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Star Wars

I saw Star Wars 2 last night.

The following contains spoilers and so should be not read until you have seen the film.



First, only one niggling plot hole. There was more than one plot hole, but only one was annoying. And this was a plot hole from the last movie that carried on over into this one. And that is, if you knew someone who was living in slavery, perhaps your mother or the mother of a friend, and you were

a)A Jedi Knight

b)A Queen of an entire planet, or

c)An apprentice Jedi, but still with the resources of a carefree student life

Why the hell wouldn't anyone just pop on over and buy her and set her free without waiting for 10 years? What is these guy's problem?

Other than that the action was awesome and almost non-stop for the entire time. Excellent.

Not that I can't find problems, but most of them are mistakes that the Characters make, rather than the movie makers. And we are supposed to have mistakes by main characters, it shows they are human. Well not human in this case, but mortals.

These mistakes are things like Senator Amadalya's clothes. And her hair, but we all knew that. But more importantly her clothes. I mean if you have a teenage boy in the area and you want to discourage him, you don't prance around in revealing dresses, and especially that semitransparent white thing that she wore to Tatoonie that shows her nipples so clearly. I mean that is not going to help him stay under control is it? But heaps of Earth girls make this mistake every day, so we can't put this down as a film error, it's just realistic.

More significantly, and more something I can apply an engineering approach to, is the weapons. They suck.

Lightsabers are cool, everyone acknowledges that, and make dandy close quarter weapons for use in a crowded bar. In other words, a police weapon. But as battlefield weapons I would rather have a longbow.

The blasters seem to cause as much damage as a normal bullet, but the beams travel with the speed of an arrow. It is almost possible to dodge them and you can knock the beams aside with a light sabre. An old fashioned revolver from the mid 19th Century would be far more effective. I'd also like to see a Jedi try to block the blast from a simple shotgun.

At least they now seem to have rocket powered missiles. Even this simple weapon was ignored up till now.

And lastly, their battlefield tactics, rather than individual fighting prowess, seems akin to that of the dopey Persians who were wasted by Greek armies one tenth their size once the Greeks learned to fight as a group. In other words, they have yet to reach a level that we on Earth passed over 2000 years ago.

Which (sort of) leads me to the explanation for all this.

The galaxy was at peace for thousands of years. All military technology was forgotten (probably deliberately given the soppy, feel-good pacifism of the Jedi). So was all knowledge of tactics. And apparently only Chancellor Palatine knows anything about strategy either (perhaps he found an old book?). Only the cops (the Jedi) had weapons, and these were close quarter, one on one, don't kill any bystander type cop weapons.

Then the System started to break down. Violence reappeared and weapons were needed again. But no-one knew how. But they had lots of advanced technologies, space drives, force fields, that sort of thing. So someone cobbled together a way of shooting out a slow beam of power and created the blaster. As a first try it isn't bad, but simply any 20th century weapon would walk all over it, with much less advanced technology.

As someone observed, Napoleon would roll over the top of these guys. The Gran Armee might have lacked the rapid fire of the blaster, but against people who just walk towards you firing, the well trained French troops (yes, there was such a thing once) would have

a)NOT stood up in the open, but ducked behind some earth works.

b)Sent groups around to attack from the flanks

c)Driven them towards some concealed cannon, and then raked their lines with grapeshot.

d)All this using musket and cannon balls that are far too quick to be knocked aside, and if they can block one ball, just load up with shot.

QED, Napoleon is Emperor of the Galaxy.

Note that the so called Crack Stormtroopers of Return of the Jedi were trashed by a bunch of stoneage Ewoks. And Chewbacca still uses a crossbow. Why? Because a blaster is no better.

Fett, the bounty hunter, had some nifty stuff. But most of this was pretty simple, nothing more effective that what we had in the 19th century. The rocket pack was, but that was transport rather than a weapon. He also had a personal rocket launcher, but still only WWII stuff. And how stupid is he to use a special dart that is only made on one planet in the whole galaxy, when that planet is his secret hideout?

Actually the dart looked interesting. It had forward swept fins on it. This made no sense whatsoever, forward swept wings are dreadfully unstable, exactly what you don't need on a dart. Unless... they are computer controlled. Forward swept wings are being investigated for fighter aircraft because if you have the computer readjust the fins 20 times/second, the instability becomes high manoeuvrability. So it could be a guided dart! It did get her directly in the neck. A personal weapon firing guided projectiles IS an advance on what we have, though it still took ages to kill her, a bullet from a rifle would have shut her up faster.

Still what do you expect from a planet that appears to be inhabited by a race of mutant supermodels.

21 May 2002

More Corporate Finance

First of all a small point: I am not a financial advisor or accountant, nor do I pretend to be one on the internet.

But I do understand year 7 level algebra, which is all you need to get most financial matters, once you cut through the jargon.

So on to my spiel about internet companies. Below I mentioned that I did well in an internet company, Adultshop.com. This is not an endorsement of the company or its stock. I am annoyed that I have to do that, but the various governments get very upset about people hyping stock on the internet. Just look at the trouble this guy got into. Actually there are people who claim that Buffy is the most accurate depiction of life as an American teenager that is allowed to appear on TV. This article backs that up.

But getting back to my point. Some of the dot.coms ended up doing very well even if their original business still hasn't made much money. They ended up doing what all the internet companies should have done, if the guys running them had a clue.

They had their shares, which were selling at 100 times earnings. So they used those shares to swap for the shares of companies (or private businesses) that were selling at 10 times earnings. In other words, they were swapping shares worth $1/year for shares worth $10/year. If you can do that it isn't very hard at all to make a lot of money. And when the share price of dot coms came crashing back to earth, the company is left with real businesses earning real money.

The trick, the really sneaky bit, is as follows, and it IS tricky, so watch carefully or you might miss the good bit:

Notmuchprofit.com is an internet company, so shares sell at 100 times earnings. Earnings = $1 million/year. Company = $100 million

Cashcow LTD is a sleazy porno company, so the business sells at 10 times earnings. Earnings = $1 million/year. Company = $10 million

Notmuchprofit.com offers to pay $20 million for Cashcow LTD, either by paying in stock, or by selling stock in the market and paying cash, it doesn't make any difference. Cashcow LTD is happy to sell as they are doubling their money.

So Notmuchprofit.com owns Cashcow LTD, and has paid out $20 million in stock. So the original owners now have $80 million.

Now, however, Notmuchprofit.com is earning $2m/year. So at 100 times earnings it is worth $200 million. Take away the 20% that is owned by the old owners of Cashcow LTD, and the original shareholders have $160 million. Their shares have gone up 60% in one deal.

Moreover, the Notmuchprofit.com earnings have doubled, so they can release all these press reports saying how they just doubled earnings, and this keeps the shareprice high, which is what makes the trick work in the first place.

This is roughly what AOL had in mind when they bought TimeWarner, but they chose a media company that wasn't really earning much compared to its price anyway.

And this is exactly what Amazon should have done when it's shares were $200 each. Now that they are down to $20 each I bet they are kicking themselves for not finding some strategic merger where they could buy some boring company that actually makes a profit. Of course you need some sort of spiel to feed the media. How allying your cyber-bookshop with this dull old shipping company or something will lead to synergy and slash costs, but the real deal is that you are swapping vastly overpriced stock for a decent cash cow.

And then, the real key, is that the punters who thought Cashcow ltd's $1million/year was only worth paying $10 million for, now think it is worth $100 million EVEN THOUGH IT IS THE SAME BUSINESS WITH JUST A DIFFERENT NAME. That's how these millions appear out of the air, they come from the fools who think that when a business is taken over and the name changed to something fashionable then the company must go from being worth $10 million to being worth $100 million.

It's all part of the Moron tax, the insidious scheme to remove money from fools and hand it over to the more intelligent. However stock market bubbles are a much messier way of doing this than State Lotteries, or Lotto, where the cash goes directly from the stupid to help reduce the tax bill of the more astute. I approve of that.

The stock bubbles just cause trouble by sucking in the money of people who rely on supposedly reputable professionals who turn arround and invest in just those sorts of things. Imagine if you found your superannuation (retirement savings) being "invested" in lottery tickets. Or if the lottery was promoted as being a safe and reliable long term investment.

20 May 2002

Share market Investments

This week I was happy to be able to email a friend with the comment that Thanks to your good suggestion, I've made a 135% profit on my investment in Adultshop.com

To which she replied Does this mean you've sold your shares? Or you going to assume that people want to continuing being naughty & keep them?

My answer is that I think the chances of people stopping their naughtiness is small. (Barring the Fundamentalist Muslims winning the war.) I'll be checking the company financials to see if they still have some serious catching up to do.

What this means is that looking at the figures, ASC shares were selling for 15 cents when the company had 30 cents in the bank per share. This is in ADDITION to owning a bunch of profitable businesses. It is pretty hard to loose money investing in a case like that. Or so I hope, because I'm planning on doing so whenever I find such a case.

So now I have to see how the figures for ASC work out now that the shares are 40 cents each.

Viking Astronauts

Brink Lindsey uses as analogy that I've been using myself, but sadly not in print so I can't get him for violation of Copyright. Talking about the Apollo moon landings:

Back then it seemed we were at the dawn of a new age of Columbus; now Apollo looks more and more like the Viking voyages to North America -- a great feat of daring that ultimately came to nothing. Sigh...

That exactly matches my view of things. The Viking voyages to North America were amazing, but they were operating at the absolute limits of their technology, and they ended up in a pretty bare, cold, and overall useless (by Viking Standards) part of America. The costs were amazing and the opportunities for profit were zilch, so they gave up.

In other words, an exact analogy to the Apollo project.

One wonders how things would have gone if the Vikings had landed in the middle of the Inca empire. Vast amounts of gold and silver to plunder, and all guarded by armys that were trashed by a couple of hundred Spanish a few centuries later. The Vikings would have thought that they had reached heaven.

I cannot think of any reason that the next voyage would not have involved a couple of thousand greedy warriors. The resulting flood of gold and silver would have made Norway the financial centre of Europe, and a transatlantic empire would definitely have been established.

Note: Those who will argue that the Spanish only beat the South Americans because they had firearms, which the Vikings did not, have been sucked in by a historial fallacy. Read an actual account of the Spanish expeditions (I quite like Bernal Diaz Del Castillo's eyewitness account ) and you will realize that Cortez, for example, ran out of gun powder only a few months into his travels. All the serious battles were fought using Crossbows and hand to hand with swords. It wasn't gunpowder that defeated the Aztecs, it was steel swords and armour versus stone tools and cotton clothing. And the vikings had steel swords and armour, and were famous for knowing how to use them.

In addition to the Apollo = Columbus analogy, another one is Apollo/Gemini/Mercury = Wright Brothers. This is usually followed up by comparing the 45 years since manned spaceflight and asking why we aren't at the stage that flight was in 1948. This analogy is also wrong and I think it can be improved.

How about Apollo/Gemini/Mercury = Montgolfier Brothers? Their first flights were in 1783. Like the space program they first sent up animals, and then brave humans. And their technology, while interesting, did not provide useful flight until over 100 years after they started. Even then, the powered balloon, (ie. the Zepplin or airship) relied on the development of new technology, the internal combustion engine, that in turn lead to a whole new way of getting into the air: The Aeroplane.

Hopefully we won't have to wait till the 2070s until a new technology appears that allows useful mass space flight, but I wouldn't bet my life against it.

15/05/2002

On Solar Cars

Jack Robertson has also published my full analysis of Solar Cars, and how they don't really work even in theory. And while I should really urge you all to go and read Jack's Blog, if only because he is the first blogger to link to me, I'll still copy my spiel here for you lazy bastards who can't be bothered.

The problem with a solar car is not a practical problem, it's a theoretical limit. It is not like JFK choosing to go to the moon, it's like he decided to send Americans to a different star. In 1960 an engineer could sit down and draw up a design for the sort of machine that would be needed to go to the moon. He couldn't fill in the details, and it took 5% of the American GDP for one decade to make it work, but you knew from the start what you were going to do in broad terms. Even Jules Verne in the 19th Century could come up with a vaguely workable scheme. (If the cannon was put on top of Mount Everest, so as to get above most of the atmosphere, you could use it to send men to the moon. They would be dead, crushed by the launch, but they would get there.)

We aren't at that stage with an effective solar car. Not even the Jules Verne stage.

As I said before, the maximum theoretical power, averaged over a day, for a 6 square metre car (say 4 metres long by 1.5 metres wide, a small car by today's standards) is 1 kW. This is NOT the maximum we can do, this is the maximum power we COULD do, if everything was developed to being theoretically perfect. To get better than this would require new theories of physics, so I'm not saying it's impossible, but the last new theory was in the 1930s so it's the sort of thing developed over a century, not a decade.

Now the current solar racing cars can do about 1 kW. But that is PEAK power, applied in the middle of the day when there are no clouds. The rule of thumb is that to average that out over normal conditions you divide by six. Now if you had perfect efficiency in the solar cells, batteries and motors etc, you could (by coincidence) increase that by a power of six, and get your 1 kW back.

So, 1 kW will drive the solar racers at over 100 km/h. But these are not practical machines. Still we can ignore that for the purposes of what is theoretically possible. You are still left with something that is much slower than any vehicle made for road use since 1910.

Now the problem with all this is the power to area of a car. A car is small for its power requirements. Solar power depends on area. An electric car that was recharged by solar cells covering the roof of your house works, in theory. The house has an area of maybe 50 to 100 square meters minimum, and that gives you enough power to drive a car. Once again this assumes breakthroughs in solar cells, and particularly battery technology, but that is the case we are considering isn't it.

NB: Other means of transportation have higher area to power ratios.

A train would just about work. Rolling on smooth, flat rails it needs less power, and they are big with flat roofs. A typical train of say 20 carriages, each one 10 X 3 metres square. Total area 600 square metres, for a daily average of 100 kW. This was the sort of power output of the old steam trains.

Likewise boats.

Jack Again

Jack Robertson seems far better when he isn't going off his head with anger at something. Not that I agree with him on everything but his ideas about the Australian federal budget are interesting.

He lists 6 points that SHOULD be on the budget, I comment on 5 of them.

1. A government/private incentive/enterprise package specifically designed to develop a competitive and globally-marketable solar/electric car by December 31 2010 (along the lines of JFK's moon-shot vision).

The problem being that the total, theoretical maximum, power of the sunlight recieved on a car totally covered with Solar cells, is about 1 kW (averaged over a day). That isn't really going to sell that well in the market where 150 kW is the minimum output for a full size family car. If you want a small electric vehicle they are already available but you don't see them that often, because no-one wants to buy them. eg. xootr or Voloci.

2. A ten-year plan for the introduction of 70% (pluck!) inheritance tax...not as the 'politics of envy', but to ensure that ALL of our best and brightest kids (poor and rich) will have Mark Latham's economic incentive working away at their aspirational little souls from the off. (Let's face it, none of us really work our tits off so our kids will be rich. Anyway, to leave your loinly issue a juicy pile is about the nastiest way to kneecap 'em for life, I'd reckon.)

Though do the REALLY rich get caught by this tax anyway? Or do they (as in America) arrange tax free "charitable" foundations that give their idiot children a cushy job organising fundraising dinners for the rest of their lives? And the non-idiot children (presumably the ones from the first wives) are usually safely ensconced as CEOs etc, long before the old folks kick the bucket.

And yes, sometimes they get the idiots and the non-idiots mixed up when it comes to handing out CEO postitions. Which is probably the real reason that everything in the world isn't owned by decendents of the first rich merchants of Babylon and Summeria.

3. The dumping of negative gearing. I mean...why not let's try it again (now, while inflation is low and we want to take some heat out of the building industry anyway). My thinking is that a huge problem for the next generation is going to be the ownership/rental gap. (Shit, let's try not to drift lazily backwards and turn into Europe on this 'un, eh?) So...doesn't negative gearing just add fuel to the price fire (over the long term, I mean)? Doesn't it lead to a generational non-transfer of assets? (Our olds own three houses, but we own none?) And...don't most actuarial projections of Super adequacy assume home ownership? So...does this not...not compute? Are we in fact fixin' ourselves a big poo sanger here, or wot?

Does he mean ALL negative gearing or just housing? He just discusses housing so I'll stick with that. The problem here is that if the cost of a buying a rental house goes up relative to buying your own home, sure more people will be able to afford their own homes, but the very poor, the ones with the least ability to get out of renting, will find their rents shooting up, if they can find anywhere to rent at all. After all, negative gearing is basically a government subsidy of rental properties.

5. Removal of HECS on all medico-professional tertiary training, in 'exchange' for a legally binding commitment to work for ten full years (past residency/internship) solely in Public Health (in whatever geographical location required), prior to being 'released' to private practise.

Is this mandatory, or an option for medical students to sign up for on starting their training. If so, then I can't think of an objection. Not such a bad thing to extend to teachers, engineers and other useful people.

Number six is even something I might vote for, with some tweaking:

6. (My fave) A three-year plan to phase in the removal of all taxes on all moneys generated by and for all artists and artistic companies, in exchange for the complete abolition of all public arts funding along with 200% tax credits for strictly non-'sponsorship' (ie non-acknowledgeable, non-'naming rights', etc) artistic philanthropy. (Or 300%, or 400%...or whatever it turns out is required to entice sufficient patronage to sustain cost-heavy concerns like dance companies, Opera, orchestras, etc). An 'artistic company' would be any stand-alone business that makes nothing but art, and has no connection with any parent company. (So TV stations would not count, publishers with a non-fiction list would not count, production companies that make docos, reality TV and commercials would not count, and so on.) If there is one area of human endeavour where government has no place, it's art, IMHO. Booger me, look at the preponderance of drab junk our 'tenured' Oz Council zonks vomit up...erk!

Though I don't share his faith in the ability to ferret out any connection between a real business and a "artistic" one. And should fiction publishers be subsidised at the same rate as orchestras? Seems to me that one is much more of a real business than the other. And does News Corporation count as a purely fiction publisher???



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