Pandemic Ponderings #1: Boeing Flies Through the Storm

Boeing is seeking all $60 billion it requested for the aerospace industry despite saying the company didn’t need a bailout to survive. Boeing stock rose.

Source: Boeing Stock Rises As $60 BIllion Aerospace Industry Bailout Still Eyed | Investor’s Business Daily

I am going to start a series of posts that are a bit off-topic for this forum, but that I feel are appropriate given the times: Pandemic Ponderings, a series of thoughts about COVID-19 and the changes it is wreaking upon the world even as we face up to the beast.

I want to start by talking about Boeing, partly because I have admired the company for five decades, but mostly because it represents all that is right – and all that is wrong – with American companies today.

It is difficult to overstate the critical role Boeing plays in the economy and in the national defense, so I find it hard to begrudge the company its share of the Great COVID Corporate Welfare package. That charity is limited: too much of what ails the company today is self-inflicted. So while I will, at some point, deliver some tough love to Boeing leadership for the execrable way it has been managed, for now, a nod and a high-five.

And a thought.

Coming out of this pandemic, a wide swath of the population will now be accustomed to using virtual presence. People who might never have tried services like Microsoft Teams or Zoom before are now using them daily. Once you turn a tool into a habit, the habit brings an accompanying change of behavior. It is hard not to foresee companies cutting back on business travel, using the rising quality and falling cost of virtual presence as partial justification.

And let’s be honest – how many of us who engage in regular business travel will mourn? The prospect of spending long hours sealed in a pressurized aluminum tube filled with uncomfortable seats and countless germs, manned by indifferent crews and flown through increasingly turbulent skies (thank you, climate change), all dappled with the overhanging fears of terrorism cannot but fill one with unalloyed dread.

I could be wrong: air travel may not be the industrial equivalent of a 737-MAX on autopilot (sorry, I know, low blow.) But Boeing’s most prominent customers must be staying awake nights wondering if they are going to run out of sky, or if they need to start changing the way they fly.

Uber Un-diverse? Color me Un-Shocked

Under pressure from harassment and sexism allegations, the ride-hailing giant is rethinking its approach to hiring.

Source: As Uber Grew Hastily, Diversity Took a Backseat – Bloomberg

We can engage in long conversations about diversity in the workplace, but one thing should come as no surprise: that Uber executives behaved exactly as they saw fit, and social pressure, political correctness, and societal norms be damned.

Why are we surprised when we discover that the people who set out to make a lot of money by laying waste to entire industries are not very nice? Uber has never apologized for what it is: a bunch of guys armed with an ounce of vision, a pound of opportunism, a kilo of greed, and an algorithm that mixes all of that into an earth-scorching business proposition.

But we’re kidding ourselves when we ignore the fact that every time we take an Uber ride that we’re fucking over a cabbie, that every time we stay in an Airbnb we’re giving a little shafting to a housekeeper at the Hilton, or that every time we order a book from Amazon we’re devaluing that erudite guy earning 10.50 an hour at the local independent bookstore.

Whatever their economic value, robber barons have never been humanists. It is now, and ever will be, up to us to make sure their depredations do more good than harm.


Workplace Fail: HanaHaus

HanaHaus is not for the rest of us. It is aimed at a certain demographic, and everyone else be damned.

I had an afternoon of down time between meetings in SF and Cupertino. Needed a place to hunker down and work for 4 hours. Made a reservation at HanaHaus on recommendation of a friend on the Stanford faculty.

The WiFi was miserable, the environment was so loud I could not hear on a conference call, and I had to move my car every 90 minutes because HanaHaus is conveniently located in a district with maximum 2 hour parking.

So I guess I’m not their demographic.

The Water Opportunity

Photo: Tim J. Keegan
Photo: Tim J. Keegan

Golden State | Issue 10 | n+1.

The water problem is part of a larger demographic problem: too many people have moved to California, a place that, given its resource constraints, its seismic instability, and its tendency toward massive brush fires, should have never been settled so densely.

Nikil Saval

Saval was writing about this five years ago, and it is tempting to buy his argument. Who among us longtime denizens of this state do not occasionally look out the window and wonder “from whence came these masses who cover our natural beauty with concrete and stucco?”

But laying the water problem at the feet of California’s outsized population does not lead us to a solution: if a quarter, or even a third of the state’s current headcount decamped for greener pastures, we would still have crippling droughts.

The water problem is one of global proportions, and the fact that a confluence of climactic conditions is foisting the drought on a fairly wet state should be seen as a wake up call. For a large and growing cohort of the world’s population – even in the developed world – water is no longer a virtually-free and unlimited resource.

The answer is not to line up the Greyhounds and the U-Hauls and depopulating Suburbia Californicus. It is, rather, to put our imagination and our capital to work finding ways to cut waste and to make water use more efficient in every sector.

If we can do that, the water problem becomes an opportunity for our innovative, optimistic state to make the world a better place and get rich in the process. If the great minds of Silicon Valley and the moneyed mandarins of Sand Hill Road want to find a place to bet on the next boom, maybe our drought is the G-d or the Universe or whoever sending us a not-too-subtle signal on where to look.

Forget biotech. Forget social media. Let’s focus on WaterTech.


The Bigger Boeing Long Beach Story

Boeing is leaving Long Beach, and California is no longer in the business of manufacturing aircraft as it has done for over a century. It is the end of an era, and this video offers a glimpse at what was the final hope for the airframe assembly business in California.

One point of note in the video is that the reporter actually reached out to Governor Jerry Brown’s office to see if they were talking to Boeing about keeping an assembly facility open in Long Beach, but the office was gently evasive. If that has you scratching your head, that is because this reporter did not tell the whole story. Boeing still has around 18,000 employees in the state, a far cry from the heights of the Cold War, but still one of California’s largest employers.

All of this points to a larger fact. While aircraft are no longer flying out of factories in California, there is a large and thriving aerospace industry here still. According to A.T. Kearny, 203,000 direct jobs and 511,000 indirect jobs can be attributed to the aerospace industry in California, more than Hollywood and agriculture combined. The industry is a lot harder to see, but it is still there, even as airplane factories across the Southland fall under the wrecking ball.

Tesla Energy in Perspective

Did Tesla Just Kill Nuclear Power? – Forbes.

Did Tesla Just Kill Nuclear Power? - Forbes

Okay, let’s start by getting a couple of things out of the way.

First, I have a gigantic soft-spot for Tesla for a lot of emotional reasons. The company is California born-and-raised, and represents the seeds of an economic renaissance. It is based in Hawthorne in the heart of the Dust Belt, that long string of aircraft factories eviscerated by the post-Cold War downsizing of Southern California’s aerospace industry. The cars are gorgeous, innovative, and, of course, no-emission. And Musk is a fellow member of my tribe.

So I am a tad biased.

Second, I believe that private enterprise has an essential role to play in moving us to a cleaner, more environmentally-friendly future. Tesla is proving that.

So I am doubly biased. But let’s dive into the topic of the day: Tesla Energy and its proposed Powerwall home and business energy storage system.

At its basic level, the idea is to take power from the grid when rates and usage are low and store it for usage anytime. Not only should this drop the rates people pay for electricity, it would help eliminate the need for power companies to build plants to compensate for high usage periods. Tesla says that it would also allow for us to store solar power or wind power we generate at home and use it when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing.

In short, the Tesla Energy Powerwall could be an incredible breakthrough in moving more of us to solar and wind power.

All to the good.

But before we all rush to the Tesla website and place our orders, we need to understand the full costs of the technology.

Raw Materials: First, we need to think of where the materials are going to come from? If millions of homes and businesses shift to Tesla, will we need to increase mining of rare earths for the inputs into the batteries? If so, what are the environmental costs of that mining, and who will bear them?

Manufacturing: Where will the batteries be manufactured and under what circumstances? Today, they’ll be manufactured in Nevada. But what about the long term? Is Tesla eventually planning on having these made someplace where the government doesn’t worry so much about the environment?

Logistics: Will these be exported or shipped from overseas, thus raising the carbon footprint of the product?

Disposal: How long will the batteries last? What happens when the time comes to replace these batteries? Will they be recyclable? What percent? How much will be dumped into landfills?

I am excited about the technology, enough so that it may be enough to push me into converting my home to solar. But if this turns out to be less an environmental step forward than it is a First World Feel Good technology, I will save my money and look for other ways to cut our energy use.

UPDATE: Corrected the product name from “Powerall” to “Powerwall.” By the way, Tesla Powerwall is a trademark of Tesla Motors. 

Living in the Age of Airplanes

Living in the Age of Airplanes.

In the new National Geographic film “Living in the Age of Airplanes,” narrator Harrison Ford says that aviation has changed our world permanently.

With respect to the creators of this wonderful film, may I offer some moderation: perhaps aviation has not changed our world. It has, however, changed our species and the way we relate to our world.

More than perhaps any other single factor, the perspective afforded by aviation and its offspring, space exploration, have made us aware of how tiny, how fragile, how isolated, and how precious this planet is for all of us.

Like no other place in the world – whether Kitty Hawk, Seattle, or Toulouse – California is the cradle of aviation and aerospace. True, most of the great, cavernous airplane factories and their satellite subcontractors no longer punctuate the California landscape the way they used to. But flight runs deep in the bones of this state, and if you know where to look, you can still see how aviation formed California, how California formed aviation, and how the quest for the sky and the stars is a core part of our future.

To understand how, though, we must begin by exploring the past. In the coming weeks, we will be posting a series of pieces examining California and aerospace.

We welcome your thoughts.


US Census Data on Gender and Employment in LA

Mapping the Los Angeles Neighborhoods Where Men Have Jobs and Women Don’t
Benjamin Gross

Cool Map Thing
Curbed LA
12 January 2015

There are great disparities in employment between men and women across the heart of LA, and this fascinating map shows where those gaps exist.

What the map doesn’t show, of course, is why. And this is important, because the map reveals strong similarities in gender employment in south L.A. and on the West Side. Now, we can surmise that women in poorer neighborhoods can’t get a job – or cannot afford to, or lack the skills, or do not have adequate jobs available to them. We could also guess that women in more prosperous neighborhoods simply choose not to work.

Those would be the easy answers, but we should not accept them. If anything, this map tells us nothing more than that there is a phenomenon worth investigating.

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