Thursday, 30 September 2004

A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!

Today's interesting URL.

But I'd be a bit careful before either investing or buying tickets. Very professionally developed site though.

Wednesday, 29 September 2004

Everything you always wanted to know...

...about a Web Page is available at URLInfo.

A thoroughly useful tool for web development.

Tuesday, 28 September 2004

Virgin Galactic

The name is nothing if not ambitious.

From Agence France Presse (AFP), via the ABC :
British airline magnate Richard Branson has announced a hugely ambitious plan for the world's first commercial space flights, saying he would send "thousands" of fee-paying astronauts into orbit in the next five years.

Branson, a flamboyant communicator and high-profile tycoon, said his Virgin Atlantic airline had signed a technology licensing deal with the US company behind SpaceShipOne, which in June became the first private manned craft to travel to space.

Virgin GalacticAddressing reporters in central London, Mr Branson said that the new firm - Virgin Galactic - would launch its maiden flight in only three years, and that he would join the very first trip into space.

"Within five years, Virgin Galactic will have created over 3,000 new astronauts from many countries," Mr Branson said, speaking alongside US aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, who designed and built SpaceShipOne.

"Many of these countries will have not had the funds to date to compete with the government-funded space programs of the superpowers," he said.

"We plan to construct launch pads for commercial space travel in a number of countries over the next few years."

Such a vastly ambitious plan is typical of the 54-year-old serial entrepreneur, who first made a fortune with the Virgin pop record label before branching out into air travel, railways and a string of other ventures.

Virgin has signed an agreement worth 14 million pounds ($AU35 million) with Mojave Aerospace Ventures, which owns the technology behind SpaceShipOne, it announced.

Would-be space tourists will pay fees starting at 115,000 pounds ($AU291,000) and receive three days of flight training before embarking on the real trip.

In a near-messianic speech, Mr Branson pledged that his principal aim was to make space travel possible for ordinary people.

"Virgin Galactic will be run as a business, but as a business with a sole purpose of making space travel more and more affordable to people throughout the world," he said.

"We will re-invest the funds raised over the first few years of flight back into the business, striving constantly to lower prices."

For years, Mr Branson said, he had "dreamt of seeing the beauty of our planet from space".

He added: "Burt and I will be fortunate enough to have fulfilled our own personal dreams and to experience all of this on the inaugural flight over Virgin Galactic's VSS Enterprise in three years' time."
Catchy name that. "VSS Enterprise".
But of course, there's always one to nay-say:
However a space expert warned that Mr Branson's plan, while technically feasible, was riddled with potential difficulties and unlikely to usher in an immediate era of mass space travel.

"It is something that is technically possible, but space is a very expensive business, and space tourism is likely to remain an expensive business for a very long time," said Andre Balogh, professor of space physics at London University's Imperial College.

Monday's announcement was best viewed as a "statement of intent", Professor Balogh said.

"Eventually it will come. Whether it will come in Richard Branson's time, and in his way, remains to be seen," he told AFP.
He's right - but maybe he should read about the technology before he expresses doubt in such strong terms. "Five Years" is not exactly immediate, and over a quarter of a million Aussie Dollars a ticket is not exactly cheap. Just 100 times less than some people have paid. 3000 passengers is pretty conservative.

I exepect that the first commercial development will be regular sub-orbital flights for what used to be called "the jet set", trans-atlantic, trans-pacific etc. New York to Tokyo in 2 hours, most of which is going through security. Not within 5 years, but maybe 10. And with prices not a lot dearer than flying on Concorde used to be.

SpaceShipOne is scheduled to fly again this Wednesday, and then once more on October 4.

Of course in Australia we knew about Branson's plans back in March 2000...
In fact, within eight years, Branson vows, Virgin Galactic Airways will be offering short tourist flights into space.
So he's just about on track. In fact, Branson first laid out his plans in a May 1999 Webcast.
Speaking last night in a Webcast watched by hundreds of Net users, Branson told how his trendy company, Virgin, will be the first to open a hotel in space. He has already registered the name Virgin Galactic Airways and is examining ways to transport 10 people using a reusable rocket for a two-week holiday in a Virgin space hotel.
The best site for lots of details on this story is over at Hobbyspace.

The Volokh Challenge : Iraq

Orin Kerr over at the Volokh Conspiracy asks 3 cogent questions of those who were in favour of the Iraq War.
First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?

Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?

Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success
My Answers:

Q1: Yes, I think it was an excellent idea - in fact, I'd even say it was not just a good idea, it was neccessary. My only quibble is that it didn't happen before, but because of League of Nations UN inertia, it couldn't have been arranged much sooner.
As to why? I think this is a complete answer. There are more reasons (according to Senator Kerry's count 23 in toto, according to my count at least 54 ), but this alone is sufficient.

Q2: My initial reaction is frankly, disbelief. So much so that I have to be careful not to automatically dismiss data that may be at least partially correct. There is ample evidence - I won't go into it here - that the stringers employed by the major news agencies outside Baghdad are extremely unreliable, and that the press corps in Iraq hardly ventures more than a few kilometres from their hotel rooms. Just go read any of the Iraqi blogs. Compare the track records of the news agencies with what we know are the facts now.
But the Kroll data adduced in the Washington Post (assuming it's correct - without primary sources available on the web, I can't verify the Post is accurate) - is both far more credible, and significant bad news. 700 attacks/week now vs 450/week just before the Iraqi 'caretaker' government was installed. And everyone - myself included - expects this rate to increase to a crescendo. Whether the crescendo will be just before November 2nd or in mid-January is another matter. My bet's the latter. The attacks on schools and hospitals, and the raids on infrastructure indicates that it's no longer Ba'athists hoping for a return of Saddam, nor even Jihadis striking a blow against the Infidel Zionist Crusaders polluting Holy Arab Soil by their presence. It's Al Qaeda. They genuinely want a populace ignorant, poor, and miserable, because that way they become spiritually virtuous, and are guaranteed a place in paradise.
This incredible (as in 'difficult to swallow') statement is what they have proclaimed publicly, though it hasn't been publicised much in MSM.
"It is not the American war machine that should be of the utmost concern to Muslims. What threatens the future of Islam, in fact its very survival, is American democracy"
If established in any Muslim country for a reasonably long time, democracy could lead to economic prosperity, which, in turn, would make Muslims "reluctant to die in martyrdom" in defense of their faith.

The Future of Iraq and The Arabian Peninsula After The Fall of Baghdad, Yussuf al-Ayyeri
Like the Tet Offensive, a move of desperation. Like the Tet Offensive, likely to be a military disaster for the enemy. The question is, will it also like the Tet Offensive be a propaganda disaster for the US, leading to a change of government and a significant defeat in the War? Maybe the crescendo will be in late October after all...

Q3: Criteria for success? In order of importance:
  1. Iraq having an economy as successful and a society as functional as West Germany's was in 1960, by 2018.
  2. No nuclear detonation using Iraqi components by 2060
  3. No biological attack using Iraqi components by 2060
  4. No successful chemical weapons strike using Iraqi components by 2060
  5. De-Baathification complete by 2005, including the eradication of Saddam and Sons (partially completed)
  6. A functional Democracy installed no later than 2007 (we're ahead of schedule on this one)
  7. No Civil War (the current situation doesn't qualify, but is worse than is acceptable)
The reason I put the cut-off date in 2060 is because no-one in 1945 could have foreseen what either Germany or Japan would look like in 2002.

Monday, 27 September 2004

Sugary Centre in Milky Way(s)

Galactic Core?From The Scotsman comes news that may be a surprise to Space Mavens, interested in life on Mars. Still, it's something that the connoiseurs of down-market (but high quality) chocolate bars have known for some time.:
Astronomers have found a cloud of frozen sugar near the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way, it was revealed today.
Frozen Milky ways are OK, but Frozen Mars Bars (especially the ones with hazelnuts in...) are far better in my opinion. Thinly sliced, as was done in the UK during WW2, when a single Mars bar would be a your entire sugar ration for a week.

I'd better clarify, since I have international readers.
A (US) Mars Bar is known in Australia and the UK as an Almond Mars Bar.
A (UK) Mars Bar is known in the USA as a Milky Way.
A (US) Three Musketeers Bar is known in Australia and the UK as a Milky Way.
(see article in World History)

But getting back to the HWH (That's Hoyle-Wickramasinghe Hypothesis)... or rather, the Scotsman article :
The discovery heightens the possibility of early building blocks of life originating in interstellar space.

Molecules of a simple sugar, glycolaldehyde, were detected in a cloud of gas and dust called Sagittarius B2 about 26,000 light years away.
Glycoaldehyde consists of two carbon atoms, two oxygen atoms and four hydrogen atoms.

This type of molecule is known as a 2-carbon sugar. Significantly, it can react with a 3-carbon sugar to produce the 5-carbon sugar ribose :- the molecule which forms the backbone of DNA.
The discovery adds to the growing evidence that the foundations of life can be traced to chemical reactions within interstellar clouds.

The clouds, often many light years across, provide the raw material from which new stars and planets are formed.

Radio astronomer Dr Jan Hollis, from the American space agency Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said: 'Many of the interstellar molecules discovered to date are the same kinds detected in laboratory experiments specifically designed to synthesise prebiotic molecules.

This fact suggests a universal prebiotic chemistry.'

Gravitational attraction causes lumps to form in interstellar clouds which eventually condense into stars and planets.

The process generates so much heat that any prebiotic molecules within the planetary lumps would probably be destroyed.

But the new findings show that life's building blocks could exist in the frozen wastes beyond the planet-building zone of an embryonic solar system, where comets form.

A collision with a comet or a brush with a comet's tail could then 'seed' a young planet with the material needed to kick-start life.

And finally, another word on Mars. While researching this article, I found the Visible Mars Project from The Temple ov The Lemur. Both sites worth a return visit.

Interestingly, while growing up in the UK in the 60's, I distinctly remember Mars bars of the American pattern rather than the current UK one. Those were the days when a Milky Way cost 3d - and a truly huge Mars bar with almonds in cost 7d (not 6d - I remember that oddity). But maybe it's not the bar that was huge, but that I was a little smaller than I am today, I would have been 7 at the time.

There is an excellent article on the use of Mars Bars as a stable currency in the Financial Times, and referenced in the UK Parliament along with the rallying cry, "hands off the Mars Bar".

The current Australian ones follows the UK pattern, but there are variants with Almonds and Hazelnuts in too - the latter being my favourite.

And it's looking more probable that the various plants, the sugar cane, the cocoa beans, and the animals that produced the milk in a Mars bar are all descended from life that got kick-started by the Sweet Centre at the Milky Way.

Saturday, 25 September 2004

XP for Me? No Thanks

As to why - from a Technical Cyber-Security Alert of last week :
This vulnerability affects the following Microsoft Windows operating systems by default:
  • Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 1
  • Microsoft Windows XP 64-Bit Edition Service Pack 1
  • Microsoft Windows XP 64-Bit Edition Version 2003
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2003
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2003 64-Bit Edition

Other Microsoft Windows operating systems, including systems running Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2, are not affected by default. However, this vulnerability may affect all versions of the Microsoft Windows operating systems if an application or update installs a vulnerable version of the gdiplus.dll file onto the system.
Attackers can exploit this vulnerability by convincing a victim user to visit a malicious web site, read an HTML-rendered email message, or otherwise view a crafted JPEG image with a vulnerable application. No user intervention is required beyond viewing an attacker-supplied JPEG image.
See the image in the article below this one? Or even my picture on the left? Those are JPEG images. Although I know the one of my photo isn't malicious, I can't guarantee the same about any other image.

So how to prevent this vulnerability? Well, first install SP2 - service pack 2. But then you still have to be careful installing any new software, as that may have its own copy of gdiplus.dll. In fact, you may have dozens of vulnerable copies of this file on your system already, even after installing the service pack.

The latest data is available in the Microsoft Security Bulletin MS04-028.

Of course, alternately, don't use XP.

A 1954 View of Home Computers in 2004

Rand Computer Hoax

Alas, it indeed is too good to be true.

Friday, 24 September 2004

A SuperHero for the UN

Considering the UN's attitude to Dafur, not to mention Iraq, I present for your edification and enjoyment, the Adventures of... Action Item.

Thursday, 23 September 2004

Crashproof Code

SPECTRUM, the IEEE magazine, has an interesting article on Crashproof Code. It had better be crashproof: it's the avionics software for the new model of the F/A-18 fighter.

F/A-18 Test BedTo give you an idea of the types of things you have to do when writing 100% no-fail code, have a look at the picture on the right. See the small grey box in the bottom-right of the picture? The one about the size of a briefcase? That's the segment of the system that's being tested. All the rest is part of a Test Bed, purely and simply for verifying that the thing works as advertised. This graphically illustrates the effort required in testing such systems. What you can't see is all of the code that's been written as part of the Test Bed. It's not unusual to have 1 line of code requiring 2-5 lines of unit testing code, then another 2 lines of configuration item testing code, and another 2 lines of system testing code on an emulator (when the hardware isn't available), and another few lines of system testing code for the live system (real hardware) module test - which is what's shown on the picture - and another line or so for the live system integration test, with everything put together and running on the real aircraft. Fortunately, a lot of this code can be re-used, and in the line count above, I'm only counting new lines, not re-used ones. Test beds can easily be 10 or more times the size of the system being tested.

In spacecraft, which have very expensive and 'clean-room-only' flight hardware, there may even be an intermediate step - with a 'flight model' which will actually go into space, and a 'groud model' which is identical, but doesn't require clean-room conditions and can be worked with more conveniently.

Of course once everything's working on the ground model, you then load it onto the flight model and put it through a thermal-vacuum torture chamber, which mimics conditions in LEO (except for the radiation). Sorry, I'll provide subtitles - LEO is Low Earth Orbit.

From the SPECTRUM article:
The flight software has to keep track of the plane's speed, altitude, and attitude while monitoring the pilot's controls for commands. Based on a set of rules known as control laws, the software must then translate any commands from the pilot into movements of the aircraft's various control surfaces, such as the rudders or, most significantly, the flaps that flex the AAWs. And this all has to happen fast enough that the plane responds instantly to the pilot and reliably enough that he can bet his life it will work all the time, every time.

Despite its complex and critical job, the flight software is compact, consisting of only about 13 000 lines of source code written in the Ada language. When compiled, the code fits into approximately 160 kilobytes. Compare this with the millions of lines of code that compile into tens of megabytes for a modern Web browser or word processor.
It's not that the software's task is easier than a word processor's : far from it, the task is much harder and more complex. It's only the solution that's simpler (though most emphatically not easier!).

That's why people like myself get a bit steamed up about the quality, or lack thereof, in most commercial software. It's bloated, it's buggy, it's innefficient, and it actually takes longer to develop that way due to its bugginess. Make a change and something will break - which may be due to the change you've made having a problem, or it may be a long-standing problem never revealed before. Fix that, and you've made another change, which can lead to more problems.... all programmers are familiar with this phenomenon.

Getting back to the article:
Flight software is fundamentally different from the type of software most of us encounter on the desktop, or even the software that runs such enterprise-class applications as banking databases, and not just in size. For one thing, flight software must operate in real time. We're all used to the spinning hourglasses and watches that appear regularly on our computer screens; they're telling us that the print preview or new spreadsheet we just asked for is on its way but that the computer doesn't know quite when (if ever) it will appear.

The problem goes beyond the vagaries of office software. It is fundamental to many of the operating systems used in general-purpose computers—they have no way to guarantee how long a given task will take. Of course, most of the time this unreliability isn't a problem. If your media player has to drop a few frames of a movie because the video couldn't be processed fast enough, or if it takes 150 milliseconds to select an e-mail when it normally takes 10, you're not going to notice. The worst-case scenario, when the computer completely hangs, is usually just a blip in the workday and cured by a quick reboot.

We don't have that luxury. We have to guarantee that when the flight computer starts calculating how far an elevator should move in response to a command by the pilot, the job will be finished quickly enough so that the computer has enough time to calculate where all the other control surfaces should be and still appear to be responding instantly to the pilot's wishes. This is mission-critical, real-time operation.
And in Space, no-one can press CTRL-ALT-DEL. That's one of the reasons why I am less than enthused with the push towards using COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) operating systems for real-time work.
We didn't attempt to test the flight software all in one piece. In that situation, when problems arise, trying to pinpoint the error in the software is almost impossible. Instead, with testing already in mind, we created the flight software as a collection of about 450 independent modules. Each module was responsible for performing one or more simple functions, such as checking the position of the pilot's control stick or computing what position an elevator should be in.
"Design for Testability". When doing the basic architecture, two things have to be kept in mind: it must be testable, and it must be buildable. The latter means that you have to tailor your technical solution towards the resources you've got.

If you have 7 teams, try to have exactly 7 "configuration items" (CIs), corresponding to the output of each team. 7 is a minimum : if you have less, you're covering up buildability issues and inter-team communication problems that should be exposed. Putting a bandage on a gangrenous wound. Of course, why did you have 7 teams in the first place? That in itself is worthy of its own article, it's a complex issue determined at least as much by what human resources you have as what the technical problems are. If all you have is a hammer, try to make the problem look like a nail.

So from the top-down, the high level CIs are based on management and buildability issues (and also if theres any areas of special technical risk, but I'm trying to keep this as simple as possible).

F/A-18 in flightFrom the bottom up, your "Units" should be based on testability: break up the system into components where each component or unit is the smallest possible segment that it makes sense to test independantly. Usually a "chunk" of the system will do more than one thing. Even with the system above, something as simple as "checking the position of the pilot's control stick" will have functions for determining whether the result makes sense (or is the consequence of a failure of some sort), possible smoothing of minute deviations, reporting position of the control stick, rate-of-change and rate-of-change-of-rate-of-change (ie 2nd and 3rd derivatives wrt time), a "heartbeat" that just indicates to a master controller that the module/unit is still working and doesn't need re-setting, and probably a diagnostics test. Now all of these things could be in their own separate units: but if so, the number of units would explode - and so would the costs, and the amount of inter-unit communication, and the difficulty of making it work. So you compromise. That's why I used the phrase "that it makes sense" to test independantly.

This stuff is hard. But the reward you get when the bloody thing works.. that's priceless.

The Internet Message Board Wandering Monster Table

Today's interesting URL

If you're a veteran of any Internet message boards, bulletin boards, mailing lists, or Usenet, you've almost certainly run across a common wandering monster that frequents the Net: the troll. (You've almost certainly heard non-trolls being referred to as trolls as well -- such is the nature of the Internet.)

Trolls are people who go to a message board (or similar discussion area) and start a new thread of messages with a post designed only to be inflammatory. An obvious troll might, for example, go to a message board about fishing and post "Fishing Sucks!"

This has had me thinking for a while now: If there are trolls out there, what other monsters lurk in the caverns of the Internet, waiting to strike? As a public service, I've created a wandering monster encounter table for the Internet (to be honest, specifically for message boards).....
Hilarious, but also 100% true. And it certainly applies to people who comment on Blogs...

Wednesday, 22 September 2004

There Must Be 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover

Actually, make that 51.

Hat Tip :

Chasing The DreamTM

From SpaceDev :
POWAY, CA (September 20, 2004) : SpaceDev (OTCBB: SPDV) has begun designing a reuseable, piloted, sub-orbital space ship that could be scaled up to safely and economically transport passengers to and from low earth orbit, including the International Space Station. The name of the vehicle is the "SpaceDev Dream Chaser"TM.

Dream ChaserSpaceDev's founding chairman and CEO, Jim Benson, recently signed a Space Act Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with NASA Ames Research Center director, Dr. Scott Hubbard. This non-binding MOU confirms the intention of the two parties to explore novel, hybrid propulsion based hypersonic test beds for routine human space access. The parties will explore collaborative partnerships to investigate the potential of using SpaceDev's proven hybrid propulsion and other technologies, and a low cost, private space program development approach, to establish and design new piloted small launch vehicles and flight test platforms to enable near-term, low-cost routine space access for NASA and the United States. One possibility for collaboration is the SpaceDev Dream ChaserTM project, which is currently being discussed with NASA Ames.

Unlike the more complex SpaceShipOne, for which SpaceDev provides critical proprietary hybrid rocket motor propulsion technologies, the SpaceDev Dream ChaserTM would be crewed and take-off vertically, like most launch vehicles, and will glide back for a normal horizontal runway landing.

"This project is one small step for SpaceDev, but could evolve into one giant leap for affordable, commercial human space flight," said Jim Benson. "I have been waiting for almost fifty years for commercial space flight, and have concluded that SpaceDev, through our unbroken string of successful space technology developments, now has the technical capability and know-how, along with our partners, and when fully funded, to quickly develop a safe and affordable human space flight program, beginning with sub-orbital flights in the near future, and building up to reliable orbital public space transportation hopefully by the end of this decade."
The sub-orbital SpaceDev Dream ChaserTM is derived from an existing X-Plane concept and will have an altitude goal of approximately 160 km (about 100 miles) and will be powered by a single, high performance hybrid rocket motor, under parallel development by SpaceDev for the SpaceDev StreakerTM, a family of small, expendable launch vehicles, designed to affordably deliver small satellites to low earth orbit. The SpaceDev Dream ChaserTM will use motor technology being developed for the SpaceDev Streaker booster stage, the most powerful motor in the Streaker family. The SpaceDev Dream Chaser motor will produce approximately 100,000 pounds of thrust, about six times the thrust of the SpaceShipOne motor, but less than one-half the thrust of the 250,000 pounds of thrust produced by hybrid rocket motors developed several years ago by the American Rocket Company (AMROC).

SpaceDev's non-explosive hybrid rocket motors use synthetic rubber as the fuel, and nitrous oxide for the oxidizer to make the rubber burn. Traditional rocket motors use two liquids, or a solid propellant that combines the fuel and oxidizer, but both types of rocket motors are explosive, and all solid motors produce copious quantities of toxic exhaust. SpaceDev's hybrid rocket motors are non-toxic and do not detonate like solid or liquid rocket motors.

Better Late than Never

From the ABC :
In a blow to its credibility, CBS News said it had been deliberately misled over the authenticity of documents it aired in a story challenging US President George W Bush's military service.

"Based on what we now know, CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in a report," CBS News said in a statement.

"We should not have used them. That was a mistake, which we deeply regret," the network said, adding that it had launched an internal investigation into the matter.

The announcement marked a dramatic and embarrassing reversal by the network that just five days ago said it was satisfied with the accuracy of the documents first aired earlier this month in a 60 Minutes II segment.
Of course readers of this blog knew about this over ten days ago.

Tuesday, 21 September 2004

Volokh on Moral Relativism

A Must Read.

No Comment

In the 19th century, the Lunatic Asylum at Bedlam was a tourist attraction. Now I've never been able to imagine how someone could possibly be entertained this way.

On another topic completely, and entirely unrelated, I commend to your attention an interesting thread at Democratic Underground.

It starts thus :
At this stage it wouldn't be wise to come down too hard on the Bush supporters in that if they go to the booth on November 2 and vote for Bush out of SPITE or out of ANGER against what we the Kerry supporters might say to them, then we have lost.

Back off, give Bush supporters enough room to quietly back down from thier support of Bush. Allow them to not be angry (because of what we as individuals might say to them), allow them to maybe just maybe back away from Bush gracefully and quietly and don't PUSH them to vote for Bush out of anger or spite.

Maybe just maybe we will get more support when the debates commence.
The comments on this are instructive.

Membership of this site is only open to Liberals and Progressives. Democrats. Anti-Republicans. Now I'm a supporter of the Australian Liberal Party, and firmly believe in both Progress and Democracy. For that matter, I'm anti-Republican since I'm a Constitutional Monarchist. But that's not what they mean. Still, as in general (like most Australians) I'm more in favour of a Mixed-Economy US Democratic platform than an Unfettered Capitalist Republican one, I thought I'd give myself the benefit of the doubt and join.

I wonder how long it will be before I'm thrown off? Hopefully never, as I won't be commenting on anything political, except to say 'No comment to avoid giving offence'. I'll help out whenever I can - for example, giving data about emigrating to New Zealand to someone who's leaving AmeriKKKa before Bush's Stormtroopers arrive. The question is, will my mere existence be anathema? I suspect so, even though I fully intend to scrupulously follow their terms of service. But Dissent is not tolerated there - or rather, it's compulsory, and anyone not in complete agreement is immediately suppressed, banned and banished. There's still a broad and enlightening spectrum of views though.

In order to be helpful then, I'm publicising these brave souls' courageous stand against the Dark Forces that would Repress them. Their Voices SHALL be heard! And the more publicity is given to them, the better, say I.

Hat Tip to AllahPundit for the thread about the Exodite

Monday, 20 September 2004


Where are you in the Geek Hierarchy?

I'm in the categories of SCA Folk, Heinlein Fans, Roleplaying Gamers, Trekies...

Sunday, 19 September 2004

Buried Treasure

Yo Ho Ho, and a Bottle of Rum! Tis Cultural Treasure that I do be talkin about, matey, there for a-takin on the Net. There be a Treasure Map the likes of which ye ain't seen before, I be bound. Arr.

And a tip of me old Bicorne lid to that fine buckler of Marxist swashes, Normblog.

Avast There, Me Hearties!

And me Kidneys, and me Spleenies...

Screaming Lord SuchFor Today be International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Arr.

Shiver Me Timbers and Blister Me Barnacles, while traversin' the Radio Ocean Waves a-lookin fer Plunder, what do I see but the Old Flagship of Pirate Radio, Radio Caroline. Arr.

So today's interestin Link is the History of Pirate Radio. And to be sure, Jim Lad, as fine a tale of Swashbuckling, Murder and Mayhem is seldom encountered. Buckets of Blood. Arr.
Grumbling about unauthorised use of radio frequencies and the vague potential for cross channel interference cut no ice with the offshore radio listeners who perceived the government and the BBC to be grumpy killjoys. Legislating against the pirates was a vote loser and for some time there was a stand off where the authorities made dire threats but did nothing. As famous Radio London DJ Dave Cash recalled many years later ' they could not act against us for the reasons stated. They needed something heavy like drugs or murder, we gave them murder'.

One fort based station was started by the singer and self publicist David ( Screaming Lord) Sutch, a flamboyant rock star. Since offshore radio was news worthy, he founded Radio Sutch but when this had been milked for all possible publicity he sold the operation to his manager Reg Calvert who operated it as Radio City. The sea forts were a no mans land and control of them depended on who commanded the most muscle. After a business dispute another offshore entrepreneur Major Oliver Smedley hijacked Calverts fort.

In a fit of fury Calvert who was known to be a violent and irrational person burst into Smedleys home and hurled a heavy stone ornament at him. He also claimed to be armed with a tear gas pistol. Smedley took up his shot gun and killed Calvert. The image of the offshore stations as jolly buccaneers using spare radio channels to provide popular free entertainment was irrevocably shattered. Now the government could portray them as battling, murdering gangsters and, now that the Labour Government were secure in power for five full years, losing votes was not any longer an issue. It was proposed to silence the pirates using The Marine etc. Broadcasting Offences Act, which would deprive the stations of staff, supplies and most importantly of revenue.

Of the stations being planned no more was heard. Those on air began strident campaigning against the proposed law. Having previously embraced the term 'pirate radio' they now wished to be known as free radio stations. Most outspoken on the subject of freedom of the individual against the system was Radio Caroline.
But they be the 60's, and you had to be there. Arr.

The Dreaded Pirate Screaming Lord Such (Terror O' The Seven Seas)'s Monster Raving Loony Party do now be led by the ship's cat. But he still be vyin' fer election as a Zombie with the Guilty Party, if the BBC is to be believed.

Saturday, 18 September 2004

Hands Across the Water

I ahve friends in Tallahassee, Florida. In case your US geography isn't up to par, it's in the Florida Panhandle, the bit of the US coast just to the west of the Florida Penninsular.

Naturally, with Hurricane Ivan threatening to do a Cyclone Tracy on New Orleans (a city the size of Adelaide or Perth), a lot of people here in Oz have had the South East US on their minds. I've heard people discussing it in the supermarket queues, while waiting for service at the post office, and had quite a few remarks made to me while I was wearing an "I Heart FL" badge. The Firestorm that singed and parbroiled Canberra about 18 months ago is still on our minds. We know what it's like to sit and listen to emergency broadcasts as a threat draws ever closer. Been There, Done That.

So I wrote a letter to the Tallahassee Democrat (a paper I'd found while doing some researching for another article), and wonder of wonders, they published it. Perhaps it was the novelty value, I don't expect they get too many letters from Australia. Certainly it was no epic of Shaespearean proportions, just a reflection of the wellwishing here.

As the link is evanescent, I'll quote the letter:
A few months ago, I had the privilege of attending a concert at the Sydney Opera House by the Tallahassee Winds orchestra.

I just want to let everyone in the Florida Panhandle know that there are people as far away as Australia who were wishing you guys the best with Ivan the Terrible.

You've got friends here, friends you've never met.
The simple truth.

Godzilla vs Tamagotchi

Today's Interesting URL.
(Hat Tip : Nation Review Online)

Friday, 17 September 2004

Today's Brain Link

It's an 80 MegaByte download, but if you have broadband, I recommend it unreservedly. Feel free to ignore the slant as I did, but some of the facts are frightening for any Academic or Student.

"Brainwashing 101"

Thursday, 16 September 2004

Forensic Document Verification

This is embarressing. Pathetic.

For my sins, I've acted as an Expert Witness in a civil case involving computer technology. Now in order to do my job properly, I had to bone up on what was required when giving a professional opinion about a document.

Microsoft ForgerFirst, there's the 'chain of custody'. How you got your mitts on the thing. If it's a copy, say so, and say what evidence there is that the copy is genuine, who made the copy, when the copy was made, when the original was produced, (preferrably backed up by statutory declarations) and reasons why the original wasn't examined. Note that as soon as you have a copy, all you can do is give a report saying 'definitely fake or altered' or 'inconclusive', you can't possibly authenticate it.

Secondly, you state exactly what techniques and tools you used to analyse the document. State why these tools and techniques are appropriate ones under the circumstances, preferrably giving examples of previous use in previous similar cases where they were found to be reasonable.

Thirdly, you state the results of your analysis, not just the conclusions, but the reasoning behind the conclusions, how alternate hypotheses were rejected, and if there's more than one possible conclusion left, state them all along with probabilities assigned to each and reasons for assigning those probabilities. Often you can't even do that, you just have to say "It may be A, it may be B, I cannot say which" as the conclusion. State areas not considered, such as handwriting if you're analysing typefaces, and why they were not - usually because your expertise in that area is limited, so you're not an 'expert' as such for them.

Fourthly, you state your qualifications and history of why you are an appropriate expert in the area under investigation.

I've probably missed some things out, as I haven't got my checklist in front of me, but those are the absolute minima that any professional expert would have to include in a summary report. If you have a one-page covering letter, it must reference the longer report, not just give bald conclusions without context.

Now go and look what CBS's last 'Expert' has said, in a letter dated several days after the program aired (funny that, as he'd supposedly authenticated the documents beforehand). I say 'last', as all the rest have said that either they just looked at the (copied-and-pasted) signatures, or said that the copied documents were very probably fakes, but they couldn't totally rule out the possibility they might be genuine.

What this last "expert" has said is:

That the signatures on the copies didn't appear to differ much.

That similar typefaces existed at the time the memos were supposedly made.

And therefore, in his professional opinion, they are genuine.

Go read the original letter on the CBS site.

Of course Australian readers will be wondering what the heck I'm going on about. The story hasn't been reported down here. To summarise a previous post, a major news network in the USA was caught passing off obviously Microsoft Word-generated documents as output from a typewriter of 1972 in order to damage Bush. And as of writing, nearly a week later all they can say is "how dare you question our credibility?" and talk about the content being unquestionably genuine, ignoring the point that the memos themselves are faked, and badly faked.

Wednesday, 15 September 2004

Latham Cops An Endorsement

One he didn't ask for, and one he'd rather do without. But nonetheless, it's there, and none of us can ignore it. From The Bulletin's interview with Abu Bakar Bashir :
BULLETIN: What is Jemaah Islamiyah?

BASHIR: There is no Jemaah Islamiyah. It literally means all groups of Muslims. It has been used by America to discredit me. My current position is being slandered by America and its allies.

BULLETIN: How can Indonesia deal with this situation?

BASHIR: The world and Indonesia belong to Allah. Therefore it should be ruled under Allah's law without bargaining. I believe that the clash of civilisations will continue but in the end, Islam will definitely win. It has been predicted by our Prophet Mohammad.

BULLETIN: Is that because of a lack of knowledge of Islam by the West?

BASHIR: No, they just do not want to understand. As long as the West do not want to live peacefully and always force Islam to change in line with its own interests, this clash will continue. Peace can only be achieved after Islams triumphs.

[He is handed a recent copy of The Bulletin, with Mark Latham on the cover, and at first mistakes him for John Kerry, then is told it is the Australian opposition leader.]
BULLETIN: What can he [Latham] do for Australia?

BASHIR: He should be able to fix John Howard. He [Howard] is on the slide because he has been cheated and lied to by George W. Bush. I hope this person [Latham] can fix him and he does not return again to fight "terrorism" as defined by Bush. I agree to fight against terrorism but it should be a true terrorism and not in accordance with Bush's definition. Bush is being used by the Jews. The Jews are the most evil men in the world. John Howard has already been cheated.

BULLETIN: What do you want to say to Australia?

BASHIR: I suggest to the Australian people and government, if you all want to be safe and good, please try to embrace Islam because you are created by Allah for Islam. It's only now that you are being disturbed by demons. If you are still unwilling not to embrace Islam, do not follow the steps of George Bush.

Tuesday, 14 September 2004

KerryNey for President?

Anybody following the US presidential elections might find the following oddly familiar...
The most false and defamatory reports have been publicly circulated for some days, respecting the conduct which I have pursued during this short and unfortunate campaign.

After having fought during twenty-five years for my country, and having shed my blood for its glory and independence, an attempt is made to accuse me of treason...

Marshal Michel NeyThere is a historical personage who, when placed in a very difficult position, performed brilliantly. Someone who is at their best when things are at their worst.

But who always found someone else to blame when things went wrong.

Someone whose political position flip-flopped radically in a short period of time.

But whose personal bravery was legendary, leading from the front if he thought the enemy was running, taking foolish and un-neccessary risks. Someone who repeats blunders when things are looking good.

Naturally, the French put up a statue of him. Will history repeat itself?

Monday, 13 September 2004

Strengthen the Good No. 2

The Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children.

The intent of Strengthen The Good is to raise awareness of "micro charities" : charitable opportunities that are simple, personal, non-bureaucratic, and inspiring. Charitable opportunities where someone can feel great about giving $1, or even just from reading the story of the charity, its sponsors, and its beneficiaries.

Tracy Woodall is just such a person, and the Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children is just such a charity. September 11, 2001 was an act of extraordinary evil. And three years ago, Tracy's reaction foreshadowed the idea of Strengthen The Good: use 9/11 and the inhumanity it represents as motivation to give to a worthy cause and the humanity it represents.

So now, one day after the third anniversary of 9/11 and Brent Woodall's death, Strengthen The Good profiles Tracy Woodall and the Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children.

How you can help: First and foremost, you can help by raising awareness. Visit the Foundation online and send the link to anyone and everyone. Tracy's is a wonderful and inspiring story, and the Foundation can benefit just from having people know of its existence. They also need help with events and volunteers, and you can learn how to get involved with both here.
The Foundation isn't set up to take donations online, but you can donate via the PayPal button on the Strengthe The Good website. Even $1 could make a difference, and if you don't have that, just forward the URL around to friends, acquaintances, and around your workplace.

A Modest Proposal

Several Indonesian security guards died or were injured while protecting the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

A modest proposal : that they and their immediate families be granted the right of permanent residency here (and citizenship should they desire it), and a fund be created to compensate them, and educate their children free of cost at any Australian or Indonesian academic institution.

The comparison is odious, but if Saddam Hussein could offer $20,000 to the families of suicide bombers to kill random Jews, can we do any less for those who gave their lives for our cause?

Continuous Improvement

I've blogged before about quality issues re Software Engineering, and in particular continuous improvement.

Well, it doesn't just apply to Software Engineering, but Engineering generally 9and a lot more besides).

From the ABC :
A body representing Australian engineers wants the Federal Government to set up a task force to inspect the damage done to Australia's embassy in Jakarta.
Engineers Australia associate director Athol Yates says non-government engineers need to be given the chance to inspect the embassy.

"We're calling on the Government to establish a task force of engineers to review the blast damage at the embassy in Jakarta," he said.

"The purpose of this government-private sector task force is to identify what worked well and where improvements could be made and apply this knowledge to Australian buildings overseas."

Mr Yates says there will be several benefits, including helping engineers design stronger and safer buildings in Australia for areas near terrorist targets.
Exactly, and as soon as this is done, the better.

Note: this is not a Witch-Hunt, looking for blame. It's looking for ways of making things better, regardless.

Saturday, 11 September 2004

Three Years Ago

At about the time I'm writing this, the first plane hit the WTC.

On 19th of September, 2001, I wrote an article that appeared on Slashdot that detailed our strategy for the War on Terror. Later, when I started blogging, I re-posted it here.

I see no reason to change or update it significantly.

Meanwhile, a person who is shortly going over to serve in the Sandbox (Iraq and environs) wrote an article listing the number of attacks we've suffered over the years from Terrorists. Please go over to the Mudville Gazette and read 'Why?'.

Too Easy

Predicting Joe Vialls reaction to the Jakarta bombing, that is. (See previous post)

All the flexibility of a Space Invader, and (to quote W.C.Fields), a mind as sharp as a billiard ball.

Friday, 10 September 2004

Jakarta Bombing

I was going to do an article on it, but Simon World has a roundup I couldn't improve on in a month of Sundays.


The Democratic campaign in the US elections is turning Rancid. Foetid. Slimy.

Political dirty tricks are nothing new : faked documents have been used to discredit political opponents since time immemorial. Usually they work, at least partially : by the time a decent forgery is exposed as such, the damage has been done, the election held, and there's no way of correcting the injustice.

But the combination of Internet Time, Political Bloggers who are willing to spend the time ferreting out the facts that MSM (Main Stream Media) is not, and in this case, a really, really clumsy forgery have exposed the whole rotten mess. One involving George W Bush's National Guard service.

I bring to your attention this PDF file, as Exhibit A.

People of my vintage will instantly recognise this as most certainly not produced by any common typewriter in use in 1973. But thanks to Charles over at LGF and the many comments on his post, we can now state authoritatively that it was produced by a computer running Microsoft Word, and probably printed on an HP laserjet printer. And to state what should be obvious (but may not be to younger readers), neither of those existed in 1973. Or 1983, for that matter.

Charles isn't the only one to discover this : Jeremy Chrysler has done independent research on another of the documents, and come to the same conclusion. It wasn't Rocket Science - just set the font in a Word document to 'Times New Roman', and don't bother changing any of the default values for spacing, margin, tab, date position etc etc etc.

Some of the characteristics of the printing did exist in 1973: upmarket (as in 'Twice the cost of a new car') machines existed that did proportional spacing, though none to this fine a degree of precision. But the th could not have been performed by any single machine that existed at the time : A Golfball Selectric didn't have that font in its repertoire, and didn't have any font small enough to match the superscript. (I know - I first used a Golfball typewriter/terminal in 1970, and had one connected to my computer in 1980).

With any other typewriter, the page would have to be physically removed, inserted into another typewriter, a microscope used to judge the spacing, and those two letters typed - then the page would have to be replaced (again using a microscope and hair-fine adjustments to 1/100 of an inch) in the original machine, and typing resumed.

OK, so maybe these are re-typed copies of the original? Except that as seen in Exhibit A, the actual pages used by CBS in their report damning Bush, they have signatures and initials on, and appear to have been 'aged' plausibly.

There are numerous other signs that the documents are suspicious : from the signature which doesn't match other, authentic documents, to the paper size, to the reference to pressure from an officer who'd retired a year before this memo was supposedly written... but enough. PowerLine has most of the details. Within 24 hours, this fraud, broadcast on and repeatedly authenticated by them has been exposed as not just a fake, but a crude and incompetently-executed fake. Despite what CBS is still saying:
CBS News released a statement yesterday standing by its reporting, saying that each of the documents "was thoroughly vetted by independent experts and we are convinced of their authenticity." The statement added that CBS reporters had verified the documents by talking to unidentified individuals who saw them "at the time they were written."

CBS spokeswoman Kelli Edwards declined to respond to questions raised by experts who examined copies of the papers at the request of The Washington Post, or to provide the names of the experts CBS consulted.
"These documents represent what Killian not only was putting in memoranda, but was telling other people," the CBS News official said. "Journalistically, we've gone several extra miles."
Some Extra Miles. Good Grief.

Meanwhile, from MSM, all we have (from some) is that "doubts are being raised" about their authenticity.

Readers in Australia may not know that Kerry has been caught repeatedly lying in testimony to the US Congress: his 'Apocalypse Now' story of being in Cambodia in Christmas 1968 (and which he has used to great effect in a number of political speeches) has also been as thoroughly debunked as these fake documents: but unless you read political blogs, you may not know it. US papers are still full of editorials castigating the dozens of people Kerry served with, who contradict his many stories, as 'Smear-Mongers' and 'Paid Republican Shills'. Meanwhile, in the midst of a closely-fought election campaign, it's now nearly 40 days since Kerry talked to any reporters who might ask him embarressing questions.

I truly hope that the Kerry party machine had nothing to do with these obvious fake documents, 'authenticated' by CBS though they may be. Not because they're fakes, but because they are so unbelievably amateurish. I hope so, but given that some of the documentation on Kerry's website about his highest medal is most unusual (3 different citations, not signed by the right person, the alleged signer says he's never seen it, the award of a 'Silver Star with V' doesn't actually exist...) what I have thought until now was just a long sequence of individually not-unlikely clerical errors now appears more worthy of attention. I still think it's very probably just Situation Normal etc. But I'm no longer totally certain. Fortunately, the US Navy is conducting an official, if quiet, investigation, and it will all come out in the wash.

Worst. Idea. Ever.

File this one, in sadness and mourning, under Software Development.

Worst Idea Ever.

Two quotes:
Acting as spokesman for the concerned engineers Gerald Wilson compiled a 50 page dossier detailing the unsuitability of Windows as a foundation for a naval command system, and arguing that BAE's Unix history and expertise made open source UN*X a logical and viable way forward. The company then made him redundant.

In April 2002, Bill Gates, acting as Microsoft's Chief Software Architect, gave extensive testimony under oath to the US Courts. Gates's testimony included description of the current structure of Microsoft Windows. Snubbing fifty years of progress in computer science, the current structure of Windows abandoned the accepted principles of modular design and reverted instead to the, much deprecated, entangled monolithic approach. Paragraphs 207 to 223 are particularly revealing about Microsoft's chosen approach (paragraph 216 is difficult to believe!). Anyone with elementary knowledge of computer science can see that Microsoft Windows, as described here by Gates, is inherently insecure by design. If this is a flagship Operating System, then Dijkstra's life was in vain.

And Paragraph 216 (Bill Gates testifying under oath) :
"In a purely theoretical world, one could imagine developing modest software programs in such a way that any module could be swapped out in favor of a similar module developed by a third party. The replacement module would need to conform identically to the interfaces expected by all of the modules with which it interacts. In the commercial world, it is hard to see what value such replace-ability would provide even if it could be achieved."

For those readers who aren't interested in software engineering and use a windows-based computer, imagine the following: Your computer has a line from the back of it, connected to your chair. If your computer crashes, you get full mains voltage applied.

I've actually helped make systems so reliable that I'd be content if the above example wasn't fictional. Hundreds of people's lives depend on some of my, and others, software working first time, every time. In case you haven't noticed, it's unlikely the computer you're using to read this is quite so reliable. Even if it is a Mac, or Linux box.

If the Register article above is accurate, then it looks like engineers have been over-ruled by suits. As happened with the Columbia, and the Challenger. Hopefully the deaths that will result will only be numbered in the hundreds - because some of the ships in question have nukes on board.

Thursday, 9 September 2004

Today's Quick Quiz

How long will it take someone to blame the Israelis and/or CIA for Nuking the Australian Embassy?

Jakarta Blast Cloud

Note : Joe Vialls doesn't count. He's already blamed a Mossad/CIA "Micro-Nuke" for the Jakarta Marriot bombing, the Bali bombing, the Baghdad Hotel bombing...

By the way, the smallest nuclear weapon ever made was the W54 physics package on the US's 1950's weapon, the Davy Crockett. It was not popular with the soldiers, as the maximum range of the smallest launcher was a little over a mile. It was even less popular with the politicians, who soon realised that giving a Colonel the ability to start a nuclear war was a Bad Idea(tm). It was deployed from 1961 to 1971.

Just in case anyone gives Joe's interesting theories any credence, his favourite film clip is of the SADM, withdrawn from service as late as 1989 (and using the same physics package as the Davy Crockett). Note also that because of the nature of really small nuclear weapons, the initial radiation is very dangerous compared with all other effects. Anyone within 150 metres of such an explosion would collapse immediately and die within hours at most.

There's lots of data available online about suitcase nukes, and nuclear weapons generally. Not that they has anything to do with the Jakarta bombing, any more than the CIA, Mossad, or Santa Claus do.

Life on a Low Income

There's not much work around for satellite builders in Australia these days. I've just had a major contract collapse a few days before I was to start work on it, and am now on the 'hunting for work' treadmill again, having knocked back a few offers to take one that didn't pan out.
This is the third time this or something similar has happened this year, so the financial situation is looking a bit grim. In fact, and much to my pleasant surprise, we now qualify for some social security benefits.
I'm not sure that we should: I've always believed that such benefits should really be reserved for those truly in need. We're not. On the money we've got coming in, and now we've gotten rid of most of our income-drainers (actually compulsory savings), weekly income and weekly expenditure are just about balanced. I'm still contributing a few thousand a year to my Superannuation scheme, and rather more to a savings account for Andrew's educational expenses in coming years. But the extra payments mean we can now do things like afford fish-and-chips from the takeaway once a fortnight, and even get a replacement TV for the one that's on its last legs. (It was a wedding present in 1981, and the new one was on sale for less than $400).
When you've got $5000 a month coming in, an extra $100 a month doesn't sound like much. But when you've got $1000 a month coming in, it's very significant.

That's led me to have a look at the coming election, and the various tax and income policies of the two major parties, especially as it affects people on low incomes.

And from the Daily Telegraph here's what Labor's plan will do:
More than 100,000 sole parents and another 80,000 low-income families will lose between $500 and $2500 a year if Labor is elected.

And if they think taking up Opposition Leader Mark Latham's challenge to get a job will help they had best think again, according to The Australian Council of Social Service.

Under Labor's tax and family package released on Tuesday they will get slugged even more, ACOSS said.

Single mothers with two children battling to get child support from dead-beat dads are among the hardest hit.

"The best life is not a life of welfare, it's a life of endeavour and work," Mr Latham said in Brisbane yesterday.

He said he did not want to argue about the reduction in welfare payments but instead wanted to concentrate on the size of pay packets.

His own tax tables show, however, that even if these women get a job they continue to lose between $208 and $624 a year under Labor's reforms.

Sole parents with two children have to earn close to $40,000 a year before they become winners under Labor's package : leaving mothers such as Kelly Metcraft out in the cold.

Raising two children on less than $35,000 a year leaves the 24-year-old single mother $4-$12 dollars worse off with a Mark Latham government.
And then there's this from the ABC :
CATHERINE MCGRATH: But the next caller to Hobart ABC radio was worried, very worried about Labor's policies. She thinks she's one of the losers.

CALLER 2: Obviously I'm a sole parent, but I was one of the unfortunate ones that my husband didn't leave me, he died, and Mr Latham said this morning on AM that sole parents need to get back to work and show their kids some work ethic, well, hello?

You know, I'm here with three kids under 11 trying to sort out our lives, my husband died at work, and he's telling me to go back to work.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: And this is the difficulty for Labor. It's going to have to live with the fact that the losers include groups like sole parents - not all of them, that's true - but one example is that a sole parent of one school aged and one child under five, who earn, less than $35,000 a year will be worse off by between $200 and $600 dollars.

Labor also still has to try to explain why it left the $600 family payment out of its weekly tables.

MARK LATHAM: It's not a weekly payment, it's an annual payment, so we've included it in the annual calculations. I mean, the Government is running the hoax that somehow Australian families go down the supermarket once a year to buy their groceries, and the lump sum annual payment is the thing that helps them at that time.

Well, the Government's got to actually come into real life Australia. The Government needs a reality check. It is entirely valid to say it's an annual payment so we'll put it into the annual calculations.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: The Government claims that's dishonest.

Treasurer Peter Costello.

PETER COSTELLO: Well I'm just saying the claim that everybody gets an $8 tax cut is false, that's false. You've just got to ask Mr Latham that. That is false. The second claim that families will be better off, he makes because he says, well I don't count $600 a year family payment that they're getting at the moment, which I intend to abolish.

In other words, forget $600. If you forget that $600 which I'm taking away, you'll be better off under my policy. He got caught out on that last night, so you know, this is, this is really dishonest stuff that's going on here and it has to be exposed.
It's too much to expect Politicians to stop playing silly political games, but fudging the figures so people can't make an informed comparison is not just the usual dodgy dealing, it's harmful. I'm ashamed to admit that I never realised vicerally what this meant before, I mean, I knew it cerebrally, but it didn't register as being important.

Oh well, hopefully we'll be contacting Centrelink about cutting off some of the benefits soon, as our joint income will make us ineligible for them. Cross fingers.

Only in Australia....

Workplace Safety Sign

Shamelessly copied (including the title) from The Yobbo's Place, which is packed with Bloggy goodness. Worth a visit.

Wednesday, 8 September 2004

Civil Purposes Updated

Just in, about 5 minutes ago, from The Australian :
Iran said today it was ready to show off a test of its improved Shahab-3 medium range missile, which is capable of hitting Israel, to "observers" in order to prove it is a success.

"The ministry is ready to organise a new test of the Shahab-3 missile in the presence of observers," Defence Minister Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani said in a statement carried by the official news agency IRNA.

"The recent test that was carried out was a success."
The Shahab-3 missile was deployed among the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in July last year. Although the missile has been paraded with the banner "Israel should be wiped off the map", Iran says it is purely defensive.

Next time I'll try to give a bit more warning. The Shahub-3's existence has been known for over a year, but not its range.

Meanwhile this (from August 27th) is less than encouraging :
An anti-ballistic missile under development by Israel and the US missed its target today in its latest test off the California coast, a spokesman said.

The Arrow missile failed to intercept an air-launched missile over the Pacific and both fell into the water, said Chris Taylor, spokesman for the US Missile Defence Agency.

"The engineers don't yet know what happened," Mr Taylor said.

It was the 13th Arrow intercept test and the eighth test of the complete weapon system. Officials have not said how many of the tests have been successful.

Last month, an Arrow successfully hit a missile launched from a platform on the ocean range off Point Mugu, 72km north-west of Los Angeles.

Arrow 2

And although the story above talks about an 'air-launched target', China's Xinhua newsagency has a different story:
The Arrow anti-ballistic missile is capable of intercepting an Iranian Shihab-3 missile, despite its failure to do so in a test off the California coast, Israeli Defence Ministry official said Friday.

Aryeh Herzog, the Defense Ministry official in charge of the Arrow project, Friday focused on the Arrow's ability to distinguish between different targets and ignore dummy targets, which is necessary for both the Iranian and Syrian missiles.

"The element of distinguishing was successful, and the element of final interception had a local malfunction in the Arrow missile," Herzog told Israel Radio.

"Since 2002, the Air Force's system, which is operational, is capable of intercepting Iranian Shihab-3 missiles, and we are certainly confident in this."

The Arrow, which is being developed by Israel and the United States, failed Thursday to destroy a target missile simulating an Iranian Shihab-3 and a Scud-D of the type Syria possesses.

The Israeli monitoring center found that the Arrow succeeded in identifying the warhead in time, but the intercept failed because of an unidentified malfunction, possibly in the guidance system.
Al Ahram has some interesting technical data, and some very chilling words too. :
Independent experts give the Arrow a 95 per cent success rate at intercepting its target. However, there are some reservations over its capacity to confront a barrage of state-of-the-art Shihab-3s from the Iranian arsenal. According to the Jerusalem Post 's military correspondent, the Shihab-3 has a speed of 6 kilometres per second, or more than four times the speed of a Scud and twice the speed of the targets the Arrow missile was designed to intercept.
The official Arab newsagency quoting the Jerusalem Post? Maybe there's hope for the world after all. Then again, as the article continue, maybe not.
As the foregoing suggests, Israel's primary aim in owning antiballistic missiles such as the Arrow is to counter the threat of Iranian and Syrian missiles and other missiles in the Arab and Islamic countries. It is generally understood that these missiles are the only weapon available to the Arabs capable of overcoming or neutralising Israel's nuclear capacities, especially if fitted out with unconventional biological or chemical warheads.
It's not been a good week for Israel. But then again, it's not called 'Rocket Science' for nothing. From Reuters :
A rocket carrying an Israeli spy satellite intended to boost the Jewish state's surveillance over arch-enemy Iran crashed into the sea shortly after liftoff, officials and defence sources say.

The Defence Ministry blamed a malfunction in the third stage of the Shavit rocket, which took off from an air base south of Tel Aviv on Monday. Witnesses saw a flash of light near coastal Palmahim base. There were no reports of casualties.
Israeli defence sources said the Ofek-6 -- the latest in Israel's locally produced line of spy satellites -- was intended to improve surveillance over Iran. Israel's strategic defence systems depend on satellites to spot incoming missile threats.

"Such incidents are very expensive for all involved," a defence source said about the lost satellite.
That could be a real understatement.

Tuesday, 7 September 2004

Purely for Civil Purposes

From a SatNews article, dated February 19, 2003:
Iran and Italy have signed an agreement to launch Iran's first telecommunications satellite within two years.

The satellite, called "Mesbah" (Lighthouse), will provide TV and communications channels and replaces an earlier satellite project with Russia that has since been abandoned. No value for the deal with the Italian company Carlo Gavazzi Space was released, however. Mesbah is to be launched in the next two years.

Under the agreement, Iranian and Italian experts will cooperate on the project throughout the testing, production and launching stages of the satellite. The agreement also envisages the training of Iranian experts by Carlo Gavazzi Space. The agreement was signed after successful completion of the first phase of the project for designing and building a laboratory model of the satellite.

Now from SpaceDaily :
Iran intends to launch its first satellite into space in April 2005, with the device described as being purely for civil purposes, Iranian media reported Thursday.

The satellite, code-named Mesbah (lantern), was shown on state television. It is said to weigh 60 kilograms (132 pounds) and is cube-shaped which each side measuring 50 centimetres (20 inches). It will be put into orbit at an altitude of 900 kilometres (about 560 miles).
Regular readers will know that I headed the On-Board Computing team for FedSat, a microsat also half-a-metre on a side, massing just under 60 Kg, and in an 800-and-something km orbit. (Use the search facilities on the left to find out the gory details, pix etc)
So I know a bit about things like this. Anyway, to continue:
"The satellite will be used to identify natural resources, control the electrical and energy network (gas and oil), and later on can be used by communications and crisis management," press reports said.
It must have a rather better imager than the StarCamera on FedSat, and even that produced an uncomfortably large chunk of data with each shot. The StarCam was being used for attitude-control, basically helping to really accurately measure the satellite's position and attitude. On-board processing attempted to pattern-match the 3 brightest stars, normally the raw data wouldn't be sent back down. But we stored it away in mass memory for testing purposes, and could even upload a test pattern from the ground. Basically, a 640 x 480 16-colour jpeg. You'd need something rather more detailed, and with rather more data per shot, for ERT (Earth Resources Technology). However, several nations (such as the Nigerians) already have very similar systems either in development or in service.
Similarly, data communications, including emergency service, is a natural use for a constellation of such satellites. Even a single one can provide a mail-forwarding service, getting data from, say, a buoy in the middle of the Pacific on one orbit, and storing it until a later orbit when it can be downlinked. Similarly, a short message can be uplinked to the satllite, and a few hours later, can be retrieved from anywhere on the planet. Great for monitoring seismic or meteorological stations in remote locations (such as mountain tops, mid-ocean, Antarctica etc). Also good for monitoring pipeline valves in the Back of Beyond.
The head of the Islamic republic's Scientific and Industrial Research Centre, Seyed Mohammad Fathi, was quoted as saying the project would allow Iran to develop other satellites in the future.
Depending on the technology transfer from Italy, certainly. With FedSat, the satellite bus (chassis) was supposed to be bought from SIL in the UK. Well, they went bust, so we had to do 80% of the work ourselves. Now I'm certain Iranian scientists and engineers are at least as competent as the Australian ones, most of whom (like myself) had never worked on a space programme before. FedSat is very much more complicated, with additional experiments such as a Magnetometer, Ionospheric research package, a self-healing Field-Programmable-Gate-Array (FPGA) which detects and corrects radiation damage to the hardware, and a K-band communications module. Lots of new stuff, lots of 'First Time Evers'. And ours worked, and continues to work.

In January, Iran's defence minister said the satellite would be launched by Iranian technology, but gave no further details.

One of the reasons these specifications, (half-a-meter cube, 60 Kilos, 700-900 km orbits) are chosen is because they always go as "piggy-back" payloads. Usually along with larger satellites, but sometimes along with up to a dozen smaller ones. FedSat went with 2 other microsats along with the multi-tonne ASDEOS-2/Midori satellite. The cost of riding on such a launch is on the order of $1 million, about $20,000 a kilo. Very cheap indeed. In fact NASDA (the Japanese Space Agency, now renamed JAXA), gave us a free ride in exchange for some of our scientific data.

To launch a fairly expensive satellite like this with a home-grown booster just doesn't make any sense, it's just throwing money away in massive quantities, with an excellent chance of launch failure. You can pay $1 million and have a 95% chance of success, or pay $20 million and have at least a 50% chance of losing your $20 million satellite. Only one explanation is credible.

Launching a satellite like this "with Iranian technology" means they're developing IRBMs. Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles, with ranges way in excess of anything the Pakistanis or Indians have tested. And possibly longer, true ICBMs. Add this to the Iranian Nuclear program, and Alarm Bells should be ringing. Not just in Washington or Tel Aviv, either. London may or may not be in range, but Berlin and Moscow almost certainly are.

Monday, 6 September 2004

A Tale of Two Boats

I managed to snatch a glimpse of a TV program on Deutsche Welle the other day. The subject was the new non-violent totally-defensive U-212A class submarine, the latest in a long line of German U-Boats. Submarines.
Now anyone who knows even the first thing about military history will recognise the phrase "German U-Boat" carries the same sort of fear-factor as "Tyrannosaurus Rex", "Parking Police" or "Income Tax Audit".
The crew described the sub as "the most modern and most deadly non-nuclear sub in the world", and that's not much of exaggeration, if any. The Israeli Defence Force's Dolphin class would rival the U-212A, but that's because they have the same sonar fit and a more closely integrated combat system.
The captain, crew and narrator went to great lengths to explain that the primary mission of the U-212A class of submarines was reconaissance. Or, as they put it, spying. Seeing without being seen. Oh yes, it had weapons, some torpedos, but they were mainly for self-defence, the whole idea was to avoid combat, not engage in it.


Funnily enough, and contrary to all expectations, they were actually telling the truth. That's the prime mission of all subs these days. To be sneaky, gather data, maybe land some special forces to take a closer look (or commit mayhem) and lay mines. The last time that any submarine fired torpedos in anger was over 20 years ago, when the Belgrano was sunk by 3 improved WW-II vintage Mk 8*** torpedos, 2 of which hit. I might add that the recommended way of firing straight-runners (unguided torpedos) like the old Mk 8*** meant that only 2 from a salvo could hit if you 'scored a bullseye', but the chances of 1 hitting were really high.

How do I know all these gory details (like the fact that it was a Mk 8*** not a Mk 8** for example - ie the third not the second major re-build of the original Mk 8)? Well, for my sins, I've spent a bit of my time on board various submarines, in a professional capacity.

Later in the program, after the exercise had been completed, the sleek U-212A boat (subs are boats, never ships) U-31 cruised past another spectacular vessel. I couldn't read the hull number on it, but it had to be either the HSV-1 or HSV-2, there are only two boats that look like that. It was a US Naval catamaran so futuristic that looked as if it was going 100 km/h even though it was stopped. Probably High Speed Vessel 2.


It was a moot point whether the the crew of the U-31 was more interested in the HSV 2, or the HSV 2 crew more interested in the U-31.

What I found particularly fascinating was the sonar (sound) signature of the HSV 2 that the U-212A's crew played for the cameraman. Particularly ironic.

Let me explain.

I did the architecture, and some of the code, for the Audio processing module of the STN-Atlas CSU-90 sonar (known now for reasons I won't go in to as the DBQS-40). There's a significant Australian-made component in this German submarine, and the bit of the software that produced the sounds broadcast by Deutsche Welle was one of the bits I personally created.

As for the HSV-2? She was designed by Incat of Tasmania, and built in the USA by Bollinger-Incat. Australian military hi-tech sure gets around.

Skirting the Libel Laws

A group of 50-odd senior, respected medical practioners in Australia recently wrote an open letter slamming the Australian Government
The open letter calls Australia's role in Iraq a tragic mistake and accuses the Howard Government of taking Australia to war on false and misleading grounds.

Dr Gillian Deakin, from the Medical Association for Prevention of War, says the action stemmed from a collective conscience.

"Warfare is no longer, in the 21st Century an acceptable practice," she said.

"It should be seen that our troops are only used for the defence of Australia and never in acts of aggression."
But I thought War was not acceptable? Immediately thereafter, Dr D. speaks about 'defence of Australia' as if it was somehow justified. From these words considered alone, either the good doctor is mentally slothful (so is unaware of the contradiction), or both mendacious and so arrogant she doesn't think anyone will pick her up on it. Or maybe she's just misquoted, and is merely misunderstood. I have no wish to libel the good doctor, so let's look further.

More details from The Age :
One of the signatories, Westmead Hospital Professor Richard Kefford, today described the government's response to Iraq's reconstruction as ''insufficient''.

''Now that the Coalition of the Willing has invaded Iraq, we want the coalition to be much more actively involved in picking up the consequences with respect to the devastating effects on health care.

''We have a responsibility, as one of the countries that invaded that country, to make things better.''
Arguably true in all respects, and quite a reasonable thing to say. I'm not sure I agree, there's no point in spending all the money on hospitals, and none on making sure they don't get shelled (as has happened recently). But reasonable.
Another signatory, the head of the University of Sydney's School of Health, Professor Bruce Armstrong, told AAP there was little evidence the government had done anything to address health issues in Iraq.

''These kind of things seem not to have been considered,'' Prof Armstrong said.

''It is identified as collateral damage, whereas health is such an important thing.''
Now everyone should treat politicians statements with not just a grain, but a couple of kilotonnes of Sodium Chloride. But this is what was said in reply :
Mr Howard says the medical professionals are entitled to their view but he does not agree with it.

"I would have thought as doctors they would have taken account of the fact that spending on public health after Saddam is 60 times greater than what it was when Saddam ran Iraq," Mr Howard said.

"It was about $US16 million on public health when that monster ran Iraq.

"Expenditure on public health in Iraq is now more than $1 billion a year."

The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has dismissed the letter.

He says that most doctors in Australia would agree that Iraq's health system had made good progress since Saddam Hussein's regime was ended.

Mr Downer has suggested those who signed the document share a minority view.

"I'm very surprised that any doctor would regret the passing of the regime of Saddam Hussein which in its last year spent $20 million on its health budget compared to the current Iraqi health budget of nearly $1 billion.
OK, so who's telling porkies?

Go read Chrenkoff. He has facts and figures to back it up. Things like
Australia has already given A$125 million in humanitarian aid to Iraq. Some of it was going towards health needs even before the fighting even stopped.
Chrenkoff in a previous article quotes a piece in The Scotsman and dated June 25th.:
Yet, despite the frustrations of life at Medical City, Iraq's health system overall is off the critical list and more or less stable, if suffering occasional lapses. Last year, $245 million (Pds 135 million) was spent on reviving its 240 crumbling hospitals, more than a dozen times the $20 million budget it had under Saddam (roughly 44p per person).

This year, the spending will nearly quadruple to $950 million. The 32,000 doctors and nurses will be retrained to catch up on the past 15 years of medical science.

Staff who fled to the US and Britain are occasionally coming back and state-owned hospitals that were once "self-financing", Saddam-speak for making patients pay for operations, are free again.

Among the optimists is Medical City's new manager, Dr Majid Jalal Ali, 54. He is also its main paediatric surgeon, and does the manager's job "for free". It is an extra burden that he is willing to carry, given that he is now earning approximately 35 times what he used to.

"Under Saddam, I got only 20 Pds a month, now it is $700," he said. "Lots of our old staff are applying for their old jobs back because the pay has gone up so much, which is better than them working as taxi drivers.

"For the hospital itself, things are also better: we have most of the essential drugs we need, and three big generators for electricity. We've also built a new casualty unit and soon we will be rehabilitating the whole building."

Others, though, are convinced things are still not any better than they were in the last years of Saddam's rule, when excessive military spending bled what was once a First World-standard health service of 90 per cent of its funding.

With electricity shortages still endemic, it is perhaps unsurprising that hi-tech ward equipment has not yet arrived to replace the patched-up and broken 1980s relics. But why, with money pouring in for the past 14 months, do drug shortages still exist?

Dr Dave Tarantino, a senior health adviser at the Coalition Provisional Authority, says that, despite the huge cash injections, the financial medicine has had trouble flowing through the network of Iraq's pharmaceutical distribution system. It was a child of the oil-for-food programme, where UN red tape and Saddam-era corruption combined to form a system that was overarchingly bureaucratic, inefficient and riddled with bribery.

Many of the foreign medical suppliers involved in oil-for-food are now under official investigation on allegations of taking millions of dollars of kickbacks, often sending medicines that were out-of-date and massively overpriced. As a result, Iraq's health ministry is having to rebuild the system anew, weeding out corrupt suppliers and recruiting new ones.
Had these 50-odd medical practitioners had their way, this situation of graft and corruption would have continued. And hundreds, thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands would have died. Professor Armstrong's views in particular, seem rather at odds with the facts, facts that anyone with Internet access and an interest in the subject should have known.

And I'll leave it at that, because Australia has a fairly tight set of Libel laws, where truth is not neccessarily a complete defence.

Sunday, 5 September 2004

Shallow and Meaningless

Too many Deep and Meaningful posts in a row can lead to Intellectual fatigue. As well as boredom from the banality of Evil.

On that note, a pair of factoids:

The True History of General Tso's Chicken : something to remember next time you eat chinese.

Not the Londonderry Air, but the Hawkins derriere : a story of coolness under pressure.

A Recap of Recent History : Chechnya

FactMonster has a timeline about the history of Chechnya, dating back to the 1830's.

But recent events regarding Chechen Independence can be summarised as follows:
  • 1991 : Soviet Union Collapse, Chechens declare Independence. Yeltsin sends in some troops in a half-hearted attempt to regain control (as was done unsuccessfully elsewhere), but armed Chechens resist, and the Russians soon withdraw (again, as they did elsewhere). Chechnya is now Independent, de facto if not de jure.
  • 1992-1994 : Organised and Disorganised bandits (literally - bands of armed men) engage in a reign of criminal terror in all provinces adjacent to Chechnya. The main crime is Kidnapping, but cattle-rustling and grand theft are also common. Chechnya becomes a true Kleptocracy, ruled by thieves. Anyone familiar with the Achean pirates 3000 years ago, the Scottish Border reavers of 1000 years ago, the 'Terror of the Norsemen' Viking/Danish raiders of 1500 years ago, or even the Plains Indians of 200 years ago, will recognise the raider culture. The raids become intolerable.
  • 1994-1996 : Russians sends in the army - or rather, dispirited and demoralised remnants of what used to be the Red Army. The Criminals get wiped out or disband, but the Islamic 'patriots', in scenes reminscent of the US War for Independence, take on the Russians and win. The former Red Army get their heads handed to them, whole battalions are wiped out in a military fiasco. Russians declare they've won (or at least destroyed the organised criminals), and withdraw.
  • 1997-1999 : Anarchy in Chechnya. This time, it's not criminal gangs, it's Jihadis, who help fellow-muslims in neighbouring Daghestan in their 'Independence Struggle', actually a genocidal war against non-Muslims there. Finally, the escalating and concurrent series of terrorist bombings against civilians in Russia is capped by them blowing up an apartment block, killing or maiming hundreds.
  • 1999-2000 : Russia goes into Chechnya again, this time with morale high, a greater degree of organisation, and bloody-minded thoughts of revenge. They go in 'cum Scutum et Ignis', with Fire and the Sword. Grozhny reduced to rubble, with indiscriminate bombardment of Chechen civilians and both unofficial and officially sanctioned human rights abuses. This was a 'punitive war' designed to stop the terrorism by brutal military action, state-snactioned terrorism. It is largely successful, and Chechen overt resistance is eradicated. Chechen Independence is now ended. But at a terrible cost to innocent lives, and an encouragement of greater resistance in the long term.
  • 2000-2004 : Slow increase in terrorist activity, with Chechen Jihadis now exported to all parts of the Middle East, and Arab Jihadis fighting a guerilla campaign in Chechnya. Terrorist bombings and other atrocities, especially the massacre of 3rd party NGOs trying to relieve Chechen suffering, increase. These reach a climax in 2004, when over 20 separate bombings and massacres occur in the first 9 months, including aircraft destruction, and the massacre of the innocents at Beslan
  • (2004 : Russia goes in for the last time, this time in what is unofficially a war of genocide... In a traditional Russian solution to similar problems, all Chechens are rounded up en masse and re-settled in Northern Siberia...Those that survive...?)

I'm desperately trying to think of an alternate ending to this one. The problem is, that Russia has tried (with varying degrees of sincerity) to live alongside an Independent Chechnya twice. And failed both times, due to Chechen intransigence. From the Russian viewpoint, it's not possible to "live and let live" with the Chechen culture as it stands now. The Chechens have a right to independence, but the actions of the Chechen Jihadis have forfeited that right. Russia has a right to secure borders, even though their acts of revenge should have been punished, or better, prevented, if the UN was living up to its charter. But Russia's right still stands.

I'm sure the Israelis could tell them a thing or two about this. Remember Ma'alot :
This small town made world headlines when a group of 11th graders on a field trip from Safed spent the night in a school in Ma'alot. On May 15, 1974, three PLO terrorists disguised in Israeli uniforms, who had infiltrated from Lebanon, killed the school children's guard and stormed the building. Some children were killed as the terrorists entered, others escaped through a window on the second floor. The terrorists threatened to kill the remaining children unless Israel released Arab terrorists held in Israeli prisons. Israel's official policy was not to negotiate with terrorists, but the government decided to ask for more time to talk. The terrorists rejected the request. Fifteen minutes before the terrorist-imposed deadline for starting to kill their hostages, an elite Golani brigade unit mounted a rescue operation. When it was over all the terrorists were dead, but so were 21 children who had been murdered by the Arabs.

In 1963, Ma'alot merged with Tarshiha, a 900-year-old neighboring Muslim and Christian Arab village to form a single municipality. This a rare model of interdependence and cooperation between Jews and Arabs.
But you know the situation is truly dire when the Intifada starts looking like the lesser of two evils....

I refuse to believe that a 'Trail of Tears' that punishes the innocent along with the guilty is a legitimate option. Of course in the original, they were all innocent, even though the Cherokee kept slaves, just as did the rest of Georgia.

One possible solution : a declaration that any organisation that does not immediately and unequivocally condemn the Beslan Massacre of the Innocents is in a state of war with Russia : and any building where a pro-Beslan Jihadi speech is made is subject to demolition (with 24 hours notice) by Russian weaponry, no matter where in the world it exists.

The UN of course would never sanction that. And the USA's 'Freedom of Speech' fixation might well mean that it loses some important public buildings, hopefully by a demolition contractor's hammer rather than a smart bomb. But the alternative is unthinkable.