Suborbital Safety

I have some thoughts over at Popular Mechanics, that arose from last week’s suborbital researchers’ conference in Boulder.

[Update a few minutes later]

Wayne Hale (who I was privileged to finally meet in person last week in Boulder) has some thoughts on “human rating.” I like his last quote. It reminds me of another one: “Every time they performed an investigation of the accident, all of the paperwork was found to be in order.”

It’s All In The Name

Some thoughts on the “killer whale” incident. What I find annoying about it (which the article hints at, but doesn’t make explicit) is all of the commentators repeatedly referring to the animal as “the whale.” O’Reilly made a fool of himself on this last night, when he compared an Orca to Moby Dick. Hint to the media — “killer whales” are not whales. They are the largest member of the family Delphinidae. In other words, they are dolphins.

To The Moon, Alice!

Not. Some very useful thoughts from Miles O’Brien.

It is a shame how atrociously this has been reported, with all of the nonsensical talk about “ending human spaceflight.” Of course, it’s partly the administration’s fault, by springing it at the last minute. As Miles notes, anyone with their head in the sunlight could see that Constellation (or at least Ares — killing Orion as well was a legitimate surprise) couldn’t survive in the current (or really, any) environment, but it still came as a shock, with an inadequate description of what is to replace it. I hope that this will be rectified in the coming weeks and months.

This Won’t End Well

The brutal truth about Californians.

When I first moved out there thirty years ago, it was unusual to run into a native Californian — most people you met were immigrants from other states (or countries). I suspect that’s less true today, but modern native Californians are a different breed from those of an earlier era, and they’re running their own state into the ground. They don’t appreciate the natural bounty of the place, and seem to have an entitlement mentality.

Thoughts On Optional And Extortional Compensation

Let me preface this post with the point that I despise the general notion of tipping service people. This is partly because I dislike the notion of service people, period. That is, I don’t like people “serving” me (which may partly explain my antipathy to nanny government). Whether it’s the Jew, or Scotch in my ancestry, unless I can’t, I’d rather do it myself, if I have to pay for it. I hate to pay people to do something that I can perfectly well do myself (when loading luggage into a courtesy van, or checking into a hotel, I feel like a driver being extorted by a squeejee guy, being expected to provide a gratuity for a service that I hadn’t requested).

Now, having said that, I understand the economic model behind restaurants. The waitpeople are underpaid as a base salary, and expected to supplement their meager income via tips performed for better service. I get that.

What I also get is that it is a subtle implied form of extortion. If you’re a regular, if you’re a lousy tipper, don’t be shocked if over time your food becomes adulterated with the bodily fluids of the staff, and takes forever to get to you, and is cold when it arrives, and may not even be what you ordered. On the other hand, if you tip great, you’ll be treated like royalty from the planet Krypton.

But let’s talk about a different form of service. I’ve been on the road a lot lately, and not just for a night or two in a given place, but for days and weeks at a time. I’ve never (OK, not never, but rarely) done this, but my understanding from reading travel mags and such, is that it is also de rigeur to tip the people who clean your hotel room. On one of our many trips to Golden, CO over the past three months, we stayed at a Marriot Residence Inn, at which on Valentine’s Day, the maid left a chocolate with a note wishing us a good one. It seemed an obvious plea for a tip.

But here’s the thing. There is a difference, and a crucial one, between serving you food, and changing your sheets.

In one case, there is an ongoing personal interaction, and in the other case, there is…not.

When you go out to eat, the waitperson is your personal interface to the establishment. The establishment recognizes this when it encourages said waitperson to be chipper and cheery and say, “Hi, I’m Lance (or Kristi!), and I’ll be your waiter/(waitress) this evening.” There is a personal relationship, perhaps more so than you want, but it’s there regardless. And you know and they know, that if your order is taken, or dinner delivered, too late, it will be reflected in the additional compensation on the bill.

But cleaning a room is different. It generally happens when you’re not present, and you don’t even know the gender of the person doing it (though there’s generally a good guess), let alone their name or what they look like, or how chipper and perky they are. There is no personal relationship.

But isn’t there the same extortionate potential?

I suppose. They could fill your little shampoo bottles with hydrofluoric acid (though the containers would be unlikely to survive until you get back to the room and can pour it onto your noggin). They can short-sheet the bed (which I find that lot of them do as a matter of policy…).

But basically, there’s not a lot of variation in the possibilities of what they can do for your room, other than giving you little gifts (like chocolates) in the hope that they will be more than sufficiently compensated via your gratuity.

It seems to me that there is a basic service (like cable), that shouldn’t require bribes to get. In my ideal world, you should expect to get such service without having to a) pay more than is on the menu or room rate and b) try to figure out just how much more you should pay. Tipping waitpeople should occur only if the service is really great, not just adequate (and they should hope for some adverse event that they can overcome to really earn their additional pay). And this really makes it hard for hotel servicefolk, because there is so little opportunity for the personal interaction that can really provide opportunities to earn tips. I’d really rather live in a society in which basic service was included in the bill, the prices on the menu (or hotel rack rate) reflected the full cost of hiring people to provide the services being paid for, and any additional compensation was a result only of extraordinary (break that word down, folks) service.

But apparently I’m in a minority. Or else, this is one of those perverse situations in which everyone hates the system, but doesn’t see any good or safe way to transition to one better.

Congressional Approval

I just saw a Rasmussen poll that indicates over seventy percent of likely voters think that Congress is doing a “poor” job.

The problem with polls like this is that they’re subject to multiple interpretations (like “right track, wrong track” polls). I’ve thought that the country has been on the wrong track all my life, but it would be stupid to interpret that, during a Republican administration, as an indicator that I’m going to be nutty enough to replace them with Democrats, who would slam down the throttle on the wrong track.

I wonder what people think that Congress’ job is? If you foolishly think that it’s simply to pass legislation, regardless of its benefit to the nation (as many seem to, including many in Congress, who tout their records of bill passing), then you’ll be frustrated by “partisanship” and “gridlock,” that prevents legislation from being passed. On the other hand, if you think their job is to defend the Constitution and to actually solve, rather than create, problems, then you will cheer for their inability to do anything, given that almost anything they’re likely to do will be a disaster. Given the kind of job that they’ve been doing, and are likely to do, I’d approve of them more if they’d stay home. I’d even triple their salaries.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!