Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thinking big in space

Dec 27th 2011, 4:25 by N.L. | CHICAGO (Online only)

AS A small boy Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, dreamed of going into space. He even tried to launch the hollow aluminium arm of a chair, stuffed with propellant, into orbit. It didn't work out. But his latest adventure in space travel—a joint venture with Burt Rutan, a famous designer of aircraft—looks more promising. Earlier this month, the two of them said they will build an air-launched orbital delivery system. To do this, Paul Allen’s company Stratolaunch Systems will have to build the world’s largest aeroplane.

The Stratolaunch, as the plane will be called, will be big. Really, really big. It will have six engines, a wingspan of 117 metres (385 feet) and weigh about 544 tonnes. (The wingspan of Boeing's 747 is around half that of the Stratolaunch.) Taking off will require 3.6km of runway, and the aircraft will launch its rocket—a shortened version of the Falcon 9 rocket, built by another private space firm called SpaceX—at around 9,100 metres. The whole contraption will be able to put about 6 tonnes of payload into low-earth orbit. [More...]

Correction: I am hoping by the time anyone else reads this article again the word "hanger" will have been changed to read "hangar". As anyone older than about eight should know, one is a place for clothing and the other is a place for aircraft. I do honestly know the difference but I don't know how it came to pass that anyone would be said to be looking to find a hanger big enough for a large aeroplane.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Shovel ready

Mr Emanuel’s feeling for snow Dec 17th 2011 | CHICAGO | from the print edition

THE city of Chicago is proud of its ability to keep going, with gritty determination, through the worst of the nation’s weather. Snow that would bring London or Washington, DC, to a halt is laughed off as little more than a light dusting. This year some are expecting particularly bad weather, a test for the new mayor, Rahm Emanuel. He must keep the city moving throughout the winter, or face the wrath of the locals.

Fortunately, Chicago is well prepared for snowfall which, for the past four winters, has been over 50 inches (127cm). A secure facility on West Madison Street known as “Snow Command” houses some impressive toys. On one wall vast display-screens reveal everything you might need to know about the city’s weather conditions: the whereabouts of the fleet of up to 500 GPS-equipped snow-moving trucks; views from some of the city’s 1,000 cameras; the readings from a dozen road sensors (which pick up icy conditions); and a live feed of the regional weather system. [More...]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Detroit nears bankruptcy

Nowhere to run 

The motor city flirts with fiscal disaster 

Dec 10th 2011 | DETROIT

IN THE 1960s, the first hit song from Berry Gordy’s Motown empire was “Money (That’s What I Want)”. It might well be an anthem for modern-day Detroit. On December 6th Michigan took the first legal steps towards a state takeover of Detroit. If it happens, it will be the largest American city to be taken over by a state.
The problem has been building for decades; declining property values and the flight of better-off people to the suburbs have hit revenues, while the cost of servicing a still-sprawling city has not shrunk proportionately. The effects of the recession, particularly severe in Michigan, have provided the trigger for the crisis. Detroit’s mayor, Dave Bing, now says the city will run out of cash in April 2012. [More...]

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Taxes and disinvestment


Businesses are threatening to leave 

Dec 3rd 2011 | CHICAGO | from the print edition

 THE state finances in Illinois are an ugly mess of deficits, unpaid bills and tax refund backlogs. At the heart of the problem lies a public pension liability estimated at a present value of $80 billion. The state’s pension schemes are only 51% funded, the lowest rate among the 50 states. In January, in an attempt to grapple with its problems, the state raised corporate taxes from 7.3% to 9.5% and personal income tax from 3% to 5%. Although the tax hikes are theoretically temporary—and start to expire in 2015—both the rises and the continued failure of politicians to get to grips with the budget crisis are starting to worry businesses. [More...]

And Republicans in the house are now arguing for a reduction in corporate taxation to stabilise the business climate in Illinois.