Monday, March 31, 2014

How to destroy your civilization

Simple.  Start World War I.  In 1913, the last year before the war, Europe ruled the world.  Her technology, steam railroad, telegraph, steamships, repeating firearms, telephone, machine woven textiles, electricity, and mass production was totally dominant.  Non European countries could not even duplicate European technology, they had to import it, from Europe.  The less advanced regions of the world were "colonized" (taken over) by European countries and run for the benefit of the colonizing countries.   
   After four years of slaughter and destruction on the Western Front, the Russian revolution, and the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian empire the European countries were too shattered, too broke, and too demoralized to keep it up.  What's worse, the seeds of the second world war, and the following  cold war had been planted.  In 1918 the Allies were too exhausted to invade and occupy defeated Germany, and convince the Germans that they had truly lost the war.  The Communists had seized power in Russia and would keep it for 70 years.  The majority of Germans felt they had not been beaten fair and square and were ready to try it again twenty years later.  This brought Adolf Hitler to power and kicked off WWII, which was as bad, or worse, than the first one. 
   What went wrong?  First.  The Austro-Hungarian empire could see and feel it's power crumbling in the face of nationalist feeling among it's massive subject peoples.  The German speaking Austrians and the Hungarians had struck a deal to share power and run the empire.  The rest of the empire, the Balkans, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Moldavians, Bohemians, and others were second class imperial citizens, and wanted out.  The ruling Austro-Hungarians knew that when the subject peoples got out, they would be reduced to running a third class eastern European now-wheres-ville.  They saw the Sarajevo assassinations as the pretext for a sharp little war that would  teach their subject peoples to shut up and do what they were told.  The ruling eleite believed that unless they took drastic action they were doomed, so they were strongly motivated toward war.   War was their salvation.
   Second.  Germany, a brand new country created just 45 years before, lacked national institutions with the power to constrain the central government, a monarchy with a nut case monarch.  The nut case liked international crises, the Sarajevo killings looked like a fine crisis, he decided to stir the pot.  When the Austrians came the Berlin asking for support in their hassle with the Serbs, he told them to go right ahead, kick some Serbian ass.  With that backing, the Crush-Serbia-Now faction in Vienna was able to silence their opponents and kick off the war.
   Lessons learned.  First, if you run an Empire, you want to give everyone in the empire a stake in it.  The Romans understood this; they would make anyone a citizen of Rome.  Even the Apostle Paul was a Roman citizen. The Austro-Hungarians might have survived and not needed a brisk little war to shore up the empire, if they had worked harder on giving everyone in the empire a fair shake.  Second,  you want to require assent from everyone in the country before going to war or taking steps that lead to war.  If  approval in the Reichstag and in the foreign ministry had been required for the infamous "blank check" that Wilhelm II issued to the Austro Hungarians, it would not have approved.  And WWI would have been avoided. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

NLRB claims workers need approval to unionize?

This came up in respects to the "unionize college football players" hooray.  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) granted permission to the players to form a union.
   Eh?  I thought anyone could form a union.  "Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people to peaceably assemble... "  First Amendment.  Forming a union, I call that peaceable assembly.  Why should government approval be needed for that?  Of course the Obama people think that government approval is needed for breathing, eating, and drinking. 
   Not that I am in favor of changing college athletes from students who do sports to workers for pay.  What does need to be looked into is the current deal.  Playing sports in return for an all expenses paid degree is a fair deal.  But if the player fails to gain the degree, that's a swindle. I don't know just what the athlete graduation rate is, but if it's less than 95%, heads ought to roll.  Granted, the kinds of kids that go out for football and basketball (jocks we used to call 'em) are not the most promising students.  But with decent guidance, some tutoring, and some serious motivation, they ought to graduate.  "You can't play unless you have a C average" is serious motivation.  

Running for US Senate in the Northwoods

.  Jeanne Shaheen had a prominent piece on the Littleton Courier's editorial page last week complaining that Scott Brown won't sign an agreement to limit out-of-state political contributions. Which is interesting inside baseball, but it doesn't really matter to me.  I care about what the candidate, if elected, might do for me, rather than where his/her campaign money comes from.  With Scott Brown, I figure I'm getting a reasonably dependable vote against Obamacare.  With Jeanne Shaheen, I know she cast the vote that gave us Obamacare.  This is the stuff that matters, what the candidate[s] did, or might do, in office.  Whether the candidate raises out-of-state money or not just doesn't matter.  At least not to me. 
   And let's be real, Scott Brown undoubtedly has a whole bunch of Massachusetts friends who just might chip in a little money to his campaign up here.  I don't see anything wrong with that.  After all, I sent Scott a modest campaign contribution back when he was running for Senate from Massachusetts.      

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fantasy Model Railroading

Model railroad hobbyists used to be sticklers for prototype accuracy.  The models had to match the prototype exactly, and long discussions would ensue among hobbyists regarding such matters as the proper style of headlamp on this or that type of steam engine, or the proper shade of paint  for certain rail cars. But, hobbyists would be more fanatical fans of certain railroads,  more fanatical than baseball fans. 
   And so, we now have model companies offering models of up to the minute locomotives painted for railroads that went out of business generations ago.  Truly fantasy modeling. 
   My latest copy of Model Railroader contains an ad for ultra modern GM and GE diesel locomotives painted in the tuscan-with-five-gold stripes scheme of the Pennsylvania RR and the green and cream scheme of the Erie RR.  Both the Pennsy and the Erie went out of business in the 1960's.  The locomotive models didn't go into production until the 1990s.  Talk about anachronisms.  Oh well, its a hobby.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Retraining airline pilots

Fundamental duty of a pilot is to keep the plane in the air.  "Keep the shiny side up and the greasy side down" the truckers say.   When an aircraft slows down, the air flowing over the wings slows down, reducing the lift.  To keep the plane in the air, you pitch the nose up, tilting the wings up (increasing the angle of attack) which makes the wings take a bigger bite of the air.  This can go on for quite some time, but sooner or later, the wing stalls, airflow becomes turbulent, lift vanishes, and the plane falls out of the sky.  This is a stall.  They have been known since Wilbur and Orville's time, and they are very dangerous.  If the plane keeps falling, it will hit the ground.
   In 2009 there were three bad fatal airline accidents, all caused when the aircraft stalled, the pilot was unable to recover, and the plane hit the ground.  In all three cases, the pilot's failed to fly out of the stall.  You fly out by pushing the stick forward, lowering the nose, trading off some altitude for speed.  The extra speed gives you more lift,  the reduced angle of attack reduces drag, which makes you go faster.  The worst case was the Air France crash in the South Atlantic.  With three pilots on the flight deck, they had the stick pulled full back right up until the plane hit the water.  Not one of the three pilots attempted to push the stick forward, get the nose down, and get some airspeed. 
   Investigation found that stall recovery pilot training emphasized adding power and not losing any altitude, rather than putting the nose down to gain speed.  Trouble with the add power strategy is simple, the engines probably don't have enough power to increase airspeed much.  By the time the aircraft is close to stalling, it already has pitched up quite a bit, increasing the angle of attack, which increases drag as well as lift.  The engines of airliners don't have the kind of power you find in fighter planes, they lack the power to accelerate the plane at high angles of attack.  In USAF we called this "Getting behind the power curve". 
   Anyhow, the industry is revamping pilot training, telling the pilots to push the stick forward, get some airspeed, and accept a loss of altitude. 

Its snowing up here, again

Spring must have been traveling on Malaysia 370.  It hasn't got here yet.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why Obama's executive orders can overrule acts of Congress

Well, it's 'cause most of 'em are delaying bits of Obamacare that nobody likes.  I think people would raise a bigger stink should Obama overrule something everyone likes, say the first amendment, or the second for that matter.  
  At least I hope so.  It's frightening to see so much personal rule by decree from an American president.

Atlas V booster flies on Russian engines

Atlas V, one of America's three big booster rockets,  is powered by RD-180 rocket engines supplied by NPO Energomash in Russia.  Aviation Week ran a piece speculating upon the effects of a Russian embargo upon these engines.  Due to worries about the reliability of Russian suppliers, USAF maintains a two year stockpile of the engines.  That's gotta be expensive, although Aviation Week didn't comment upon the expense.  Anyhow  Atlas V could keep flying until the stockpile is exhausted.  And  launches could continue using the Delta IV rocket, which is powered by US built RS-68 engines.  Both Atlas and Delta are built and operated by United Launch Alliance, a spinoff/merger of the booster operations of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.  Pentagon sources say it would cost $1 billion and take five years to set up production of the Russian RD-180 in the US.  Which is prohibitively costly.  They would scrap Atlas V before spending that sort of money. 
   Elon Musk of SpaceX says that his Falcon 9 booster could handle all the launches.  Falcon has made several successful flights to the International Space Station carrying supplies.  USAF is "certifying" Falcon to launch national security payloads.  Certification could happen anytime USAF feels like it.  It's just a paperwork exercise. 
   All three boosters, Atlas, Delta and Falcon are in the same class.  They can all boost the same payloads, give or take maybe 10%.  So loss of Atlas isn't the end of the world. 
   The Russian have made no threats to cut off RD-180 engines.  Presumably they are making good money selling them to the Americans, and they don't want to ruin it.  I doubt that the Russians want to let a little unpleasantness over the Crimea mess up a good thing. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Group of 8 now back to Group of 7

The world's rich country club, originally the US,France,Germany, Italy, Japan, and Canada, just black balled its newest member, Russia, over the Ukraine invasion. 
So it is back to being the G7.  There is  room for more members.  Brazil and India come to mind.  Brazil's GNP is actually larger than Russia's.  India's is right behind Russia, and ahead of Canada's.  Both countries are democracies, and believers in the things we care about, like freedom, capitalism, free markets, human rights, self determination, and not invading other countries.  And they are friendly to us.
   The other potential member, based on GNP size is of course China.  Unfortunately, the Chinese do not believe in the things we deem important, and in fact are actively hostile to them.  And they are not very friendly, to us, or to anyone else for that matter.  So,  we don't have to invite them in. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Game of Thrones, Season 3 [Caution spoilers}

I've watched it all.  Ten episodes, which doesn't seem like very many.  After all there are 52 weeks in a season.  Used to be, they would make 25-30 episodes.  Season opened in September, and there would be new episodes enough to last til spring, before reruns started.
  It's entertaining.  Better than CSI, or "reality" TV, or cop shows or Walking Dead.  The medieval setting is well done, convincing costumes and sets.  It's dark, very dark.  Plenty of scenes of outright cruelty.  Interpersonal relationships all have strong elements of coercion, oppression, and violence.  Nobody is happily married, at least not since they beheaded Lord Eddart Stark (Sean Bean) back last season.  John Snow's relationship with a wilder girl ends with the wilder girl shooting him full of arrows.  Rob Stark and Catlin, his mother, are treacherously slain at the red wedding.  Dani Targaryen is still the single war queen leading the Dothraki hordes, no consort for her. 
  I've previously commented on the poor soundtrack, lack of distinctive costumes, and lack of personal names.  The show would be better if all three failings were improved.  But the non stop action, the swords and sorcery theme, and attractive characters (those who are still alive) make it quite watchable.  The Imp (Tyrion Lannister) emerges as perhaps the most well rounded and interesting character.  He's born on the bad side (Lannisters are bad guys), he drinks too much, but he is a decent sort, ingenious and brave. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Jimmy Carter uses snail mail

Because he thinks NSA is snooping his email.  He said this on Meet the Press this morning.   He might be onto something....

To pay college athletes

David Gregory's Meet the Press spent a lot of time discussing this one today.  With the Russians invading Ukraine, the US economy in the doldrums, the missing airliner still missing,  the Democrats in a tailspin, Gregory figured this was his topic for the morning.  Good pick there Gregory.
   It's not an issue that resonates with me.  After paying to send three children thru college, the thought of an athletic scholarship picking up the $100,000 four year tuition tab sounds like plenty of compensation to this veteran parent. So I don't really feel that college athletes are exploited. You play ball, we pick up tuition room and board, sounds like a pretty good deal to me.  Too bad none of my kids was athletic enough to get such a deal. 
   There was some talk about low graduation rates among athletic scholarship students, although nobody mentioned any numbers.  Like how bad is the problem?  Newsies are innumerate. 
    Failure to graduate student athletes is shameful.  The college is reneging on it's part of the deal.  Granted, teen aged boys with an athletic bend, from poor backgrounds, may not be very motivated to crack the books, study, turn in the papers on time, and get to class.  But I do feel it is the college's job to motivate them.  A simple rule, you must maintain a C average in order to play, ought to be plenty of motivation.  Plus, student athletes should be required to take a major with some economic value.  Science, math, computer science, business administration, English, History, a foreign language.  Nix on black studies, gender studies, phys ed. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Canon SX170 IS, My new camera

Since elderly Kodak ZX1485 was getting flaky after some 5 years of service, I bought a new, jazzier Canon point-n-shoot.  Fixed zoom lens, LCD view finder, built it flash.  Comes with a non standard lithium battery and a battery charger. Won't run off AA cells like the Kodak would.  Needs you to purchase a memory card.  Comes in black, the proper color for a camera IMHO.  I'm down on pink for cameras, hand tools, electric trains, or handguns.
   Memory card is 16 Gig, and will fit into the memory card slots on my Compaq SR1750 NX desktop.  A "card present" LED even lights up.  But Windows XP does not recognize the card.  Same slot, had recognized the lesser 2 Gig memory card from the Kodak.  Some web surfing discovered the existence of a Microsoft patch to handle memory cards greater than 2 gig.  Said patch came with a lot of  weasel words about not guaranteed, and you ought to wait for the next service pack, and some other stuff that says, "We Microsoft, made this patch 'cause they demanded it of us, but we don't like it, we don't trust it, proceed at your own risk."
   So, I went back to Staples  to buy a USB cable for the Canon.  They had one in stock!  It was a Staples branded Mini USB cable.  Even cooler, the cable came in a clever blister pack that left the "Mini USB" connector open to touch, and even plug into the camera, just to make sure it really fit. Cute packaging design.  To my surprise, Canon had used an industry standard connector on the camera.  Plugged 'er in, and Windows recognized the camera and good old Picassa photography program was able to down load photos from the Canon.  Cool.
   After uploading the photos to my desktop and labeling them I noticed that the camera date was off by seven months. I had set the date during the get-acquainted-and-power-up session.  I had to refer to the camera manual to get back to the date setting menu.  Somewhere in the camera manual it mentioned that there was a separate tiny battery to hold the date while the main battery was out of the camera for recharging.   And it takes four hours for the date holding battery to charge off the main battery.  Result, I had set the date before the date holder battery had charged, so the date didn't stick.

NH Republicans NEED candidates

Here we are, going into what looks like a very good year for Republicans.  Obama and the national Democrats have stuck us with Obamacare, and even the dimmest voter is beginning to sense that Obamacare is bad for him.  We need candidates to run for both US representative seats, the governor's office, and Shaheen's US senate seat. 
  So far, the only really competitive Republican candidate is Scott Brown, from MA, who is running for US senate.  I haven't met Brown, but he managed win Ted Kennedy's senate seat in 2010.  That's impressive in deep blue Massachusetts.  I have met Jim Reubins the other declared candidate, nice guy, but I don't think he is setting the voters on fire.  The talk down at the local breakfast place (The Coffee Pot) was not encouraging for Brown.  Just about everyone called him a carpetbagger, and disparaged his Massachusetts background.  Let's hope he can do some fence mending, quick. 
  We have Frank Guinta running in the other US rep district against Shea Porter.  Frank might be able to do it, he held the seat once, and lost to Shea Porter in 2012.  Maybe he can do a comeback like Charlie Bass did in 2010.  As far as the other US rep district (my district) we don't even have a candidate. 
    We do have a candidate for governor, Andrew Hemingway, nice guy. I've met him.  He is pretty young, and hasn't even gotten elected to the State House of Representatives yet.  He has only held town offices.  I'm thinking a successful governor has to have better name recognition and know more people that Andrew does. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Wishful Thinking at the Atlantic

Plan could finally free New York-city traffic congestion.   Dream on Atlantic.  The plan amounts to hiking bridge tolls, and putting tolls on the four free bridges.  Jack the toll up to the point where people stop driving into Manhattan.  
   First of all, when you are running a city, you WANT people to come into town.  They shop, attend shows, eat at restaurants, spend money.  They are customers.  You want customers.  Without customers you have Detroit.
   People will drive, 'cause driving is convenient, and much faster than  bus or subway.  No matter how many roads you build, traffic  increases to fill road available.  And, when traffic gets bad enough, people will take the bus or the subway.  For instance, I seldom take my car into Boston.  I take the T.  It's faster, and cheaper than parking in town.  I don't go into Manhattan very often, mostly 'cause the traffic is horrible, and the subway is complex for out-of-towners to master.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Will the US act when Putin moves on NATO?

Lot of the newer NATO members are ex-Soviet Union or ex Warsaw Pact.  Putin has shown that he wants them back, part of Russia, under his thumb.  Ask anyone in Ukraine.  Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Czech Republic, and some others share borders and history with Russia.  Putin might make a move on any one of 'em.  
  NATO is a military alliance, with a "Three Musketeers" clause, One for all and all for one.  An attack on one is deemed an attack on all.  We set up NATO right after WWII when it looked like the Soviets wanted to take over all of Europe.  Back then, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki still smoking, no one doubted American resolve and willingness to use force.
   How about today?  Take Estonia for example.  It just managed to pull itself out of the Soviet Union in the shakeup after Mikhail Gorbachev hauled down the red flag of the Soviet Union in 1991.   Lot of ethnic Russians in Estonia.  Some of them are unhappy about things like school being taught only in the Estonian language.   Putin has already made noises about this.
   So, what happens when the Russians move into Estonia like they did in the Crimea?  Will the US honor NATO treaty obligations and send troops to defend it?  Obama doesn't want to.  That's pretty clear to everyone in the world.  If we let the Russians eat up Estonia, is NATO membership worth the paper it's printed upon? 
    The question before European countries, both eastern and western:  What do you say to an 800 pound gorilla?  Answer:  Sir! 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Noscript, Cleaning up Firefox

Firefox has been getting flaky.  It will get stuck in loops, sucking up all CPU time, hogging humungous amounts of memory, and slowing to a crawl.  Plus opening unasked for ad windows.  That last is scary, if Firefox will open an ad window just 'cause a website asked it too, it can plant a virus, or do anything else bad that you can imagine. Standard Firefox allows websites to load code into your browser and execute it on your computer.  Which is a gaping security hole.  This code is called "a script" which doesn't sound so bad, but it is bad. 
   There is a fix.  Get NoScript, a Firefox "extension".  Google will find it for you.  NoScript blocks all scripts, along with other flaky things like Java.  Properly coded websites will continue to work properly.  Cheap ass websites, such as blogger,  stop working 'cause they rely on scripts to make 'em work.  Noscript allows you to re enable scripts for the websites that have to have scripts. 
   Since installing NoScript on both Trusty Desktop and Antique Laptop the Firefox lockups have ceased, the unasked for ad windows have gone away.  Re enabling scripts for the low speed websites that rely upon them is easy.
   The Mozilla help pages say good things about Noscript, clearly the Firefox programmers know about NoScript and consider it a good thing.   

NRA cuts another notch on its gun butt

Obama has given up on his surgeon general nominee, a Dr. Vivek  Murthy, who is anti gun, and considers gun ownership a disease.  NRA said a vote in favor of Murthy would be reported to the membership, a serious threat.  NRA has some 5 million dues paying members, it gets the word out to the membership via a monthly magazine, American Rifleman, and the membership takes a word from the NRA very seriously, far more seriously than they take a word from the MSM. 
   Anyhow,  nervous democrats from red districts decided that  voting for Obama's surgeon general might get them voted out of office in November.  There were enough democrats seeing the light that Obama has given up on the nomination. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Aviation Week on Malaysia Flt 370

My copy arrived in the mail this morning.  Aviation Week reports a few details, like the aircraft tail number, how old it is, and it's last trip thru heavy maintenance (periodic inspection we called it in USAF)  All this was quite unexceptional.  They gave a map of radar coverage in the area.  They did not speculate on the cause of the loss.  They went on at some length about electronic reporting and tracking systems the could be installed, if there was funding, but are not present today.  That's about it.
   No speculation about hijackers, aircrew, Bermuda Triangle, terrorists, bad karma, etc.  Aviation Week just reports the facts, of which there are few.

Obama sanctions Russian officials

In return for invading Ukraine, Obama announced the US will sanction a few Russian officials.  Nine, or was it eleven of 'em. Of course he never names these officials, nor explains what they did, that puts them in the US shooting gallery, but Obama did get a lot of press coverage. 
   Obama has said nothing about increasing US natural gas exports,  bouncing Russian banks out of the world financial system, selling arms to Ukraine, offering Ukraine a trade deal as good as we give Canada, or anything else of substance. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Beating up on GM, some more

The get-GM crowd is in full cry.  Defective ignition switches on a huge batch of GM cars.  The switches would occasionally fail and kill the engine.  This has been talked up as a lethal safty hazard with 12 deaths claimed over 10 years.  Wow!. 
   Now I am not a big fan of GM, they have done plenty of stupid things over the years.  But to call engine failure a lethal safety hazard?  Over the years I have experienced sudden engine failure on the road, maybe three times.  Last one, ten years ago,  was a Dodge Caravan that broke its timing belt on the way to Blind River Canada.  But you know, the engine just dies, and you pull the car over to the shoulder, and pop the hood, get out some tools, and try to fix it.  Twice before I got her going again, but the timing belt breakage was beyond my side-of-the-road repair abilities.  This sort of thing is a major pain in the tail, but I never considered it dangerous. 
   Oh well,  GM bashers have to get their kicks somewhere.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Scott Brown jumps into the race

You gotta love this guy.  He is electable with a capital E.  Any Republican who can win Ted Kennedy's seat in deep blue Massachusetts, has a way with voters.  Although he is a carpetbagger from Taxachusetts, he looks pretty good going up against Jean Shaheen for NH senate.  Coming from Massachusetts he is probably more liberal than hard shell conservatives in NH might like, but he is electable.  We could win with this guy. 

They still haven't found missing airliner

It's still missing.  We don't know anything that we didn't know a week ago.  But the TV coverage is non stop, every hour on the hour, and lots a time in between.  They don't have anything to say, but they are getting airtime.  They are even retelling old Bermuda triangle stories.  Pack journalism at its most packy.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

They still do gun shows in NH

So my brother and I drove down to Concord to see what was what.  They drew a pretty good crowd.  Parking lot was full of pickups and SUV's.  Virtually no econoboxes.  The crowd was older, my generation, few young guys.  They had dealers dealing in rifles and handguns and shotguns.  Lot of ammunition for sale and being bought.  Lots of holsters and fancy knives, some WWII surplus stuff, including jerricans.  Did not find anything to buy, the few rifles I might have liked were way out of my price range.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Getting an IP address. With or Without DNS

The entire world now talks to itself using Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, usually abbreviated to TCP/IP.  Back in the distant past other protocols were used, NETBUEI, DECNET, and such.  They are all dead now, and TCP/IP rules.  Protocol is a set of rules for doing business.  For instance protocol for using the plain old telephone goes like this.  Lift handset. Dial 1 plus the area code for long distance,  otherwise dial just seven digits.  TCP/IP, since it is used by computers is more complex, but it deals with the same issues. 
    Part of TCP/IP is the IP address, a long string of digits that works like a telephone number.  Each computer has to have an IP address, and all the IP addresses must be unique.  Two computers may NOT have the same IP address, for obvious reasons.  In the old days, you typed the IP address into your computer.  The network administrator for your site gave out IP addresses, kept track of the ones in use, and reissued IP addresses used by old computers that were taken out of service.  As you can imagine, the Network Administrator’s job got harder and harder to do in outfits that might have thousands of desktop PC’s on the Internet.
   So they invented an automatic program running on the server, to take care of it.  Each time a desktop powers up, it asks the TCP/IP server to give it a new IP address, which it keeps until it powers down.  This server program is called Domain Name Server (DNS) or Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP). Since Windows XP goes back to the bad old days of typing in IP addresses by hand, it still supports that, as well as DNS/DHCP.  You, proud computer operator get the choice of which, or both, to use.
  Normally all this complexity just works, and your computer goes on line every time you power it up.  But sometimes, for obscure and undocumented reasons,  DNS fails, your computer does not get an IP address, and you get a little message down on the task bar about “limited or no connectivity” and “IP address” .
  What to do? 

Windows Repair

Built into Windows is a repair program.  It will reset the hardware by powering it down and then up again, and then go thru the “ask-the-server-for-an-IP-address” song and dance again.  This works a good deal of the time, (but not always).  To start repair, left click on the channel’s icon down on the task bar.  This will open up a “status” window that will tell you what’s broke and offer more information tab.  Click and you will find another tab labeled “Repair”.  Click on it and hope.  It may take a while, it gives the server plenty of time to get its act together and issue an IP address.  If it doesn’t work, you will have to wait about a minute to get the bad news.  If it does work, you are home free, at least for today.


 This is essentially a manual way of doing what Repair does, with some benefits of extra information.  IPCONFIG is a DOS program, you launch it  from the DOS window.  Get the DOS window open from the Windows Run option on the Start menu.  Microsoft renamed DOS to CMD, for the Run option.  That helped everyone, a lot.  Thanks MS. 
   Like all DOS programs, IPCONFIG works off switches on its command line.  Switch /ALL makes it list out all the I/O channels (Ethernet, Wireless, etc) on your machine.  It gives the IP address (if it has one),  serial numbers, and other stuff.  Switch /RELEASE hangs up your internet connection, turns in your IP address, and takes you off line.  Switch /RENEW  does the “ask-the-server-for-an-IP-address” song and dance.  I don’t know what IPCONFIG does with no command line switches, so I don’t run it that way.  Doing IPCONFIG /RELEASE  followed by IPCONFIG /RENEW is equivalent to doing the Windows Repair. 

Alternate Configuration

 And, sometimes the server is feeling cranky and just won’t issue an IP address no matter what.  My “server” is a little 4 port Belkin wireless router, it works fine on Trusty Desktop, but just won’t issue an IP address to AntiqueLaptop. 
    You can configure the channel ask for an IP address, but if that doesn’t work, just use an IP address that you assign.  And this works on the Belkin router, why I don’t know.  To set this up, left click on the taskbar icon of your channel.  Get the status window.  Click on “Properties”  lower left.  This will display a list of all the drivers, protocols, and other bits of software that make the channel work.  Scroll thru the list and find “TCP/IP”  Click on the properties button that comes up with the selection of TCP/IP.  This accesses the properties of the TCP/IP software.   On the “General” page of TCP/IP properties, you want to check  “Obtain an IP address automatically” and “Obtain a DNS Server address automatically”. That will make your computer attempt to do the DNS song and dance.  If that dance should fail, it goes to Plan B, “Alternate Configuration”.  Check “User Configured”.  The other choice “Automatic Private IP address” is undocumented, but I believe it only works in XP Professional, which few of us have.  Below the “User Configured” are boxes for IP address, sub net mask,  Default Gateway, and Preferred DNS server.  Fill them in.
   What to Use?  For my Belkin router works for IP Address.  Trusty Desktop, who gets his IP address from DNS (the router) is  And he is the only other computer in the house, so I figured the .4 IP address ought to work and not conflict.  If you have a different router, different IP addresses might work.  You gotta do some snooping around.  Sub net mask is 255,255,255,0.  Both Default Gateway AND  Preferred DNS Server is, again I got that from Trusty Desktop.     
And, Lo and Behold, Antique Laptop is now back on the net. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Congress is OK on bailing out Ukraine.

At least that's what NHPR is reporting.  A Ukraine subsidy bill, offering $1 billion in aid has passed the House and a Senate committee.   The NHPR guys then went on at length about a controversy.  The Senate committee attached a rider containing "reform" of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)  NHPR reported that Democrats liked the IMF reforms and Republicans did not.  And the House bill lacks the IMF reforms and so a House Senate reconciliation and a revote on the final compromise might be necessary.  And that will be a big deal.  And NHPR does not approve.
   Of course, NHPR didn't bother to say just what these IMF "reforms" might be.   IMF has been in business of bailing out broke countries since the end of WWII.  They seem to do a fairly decent job over all those years. 
   I wonder what "reforms" might be necessary?  I can think of a lot of "reforms" that I would not approve of and few that I would approve.  The "reforms" that spring immediately to mind would attach more conditions to bail outs.  While we have 'em on their knees, let's make 'em do our will.  You gotta do multi cultural things, green things, put in a minimum wage, protect US intellectual property, meet US environmental standards, yadda, yadda, or else, no bailout.   Do things our way, or starve. 
   One other thing the NHPR boys didn't bother to report.  The I in IMF stands for International.  How does the US Congress get to change the rules of an international organization?  We all know that the US calls most of the shots at the IMF 'cause we still have more money than anyone else, but still, out of pure politeness, we ought not to be rewriting the rules in our national Congress.

Cannon Mt Ski Weather

I measured an honest 12 inches on my deck this morning.  For those of you who don't know, my deck is within walking distance of the Peabody Slopes chairlifts, so it's pretty representative of what they got at Cannon.  The snow started mid day yesterday and had put down 4-5 inches by sunset.  It snowed all night, and it's still snowing this morning.  Temperature is good and cold, 9 degrees so we are getting nice light powder.  Very little wind, so the snow is staying on the trails rather than blowing away into the woods.  Conditions at Cannon will be the best all year.  Don't miss it. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Missing 777 Flt 370

So where could it be?  If it crashed at sea, we ought to spot floating wreckage.  If we are looking in the right place. 
   There is evidence that the plane changed course 90 degrees or more to the west.  At 600 mph, it could go a long long way in an unexpected direction.  The 777 is designed for long range trans oceanic flight, and can carry enough fuel to stay up for 10-20 hours.  Which means it could be nearly anywhere on earth. 
  Air traffic control radar mostly works off transponders.  These are descendants of WWII IFF units.  When struck by a radar transmitter pulse from the ground, the transponder replies with  simple code with perhaps 25 watts of power.  That is humungously stronger than the "skin paint" return of the transmitter pulse reflected off the aircraft skin.  It gives a good bright solid pip on the ground radar screen and also gives an ID and the altitude.  Air traffic controllers work with the transponder pips, and may not see or may ignore the much fainter skin paint pips.  Turning off the aircraft's transponder makes it very difficult to see on ATC radar.  Flight 370's transponder pips disappeared off radar.  The 777 has two transponders, it is unlikely that both of them failed at the same time.  Either someone switched them off, or the plane blew apart in midair, or it crashed into the sea, (or both).  Nothing less would silence the transponders. 
   There are reports that a military ground radar saw the missing plane, flying way off its planned course.  If the plane was hijacked, all they had to do is fly at 1000 feet or so and few to no ground radars can see them.  I remember USAF air defense exercises.  A target aircraft would be sent way up north, then turn around, and fly back south into US-Canadian airspace.  The radars were supposed to pick him up and vector fighters onto him. This particular morning, a bright and sunny morning, fine flying weather, the radar operators were calling back to SAGE HQ and complaining that they could not see the target.  SAGE would ask the target to "come up another 1000 feet".  Target was not visible to ground radar until he was a 9000 feet. 
  I'm pretty sure a 777 at 1000 feet would not get picked up on today's ground radar. 
  If it crashed at sea, we ought to find wreakage.  If it crashed in the jungles, we might never find it.  We lost an F-111 Aardvark somewhere in Laos during the war.  We never did find the wreck.  It just knifed thru the triple canopy jungle, the leaves closed up behind it, and it was gone.  Granted that a 777 is bigger than the Aardvark and ought to make a bigger ground footprint, but who knows. 
   Final possibility.  They might have landed the plane in one piece, somewhere.  A good pilot could probably get a 777 down on a very short strip.  Might blow a few tires, but the plane ought to survive.  And now we have to beginnings of a James Bond movie. 

Winter not dead yet

It's snowing up here.  Coming down pretty good.  The TV news is doing the winter storm warning (warning is more heavy duty than a mere watch).  I'm forecast to get a foot.  We'll see if that works out. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Game of Thrones Season III

Netflix just got the Season III discs of Game of Thrones.  I don't get HBO so I have to wait for the show to get to Netflix.  It's pretty good, a swords and sorcery fantasy, set in an imaginary medieval world.  They have some interesting characters, who they haven't killed off yet.  It's decent light entertainment, better than the average cop show.
  But I do have some advice for the show's producers.
1.  Get a real sound man.  I can't hear much of the dialogue.  The dialogue lacks needed volume, and is often blurred by the score or the sound effects.  I notice that on the "commentaries" (actors voice overs explaining how cool they are) are perfectly understandable.  If you can do it for "commentaries" you can do it for the main thing.
2.  Don't costume everyone in the same color of drab homespun gray-brown .  I know it's realistic, but when you costume everyone the same it is hard for the audience to tell who's who. 
3.  Turn up the lighting.  Too many scenes are dark interiors, so dark we cannot see what's going on.  Go back to that old Hollywood trick, where a single candle is lit, and the movie lights come on, and we can see what's happening. 
4.  Say the character's names aloud, so we can identify them.  I've actually read the books, but it was a while ago.  Scene after scene characters would come on stage, and I would scratch my head asking myself "who's that?"  Scene would end and I'd still not know the name.  I still don't remember the name of the strapping armored lady who drives Jaime Lannister along to King's Landing. 


All the medics and dieticians keep pushing the value of eating veggies.  They are probably right, but a serving of green peas is never gonna have the attraction of a Big Mac and fries, at least for me.  But, I have found a few veggie things that taste pretty good.
   Lettuce.  In salads.  Conventional salads, chef's salads with a bit of sliced ham, and plain old steakhouse style.  Just a wedge of lettuce on a plate with your favorite salad dressing poured on top.
   Celery.  Stuffed with cream cheese, and cut into 3 inch lengths.  Crunchy.
   Carrots.  Raw, with ranch dip.  Either the expensive little mini carrots, or just plain old carrots, peeled and sliced.
  Artichoke.  Steamed, with a bit of garlic.  And melted butter to dip the leaves into.
  Apples.  I cut 'em into quarters, and cut out the seeds.  Less waste than just nibbling them down to the core.  With a little cheddar cheese on the side.
  Apple sauce.  Comes in little single serving plastic tubs.  Sweet and moist, just right during winter heating season when everything gets dry.  Also good with pork.
  Tomatoes.  Sliced with a bit of cottage cheese on top.  And a dash of basil.  Juicy.   
  Pineapple.  Cans of sliced pineapple.  Serve it with some cottage cheese on top. 

Broadband under repair

I got back from shopping yesterday, and found a bright international orange tag hanging on my doorknob.  It claimed excessive radio frequency leakage had been detected from my cable, FCC part 76 violations, yadda yadda, call the cable company and get ti fixed.  And my internet was dead. 
  So I called the cable company, and surprize, the tech showed up bright an early this morning.  I gave him a cup of coffee and than he go to work.  He replaced some coax going to the TV and the FM, and the modem, and replaced some connectors.  All was well, Channel 6 now comes in clear instead of fuzzy, and the meter says all is quiet.  So I am back on the air.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Firefox is getting flaky

More and more, Firefox is getting flaky.  Something goes wrong after some time active and it slows to a crawl.   Task manager shows firefox.exe and container-plugin.exe eating up 90 percent of CPU time, and hogging hundreds of K of ram.  Contain-plugin.exe is some kinda Firefox helper program.  In bad cases, Task manager will report Firefox is not responding.  And task manager has trouble killing off Firefox when he gets all bent out of shape.  So far after a lotta tries, eventually  the "kill" command works but it's getting harder and harder.
   Some Googling suggested  resetting Firefox.  The reset command is deeply hidden (Help ->troubleshooting info->reset. ).  It works, didn't break anything.  Didn't really help, I still have the problem. 
  Interesting side note.  Reset leaves a copy of your "old" profile after creating a new fresh clean one.  The "old" profile is 27 megabytes, which is a lot.  I can see how a single tiny error in a 27 megabyte database could throw a program into an infinite loop.
   Stay tuned for future developments.   

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What's Gone Wrong with Democracy?

Cover story in last week's Economist.  They run a six page special section on it.  Lotta whining about failure of democracies to legislate things they approve of, such as balanced budgets and stable currency.  More whining about failure of democracy to "take" after the revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Ukraine, and other places.
   Seems to me, Economist is confusing two really separate subjects.  One subject is the planting of democracy in undemocratic states, the other subject is democratic decision making in traditional democracies.  The causes and cures for these two subjects are different.
   To plant democracy in an previously undemocratic state is a matter of a citizenry ready for democracy.  Needed is a citizenry willing to abide by the rule of law, which means you need fair courts, that are seen to be fair.  If the courts are seen as biased, unjust, and crooked, nobody is going to pay them much heed.  Once you have some decent courts, your citizenry has to be willing to accept the court's ruling even when that ruling goes to the other side.  And you need some decent people to staff the democratic government at all levels.  They must be able to place the national interest ahead of their personal, family, tribal, and local interests. 
   Growing these and other necessary attitudes among the citizenry takes time, generations. Where the citizenry lacks these attitudes, democracy won't work. The issue in these countries is the survival of the democratic government itself. 
   The other subject, the difficulties in well established democracies like the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and others, to make good decisions in areas such as budgets, national debt, taxes, education, central banking, foreign policy.  The established democracies are teetering on a cusp between the makers and the takers.  The takers want more free stuff, the makers don't want to pay for more free stuff.  Both sides have about the same strength, neither side has the votes to push thru their pet programs.  The result is called "gridlock",  but its really democracy in action.  If you don't have the votes, you don't get your way.  Most of the people whining about gridlock, are actually whining that they cannot get their way when they don't have the votes. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Computer bugs/hackers/whatever hit All Electronics

All Electronics has been around for 5 may 10 years, so it isn't a newbie on the web.  They sell electronic parts, like you used to be able to get at Radio Shack.  I ordered a bunch of stuff from them last summer.  the stuff came in, works right, and I'd sorta forgotten about it.  Til the other  night.  I get one of those "Your All Electronics order number such and such has shipped" emails.  Hmm I said to myself,  I don't remember ordering anything from them lately.  Looking at the parts on the order, I remembered ordering this stuff, and receiving it, last summer.  Very strange.
  Next morning, another email from All.  They explained they had been doing maintenance on their system and something went wrong, and a batch of old shipping notices got resent.  Not to worry, just a computer glitch, we didn't reship this stuff, and we haven't double billed anyone's credit card. 
    How much of this do I believe?  Were they hacked like Target?  I'll surely double check my Mastercard bill this month. 
    Just to be fair.  All Electronics is a perfectly reliable supplier, good stuff cheap and fast.  I'll order from them again. 

Talking with Cats

Cats have a number of things that they say to their humans.
1.  Meow                                  I want something.  Human is expected to fill in from context. 
                                                 such as Food, In, Out, Petting.
2. Purr                                       I am pleased with the world.
3. Tail lash                                  I am upset and unhappy.  Back off or you might get hurt.
4. Tail held high                           I am feeling cool and groovy today.
5. Tail held straight out and level  I am hunting and I don't want to spook the game
6. Tail between legs.                    I am scared.
7. Siren Howl.                             A war cry.
8. Merrup (part meow part purr)  I was stroked unexpectedly.
9. Hiss  (raised fur, fluffed up tail)  I am mad, you are about to get clawed

Going the other way, cats pretend not to understand anything  said to them.  Cats know that understanding leads to demands for obedience, which is far beneath the dignity of cats.  Obedience is for dogs.  

Friday, March 7, 2014

Damn tool makers

Who make tools with round handles.  So they roll off the bench, onto the floor and disappear every time I set them down.  Tools ought to have hexagonal handles, or at least a single flat side, so they stay put when you put 'em down.

Shed a tear for Radio Shack

They are hurting.  They just announced they will be closing 1000 stores.  And it may get worse.  I remember when they started up, a single store on Washington St in Boston.  That was before Tandy bought them.  In those days the store was filled with electronic parts, mostly surplus, TV antennas, hifi equipment, and ham radio stuff.  If you were building or fixing electronic stuff Radio Shack is where you went for parts.  They carried their own brand of hifi, Realistic, which never had the cache associated with Harman Kardon or Bogen or McIntosh, but the price was right and it sounded OK to my ear.  Once they even carried British Army surplus rifles for $19.95 each.  It used to be a fun place to shop, even if you didn't need any parts or rifles.
   That was a long time ago.  They are still around but the stock is less interesting, cell phones and point-n-shoot cameras, and toys.  They still have some parts and wire and connectors, but this is all little stuff, couple of dollars apiece, and you gotta sell an awful lot of it to keep the lights on.  I still buy parts for my home projects at the Shack, but that's about it.  Although Radio Shack pioneered home computers, remember the TRS-80, they seem to have faded out of that business.  They still have a few cables and connectors, but you don't see laptops or printers in the store. 
   Without a high value or a high volume product, they will continue to hurt.  When they go,  most of us will have to go Internet for electronic parts and stuff. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bob Beckel inserts foot into mouth

Beckel, the token liberal on Fox News's Five, said something really dumb last night.  He trashed Bush for not using enough troops against Iraq.  Really Bob.  The force we sent overran the country, seized the capital, and drove Saddam Hussein  into hiding, all with in a matter of weeks.  That's a crushing victory by anyone's standards.  Which means we sent enough soldiers to do the job. 
   I'll grant that we didn't handle victory as well as we should have, but that's not a matter of boots on the ground, that's a matter of heads up and locked. 

Godwin's Law strikes Hillary

Godwin's law comes from Internet discussion/argument groups.  The first person to invoke Hitler's name (usually by calling his opponent a Nazi)  lost the argument.  That rule used to be confined to high level Internet surfer nerds. 
   Well, Godwin's law is spreading.  Hillary Clinton compared Putin's  claim to be protecting Russians in Crimea to Hitler's claim to be protecting Sudetenland Germans in the 1930's.  Which actually is a pretty good fit.  Hitler took over Czechoslovakia claiming he was protecting ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia.  Putin took over the Crimea claiming that he was protecting ethnic Russians living in the Crimea.  What goes around comes around. 
   And, Hillary was forced to back off about comparing Putin to Hitler.  Apparently the liberal newsies just couldn't stomach calling a bastard a bastard.  Godwin's law moves off the 'net into the political world. 

Boston to Manchester by rail

They were talking about it on NHPR this morning.  They are spending taxpayer money on a "study".  They hope the study will be convincing enough to gain them federal funding.  Greenies love rail, they think it's low carbon.  They also love the money that rail projects soak up.  They estimated that 31,000 passengers a year would ride a Boston to Manchester train. 
   On an emotional level, I like it.  I'm a rail fan from way back, I have an HO model railroad in my guest room.  On an economic basis, it's craziness.  Right now, travelers from Boston to Manchester drive.  It's only 53 miles on I93.  Takes about an hour by my reckoning, and only 55 minutes by Google maps reckoning.  And there is bus service, takes about an hour 20 minutes and costs $18. 
   Rail would have to compete, in speed and cost to be worth the sizable money fixing up the track would cost.  The land is hilly and the existing track, all laid down in the 19th century, is curvy, which limits speed. Buying a brand new ultra straight right of way would cost maybe $10 million a mile, for 53 miles, or $530 million.  Which is probably out of the question.  Especially  for a mere 31,000 passengers.  Figure a fare of somewhat more than the bus, say $25.  That makes farebox revenue for a year $775000, and it takes 683 years to pay off  the bonds.  No can do.
   So the project has to run over existing right of way, of which there are plenty.  Much of it has been abandoned, or turned into bike trails, but some still works.  Bring the track and roadbed up to 19th century standards and the trains could surely do 60 mph, but probably not more than 100 mph.  Trains don't corner as well as cars.  So that makes the train trip somewhere between half an hour and a hour.  On the Boston end, it has to connect with the T, and it ought to have a station on 128.  Assume fixing up the track is a mere $1 million a mile, so we put $53 million into track work   At that rate the fares will pay off the bonds in a mere 68 years, assuming ALL the fare goes to baying off the bonds, with nothing for maintenance, keeping the culverts clear, buying diesel fuel, plowing the snow, paying the trainmen, buying rolling stock.  And assuming the bonds are zero interest.  At 5%,  a 68 year $53 million bond will require $147 million to pay off. 
   For the taxpayer, this isn't just a bad deal, it's a swindle. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Filling Steve Jobs' shoes at Apple

Wall St Journal ran a nice long piece about Apple's new president, Tim Cook.  Needless to say, Mr. Cook is having a spot of bother filling in for Steve Jobs.  According to the Journal, Tim is cutting the mustard, but it's hard work.  They go on to talk about management styles, clothing styles, hair styles, and other fluff 'n stuff.
It is a full page piece, with photographs. 
   Not once does the Journal talk about how Jobs built Apple into what it is today.  Jobs could envision a new product, get it designed, get it into production, get it out to market.  And Jobs' products sold, like hot cakes.  Apple II, Macintosh, Ipod, Iphone, Ipad,  every one of them was new, nothing like it on the market, priced right, low enough to sell, high enough to turn a profit.  Good styling.  The right functions.  Not since Thomas Edison has one man  put out so many brand new products. 
    The real question us readers have, is "Can Tim Cook bring another successful new Apple product to market?"  This Journal piece didn't even attempt to answer that question. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

BitCoin gets bit

Mt Gox, the leading Bitcoin exchange announced they have been robbed.  $470 million worth of Bitcoin was stolen.  Mt. Gox halted customer withdrawals, and has filed for bankruptcy in Japan.  Mt. Gox claims that bugs in the Bitcoin programming allowed "unauthorized withdrawals".
   Wow.  Just how do you steal a Bitcoin?  And, surely each Bitcoin has a serial number.  Why cannot Mt. Gox  put out the word that Bitcoins serial numbers thus and thus and thus are stolen and not to be honored anywhere?   And since Bitcoins are a pure software concept, why cannot Mt. Gox's computers simply gin up enough Bitcoin to cover their obligations? 
   And what does one do with a stolen Bitcoin?  Surely you cannot hide it under a mattress. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Forty Knot Sailboat wins the America's Cup

Years ago I read "The Forty Knot Sailboat".  The author  described a large sailboat equipped with hydrofoils.  These underwater wings would lift the entire boat out of the water, vastly reducing drag and enabling ice boat like speeds.  Ice boats can do 100 miles an hour because the friction of the runners is zip, and doesn't rise with speed.  Whereas the friction and wave drag on a hull in the water is high, and goes up by the square of the speed.  But  once a boat is up on hydrofoils, planing,  friction drag drops off, form drag goes away and fantastic speeds become possible.  The author foresaw sailing yachts fast enough to outrun bad weather.  It all seemed like science fiction at the time.  In those days sailboats were made of wood, lines were manila fiber, dacron sails were just coming in. 
   Fast forward to the 21st century, 2013.  The America's cup, currently in possession of the Americans (again) is facing a challenge from New Zealand.   Larry Ellison of Oracle is defending the cup in San Francisco bay.  The cup defender is a huge catamaran, all carbon fiber, 72 feet long and carrying a 131 foot mast (that's better than twelve stories tall).  It's got hydrofoils, and with the right wind, it's been clocked at 55 miles per hour (48 knots) .  That's freeway speed, and it's done under sail. 
   Trouble is, hot as the Oracle boat was, the Kiwis kept beating it.  This year it takes winning nine races, match races, just two boats.  The Kiwis had won eight straight and one more win would give them the cup.  Up to this point, the Oracle crew had been sailing in accordance with computer simulations.  Oracle being a software house, I dare say every single programmer in the company  was working on America's Cup programs.  And, all the software had favored a strategy of pointing.  This is one strategy for going to windward.  You point the boat up into the wind as high as she will go, until the sail begins to luff  (flap).  This is the closest to a straight line course, and the boat gets to the windward mark by covering the shortest distance on the water. 
   The other strategy is footing.  You bear off a touch and get the sails really full of wind.  You go faster thru the water, but you have to cover more distance since you aren't going as directly to the windward mark.  For the crucial ninth race, the Oracle team decided upon footing instead of the pointing recommended by all the computers.  All, wonder of wonders, the extra speed footing gives was enough to get the boat up on foils, vastly increasing its speed.  The Oracle team came from behind, won the next nine races and kept the America's Cup in America. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Kerry tours the Sunday TV news

I saw Kerry on Meet the Press and later this morning on Face The Nation.  He might have done some other shows too.  The administration is using TV appearances to show concern for the Ukraine situation.  Kerry clearly disapproves of Putin invading Ukraine, but other than outrage, he didn't speak of doing anything about it.  Probably 'cause Obama doesn't want to do anything, and we haven't been able to talk the Europeans into backing up any economic sanctions against the Russians.   The Europeans are afraid to say "boo", lest the Russians turn off their gas and let them all freeze in the dark.  

Kiss your Windows XP goodby

That's what Microsoft is saying.  Support for XP goes away next month, April 14.  This probably isn't the end of the world.  In the 14 years XP has been in service you would think that they had patched most, perhaps even all, of the serious security holes.  Certainly I haven't been receiving many patches in the last few months. 
  Microsoft officially recommends upgrade to the latest version, Windows 8.  They do admit that Windows 8 is a bigger ramhog and runs slower and to compensate for fatter slower Windows 8, Microsoft suggests you buy a new computer, with incredible amounts of RAM and a 1 gigahertz processor.   As far as I know, Windows 8 doesn't offer anything that XP doesn't have, except touch screen support, which is cool if you have a touch screen, but few XP machines do.  
   I plan to keep running my trusty 9 year old Compaq tower machine.  With XP it's faster than my children's laptops running Win 7 and 8.  It  surfs the web, runs all my CAD programs, supports Microsoft C and Quickbasic.  The children sneer at it, 'cause it won't run their games fast enough, but I'm not a gamer so I don't care. 
   XP is fairly reliable.  It's been a long time since I had a blue screen of death.  I still have programs lock up, but XP is still alive and can shut the offending program down. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Targeting Target

Target Stores took a tremendous hit when hackers broke into company computers and stole the identities and credit card numbers of zillions of customers.  Certainly I will think twice before shopping at Target. 
  Little has been released about how they did it.  But it appears the bad guys infected the "point of sale" equipment (jargon for cash register).  The malware skimmed off the credit card info right at the scanner, before it was encrypted.
   Question:  How do you infect a cash register with malware?   Needless to say just about everything electronic has a microprocessor inside these days.  They work off programs stored in memory.  Understand that computer memory, random access memory (RAM) is volatile.  When the power goes off, it forgets everything.  An infection cannot survive living in RAM.  It must work its way into non-volatile storage.  In the good old days, devices like cash registers kept their programs in Programmable Read Only Memory, PROMS for short.  PROMS were cheap and very dependable and best of all, they could not be written in circuit.  Only special test equipment, PROM programmers, could write into PROMS.  The only way to change programs burned into PROM was for a tech to open the device casework, remove the old PROM and insert a new PROM.  You ain't going to pull off that stunt over the Internet.  I suppose the bad guys could have infiltrated Target after closing hours (does Target ever close?)  and rework all the cash registers.  Does not sound likely to me.
   And, technology moves on.  They invented the Electrically Eraseable PROM, EEPROM which can be reprogrammed in circuit.  Production loved them.  They used to buy blank PROMS, keep them in the stockroom, program batches of them, get the programmed ones stuffed into boards as opposed to blank ones.   Blank PROMs look just like programmed PROMS after all.  And make sure the right version of the program is in the PROM.  With EEPROMs all these possibilities of error go away.  Just stuff the board and solder it, then program the EEPROM in circuit.  And with EEPROMS we now have the possibility of changing the program in the cash register without laying a hand on it.  Assuming the cash register make was stupid enough to allow reprogramming of his product in the field.  There are plenty of ways to disable the programming capability before you ship the product. 
    Presumable the bad guys infected Target's central computers, the ones in finance and the stockroom that talk to the cash registers and total up dollar volume of sales and keep track of inventory so they can reorder product as it sells out.  And somehow the central computers infected the cash registers, by sending new programming out over the wire to the checkout counters. Had Target been more security minded they would not have allowed the central computers to talk to the cash registers.  Just listening is enough to make the system work. 
   I assume the Target people are hard at work securing things.  I haven't heard that they had succeeded yet.