Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Flight Examiner SAM

At Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base (Thailand) one would see pilots wearing a shoulder patch with that logo.  That was 1968 and we were flying F105 fighter bombers up to Hanoi twice a day, every day.  SAM in those days was SA-2, a not very mobile system.  A SAM battery consisted of several launchers, a couple of radar trailers, some hootches and "stuff".  The Russians had provided the more up to date tracked vehicle mobile SA-6 to the Egyptians in time for the 1967 war with Israel, but the North Viet Nam comrades didn't have it yet. 
   SA-2 was the SAM designed to get U-2 photo recon flights operating above 70,000 feet.  This resulted in a big rocket, about the size and dimensions of a telephone pole.  It took the rocket motor quite some time to boost this heavy missile up to real speed.  At low altitude, the F105 could out fly SAM.  Pilots who survived this feat of airmanship got to wear the patch. 
Once SAM was at altitude, with much of his fuel burned off, he was deadly fast, cannon shell fast, too fast to dodge, almost too fast to see.  So the effect of SAM was to force us down, into the ground fire.  Instead of going in at 25,000 feet, well above any kind of ground fire, we had to fly at  5000 feet.  One pilot put it thusly  "Even the kids have slingshots." 
  SAM was a radar guided beast.  No heat seekers for him.  We carried electronic countermeasures pods to confuse Mr. SAM.  The early ones were straight noise jammers.  The later QRC 160 pods attempted to spoof SAM by picking up his radar pulses, amplifying them, messing with them, and squirting them back at SAM's radar.   A weakness in QRC-160 was the occasional pod that started talking to itself.  The receiver would pick up a bit of noise, it would amplify the noise and transmit it.  The transmit antenna wasn't far from the receive antenna (how far away can you be when the whole pod was only ten feet long?)  The receiver would pick up the transmissions, amplify them again, transmit them again, and within seconds the pod transmitters would be blasting a full power signal.  This worried the aircrew, who feared that the comrades could track them and launch at them.  So the talkative pods were sent to my ECM shop to shut them up.  There was nothing in the technical order about loud mouth pods, fix there fore.  So after a lot of trouble shooting and testing, we resorted to ordering some parts that we knew base supply didn't have.  After waiting about 30 days for parts, we were allowed to ship the talkative pods back to depot, which got them out of our hair. 
   The SAM that took out the airliner is a descendent of  SA-2.  About third or fourth generation.  SA-2 was followed by SA-6.  SA-6 managed to pack 3 missiles and the radar into a single tracked vehicle.  SA-11, the one suspected of airliner shooting,  carried six missiles and must have had a new electronics and radar suite, came after SA-6.  I have heard of an SA-17, but know little about it.  SA-2 fifty years ago would hit airliners at 33,000 feet, no sweat.  The later models must be just as effective. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Israeli Travelog, Bebi gets favorable TV coverage

Public television ran a nice "travel in Israel" piece on Sunday.  It had boating down the Jordan, views of Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall, Masada, and spectacular scenery.  For extra points, they had Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, acting as host.  Bebi knew the history and the archeology of all the places, told  interesting stories, and he came across as a well educated and thoughtful man.  In fact, I was impressed at how nice the TV coverage was for Bebi.  Dunno just who set up this TV deal, but it did Bebi a lot of good.  It was probably filmed before the current Gaze dustup, but it was nice coverage.  Good travel log too.

Some store brands work out, other's don't

Sears Roebuck had store brands Craftsman (tools) and Diehard (batteries).  They achieved fame and fortune.  Professional mechanics would use Craftsman wrenches, and Diehard commanded a premium price.  Then Sears had Kenmore appliances(respected but considered cheap) and J.C. Higgins (sporting goods)  considered a joke by sportsmen,  and Silvertone, (consumer electronics) considered cheap.  Heathkit had more class than Silvertone.   
   Branding is marketing pure and simple.  Somehow the Sears organization was able to market Craftsman and Diehard and failed to market J.C. Higgins and Silvertone.  With Craftsman, the unlimited guarantee had a lot to do with brand acceptance.  "You break it, bring it back and we will replace it, no questions asked."  added to a line of tools that was nearly impossible to break, and well finished was helpful.  Diehard prospered from some really effective TV ads, and a reputation for starting cars at 40 below.   I don't remember any effective marketing for the not so successful Sears house brands.
   Then of course, Sears gave up on house brand appliances back in the 1980's and started selling national brands.  Which put them in head to head competition with the discount houses like Lechmere Sales and Kmart.  Wanna bet Sears margin on house brand Kenmore was better than the margin on say RCA Whirlpool?
  Of course this is all ancient history, going back to when Sears was a power to be reckoned with, before Walmart swept all before it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cyber Security according to the Economist

The Economist ran a 10 page special suppliment on cyber security, mostly hand wringing about how little security we have.
   They have a point there.  Most computers run Windows and Windows is like swiss cheese, full of holes.  Any Windows computer on the internet can be hacked, from the net, and quickly.  Bill Gates has hung all our dirty laundry out to dry in the sunlight, where anyone can see it.
  For instance, those electronic medical records that Obama stuck us with.  They are all visible on the net to any competent hacker.  For instance, when you apply for a job, HR can access your medical records and put the kibosh on hiring you if they see you as a high cost patient on the company medical plan.  And there is nothing you can do about it,  your doctor puts your medical records on the computer whether you like it or not, and there you are, hung out to dry.  Note: Don't tell your doctor about suicidal feelings, mental problems, anything that might be used against you, either at trial or at a hiring decision.
  Things you can do.  Use good passwords.  Avoid passwords found in dictionaries, they have all been cracked.  Passwords like sunlight, tornado, U.S.Grant, hunter, rapids, bulldozer are all precracked.  Use long passwords, longer is better.  Use mixed case (some caps, some lower case) and digits.  For instance Torino69 is stronger than just plain torino.   ByTheRocketsRedGlare is stronger than usemgr.
   The experts will tell you to use different passwords for each thing (account) that you log into.  Good advice, but tough to follow.  No way can I remember and keep straight 20 odd passwords for the 20 odd accounts I own. I do use strong passwords and that's about it. 
  Avoid Windows.  Use Linux, or Mac or even MS-DOS.  By the way, there is a market opening here, for an OS as user friendly as Windows without Windows uncounted security holes. 
   Never click on an email attachment. Even on email from a well known friend.  The friend's machine may have been hacked, and the hackers  always take away the address book.  Attachments, ESPECIALLY .doc and .xls (Word and Excel files) can contain hostile code that infects your machine with all sorts of horrible stuff.
   Keep your machine off the internet as much as you can.  Powering down takes it off the net, and saves electricity.  Powering down at night might save you a nasty virus or invasion by a botnet.
  Run an antivirus program at least once a month. 
  Don't let anyone stick strange thumb drives in your machine.  They can contain virii or worse that will infect you machine within seconds of plugging the thumb drive into a USB port. 

Electric motor horsepower

Detroit marketers over many many years have sensitized us consumers to the merits of horsepower in a car engine.  More is better.  And for an internal combustion engine, horsepower can actually be measured, with real test equipment, although there are a few fudge factors in the measurement process, like with mufflers or just straight pipes. 
   Given the success horsepower has been selling cars, makers of all sorts of stuff now advertise their product's horsepower.  More is better.  And some fairly unbelievable results have been marketed, like the all plastic six horsepower shop vac. 
   Electric motors carry the wildest claims.  Electric motors will put out more and more mechanical power (shaft horsepower) as the load upon them is increased.  As the motor works harder, it draws more current, and the current heats the motor up.  Somewhere along the line, the motor will burst into flames.  As a practical matter, the amount of shaft horsepower you can extract from a motor depends upon how hot you dare run it. 
   It also depends upon how long you run it.  Motors have a lot of iron in them, and it takes real time for the electricity to warm up several pounds of cold iron.  For a load that only lasts a few seconds the motor won't heat up much.  This principle allows the electric starter in cars.  The starter motor only has to crank a few seconds until the engine starts. Then it can rest and cool off. 
   National Electric Manufacturers Association (NEMA) has a conservative system for rating electric motor horsepower.  The horsepower rating is for continuous duty, such as you get turning a fan, or a water pump.  For this you get a pretty beefy motor.  A NEMA quarter horse motor is the size of a five pound sack of potatoes and weights two or three times as much.  NEMA ratings are customary on stand alone electric motors. 
   For appliances with built in motors, blenders, vacuums, skil saws, and the like, the maker is under no compulsion to use the NEMA rating system.  The marketing guys demand the highest possible advertised horsepower, which is the power the motor can deliver in a very short burst.  This can be ten or twenty times the conservative NEMA rating.  This is how you get a six horsepower shop vac.  It's also kinda useless for us consumers when shopping for appliances.  In the shop vac case, the highest horsepower rating goes to the machine whose marketing department tells the biggest whoppers.  It doesn't go to the machine that sucks the best.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ukrainian Air Disaster

The shoot down of Malaysian Air Flt 17 in the Ukraine is a horrible tragedy with shocking loss of life. My sincerest sympathy to the families of the victims.
The airliner was at normal cruising altitude, 33,000 feet, call it six miles up.  No man pack rocket can reach that high.  By the time you pack that much fuel into a rocket, it is too heavy for a man to carry.  It had to be a bigger missile, probably vehicle mounted.   
   For a regulation SAM, 33,000 feet is easy.  The first Soviet SAM, SA-2 Guideline we called it, knocked down Frances Gary Powers at 70,000 feet over Sverdlovsk in the late 1950's.  We flew against SA-2 in Viet Nam.  The newsies have been calling the missile "sophisticated".  Not really, it's a capability SAM has had for 50 years.  In fact Obama just called them sophisticated on TV.
   The newsies have been speculating that the SAM is so complicated to operate that the Ukrainian "rebels" could not work it.  Not likely.  Plenty of guys were drafted in Russia and Ukraine and got trained on the missile during their hitch in the service.  They ought to be enough veterans with missile training  kicking around the Ukraine to operate a single launcher vehicle. From either side. 
   It could have been an accident.  Figuring out what little dots of light on a radar screen mean can be difficult to get right.  They may well have believed they were launching against a military cargo flight, but zapped the airliner instead.
   I'm dubious about equipping airliners with anti missile defenses.  It would be a windfall for BAE down in Nashua, but I dunno if it would do much good on airliners.  The systems we built in Nashua went on helicopters flying combat in Iraq.  The Common Missile Warning System was four TV cameras looking down and out to see the flash of a missile motor.  When they saw a missile heading for them, the system computer got on the aircraft intercom and cried "Missile! Missile! Missile!".  The pilot then took violent evasive action and launched a bunch of decoy flares.  This worked in helicopters, our shops all featured photographs of big choppers, with the whole crew standing in front of them, and hand written letters to the effect that our missile warning system saved their lives.  No so sure if the violent evasive action works when you are flying a Boeing 777. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Antique Laptop revived, XP lives

Couple a weeks ago, getting ready for a trip, I pulled antique laptop out of his carry bag and fired him up to charge his batteries and update his software.  You know how it is, leave the laptop on the shelf for a little while and every piece of software needs an update. 
   Arrgh.  he would not fire up.  LEDs blinked but the screen stayed dark.  So Antique Laptop stayed home and then sat out on the table for a couple of weeks 'til I got around to him today.  Antique goes back quite a ways.  I gave him to youngest son to go to high school with.  That was maybe ten years ago.  Youngest son is hard on his gear, and it shows.  Scratches, scraped off paint, ding marks.  Somewhere along the line, youngest son bought a hotter new laptop to make his games run faster.  Antique Laptop came back to me.  So I cleaned the games and craplets off the hard drive, zapped endless virii, applied my list of Windows fixes, and he ran pretty well.  Ran my C compiler, Office, and my CAD programs.  What's not to like?  And he runs XP, which is higher performance that the follow ons, Vista, 7, and 8.
   Thinking back over Antique's life, I remembered youngest son showing me an electronic module behind the screen bezel that had given trouble in the past.  Why not?  I  pulled two screws and popped the bezel loose.  The module was right there where I remembered.  So I unplugged it, blew some dust out of it, and plugged it back in.  Voila, screen lit up, XP booted, and happiness roams the land.  I don't have to learn Win 8, replace elderly software that won't run on 8.     Motto of the story.  The most likely failure in electronic stuff is connectors.  Over time air gets in, oxidizes the pins and sockets, and they stop conducting electricity.  Connecting and disconnecting often wipes the oxidation off, and it works again.  If it just stops working, take it apart, and put it back together.  You have a pretty good chance of fixing it.
   It's an HP Pavilion ZE4900.  Still looks pretty good.  In fact I bought him a new battery this winter. If you are looking at buying a used laptop, this one is durable.