Monday, 2 December 2002
8:42 - Today is Barbara's twenty-twentyeighth birthday. We've been married for 19 years, and while I've turned gray in that time, Barbara looks just as she did the day we were married. If you want to send her birthday greetings, you'll find her email address on her page.
I have a ton of work to get done this month, not least of which is reaching 50% completion on the draft of the new edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. That's a lot of chapters to get cranked out between now and the 31st, and I'll be working heads-down on them for the next 30 days. That means updates here will be sporadic, and might appear at any time of the day or evening. I'll be posting the manuscript chapters to the subscribers' page as I get them back from my editor. I'd planned to start doing that some time ago, but I haven't yet gotten back any to post.
I'll also be building some new systems and updating the HardwareGuys.com picks as I have time available. It's going to be a busy month.
Tuesday, 3 December 2002
8:34 - Not much to report. I spent all day yesterday working on the Memory chapter, and I'll probably spend all day today on it, too.
We may have some excitement headed our way. The Weather Channel, the local news, and all the other sources tell us that there's a severe winter storm headed our way. It's due to arrive here tomorrow afternoon and dump some ice on us. Barbara is going to stop by the grocery store on the way home from work. If it's crazy there, as it may well be, she'll just head on home. We have plenty of stuff to tide us over.
12:06 - Hmmm. I just tried to send the following via email to my subscribers, but my new mailserver apparently didn't like something about the address list. Oh, well. I'll get it figured out.
And, in honor of our forthcoming ice storm:
Pretty Mary donned her skates
Wednesday, 4 December 2002
8:40 - I see that the attempted downing of an Israeli airliner in Kenya now has everyone all aflutter about how to prevent terrorist attacks on airliners using shoulder-launched missiles like the Stingers we so obligingly passed out to the Afghanis. A couple of things strike me, other than my suggestion back on 9/11/01 that we allow our airlines to go bankrupt and put that $15 billion into improving train service.
First, terrorists are not notoriously good at using complex weapons. Their "training", such as it is, has more to do with dying heroically than with using weapons effectively and efficiently. Chances are good that any surface-to-air missiles in their hands are old, poorly-maintained, and unreliable. Even if the weapon works as designed, there are certain steps that need to be performed for it to lock on to its target and destroy it. Islamics, whether "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan circa 1979 or "terrorists" in Afghanistan circa 2002, have a nasty tendency to ignore instructions and just let fly. That was probably what allowed the Israeli airliner to survive this attempt. Someone forgot to tell Abdul that he was supposed to wait for confirmation that the seeker was locked on the target before he fired the missile.
Second, airliners are not particularly vulnerable to shoulder-launched missiles, or they wouldn't be if they were operated properly. Shoulder launched missiles like the Stinger have tiny warheads. Their job isn't to blow up a plane. It's to fly right up the tailpipe, if possible, and shatter the turbine blades. Even a near hit can work, if just a few fragments of the warhead penetrate the thin engine cowling and impact a turbine spinning at a billion revolutions a second (or whatever).
But a typical airliner doesn't need all of its engines to remain airborne, or it wouldn't if it were flown properly. The best time to attack an airliner with a Stinger or similar shoulder-fired missile is when it is low and slow, at or near takeoff or landing. Sure, a Stinger has decent slant range, and can probably claw down an airliner at a surprisingly high altitude, but the simple fact is that it's easier to hit something that's close and moving slowly than something far away that's moving fast. Training and equipment maintenance is also an issue. A well-trained US soldier using a fresh Stinger has a lot better chance of nailing a fast-moving distant target than does an untrained Islamic terrorist who's probably never fired a Stinger in his life. For various reasons, then, the threat to airliners is primarily when they're taking off or landing, or within, say, 20 miles of the runway.
Everyone is talking about adding low-tech countermeasures like flares or high-tech ones like directed-energy weapons. That's simply stupid. First generation SAMs tended to follow whatever was hottest in their fields of view. In the early days, it was not uncommon for a heat-seeker to break lock on a bandit's tailpipe and start chasing the sun. But modern surface-to-air missiles have reasonably good abilities to discriminate heat signatures. A flare might distract a shoulder-fired missile like the Stinger, but only might. The key here is that a fighter pilot under attack by a heat seeker doesn't eject flares and keep flying in a straight line. He ejects flares and then pulls a radical maneuver, hoping to get his tailpipe out of view of the heat seeker, which he then hopes will settle for the flare. I can't see a 747 pulling an Immelmann after ejecting flares, so chances are good that the heat seeker will just stay locked on the airliner engine.
Chances are, someone somewhere is going to launch a shoulder-fired missile at a US airline and is going to get everything right. That missile is very likely to strike one of the airliner's engines. So, the question is not so much how to prevent that from happening as it is how to minimize the damage when it does happen.
The reason an airliner is vulnerable at takeoff and landing is that it is very near stall. Even a slight reduction in thrust will cause it to fall out of the air like a brick. Losing an engine to a heat seeker almost certainly guarantees that that airliner is going to auger in. But flying near stall isn't necessary for technical reasons. It's done for political reasons, i.e. noise abatement. The less power an airliner uses near the ground, the lower the noise level. But the less power it uses, the closer it is to stall, and the more likely it is to crash if something goes even mildly wrong. Clearly, a Stinger hitting an engine is a lot more than a minor problem, but it needn't be a catastrophic one, at least not necessarily.
Losing an engine catastrophically may indeed doom an airliner because of the collateral damage. Losing the engine itself may not be fatal, but the exploding turbine blades may cripple control systems and so on. But that doesn't always happen, so operating under the assumption that it will unnecessarily dooms airliners that might be capable of landing safely. If only they weren't on the edge of a stall when the missile hit.
The answer to me seems obvious, or at least a partial answer. Eliminate the noise abatement regulations that require airliners to take off and land on less than full power. When an airliner takes off, the pilots should ramp all engines up to full military power before releasing the brakes. That airliner should positively thunder down the runway, reaching rotation speed very quickly. When it does, the pilots should climb out as quickly as possible, gaining altitude that they can then later trade for speed if necessary. Sure, it might be a bit disconcerting to airline passengers used to sedate takeoffs to find themselves taking off using a fighter profile, but it'd be a lot safer. If a missile does strike that airliner, it'd be in the best possible shape to shrug off the hit and return for a safe landing.
Or so it seems to me. But then I don't know anything about aircraft or missiles, so perhaps I'm wrong?
There's a Winter Storm Warning in effect for this afternoon through tomorrow morning. We're at the northern edge of the warning area, so we hope to get mostly snow rather than ice. We'll see, though. The last time we had a major ice storm, we were without power for several days.
I'm just going to keep on plugging, updating chapters.
Thursday, 5 December 2002
9:21 - It was indeed a Severe Winter storm, just as forecast. There are more than a million homes without power in the Carolinas this morning, most of them on a line from Greenville/Spartanburg, South Carolina, through Charlotte, North Carolina, and into the Triangle (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill). We in the Triad (Winston-Salem/Greensboro/High Point) avoided the worst of the ice storm, although we got several inches of snow with some ice on top of it. Things are quiet around here this morning. No one who can possibly avoid doing so is out on the streets. There've been many fender-benders, and even the traffic signal system has been changed to give people on hills a yellow flashing light so they don't have to stop.
We have the usual problem. We don't get enough winter weather around here to make it economical to have lots of snow-removal equipment, so only the major roads will be plowed and salted. In northwestern Pennsylvania, where I used to live, essentially every government-owned vehicle larger than an automobile had the hydraulics for a plow installed. When we got heavy snow, everything was out there plowing--garbage trucks, school busses, everything. Down here, we just don't have enough plows to make a dent in the snow and ice that a severe storm puts down.
Barbara is staying home from work today, and unless the roads clear up she'll be staying home tomorrow as well. Nor is the danger over. The temperatures may slightly exceed freezing this afternoon, but are to drop below freezing tonight. That means we'll get some melt-off, followed by a hard freeze. That'll make the roads even worse tonight and possibly tomorrow morning than they are right now. It's also to be breezy tonight, which means the power failures aren't over yet. Branches will snap off in the breeze and take down more power lines, so we could yet end up without power.
Barbara is cross with me because our natural gas logs are not working. I noticed a couple of weeks ago that the pilot light wouldn't stay lit, but assumed that it just needed cleaned/blown out. I did that yesterday afternoon as the snow was falling, and found that the pilot light still won't stay lit, which means the gas logs won't light. I called Piedmont Natural Gas. They're going to send someone out Monday to fix them. I told Barbara it really wasn't a big deal, even if we do lose power. We have a wood-burning fire-place downstairs, and enough wood to keep us warm for longer than the likely duration of any power outage. The problem last time we had a power failure was that we ran out of firewood. Still, it will be nice to have the gas logs working again. I think this is going to be a cold winter, so there's a good chance we'll have another ice storm or two.
I do notice one huge difference now that I'm using rocket (my remote mail/web server) for SMTP. When I was running Mercury SMTP server on my local gateway box, mail messages were sent instantly. That is, when I clicked Send in my mail client, it delivered the message instantly to Mercury via the internal 100BaseT LAN, and I was again able to use the mail client immediately.
Using a remote SMTP server is different. Yesterday I emailed a chapter to my editor. That chapter was just over 3 MB. When I clicked Send from Mozilla Mail, I was expecting the usual, the "Sending" dialog box to pop up momentarily and then disappear. Instead, the box popped up and stayed up for a minute or two, while the message was transferred across my "slow" cable modem connection to the remote server. I may have to bring up a local SMTP server again. Then again, maybe not. I don't mail multi-megabyte files all that often that it's a major issue.
As I expected, I got some mail from people who do know about aircraft and missiles:
There are also some related posts over on the messageboard.
10:25 - Barbara points out that I failed to link to her snow-dogs page. Duncan and Malcolm love the snow. They were out prancing around in it last night, chasing each other around and pursuing snowballs that Barbara threw. Kerry doesn't much like the snow nowadays, although he reveled in it when he was younger. Now, he can barely stay on his feet at the best of times, so the snow presents a problem for him. His back legs sink into the snow and he doesn't have enough strength in his back end to get them out. So he attempts to take a step and falls on his face. He also doesn't like it when he comes in and finds that there's snow and ice stuck between his toes. It's hell getting old.
And here's one of Barbara working on the Saturnalia Tree.
I suppose that means it's time for me to clean up the ZSU-23/4 ASG (Anti-Santa Gun).
It didn't work the last time I tried it because it couldn't track fast enough to lock onto Santa's sleigh, although I thought I did spot a smoke trail coming out of Rudolph's rear end. But that was with Santa as a crossing target, and I'm hoping that by repositioning the ZSU-23/4 this year I'll be able to nail Santa in a head-on approach or departure. I'm also considering putting up some barrage balloons, which should slow Santa down. If I do knock him down this year, I'm keeping all the presents.
Friday, 6 December 2002
8:59 - I was mistaken about the power outages yesterday. I thought we in the Triad area had avoided the outages, but it turns out that was not the case. Winston-Salem got off relatively lightly, but we still had more than 25,000 homes and businesses without power because of the ice storm. Greensboro and High Point between them had something like 125,000 more homes and businesses without power. Our home is on the far northwestern edge of Winston-Salem, and the icing became worse to the south and east. We were lucky.
Finally, 9/11 is explained. The morning paper published an article that reported that the Saudi Police Minister claimed 9/11 was all a Jewish plot. Those crafty Jews somehow tricked 19 good Islamic boys, 15 of them Saudis, into hijacking those airliners and flying them into buildings. All of this focus on the Taliban and al Qaeda is misplaced. It's Israel we should be attacking. Yeah, right.
I hope Mr. Bush won't make the same mistake his father did by withdrawing our troops before the job is done. As long as we have the troops in place to invade and occupy Iraq, we should do the same with Saudi Arabia. That would be a mere sideshow. The US expeditionary force can swat the Saudi Arabian military like a bug, and should do so. They should track down and kill every single member of that nest of gangsters otherwise known as the Saudi royal family. They should destroy the Saudi cities, ports, and other infrastructure, and occupy the Saudi oil fields. We can then pump the Saudi and Iraqi oil fields dry over the next 50 or 100 years, which will at least begin to repay us for what they have taken from us. Kuwait would be worth thinking about as well.
The Internet has seemed slow the last several days, so yesterday I decided to see if it was my connection. The symptoms that caused me to run this test are that many sites seem slow to resolve and that many pages seem slow to load, particularly the images. Given that broadband companies are starting to throttle connections and limit the amount of data transferred per month, I thought it possible that Roadrunner had implemented some such scheme without telling its customers.
As it turns out, that's not the case. I found a page that listed a bunch of "speed test" locations and ran half a dozen or more of those tests, all from different sites. All but one of them agreed that my connection speed was between 1.8 and 2.0 megabits/s. That translates to 200 to 250 kilobytes/s, faster than a T1, and quite acceptable. One of the tests said my throughput was 83 megabytes/s, which I very much doubt. Still, the others were in close enough agreement that it's pretty certain my connection is in fact performing as it should.
Barbara grabbed this (unposed) shot yesterday evening.
Border Collies are usually stand-offish, but that couldn't be less true for Malcolm. He always wants to be near people, and spends a lot of time curled up next to me on the sofa or in my lap. I've learned to work around that, usually. The problem is that he often insists on my undivided attention, which makes it very hard to work. In particular, he can't stand me moving the mouse. He'll start licking my hand and the mouse if they're in range of his snout. If not, he'll reach over with a paw and put it over my hand, often forcing me to click when I didn't mean to. He's deleted more than one email message, and at least once he chose "exit without saving" on a document I was working on.
Oh, well. At least the cold weather is here, so having a warm dog on my lap has some advantages.
9:42 - I was just reading an interesting article on The Register, about the coming deployment of Linux in the European equivalent to the US FDA. One part of that article struck me:
I'm not sure why that's an issue with a properly designed and maintained Intel-based server. The guy needs four-nines reliability, which translates to about an hour of downtime a year. That certainly should be possible with an Intel-based server. Many of my own systems, including servers, run at that level of reliability. I routinely run NT4 Server boxes 400+ days without so much as a reboot, and those are typical PC boxes.
By making added provisions for reliability--RAID storage systems, redundant power supplies, filtered air inlets, and so on--there's no reason an Intel-based server can't provide four-nines reliability, at least in a hardware sense. Perhaps it is Linux itself that can't meet the four-nines requirement?
Saturday, 7 December 2002
10:20 - The 61st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. By the time fifteen months had passed, March of 1943, the outcome of the war was no longer in doubt, although a lot of fighting remained. The US had by then damaged Japan fatally. The island-hopping cleanup remained, as did our campaign to rain fire, death, and destruction upon Japan's cities and people.
Now, fifteen months after the 9/11 outrage, the US has done almost nothing to damage its Islamic enemies. We've not even declared war yet. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, and the rest remain unscathed. We've done a bit of damage in Afghanistan, but nothing like what should have been done by now. We can only hope that when we finally get around to invading Iraq, other Islamic nations will be foolish enough to support Iraq.
Our factories are already working overtime to produce the smart-bombs and other weapons we'll need for the Iraq campaign. I hope they're producing sufficient extra ordnance to allow us to deal with those other countries at the same time. We shouldn't be satisfied until all of our enemies lie dead, buried by the rubble of their shattered cities. Islam wants Holy War. Give it to them, I say.
Revenge is sweet. This Detroit Free Press article reported on Alan Ralsky, a notorious spammer. Turnabout is fair play, and those whacky guys over on Slashdot took the trouble to learn Ralsky's address and began spamming the spammer. Apparently, Ralsky is now covered up in snail-mail spam, with more arriving every day. He says he's being harassed. Awwwww.
I haven't checked it myself, but someone tells me the address in question is:
It occurs to me that this might be an excellent place to send those little bags of crap that Barbara collects every time we walk the dogs. It's the least we can do in return for all the crap he's sent us.
With this flood of snail-mail arriving each day, he can't be checking his incoming mail too carefully. If someone sends Ralsky a letter bomb, who would the police and ATF suspect? It'd be like Murder on the Orient Express to the nth power. With literally millions of potential suspects, where would the cops start looking?
More on airlines and shoulder-fired missiles from a guy who knows what he's talking about:
And more on my plans for nailing Santa:
And some other interesting stuff:
9:30 - I'm doing the usual Sunday morning stuff--laundry, the full weekly network backup to tape, and so on.
Barbara was over visiting her parents yesterday afternoon and evening. They went out for dinner last night as a kind of belated birthday celebration. I stayed home to take care of the dogs. At dinner time, I cruised over to McDonalds and picked up dinner for my mother and me. I got her a cheeseburger Happy Meal, which is just the right amount of food for her. The little toy is just an added bonus. She didn't like the one she got in this Happy Meal. It was a rather large, ugly spider.
I still have some systems to build, and I find that I'm short of video adapters. I thought I had a couple of recent RADEON cards on the shelf, but apparently not. I did find a couple of All-In-Wonder 128 cards. Those were discontinued recently, but they're still competent video adapters, so I'll probably use them. It may seem odd to use last-generation video cards on a fast Pentium 4 system and a fast Athlon XP system, but the fact is that I won't be doing heavy 3D graphics with these systems, so 3D performance doesn't matter. I'll probably replace the cards once ATI gets around to shipping me some current product, but for now the AIW 128 cards are good enough.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.