Uninformed Speculation on Boeing and SpaceX
So NASA has awarded two contracts to develop the U.S. "space taxi." I don't know if that was the original idea or not. Normally one vendor wins an award, though sometimes they "team."
Maybe the contract was designed to be awarded to two companies, but I doubt it. There's some precedent for this with the Navy's LCS program, where two competing designs were built and tested, and the Navy said they'd take… both!
I suspect that what we may be observing here with both LCS and the low earth orbit (LEO) space vehicle is that there is some urgency to the requirement. The navy was retiring FFGs (small, relatively low-cost frigates built in the 70s and 80s) faster than it could make up force requirements to the combatant commanders (CENTCOM and PACOM), (each combatant command has naval "presence" requirements, with fewer hulls, ships have to remain on deployment longer) and it needed new hulls quickly. Our deteriorating relationship with Russia, and our reliance on Soyuz for access to the International Space Station, give some urgency to our manned LEO capability. We might get locked out of our own house!
The competitors can take advantage of that urgency by threatening protests if the award doesn't go their way. Protests can take years to resolve, and that's time that's simply unaffordable, so we wind up paying twice for the same capability.
The protest system is another part of the federal procurement process that has been gamed by large corporations and members of congress protecting large players in their constituencies, though it's all couched in very clever language purporting to look out for the interests of the taxpayers. Mostly it's about protecting the interests of large corporations with lots of lawyers who can throw lots of paper at the government.
My guess is NASA wanted SpaceX, but had to pay a Boeing tax.
Aviation Week & Space Technology is usually all over this stuff and would normally be where I'd go to find out whose ox is being gored here, but even they were kind of hazy about it, at least to my reading:
Bolden and other NASA human spaceflight officials have repeatedly argued for a two-vehicle approach, both for redundancy and to hold down costs through competition. However, Congress has proved skeptical of that approach, largely because it would cost more. The agency has requested $848.3 million in fiscal 2015 for commercial spaceflight, although it is more likely to receive funding at the $646 million fiscal 2014 level under the continuing resolution lawmakers are expected to approve before recessing for the November elections.
In which case, even if NASA really wanted two vendors, it suggests the Sierra Nevada down-select was more likely due to Boeing's superior ability to throw lawyers at the problem, and huge influence in Congress.
Boeing is a storied company with a great history and builds some great planes. But they are also a huge, ossified bureaucracy, and while the Atlas launch vehicle is much more expensive than Falcon 9, the larger part of the delta between the two awards is likely internal Boeing costs.
We should probably begin thinking about regulating the size of corporations.
This is likely to be a long, rambling post, which is a sure way to lose readers. But it's also kind of the way I sort through some of my own thinking. I'll do my best to be entertaining along the way. If you accompany me, you have my gratitude and appreciation. I think I'll get you back home.
Friday morning I dropped by the Apple Store to have my iPhone 5s looked at. The screen was kind of separated from the body near the top. Not a lot, but if you pushed on the screen a bit, you could see it move and if you looked at it from the side, you could see the top of the screen was higher in profile than the bottom. My first thought would be that they would just swap it out, like they did last year when I brought in my iPhone 5 with a cracked screen. Back then I thought I'd have to pay an "incident fee" as part of AppleCare, but they just swapped it out under warranty.
This time, though, they said they'd replace the screen at no charge. I was surprised at first, but then I recalled reading that Apple had installed the capability to do screen replacements at Apple Stores. I figured that would be fine, and the guy said it'd be an hour, so I spent some time browsing around Barnes and Noble.
Came back after an hour and a rep came out to see me and said that after they'd swapped the screen, the phone failed some diagnostic tests so they were swapping out the whole phone. It's refurb, but for all intents and purposes, it's a new phone. Pristine body and screen. My son will be pleased. I bought a case right there because I figured if I didn't I'd drop it as soon as I went outside. Normally I don't use a case.
For me, this was both delightful and also unremarkable. Apple has always exceeded my expectations when it came to fixing something with one of their products, including replacing a 24" LCD in an iMac that was 2 years out of warranty. Maybe everyone doesn't have that experience, but it's always been mine. So apart from my general satisfaction with their products, OS and apps, they have a pretty large bank of goodwill with me.
That doesn't mean I think Apple is perfect, or can do nothing wrong. It just means that when they screw up, it occurs in the context of an experience where they've always done more than just "the right thing" for me.
Anyway, it was a good morning.
That evening, I drove up to Charleston with a lovely woman named Mitzi to attend a wedding. (Parenthetically, we relied on Apple Maps to get us there, and it was unremarkable. It just worked.) The bride is the daughter of Mitzi's college sorority sister and one of her best friends. Her friend suffered a serious brain injury a few years ago and was fortunate to survive, though the consequences will be lifelong. I enjoyed meeting her and her husband who has been a stalwart partner through it all. Wonderful people.
On Saturday afternoon, we hurried to the wedding, which was outdoors in a park along the bank of the Cooper River. It was 87 degrees, and the humidity was high so the heat index was pretty high, and everyone was dressed pretty formally. Apparently there was a delay in the arrival of one of the groom's family members, so the wedding didn't start on time. There was no tent or awning, we were all just seated out in the sun. At some point, most of us left our seats and gathered beneath the shade of one of the two large trees near the ceremony.
Mitzi kept telling me she thought I was "taking it so well." Truthfully, I was unimpressed with the organization of the wedding, nobody seemed to be in charge and there was no indication anyone was thinking about the comfort of the guests, many of whom were elderly. But I wasn't angry or complaining, we were there, we weren't leaving, what good would being angry or complaining do? So it was just "grin and bear it," and while it was very uncomfortable, I enjoyed meeting Mitzi's friends.
The missing family member finally arrived and then the person I assume was the wedding planner was urging everyone to hurry back to their seats. It was an interesting ceremony. There was no clergy I could identify, I assume someone was a notary public or something, because there were two men kind of officiating, both fairly young. Their remarks didn't seem to follow any familiar text that I'd heard before, so I assumed they'd each written their own.
As I was listening to these two men, I was thinking about the utility of a marriage ceremony. Truthfully, I'm not sure how I feel about the notion of marriage anymore, but it was interesting listening to these two young men kind of articulate their ideas about it. Each spoke of the future, and happiness. Each acknowledged there would be challenges. One spoke of the "infinite possibilities" symbolized by the two rings.
That remark really struck me, as it seemed utterly wrong. I recall thinking, "Really?! Infinite? Starting right now, the possibilities begin to shrink!" I've kind of held onto that thought for the last few days, but more about that in a moment.
It was also at that moment when I had the thought that if a marriage ceremony required an "official" it probably ought to be someone much older, someone with a different perspective. Because what those two young men were telling the bride and groom were not things that would bear much resemblance to reality in the years ahead.
But then I also thought that by the time you get to that point, you're pretty much beyond the reach of any sage advice. The ceremony, I suppose, is really just to mark the occasion, and not to impart any meaningful guidance.
I recall thinking, "Those poor kids, they haven't a clue."
Of course, neither did I, when I got married. Nor do I believe anyone could have given me a clue if I'd wanted one. It's something you have to experience, and the clues and the lessons come in their own time at their own cost; and each and every one will have a cost.
I recall thinking about the "infinite possibilities" the younger of the two officials seemed to be extolling as one of the virtues of marriage. In an abstract way, yes, the "possibilities" remain "infinite," only in the context of the infinite of infinities. One of those infinite possibilities will be excluded the first time the groom meets a pretty girl on business trip. Or it should.
And there will be some nights when one or both will lie awake in bed, praying, if they pray, or hoping desperately that one or more of those "infinite possibilities" isn't in their immediate future. We've all been there. If you haven't yet, you will be.
The domain of infinite possibilities isn't exclusively of happy ones. I must say that the bride is already acutely aware of that, through her mother. I suppose that's why the tone of naive optimism in the "infinite possibilities" utterance was so dissonant.
"There're things that'll knock you down you don't even see comin'." - Springsteen
Ironically (The Fifth Fundamental Force of the Universe™), it is through shrinking possibilities that we experience "growth." Every moment, every choice, excludes an infinity of possibilities, as if carving away a piece of wood or chiseling a block of stone, until character is revealed.
So it's not a "bad" thing, but it is a sober one. And I guess that's what I think was missing, some sense of sobriety, of gravity.
But they were in love, and everyone was happy, so who am I to rain on their parade? I was just a stranger who offered them his best wishes for success and happiness in their marriage.
The reception was a lot of fun, a great cover band, The Velvet Runway. Dancing, great food, super time.
Made it home on Sunday just in time to watch the great Apple/U2 controversy convulse the internet.
It's funny. I don't follow a lot of people on Twitter. I learned this many years ago when blogging was new. There were a lot of high attention-earners that I read, some of whom I engaged with from time to time. Some of them may be familiar to you, Scoble, Hugh McLeod, Jeff Jarvis, the Instapundit™, some others. At some point I realized that what these guys were doing was competing for attention. They didn't offer a unique perspective from the standpoint of their experience, they would just write things for the sake of getting ranked on Technorati.
That's not to say that from time to time they didn't write something worthwhile, maybe they did. Mostly though, they were just being provocative, or sycophantic suck-ups to higher attention-earners, for the sake of garnering attention. It's kind of like Fox News or Limbaugh, just with the tech bent. And it worked, because I was often provoked. I was also going through therapy at the time (best education I ever had), and I was finally learning something an old friend once told me but I didn't quite get his meaning, "Pissed off is no way to go through life."
So, since I wasn't getting a unique bit of insight or some other added value from giving those guys my attention, especially Scoble, I just started deleting them from my RSS feeds. Life was better.
I don't have to argue with every dumb idea on the internet because nobody has that much time!
So I kind of carefully curate who I follow on Twitter. I follow some media outlets, some government accounts, a commercial entity or two, but a lot of individuals. For the most part, they offer me a meaningful perspective different from my own that adds to my view of an issue or subject I'm interested in. I don't always agree with them, but almost none of them write things simply for the sake of being provocative, to attract attention.
Then right on the heels of the other great internet outrage, stolen nude celebrity selfies! comes the Apple/U2 outrage.
It's as if a whole bunch of Walter Sobchaks suddenly appeared in my tweet-stream. "They stuck U2 in your iTunes library!?"
I mean, it's all like, "This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!"
Twitter is great for pointing to interesting things, maybe the occasional observation. It's also great for humorous quips, expressions of joy or grief or even anger. It's less great for channeling meaningful thought. In fact, it pretty much sucks at it. But, people try to do it anyway, which is why you see these occasional "tweet-storms" with multi-part tweets. Must say, not a fan.
Anyway, free U2 was a bad idea. I agree that they bungled the whole sorry idea. First, they shouldn't have done it. I know U2 and Apple have some history, but I suspect that was mostly a Steve thing and Steve is gone. And, lets face it, U2 isn't exactly the new hotness, now is it? So I totally didn't get why they did it, but I didn't really care either. It's a free album. Big deal.
Well, guess I was wrong about that!
Now Google, there's a worthy fuckin' adversary.
Of course, every nano-second that goes by, Google's gathering more data on everything it can and doing God only knows what with it in its data centers with exactly zero transparency. But, you know, that is not the issue here, Dude!
I don't get it.
I guess I don't inhabit the multiple alternative realities Chuq Von Rospach inhabits. On the one hand, "in reality, there are some bigger issues where they have a point, and that shouldn’t be ignored."
But on the other hand (Reality? Two paragraphs later, in any event.) "That said, this isn’t a big issue."
Big? Bigger? Biggest?
Obviously, I'm out of my element.
On a bored night, I engage on Twitter, noting the previous nude celebrity selfie outrage, and our incapacity for focusing on anything really important. Chuq, at least, deigns to reply.
Wherein I'm not sure if he's suggesting I know nothing of history or just saying "Shut the fuck up Donny! You're out of your element!"
(The subsequent reply tweet from me references the practice of inserting other products in the products you're buying. Not a perfect analogy by any means, but about as worthy of outrage.)
Marco Arment weighs in, with a rather nuanced, measured post that, based on at least what I've been able to observe personally is wrong in one factual element:
Instead, Apple set everyone’s account to have “purchased” this album, which auto-downloaded it to all of their devices, possibly filling up the stingy base-level storage that Apple still hasn’t raised and exacerbates by iOS’ poor and confusing storage-management facilities.
I have iTunes set to auto-download purchases from other devices, which is the only way iTunes auto-downloads on your Mac as far as I know. The U2 album didn't download on any of my devices. Not my MacBook Pro, not my iMac, not my iPhone, not my iPod and not my iPad. So the album exists as an album in the cloud that might play if I chose it, or if it came up in shuffle, but it's not physically present on any of my hardware, taking up any of my precious storage space.
So, anyway, at least we're manning the barricades against unchecked aggression by Apple and bad musical taste.
Glad we got that covered.
Marco and Chuq imply it's a matter of trust. As I mentioned in the beginning, at least with me, Apple has earned a large bank of goodwill by consistently doing more than just the right thing in the case of hardware repairs. I've never really had any other issues with them, other than the discontinuation of homepage.mac.com and the ham fisted way they announced the termination of development of Aperture. In every other respect, especially those most significantly affecting my pocketbook, they've been more than reasonable.
Twitter and the internet in general have a way of distorting "reality" (see Chuq above). They alter our perspective in not always good ways. Yes, the laser-like focused outrage regarding the death of Michael Brown seems to have yielded some good outcomes in the near term. But it's too early to tell if that kind of focused attention can be sustained. Any reasonable reading of recent "history" (if I'm not out of my element), suggests it cannot.
The competition for attention by commercial entities has compromised our ability to maintain focus, as very smart, very savvy learning organizations have learned how to manipulate it. Sometimes those smart, savvy organizations can be utterly wrong too, as in the Apple/U2 case. This isn't the attention they wanted. Not that it was merited in any case, just that they can miscalculate. But they will learn, and the calculations will continue.
When we "take the bait" we exclude those infinite possibilities of other, more urgent, more meaningful matters that might benefit from a little attention.
So hopefully I've closed the loop here, and you've found the journey at least mildly entertaining.
I wish you well.