File under "Doh!"

From the WSJ.

Merrill Lynch chief John Thain has suggested to directors that he get a 2008 bonus of as much as $10 million, but the battered securities firm’s compensation committee is resisting his request, according to people familiar with the situation.

The committee and full board are scheduled to meet Monday to hear Mr. Thain’s formal bonus recommendations for himself and other senior executives of the New York company. No decision has been reached, and it isn’t known what Mr. Thain will recommend, but the compensation committee is leaning toward denying the executives bonuses for this year, these people said.

Evidently Thain is one of these idiots who hasn’t caught up with the new reality. The question is not “how much bonus does he get”, but “does he keep his job, or get chucked overboard with no severance or pension”. A little humility would seem appropriate….
UPDATE: Alex has more at The Debatable Land.

Being British: a humanist perspective

The British government are gathering various points of view on “what it means to be British”, and the Humanist Philosophers’ Group (part of the British Humanist Association) recently submitted their position paper, A British Statement of Values. It begins: “The core value which we believe can bring people together in this country is the ideal of an open, inclusive and cooperative society from which no group or individual is excluded, and from which no group deliberately excludes itself.” The whole thing is worth reading, and reinforces my sense that, even after all these years in the US, I’m still essentially British in my views and values.
It would be interesting to read a comparable piece on “what it means to be American”. Any offers?

Spookily quiet

I just got back from a morning’s Christmas shopping at Bellevue Mall. It was eerily quiet, with the kind of traffic that I would have expected to see on a typical Saturday in March. I walked by several high-end shops (jewelry, perfume, that kind of thing) that were empty except for a couple of worried-looking sales assistants.

Apportioning responsibility

Yglesias skewers the notion that nobody is especially to blame for the financial crisis, that it’s just “human nature”. (And Ta-Nehisi Coates really ought to know better.)

After all, the underlying premise of our finance-led rush to hyperinequality has been that the rich are very very very very different from you and me and that it’s so excruciatingly important that we maintain adequate incentives for them to ply their trade that we should ignore the immense damageimmense damage rising inequality does to middle class well-being.

One we realize that that’s not the case, that there’s no “magic” at work in the financial field and people are just mucking around I think that has quite radical implications. If nothing the CEOs and top fund managers are doing makes them worthy of taking the blame when the crash hits, then they also don’t deserve nearly the share of the credit — and money — that they got while things were going up.

And Ross makes the “proportionality” point nicely:

But at a same time, our hypothetical homebuyer had very different responsibilities than a hypothetical Wall Street banker. His decision to buy at the height of the bubble put him at risk to lose, say, tens of thousands of dollars and perhaps the roof over his head. Those are high stakes, obviously, but they’re high stakes for him and for his family. Whereas the risky decisions being made the people running, say, Citibank had serious consequences for millions of people, in America and around the world. And this distinction ought to matter, both to how people should be expected to behave, and how they should be judged.

Meshing the ADS-B

Don Brown runs a nice blog on Air Traffic Control issues called Get the Flick, but unfortunately he doesn’t accept comments. So instead of responding to his piece on ADS-B Intel as a comment, I’m going to have to do it here.
Here’s the problem: how do we automate the tracking of airliners on oceanic routes? The technology in use today is the same as it’s been since time immemorial: pilots are required to check in via HF radio and make a verbal position report at specified waypoints (e.g. every 10 degrees of longitude). HF radio is unreliable and noisy, and the low frequency of position updates means that the controllers have a very crude and approximate view of what’s going on.
Over land, things are much better. Every airliner carries a “Mode S” transponder which for ADS-B is enhanced so that it “broadcasts the position of the airplane (and some other stuff) to the rest of the world 60 times a minute.” (This is called an “ES” message.) But Mode S is line-of-sight only, so once an airliner is over the ocean, the signal gets lost.
Don considers the satellite option:

If we could get the data relayed through satellites then we would have universal coverage. That would be a huge boost over the oceans where we currently run wide spacing between aircraft because we don’t have radar coverage. But […] it turns out that sending data via satellites is expensive. Prohibitively so. […] That data can be sent through a satellite but it won’t be (very often) because it is so expensive. I understand it’s about $2 per position report to run it through a satellite. That would be $120 per minute if it matched the refresh rates of the GBTs. Oh, and the big catch is that the airlines pay for the satellite transmission. In other words, we won’t get a lot more position reports than we do now (via voice) over the radios.

Bummer. But then he notes that because the signal is line-of-sight:

… any other airplane that is within range will receive the signal. In other words, over the middle of the ocean, controllers won’t know where airplanes are with any great accuracy — they won’t get frequent updates from ADS-B over satellites — but the pilots will know where the other planes in range are with the same once-per-second accuracy. I see an attempt at “pilot-based separation” in the future. How about you?

Well, no, I won’t expect “pilot-based separation” (and don’t we already have that, called TCAS?) But if there are enough aircraft in the air at a time, why not use a mesh network? In the simplest approach, each aircraft could simply rebroadcast the ES messages from other aircraft in its vicinity. If that’s too chaotic, it would be relatively simple (and cheap) to add a smart mesh network appliance to each aircraft, and route the ES data over this network. The FAA has deployed ADS-B transceivers on oil rigs to extend coverage in the Gulf of Mexico, so hybrid ADS-B networks are already possible.
Having said all this, I expect satellite networking will become the preferred approach. As more and more airlines offer wireless Internet access, the cost of satellite data transfer is going to drop. (See my piece First blog entry from 34,000 ft, posted nearly three years ago. How long before the rule is “Make position report via HF or email”?) But I’m a big believer in using redundant technologies which don’t share failure modes, so mesh networked ADS may well have a future.

Airbus assessment of the 787

Over at PlaneBuzz, Holly has posted a link to an extraordinary Airbus presentation entitled “Boeing 787 Lessons Learnt.” I have no idea how long it’ll remain online before some lawyer gets it taken down, so grab it while you can. It’s a detailed engineering analysis of the problems that Boeing has had (and will continue to experience) with the 787 program. It’s obviously a must-read for those of us who follow the commercial aviation industry, but I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in distributed engineering projects.

Kids, ethics, and religion reports on a study of the ethics of American youth. After discussing such topics as lying and stealing, the authors turn to education:

“Cheating in school continues to be rampant and it’s getting worse,” the study found. Amongst those surveyed, 64 percent said they had cheated on a test, compared to 60 percent in 2006. And 38 percent said they had done so two or more times.

Despite no significant gender differences on exam cheating, students from non-religious independent schools had the lowest cheating rate, 47 percent, compared to 63 percent of students attending religious schools.