Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A good landing for once

I've put up a number of video clips of bad landings during 2013.  To start 2014 off on a better note, here's perhaps the smoothest landing I've ever seen on video - so smooth I reckon the passengers hardly felt it.  It's a US Airways Airbus A330 landing at Manchester on August 30th, 2010. This one's definitely worth watching in full-screen mode.

You can read more about it here, including a detailed description of what makes that landing so special.  Congratulations to the pilot on a great job.

May 2014 bring smooth landings for all of us.


So that was 2013 . . .

It's been a topsy-turvy year.

  • The economy - national and international - has staggered along, losing ground in some places, holding its own in others, but nowhere improving to any marked extent.  The signs are that next year may bring bad news on that front.
  • US politics have been discordant, fractured and dysfunctional.  The left and right wings are barely talking to each other these days, and civil discourse . . . isn't.  I don't know what the new year will bring, except for more of the same.
  • Militarily, we're still mired in Afghanistan and threatening to get mired in other places where I really don't think we need to be - most recently, South Sudan.  When will our political leaders learn that an American serviceman's life should only be put at risk when the sovereign interests of the United States are at stake?
  • As far as international relations are concerned . . . need I say more?  We're not liked and not wanted across much of the globe.  As far as I'm concerned, that's reason enough to cut off all aid to those areas, pull out our troops, and leave them to look after themselves.  We'll soon see whether we're wanted or not.

Personally, 2013 was a watershed year for me.  I published three books, and had hoped to publish a fourth until I found that I wasn't as good a writer as I want to be, and needed to spend more time polishing it and working on character development.  That's in hand now, and the third novel in the Maxwell Saga should be published late in January or early in February.  I hope it'll be considerably improved over the first two in the series, and I'll strive for similar improvements in future books.

Miss D. and I have muddled through health issues and the stresses and strains of very demanding work environments for both of us.  (Don't let anyone tell you that being a writer must be easy - it's as much hard work as I ever put in for an outside employer!  When you're your own boss, you find you have a very hard taskmaster.  If you don't, you won't prosper.)  Still, we've helped each other over the humps, and we're happier together than we've ever been.  She's definitely one of the biggest blessings the good Lord has ever given me.

So, what awaits in 2014?  I don't know.  I expect, at the very least, serious economic disruption, and I'm preparing for that as best I can.  On the political front, I expect the Obama administration to continue to afflict, depress and demoralize this country on as many fronts as possible.  I think they enjoy it.  The rest of us will just have to grit our teeth and bear it until the mid-term elections.  If those don't produce a meaningful result for change, I think you can stick a fork in the American Republic.  It'll be done.  The 'have-nots' will have taken over the asylum, and will impose their demands on the 'haves' for the foreseeable future.  If that happens, it'll behoove all of us to seriously consider our future options.

Be that as it may, I hope that for all of you, dear readers, the new year will bring the blessings of peace, happiness and prosperity.  Let's stick together, and encourage each other as much as possible.  I think we'll all need that.


Post-modern agricultural implement?

An anonymous reader sent me the link to this picture on Imgur:

Go to the link and click on the picture there for a much larger version.

Hmmm . . . I've heard Harley-Davidson bikes being referred to as 'Hogs' before, but I've never seen a motor-bike looking so unabashedly agricultural!


Monday, December 30, 2013

Stand by for infuriated Marines in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

Oh, dear.

The satirical Duffel Blog, which takes delight in tilting at every military windmill and barbecuing every military sacred cow it can find, has just produced another fine spoof.  It's headlined "Army Study Finds Marines’ Tun Tavern Was Actually A Gay Bar".  A sample:

The original Tun Tavern burned down in 1781 and the space is now shared with Interstate-95 where it passes along Penn’s Landing. The initial goal of the dig was to locate any physical clues that could tie modern Marines with the past.

. . .

Perhaps the most noteworthy find was a decaying book pulled from behind the bar.

“The book had the owner listed as Josiah Wagner,” Bules told us. “It’s pretty clear that he was the ringleader of the entire orgy. But the most astonishing part was the fact that the records showed the bar was listed as ‘Fun Tavern.’ It appears there was a misprint sometime ago and the ‘Tun’ part stuck. This guy knew exactly what he was doing by naming it that.”

. . .

“It’s more than just a great historical find,” added Mangas. “It gives an entirely new meaning to being in the ‘City of Brotherly Love.’”

There's more at the link.

I hope no overly amused Army types try to quote from the article to any Marines they happen to meet.  I suspect the result would be painful.


Lessons learned while moving to a new computer

You'll recall that last month, I asked for input about buying a new computer.  I eventually settled on a HP desktop system from Costco, which was at an almost unbeatable value-for-money point.  It arrived a couple of weeks ago, and I've slowly been moving my programs and data onto it and setting it up as my primary workstation.  I've learned a lot in the process.

First, I've used Mozilla Thunderbird as my e-mail client for many years.  I have several different e-mail accounts, depending on their purpose and scope (this blog's is only one of them).  Thunderbird lets me open them all in a single application and keep track of them without problems.  The last time I migrated to a new system, I ended up simply installing a new copy of Thunderbird and abandoning my earlier e-mails on backups, as I simply couldn't get them to migrate across successfully.  This time was far simpler.  I used the Mozbackup utility, which made the process amazingly simple once I'd figured out the correct sequence of events.  For the benefit of those who might do the same in future, here's what to do, and in this order.

  1. Download Mozbackup to your old system and run it, placing the backup copy of your Thunderbird (and, if you wish, other Mozilla software such as Firefox) on an external hard disk or thumb drive.
  2. Download the relevant Mozilla software (Thunderbird, Firefox, etc.) to your new computer and run it once, in order to set up each program's default profile.  Don't do anything else like enter your e-mail account details.
  3. Download Mozbackup to your new system and run it.  Tell it to restore the profiles of the software you've installed, and point it to the external drive where you've stored the backed-up profiles from your old system.

That's really all there is to it.  Simple, quick and easy.  I imported eight different e-mail accounts, complete with four years of archived messages and all the settings, without a bobble.

I had some serious problems getting used to the Windows 8 interface (Windows 8.1, actually, but it's the same interface as 8.0).  It looks like a very useful product for touch-screen devices, but if you're working with keyboard and mouse, it's a pain in the butt.  I set up my new system to boot directly to the desktop screen, as in Windows 7, and installed Pokki to simulate the Windows 7 startup screen.  It works fine.

Microsoft Office 2010 gave me some serious headaches.  By default, it installs in 32-bit mode;  but Windows 8.1 is a native 64-bit application, as installed from the manufacturer on my computer.  I had some nasty compatibility issues until I figured out (by trial and error) that Office 2010 also has a 64-bit version, that can be installed by running its dedicated Setup program from the CD.  Once I'd switched to that version, things went much more easily.  I still had to locate it on my hard disk;  Windows 8.1 kept on trying to get me to load the preinstalled trial version of Office 2013 and/or pay for the Office 365 version.  I ended up uninstalling both of the latter trial versions, and now things run much more smoothly.

I've still got some music and video files to copy across to my new system, but I'm 90% finished with the migration now.  I'm already using the new system to continue editing Maxwell Book 3.  I'll be setting up a treadmill desk over the next couple of weeks, with a second screen for seated use when I'm not able to walk any further.  I'm pretty happy with the new computer so far.  It's much faster and more powerful than my old laptop.  As soon as the migration is complete, I'll upgrade the laptop's memory and install a new hard disk, and it'll become my occasional-use on-the-road computer.

Thanks to all of you who offered advice.  So far, so good!


Thanks for nothing, NSA!

Revelations over the weekend of the extent to which the NSA has penetrated the security and nominal independence of the Internet, computer systems in general, and the privacy of every single user of either, have been breathtaking in their scope - not to mention the arrogance they display.  I'm not going to go into all the details here, because it would be impossible to cover them adequately in the space of a simple blog article.  If you're interested (and I strongly suggest you should be!) you'll find more details in these articles:

The invasive nature of these devices and systems is truly appalling.  It seems that our constitutional right to privacy is being not so much ignored as deliberately and willfully trampled underfoot by the NSA and its stooges.  They have no scruples, no morals, no ethics, and (seemingly) no effective supervision or control of their actions.

Worse, the NSA and similar entities have spawned a host of commercial interests competing to work with them and sell similar capabilities to those who don't already have them.  As one example, consider this advertising blurb from Selex Galileo, an Italian company.  You'll find it at about 24 minutes and 35 seconds into the video below, from last weekend's 30th Chaos Communications ConferenceI very strongly recommend that you take a minute or two to watch it for yourself.  The company is actually proud of its ability to hack into every aspect of your digital life, no matter who or where you are, what you're doing, or whether or not there's any justification whatsoever for doing so.

Consider that this is only one company, in one country, that's so open about the abilities of the software it provides.  There are dozens - probably hundreds - more like it.  In a follow-up presentation to the one above, corporate intrusion on the Internet is described in great detail.

Between them, those two videos are over an hour and three-quarters in length:  but if you're seriously interested in or concerned about your online security, I urge you to watch them in full - or at least listen to their audio tracks.  The amount they reveal, pulling it together from all sorts of sources, is mind-blowing.  After watching them, you'll realize that even if the NSA were shut down tomorrow (a consummation devoutly to be wished, but unfortunately unlikely), the risks to our privacy and security would be only slightly diminished by its passing.

Of course, the NSA and organizations like it are largely responsible for that reality.  They were the pioneers in developing such systems;  their former staff all too often resigned to join other companies as 'consultants' to help them develop commercial products inspired by the NSA's needs;  and a whole range of corporations now make their living out of developing ever-better tools for the NSA.  It's become a hive of governmental, bureaucratic and corporate mutual back-scratching, and to hell with ethical, legal and constitutional concerns.

In particular, the installation of 'back doors' into US-made computer hardware and software, to give the NSA easier access to them, is mind-bogglingly short-sighted (see the fourth article of the six linked above).  As Karl Denninger trenchantly points out:

The stupidity of such a program knows no boundaries.

The ultimate premise -- that nobody other than the NSA will ever obtain the keys necessary to access these defective locks they install -- is the height of arrogance.

How much of what the Chinese and others have stolen over the years were taken using our very own back doors?

Nobody knows, of course, and if the NSA knows they sure as hell won't be telling anyone.  But we do know that the Chinese, for example, have stolen not just commercial secrets but military ones as well -- including nuclear warhead designs.

We didn't, through our own arrogance, make that possible -- did we?

I'm sure we'll never find out with certainty, but this much I am certain of -- we're not the only nation with bright people in it, and if we put intentionally-pickable locks in things we sell we cannot maintain 100% control over the distribution of the back-door keys for said locks.

There's more at the link.  We've already discussed how this practice has caused billions of dollars in losses to US high-technology companies.  Those losses are likely to get much worse over the next few years as a result of these revelations.

Given government intrusion, commercial complicity in that intrusion, and hacker attacks on our hardware and software, is it any wonder that many computer security people are almost paranoid in their concerns?  I would be too, if I were in their shoes!  For example, an Australian journalist is quite candid about the lengths to which he goes.

I started covering up the cameras of my two laptops, desktop and smartphone in April. This was in addition to already making use of anti-virus and other security software on my devices. A New York Times security writer also recently divulged that they did this too.

I, like many others, close the blinds at night, so I figured I should probably put some sort of blind on my devices if I cared about my privacy. When I needed to use them for video conferencing or the occasional "selfie", I could just take the tape off. It made perfect sense, even though it wasn't as practical as I had hoped.

Friends and work colleagues who saw the tape over my mobile's front- and back-facing camera laughed at me and called me "paranoid" and "crazy". This was about two months before revelations concerning mass surveillance conducted by the world's Western spy agencies came out.

. . .

... evidence already exists on hacker forums about people who have successfully been able to disable the warning light of web cameras on a number of vendors' device without much difficulty. Even a former FBI agent admitted recently that the agency has been capable of doing it for several years.

. . .

Now I just need to find a practical way of taping up the microphones... glue anyone?

Again, more at the link.  I note that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (an organization worthy of our support, IMHO) is even selling stickers with its logo to cover the lenses of the cameras on your devices!

I fear we're in a situation today where we have to assume that we have no privacy or secrets whatsoever in, on or around our electronic systems, whether online or offline.  I'm seriously considering instructing my bank to disable all electronic access to my accounts, for fear that today's hacking tools might be used to rob me blind before I can do anything about it.  If the bank can't or won't do that, perhaps it'll be time to consider another bank . . . or take my money out as fast as it comes in, and store it in a secure location at home, where it'll be better protected!


'Your money in pictures'

That's the Heritage Foundation's title for its top five financial charts/diagrams of 2013.  They're very informative, illustrating key facts about our economy and budget in concise, easy-to-understand formats;  and they're also very authoritative, using official figures and sources rather than guesswork or politically biased conjecture.

As one example, here's their chart headed 'Obamacare's Barrage of Tax Hikes'.  Looking to the future, it seems we ain't seen nothin' yet . . .

Bet you didn't know health care was going to cost all of us that much, over and above our individual premiums, did you?

There are more graphics at the link.  Recommended reading.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Around The Blogs

Here we go with the last Around The Blogs roundup for 2013.

# # #

In The Middle Of The Right reminds us of the importance of keeping a supply of cash on hand, in case banks decide to restrict our ability to withdraw from our accounts - as customers of Target found out recently.  I couldn't agree more.  I've written about it in the past, and keep not less than one month's expenditure on hand, in cash, at all times.  I'm seriously considering increasing that to two months' expenditure as soon as I can afford to do so.  In an emergency, cash is king.

# # #

Clark at Popehat fulminates about the American political and legal 'system', and points out that:

The older I get, the more I see, the more I read, the more clear it becomes to me that the entire game is rigged. The leftists and the rightists each see half of the fraud. The lefties correctly note that a poor kid caught with cocaine goes to jail, while a Bush can write it off as a youthful mistake (they somehow overlook the fact that their man Barrack hasn't granted clemency to any one of the people doing federal time for the same felonies he committed). The righties note that government subsidized windmills kill protected eagles with impunity while Joe Sixpack would be deep in the crap if he even picked up a dead eagle from the side of the road. The lefties note that no one was prosecuted over the financial meltdown. The righties note that the Obama administration rewrote bankruptcy law on the fly to loot value from GM stockholders and hand it to the unions. The lefties note that Republicans tweak export rules to give big corporations subsidies. Every now and then both sides join together to note that, hey! the government is spying on every one of us…or that, hey! the government stole a bunch of people's houses and gave them to Pfizer, because a privately owned for-profit corporation is apparently what the Constitution means by "public use".

What neither side seems to realize is that the system is not reformable. There are multiple classes of people, but it boils down to the connected, and the not connected. Just as in pre-Revolutionary France, there is a very strict class hierarchy, and the very idea that we are equal before the law is a laughable nonsequitr.

There's much more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.

Sadly, I'm forced to agree with Clark - but what to do about it?  We can't all just 'drop out' of the system.  Nonetheless, Joel has, and responds to that article with his own thoughts.  He also links to Claire Wolfe, who tells us how to become a 'freedom outlaw'.  Both articles are well worth reading.

# # #

In a similar vein, Francis Porretto asks 'Who Rules America?', and links to this article at Lew Rockwell that provides some interesting answers.

# # #

The inimitable Karl Denninger has some sobering post-Christmas thoughts that tie in, from an economic and personal-responsibility perspective, to Clark's fulminations from a political and legal perspective.  He ends with three questions that we'd all better answer right smartly.

  • Who do you associate with, and who do you shun?  Which of those you associate with are people who you are very sure will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you when things get bad? If they can't keep their dick in their pants, why do you think they won't shoot you and eat you if they're hungry?  How sure are you?  If you're wrong, you're dead.  How's that going to serve those who depend on you and those who you love?
  • How do you behave?  Leave aside the distant past.  If you're perfect and have never sinned in that regard, you need to go apply to see if you're really Jesus.  You know damn well you have, and that you're not perfect.  The real question is how have you been doing in the recent past, and how are you doing today?  Have you learned something in your life?  Are you happy with who you are, how you comport yourself, how you live?  If you're not, are you -- right now -- doing something about it?  Be honest -- because there's nobody grading this test but you.
  • What are you doing right now to cut the dependence cord?  Are you running some sort of scheme?  Do you depend on the government, or someone else's largesse?  Are you up to your eyeballs in debt?  What happens if the means to service that disappears?  Are you one of the people who believes in the poverty pimp game -- or even one of the beneficiaries of it?  For how long have you been able, but unwilling, to do anything about your dependence?  Months? Years?  Decades?  Guess what -- it's going to go away, and not voluntarily either. When are you going to face the fact that it is precisely what you demand and in fact vote for, in the main as a people, that you get and when you demand an impossibility what you are going to get, inevitably, is pain.

Again, more at the link, and very highly recommended.

# # #

Daddybear has a Congressional wish list.  I not only endorse every one of his points, I'll gladly raise money for him and campaign on his behalf if he ever decides to run for Congress himself!

EDITED TO ADD:  Captain Tightpants weighs in with his contribution.  I'll vote for him, too!

# # #

Borepatch discloses 'how he rolls' as a blogger.

(On the other hand, Jason Kottke claims that 'The blog is dead, long live the blog'.  Uh-huh . . . )

# # #

Quote of the week comes from Jay G., newly relocated to quasi-free America.  Quoting a Massachusetts busybody, he vows:

With my hand to G-d, folks, if I ever receive a letter like this, I will make it my life's mission to have Christmas decorations so loud and garish that alien cultures will fly to earth just to tell me to knock that shit off. I will personally seek out, purchase, and install giant neon creches with the baby Jesus in a gold lame Elvis suit dancing around with a naked Allah while Ganesh busts out a hookah just to offend as many people as possible.

I'd pay good money to see that . . .

# # #

In the comment thread to Sarah Hoyt's latest blog post, the name of Peter Hathaway Capstick came up for discussion.  I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Capstick when he lived in Cape Town, South Africa, during the 1980's, and was introduced by him to the sport of 'minisniping'.  It's an addictive game to anyone seriously interested in precision shooting.  I highly recommend it.  You'll find more information about it here.

# # #

While on the subject of shooting sports and skills, Hilton Yam has a very useful primer on '50 Yard Carbine Drills'.  If you follow his prescription, you'll build up some handy core skills.

# # #

The Silicon Graybeard illustrates how not to start a chainsaw.

# # #

Aesop at the Raconteur Report discusses the background to and real impact of Obamacare, and points out:

The biggest problem isn't that the Obamacare sign-up website is broken. It's that someday, it's going to work exactly as designed.


# # #

Last but not least, Earthbound Misfit enjoyed the latest Martin Scorsese film, 'The Wolf Of Wall Street'.  However, she thoughtfully linked to an article by the daughter of one of the criminals concerned.  It was enough to persuade me never to spend my money on that movie in any way, shape or form.

# # #

That's it for this week, and for 2013.  More next week, God willing.


The Winter Olympics and the threat of terrorism

I'm sure most readers have learned by now of the suicide bomber who killed 15 people in Volgograd.  The city's in southern Russia, only a few hundred miles from Sochi, where the 2014 Winter Olympics are to take place in February.

I'm afraid this incident may portend an upsurge in Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in and around southern Russia during the Games.  It's very likely that terrorists regard the Games as an ideal opportunity to gain publicity for their cause, and inflict terror on the Russian government and people, whom they blame for the plight of their fellow religionists in territories such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.  For an excellent in-depth overview of the situation, read this leaked memo from the US Embassy in Moscow in 2006.

Islam has been repressed more or less savagely in the region since Tsarist times, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, religious fundamentalists tried to use the resulting confusion to re-establish their dominance of the area.  The new Russian government fought back, resulting in bitter conflicts such as the First and Second Chechen War, disturbances amounting to civil war in several neighboring republics, etc.  Many of the terrorists who instigated and fought those wars managed to evade capture.  More than a few of them have fought in support of Islamic fundamentalists in other conflicts.  (Some are currently fighting in Syria.)  Their ideology has even reached the USA, with the Boston bombers reportedly influenced by Chechen revolutionary Islamic ideology.

If you or anyone you know is/are planning to travel to the Winter Olympics, you might want to keep the risk of terrorism firmly in mind.  I'd say that, based on their past actions and demonstrated ruthlessness, it's almost guaranteed that fundamentalist terrorists will try to take advantage of the influx of tourists to 'make a statement'.

Remember the Moscow theater siege?

Remember Beslan?

I'd rather not have my readers caught up in something like that, thank you very much . . . so if you're heading for the Winter Olympics, please be as careful as you possibly can.  Personally, I wouldn't go.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Remembering another war hero

Those who inspired the World War II generation are leaving us faster and faster now, as they get on in years.  A few weeks ago we lost Wing Commander James 'Jimmy' Flint of the Royal Air Force, at the age of 100.

Not only did he have an outstanding war record, rising from an NCO pilot to command a bomber squadron, but he holds a unique distinction.  He was awarded two medals for gallantry for the same action.  The Telegraph reports:

On the night of July 5/6 1941 Flint and his all-sergeant crew took off in their twin-engined Hampden bomber to attack Osnabruck. Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast at 10,000ft the aircraft was caught and held in enemy searchlights. Flint took violent evasive action, but a night fighter attacked, causing extensive damage to the aircraft. As Flint dived away the fighter inflicted further damage. Eventually, after 10 minutes, and by descending to 500ft, Flint was able to shake off the fighter and escape.

Unperturbed, he climbed back to bombing height and headed for the target. But the aircraft was again caught by searchlights, and was unable to evade them until Flint had jettisoned the bombs. He finally escaped at 1,000ft, when he headed for the North Sea.

The Hampden was 50 miles from the English coast when two Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters appeared and set up a series of devastating coordinated attacks. Flares were ignited in the cockpit, and the aircraft’s radio and internal communication system was damaged, making it impossible for the crew to contact one another.

The fighters made three more attacks, and the port engine of the bomber was set on fire and some of the crew wounded. Flint turned off the fuel to the damaged engine and flew a few feet above the sea before the fighters finally broke away.

As he approached the coast near Cromer, Flint realised that he would be unable to climb over the cliffs. He turned away and ditched the bomber 800 yards from the shore.

Two of the crew were able to get out of the aircraft, only to discover that the dinghy had been holed. Flint also escaped, but immediately realised that the navigator was missing. He crawled back into the sinking bomber, where he found his badly wounded comrade. As the aircraft began to go down, Flint hauled the helpless navigator through the escape hatch. With no dinghy, Flint supported the unconscious navigator as he swam and dragged him towards the shore. Fifty yards short of the beach a soldier arrived to help, allowing Flint to scramble ashore. There was no sign of the air gunner, and he asked for boats to search for the missing man.

Flint refused to leave the beach until it was clear that the air gunner had been lost. He then walked a mile to a waiting ambulance and was taken to hospital.

He was awarded an immediate DFM for his “cool courage and determination to strike at the enemy”. When the full extent of his gallant efforts to save his crew became clear, he was also awarded a George Medal, the citation concluding: “This airman displayed great gallantry, fortitude and disregard of personal safety in his efforts to save his helpless navigator.” Sadly, the navigator succumbed to his wounds.

There's more at the link.  Here's W/Cdr. Flint speaking of his wartime adventures at the Nottingham and United Services Club in November 2011.

May he rest in peace. We are the poorer for the passing of such men.


The usefulness of IRST

A reader asked me whether the IRST (infra-red search and track) sensors mounted on many modern fighter aircraft (such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Russian Sukhoi Su-27 family, the Swedish Saab Gripen and the US F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-35 Lightning II) was of any real utility compared to radar and other sensors.  Here's a picture of the IRST sensor (circled in red) on a Eurofighter Typhoon.

It certainly is useful.  As Wikipedia reports:

These aircraft carry the IRST systems for use in lieu of their radars when the situation warrants it, such as when shadowing other aircraft or under the control of Airborne Early Warning and Control(AWACS) aircraft or Ground-controlled interception(GCI), where an external radar is being used to help vector them onto a target and the IRST is used to pick up and track the target once they are in range.

With infra-red homing or fire-and-forget missiles, the aircraft may be able to fire upon the targets without having to turn their radar sets on at all. Otherwise, they can turn the radar on and achieve a lock immediately before firing if desired. They could also close to within cannon range and engage that way.

Whether or not they use their radar, the IRST system can still allow them to launch a surprise attack.

An IRST system may also have a regular magnified optical sight slaved to it, to help the IRST-equipped aircraft identify the target at long range. As opposed to an ordinary forward looking infrared system, an IRST system will actually scan the space around the aircraft similarly to the way in which mechanically (or even electronically) steered radars work. The exception to the scanning technique is the F-35 JSF's DAS, which stares in all directions simultaneously, and automatically detects and declares aircraft and missiles in all directions, without a limit to the number of targets simultaneously tracked.

When they find one or more potential targets they will alert the pilot(s) and display the location of each target relative to the aircraft on a screen, much like a radar. Again similarly to the way a radar works, the operator can tell the IRST to track a particular target of interest, once it has been identified, or scan in a particular direction if a target is believed to be there (for example, because of an advisory from AWACS or another aircraft).

There's more at the link.

Here's a video clip of the first day's flight demonstrations from this year's Paris Air Show.  It's taken by a FLIR (forward-looking infra-red) system, alternating between standard photography and infra-red.  Note the highlighted heat sources in the latter images.  I suggest watching it in full-screen mode.

A modern IRST system can detect such heat highlights at up to 35-45 miles range, even if the aircraft emitting them is invisible to the naked eye.  That's pretty impressive;  but even more useful is the fact that it can do so without any emissions that will reveal the presence of one's own aircraft.  The first an enemy may know of your proximity is the arrival of your missiles or cannon shells.


The problem with many bug-out locations . . .

. . . is that they're hard to abandon in a hurry if the modern equivalents of the Huns, Goths and Vandals come over the hill, screaming war cries and brandishing weapons.  This converted Atlas missile silo is a perfect example.

Florida developer Larry Hall is creating a 15-floor complex with facilities and supplies to support between 36 and 70 people for more than five years while off the grid. Residential condos are available in full-floor and half-floor layouts, with a full floor housing six to 10 people and the half-floor housing three to five. Residents have also been promised access to a zero-edge pool with wall mural, hydroponic food-growing area, exercise facilities, classroom, library, a movie theater, surgery center and an in-house dentist/orthodontist. To monitor what’s happening on the outside, the facility also has a Remotely Piloted Vehicle, equipped with light and thermal-imaging cameras and a military grade security system with “both lethal and non-lethal defensive capabilities.”

There's more at the link.

At $1 million for half a floor, or $2 million for a whole floor to yourself, it's not exactly a cheap option.  It looks even worse when you consider that every single floor is underground (the lowest level is about 140 feet deep), and has no egress to the surface except up through the silo's other levels.  If someone lower down is injured, and no power is available for elevators, it's going to be hard to get them to the surface to evacuate them for treatment - assuming evacuation is a possibility, of course.  (In a major emergency, it may be out of the question.)

Furthermore, in a major emergency, those looking for shelter and supplies will probably know of the existence of this facility, and come knocking at the door, demanding admittance and/or a share of what's stored inside.  Refusal will invite attack.  If intruders occupy the surface buildings, those in the converted silo will be trapped inside.  They may be able to stop the bad guys getting further in, but they won't be able to get out.  Furthermore, if the silo's long-range sensors should become inoperative (and anything mechanical will break down sooner or later), they won't even know that the intruders are coming until they're literally on top of them.

In a real disaster situation, where law enforcement assistance isn't available, intruders would have many options.  If they have enough supplies for a while, they can sit on top and starve out the defenders.  If they need the supplies inside, and are desperate enough to be willing to take casualties to get them, they can fight their way down the interior levels (particularly if they have the means to breach doors and walls, such as dynamite, angle-grinders, etc.).  If they take hostages in the first couple of levels, that will help them 'persuade' those in lower levels to give up without a fight.  If the silo's supplies weren't essential to them, and there was a handy river or dam nearby (and at a higher level), it might not be a major problem to divert the water into the silo and drown everyone inside.  A few sticks of dynamite and/or a backhoe might be all that's needed.

I've written before about why bugging out is not always a good idea or a worthwhile option.  This concept suffers from all those concerns, and adds more.  The silo may be weatherproof, bombproof (except against a direct hit from a bunker-buster or a very near miss from a nuke), radiation-proof, etc.:  but it's not proof against even moderately organized human attackers.  This would not be my first choice for a safe and secure (not to mention cost-effective) bug-out location . . .


Friday, December 27, 2013

Pajama Boy 'comes out'

I'm sure many readers are familiar by now with the hilarity generated by the Obama administration's effort to spread the word about Obamacare with this Twitter advertisement.

Both liberals and conservatives immediately had a collective attack of hysterical laughter.  I've seldom seen so much lampoonery (if that's a word) of an ad campaign.  For a few examples, see Newsmax, Truth Revolt and Powerline.

The model in the ad has been identified as Ethan Krupp.  Unfortunately for Obamacare, his views are so stereotypically moonbattish that he might be a poster child for all that's wrong with the present Administration, let alone its policies on health care.  I'm not going to quote him directly, due to profanity, but you can read the whole thing here.  It explains a lot.

My next question:  how can the Obamacare promoters recover from this colossal public relations blunder?  I'm sure they're going to try.  I look forward with eager anticipation to their next inspired (?) effort.


US foreign policy leaves a void in the Middle East

It was Aristotle who first coined the saying that has come down to us as 'Nature abhors a vacuum'.  He was speaking of the physical world, but the saying has been applied to almost every area of human life.  It certainly applies to politics.

The USA has seemingly abandoned old friends and allies in the Middle East, following the shambolic and dysfunctional foreign policy directed by President Obama.  It's already had profound effects, as we've noted in these pages before.  To name but one example, Saudi Arabia apparently feels like it's been stabbed in the back by the Obama administration - as well it might.  If I lived there, I'd feel the same.  Many of the Gulf States apparently feel likewise.

This is having foreseeable - indeed, inevitable - consequences.  The USA has been the guarantor of peace and stability in the Middle East for two to three decades now - but that's at an end.  Few, if any Middle Eastern leaders now trust the United States.  As a result, they're trying to mend fences and build new relationships that they feel have a better chance of guaranteeing their security, and that of the region.  They're looking all over for allies - and finding them.  The only problem from a US perspective is, they're not finding them here, and we no longer have nearly as much influence over what occurs there.  Indeed, with a very strange alliance now brewing between Israel and the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia - traditionally bitter foes - who knows what the future may hold?  If war comes to the region, all of those nations might find themselves united in telling this country to get the hell out of it.

If Saudi Arabia decides it's time to become a nuclear state - as we've discussed before - we'll have little influence to stop them.  If other states decide to follow suit, the same applies.  All we'll be able to do is bleat ineffectually from the sidelines while the nations concerned blithely ignore us and go their own way.  Even the dollar's status as a petrocurrency is now in serious jeopardy - and if the Fed and the Treasury succeed in devaluing it any further, it may also lose its status as the world's reserve currency (follow each of those three links for some interesting evidence of what's happening).

President Obama has a lot for which to answer.


Advertisement of the year?

Now that 2013's almost over, what was (or were) your favorite advertisement(s) over the past 12 months?  Let us know your candidates in Comments, along with a link where we can see them.

I'll start off with this one from Australia - which caused some controversy when it was 'erected' in June.

An advertisement showing a cartoon wallaby having sex with a lion has caused a stir in Australia ahead of this weekend’s Lions test match.

The 15,030 square-metre [161,782 square feet] Sportsbet advert features a winking kangaroo hunched over the back of a lion and is spread across a field visible to passengers flying in and out of Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport.

Bearing the slogan “Rooting for the Wallabies”, the explicit sign was criticised by public figures including Matthew Guy, the Victorian minister for planning, who promised to have the advert “ploughed in before the end of the day” today. He said the sign was placed on Parks Victoria land without any permission.

. . .

A spokesman for Sportsbet defended the advert, which aimed to increase betting sales ahead of the match this weekend, saying it would be viewed by more than a million people flying over the image in the next month.

"What better way to get behind the Wallabies than to create a massive wallaby getting behind a lion?," Sportsbet’s Haydn Lane told Australia’s Channel Nine.

There's more at the link.  Here's the advert.  Watch it in full-screen mode to get the best effect.

Trust the Aussies to find a way to 'take the p***' out of their sporting visitors . . .


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The unluckiest goalkeeper in the NHL?

Mike Smith, goalkeeper for the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team, must have had a pretty awful Christmas.  His team played the Buffalo Sabres in that team's home town on Monday night - and this happened.

A "butt goal"???  Now there's an ice hockey technical term I'd never heard before . . .


Verily, the mind doth boggle - roadbuilding edition

I was dumbfounded to read about a road in Iceland whose construction has been held up.

Elf advocates have joined forces with environmentalists to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project building a direct route from the tip of the Alftanes peninsula, where the president has a home, to the Reykjavik suburb of Gardabaer.

They fear disturbing elf habitat and claim the area is particularly important because it contains an elf church.

The project has been halted until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on a case brought by a group known as Friends of Lava, who cite both the environmental and the cultural impact - including the impact on elves - of the road project. The group has regularly brought hundreds of people out to block the bulldozers.

And it's not the first time issues about 'Huldufolk', Icelandic for 'hidden folk', have affected planning decisions. They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states in part that 'issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on'.

Scandinavian folklore is full of elves, trolls and other mythological characters. Most people in Norway, Denmark and Sweden haven't taken them seriously since the 19th century, but elves are no joke to many in Iceland, which has a population of 320,000.

A survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 found that some 62 per cent of the 1,000 respondents thought it was at least possible that elves exist.

There's more at the link, including several pictures of the landscapes concerned - which are rather beautiful, I must admit.

Oh, well . . . I guess we can call this a Public Health issue - pronounced in Cockney style, of course, as "Public 'Elf"!


Best breakup letter ever?

Via Reddit and a post at Imgur:



Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Goodwill - and indigestion - toward men . . .

I hope and trust your Christmas has been a good one.  Mine certainly has.  I was up early, continuing to set up my new computer, and I took time out to take Oleg to the airport later in the morning, on his way to visit his parents over the holidays.  Miss D. and I will be catsitting for him.

We've just finished our Christmas dinner.  We roasted two chickens in an oven bag, which yielded 4 cups of the richest broth you could wish for, plus succulent, moist meat that fell off the bone when poked with a fork - no knife necessary.  One chicken largely disappeared tonight, accompanied by a green salad and washed down with a bottle of Tennessee white wine;  the other will be eaten over the next few days.  All the bones, the skin and the broth are already in a slow-cooker, along with 12 cups of water.  We'll simmer them overnight to harvest up to 12 cups of chicken broth for future soups and stews.

Miss D. and I have a lot to be thankful for this Christmas, despite our physical ailments and restrictions - she after being the meat filling in a two-car sandwich some years ago, and me after my back injury in 2004 and heart attack in 2009.  We're doing as well as can be expected, and a lot better than many others in our position.  That's reason enough for celebration, right there, even if it weren't for the blessings of the season.

I hope and trust your Christmas was also blessed and peaceful.  May the remainder of it be happy, and the remainder of the year relaxing and enjoyable.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Santa's on his way . . .

. . . and you can track his path, as always, at NORAD.

The Telegraph has published a couple of useful articles to explain how he does it.  The science behind Santa is handily explained.

A rocket-powered sleigh is out of the question: the fuel costs would be prohibitive (not that that has stopped people drawing up possibilities). But if Santa’s elves - “undoubtedly the most spectacular research and development outfit this planet has ever seen” - have worked a way of warping space-time, allowing the sleigh to sit in a small bubble of space that itself moves, it could travel faster than light. Alternatively, wormhole technology could provide cosmic short-cuts, and would have the benefit of permitting time-travel, removing the constraint of having to get all the work done in one night.

But this all involves a powered sleigh. The reindeer themselves still need to be able to fly. This could be achieved by genetic engineering, altering the reindeer so their lungs are huge and filled with helium; they could even be born with wings and stabiliser fins. Or, as Professor Ian Stewart, Warwick University maths professor and occasional Telegraph contributor, points out: “Reindeer have a curious arrangement of gadgetry on top of their heads which we call antlers and naively assume exist for the males to do battle and to win females. This is absolute nonsense. The antlers are actually fractal vortex-shedding devices. We are talking not aerodynamics here, but antlaerodynamics.” At the speeds the reindeer have to travel to deliver gifts, their antler-tips would, apparently, create enough lift to allow them to fly.

There's more at the link.

As for Christmas Eve in numbers:

Speed of sleigh

If he's clever about it, and travels from east to west with the Sun, maximising his available night-time, Santa has about 32 hours to work with (assuming children sleep for eight hours, he has 24 hours plus those eight to finish). Travelling 342,510,000km in 32 hours equates to a speed of 10,703,437.5km/hr (6,650,807.72mph), or a little under 1,800 miles per second, assuming he takes no time actually to deliver the presents or stop for any comfort breaks. The fastest-moving man-made object in history, the space probe Voyager 1, manages a rather less impressive 10.8 miles per second.

Weight of gifts carried

Assuming each child gets the Transformer Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, for a present, in his box, Santa will be carting 659g (1.45lb) per child. That's 461,300 metric tonnes, or about the same in imperial tons, total. For comparison, a Boeing 747-8I airliner can carry 237.5 tonnes in passengers, luggage and fuel.

Again, more at the link.

Ah, well.  Science, mathematics or whatever - it's still Christmas Eve!

I said all I wanted to say about Christmas back in 2008, as regular readers will know.  I wish all of you the happiest, healthiest and most blessed Christmas it's possible for you to have.  May the blessings of this season of grace be yours, and may they go with us all into the new year that lies ahead.  Thanks for keeping company with me over the past year.


2013 in photographs - reasons to be thankful, this Christmas

The Atlantic has come out with three picture essays of the most memorable photographs of 2013.  The three parts cover January to April, May to August, and September to December.  Here's one image from each of them to whet your appetite.  I selected photos that should give us reason to be thankful, this Christmas, that we were spared similar trials.

At the site of a collapsed garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh, people gather in front of Rana Plaza building as rescue workers continue their operations on April 25, 2013. Survivors of collapse described a deafening bang and tremors before the eight-floor building crashed down around them. An estimated 1,129 people were killed in the collapse, the deadliest accidental structural failure ever recorded.

A garden with a swimming pool is inundated by the waters of the Elbe River during floods near Magdeburg in the state of Saxony Anhalt, on June 10, 2013. Tens of thousands of Germans, Hungarians and Czechs were evacuated from their homes as soldiers raced to pile up sandbags to hold back rising waters in the region's worst floods in a decade.

Boys maneuver their boat, made from a broken refrigerator and bamboo, to the beach in Tanauan, in the province of Leyte, Philippines, on November 20, 2013. After losing their boats and houses in the Typhoon Haiyan, fishermen of a destroyed village in Tanauan started building two-seated boats made of abandoned refrigerators and some wood. The first boat was made by a fisherman, whose children gave him the idea as they wanted to play in it, and soon others followed. The Philippines and international armed forces and aid agencies are struggling to get help to devastated areas due to the extent of the destruction from Typhoon Haiyan.

There are many more images at the links provided above.  Recommended reading.


Monday, December 23, 2013

The housing market and investors

A few days ago I noted that whilst housing starts were increasing, housing sales - or, rather, mortgages to fund housing sales - were declining.  This mismatch suggested to me that builders were living in a dream world.

Reader FormerFlyer pointed out in two comments to that post that investors (of whom he's one) are buying many properties for cash, looking for good deals in repossessed houses and the like.  Intrigued by his comments, I looked for more information, and found that one of the biggest private investment groups in the country is doing the same thing.  Bloomberg reports:

You can read more about Blackstone's property plans in this infographic from Bloomberg.

Thanks for alerting me to this, FormerFlyer.  It was definitely something new on my horizon.  I knew that individual investors were buying up properties - my father-in-law among them - but I wasn't aware it had grown into such a mega-business for mega-investors.  Unfortunately, it also causes many homeowners to lose their homes if they can't make arrangements with their lenders.  I have no problem with the market deciding such things . . . but the apparent ruthlessness with which it's being done might create problems that will erupt further down the road.  Something to think about when choosing where to live and/or to buy a home.


Cthulhu at your table!

Talk about channeling H. P. Lovecraft!  The Gothamist reports:

Rusty Eulberg, a database administrator from Lubbock, Texas, tells us he brought forth what he called the Cthurkey about two years ago. Reached by phone at work, Eulberg says, "Apparently my Cthurkey — I always called it a Cthurkey as opposed to a Cthuken (no duck) — blew up online. A buddy of mine just told me he found it on Tumblr."

According to Eulberg, he and wife Jennifer Robledo "wanted to do something unique for Christmas dinner with friends of ours. Jenny is a big fan of Cthulhu so we went and bought some crab legs and some octopus and bacon and cooked them all separate and slapped them together on a plate, and that was it. The next year I made a Cthicken; the same thing using squid instead of octopus and a chicken."

Eulberg says, "The universal reaction was, 'Oh my God, I couldn't eat that.' But each individual piece was cooked separately; all I did was set them together on the plate. It was delicious. The crab leg was awesome and the bacon added a nice flavor to the turkey. And for added horror, the serving platter is an old Nazi plate with a Swastika on the bottom that a friend bought in an old abandoned Luftwaffe base in Germany."

There's more at the link, including more photographs.

I'm sure it's as delicious as he claims . . . but doesn't that look like the kind of meal you'd serve to your mother-in-law to discourage future visits?


Not the best landing ever . . .

This video clip shows a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-900 coming in to land.  It's too fast and too low, so it makes a bumpy arrival, bouncing clear into the air again.  The spoilers deploy automatically on impact, dumping the wings' lift:  but the plane's still moving too fast.  As it touches down again, the pilot clearly decides that he's pushed his luck far enough for one day, and elects to take off again and go around for another try.  Note the tail strike as he over-rotates the aircraft.

Methinks that pilot could do with some serious re-training . . .


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Around The Blogs

Time for our weekly wander around the blogosphere.

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Dr. Grumpy has a Christmas gift suggestion that should leave you down in the dumps . . . literally!

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Dr. Whitecoat reflects on how lucky a patient was to have broken his hip.  Upon reading the whole story, I couldn't help but agree.

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The Hawsepiper reports on a Christmas present that's definitely nautical - almost too much so!

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Lawdog brings us a Native American Christmas carol with a twist in the Santa's tail.  (Gigglesnort!)

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Tam informs us with her usual weary cynicism (which I fully share on this subject) of yet another gee-whiz super-dooper felon-stopper magnum-blaster 'revolution' in ammo design.  My earlier caveat still applies:  If a particular defensive bullet design isn't in general use by police and sheriffs' departments, hostage rescue teams, and crack military outfits, don't bother with it.  If it was as good as the hype, all of those groups would have invested in it.  This new bullet is just another 'same old, same old' in new packaging.  Nevertheless, go read about it at Tam's place.  It'll help you to recognize the hype when the next 'revolution' comes down the pike.

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PDB makes a similar point about defensive firearms.  'So if we’re looking for statistically sound, relatively bias-free information on pistol reliability, where do we look? ... Police departments and competition shooting.'  I entirely agree.  He knows what he's talking about.  You should go read the whole thing.

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American Mercenary shoots down a ludicrous suggestion by an uninformed observer that the US Army can be cut to the bone to save money now, and built up again in time of need.  He points out that in the absence of the draft, this will be effectively impossible in any meaningful timescale.  'If we accept as fact that Congress will not pass a draft, then we must accept as true that we can not have another "massive mobilization" of America to field a gigantic Army ... I know the military is the low hanging budget fruit, but there comes a point where if you cut the Army enough, you might as well not have an Army at all.'  He speaks truly, and knows whereof he speaks.

In another article, he warns that 'arguing with crazy people is pointless', particularly when trying to defend our right to keep and bear arms against those who don't know what they're talking about and are manifestly unwilling to learn.

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Erin Palette almost falls out of her chair laughing at a new product that combines shotguns and seedlings.  I don't know about laughter . . . I'm still trying to figure out how anyone in their right mind could think up a product like that!

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Aesop, a.k.a. the Raconteur, reminds us that certain things that aggravate the hell out of the Powers That Be are, in fact, illegal and/or immoral and/or illicit and/or fattening, and should never be attempted by anyone of a law-abiding persuasion.  He goes so far as to point out how those who are not of a law-abiding persuasion can get away with such aggravations.  Terrible, that.  Just terrible.

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Mike Vanderboegh brings us a stirring review of a book and film about Jewish brothers who fought the Nazis during World War II and saved over a thousand of their co-religionists from extermination.  He concludes:

For all the unanswered moral, philosophical and theological questions -- the bottom line is that millions of Jews were killed, because they could be. The only true defense against a Holocaust is the ability to resist and to survive one. Before the State of Israel was officially declared, the Bielskis made their own Jewish state in a forest, to live as free men and women mere kilometers from their would be killers, and though like the real state and its real leaders, they may have been flawed, their triumph is not some uplifting moral, but a matter of accomplishment, the 1200 they hid in the forest against all odds, and through determination and hard work, they did not become victims or fatalities, they survived. And through their guidance and efforts so did 1200 others. No higher praise is needed.

Mike goes on to reinforce the lessons we need to learn from the Bielski's experience and example.  Highly recommended reading.

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Matt Walsh points out that, far from being anti-science or unscientific as alleged by many of its detractors, 'Christianity has done more for science than atheism ever could'.  True, that.

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From the frozen wasteland (a.k.a. Alaska), Rev. Paul brings us 'a lesson in snow for all the Southern folks'.

Yeah.  Right.

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Kathy Jackson, longtime friend and nationally-known shooting instructor, brings us a very interesting look at security preparedness when shopping at the mall.  I learned a lot from the examples she provides.  Highly recommended reading for all who take their personal security seriously.  (I do - which is one reason I deliberately avoid most malls!)

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Roberta informs us about Walgreens' new, intrusive and extremely frustrating policies when filling prescriptions for painkillers.  I've already written about my disgust at being treated like a criminal in Tennessee when attempting to get painkillers to assuage my nerve damage.  Looks like it's becoming a national problem . . .

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Rev. Donald Sensing brings us what he suggests might be 'the best Second Amendment speech ever'.  I won't argue with him about that . . .

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Kent McManigal, otherwise known as the Hooligan Libertarian, points out a simple but obvious truth about the liberal approach to economics.  He concludes, 'Why are "smart" people too dumb to see this?'  I wish I knew.

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Earthbound Misfit brings us a TV news report about a fire exercise that went badly wrong when the water they were spraying on the flames turned out to contain aviation fuel.  As she says, it 'Didn't work so well.....'  What can I say except, "No s***, Sherlock!!!"

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Last but not least, CenTexTim informs us of an unexpected snag in a new Catholic approach to contraception.

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That's all for this week.  More soon.


A spectacularly beautiful approach

Courtesy of an e-mail from reader Trailbee, here's an airline pilot's view of the approach to Queenstown, New Zealand.  The music is 'Paradise' by Coldplay.  You really need to watch this one in full-screen mode.  It's worth it.

Spectacular, isn't it?  Thanks, Trailbee!


Doofus Of The Day #746

The video is self-explanatory.

Trading an alligator for beer . . . there's got to be a redneck reference in there somewhere!