mens rea

I have been arguing that social decay is ending technological and scientific progress.  In most areas it has strikingly slowed, in some areas, going backwards in the west, as we forget how to do what once we could do.  Others, however, argue that technological and scientific progress is still running hot, or that if it has slowed, it is that we ran out of low hanging fruit.

But a big tell is that people are lying about it. The lie indicates not only failure, but that the failure is shameful – that the failure is in us, not in external circumstances.  That we are lying about it shows the failure is social decay.

IC manufacturers continue to announce new generations, 45 nanometer, 32 nanometer, 22 nanometer, and coming soon, 14 nanometer, though in fact we have been stuck at 64 nanometer for quite some time.  There have been process improvements, but these are incremental improvements.  The line pitch remains 64 nanometers.  We cannot actually build circuits smaller than we could eight years ago.  That these are improvements is no lie, but to label them by a size is a lie. If they had said “second generation 64 nanometer” instead of “45 nanometer”, if they had said “third generation 64 nanometer instead of “32 nanometer”, then they would have been speaking truth, or at least speaking hype rather than lies.

Similarly, it is embarrassing that while the twin towers had one hundred and ten habitable floors, their replacement, the freedom tower, merely has ninety four habitable floors. That the top story of the freedom tower is labelled 104 shows mens rea.

The US government gets wonderful ratings for lack of corruption by various organizations quietly dominated by the US government, but that really has not been my experience. And if you suspect that my personal experience might be atypical, or that I might view the behavior of various governmental entities I have dealt with with undue cynicism, consider the extraordinary crimes revealed in the financial crisis, the lack of prosecutions for those crimes, and the failure of civil suits against financial misconduct.

You cannot do large projects in the US any more, because any new project attracts a horde of government officials seeking a payoff, the bigger the project, the more people seeking a payoff, until eventually you get a hundred officials each seeking five percent of any added value the project would generate. Possibly this a result of the well known effect of diversity in lowering trust, trustworthy behavior, and social pressures that enforce trustworthy behavior. Add five percent affirmative action blacks to the ruling elite, get one hundred percent Chicago style corruption.

The Challenger inquiry revealed that our rocket scientists are idiots. Mulloy and Hardy would talk technobabble whenever they were in a corner, and everyone would solemnly treat their technobabble as if they were making sense.

CHAIRMAN ROGERS: Read it again. And as I read it, it means that if the primary seal fails that the mission will fail. Am I wrong?

And of course, the reason for the inquiry is that the primary seal failed, causing the space shuttle to blow up.

MR. HARDY: That is not my interpretation.

Because black is white and white is black.

CHAIRMAN ROGERS: Well, let’s read it. “Loss of mission” – this is actual loss. “Failure effects summary. Actual loss. Loss of mission, vehicle and crew due to metal erosion, burn-through, and probable case burst, resulting in fire and deflagration.” Now “Note, leakage of the primary” -and this is the part that I want to refer to.

“Leakage of the primary O-ring seal is classified as a single failure point “-” as a single failure point “-” due to possibility of loss of sealing at the secondary O-ring because of joint rotation after motor pressurization.”

Now, that suggests to me that the critical items list says that if the primary O-ring seal fails, that you have got a good probability that the mission will be a catastrophe. Am I wrong about that?

MR. HARDY: You are not wrong,

Observe that Mr Hardy has directly contradicted himself.

if I might put my clarification into that, if the primary O-ring fails after motor pressurization, after joint rotation.

In other words, if primary O-ring fails when it is needed, the shuttle will blow up.

CHAIRMAN ROGERS: I guess what I’m saying is, isn’t that a possibility of exactly what happened in this launch?

MR. HARDY: I don’t believe so.


MR. HARDY: Well, I will elaborate on that a little bit later here.

Later he gives us a stream of gibberish technobabble.

But in the considerations, at least in the considerations of the subjects at hand, relative to the discussion on the 27th, the discussion on the 27th had to do with the possibility of the cold temperature delaying the complete actuation of the primary seal, thereby extending the duration of blow-by.

Now, when we talk about blow-by of the primary seal, blow-by has to go somewhere, and where it goes to is the secondary seal. If blow-by occurs as soon as the pressure gets to the primary seal, early in the ignition, and that seal doesn’t sustain that pressure, it goes immediately to the secondary seal, prior to the time that the joint is rotated.

Too long, don’t read. The short of it is that when the pressure rises then the joint rotates, and then the shuttle blows up if the primary O-ring has failed..

CHAIRMAN ROGERS: This says “possibility of the loss of the sealing of the secondary O-ring.”

MR. MULLOY: After the joint has rotated, sir. The condition that is on the screen now is before joint rotation.

DR. WALKER: But I think a critical and a literal interpretation of that waiver has to be that the primary seal is a single point failure. Now, the wording goes on to explain why this is so, but the wording does not make an exception. It merely explains why the single point failure mode refers to the primary seal.

But a strict interpretation of that wording to my mind is that the primary O-ring is a single point failure.

Of course Mr Mulloy does not want to admit that he signed off on a study saying that if the primary O-ring failed, the shuttle would blow up, and another report that the primary O-ring was going to fail. But neither can he deny it. So he technobabbles.

MR. HARDY: I wouldn’t deny that. I am relating to what many of us knew about the performance of that joint, its rotation, when we lost-when we could lose, because of the stackup of [836] tolerances, when in the ignition transient prior to full motor pressurization or after full motor pressurization when we could lose that secondary seal.

Our interpretation or my interpretation of the waiver was not to remove the secondary seal from the hardware.

So he would not deny it, but then he does deny it. If the primary O-ring is a single point of failure, that means that if it fails, there is no backup, the mission fails. The secondary O-ring will not serve. If the secondary O-ring would serve, then the primary O-ring would not be a single point of failure. That is what “single point of failure” means. Due to joint rotation, if the primary O-ring is failing to seal, the secondary O-ring will fail considerably worse.

Now because Mr Hardy is not making any sense at all, Dr Ride then comes to his aid with more technobabble, and then there is much meaningless gibberish back and forth between them in which each solemnly and respectfully treats the other as if he is making sense, much like Jacques Derrida discussing “the Einsteinian Constant”.

There was a lot of this sort of thing, technobabble in place of technical argument, in the events that led to the destruction of the shuttle, and during the shuttle inquiry.

If someone engages in technobabble, he is lying to idiots, so our rocket scientists are, at the top, liars and idiots.

Which explains where we are going in space.

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23 Responses to “mens rea”

  1. Sam says:

    I didn’t know about the faking of line width. Very sobering. The Challenger incident was not due to the engineers though. They told management not to fly and they did it anyways.

  2. bob k. mando says:

    no, it implies an audience of people without discernment.

    there is a difference.

    the very line of questioning by the chair demonstrates that the Chairman understands full well what the meaning of that report implied, that failure of the primary o-ring meant total catastrophic failure.

    the problem is that, somehow, we have inculcated into the populace the concept that denying culpability or professing ignorance is somehow tantamount to BEING without culpability or professional knowledge.

    this society is the happy hunting ground of Borderlines, bi-polars, narcissists and sociopaths of all stripes.

    pub-ed strikes again.

    you assert that they are “idiots”. while i have had my fill of dealing with dolts, not all that act the fool are actually without intelligence. the larger problem is that people have been taught that they must suspend, not merely disbelief, but judgment also.

    even worse is the fact that acting as though your audience lacks discernment requires no great intelligence on the part of the miscreant. i have had some REAL sub-90 iq’s try to run these games on me. hell, you can see it on any episode of COPS ( the only people stupider than cops are petty criminals, it seems ).

    Cop: you mind if i search your car?
    driver: no man, go right ahead, i got nothing to hide.
    Cop comes back a couple of minutes later: welp, i found an unregistered pistol, 5 lbs of coke and bale of marijuana.
    driver: no way man, that’s not mine. you must have planted it!

    the cops don’t have any more discernment than the judges, it’s just that the cops assume that everybody is guilty instead of assuming they’re all innocent without a confession.

  3. Kudzu Bob says:

    In CM Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons,” the sci-fi tale of dysgenics that inspired the movie “Idiocracy,” automobile speedometers used KPH rather than MPH to fool semi-retarded motorists into believing that their futuristic-looking cars raced along at breakneck speeds.

  4. bob k. mando says:

    the problem with your example isn’t necessarily that either Chairman Rogers or Mr. Hardy fail to grasp the technical aspects of the problem; it’s that the chair is refusing to acknowledge Hardy’s clear malfeasance.

    let me be clear:
    Hardy knows full well that he is culpable. but *so long as he refuses to admit* culpability, he thinks to evade being held responsible.

    the fault is that the chair let him get away with it. the proper course of action is to go back and forth with Hardy a couple of times to establish that he is willfully and intentionally obstructing and then you thank him for his testimony and send him on his way.

    then, at commission report, you assert Hardy fully culpable and strip him of all certifications, pensions and administrative authority and blackball him.

    the problem is that ‘refusal to admit guilt’ is now an ‘accepted’ defense BY THOSE MAKING JUDGMENTS. Bill ( during the Monica investigation, “what is sex” ) and Hillary ( i don’t recall, at this date what does it matter ) raised this to high art.

    but lying and evasion by the miscreant is to be expected.

    the problem is that very few ( none? ) of our betters have any higher standards than the people they are supposed to be investigating.

    • jim says:

      Quite so, but instead of saying “direct all questions to my attorney”, he babbles away meaninglessly, which implies an intended audience of idiots.

  5. John says:

    There was a lot of this sort of thing, technobabble in place of technical argument

    Being a student in a STEM degree and living on a socialist shithole in Europe i must say that i have a bunch of colleagues that almost specialize on technobabble and the most impressive thing is that there is a somewhat successful strategy.

    • jim says:

      It works when high status people confirm each other’s status by each treating the other’s technobabble as meaningful and relevant.

      The fact that it works suggests rule by idiocracy, rather then rule by the cognitive elite. Mann still gets away with his hockey stick, even though it has been thoroughly debunked – his statistical methods produce a hockey stick because they assume a hockey stick. If you feed random red noise into the process, a hockey stick comes out.

      • John says:

        The fact that it works suggests rule by idiocracy, rather then rule by the cognitive elite.

        Yeah. Pretty much describes where i live, idiots ruling other idiots and anyone with barely any intelligence gets screwed.

        It works when high status people confirm each other’s status by each treating the other’s technobabble as meaningful and relevant.

        Not sure if just that. It appears to exist the fear from the people that work in the correspondent area of expertise of just saying that they didn’t understand or asking for a clarification on a point. It is like that they are showing they are retarded or are committing a sin just for asking why.

        Btw thanks for replying. Is nice to read stuff written about the same world that I live but talking about a complete different reality that was taught to me when growing up

        • jim says:

          It appears to exist the fear from the people that work in the correspondent area of expertise of just saying that they didn’t understand or asking for a clarification on a point.

          The relevant response is “not even wrong”, but that is a challenge to the speaker’s status, and since someone speaking technobabble is usually high status, people are afraid to say it, or even think it. Of course, anyone who speaks technobabble ought to have his status challenged. He should not be high status.

  6. Zarf says:

    The Freedom Tower’s a let-down – a chopped-off needle with a rusted-out disk-shaped head and a long antenna that they call a “steeple”. They could have made it taper all the way to the top; instead there’s an antenna. And it’s not done yet, more than twelve years later; the northeast corner of it is still all naked girders. Meanwhile the trains are slower and the streets and sidewalks are crumbling. There are sidewalk bridges (scaffolding) everywhere, that stay put forever.

    • jim says:

      The design objective of the twin towers was office space for rent. The twin towers were built to provide office space. Freedom tower is built to pretend we can still build tall buildings.

    • “Who is John Galt?”

      Whether you like Rand’s work or hate it, this post, the “Freedom” Tower, High Speed” rail, The State Science Institute (oh wait, that was fiction), Detroit and Head of State Mr. Thompson/Obama–well, it’s all quite eerie.

  7. Handle says:

    Steyn’s been blogging up a storm lately about his lawsuit (largely to request legal defense fund contributions) on his own site, and has a new thing in the print edition of National Review:

    Chronological Links:
    1. 22-JAN
    2. 23-JAN
    3. 24-JAN
    4. 25-JAN
    5. 25-JAN

    NR article, 25-JAN:

    • jim says:

      I am disappointed in Steyn that he failed to investigate the hockey stick issue.

      Climate change is indeed real – because the climate is always changing. It has been considerably hotter before, and considerably colder before, and in future it will be considerably hotter, and considerably colder.

  8. Daniel Schmuhl says:

    I think part of the problem is that we reward high IQ people with high conscientiousness. Hans Eysenck’s idea was that genius is due to a combination of High IQ and psychoticism in personality, as well as some environmental factors such as luck, motivation etc. It’s speculated that this is why Asians are not as good with producing original research. Asians are low in psychoticism and high in conformity, this is not good producing geniuses. Our current peer review system rewards mediocre, conformist, and conscientiousness people.

    Combine this with the fact that the government has essentially banned innovation in the world of stuff (Peter Thiel’s words), and it’s not surprising that innovation is slowing down now.

    • jim says:

      I am pretty sure that today’s leading scientist, Michael Mann, is neither high IQ nor conscientious. That he took an elite interdisciplinary at an elite institution means he could not handle a disciplinary. “Interdisciplinary” and “administrative” are elite institutional code for “too stupid to handle maths or science”

  9. peppermint says:

    We cannot actually build circuits smaller than we could eight years ago

    Transistor counts keep going up. AMD actually changed process on their latest generation of APUs to increase density a bit at the cost of some clock speed; they are hoping that the improvement in IPC covers it.

    CPUs are getting better. There is a very competitive market with two companies making x86 and many making ARM.

    Anyway, skyscrapers cost a billion dollars so in order to build one people have to be pretty sure it’s going to be worth it for a while. Two decades of racist law enforcement managed to convince hipsters to start gentrifying the cities. But look at the Detroit skyline -> <- how much did that cost to build? I think that next to affirmative action, white flight was the second biggest economic cost imposed by the civil rights movement.

    • jim says:

      Transistor counts keep going up

      But it is a lie to describe these improvements as “45 nanometer” or “22 nanometer”. Line pitch is still 64 nanometer.

      They could describe these improvements as 64 nanometer next generation or some such.

      But look at the Detroit skyline

      Martin Trayvon and Bill de Blasio threaten an end to racist law enforcement. Whites may wind up living in tents.

      • let it burn says:

        it isn’t just first layer wire pitch that is a problem. power budgets are resulting in “dark silicon”, functional units that can’t be powered without melting the chip down. so they can pack lots of transistors into a tiny space, they just can’t turn them all on. so they now go to crazy lengths just to figure out what can and cannot run at a particular time. new smaller feature nodes won’t fix that.

        another data point for you: intel just mothballed a new plant in arizona. first time they’ve ever done that. building is mostly done, but no equipment installed. 450mm wafers are still vaporware so they can’t buy them. intel claims the slowing of the peecee market, they’ll open up again when it picks up. the peecee market will never pick up. it’s yesterday’s technology. intel can’t move on to the next big thing. better process engineering won’t fix that.

        • jim says:

          As the technology maxes out, people stop replacing – which takes away the opportunity to develop better technology.

      • peppermint says:

        > 64NG

        it took a while for Intel and AMD to stop putting numbers that looked like clock speeds on their chips after clock speed peaked. Some day they will start saying SuperWowieZowie process instead of XXnm; they used to say ‘SoI’ and ‘strained silicon’ and stuff, and Intel’s “22nm” has their new “FinFET”

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