A Tale Of Two Technical Support Departments

We all have had appliances and equipment in the house “crash.” In the good old days you called a great repair man like our repair man of 60 years ago-Cecil Hall. Or you went to the store where you bought the equipment and found out how to make it work again.

Now you have to call technical support. I had two crashes this week. The head on our Dyson vacuum cleaner failed to work. I found that the nearest Dyson store was in the East Bay. I looking forward to a long ride and a morning “shot.” I decided to take a risk and pulled up the company website at 07:00. A nice man named Michael came right on line. He told me to check and make sure the attachment wheel would rotate. It rotated. He then told me to hit a gray button by the power button three times. It would reset the head of the attachment. I followed his instructions. I fired up the vacuum cleaner. The attachment worked fine. It all took 7 minutes. I was treated with dignity and courtesy.

The following morning our Bose T.V. sound system crashed. I did trouble shooting. The logical conclusion was that the battery on the remote had died. I opened the remote. A big round battery that I did not have was needed. I went to Ace Hardware and bought the battery. I came home and installed it. The unit was still dead. I pulled up the Bose website. I found a Bose store in Palo Alto. I called and asked for help. They said that they could not help me. I was given the 800 number for technical support. I dialed the 800 number and it was the start of a one-hour nightmare. The metallic voice on the line claimed that bad weather (snow) was creating unusually long wait times. I waited, waited and waited. Finally some guy came on the line and told me to reboot the unit . I did that and it worked. I was physically and mentally exhausted. It was a humiliating and degrading experience

David Chapman Warns About The Precarious Debt Mess That We Are In

*****SPECIAL EDITION*****

December 30, 2015

 

This past weekend I saw the film The Big Short, based on a book by Michael Lewis about how a few hedge fund managers read the tea leaves correctly and shorted the housing market before the 2008 financial collapse. Setting aside the merits of the film, which could prove to be Oscar-worthy, the purpose of writing this is to look at today’s conditions with some perspective on the events that led to the financial collapse of 2008. (And speaking of Oscar-worthy, the ensemble cast was led by Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt—who also produced it—along with a strong supporting cast. Steve Carell especially stood out. Highly recommended.)

I am going to start by comparing some numbers for the US dating back to the end of 2004 vs. today. Why 2004? Well, 2004 is the year before the peak in the US housing market. US housing started to peak in February 2006, although many acknowledge 2005 as the peak year. Today, housing starts are roughly 55% of what they were at the peak. Existing home sales peaked in 2005 and today sit at 65% of that peak. The home ownership rate peaked in Q2 2004 and today is 93% of that peak. 2004 marked the last time US GDP actually grew according Shadow Statswww.shadowstats.com.

The SGS-Alternate GDP reflects the inflation-adjusted, or real, year-to-year GDP change, adjusted for distortions in government inflation usage and methodological changes that have resulted in a built-in upside bias to official reporting. Without the built-in upward bias, the US has been in a series of rolling recessions since 2000. Below is a chart showing official vs. Shadow Stats GDP annual growth.

 

Other comparisons to consider are as follows:

 Measure 2004 2015 Increase
US National Debt $7.7 trillion $18.8 trillion 144%
US Personal Debt $12.8 trillion $17.4 trillion 36%
US State & Municipal Debt $2 trillion $3.1 trillion 55%
US population 294.4 million 322.4 million 9.5%
US GDP (Official) $11.7 trillion $18.2 trillion 55.6%
US National Debt to GDP ratio 66.4% 103.2% 55.4%
US Labour Force 140.1 million 149.5 million 6.7%
US Not in Labour Force 76.4 million 94.6 million 23.8%
US Food Stamps Recipients 25.5 million 45.2 million 77.3%
US Monetary Base $774 billion $4.0 trillion 417%
US Total Debt $37.8 trillion $64.5 trillion 70.6%
US Personal Debt/Citizen $43,598 $53,821 23.4%
US Personal Savings per Family $8,886 $8,949 0.7%
US Total National Assets $64.0 trillion $116.2 trillion 81.5%

What stands out here? US debt has increased sharply primarily due to government. Personal debt levels have grown more slowly while corporate debt (not shown) is somewhere in between and is up about 46% since 2004. The US population has only grown 9.5% but the US labour force has grown more slowly, while the percentage for those not in the labour force has grown faster. The number of food stamp recipients has grown sharply as has the number living in poverty (not shown). Savings per family is flat but debt per family and per citizen is up. Assets have grown primarily due to monetary inflation, given the huge debt level increases.

It is against this background that one wonders how the US managed GDP growth over the past number of years. For the majority of the population things have actually deteriorated. The benefactors of the improving economy have been the 1% and possibly the top 20% of the population.  For most people, things are either worse or about the same.

Globally, debt has increased $57 trillion since the financial crisis of 2008. These numbers were as of February 2015; the debt is probably higher now. Total global debt is estimated at $200 trillion.  As a result, the global debt-to-GDP ratio has jumped 17 percentage points. This huge increase poses a risk to global financial stability and to global economic growth. Yet the US has just raised interest rates by 25 bp while most of the other developed countries were lowering interest rates (including parts of the Euro zone and Japan going to negative interest rates) and increasing quantitative easing (QE).

It is unknown at this time how the US rate increase might impact all the debt, but a quick calculation suggests that it could cost the US economy alone an additional $1.6 trillion annually in interest payments. But just how much debt is there out there that could cause a problem? Quite a bit it seems.

How much debt could be at risk? There are some estimates that $14 trillion of largely corporate debt issued in US$ in emerging markets could be at risk. Much of this debt is commodity related. This debt was issued on the assumption the global economy would stay strong and the US$ would stay low against foreign currencies. There is further $5 trillion of energy debt that could be at risk because of the collapse in oil prices from over $100 to below $40. Global growth is as low as it has been since the financial crisis of 2008 and the US$ is the strongest since 2003.

Domestically in the US some $1.3 trillion of student debt is at risk because millennials can’t find good jobs and, in many cases, no jobs. The banks convinced the government to pass a law that students cannot declare bankruptcy because of student debt. How much of this $1.3 trillion is uncollectable is unknown. The other sector that has seen debt explode in the past few years is car loans. Car loan debt is estimated to be well over $1 trillion in the US and has grown over 50% in the past five years. Recent Q2 figures showed that four banks alone had just over $1 trillion in car loans. These four banks are Ally Financial (ALLY-NASDAQ), Wells Fargo (WFC-NYSE), JP Morgan Chase (JPM-NYSE), and Capital One (COF-NYSE).

The global economy has become dominated by the finance sector. At one time, the financial sector wasn’t even 20% of the economy. Today, it is well over 30% and before the 2008 financial crisis the finance sector had reached over 40% of the economy. It is interesting to note that back as early as 1999 finance stocks made up only 13% of the S&P 500’s market cap. Today, they are around 17% and before the 2008 financial meltdown they had reached over 22%. Finance has become quite dominant when compared to the other sectors of the economy.

Financial derivatives have increased at a mind-boggling rate since 2000. The global market for financial derivatives is estimated at over $700 trillion (that’s face value). (Note: some studies suggest this may be over $1 quadrillion). The amount held by US financial institutions is estimated at $483.5 trillion, so the US banking institutions dominate the sector along with Deutsche Bank of Germany. In 2000, the amount of derivatives held by US financial institutions was only $94 trillion for a 420% increase.

So, what is a derivative? Derivatives are a security with a price that is dependent upon or derived from one or more underlying assets. The assets may be bonds, stocks or commodities. Derivatives are contracts between two or more parties. A participant in the derivatives market doesn’t even have to own the underlying bond, stock or commodity. The most common examples of a derivative are futures and options. As well, forward agreements or future rate agreements and interest rate, currency and equity swaps are also quite common. Not so common and the ones that came into being in the past 20 years or so were what one calls synthetic derivatives such as credit default swaps (CDS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDO). There are also mortgage-backed securities (MBS) which are asset-backed securities secured by mortgages. MBSs can also be turned into collateralized mortgage obligations (CMO) and the previous mentioned CDO. Debt, such as student and car loans, have been turned into CDOs. While futures and options are traded on an exchange, most other derivatives are traded only on the over-the-counter (OTC) market.

While it would be nice to believe that derivatives are used only for hedging, their biggest function is speculation (leverage) and arbitrage. In other words, one doesn’t have to be a market participant to actually engage in the trading of derivatives.  The amount of derivatives outstanding can far exceed the supply of the actual underlying bond, stock or commodity. Why? Because one has to put up less margin or collateral for a derivative than one would have to put for the actual bond, stock or commodity. Hence, the leverage inherent in derivatives. As a result, the actual risk is considerably lower as well, but could be as high as $3.3 trillion in the US banking system alone according to numbers from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). A shift in interest rates or a large default could trigger a financial meltdown not unlike 2008.

At the heart of the financial crisis of 2008 were the banks who, because of slack lending practices were able to create money, primarily because banks were not shackled by reserve requirements. With the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, banks were able to start acting like investment dealers. The original Glass-Steagall of 1933 prohibited banks from engaging in the investment business. With the end of Glass-Steagall, banks were now able to operate like an investment bank, but with much higher capitalization that allowed them to leverage their balance sheets to levels never seen before. It wasn’t unusual for banks to have leveraged their balance sheet 30 or 40 times (and some higher) before the 2008 financial meltdown. Even today, banks remain highly leveraged compared to previous times. Investment banks were constrained because of low capital compared to commercial banks and therefore had to act more prudently. This is no longer the case as the investment banks have converted to banking conglomerates so that they are all treated the same.

US M2 money supply that was $4.9 trillion in 2000 exploded to $12.4 trillion today—a gain of 153%. In 2008, M2 stood at $8.3 trillion so it has increased 49% since then. A big chunk of the increase in money supply went into housing. The banks further exacerbated the situation through sub-prime loans. That allowed people to buy a house with little or no money down and even no income at a low interest rate that would not rise for a fixed number of years. In many cases loans were being made at upwards of 125% of the value of the house. When the interest rate on the mortgage loans rose, many couldn’t pay it and defaulted.

Further mortgage loans were bundled up in MBSs and sold in tranches. Buyers and lenders alike also engaged in CDSs and CDOs. The rating agencies aided the situation by according these MBSs, etc. with high credit ratings, including AAA when the MBS might be 20% junk sub-prime mortgages. The rating agencies led by S&P and Moody’s were, of course, paid huge fees to give favourable credit ratings.

What the hedge fund managers in the The Big Short did was to bet against this house of cards by purchasing CDSs. The CDS was effectively an insurance policy against a default by a lender. The hedge fund managers started a little early, including some in 2004 as they saw what was going on as a disaster in the making. For the next few years they looked to be wrong as the housing market stayed strong and the stock market kept moving higher.

The hedge funds faced threats of withdrawals and lawsuits because of their position. The financial institutions selling the CDSs to the hedge fund manager treated them like a joke. After all, housing prices only go up; right? The hedge fund managers’ patience paid off and they made billions when the market collapsed in 2008.

The result was that an estimated 5 million lost their homes and another 11 million discovered that their homes were worth less than their mortgage. The numbers were actually worse than the Great Depression. Americans lost the equivalent of $12.8 trillion in the great housing collapse of 2008–2010. The banks who were at the heart of the financial crisis were bailed out by the taxpayer at a minimum cost of $700 billion (TARP) and, in reality, it was most likely in excess of $1 trillion. Upwards of 500 banks failed. Numerous funds were closed. Lehman Brothers was the sacrificial lamb of the big institutions that failed. Only one banker went to jail because of the crisis. The bankers paid themselves huge bonuses following the release of the TARP money to bail them out. Depositors were protected through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), but the FDIC became bankrupt and it too had to be bailed out by the US taxpayer. The US government’s two biggest agencies involved in the mortgage market known as Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp) were bankrupt.

Today, there is the emerging market debt, energy debt, student loan debt and car loan debt. There remains even sub-prime mortgages but they are just not as prevalent. Much of that debt has been securitized into CDO’s then resold as high yielding investments. Car loans have also been securitized and much of it is not unlike the sub-prime mortgages that were seen prior to the financial crisis. If only 10% of this debt were to default (an estimate of at least $2.1 trillion) it would be bigger than the sub-prime loan collapse of 2008. But this time, because of the financial crisis of 2008 plus the debt crisis of 2011–2013 in the Euro zone, the central banks do not have the wherewithal to bail out the financial system as they did in 2008. No wonder they have changed the rules so that it will be the depositors that pay rather than the taxpayer. This is known as a bail-in as opposed to the bail-out that took place in 2008.

If the global banking system were to face another financial crisis it would be the fourth one in the past 17 years. The first one was the Russian default of 1998 that led to the collapse of Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) a hedge fund so large it almost brought down the banking system. The second was the High Tech/Internet collapse of 2000-2002. The third one was the financial meltdown of 2007-2009. Each crisis required a larger commitment and bail out from the central banks coupled with a sharp drop in interest rates. The 2008 meltdown took interest rates in the US and elsewhere to historical lows that had never been seen before.

The taxpayer is tapped out and the central banks themselves would be in a bind. The US Federal Reserve has some $1.8 trillion of MBS on its balance sheet alone. Much of it is of questionable value. The FDIC is tapped out as well,as once again the US taxpayer would have to come to the rescue. But that scenario is unlikely. It is the depositors in the financial institutions that will pay when the next crisis happens.

As was the case leading up to the financial crisis of 2008, evidence was gathering that there was a problem as far back as 2004. Yet it took another 3–4 years to materialize. The current crisis is also percolating in the background. It was most likely being noticed back in 2013/2014 when the Greece mess was dominating the headlines in the Euro zone. The next crisis could be upon us by 2017. Already, a number of high-yield funds have closed their doors or are restricting withdrawals. Fed Chair Janet Yellen dismissed them as a one-off. Leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 Fed Chair Ben Bernanke was also dismissive of a brewing financial crisis. After all, the Fed works for the banks, not for the people, because the banks own the Fed and the banks own the US government and practically all the candidates for President. But they won’t tell you that.

As was the case leading up to the financial crisis of 2008, another crisis is percolating. When it will hit remains an educated guess. The signs are there. The recent closing or restrictions on withdrawals for some high-yield hedge funds is, as they say the canary, in the coal mine. When some funds closed in 2006 and 2007, no one paid any attention until it was too late. Well almost no one paid attention except for some like the hedge fund managers ofThe Big Short.

David Chapman

Disclaimer: David Chapman is an independent investment advisor with IA Securities. The financial markets are risky. Investing is risky. Past performance does not guarantee future performance. The foregoing report has been prepared solely for informational purposes and is not a solicitation, or an offer to buy or sell any security. Opinions are based on historical research and data believed reliable, but there is no guarantee that future results will be profitable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Curiosity’s Ten Best Pictures Of Mars FOr 2015

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Curiosity’s 10 best images of Mars in 2015

As of December, 2015, Curiosity has acquired over 292,000 images from Mars’ surface.

Here are our picks for the top 10 images by the rover in 2015.

Strata rocks and dark sand in an area that has been named Strata rocks and dark sand in an area that has been named ‘Kimberley.’ The strata in the foreground dip towards the base of Mount Sharp, indicating flow of water toward a basin that existed before the larger bulk of the mountain formed. The images obtained by NASA’s Curiosity rover in October, 2015, led scientists conclude there were ancient lakes on this area. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Since its August 5-6, 2012 landing on Mars – an event known to space scientists as seven minutes of terror – NASA’s Curiosity rover has been studying the surface of Mars. Its job now is to determine whether the Gale Crater area, the area in which it landed, ever had the right conditions to support microbial life. As of December, 2015 – using its 17 cameras – Curiosity has acquired over 292,000 images from the surface of Mars. The images on this page are our picks of some of the best images captured by the rover in 2015.

Curiosity has seen a lot of layered rocks on the surface of Mars, like these amazing rocks captured on July, 2015. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS Curiosity has seen a lot of layered rocks on the surface of Mars, like these amazing rocks captured in July, 2015.Read more about this image. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The rover mission’s official name is the Mars Science Laboratory. The rover itself is 9 feet (about 3 meters) long and 7 feet (about 2.7 meters) wide, and weighs about 2,000 pounds (900 kg).

 It is not Arizona or Utah...this is planet Mars as seen by Curiosity on September, 2015.  This image shows regions that include a long ridge teeming with hematite, an iron oxide. Just beyond is an undulating plain rich in clay minerals. And just beyond that are a multitude of rounded buttes, all high in sulfate minerals. The changing mineralogy in these layers of Mount Sharp suggests a changing environment in early Mars, though all involve exposure to water billions of years ago. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSSIt’s not Arizona or Utah … this is planet Mars as seen by Curiosity on September, 2015. This image shows regions that include a long ridge teeming with hematite, an iron oxide. Just beyond is an undulating plain rich in clay minerals. And just beyond that are a multitude of rounded buttes, all high in sulfate minerals. The changing mineralogy in these layers of Mount Sharp suggests a changing environment in early Mars, though all involve exposure to water billions of years ago. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Sunset in Mars' Gale Crater. NASA's Curiosity Mars rover captured the sun setting on April 15, 2015 from the rover's location in Gale Crater. The color has been calibrated and white-balanced to remove camera artifacts. Mastcam sees color very similarly to what human eyes see, although it is actually a little less sensitive to blue than people are. Dust in the Martian atmosphere has fine particles that permit blue light to penetrate the atmosphere more efficiently than longer-wavelength colors. That causes the blue colors in the mixed light coming from the sun to stay closer to sun's part of the sky, compared to the wider scattering of yellow and red colors. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSSSunset on Mars. The Curiosity rover captured the sun setting on April 15, 2015 from the Gale Crater. The color has been calibrated and white-balanced to remove camera artifacts. The rover’s ‘Mastcam’ sees color very similarly to what human eyes see, although it is actually a little less sensitive to blue than people are. Dust in the Martian atmosphere has fine particles that permit blue light to penetrate the atmosphere more efficiently than longer-wavelength colors. That causes the blue colors in the mixed light coming from the sun to stay closer to sun’s part of the sky, compared to the wider scattering of yellow and red colors. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Two orbiters that were already studying Mars when Curiosity arrived. They are the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Mars Odyssey. These two act as satellites, relaying pictures and data from the rover back to Earth.

Diverse composition of mineral veins at the Diverse composition of mineral veins at the ‘Garden City’ site investigated by Curiosity suggests multiple episodes of groundwater activity. The prominent mineral veins vary in thickness and brightness, and include: 1) thin, dark-toned fracture filling material; 2) thick, dark-toned vein material in large fractures; 3) light-toned vein material, which was deposited last. Researchers used the Mastcam and other instruments on Curiosity in March and April 2015 to study the structure and composition of mineral veins at Garden City, for information about fluids that deposited minerals in fractured rock there. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Because color images use much more data or bandwidth to be transmitted to our planet, a lot of black and white images are sent to the orbiting spacecraft that occasionally passes over the rover’s location for a short time. However, some color images are eventually sent.

Dunes on Route up Mountain. This is an area lining the northwestern edge of Mount Sharp. The scene combines multiple images taken with the Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on Sept. 25, 2015. Dunes are larger than wind-blown ripples of sand or dust that Curiosity and other rovers have visited previously. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSSThis is an area lining the northwestern edge of Mount Sharp. The scene combines multiple images taken with the Mast Camera on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on Sept. 25, 2015. Dunes are larger than wind-blown ripples of sand or dust that Curiosity and other rovers have visited previously. You can see the dark dunes by clicking again after opening this panorama. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Giant antennas at California (USA), Australia and Spain compose the Deep Space Network that receives pictures and data from the Mars spacecraft as well as from other interplanetary spacecraft.

A Selfie on Mars. Curiosity extended its robotic arm and used the camera on the arm's end to capture this self portrait on October 6,2015. The image was taken at the A selfie on Mars. Curiosity extended its robotic arm and used the camera on the arm’s end to capture this self portrait on October 6, 2015. The image was taken at the ‘Big Sky’ site, where its drill collected the mission’s fifth taste of Mount Sharp. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Dark rocks on route to Mountains. Diverse terrain is visible on this image taken on Mount Sharp on April 10, 2015. The color has been approximately white-balanced to resemble how the scene would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSSDark rocks on route to mountains. Diverse terrain is visible on this image taken on Mount Sharp on April 10, 2015. The color has been approximately white-balanced to resemble how the scene would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Damage on the aluminum wheels is evident after 7 miles (11.3 km) on the odometer of the Curiosity rover. Mars' terrain and diverse rocks led to more wheel damage than was expected. However scientists think the 20 inches (51 cm) wheels may permit the rover to continue its mission. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSSDamage on the aluminum wheels is evident after 7 miles (11.3 km) on the odometer of the Curiosity rover. Mars’ terrain and diverse rocks led to more wheel damage than was expected. However scientists think the 20 inches (51 cm) wheels may permit the rover to continue its mission. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A Solar Eclipse from Mars. Curiosity captured Phobos, one of the two small martian moons passing in front of the Sun in July, 2015. Although Phobos is only about 14 miles (22.5 km) in diameter, it orbits Mars at just 6,000 km ( 3,728 miles) which is relatively close. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSSA Solar Eclipse from Mars. Curiosity captured Phobos, one of the two small martian moons passing in front of the Sun in July, 2015. Although Phobos is only about 14 miles (22.5 km) in diameter, it orbits Mars at just 6,000 km ( 3,728 miles) which is relatively close. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Where is Curiosity right now? The rover is located in an area of Mount Sharp that has been namedNamib dune. The rover is analyzing the composition and grain size of a ripple.

New Martian Spacesuit Goes Through Its Paces

New martian spacesuit put through its paces

Travis Nelson, a graduate researcher at the University of North Dakota, tests his ability to perform tasks while wwearing the NDX-1 spacesuit. [Credits: NASA/Dmitri Gerondidakis]Travis Nelson, a graduate researcher at the University of North Dakota, tests his ability to perform tasks                                Engineers from the University of North Dakota are evaluating their space suit design that would be worn by NASA astronauts on Mars.The suits will protect the person inside from cold, heat and radiation, supply air and water, and be flexible enough that astronauts can dig samples and do the other tasks required.”‘Suit’ is really kind of a misnomer,” said Pablo De Leon, the researcher leading this week’s evaluations.”Containing a human being into anything is very complex, so we have a spacesuit which is really a miniaturised spacecraft, and it has to be built in a way that is mobile, fairly comfortable and lets you work. It’s really much more of a machine.”The prototype De Leon and his team are analysing is called the NDX-1. It is being used for trying different technologies and is not necessarily the final product that will be worn on another world.The team are also using the opportunity to evaluate self-developed surface sampling tools that were based on Apollo-era designs.NASA’s Johnson Space Center designed and built two spacesuit prototypes, known as the Prototype Exploration Suite (PXS), for use in low- and zero-gravity, and the Z-2, which is testing mobility technology for surface exploration of Mars. NASA’s prototype suits focus on technology demonstrations for a planetary surface suit, improving suit fit and performance, and upgrades to the life support systems while minimizing the amount of equipment required to keep the suit operational.The NDX-1 uses lightweight materials and is designed to let astronauts drill into the surface to gather samples, excavate rocks and conduct explorations of the Red Planet.”Our intention is to advance the state-of-the-art in spacesuit designs and engineering and try to provide solutions fortomorrow’s explorers,” De Leon said.”We are just trying to help NASA and the contractors to get an easier task when they start to look at other designs. If it’s a new joint that we contribute, or a way to close a suit or a new boot, then we will feel happy because we have played our part.”After conducting tests throughout the American southwest and other desert areas, the researchers went to Florida to try it out in “Swamp Works”, an enclosed area filled with fine, talcum powder textured soil similar to that found on the moon and materials known to be on Mars.“We’re glad to open our doors to the NDX-1 team,” said Jack Fox, chief of Kennedy’s science and technology projects division.“Swamp Works is a one-of-a-kind facility, and we’re happy to help the team advance this technology that could ultimately benefit NASA and future explorers.”

Flying Off An Aircraft Carrier In The Caribbean

   You are so lucky to be sailing on this beautiful sea with its calm green waters (unless a big storm hits.).  From 1968 to 1969 I sailed on this sea with the US Navy. I started on the destroyer USS Haynesworth (DD-700). Our home port was Galveston, Texas. We spent a lot of time in Jamaica and in Guantanimo Bay,Cuba (Before the prison was there.)
        I was then sent to the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (AVT-16).I was assigned to a squadron flying Grumann S-2 Tracker anti-submarine planes. I was the computer operator on the plane. Everyday we would fly over the Caribbean looking for Russian submarines. It was beautiful flying. Our pilot and other crew members were real professionals and great people.
        One day Elena and I were visiting the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in Alameda, California. As luck would have it, an S-2 was on the flight deck and its bottom hatch was open. I showed Elena the inside of the plane and the seat where I sat.
        If you came into our bedroom, you would see a model of a gray plane with US Navy markings and two piston engines. That was the plane that I flew on. Anna that model is your after I die.It will be something for you to remember me.
         Flying from an aircraft carrier is an amazing and sometimes terrifying experience.You land at a normal airport on a very stable runway that stays in the same place. On an aircraft carrier you take off and land on a flight deck that is always pitching, yawing , and rolling.
          When you take off, they attach the plane to a steam catapult on the flight deck. Your flaps are down all the way and your engines are running at full power. The catapult blasts you to 60 miles per hour and you launch off the flight deck. As you go off the end of the ship, the plane drops below the carrier deck for just a second. This is the most dangerous moment when you can go into the water and drown. When the air catches the flaps you climb quickly. It is wonderful fun.
          Landing is wild and dangerous. Imagine that you are driving your car at 200 kilometers per hour(120 mph). You slam on the brakes and have to bring the car to a complete stop in 300 feet (about the length of an American football field.) When you approach to land on an aircraft carrier, your plane has to be going precisely 120 mph. If you are flying slower you will crash on the flight deck and be smashed into thousands of pieces. If you are going faster you will miss the three arresting cables to stop your plane and over shoot the flight deck.