Thursday, July 31, 2014
A Consolidated PBY Catalina amphibian, brought from South Africa to the USA two years ago, has been fully restored to wartime condition for the soon-to-be-established Greatest Generation Naval Museum in San Diego. In celebration of this achievement, and as an overview of the history of the plane, a seven-minute video has been prepared. It makes great viewing for aviation enthusiasts.
I can't embed the video here, but I urge you to click over to Vimeo and see it for yourselves. It's worth your time and trouble to do so.
In our most recent 'Around The Blogs' segment we linked to Karl Denninger discussing the very real security threat posed by the so-called 'Internet of Things'. Now the Telegraph reports:
The Internet of Things (IoT) has connected everything from smoke alarms to fridges and cars, making life easier and safer – but it has also given hackers a new way to attack their victims, warns HP.
In a study of the ten most popular IoT devices (which it did not name in its report) HP found 250 potentially dangerous security vulnerabilities.
The devices came from manufacturers of TVs, webcams, home thermostats, remote power outlets, sprinkler controllers, hubs for controlling multiple devices, door locks, home alarms, scales and garage door openers.
All of the devices included remote smartphone applications which were used to control them.
It was found that 90 per cent of the devices collected personal information, 70 per cent transmitted that data on an unencrypted network and 60 per cent had insecure user interfaces. Eight out of ten failed to require a strong enough password.
There's more at the link.
The real danger is that these devices inside your home are also inside the firewall provided with your wireless Internet router - in other words, if they're designed or programmed with malicious intent, you'll never know it until after they've done their job and compromised your security. In fact, unless you have very good tracing programs, you may never know that your security has been compromised. Think about it. In the not too distant future your light dimmer switch, or your TV remote, or your refrigerator, may be storing every login ID and password you use over the Internet, storing them, and sending them to a remote site either on a fixed schedule or on command. So much for your online bank accounts . . .
Personally, I'll be avoiding anything linked to the 'Internet of Things' like the plague - and if I can't avoid buying a 'connected' item (because there are no alternatives), I'll be disabling its connectivity first thing, if necessary with a knife or a pair of pliers. I'll also be using the most comprehensive monitoring software I can afford, to track anything in my home that's trying to call out - and stop it.
Readers will remember the recent fuss when the Obama administration proposed to award a $50 million contract to 'Baptist Child and Family Services', or BCFS, to run a resort to house illegal alien children. The uproar caused by the news was so great that the plan was abandoned.
Keen-eyed investigators have been looking into BCFS since that news broke. What they're finding is, to say the least, disturbing - not to mention outrageous! See this exposé at The Last Refuge for some mind-boggling facts and figures. As the report also points out:
It is important to remember this information is only for one of the “faith-based organizations” you have heard about recently. There are many others who are in the same operational business model as Baptist Child and Family Services.
. . .
Federal Charity courtesy of the U.S. Taxpayer. Is it really “charity” when the federal government is using the IRS to collect the “offering”?
There's more at the link.
So hundreds of millions of Federal taxpayer dollars are being spent through organizations like BCFS and other so-called 'faith-based' charities, with (as far as I'm aware) little or no accountability and few restrictions on how, where and when the money can be spent.
Can anyone spell ACORN? Redux?
I thought you could . . .
I had to smile at this news from Kingsport, Tennessee (with a tip o' the hat to reader Dwight for forwarding me the link). Tornadoes rolled through the area last weekend, and one of them helped solve a crime in the process. A good citizen went to help his neighbors clean up their storm damage, when:
"The first thing [Mr. Cleek] noticed was this bright red air compressor that he just reported stolen the day before, so obviously his eye was drawn to it," says Thomas Patton with the Kingsport Police Department.
. . .
"Basically the end result was we were able to solve two burglaries out of this damage from the tornado," says Patton.
There's more at the link.
I guess the tornado brought down the burglar by being a blowhard . . .
Here's a B-52H bomber of the US Air Force dropping 45 M117 750lb. bombs on Farallon de Medinilla, an uninhabited island in the Marianas group used as a target range. From a shooting perspective, it's what I'd call a nice group.
It's a bit more potent than the average handgun group, though . . .
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
We haven't had a "Doofus Of The Day" for over a month. To break the drought, today's award goes to the administrators of a sports stadium in Tonghe County, China. The Telegraph reports:
Sports officials in northeast China have claimed the gold medal for incompetence after authorising the construction of a running track with right-angled corners.
The track was completed recently as part of a major refurbishment of a 1,000 sq ft stadium in Heilongjiang province’s Tonghe County.
The stadium itself appears to have been impressively built and features an immaculately laid artificial grass football pitch at its centre.
But the running track’s designers got their angles badly wrong – painting 90-degree corners onto the track rather than the usual curves.
Stadium officials ... claimed their original track had once featured curves but said its rubber surface had become severely worn down from overuse.
When senior Communist Party leaders recently announced plans for a last-minute visit to the stadium, a quick makeover suddenly became necessary. Painting right angles was faster than painting curves, one official admitted.
“In order to get it ready for the leaders, we painted it like that,” he confessed. “We think it is ugly too but if the leaders don’t ask us to change it, what are we supposed to do?”
The botched attempt to please visiting Communist Party dignitaries has turned the Heilongjiang stadium into an online laughing stock.
“Does the designer have a square brain?” wondered a user of Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media network.
There's more at the link.
Now, if I were the nasty type, I'd try to get some lubricant onto those square corners and see how many wipe-outs I could cause in the turns . . .
I've found myself - yet again - nonplussed at the outpouring of emotion over the situation in Gaza. All over the world Israel is being condemned for defending itself against terrorist attacks, which aren't even mentioned by most of its critics. At the same time, many of those defending Israel are ignoring the fact that Palestinians have a legitimate grievance against being dispossessed of lands that were theirs and being treated like dirt by the 'occupiers'.
The situation is not dissimilar to that faced by many people in South Africa under the iniquitous policies of apartheid. Those opposed to apartheid (including myself) regarded it as one of the most evil systems of government since Nazi Germany; but while some argued that violence was acceptable to overthrow it, others (again including myself) believed that "two wrongs don't make one right", and that violence inevitably would backfire against those it sought to help. That was why I had no moral objection to serving in the South African armed forces against terrorism, because the terrorists were worse than the system of government they sought to overthrow. I've spoken of their tactics elsewhere.
One can condemn Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian lands, and its mistreatment of the Palestinian people. Those are undeniable realities that no objective observer can ignore. However, that same objective observer must acknowledge that the terrorism employed against Israel by Hamas and its fellow travelers is an evil far greater than occupation or mistreatment. The terrorists seek to destroy innocent civilians, to terrorize - literally - an entire people. They know only the politics and the rhetoric of hatred and religious-extremist nihilism. They have got to be stopped, because they're worse than the problem they allegedly want to resolve. Consider:
- Hamas deliberately conceals its weapons in and launches them from civilian sites, including hospitals, schools and residential buildings, knowing that Israeli retaliation will cause civilian casualties that they can exploit for propaganda purposes.
- Hamas deliberately brainwashes its children to become murderers, suicide bombers and 'martyrs', as evidenced by their own TV programs.
It's a moral quandary that in the end has only one practical, feasible answer. The worst evil must be confronted and defeated before the lesser evil can be addressed. That means that the cancer of terrorism must be rooted out and eradicated before issues of occupation and subjugation can be given the attention they require. To do it the other way around is to place human life at a lower level than political correctness . . . and Israel has every right to reject that position with all the contempt it deserves. This is the ultimate failure of the argument that "the end justifies the means". When those means are terror and indiscriminate murder, which Hamas has employed against Israel, they cannot possibly serve any good 'end' or objective; and when one side is consistently guilty of employing such tactics first, then decrying the enemy's use of retaliatory tactics, there's not much room left to doubt who's the most guilty party.
I don't believe for a moment that Israel is blameless in this fight; but I believe it has more right on its side in the present impasse than does Hamas. The latter is using terrorism as a normal modus operandi; the former is trying to oppose it. The facts speak for themselves.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Our dear friend Brigid lost her beloved black Labrador retriever, Barkley, earlier this year. They'd been together for a long time, and I know it was a difficult period for her. Rather than sit down and mope, she sat down and wrote: and the result is now available.
She's produced a rich tapestry of tribute to a dog who wasn't a pet so much as a friend. Barkley (whom Miss D. and myself both knew, meeting him on several occasions when we visited Brigid) was full of everything fun and good in a dog. My first encounter with him was when he cheerfully stole a shoe out of my overnight bag and disappeared into the living-room, daring me to chase him and retrieve it. He did the same to Miss D.'s unmentionables and anything else that was left lying around - his idea of fun was a vigorous game of "catch me if you can!"
If you love animals - dogs or others - this is a wonderfully warm, loving, gently grieving farewell to one who was part of Brigid's heart and hearth for many years. She was - and we were - privileged to share his life. I hope he has a special place in the afterlife, ready to greet her when she crosses the river (although knowing Barkley he'll upset her boat before it's touched ground, and dump her in the water while wagging and barking like mad!).
It's available in print and as a Kindle e-book through Amazon.com (the two listings will probably be unified into a single one within the next couple of days). If you're looking for a good read, here's one I can unreservedly recommend.
I had to smile at the news that fans of Sean Bean, the British actor, have launched a Twitter campaign to persuade the producers of his latest TV show not to kill him. The Telegraph reports:
Sean Bean has appeared in blockbuster films and TV shows as well as small independent movies, but he rarely comes out of them unscathed. Having been run off a cliff by rampaging cows, shot in the neck with a grappling hook, beheaded and quartered by horses in his 31-year acting career, the Sheffield-born actor hasn’t had much luck cheating death.
. . .
Now, after a tongue-in-cheek plea by fans, the producers of Bean’s latest TV series Legends have launched #DontKillSeanBean on social media in order to try to keep Bean alive in his new show. The campaign has already gone viral after launching over the weekend, with T-shirts supporting the hashtag appearing at San Diego Comic-Con. Tricia Melton, a marketing executive at TNT, said: “Sean laughed out loud when we first talked to him about it and is 100 per cent behind not getting killed in Legends. He’s got a great sense of humour and is enjoying the fun the fans are having.”
There's more at the link.
Here's a compilation of the "best" deaths (21 of them) suffered by Sean Bean. Not safe for work, and a bit gruesome to view around kids.
Yeah . . . after all that, it'd be nice if they left him alive for once!
Monday, July 28, 2014
As regular readers will know, I'm a big fan of Mike Oldfield's music. Here are three tracks from his 2008 orchestral performance "Music Of The Spheres". It draws heavily upon his original masterpiece, "Tubular Bells", and its sequels for inspiration, with some of its themes readily recognizable as reworked versions of the originals (hence my irreverent nickname for "Spheres" - "Tubular Balls"!)
I highly recommend taking the time to listen to these if you need to relax and unwind. Here's the opening track, "Harbinger".
From the middle of the work, here's "On My Heart".
And here's the penultimate track, "Empyrean".
The entire album's on YouTube, if you're interested. Also, here's an interview with Mike, interspersed with video of the inaugural live performance in Spain.
Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:
If your enterprise's "community standards" are such that they don't find that page unacceptable, perhaps you need a better set of community standards? Yesterday, if not sooner?
If you'd like to know where all the "children" streaming across our southern border are being sent by the authorities, Numbers USA has a very informative map. Click over there to see whether your state and/or city is among the targeted areas.
Considering the nature of some of those "children", I expect crime statistics in those areas to show a significant upward trend starting right about now . . .
It is to laugh . . . The Austrian Times reports on an incident in Vienna.
Motorist Michael Kienast told local media: "I was behind two guys who had a fender bender because the motorists in front took their eyes off the road to glance up at the view. The young woman was obviously keen on getting some sun in a place where it doesn't usually shine.
"I heard the guy who was rear-ended shout to the motorist who had hit him: 'Didn't you look where you were supposed to be going?'
"The driver who hit him said: 'Sorry, I was distracted,' and pointed up to the window where the woman was lying. The guy who was hit then said: 'Oh, right, I see what you mean'."
Several cars were blocking the road before police arrived but by then she had disappeared inside and closed the windows.
There's more at the link.
I wonder if the insurance companies involved will sue her for causing a distraction?
That's how my friend and teacher Massad Ayoob would doubtless describe the thought (?) processes of the hapless criminals in this case.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Let's start tonight's roundup with two powerful images inspired by or related to the court declaration that Washington D.C.'s absolute ban on carrying firearms outside the home is unconstitutional.
CenTexTim applauds the decision, and offers this informative graphic:
Blue has his own take on the liberal logic behind D.C.'s gun ban:
Quite so . . . I don't think!
# # #
I hadn't previously heard of the Community Link Integrated Transit of Tucson in Arizona. Apparently it's a new streetcar service. The Lonely Libertarian points out that someone clearly forgot to imagine how that name would appear as an abbreviation . . . Unfortunately it turns out to be a hoax story: but full marks to the man who thought of it!
# # #
Michael Stephen Fuchs writes an open letter to Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com concerning that company's policies towards independent authors, and thanks him for all he's done for us. I concur, and gladly associate myself with his letter. (The link he provides to an article in the Guardian is incorrect - here's the correct link.)
# # #
Francis Porretto has two interesting articles this week. In the first he considers the concept of freedom, and notes:
"It often seems as if the original American conception of freedom -- the absence of coercion or constraint from all matters that don't involve aggression or fraud -- has given way to a welfarist conception, in which what the individual is supposed to prize most highly is "freedom from want:" i.e., the absence of significant unsatisfied desires for material things ... the original conception of freedom has been displaced by the Marxist conception of freedom as 'an absence of tension or conflict'."
In the second article he offers some thoughts on the place occupied by sex in the life of a properly bonded couple. I'm not sure I entirely agree with all his perspectives on the matter, but he certainly makes one think. Both articles are recommended reading.
# # #
Mr. B. has some serious concerns about President Obama's current actions.
"At first I thought it was incompetence or naivete that led to the terrible things he did/has done to our country. No more. I am coming to believe that his actions and the actions of his supporters are a series of actions which indicate that there is a plan to harm both the country as a whole and the citizens upon which its strength resides. Now, I wonder if he was, in fact, placed where he is by our adversaries to facilitate damaging our country and economy."
I'm wondering much the same thing right now . . . and it has nothing to do with the President's party affiliations. George W. Bush severely damaged this country with his post-9/11 security legislation, interminable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and overall neglect of the fundamentals of good government. Instead of resolving those issues, the Obama administration has made them exponentially worse. We're going to have our work cut out for us to repair the damage that's been done to this country in the opening years of the new millennium . . .
# # #
Daddybear links to a news report about a Florida auto dealership that appears to regard its customers with contempt, even when they obtain a DMV injunction against it. Based on that report, I can only suggest that my Florida readers take their auto business elsewhere, and advise their friends and relatives to do the same.
# # #
The Bearded Backyarder points out that the so-called 'children' flooding across our southern border aren't always what the mainstream media portray them to be.
# # #
Have you ever heard of "Amish pornography"? I hadn't either, until MSgt. B. decided to introduce us to the concept.
# # #
Charles Hugh Smith has four articles in a series on the US economy and the failure of our politicians to do their job in managing it. All four are highly recommended reading. In sequence, they are:
Our Ponzi Economy
The Rot Within, Part II:
Inflation Is Not "Growth"
The Rot Within, Part III:
Our Political Order Is Defined by Favoritism and Extortion
Are We Addicted to Failure?
The Rot Within, Part II:
Inflation Is Not "Growth"
The Rot Within, Part III:
Our Political Order Is Defined by Favoritism and Extortion
Are We Addicted to Failure?
Corroborating his pessimism, Monty Pelerin points out that economic laws are not optional, and that our government has been ignoring them at its - and our - peril. He concludes:
The smoke and mirrors obfuscating true economic conditions for five years has been deliberate. The economy has not recovered. It has been made more distorted and imbalanced by the futile attempts to pretend that all is well. Government has more smoke and mirrors left. Yet, even the political class now seem to sense that they are playing out the clock without altering the ultimate conclusion. When your time frame is limited to the next election, longer-term consequences of current policies are ignored.
The economic piper will be paid. All that has been accomplished by these actions is a deferral of the correction and the creation of a bigger debt upon which the piper will collect.
. . .
A collapse is coming. It is unavoidable and will be worse than it should have been as a result of political duplicity.
Regretfully, I'm forced to agree with him. It's not going to be pretty.
# # #
Old blogbuddy AEPilotJim has a new moral patch. If you can't translate it, invert it . . .
# # #
Karl Denninger has three excellent articles dealing with internet security (or the lack thereof) and why we should be very, very worried about the news this past week. In the first, he points out that the so-called 'Internet of things' is dangerous, and concludes: "... given the lack of care (and outright insertion of code that has no reasonable proper purpose, such as the recent IOS disclosures) you'd have to be nuts to allow devices like that in your home and office."
In the second article, and in the second half of the third article, he goes into detail about revelations that Apple has deliberately built 'backdoors' into its signature operating systems, and points out that they pose a completely unacceptable risk of penetration of any level of computer security. I couldn't agree more - in fact, if I were a corporation dependent on Internet and communications security, I'd be suing Apple right now for flagrant and deliberate violations of my security systems.
Anyone with any security-consciousness concerning their Internet activities and computer privacy needs to read these articles carefully, taking notes as they do so. It's that serious.
# # #
Contributor ASM286 over at Borepatch's place reminds us of a treasure-trove of back issues of Guns magazine, now available online. As Old NFO pointed out in a comment, it's a real time-sink. Since they span the year in which I was born, I guess that makes me a back issue too . . .
# # #
Dan Gordon, an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces, reminds his readers 'Why We Fight'. It's a powerful and emotional piece. Recommended reading.
# # #
Last but not least, Wirecutter warns us about something we should never say to a pregnant woman.
# # #
That's all for this week. More soon!
I read a couple of days ago that J. T. Edson, a very well-known (outside the USA) author of Westerns, has died. His books were a big part of my younger days, and the news of his death brought back many memories of them.
Most Americans have never heard of J. T. Edson, being more familiar with Westerns by authors such as Louis L'Amour: yet Edson wrote over 130 of his trademark short novels and sold tens of millions of copies of them. He lived in Melton Mowbray in England, occasionally visiting the USA but never living here. He was almost entirely devoid of any personal Western or associated background. He once famously said, "I’ve never even been on a horse. I’ve seen those things, and they look highly dangerous at both ends and bloody uncomfortable in the middle."
Despite this seeming handicap, he immersed himself in Western movies from the 1950's onwards, and surrounded himself with replica firearms, research materials and the like. At his peak he was publishing up to half a dozen novels every year. Whilst they never sold in large quantities in the USA, they were extremely popular in England and several Commonwealth countries, including South Africa where I encountered them. Along with Louis L'Amour's Westerns, Edson's books were common in military camps and similar settings, and I understand they were popular among British servicemen as well. I can remember many nights spent reading two or three of his books, consuming them rapidly, many of them already familiar, then turning to another one to while away the hours spent on radio watch. In due course the copies floating around military camps became so dirty and dog-eared that they probably represented a major health hazard; yet they were still passed around until they fell apart at last. I recall that one of his books, 'Apache Rampage', was a source of great frustration to me because several individual pages were missing from the only available copy when I first read it. It took me several years to locate another, more complete copy and 'fill in the blanks' in my memory of the story.
Edson isn't the only non-American author to be a prolific producer of Westerns. Fellow Englishman Terry Harknett has written well over a hundred under pseudonyms such as George G. Gilman (the 'Edge' and 'Adam Steele' series) and several others. Again, I haven't often come across them in the USA, but they're very widely read overseas. I'm living here now, and I've traveled widely across much of what was once the Old West; so who knows? Perhaps I'll try my hand at a Western series one of these days, just for the heck of it. I must have read many hundreds of them in my time, and I'm not hampered by political correctness, so it might be a fun challenge.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
In our Internet-connected generation, it's amazing to see what can be done by private citizens determined to ferret out the truth. The shooting down of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine is the latest example. Mashable reports:
On Tuesday, U.S. intelligence officials admitted that while it's true that Russia has been arming pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine for months, no proof exists that the Buk SA-11 surface-to-air missile launcher, which Washington says took down the plane, was Russian.
. . .
But a group of citizen journalists led by Eliot Higgins, who is better know by his online alias "Brown Moses," has had plenty of Perry Mason moments in the last few days.
Higgins, with the help of some of his Twitter followers, was able to pinpoint the location of a Buk launcher while it was being transported through Snizhne, a pro-Russian rebel-held town in Ukraine near the Russian border, based on a video circulating on YouTube.
. . .
The next day, Aric Toler, a longtime follower of Higgins, identified the exact location of a photograph of the Buk launcher in Torez, another town in Eastern Ukraine, using only open source information like the name of a store shown in the picture, and other unrelated YouTube videos filmed in the area.
. . .
Toler and Higgins were able to establish that the photograph was shot around 11:40 a.m. local time, using an online tool called Suncalc, which lets you calculate the position of the sun based of the time of day and location. That would prove that the launcher was in the area before the MH17 crash. (Higgins told Mashable that he checked the tool's accuracy by taking pictures of his garden at different times of the day to see if the shadows matched the ones on the site.)
Another crowdsourced analysis that Higgins assembled on Tuesday offers strong proof that a video published by the Ukrainian government shows the Buk launcher being moved from Ukraine to Russia through rebel-held towns. In the video, the launcher seems to be missing a missile.
The Russian government rebuffed the video, claiming it had actually been filmed in the town of Krasnoarmeisk, which under the control of the Ukrainian military. However, thanks to other open source intelligence analysis, it turns out the town is not actually Krasnoarmeisk but the rebel-held Luhansk, just 30 miles from the Russian border.
There's much more at the link. Intriguing and highly recommended reading.
I was intrigued to read an analysis of coffee by Patrick Cox, including an historical overview and some very interesting health information. Here's an excerpt from the first part of the article.
Serious historians have proposed that the introduction of coffee into the Western diet contributed significantly to both the Enlightenment and its offshoot, the American Revolution. The idea is not such a stretch.
Given the lack of modern water purification and plumbing technologies, beer was routinely consumed in Great Britain in the 1700s to prevent water-borne diseases. Though alcohol at the concentrations common in beer may not always kill pathogens, it does keep them from growing in beer that has been boiled during the brewing process.
When coffee came onto the British scene in the 1500s, it provided a popular and alternative way to take water safely. As with tea, pathogens were killed during the brewing process. Coffee, however, is often viewed as the disreputable cousin of tea, which is widely regarded as healthful. Coffee usually has higher caffeine levels and that difference may have quite profound implications.
In those days, coffee was much more expensive and few people had experience brewing the stuff. Coffeehouses sprang up in response, but they didn’t normally sell individual cups. Rather, they charged an entry fee, after which java flowed freely. The result was that hyperactive groups of coffee drinkers began to pop up in place of semi-sedated beer drinkers.
Students and merchants found these establishments pleasant places to study, do business, and talk. Lacking Wi-Fi connections, merchants who tracked current events and their impact on business would announce major news to the entire assemblage. Naturally, a lot of discussions turned to politics and philosophy. Arguments took place and movements were born.
Just as contemporary politicians would like to regulate political speech, especially on the Internet, British royalty took a dim view of the free and often antiauthoritarian ideas associated with coffee and coffeehouses. In 1675, “A proclamation for the suppression of coffee-houses” was issued by King Charles II.
. . .
Many efforts all over the world have been made to stamp out the demon bean. Though such efforts have failed, coffee is part of our lives and our culture.
Edward Lloyd opened his coffeehouse “The Angel” in 1650. The Oxford hangout of merchants and shippers eventually morphed into Lloyd’s of London, the best-known insurance company in the world. In Scotland, the tenets of the Enlightenment were worked out in coffeehouses where works by Adam Smith and Spinoza were passed around.
Daniel Webster called the Boston coffeehouse, Green Dragon Tavern, “headquarters of the Revolution.” Open from 1697 to 1832, it played a role in the birth of America and was frequented by the likes of John Adams, James Otis, and Paul Revere who met there to conspire. The New York Stock Exchange and the Bank of New York were first coffeehouses.
There's more at the link, including an analysis of the health benefits of coffee, which the author describes as "the primary source of antioxidants in the American diet and ... the single-most important food item available in most grocery stores". He provides some impressive medical opinions to back up his claims, including an opinion that coffee helps prevent or mitigate Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.
It's a bit late for a cup of coffee now, but tomorrow morning . . .
A few weeks ago I put up a video comparison between a 'brand-name' chainsaw and a Chinese knock-off that found the latter to be a pretty useful tool. Unfortunately, it looks like not all Chinese chainsaws can make the same claim. The Telegraph reports:
Nearly 1,000 chainsaws imported from China with a host of faults have been seized at one of Britain's main borders.
. . .
They were found to have three crucial faults, including a failure of the chain brake test, which measures the force needed to move the handle.
Trading standards officers also said that when the engine was running the brake failed to work, regardless of how hard it was activated.
Tests showed that although the engine kill switch worked, it took longer than anticipated. Normally, it should stop immediately, but tests found it took about five seconds.
There's more at the link.
I did a bit more research. The offending chainsaws are sold under the brands Powerhaus and Kraftwelle (the latter even offers a German web site to suggest that they're made there): but despite their use of German-sounding names, all are made in China. In 2010 the European Union issued a safety warning and product recall about them. Looks like nothing's improved since then . . .
I guess it all boils down to "buyer beware": do your due diligence and check carefully on any product before you buy it. I won't be buying one of these!
Would the ethnic violence in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics still be a problem if the Soviet Union had not collapsed? British historian Tim Stanley suggests not.
I have to agree with his analysis. If you look at the deliberate Soviet oppression of nationalist and religious sentiment in republics like Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Ukraine and many others in its portfolio of ethnic groups, what we're seeing today is just more of the same.
Friday, July 25, 2014
I'm kinda exhausted tonight. Working too hard, not sleeping very well, looking for another house to rent before our current housemate gets married, sorting out bureaucracy problems in two states . . . it's been a long week.
I'll try to put up some more blog posts in the morning. Until then, sleep well, y'all.
I was fascinated to read how, while cleaning a Dutch painting, an art student at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in England discovered that it had been altered in the past, obscuring its central feature - a stranded whale - without which the painting made very little sense.
Here's a video report on how the discovery was made. I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.
I suppose, after the passage of so much time, we'll never learn for sure who covered up the whale, or why . . .
Thursday, July 24, 2014
As most readers will know, I was born and raised in South Africa, and served in that country's armed forces as a young man. While researching some of the transport aircraft of the former Soviet Union, I was reminded of an incident in 1975 or 1976 (I forget precisely which year) that almost caused a couple of US representatives to have kittens on the spot.
The Soviet Union built the giant Antonov An-22 transport (shown below - still the largest turboprop-driven aircraft ever constructed) for its strategic airlift forces (as opposed to tactical airlift, which used smaller aircraft such as the Antonov An-12 and An-26). The An-22's normal payload was up to 60 tons, but it routinely carried up to a third more than that on shorter flights, and actually lifted a full 100 tons to an altitude of over 25,000 feet during one record attempt. It was a remarkable achievement for 1960's aviation technology. A few of these giants remain in Russian service to this day (although most have been replaced by the even bigger Antonov An-124 jet transport).
Being a long-range heavy-lift strategic transport, the An-22 was used by the Soviet Union to ferry armaments and other urgently-needed military supplies to Angola during the civil war that led to the Communist takeover of that nation in 1975 and 1976. Several of these aircraft flew shuttle missions between the Soviet Union and Angola, and others flew between Cuba and Angola, bringing in Cuban surrogate forces and their arms and equipment. For some weeks there were three to six An-22 flights coming into Luanda, capital of Angola, every night, offloading their cargoes for onward shipment by ground transportation then returning to collect more freight. Their cavernous cargo compartment (shown below) could hold more than any other airlifter of the period except the Lockheed C-5A.
South Africa got involved in the Angolan conflict in an attempt to prevent a Communist takeover there, initially with the encouragement and covert support of the US Ford administration. Unfortunately the Clark Amendment terminated such support, leading to South Africa being forced to withdraw from Angola (and precipitating the ongoing conflict in that country that was only resolved in 1989). South African forces ranged from the border with what is today Namibia all the way up to just outside Luanda (a distance of about eight hundred miles), operating with relative impunity at first, but later facing growing Cuban-led opposition.
A South African reconnaissance unit duly arrived within sight of the airport at Luanda, took a look at the increasingly hectic pace of resupply flights involving the giant An-22's, and radioed a proposal to its base in Namibia. It was in possession of a number of captured shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles, and was close enough to the runway to be sure of being able to hit the big planes as they came in to land. The South Africans proposed to shoot down all the incoming flights the following evening, which under normal circumstances would involve three to six An-22's. They requested permission to proceed.
Their bosses duly put the question to a couple of US representatives who were providing 'advice' as to what was, or was not, politically acceptable from the point of view of the US administration. The representatives promptly had kittens. An account from someone who was present at the discussion claimed that they begged and pleaded for the South Africans to abandon any and all plans for such an attack. They believed that the loss of so many of their limited supply of strategic airlifters (which were used to, among other things, ferry intercontinental ballistic missiles around the Soviet Union) would enrage the Soviets, and lead them to attempt something big in the way of retaliation. This, in turn, might involve the USA willy-nilly in the escalation of the conflict in Angola into something no-one wanted in the wake of the all-too-recent loss of South Vietnam to the Communists.
Reluctantly, it's said, the South African leadership conceded, and radioed their forces outside Luanda not to proceed with the attack. The latter were reportedly livid at having to forgo such a splendid opportunity, and protested vigorously, but were forced to knuckle under. The US representatives breathed a sigh (probably several sighs) of relief.
Here's a video clip of the An-22 at a Russian air show in 2008. For all its immense size and weight, it's still a pretty handy performer in the hands of a good crew. I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.
I wonder if that's one of the planes that was almost shot down in Angola, all those years ago?
I know a number of you have been asking (some less patiently than others!) for me to make my books available from vendors other than Amazon.com, and in formats other than the latter's Kindle files. Well, the day has come! If you look in the sidebar, under four of my five books you'll now see buttons that'll take you to either Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, the Apple iBooks store, or Kobo, where you can buy them in the format of your choice. My latest book, 'War To The Knife', is at present only available on Amazon.com, because it was launched in their KDP Select service. When it comes out of that service after 90 days, I'll see about setting it up from the other vendors as well. So, if you have a Nook or iPad or Kobo reader and want my books in your native file format, you can now buy them.
This is an experiment. With Amazon's launch last week of its new Kindle Unlimited subscription library service, it may become financially imperative to return to an Amazon-only sales strategy (which, of course, is one of the reasons Amazon's launched KU in the first place - to lock in unique content that you can only access there). I'd prefer not to do that, but it's a question of dollars and cents. If I sell only a few copies each month at other vendor sites, while losing out heavily on the income from Kindle Unlimited (which is only available to authors if your books are exclusive to Amazon), I may have to drop Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo as vendors. I guess we'll see how sales go on their sites, and take it from there.
If you have any problems ordering from those sites, please send me an e-mail (the address is in my blog profile) or leave a comment to this post, and I'll try to fix them as quickly as possible. Thanks!
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Go read all about how the US government determines whether someone should be listed as a suspected terrorist, denied the right to fly on airlines, and so on. It's Orwellian! Nowhere will you find any mention of civil rights, due process, or judicial overview.
Big Brother . . . he's worse than Orwell ever imagined.
I wrote in May about the development of the Alpha cluster bomblet in Rhodesia during that country's brief and violent existence. The person most responsible for its development was Peter Petter-Bowyer, who rose to the rank of Group Captain (equivalent to Colonel) before Rhodesia lost its war and became Zimbabwe. I wasn't aware when I wrote those words that he had died a couple of months before. It seems he had an allergic reaction to treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
I had the privilege of meeting Group Captain Petter-Bowyer on more than one occasion in South Africa during the 1980's. He was a most interesting man, with all sorts of stories to tell and many accomplishments to his name. Apart from being an operational fighter and helicopter pilot with vast experience, he also helped to design a range of deceptively simple, low-cost yet amazingly effective air-dropped weapons that were well suited to manufacture in a low-technology economy such as Rhodesia's, and perfectly adapted to counter-insurgency warfare. They included:
- The aforementioned Alpha bomb, later further developed by South Africa into the CB470 cluster bomb;
- The Golf bomb, which resembled nothing so much as a gas cylinder with a long probe on the nose (to ensure an air burst rather than allowing the bomb to bury itself in the ground) and tail fins at the rear. It had a double casing, the space between them being filled with thousands of short pieces of scrap rebar, making it a horrendously effective shrapnel device. Filled with ANFO, they proved devastating in combat. The large version equipped Hunter fighter-bombers. A smaller version was developed to equip light aircraft such as the Reims 337 (a French-manufactured version of the Cessna Skymaster, used by the US armed forces as the O-2A). Here's a picture of a Reims 337, known as the Lynx in Rhodesian service. The small-model Golf bomb is beneath its starboard wing, with its long nose probe clearly visible. (Note, too, the .30-caliber machine-guns installed in pods above the wings. Click the image for a larger view.)
- The Frantan, a small but highly lethal napalm bomb. "It was made from woven glass fibre set in a phenolic resin binder & was aerodynamically shaped, incorporating tail fins for stability. It contained, when filled, 16gall of napgel & had a large pocket of flash powder to ignite all the napgel. Improved initiation was achieved by using two slightly modified Alpha bomb fuses. The improved accuracy of delivery, the complete shattering of the case on impact, the total ignition of the napgel & the improved & predictable ground spread made this frantan ideal. This improvement was such that it was even used by Hunter aircraft in preference to the imported 50gall frantan, which gave inferior performance." (A Frantan is mounted on the outboard pylon beneath the port wing of the Lynx aircraft pictured above.)
- Several other innovative air weaponry solutions.
Group Captain Petter-Bowyer's autobiography, 'Winds Of Destruction', is an excellent memoir of his military service and a fine history of the Rhodesian Air Force. For all that it was small and ill-equipped, this air arm performed a vital function during Rhodesia's gallant and ill-fated war, and established a stellar reputation among fighting airmen everywhere. I highly recommend his book as essential reading for all military aviation enthusiasts - and it's available in an inexpensive Kindle edition, which makes it even more accessible. You can also read an extended interview with him here.
I feel a very personal sense of loss at the news of Peter Petter-Bowyer's death. He was a remarkable man. I'm honored to have known him.
PJ Media recently put up an article titled 'The 10 Dumbest Fireworks Fails'. They were dumb, all right! Here's one to whet your appetite.
There are nine more video clips at the link. Entertaining . . . but dumb!
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Here's a time-lapse video shot from the cockpit of a Boeing 747 airliner on a flight from Tokyo to San Francisco, speeded up to portray the entire flight in just 83 seconds. The sunrise starting at 0m. 43sec. is spectacular! I recommend watching in full-screen mode.
There's a lot of controversy among authors (particularly independent authors such as myself) about the likely impact of Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited program. Briefly, for those who haven't yet heard about it, it's a subscription library for e-books. You pay $9.95 per month, and can 'borrow' up to 10 books at a time. As soon as you finish one and 'return' it, you can download another.
Authors have to enroll in the KDP Select program, publishing their books exclusively through Amazon.com, in order to participate in Kindle Unlimited. They'll receive a fee per book borrowed (provided that the borrower reads more than 10% of it), and the loan will count towards their sales rank in Amazon.com's Kindle Store. In the past, with the much more limited Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) program for Prime members (which will continue), authors received a fee every time their book was borrowed, whether or not it was read. That fee averaged about $2 per loan, but I expect the much greater volumes of borrowing likely to be generated by Kindle Unlimited will make it impossible for Amazon to continue that level of support. I expect the amount paid to authors per loan to drop by at least 50% in the short term, perhaps by as much as two-thirds to three-quarters. If this reduction is compensated for by increased borrowing, that might not be too bad; but I suspect it'll end up costing authors money.
There's a lot of controversy in the author community right now over Kindle Unlimited. Some fear it'll mean a default subscription model for independent authors, forcing them into membership in order to attract sufficient readers to earn a living - even though their income per book will (they suspect) be drastically reduced. Others see it as an opportunity, promising an additional income stream that should more than compensate for any reduction in sales. I suspect those who are already doing well will fall into the second camp, while those who aren't selling many books will probably gravitate towards the first.
However, I think that such controversies are missing the point. Remember the fabled buggy whip industry? It's long been taught in business schools that many companies making accessories for the horse-drawn transport market went out of business when the automobile came along because they misunderstood their market. They thought they were in (say) the buggy or wagon business, when in fact they were in the transport business. When a new mode of transport replaced an older one, their 'blinkered' approach prevented them from adapting in time to the changing market, and they went out of business.
In the same way, I think that authors must realize that we're not in the book business; we're in the entertainment business. Our potential customers can choose to spend their money on a movie (at a theater, or downloaded from a service like Netflix, or on a DVD); they can buy or rent a video game; they can invest in virtual reality hardware and software to immerse themselves in new and up-and-coming forms of entertainment; they can watch (or attend) a music concert or band performance; or they can read a book. We're competing for the reader's 'entertainment dollar' with all of those other resources.
I think Amazon may be on to something with Kindle Unlimited. They view the book market from a very lofty vantage-point indeed. They can see where entertainment customers are spending their dollars. They know that in order to keep books and reading relevant to modern consumers, they have to be offered in more easily accessible forms - and 'accessible' includes price, when comparing books to other forms of entertainment. Amazon's putting pressure on mainstream publishers to lower the prices of their e-books, and rightly so, I think; but it's also looking at the overall market and trying to figure out how it can get more books into the hands of more readers, to the benefit of the book segment of the entertainment market overall. It's taking the broad view. Many of my fellow independent authors are instead taking the narrow view that "if it's not good for me, it's not good, period". I think there are many avid readers who'll look at the economics of Kindle Unlimited and disagree profoundly that it's "not good". For them as readers, it's very good economics indeed.
That means that we, as independent authors, have to adjust our business model. We probably can't expect to make as much per book - so what can we do to maximize our income in this new age of entertainment? Can we introduce different formats of our work - audio books, for example? Can we use collections, both our own and collaborating with other authors, to put out our work under more covers and make it more accessible to readers? Can we develop skills in new areas (e.g. moving from novels to novellas to short stories and back again, varying our output so as to appeal to as many potential readers as possible)? Are we going to be guilty of the "buggy whip industry" syndrome, or will we adapt to the new technologies that are changing the world around us?
We have to be realistic. As an old African proverb reminds us: "It's no good farting against thunder." We've got to ride the winds of the storm, and make sure we come out ahead - no matter where it takes us. Kindle Unlimited is just the latest manifestation of the storm that's sweeping the entertainment industry throughout the world. I'm sure our children will be entertained in ways we can only dream of, and that I won't live to see - but I'm sure there'll still be authors, and they'll still be making a living one way or another.
I learned a lesson this morning, one that's going to take a while (certainly days, perhaps weeks) to sort out.
When I sat down at the computer this morning, our Internet service was out. A message appeared on screen asking the account holder (our housemate) to contact the service provider about unspecified issues. (It turned out that a re-issued credit card with a change of expiration date had screwed up the billing and payment cycle, and we'd been caught in the backwash.) It's going to take a day or two to sort that out.
While waiting (because Internet access is essential for my writing and blogging) I picked up a T-Mobile 4G mobile hotspot from our local Wal-Mart. It comes with a traffic allowance of 5GB of 4G data, valid for three months from date of installation, which made it by far the most cost-effective option. Setup was quick and easy, and the only problem I had was rapidly resolved with a telephone call to T-Mobile's unexpectedly helpful and friendly support desk. (What a contrast with AT&T and Verizon, who appear to staff their help desks with gormless goblins that can only be reached after interminable delays and infuriatingly unhelpful menu systems!) I was soon back on the Internet and humming right along . . . until I tried to read my e-mail.
Google's Gmail apparently has a persecution complex. It wouldn't allow me to access a single one of my multiple accounts (used to segregate different types of e-mail), because the IP address and ISP from which I was trying to reach them were new and unfamiliar. Very fortunately the e-mail account I use to sign into Blogger, and the one I use for most business activities, had been set up to use two-step verification; so after requesting that an authentication code be sent to my cellphone, I soon had them both up and running. I hadn't done that for the others, so I find myself barred from access to them at present - including the one I use for readers wishing to contact me from this blog. I've no idea how to go about resetting them. Google's asking all sorts of 'security questions' that I have no idea how to answer. It's ridiculous to ask me what year and month I opened an account when it was over a decade ago and I have no particular memory of it! I didn't ask for all those additional layers of security, and I'm annoyed that Google implemented them without so much as a 'by your leave'.
I now find myself stuck in administrative limbo until such time as I can figure out who to contact at Google to 'unfreeze' those e-mail accounts. (If anyone can offer suggestions as to the best and quickest way to do this, I'd love to hear from you in Comments; but please don't e-mail me, because I probably won't receive it!) When the dust has settled and everything's back online, I'll implement two-step verification on all my accounts; but I shouldn't have to do so. I resent Google making assumptions about my accounts when it has no idea what's going on. Why should I have to go through such additional, intrusive steps when I didn't ask for that level of security? If I hadn't implemented two-step verification on two key accounts, I'd be in serious difficulties right now.
Oh, well . . . at least I'm back online. That helps!
Here are seven kittens from the Triskel Maine Coon cattery in Quebec. They were lined up for a group picture when one of the staff decided to wave a toy over and around them. The resulting synchronized kitty-gymnastics made me smile.
Olympic class synchronized hunting, right there!
Monday, July 21, 2014
I had to laugh at an article titled 'How Chinese Ingenuity Destroyed Salad Bars at Pizza Hut'.
In China, Pizza Huts are either take-out only or somewhat upscale sit-down restaurants that even serve steak. A while back, it became a fad of sorts to build enormous fruit and vegetable structures at Pizza Hut salad bars. The reason was that customers only got one plate and one trip to the salad bar, so they wanted their visit to be worth it. And was it ever.
The result was truly amazing and wonderfully creative plates of food.
There's more at the link, including many photographs. Here's just one to whet your appetite.
There's even a YouTube video showing how it's done.
Yeah, I can see why they stopped offering the salad bar!
Ars Technica warns that functions in Apple's iOS permit unrestricted access to your confidential data.
Apple has endowed iPhones with undocumented functions that allow unauthorized people in privileged positions to wirelessly connect and harvest pictures, text messages, and other sensitive data without entering a password or PIN, a forensic scientist warned over the weekend.
Jonathan Zdziarski, an iOS jailbreaker and forensic expert, told attendees of the Hope X conference that he can't be sure Apple engineers enabled the mechanisms with the intention of accommodating surveillance by the National Security Agency and law enforcement groups. Still, he said some of the services serve little or no purpose other than to make huge amounts of data available to anyone who has access to a computer, alarm clock, or other device that has ever been paired with a targeted device.
There's more at the link.
One wonders why on earth such 'backdoors' were left open in the first place. Could it have been to accommodate three-letter government agencies such as the NSA? Surely not?
If you believe that, there's a bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I'd like to sell you. Cash only, please, and in small bills . . .
There's been intense interest in the discovery of a new Israeli implementation of its Spike NLOS (Non Line Of Sight) long-range battlefield missile system during its current operations in and around Gaza. Israel appears to have taken a number of its older-generation Magach tanks (themselves upgrades of US M48 and M60 tanks, no longer in front-line service with the IDF) and given them new turrets containing large quantities of these precision missiles. The cannon appears to have been replaced by a dummy unit, judging by the way it droops in some of the photographs doing the rounds. (It would probably have been easier to remove it entirely, but I suppose it helps mislead the enemy as to the nature of the tanks seen running around the battlefield, concealing the precision fire support role of the new units.)
Here are several images of the new Magach version gleaned from the Internet over the past few days. They've appeared in so many different publications and on so many different sites that I've no idea who to credit for them. I apologize for any inadvertent breach of copyright, and will put up a credit to the originator if that can be proved.
Note the raised blocky antenna structure in the third picture above. That appears to be a key element of the missile guidance system. In the picture below (of an Israeli M113-based system) you can see the three-missile launch unit ahead of its guidance unit. Note the similarity to the curved metal plate antenna shown above.
Note also the number of missile containers revealed in the last of the four Magach pictures above. It suggests the new missile carriers are armed with at least a dozen Spike NLOS missiles, perhaps more, all protected by the tank's heavy armor. That's a pretty impressive payload when you consider what this missile can do.
The NLOS is the longest-ranged version of the Spike missile family. It's widely claimed to have a range in excess of 25 kilometers (16 miles). Here's a picture of four Spike NLOS missiles in service with South Korea. They're on the back of a truck during a parade. Note the large cruciform wing structure.
Those wings enable the NLOS to fly more slowly than the shorter-ranged, smaller models of the Spike family, so that it can be guided very precisely using either its own sensor, or those on board battlefield drone aircraft or deployed by ground observers. It can be autonomous, guiding itself, or controlled by an operator. Here's an Israeli video showing one being deployed at long range in southern Lebanon against a Hezbollah stronghold. Note how it homes in on a specific window in the target building from 20 km (12½ miles) away. That's outstanding precision by anyone's standards.
To my mind the interesting thing isn't the missile (which has been around for a long time, and is now in its second or third generation); nor is it the modified tank that's carrying it. I'm interested in seeing how this development affects battlefield doctrine and tactics. For years infantry and armor have relied on artillery support. Some has been local (mortars, light rockets and small missiles carried by platoons and companies; forward-deployed light artillery; self-propelled artillery and heavy mortars accompanying tanks, or following close behind them). More has been distant (emplaced artillery firing on enemy positions reported to it by front-line troops or artillery observers accompanying them). Still more has been in the form of aircraft dropping bombs or firing missiles or cannon.
If sufficient quantities of a high-accuracy precision weapon like Spike NLOS can be carried by the front-line troops themselves, in vehicles that are as resistant to enemy fire as the main battle tanks that will bear the brunt of the fighting, this means that a great deal of the support artillery 'tail' can be left out of the equation. Front-line commanders now have under their control their own organic artillery support. Collateral damage will be minimized, because each missile can be very precisely guided (as shown in the video above). This will also reduce to a minimum the wastage of ammunition normally encountered with conventional artillery, where dozens or scores of rounds must be fired to neutralize a single target. Spike NLOS effectively makes this "one missile, one target", thereby greatly reducing the quantity of (very heavy and bulky) ammunition resupply needed in the battle zone. In fact, since they're well protected by their own armor and accompanying infantry support, missile tanks may even be able to go back to pick up more weapons under their own power, then return to the front lines, thus reducing the need for hazardous resupply by truck or helicopter.
It goes even further. Spike NLOS and similar missiles can be (and have been) mounted on patrol boats to secure the coastline. What if an army unit is operating near the coast, and has in its possession the consoles and control software needed to take over control of missiles fired from vessels just offshore, directing them onto targets only the army can see? Gaza is just such a fight, with the Mediterranean Sea only a few miles from the fighting. This might be a huge force multiplier for the IDF. In theory a fleet of patrol craft can carry dozens, scores, even hundreds of such missiles, launching them on demand. The army's own missiles can be held in reserve, or deployed to more distant areas where naval-launched missiles can't reach.
This may be a technological game-changer as far as company- and battalion-strength operations are concerned, eliminating much of the conventional supporting artillery 'tail' and empowering such formations to proceed independently at much greater speed than before - not to mention inflicting much greater surgical-strike precision damage on the enemy. I'll be watching with great interest to see how this evolves under operational conditions.