isn’t over yet and like other troubled weapons systems there is a lower than likely chance it may blossom like the M-16. It has already passed the Sgt York stage and is in the a state where like the BFV it will find its place within doctrine and eventually battle, or not. I think it is too soon to tell.
Look at it another way. Which countries have walls to keep people out? And which have walls to keep people in?
Barbed wire on the borders, bullets shot without warning at swimmers trying to cross freezing rivers, then families held hostage and tortured to punish and warn escapees - oh Communism was such an awesome experience, I can only wish it from the bottom of my heart to all its apologists.
In a sense it is both good and bad that the Wall has been erased, people forget what it was like. Nobody should forget.
Communists killed local population by millions:
Crimes against humanity ain’t a minor issue you can ignore. Directly related to communism. Democratic states don’t do that, communist regimes did that a lot:
> had higher standards of living while they didn’t
That’s debatable. Might be true in 1910-1920, but by the end of the last century all communist states with planned economy have failed their economies, catastrophically so, with direct consequences on standards of living. China’s the only exception, were lucky to have smart enough people in power to pivot towards market economy, and execute it relatively well.
Not to mention funding schools, universities, or government research grants.
That's among the things that get called communism or socialism here in the US.
Of course. That doesn't mean the services it provides aren't socialism. For a country on balance to be socialist, more than have of its goods and services would need to be provided by the government.
> that definition doesn't sound useful.
It's exactly what socialism is:
"a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole."
The first definition when googling "definition of socialism". Government is the means by which the community effects socialism.
Because Members of Congress basically need to continuously raise money, there’s always an incentive to spread the wealth among congressional districts.
For the F35, I can think of one company in a rural area who fabricates some metal component for the project. Because of the way it is contracted, acceptance standards, etc they sell it for something like 50x it’s value of you were to order it, and whomever gets the part spends even more to receive it.
Planes are small and have lots of parts, so they suffer more from these issues. We’re still ok at building warships, because you can’t build a shipyard in some coal town in Kentucky.
The problem of pork barrels is that it gets them votes directly by making things worse for everybody else in exchange for local benefits. Disproportionate representation is what enables it as a tactic or at least makes it more disastrous. Something which serves the interests of 30% of the population is closer to benefitting the whole than one for 3% of the population.
In the modern environment, material pork barrel spending is at the corporate/national level. Most congressional districts due to gerrymandering or demographics are very secure... the era of political machines handing out turkeys is gone.
If the craven corruption around defense contracting was only 80% as wasteful as it is today, you could give every member of congress a substantial slush fund to waste and still save money. Plus you would have working fighter jets that are able to compete with countries like Russia, that has a GDP equivalent to Texas but seems to be able to procure weapons.
Is there a longer discussion of this that you can link somewhere? I remember the phrase as a derogatory commonplace in adults' political discussion when I was a child, but the concept seems to have drifted out of the discourse since, and having now had my attention drawn to its absence I'd be interested to find out more about why.
This is the outdated proposal that didn't pass. But the current proposal is double this. I've tried to tune out politics for a while but you can be sure that pork is in a $1.9 trillion spending bill as sure as the sun rises.
Earmarks are supposedly coming back this year though.
The best we could do is change the way contract funding is performed. Cost-plus pricing without an upper bound is a huge issue. This type of contract encourages bidders to bid low on cost and make up for it with project extensions.
Of course cost-plus is preferred by bidders as they can guarantee a minimum of profit since cost is already covered. However, fixed price contracts are better from the perspective of the government spending. The spend is known up front. It is up to the bidders to determine if they can make a profit or not.
Ideally the government shouldn't care if the bidder is making a profit. It is their duty to spend public funds frugally. Cost-plus makes it impossible to reign in contract spending without terminating the contract.
Ultimately I think the reason we don't have things like flying cars is that the private sector gets stuck in local maxima (such as getting people to click ads) and in the public sector it's very hard to have focused time-blocked short term goals.
Edit: I looked it up and a Cessna gets ~15 mpg.
Imagine that scenario with tons of metal that could fall out of the sky when something fails.
There isn't really an issue with that sort of lack-of-maintenance stuff where we're headed. It won't be long until cars either totally refuse to operate in extreme circumstances (due to manufacturer liability), or fall back to some impossible-to-ignore state like Tesla's "limp mode". Tire pressure/oil life being good examples of easily-detectable liability issues that no sane manufacturer would let slide.
The current state of affairs is simply because remote monitoring was expensive/infeasible. Most vehicles today ship with an always-on cellular modem in them.
Even my little 4K pocket gimbal camera won't operate without phoning home to "activate", same for all the drones sold by the same company. Flying cars would be sending telemetry from all local sensor measurements to HQ at pretty much all times.
...or can't afford the basic maintenance
Note, that's not a put down on said people. I think it's a shame such situations exist. But, if you can't afford to pay for insurance/gas/maintenance, then you can't afford the vehicle.
But, regarding flying cars: I absolutely do not want more people operating airborne spinny death machines capable of destroying considering we've already established many people don't/can't perform basic maintenance on a much simpler and safer mode of transportation. It wouldn't go well.
Or they know it isn’t worth fixing.
I had an engine light on for about 20000km, and sold the vehicle like that, because it wasn’t worth fixing. One competent mechanic talked me into trying to fix it before I tried to sell it, and that wasted $1000.
Another friend had an engine light on, and the workshop said that happened with that model sometimes and it wasn’t worth fixing.
Both of us could afford to fix the vehicles. That said, if an oil light comes on I stop the vehicle immediately.
Contrast to my understanding of Germany's system, where your car must be aesthetically pleasing to the inspector.
But, what some people have been talking about makes sense now. If you get a bad manufacturer who lights up the dash for everything then they're forcing you to spend money.
Hmm, this has different meaning with last weekends context of an engine cover hitting a yard.
I think it's just a placeholder metaphor to represent <hypothetical futuristic "thing" that increases our quality of life as a society>
When one says "we could have had flying cars, but instead we got X", that's the underlying concept. Whether or not the flying car is "practical" is kind of besides the point. Either that, or we need to find some other generally agreed upon term to represent an actually practical but futuristic invention that represents human progress (or the lack thereof).
Well, we would get cheap energy storage and cheap energy. No promises of a superior future, just a cheaper future.
Due to the many roads and relatively few people using a lot of these high-risk roads, maybe flying cars would be a more cost-effective option here... would possibly also reduce the need for expensive ferries.
Not sure which bits you could cut with a flying car - the safety checks, air traffic control involvement, runways, refuelling stop, qualifications/licenses, but it would have to be a lot to make a large difference.
I guess the Alps are not a big issue.
Its already madness to allow wealthy citizens into space. Tesla and Amazon are one freight flight to space, filled with tungsten rods, away from becoming there own nation - with non-nuclear deterrence. That somebody - whoever it is, out there is getting humankinds tech progress to a grinding halt, is a blessing in disguise. We actually do not even get a honest discussion about the risks on this path.
Problem is though, we always scienced our way out of our problems with our volatile nature. Tap some energy here, create some fertilizer there, oversupply solves the problems we do not want to solve. Exponential supply for exponential unchecked demand.
Enter social tech- in theory we could limit ourselves, could curb our demands, could become starving monks in the desert, hypnotized by coloured lights playing across enchanted stones. This seems to be the road we need to take, for the other road to be traverse-able.
Titanium is used in airframes for its strength to weight ratio (it’s not very dense). Tungsten is used in weapons for its high hardness and density.
Also if you stream a movie tonight, like millions others, who just have a roof, food and a flickering screen that sand in the dessert might be very fine integrated - and already have gotten everywhere. So nobody is asking you or me, might as well discuss the scenarios.
OK, SpaceX ignores the denial and launches anyway. Elon Musk threatens to destroy Washington DC to gain independence for ... some territory somewhere. Unclear where, or why he'd want that since he already has enormous wealth and influence and doesn't need to run his own military to keep it. The United States arrests Elon Musk and seizes all of SpaceX with overwhelming military might. The end.
Is that really as threatening as North Korea developing nuclear weapons?
> filled with tungsten rods, away from becoming there own nation - with non-nuclear deterrence.
In WW1, they tried dropping flechettes onto troops. Didn't work.
As for becoming a nation, that's hardly going to work without the launch/recovery site being part of that nation.
We who? You are more than welcome to starve in a desert. Just do not count on any companionship.
Also, we don't have flying cars because that would be ridiculously impractical. They would be essentially helicopters, which would drink gas and be exponentially more deadly to operate.
There are lots of scientist and inventors around inventing cool new stuff. And there's plenty of research dollars available to anyone with a Ph.D and some grant writing abilities. It's absolutely possible to make a good career out of being an inventor and getting a government to flip the bill on it.
The issue is that we've reach the point in society where technological progress in incremental. Instead of three guys inventing a revolutionary device like the transistor, we have thousands of people working on making marginal improvements to battery chemistry.
Every industry is like that now. Something like four guys entirely designed the original small block Chevy motor, but today, GM has like 400 people designing just fuel system components for the ancestor of that engine. Innovation, it seems, is O(n^2).
NIH paylines (i.e., the percentage of grants funded) are in the teens, with some institutes at/near single digits. NSF is a bit better, but the awards are much smaller. I don't think DARPA, CDMRP, (etc) have explicit Paylines, but the programs are very competitive as well.
There are parts that are like jobs programs, and the contractors intentionally drive up costs as part of their business model, but there are also real expenses to maintaining stability across the parts of the world where our military operates.
Speaking as one of those allies... not really. Often times US allies spend money they really don't want to in order to keep the US happy. Canada and the UK probably wouldn't have invaded Afghanistan if not for their obligations as US allies. That certainly wasn't cheap. Canada is soon to replace its fighter fleet. Will it buy to cheaper Saab Grippen? Or will it feel obligated to buy the 35, a US program that Canada has paid into (aka subsidized) for many years without actually receiving any aircraft?
Take for instance Germany. The federal republic increased their spend to $63.8b last year but that's still a shortfall of ~$27b relative to what a 2% spend would be.
Aggressive estimates (above official estimates) of the UK's (a similar sized ally) spending on Afghanistan in 2011m put the total figure at $26b for 10 years.
The cumulative shortfall in NATO contributions for Germany over that period is more than 10 times greater than the entire invasion and continued operations in Afghanistan during that period.
(edit: grammar and dollar signs)
The UK has Trident and was supposed to be buying F-35s. A number of UK military and civilian aerospace projects were either cancelled (various examples) or crippled commercially (Concorde) because of US interference.
The Afghanistan and Iraq misadventures are still causing significant political costs across Europe. Meanwhile the US has failed to protect the EU against some obvious and immediate threats, including political interference. (Although to be fair it hasn't even protected itself - which is a different problem.)
In any case - the US really isn't a credible victim of exploitation in any of this.
Besides there are no good reasons for Russia to occupy the baltic states (or atleast the cost would considerably outweigh anything they might gain from it). Subsidizing Crimea is already very expensive and controlling the baltics (no even speaking about Poland) would cost considerably more (both due to lost income and because they’d have to dedicate considerable resources policing the local populations which (unlike Crimea) don’t want them to be there)
Even if you don't take the threat seriously it is obvious that other neutral states do:
I think you are probably right. But this is the kind of thing where being wrong is potentially catastrophic. And the world can change faster than you can adjust your defense posture.
As they only met 1.31% of their 2% spend (which would be $37.5b) the shortfall is ~$15.3b annually.
Still sounds like a bargain.
Which is, more or less, the main reason.
EDIT: I think the F/A-18 is a great choice and one hell of a plane. The other options, a potentially obsolete F-15 and a maybe delivered in time F-35 aren't that great.
this is just not how economics works at all
It gives money to US manufacturers by giving money to other countries that they have to use to buy US products.
The propaganda poster you paint here is dubious.
Have you ever looked at a map? Sunni majority nations KSA, Syria, Kuwait, and Turkiye probably have a lot more to do with it than Israel.
Having been to every middle eastern / near eastern /
Balkan / North African nation except Libya, I’m not too afraid of Iran.
Iranians have always treated me better than Israelis or myy my fellow Americans have, even after finding out I’m a queer atheist.
I am. They have sworn to destroy Israel and America. They are developing nuclear weapons to do so. They are funding proxy wars throught the Middle East. They are trying to gain control over syria, iraq, yemen etc. The irgc is probably the best funded terrorist organization in the world https://www.state.gov/foreign-terrorist-organizations/ . I'm afraid of Iran.
KSA, Syria, Kuwait,
and Turkiye probably have a lot more
to do with it than Israel.
Depends what you look for. Most visible, front- line opposition, certainly. But who does all the high profile bombing and intelligence raids and computer hacking? I think it's Israel.
-Iranians have always treated me
better than Israelis or myy my fellow
That's fine! I'm not asking you to hate Iranians, and i'm also not asking you to love Israelis.
What i am asking you is to recognize that Iran is a global threat to peace and that Israel can offer the best answer. I think that's true.
Would it be more honorable if they just invaded countries in the Middle East instead, the way the US does? Of course the US is funding proxy wars as well.
If a beligerant and much more powerful country came across the Atlantic and invaded Mexico and Canada, I know I would want some nukes as a deterrant.
Iran couldn't even defeat Iraq during their brutal eight year conflict. Even if Iran wanted to take over the ME, there is zero chance they would be able to.
Where is your belligerant nation? Not Israel surely. Iran was fine with israel before some terrorist inciters hijacked the country.
In the last 20 years the US has invaded two of Iran's neighbors, Iraq to the west, and Afghanistan to the east.
Racist anti-Iranian propaganda is almost never moderated whereas anything pointing out the reality of the Iranian situation is flagged or down voted to hell.
You wield the site guidelines in bad faith when it comes to Iran.
It sounds as if you may be assuming that it's enough to have a correct opinion. That's not enough. People who have correct opinions (or feel that they do) often believe that their correct opinion entitles them to post as destructively as they please. After all, they're right and their cause is righteous, so what else matters? The answer is that protecting the commons also matters. An internet forum may be a trivial thing, far less important than the fate of a country—nevertheless, those who participate here are responsible for taking care of it. What good does it do the people of Iran, or anyone, if this place goes down in flames?
> Racist anti-Iranian propaganda is almost never moderated whereas anything pointing out the reality of the Iranian situation is flagged or down voted to hell.
Most people who feel strongly about a topic feel that both the moderators and the community are biased against them on the topic. Those perceptions aren't reliable—they're conditioned by distorting factors, such as the tendency to put much greater weight on the posts one dislikes. We don't moderate comments about Iran in any particular way.
Some posts that ought to be moderated don't get moderated, but that's because we don't come close to seeing everything that gets posted here. When people run into an egregious post on a topic that they feel strongly about, they tend to assume that we left it unmoderated on purpose, and jump (inaccurately) to the belief that we must tacitly agree with it. The likelier explanation is that we just didn't see it. Anyone can help with that by flagging the post or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just to be clear, I'm not disagreeing with your interpretation of Iranian history. I'm talking about a repeated pattern of breaking the site guidelines, which is not cool. We ban accounts that do that—we have to, because otherwise everyone starts flaming everyone and soon this place burns to a crisp.
If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and taking the intended spirit of the site more to heart, we'd be grateful. The intended spirit is thoughtful, curious conversation.
America is funding proxy wars throughout the midde east too.
> What i am asking you is to recognize that Iran is a global threat to peace and that Israel can offer the best answer. I think that's true.
We are at war with eastasia. We have always been at war with eastasia.
Sorry bro, I don’t subscribe to trumpism, zionism or americanism. No nation is more of a global threat to peace than the usa.
Broken windows fallacy.
Developed nations don't care because their defense contractors get the money.
if you're proposing something more powerful than that... that sounds like a fantastic weapon. Someone get the Pentagon on the horn, let's get this shit funded!
With apologies to Larry Niven: "A reaction drive's efficiency as a weapon is in direct proportion to its efficiency as a drive."
Republicans (nominally) care about spending, but make an exception for defense. Democrats care less about spending, and are afraid of being attacked for being "weak on defense".
Neither party has any incentive to rein this sort of spending in, so they don't.
The problem is:
1. People need to commute large distances
2. People need to go fast
It can be better solved by removing the majority of commutes and using very fast, efficient, underground mass transport systems to move people when they (rarely) need it.
I’d rather cities and VR were redesigned so the average person doesn’t usually need to go more than 5 kilometers in any direction on a given day.
The F-35, by comparison, was a platform vehicle, with the base suited to adapting to a variety of capabilities and missions. That means more voices demanding priority of features, more expensive engineering to get a variety of polygon pegs into the same round hole, and many first-of-its-kind features for a variety of ancillary tasks.
No real surprise that it didn't work out.
> No real surprise that it didn't work out.
For a humorous presentation of this, watch the movie Pentagon Wars:
Not really. The SR-71 was the final plane of an extended program called OXCART which created the A-12. The program was nominally to replace the U2, but even oxcart was within a large aircraft design plan. There was even a interceptor (YF-12) that was meant for shooting down Valkyrie-class mach3+ bombers. These aircraft were very similar to the 71, so similar that most people seeing them might not spot any difference. Any assessment of the 71's development costs is therefore very difficult.
"YF-12C: Fictitious designation for an SR-71 provided to NASA for flight testing. The YF-12 designation was used to keep SR-71 information out of the public domain."
Distribution is much, much harder!
I'm surprised it got off the drawing boards
It just seems to be what people say when these programs fail, but I don't hear this said about programs that have succeeded.
Not for this project.
ARPA was always kind of a jobs program, but nonetheless it created the internet at the same time as NASA was putting a man on the moon, the government was successfully building the interstate highways and Bell Labs was Bell Labs instead of whatever it is now.
Today we get the F-35 and the Big Dig and whatever other money furnace du jour that consumes more resources than the space race but has yet to put a single human on Mars or make fusion work or cure cancer or whatever else things it could have done but hasn't.
So it's different from those other projects.
-The Prophecy of The Thirteenth Marshmallow
...everything in USA military.
Have we won a war in your parents' lifetimes? Have any of our many military misadventures accomplished any of the goals cited as justification? Has anyone in the Pentagon ever been fired for spending too much money? Does the Pentagon even have any idea what it spends on what?
(The answer to all these questions is "no".)
I don't think they know how. They want cool shit too. Imagine a pork project that also produces cool shit - they would love that.
It was very tricky to avoid getting in trouble.
Putting stuff out to bid was the main thing he managed. When possible he just went with previous winners as it cut down the paperwork needed.
Lot of times someone would come in really low on the bid, he knew the people and that it would be crap product. So lots of work to get higher bids approved.
Also apparently if you get a ride in the company limousine, the drivers have tons of juicy gossip.
The hammer is not actually $1,200. The paperwork can easily be.
Do you have McBride Principles stuff done and documented? Have you trained your staff on McBride principles if they might purchase supplies, documented it and maintained proper documentation (this is about something in Northern Ireland which has very little to do with buying snacks for a kids program). Repeat x100. Where I am the ethnicity / race / national origin stuff is huge, and the different agencies don't have a common set of labels. So you are stuck asking everyone very personal questions even they don't understand. I mean, for ethnicity you are one thing, for race there is another set of labels, so you have to ask them the same race question 4 times under each random set of labels that are being used, for national origin another set etc.
The actual quality of your hammer? Never tested. The details on the paperwork - lots of folks looking and nitpicking. Some of this just starts as a resolution at some level, that gets added on and added on over and over. So some politician will say McBride principles are great. 2 years later a contract analyst or internal auditor asks, how are we documenting / demonstrating compliance with this requirement. They then push their vendors to train staff involved in purchasing on the principles. Then they want documentation of that training. Each one in isolation is a small waste, but at scale it's a monumental waste.
What's even funnier, stuff stays forever. There are requirements in contracts to hand out old IRS forms (W-5) for Advance EITC - that program is long gone, but you still have to hand out the forms - and tell staff that if they fill them out and submit them nothing will happen. Sure builds staff faith in govt efficiency.
You can't even argue this stuff, I used to try and it's a brick wall.
I can't stand it, but if you can push paper and have some political pull it's a gravy train, because cost / quality is so low on the basis of selection list. This tends to attract the wrong type of company (ie, scammers get a lot further than they should, and companies delivering good product don't).
Basically it's the same PITA when it comes to getting things countersigned, approved etc. for spending $200 in parts as it is for spending $2000 in parts. So might as well order in bulk.
At this price point one would assume that you are buying a crimping machine.
But I believe that one of the things that happened to the military aviation industrial complex was that in the WW2, early Cold War era, planes and military development programs were very much driven by individuals or very small teams responsible for designing the requirements, overseeing the planning, and the outcome of new aircraft. That was how you got such distinctive (and long lasting designs) that served well the needs of the military, even in use up to today. Let's call it (using today's fashionable term, "passion" about the aircraft, and unwillingness to put out a piece of crap.) You could name who was responsible for an aircraft design.
But in the 1970s, 1980s, something happened where the size of projects or the professionalization of military projects caused them to have distributed (read, lack of) ownership by very critical people, and instead by an anonymous/dispersed "committee style" management. Also, the experts within the military often left for better pastures at the contractors (NG, LM, etc).
Add to that the requirement (by Congress, regulation) that you couldn't just use your expert / private connections to other experts to "get things done" and bring in contractors who had expertise, and instead had to farm out RFPs to every company, get their bland input, and fill out a heat map of who did what best, and cobble together a solution "mutually acceptable to all stakeholders".
So no longer was an aircraft project owned by someone who had very certain opinions about what was needed, and not needed, and who something should be designed for. But instead, projects follow a certain recipe, hoping that form produces function, yet not actually produce useful output because of what happens when you lack ownership. You cannot today name who is responsible for an aircraft design (I would say). It is the metaphorical side project among many, of a large dispersed group of people.
It seems to me something was missed in the migration to this new method of working.
But as I said, I would love to hear corroborating observations about whether this was a major factor.
- congressional oversight increased, with the result that the purchasing authority is no longer generally the end user. We aren’t just buying a ship (plane, gun, etc.), we’re maintaining a logistics and manufacturing industrial base to produce that type of item (and maintain jobs in congressional districts). So maybe we should buy a few more tanks/ships/bombs than we need so that we don’t forget how. (A bit dubious, but it’s one of the reasons we make the funding decisions we do.)
- risk tolerance shrank. Especially in war time there was a high tolerance for risk if the payoff was big enough. These days our risk tolerance is basically zero. I once had to get an admiral to sign off on a risk hazard assessment with an estimated likelihood of ~1e-18 (you’re more likely to win the powerball jackpot twice). There was a cap that might pop off an item at high speed during flight, and if it hit someone they would probably miss a day of work. By the likelihood/consequence framework for risk management, that meant it required an admiral’s signature. You can’t move fast in an environment like that.
- complexity increased. Old schools systems like a WW2 jeep were designed and prototyped in 40 days because they were incredibly simple and made liberal use of COTS parts. There’s an argument to be made that maybe we don’t need such complex systems to meet requirements, but I don’t think anyone is arguing that we should be replacing all the F-35 fleet with a WW2-style aircraft. (Although there have been proposals to build super-simple aircraft for CAS missions, etc.)
There's a lot of truth here and it plays out in even more ways than that. I look back through documentation of legacy systems and see so many things designed based on "engineering judgement". Sizing for that bearing? Engineering judgement. Thickness of other minor structure? Engineering judgement.
Now, the load on every little thing requires a 50 page engineering calculation report with figures, charts, and tables, that takes 3 months to prepare and another month to get reviewed by everyone. The littlest things now take forever.
In the 50s and 60s when 'engineering judgement' was common, it was a signal to a skilled machinist that "You have more experience with the material, so use your best guess because I don't know what the right answer is".
Things have changed a lot!
1. Material quality is much higher. Which is to say that batch-to-batch variance is vastly reduced. This means that it's worth investing the effort in detailed understanding of the material because that material is more predictable. Which led to ...
2. We understand a _LOT_ more about material science. Our knowledge of materials is vastly higher, so things that used to be 'best guess' are now 'do this because it will reliably work'. e.g. Spallation and galling used to be poorly understood issues that were worked around based on personal experience and guesswork. Now we understand them very well, and any competent manufacturer will clearly explain exactly how to (eg) install their bearing in a way that prevents such issues.
3. Expertise shifted. The 'machinist' is no longer a 20-year experienced highly trained person, but a CNC operator, who probably won't be within eye-sight of the running machine. So the practice of 'increase the RPM until it chatters slightly then back off' doesn't cut it any more. The answer needs to be known up-front to go into the G-code, not 'feel'. This has led to the obvious cycle where more responsibility moved to the engineering end, which increased the demand for exact knowledge, which reduced the requirements on machinists, which led to lower skill, which further moved responsibility to engineering.
So I totally get pining for the era of 'engineering judgement', but it died for a reason and it's not really likely to come back!
It's not so much that I yearn for the era of engineering judgement so much as I yearn for refocusing on work that's important. Not every little decision needs to written up in professional report, circulated around through multiple drafts, signed off by 4-5 people, briefed out in slide deck form, then never read again.
Ironically most modern weapons programs do the exact opposite.
So they cut orders.
Which just makes the per unit costs increase even more.
So they cut orders again.
Repeat until program fails.
Or useful infrastructure, at least.
Building parks & hospitals doesn’t contribute to national defense, and it doesn’t develop or maintain the skills of welders who can join absurdly thick plates in the hull of a ship, or folks who can work with composites and thin aluminum, etc.
I’m not arguing that the system is working or that we have the right balance. But it’s not a simple “don’t build bombs, build hospitals” dichotomy.
Neither does spending astronomical sums on a system that never reaches operational readiness.
The US almost never operates in contested airspace. For that, the F-35 (as the F-22 before it) is overkill.
Do you see a need for manned weapon systems that can survive engagement with other manned weapon systems in the near future? I'm thinking semi-autonomous drones can replace a lot of such systems and, if you can build them quickly and cheaply enough (as in it takes a $1M missile from a $50M plane to down a $1M drone), then you can build lots and lots of them to overwhelm your opponents.
CAS = Close air support
In a "good war" like WW2 we should recognize that fighting that war is worth the risk and that casualties are going to happen. We don't need our own aircraft to compromise their performance to be 99.9% reliable instead of 99%, because we strongly believe we need to e.g. beat Hitler.
15. Never do business with the (damned) Navy!
Not to mention the F-16 itself, which the F-35 was meant to replace:
1972: RFP for prototypes
1974: Maiden flight of the first prototype
1975: Production begins
1980: The aircraft officially enters service
Oddly, they used F-15s to provide escort. This attack took place after two Phantom F-4-E of Iran missed.
The sad thing is when a downturn happens those bureaucrats saying you can't change the logo will probably keep their jobs while the engineers who could probably be making pretty cool stuff if they had better leadership will be out of work.
Having encountered the quality (hahahah ... sob) they produce personally, I'm totally unsurprised US Navy and USMC could find funding a new fleet of space satellites cheaper than re-bribing enough senators to get ALIS (and now ODIN) contract reassigned to someone competent.
It’s a modern remix to the Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich days of developing legendary aircraft at Lockheed’s Skunkworks that you lamented the loss of.
People in the know confirm it’s legit and shocking, in a good way. Especially compared to the failures of the F-35 and even the F-22’s development.
First of all how many years have we been hearing about how we'll have fully autonomous vehicles just around the corner? At least a decade.
How many years have we been hearing that human-like AI is just around the corner? At least since the 60's.
I'm skeptical (although optimistic) about massive tech breakthroughs in general. Even more so when it comes to military tech since so many in the mil. industrial complex stand to benefit from the trillions that the DoD sloughs off every few years for the next big thing.
Not an aviator but spent almost a decade in the military. You used to hear all the time about the latest and greatest tech that was going to change the way we fight.
At least in my nearly 10 years nothing really changed in any substantial way. incremental improvements, sure but no massive breakthroughs like are continually trumpeted in popular press.
I hope you're right though!
They call it AI, but the "intelligence" there is just a name.
General AI showing up will be kind of like the discovery of quantum mechanics and the nuclear bomb. No matter how much speculative fiction we write about it, we won't be able to predict ahead of time how transformative it will be on society once it actually exists.
But the right software would cost a lot of money, and since it would be new, it would need customer buy-in up front (aerospace is in some ways very risk averse when it comes to adopting new workflow tech).
I think there's a revolution waiting to happen in bringing down aerospace design cost and schedule and increasing the ability to iterate on designs. I'm hoping NGAD is the sign of something big that will trickle down soon to the civilian aerospace world.
We saw many advances during world War I and world War II because instead of rewarding companies with contracts that voted for politicians, all everyone cared about was defeating the enemy.
My suggestion is that the military should put out specs for what it wants and then put out big cash prizes for getting it done similar to what was done with the Covid vaccine. Say a $1 billion prize for a modern tank design. And then a fixed price for each one delivered thereafter.
Anyway, k8s is mostly for lower-criticality software to be quickly added/removed, iirc, partly because unlike the normal avionics setup it allows dynamic addition/removal.
For a humorous take on the U.S. military platform problem, look for a movie called The Pentagon Wars  starring Kelsey Grammar and Cary Elwes. It came out in 1998, and very little has changed since then.
He also was staunch supporter of replicating Volksjäger concept, which was fortunately laughed out of the room (even dumbest Soviet design at the time wasn't that dumb)
We do everything opposite these days: no thinking about requirements, huge teams, no budget, off-the-shelf everything, over-think everything, OK with failure (because golden parachutes, team churn, and "blameless" culture), and wait 5 months for the bulldozers to get shipped here.
The problem today is that we've got no damn clue who we're meant to be fighting against and it's been 30 years since the US has engaged in a war where air superiority was even an issue. The level of development in the US right now isn't "We need to build a system that's better than North Korea's" it's more like "Hey guys, I totally think we could build a system that plucks NK's ICBMs out of the air before they even jettison their first shroud".
There's no reason clear and direct motivation for these systems. So the purpose gets lost and we build something with a thousand bells and whistles because we're desperately trying to find some reason for it to exist.
If you give smart people with a good idea a lot of resources to chase it while insulating them from people who want to measure/validate/manage/mandate, you often get good results and sometimes get complete failures.
It is a problem of middle management interfering with the development process, red tape, trying to do everything at once, and requirements that constantly change.
I read a headline and article like that and my immediate reaction is the military leader probably wants to make a name for himself spearheading a new plane – ambition on the part of customers in military acquisition is a real problem. (why are navy ships so big? because navy captains wouldn't feel as important with more, smaller ships)
The problems have little to do with the end-stage production manufacturing, and a lot to do with the engineering R&D.
The SR-71 was designed to do one thing. Go fast and take pictures. It didn't carry bombs. They eventually tried to put a drone on it and it didn't work and was abandoned.
You don't even have to look back as far as the SR-71 though, the F-22 was a reasonably successful program - bumpy, expensive, but it produced what is the world's preeminent air-superiority fighter. It is not a bomb truck, it does not land on carriers. It does one thing well.
Others are not wrong about the fact that the F-35's merit to Congress was as a jobs program, either. This is in fact what a lot of military spending really is. We build tanks only to drive them into the desert and store them, all to keep those production lines running and keep people employed. They could be building trains or something else equally well.
The underlying problem there is that the US political system has become byzantine and cumbersome. When "played" adversarially with all "players" using the maximum extent of their political powers, it takes supermajority control of all three branches of government to govern. This has promoted a byzantine system on top of that to try and come up with mechanisms to fix a broken, unfair, and non-representative process. Massive over-spending on military as opposed to other types of government-sponsored research, production, etc are only one side effect of that.
The importance of this engineering principle cannot be overstated. It applies to everything - from home appliances to spacecraft to software.
But most importantly those are synergistic, they form a coherent whole, we even say one thing, because it does so well at these things simultaneously that we now consider it almost inseparable.
And yeah do all this while being cheap and maintainable. It’s basically a unicorn.
JPL just landed Perseverance, and we have had weekly SpaceX launches with successful stage recoveries (thought to be impossible), Falcon Heavy sent a 1st Gen Tesla Roadster which is orbiting Mars as we speak... Thiel's windmill powered Bitcoin operation in Texas, which likely froze last week, is another example of how absurd his statement is. I think Thiel is not liked because he uses hyperbole to make blanket statements that are clearly not true. And his business acumen much like his actual tech skills, are dubious at best despite being immensely wealthy.
The US will always be a leader in innovation in the World, I'd argue this is the larges concentration of talent the World has ever seen, including Florence during the enlightenment.
What we have a problem with is an absurd amount of useless bureaucrats, politicians, lobbyists, Industries that get in the way and all want their slice of the pie for nothing more than being a middleman and ultimately pay no taxes to re-invest in the education of said future talent, all while the entrepreneurs and talented labour take all the risk and get little to no reward for their efforts due to a depreciating fiat currency and ever increasing taxes and more and more diminishing social mobility due the aforementioned concentration of wealth.
CRISPR is not going to solve much if any of your problems, maybe your kid's but not yours. If you think the US cannot build amazing things, and is somehow not a leader in this the problem is with you and, I guess Thiel.
As opposed to the other PayPal dude that is building spacecraft. It's more about what Peter Thiel can't do.
I'm actually quite tired of it and I'm looking elsewhere.
I think that I am misunderstanding this paragraph. You mean the speed at which a new inventions was put into production, right?
It could be my English failing me but putting it through a translator did not help.
We will probably never learn the truth as none of us were there.
I have always been told that Japan was already ready to surrender and that dropping the bombs was simply the first step into the cold war -- a bombing to show strength to the USSR.
"The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace. The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military point of view, in the defeat of Japan." - Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet
"The use of [the atomic bombs] at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons" - Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, President Truman's Chief of Staff
"The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment ... It was a mistake to ever drop it ... [the scientists] had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it." - Fleet Admiral William Halsey Jr., 1946
The key debate within Japanese leadership was what conditions of surrender to accept. They'd known for some time they were going to lose, but hoped to drag out an invasion of Japan enough to get better concessions, keep the Emperor in power etc.
The nuclear bombings ended up not playing a huge role in their decision making. At the time all the major cities in Japan had been firebombed except Kyoto. The fission bomb technology was shocking, but ultimately it meant they did with one bomb what had already been happening via thousands. When the US firebombed Tokyo it killed over 100,000 people in a single night, mostly women, elderly men, and children. McNamara has said he believes he'd have been convicted of war crimes for that had the US not emerged the winner.
Russia steamrolling through Manchuria in just under 30 days, utterly routing the Japanese forces there weighed heavily on the minds of Japan's leadership. Once Russia declared war and was clearly committed to being part of the invasion of Japan, they realized they most likely would not be able to extract concessions by further resistance.
It's a bit more complex than all that, and there is a debate among historians on details of these points, but I believe it's reasonably accurate. The simple narrative that it saved US lives is a way of avoiding looking at just how ugly things got.
I'm also not from the US, and I was similarly surprised when I found their position on this piece of history differs with how it's learned in pretty much the rest of the world.
Speak to someone outside the US about the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: most, if not all, will say it was a terrible thing, almost a war crime. In some (Western!) countries the consensus is that it was a crime, but because it was perpetrated by the victor, it went unpunished. We outside of the US are also aware of the dissenters who spoke against the bombing, how it wasn't necessary, etc.
Speak about the same with someone from the US: more likely than not, they'll admit it was a terrible thing, but emphasize it was necessary to win the war, how the Japanese were fanatical and weren't going to surrender without heavy bloodshed, etc.
If anything, it's an interesting exploration of national perceptions...
But from the American perspective: it's easy to buy into the false narrative that the nuclear bombs "saved lives." We've all been raised with this notion that American is Inherently Good and that anything Bad America did was for the Greater Good.
The Post-911 world has made it more socially acceptable to say that the country isn't inherently good (well, maybe the Post-GFC world). We are allowed to acknowledge the atrocities perpetrated in the past and have more open and honest discussions about it.
I think portraying it as the "truth" isn't very accurate. There's many versions of history and none is the "truth".
Right before the bombs were dropped, the US was in a situation where they were trying to end WW2 and they did not want the Soviets to invade Japan (which they did anyways).
Before Trinity, the US was bombing the hell of out of Japan already. ~100K Japanese died in Toyko in a single night , and other cities were being bombed also. The US was also under the impression (because of a few previous land invasions) that the Japanese were fighting to the death. There were mass suicides of 1000s because the Japanese wanted to die instead of get captured . (The emperor did not agree to the Potsdam Declaration after until the 2nd bomb was dropped) The US was planning to invade but then Trinity worked and we of course didnt.
I'm from the US, and I did not learn anything I am saying in school, I read it on my own accord. It may be wrong, but if it is wrong, tell me why it is wrong so I can learn what is right.
Basically, if you are not from the US, what scenario do the education systems think would have played out if Truman didnt ok the bombs? Also, given the US avoided the land invasion, how did that not save lives (US lives, but lives nonetheless)?
Japan knew it had lost the war. The only question remaining were the conditions of surrender. Japan hoped that they would be able to negotiate a conditional surrender, with the help of the Soviet Union. Then the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, on August 8, 1945, by invading Manchuria, forcing Japan in accepting an unconditional surrender.
To quote wikipedia: "The Soviet entry into the war was a significant factor in the Japanese government's decision to surrender unconditionally, as it made apparent that the Soviet Union was not willing to act as a third party in negotiating an end to hostilities on conditional terms" 
Another quote: "The Japanese army went so far as to believe that they would not have to engage a Soviet attack until spring 1946. But the Soviets surprised them with their invasion of Manchuria, an assault so strong [...] that Emperor Hirohito began to plead with his War Council to reconsider surrender." 
Personally I don't think we will ever know why Japan War Council members made this decision. Even if the members were still alive, we (humans) have a tendency to rationalize decisions after the fact. Between nuclear bombs, that new war in Manchuria, loss of lives, and ultimately loss of hope, reasons to surrenders were aplenty.
US will push the US narrative, and dismiss the Soviet Union. Russia will do the opposite. I'm neither American nor Russian so I don't really care one way or the other.
What I find interesting is how the average US person and the average Westerner (I.e. people in the US sphere of influence during the Cold War) differ on this. To the former, it was a necessary act -- terrible but just -- to end the war. To the latter, it's an abhorrent and immoral act committed by the US.
More importantly, the US seems unaware of how the rest of the world remembers the atomic bombings. It seems many in the US readily accept the Vietnam war was immoral (the domino theory becoming less and less accepted as justification), but not as many think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki likewise.
To repeat it once more: I'm not that interested in discussing whether it was moral or justified (I've had my share of this discussion over the years) but more on why the perception of the US and the rest of the world differs so much.
That is a shockingly flippant quote that shows a lack of critical analysis. Disappointing.
There was a political message in bombing Japan that communicated to Russia (and supported China). There was utility for the US. The Japanese were both divided and weighing on who to surrender to. The Japanese Imperial Army were notoriously staunch in their bushido teachings and with a lack of cohesion at the highest ranks, some would undoubtedly continue to follow orders. eg There were tens of thousands ready to repel an American land invasion in Kyushu* It had the desired effect in practical Japanese military planning.
Agreed, outside the US this is a common understanding. If you've visited the Hiroshima museum in Japan, you'll note that's also the stated position of the museum: the purpose of the bombings was not so much to defeat Japan, but to show Russia what the US was technically capable of and willing to pull off (I can't remember the exact words, but this is the gist of the museum's position). I'm not saying the museum is impartial on this topic, of course -- that's just an example, and there are many outside Japan too.
However, I've noticed that in online discussions with people from the US, they often don't acknowledge this. Perhaps because as a strategy it was long-term and cold-blooded. So they focus on how Japan was a genocidal empire, how the average citizen blindly followed the Emperor and would fight to the death, how the atomic bombs helped prevent more bloodshed, etc.
A similar issue is how Band of Brothers, an otherwise excellent show, re-enforced the idea that D Day happened to stop the holocaust. Those who've read a bit more history however know it was to stop the soviets from marching all the way to Portugal, and that the US and allies declined to take even simple measures like bombing the railway lines to the death camps to fight the holocaust. In particular the treatment of holocaust survivors like a game of hot potato afterwards makes clear what the priorities actually were.
Great book nonetheless.
Science continues on and incredible discoveries are made all the time. But when it comes to building incredible things... there just isn’t any push for it right now.
Not an affiliate link: https://www.amazon.com/Kelly-More-Than-Share-All/dp/08747449...
You think that's bad? In Canada my government funded the F-35 program but we're not buying any F-35 jets. Spending a bit less than $1 billion for nothing.
We take the miraculous for granted when it’s frequent, sigh about the things we don’t have, and declare its all terrible.
I don’t have a fully formed opinion around how I feel about defense spending, but it’s definitely complicated.
Also, most digital technology is developed outside of the government procurement / military industrial complex, so all the problems inherent to those systems do not apply.
If the Singularity is reachable, it doesn't depend on the ability to create aircraft or weapons of any sort, whereas it would be impossible to reach the Singularity without digital technology.
If you compare the speed of innovation between now and 30 years ago, the change is quite dramatic.
There will not ever be a Singularity.
Sure, probably for them that will just look like how it looks now to us.
The first is that all the "cool shit" we built in the first half of the century was the low-hanging fruit of new scientific understandings and materials.
It's not that we were smarter, it's nothing to do with toxicity, it's just that we exhausted most of what you can easily do with nuclear, steel, engines, etc.
The second misunderstanding is that we're not still building amazing things. Being able to access Wikipedia or Google through speech recognition, or talk to anyone in the world from a cheap videophone in your pocket, is astonishing.
And the third is that flying cars somehow respresent the future. But flying car enthusiasts only focus on the "cool" aspect of it, rather than nuts-and-bolts issues like how they could be fuel efficient, how an average driver will avoid fatal crashes, if we really want urban skies filled with visual, noise and emissions pollution, etc. Flying cars exist. But they don't make any economic or practical sense to use.
If you think we're still not accomplishing astonishing things today, you're not paying attention. Did you notice, for example, how multiple companies put together COVID vaccines in record time? How is that not amazing?
In trying to map out whether I could get from my house to my local airport exclusively on roads with 30 mph or lower speed limits, I had a hard time proving it. All of the obvious routes that I actually use had at least one segment with a speed limit of 35 mph or higher, which is barred by my state law (Massachusetts).
Terrible. Absolutely hopeless. Every few years I have another go at speech recognition, and it still sucks.
Or you're dictating an urgent message on your watch while you're out running without your phone.
Or, you know, you're physically impaired.
I'm actually surprised that the watch would work for that without the phone.
It wouldn't have network, so it works offline by itself and saves the urgent message until it regains a network connection?
I'm very thankful that I'm not physically impaired so I'm not forced to rely on the garbage that is the current state of voice commands.
I find it so infuriating to use that I won't do it, but you go for it. Perhaps your training data will improve it enough to eventually arrive at a usable state.
Well actually we've had 280 characters since 2017. Talk about progress!
The main point is the classification: Flying Cars vs 140 Characters or Bits vs Atoms. FB is worth almost $1trn. No real technical achievements or advancement. If fb didn't exist, something else would be the friendster. Tesla, Apple, MSFT, Google, etc. are closer to the flying cars end of that spectral dichotomy. We could debate where.
Thiel attracts antagonists in the same way like leftists do. Paypal, Palantir, his capital allocation theories & such are not very performant on his own flying cars VS 140 characters test. It's a hazard of being an idealist. The traditional question a leftist authors get (chomsky, etc) is about selling his books on amazon.
But yes. There certainly is a lot of failure in western economies, especially in the "public-private" realm. These aren't constructive failures, and this sort of stuff is deeply limiting. You know, cutting edge aerospace engineering is risky. Let's take easier examples. Why can't we procure buildings or do basic infrastructure without scandals and runaway costs?
Ancient civilizations managed to build incredible aqueduct systems, public buildings, etc. We've regressed.
Huge communication networks is what the internet does. Social networks always proliferate online. They're not technically that hard to build. Etc. We're not going to want for any of the "goods" that fb provides. That overall space is abundant.
This feels like an extreme take.
(Most) Every city in America has a functional clean water delivery network. Every city has electricity. Most cities have sewage. Most cities have very nice paved roads.
This is billions of miles of pipes, wires, roads, bridges, dams... Billions. And you're comparing what the US, and actually most economies, have accomplished in this domain to a handful of ancient roman aqueducts made of stone, transporting barely potable water, and saying that modern society has regressed? That's wild.
The public library in my city of ~800,000 people is twice the size of the Parthenon. Hell, there's a LITERAL 1:1 Parthenon replica in Nashville TN, which they basically built for the hell of it as a showcase for a fair. Across the street from me, they just finished up construction on a (I dare say, beautiful and modern) 32 story apartment building; a building like that would be the singular crown jewel of an ancient civilization, more advanced and useful than anything Rome ever built, and its not even remotely the only one in my 3rd tier US city, let alone worldwide.
Sure, the Pyramids of Giza are impressive. 455 feet tall, probably took a lifetime to build. You know who has a bigger pyramid? Fucking North Korea; the Ryugyong Hotel, 1082 feet tall, constructed in 1992. The Luxor Pyramid in Las Vegas is 350 feet tall, and its part of a fucking casino. The Memphis Pyramid in Tennessee, 321 feet tall, and its a BASS PRO SHOP. The pride-and-joy of Ancient Egypt, the effort of an entire civilization for decades, is nearly replicated in the US, and we use it to sell bait and tackle for fishing.
Is that regression? No. Its progression. We've gotten so good at putting buildings up and laying infrastructure that people are no longer impressed by any of it. Its easy to look at a Roman aqueduct as a massive feat of engineering; no one sees the miles upon miles of pipes below an average city that enable you to turn on a faucet and always have water (anomalous events aside like bad storms or the Flint crisis).
And now, squarely in the 21st century: No one sees the thousands of servers it takes to power google.com. No one sees the billions of miles of tiered fiber criss-crossing the country. No one sees the ten million dollar cooling systems, and the billions of person-hours that went into making it possible for you to search for "boobs" and receive back 1.4 billion fully indexed and browseable results. People ignore the 3.8 million pixels used to display those results on your screen. They disregard the 13.2 billion transistors in their graphics card, capable of 12 trillion floating point operations per second, and that any human in the country can order a laptop that has all of this and have it delivered to their doorstep in 48 hours. Even more impressively; most people can afford it.
The problem isn't that we've regressed. The problem is that we've lost appreciation for where we have progressed. Sure, a lot of it is by private corporations; but a lot of it isn't. And if that's what it takes to actually drive humanity forward, maybe that's the path we need to take.
(It's not even a miserable goddamned eyesore on account of being monumental! If they'd faced it in basalt or nitrided steel, it could be an amazing excrescence of the Blade Runner aesthetic into reality, and I'd love it. But, in a literally blinding display of architectural tastelessness, they had to go and make it reflective...)
> In 2015, the Pyramid re-opened as a Bass Pro Shops "megastore", which includes shopping, a hotel, restaurants, a bowling alley, and an archery range, with an outdoor observation deck adjacent to its apex.
I was going to make a Laser Moon joke , but then I read further down in the same article and saw that the Pyramid does in fact now also have laser tag, and I just don't know how to top that.
I'm mean that we're having a very hard time with problems that are ultimately tractable. Pyramids, aqueduct systems and other impressive endeavours were big achievements. They put a lot of resources into these things, pushed boundaries and succeeded. When it comes to public works these days, it seems that fiasco avoidance is the high bar we set.
Can we add a train system to a city from scratch? Impossible. More expensive than WW2. Think smaller. Well... such things aren't impossible. They're just hard. Equivalent projects have succeeded in the past.
The lobbyists destroyed those types of programs.
We used to have a pipeline for PhD candidates to these government programs, but that doesn't seem to exist anymore.
Speaking of unpopular guys, Musk's Tesla and SpaceX are very much "skunkworks" companies. Maybe the US could, say, incubate more companies like that? The irrational hate of Musk reflects America's deep and strong anti-intellectual anti-nerd anti-engineering popular culture bias. Sure Musk isn't a boy scout, but the list of evil noxious business executive that are objectively worse than Musk in the last 50 years is probably about 10,000 to 20,000 longer than anything Musk has done. Possibly 100,000. Huge numbers of healthcare insurance, petroleum, defense, mining, and manufacturing executives. Microsoft and Intel's run of market manipulation and monopoly. Cable/Telephone companies sitting on their monopolies.
The 50s and 60s still had the overarching group achievement and patriotism from WWII. But our modern era has steadily fallen more and more to greed, apathy, laziness, and especially narcissism.
This is a strategic approach that both jacks up the price and gives you plenty of powerful allies who will fight to keep the program afloat.
They could very put such an aircraft together at half the cost and time if cost and time were targets for the people deciding to fund this.
IMO AI progress in the last 10 years has drastically exceeded reasonable expectations.
You can buy a helicopter any time you want.
I meant that we discovered fission and then we built a bomb in under 6 years. Even if you disagree with the outcome of what happen in Japan, the Manhattan Project was an amazing scientific accomplishment, and there is no way the US could do something of that scale, scientifically in 2021.
Still, I think it's pretty hard to compare engineering achievements like this. Is it harder to make a fission bomb in 6 years with 1940s technology, or a COVID vaccine in 1 year with 2020s technology?
Also, I seems like we could be having this conversation in 1940 about an american battleship program.
The COVID vaccine was an achievement, without a doubt, but i still think we need time to see how effective it will be as the virus mutates and make sure there are no long term side affects. If the vaccines achieve herd immunity ends the pandemic then history will be very kind to it and the scientists that created it.
One thought is the actual creating of the vaccine must have been considerable less complicated than the atom bombs if it was really created in one day.
Nuclear reactor design: mostly already considered by the Navy in the 50s and 60s.
Space Exploration: Space shuttle was reusable too. Rockets that could land were demonstrated in the 90s IIRC (admittedly SpaceX improved on this quite a bit).
Electric/Renewable Powered Aircraft: Soviet Union had a hydrogen powered airliner.
I'm not saying the new stuff isn't impressive. It is and those small improvements add up to a lot, but it's not revolutionary in the way a jet engine or a nuclear reactor was.
> had it through FDA trials in under a year.
That was by political decision, at least that is my understanding.
The science that made this possible was in the works for decades, and it took Moderna and BioNTech many many years to get the technology right.
So that's many years of effort with the stated goal of getting a vaccine out the door fast when it's needed. But there was relatively little "science" left to be done when COVID struck.
The only interesting aspect here are the logistics to make vaccines in the required quantities, and honestly it's not looking too great, considering where we are with vaccinations. Though maybe it just wouldn't have been possible to make doses any quicker, regardless of effort.
So, yeah, I'm fully aware of it, I was just responding to the comment above, using the same context. (The very point of the mRNA vaccines is that they are a generic and easy to use platform where we can get a vaccine candidate very quickly.)
I think it is more likely for everyone involved, team, management, project, product, client, end user etc, to understand & accept that you have to make tradeoffs when you are on a tight time frame and/or budget. You solve one thing, not a hundred different things, even though they can be equally as important in the grand scheme of things.
F-35 tried to replace fighters in three different branches (Air force, Navy and Marine) and be multirole and also do close ground support, all with a long time frame and huge budget.
Some tradeoffs can be solved with a bigger budget, but many tradeoffs can't. If you want your bombs to be stored inside the fuselage to be more stealthy like the F-35, then of course the fuselage will become bigger, thus creating more drag. No amount of money will change that.
F-35 seems from the outside like a project that didn't understand & accept tradeoffs.
Nobody else in the industry can achieve what SpaceX have done successfully 40 times.
Elon makes it pretty clear in this tweet it's very financially sound to bring back a booster
"Payload reduction due to reusability of booster & fairing is <40% for F9 & recovery & refurb is <10%, so you’re roughly even with 2 flights, definitely ahead with 3"
I highly doubt they hit break-even with only two launches, the math just doesn't add up.
If reusing rocket was so profitable, there is a high chance someone else would have done it before. Landing a rocket isn't totally new tech. NASA did it on the moon 50y ago.
The latest numbers are that the marginal cost of relaunch is $15 million, with $10 million of that the second stage. Refurbishment cost is 27 days with a $1 million refurbishment cost (not $250,000 as I mistakenly said in the video, see description). The net effect is the cost of marginal cost of reflight is approximately 25% but the payload reduction is 30%, which leads to a break even point of 3 launches. After 10 flights, the cost to orbit per kilogram is halved. SpaceX has demonstrated 8 flights of a single booster.
Note, these are all using SpaceX's own numbers (but so was the payload reduction and original reuse cost figures). It depends on recovering the $6 million fairing (which does not happen every mission). All numbers are sourced from an Aviation Week May 2020 podcast that I linked to. Yes, the cost numbers are from SpaceX but the only public refurbishment cost analogue we have is their 27 day turnaround time.
SpaceX are currently operating at a sixth of the rest of the industry and use their cost advantage to launch 60 Starlink satellites at their $15 million marginal cost.
The traditional military-industrial complex with cost-plus accounting is "subcontractors all the way down", and the incentives weren't aligned to make an industry dominating rocket until arguably the 1990s commercial satellite boom (eg, the original Iridium constellation). Until 2008, there hadn't ever been a privately funded rocket reach orbit ever. Until SpaceX. Prior rockets we designed, owned and approved by the US government under World War 2-era cost-plus accounting arrangements.
> If reusing rocket was so profitable, there is a high chance someone else would have done it before.
AFAIK it is only like 10-12 years that computers and engineering software got good enough to simulate everything that happens in a rocket engine, sloshing of fuel etc. Cruder simulations were available before, but not good enough for that.
SpaceX engineers did most of the design and testing on computers. It took them only a few tries in the real world to nail the first landing.
Earlier pioneers would have to try in practice, which would mean a lot more failures and a lot more money, with a possible deadly incident in between.
- Reliability and insurance costs
- limited number of launches
- refurbishment costs of boosters ompared to new ones
- heavier and more expensive boosters to make them reusable
This paper was way before SpaceX tried that. And whther or not reusable boosters are really a financial success is impossible to tell without published financials from SpaceX. The paper alsosaid, that reusable boosters become interessting with a high number of commercial launches, something they didn't see to happen. And that part alone makes Starlink so interessting, because it is basically SpaceX increasing its own number of launches.
I did some analysis based on these numbers in this 8 minute video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36o4UrS9OS4
EASA is the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. I think you meant to say ESA, the European Space Agency? But ESA's not that relevant here, as the European governments fund and develop launch services through Arianespace, a consortium of space industry companies led by the French aerospace companies Airbus and Safran.
Correction aside, I agree with your point that Arianespace did underestimate SpaceX.
I think you bring up great points. This could be a case of low hanging fruit being picked. We are at the point where everything being added is just bells and whistles since the foundation has already been built.
And if you have it, the government has already shown it is willing and capable enough to confiscate it.
The only way to make money is to be willing to sell when things look like they are going down the drain.
And if things are ever that far gone, we are back to a barter economy.
Hyperinflation isn't something a central bank is causing. It's a response to an underlying event. It happens precisely when the government has no choice but to print money.
Right now the US government has zero obligations that force it to produce more dollars. The stimulus packages are entirely voluntary and designed to help the economy and therefore reduce the need for future stimulus.
Until you start executing companies (or CEOs) for incompetence you will keep getting the same results.
Are capable of.
The SR-71 remains a marvel and it's unlikely that we could build something better today with the same design constraints. Which is part of why the successors to the SR-71 removed the on-board pilot (UAV) or the ability to lift-off without aid (satellites).
If you're a defense contractor, none of it. If you're a tax-payer, all of it...
What about the long term? Fuck the long term. It is all about quarters, and short term bonuses.
This is the curse with a lot of these technologies.
Add to this the office politics, corruption and big players crushing any hint of competition and you have general stagnation.
I have read about the eventual failure of the F35 for years now. The naysayers had solid arguments but were ostracized by people with conflict of interest.
I sadly agree. Unis spend so much time teaching CAD software, processes, etc, you wonder how much understanding engineering grads actually have. I just think we've stagnated as a technological society. We rely so much on computers to do everything, that we can't innovate in the same way anymore. Unless our new x has an onboard super-computer, we just can't get it to do anything.
That's interesting. The popular sentiment in programming world seem to be Unis don't tech practical stuff enough, or interviews for (junior) developers don't test their practical knowledge enough- a point I always found a bit strange.
In an engineering department (as in not CS) I'd say the bias is overwhelmingly towards the math end of the spectrum, partly because faculty largely don't even keep up with the technology. You'd have to heavily revise your course constantly (imagine teaching how to use google products...). Plus it just feels less worthwhile teaching things that will become obsolete in a few years.
Oh and by the way we need to teach them to write better too. Kids can't communicate these days. And economics. And ethics. It ends up being a very tight squeeze we can cram in maybe two courses on programming if it's a top priority.
In a way, F-35 (but also recent F-16) suffer from related issues, where the complexity of maintenance is staggering, and the tools you're given to help manage that suck too much.
I think the point might be that there might be a sweet spot somewhere between
- demanding Java code to be created by students using only Notepad and javac
- just teaching the latest js trends
I think it is fully possible - and a lot more motivating - to teach theoretical problems hand in hand with practical problems.
Recognizing that is a big assumption of truth, would anyone here be willing to posit an explanation?
Basically nobody is willing to take any risk for anything.
This is on every level, from being wrong about a simple decision all the way up to not taking any personal risk with your life.
And it’s impossible to argue against it because at any point you can always make an argument for reduction of risk, and anyone arguing against it is demonized.
How can you argue against more health and safety standards after all? More rigourous engineering standards? More environmental protection standards? More consultation with the public?
But it’s not just a government thing, it’s on a societal level. In large companies it’s the same exact phenomenon of buck passing and responsibility dodging.
Each thing only has a tiny multiplicative cost, but the sum total of all of it is the inability to make any progress.
What else is there to build? Spaceships? For what? We’ve seen Mars and the Moon. More military crap? USA already won now it’s just showing off. AI stuff? Turns out people think it’s creepy and they like to keep their jobs anyway because it makes them money. Mega structures and arcologies? NIMBY!
We’re in the long tail of cool shit now. Each generation gets harder and harder to impress.
For me personally, I think it's just the point we're at in the current technological revolution (in the Carlota Perez sense). We're due for a new one (maybe biotech, eg. driven by crispr, mrna, etc.) so things feel stale.
That explains it right there if you take the theory as true. WW2, Cold War. I mean even the moon landing was part of that cold war era technology advancement.
So now instead of governments/military pushing for needs, it's now companies trying to innovate for money. Which can work, but you need CEOs to take risks like Musk or even Jobs.
But also opportunity. Even widespread mains electricity is fairly new back then, there were a lot of fairly obvious opportunities to quickly exploit.
We don't invest in research like we should.
"Fission was discovered in 1938/1939 and we dropped two bombs on Japan in 1945. No chance we could do something like that in this toxic environment of today"
I believe some people consider WW2 and the nuclear wipeout of 2 cities of common people to be "toxic environment", too.
: Yeah, I know there are other EV manufacturers, Tesla is really not competing with them at this stage and never really was.
To be rather blunt about it, much of his rhetoric is ultimately just about saying indirect forms of "let John Galt do whatever he wants and be grateful peasant."
This is why he's financially supported Yarvin, who quite literally wants to turn the world into a technocratic monarchy, with some very nasty "scientific racism" style stuff mixed in. It's a drop in the bucket compared to Thiel's wealth, but he clearly has no problem providing millions of dollars in support of this kind of thinking.
Also pay attention to how Palantir does business. They behave very similarly to Lockhead Martin when it comes to over promising their technology and under delivering in order to pull as much money off the table as possible, including from governments.
With regard to Yarvin I have no idea what Yarvin wants because he takes 10,000 words to explain himself and I can never find the energy to finish reading anything by him. He has a much less long winded brother who has a somewhat interesting blog though (totally unrelated topics to the better known Yarvin). I do think it is good that people like Thiel support these sort of thinkers though. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and I'm sure some of their ideas have merit.
There are some great interviews from the 70s on YouTube with some of the first high ranking officials within NASA speaking rather candidly about how terrible it was there. Everyone hated them: Congress, Military Brass, the American public.
And btw the advancements in batteries and EV is exactly what is needed actually do flying cars, if that is even a good idea in the first place.
Government programs are often massively badly managed, politically captured, this is not new. But it doesn't mean nobody is inventing anything new anymore.
> Fission was discovered in 1938/1939 and we dropped two bombs on Japan in 1945. No chance we could do something like that in this toxic environment of today.
Are you for real? It is hard to find any more toxic place in resent history then during the horrors of World War 2.
This time saw a holocaust with forced labor and mass killings of religious and ethnic minorities in multiple countries accross at least 3 continents. It saw indiscriminate bombing of heavy civilian population centers in densely populated centers in Asia and Europe. It saw mass famine and starvation in several regions of the world. About 3% of the entire world population died in these horrors, and many more lost their homes and livelihoods.
And you mention the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as some kind of an achievement. Between 129,000–226,000 people died in that terror, and two whole cities were leveled to the ground, with the mass homelessness and medical and social emergencies that follows.
Perhaps it is not your intention to devalue these horrors and you are simply trying emphasize what was possible when the political climate was more unified. But please be careful with your words. Don’t describe our time as toxic while glorifying the most toxic times ever witnessed in our recent history.
Alas, building machines of destruction seems to the prerogative.
Imo, it is cool shit.
In general I don't think that we've forgotten how to build cool shit. It's just that in a lot ways we don't have the incentive to do so anymore. When we DO have the incentive (like with COVID) we are capable of feats of engineering an innovation that are amazing. More to the point, the incentives now seem to work against rapid innovation. We tend to think of infrastructure projects and defense projects as jobs programs so nobody wants it to be done quickly.
But it is true that when there is no particular urgency, the multiplication of bureaucracy and regulations compounded with the complexity of modern technologies makes it difficult to deliver cheap and fast.
The year over year progress on computing power/efficiency/size is beyond impressive. Modern computer hardware is an amazing feat of engineering.
The first complete sequences of the Human Genome was completed in 2003, as part of the Human Genome Project which started in 1990. Total cost of $100,000,000. That's actually not so expensive given the payoff is literally a complete copy of our own genetic code. Today, less than 20 years later, the cost of sequencing that same genome is about $1,000.
The LHC? Super fucking cool.
We do build cool shit. Incredibly cool shit. WAY cooler than dumb ass killing machines like fission bombs and space-age fighter jets. And BTW, going from fission in theory to something actually useful for doing something other than killing people did take a couple decades (first nuke power plant turned on in 1954).
We can build all that cool shit you want, too. Flying cars? We've been able to do that for decades. You don't have a flying car because you'd almost certainly end up killing yourself or someone else and probably couldn't afford the fuel to operate it on the daily. There's a reason you can't just rent a Cessna and go out for a joy ride without any training.
The "no cool shit" thesis always uses killing machines and rich person toys as examples. I don't want stupid rich person toys that even rich people don't actually use when they get them (flying cars). I want to be able to Zoom with my parents during a pandemic.
Want an example of crazy cool shit we just accomplished?
Covid vaccine. Creating a vaccine/testing in less than a year and now distributing it at such a massive scale will likely go down in history as an event akin to the Manhattan Project.
The first thing that springs to mind is the fact that the covid-19 vaccine was imagined, developed and started to be synthesized over the course of a single weekend.
Piggy-backing off the efforts of mRNA vaccines for the past decade or two, and existing efforts for personalized cancer immuno-oncology vaccines.
There ain't no chance you figure out the lipid nanoparticle magic in a weekend.
(Indeed, it's not really figured out: what we have is inadequate for mRNA drugs, which are the holy grail... but the shortcomings were realized to be useful for vaccines ~a decade ago).
Tik Tok stars and Twitch bros and ethots are making multi million dollars playing games.
This country can’t build a functioning high speed rail system, that other countries built 30 years ago. How can we build an airplane now?
Public school teachers and teachers unions are opposed to opening schools. They never cared about kids and education.
US is at bread and circuses stage of decline. Time to accept reality and deal with it appropriately.
Do things 10x better he says, and then you will have so much network effect that you can do things 10x worse and people still have a hard time getting rid of you.