January 20, 2005

Science is Cool: Huygens

Over the weekend, a probe called Huygens, landed a moon of Saturn called Titan. It has sent back some fascinating pictures. You can check out a few here.

William Saletan in Slate invokes a fitting sense of wonder at the accompolishment. My favorite quotes:

Actually, we didn't send Huygens directly to Titan. We put it on the back of the satellite, Cassini. We made Cassini fly to Saturn. We threaded it through a tiny crack in Saturn's perilous rings. We put Cassini into a perfect orbit around Saturn, passing this moon, then that, then another, taking pictures the whole time. Just before Christmas, Cassini launched Huygens on a 2.5 million-mile trip to Titan. Huygens survived atmospheric entry and opened three parachutes in sequence, ejecting its heat shields and slowing from 12,000 mph to a gentle landing.
We didn't send Cassini straight to Saturn. Given its weight, that was impossible. So we invented a shortcut: We made its route longer. Yes, longer. We sent Cassini around the Sun and past Venus for a velocity-boosting "gravity assist" (derived from being slung around the planet) in 1998. Then we sent it around again for two more assists from Venus and Earth in 1999. That gave it enough speed to get to Jupiter for a final gravity assist in 2000, which propelled it to Saturn four years later. The trip required a perfect symphony of projections over seven years, so that Cassini would barely miss each orbiting planet. Total distance: 2.2 billion miles.

The coordination required to pull this off is extraordinary. I am continuously awed by humanity's technical abilities. Science is cool!

Posted by georgegmacdonald at 04:34 PM

January 05, 2005

The End Of Quotas

The turning of the new year means the end of the 40 year old Multifibre Agreement (MFA). The MFA limited the amount of textiles that well to do countries could import from developing countries. This ended to distribute textile manufacturing into countries all over the developed world. In all probability, the end of the MFA will lead to textile manufacturers rushing to countries with the lowest cost manufacturing.

In "The End Of Quotas" Aaman Lamba quotes a cost breakdown in the international textile industry. I've extracted the numbers into the following tables:

Labor costs as a proportion of the total cost of textiles:

5% Indonesia
6% India
10% China
19% Mexico
22% Thailand
29% Turkey
51% South Korea
69% Germany

The proportion of capital costs to gross output:

6.7% in India in the textile industry
7.8% in India in garment making
12.2% in China in the textile industry
12% in China in garment making

Given these numbers, I expect that we will be seeing a huge increase in the amount of textiles that we import from India. It should help hold US inflation down since Indian textiles should be cheaper than equivalent textiles from China or most other places listed. However it will probably hurt the textile industries of developing countires that can't compete on volume or price.

Posted by georgegmacdonald at 01:51 PM