More Junkmail from Bob!

Sunday, January 25, 2004
Important Stuff.

A-GPS and Cell Phones

I got a new cell phone this week. It is "Global Positioning System (GPS) capable for location based emergency services." I had seen that mentioned before, but I didn't know what exactly it involved.

The cell phone GPS has a GPS receiver that receives GPS data and transmits it to the cell phone network while the phone is turned on. The location processing is not done in the cell phone (at least on most of them. A few have full GPS built-in). This is why you can't see your current location on the cell phone. It's called A-GPS, for Assisted GPS.

The raw data received from the GPS satellites is sent to the cell phone network. There, the phone company uses your general location, based one which cell tower you're transmitting to, and the time, and calculates your position more efficiently (i.e., with less satellite data) than can be done in a stand-alone GPS receiver.

When you are out roaming around and encounter a flying saucer full of aliens, you can call 911 and the emergency people will, theoretically, know your precise location for your rescue. I say theoretically because it's not 100% reliable.

1. Your cell phone may be shielded from the GPS satellites by something like mountains or the roof of a submarine.
2. You may be transmitting to an analog network or a non-GPS compatible system.
3. The 911 people you call may not yet have the ability to get the GPS location.

Overall I think it's a pretty good deal. If I get run over by a freight train, there's a good chance the 911 people will figure out where to pick up my body.

Some people don't like the erosion of privacy of this system. The U.S. government requires new cell phones support the e-911 system. (At least, that's what people at Verizon told me.) That doesn't specifically require GPS, but it requires the cell phone companies to be able to locate their users to within a few meters.

The other thing that bothers some people is the fact that federal wiretapping laws do not apply to tapping into cell phone locations. If the government wanted to, they could go back and track my cell phone's movements for the past x months, proving that it was somewhere I was not supposed to be. They would not need a court order, search warrant, or permission from my mother. That may change, eventually.

My phone has an option not to share the location information except during an emergency call. After an emergency call, the phone goes into "emergency mode" for 5 minutes, which forces it to stay on and transmit location information for 5 minutes. Some people claim that a cell phone can be remotely turned on by the phone company and directed to transmit its location, regardless of the settings. I doubt if this is the true. I'd guess it might be possible for the phone company to place a phone that's already turned on in emergency mode, allowing them find the location of any phone on the system.

I'm leaving my phone in the "share location with anybody who asks" mode. I think I'm a lot more likely to hurt myself and need help than to rob a bank and become a fugitive. If I decide to do something really illegal, such as roll through a stop sign, I can always pull the battery out of the phone. Better yet, I could throw my phone into the back of someone else's pickup.

Here's some homework on e-911:

The GPS location can be pretty useful. Bell Labs is working on software so you can let your friends know your location via your cell phone, and parents will be able to track their kids via cell phone in the U.K. and Australia.,1382,61965,00.html,5478,8360772%255E11869,00.html


In addition to cell phones, you can get GPS receivers in cars, watches, radios, and probably toasters. A fancy handheld GPS with a built-in barometer, compass, and computer interface costs about $250. The plain vanilla model is about $90.

GPS receivers find your location by collecting data from satellites in 12-hour orbits, about 12,500 miles high. There are 24 of these satellites, 4 satellites in each of 6 orbital planes. In addition, the are 5 spares flying around somewhere.

Each satellite transmits its current location, along with a timestamp. A receiver that receives this information from 3 or more satellites can calculate its position based on the differences in the times of the different GPS satellites. In practice, there's quite a bit more that goes into it, but this is the basic functionality.

If this US Airways plane had a GPS, they might not have landed at the wrong airport:

Today's GPS satellites are called GPS Block 2.

Tomorrow's GPS satellites will be called GPS Block 3. They will have higher power, 2 military high-power spot beams, and they'll be more resistant to jamming. In addition, there will be some new "safety-of-life" channels with more power for better coverage. I assume this will be for cars and cell phones.

Who would jam a GPS signal? Maybe the U.S. Government? Since modern weapons use GPS for navigation and aiming, it would make sense for the U.S. to confuse or misdirect the GPS signals guiding enemy missiles, artillery, and other flying explosives. I flew across New Mexico this week, and read this "Notice to Airmen." It says the GPS signal is not reliable in the neighborhood of Truth or Consequences, NM from 4:00 p.m. to midnight on January 21. There's one for January 23 and 26, too.

APPROACH OPERATIONS. WEF 0401212300-0401220700

The contract for building the Block 3 GPS satellites will be awarded this year, provided the government doesn't go broke first. They will be launched about 2009.

Here's a picture of the latest GPS satellite being launched from Cape Canaveral last month:

      (hi-res image, 2400x3000)

The new GPS satellite is replacing one that's gotten a little weak.

The rocket is a Delta 2. You can see the solid rocket boosters around the outside of the bottom of the rocket. It takes a lot of thrust to get the 2-ton GPS (a.k.a. Navstar) satellite 12,500 miles up in the sky. Each of the nine boosters carries 25,942 lb. of propellant, which is about 68% ammonium perchlorate, 17% aluminum powder, and 15% special sauce. Six of the boosters ignite on the ground and three ignite in the air.

Thiokol has been building rocket motors since 1947. They also make the ones for the Space Shuttle.

In 1982, Morton Salt took over Thiokol. In 1989, Morton Salt divested Thiokol. Now Thiokol Propulsion is a division of Alliant Techsystems. Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, makes lots of things that burn and explode, including Federal shotgun shells.

Airborne Launch Pad

Last August, the Canadian Space Agency and NASA, with some other countries, launched a satellite to study atmospheric ozone. Scisat-1 was launched into a 400-mile high polar orbit, circling the earth about 15 times a day.

Scisat's launch pad was 40,000 feet high. A modified Lockheed L-1011 airliner carried a Pegasus 3-stage rocket up to about 40,000 feet over the Pacific. The Pegasus was released and glided for about 5 seconds, then the rocket motor ignited to carry the satellite into orbit.

Here is the Pegasus and the Stargazer L-1011.

      BigL1011ground      LP_takingoff

Here's a satellite being attached to the Pegasus launch vehicle.


The Pegasus was launched for the first time in 1990. It carries small satellites, up to 1000 lbs., into low orbits. It has flown 35 times and launched more than 70 satellites.

The Pegasus is good for launching other things too. The X-43A is an unmanned experimental hyperspace plane. Three of them were built. A modified Pegasus launches the X-43A

On the first test flight, June 2001, X-43A number 1 was destroyed with the Pegasus when they went out of control moments after being dropped from the B-52. They destroyed it because it "deviated from its flight path." I claim they destroyed it because its flight path deviated from its intended flight path. They used to call this going out of control.

To fix the problem, they improved the control system in the booster, and now they're launching from 40,000 feet instead of 20,000 feet. This will result in 3,500 lbs. less solid rocket propellant and less stress on Pegasus fins, which might have been part of the problem.

The X-43A is 12 feet long, has a 5-foot wingspan, and weighs 2,800 lbs. It burns hydrogen in a scramjet engine. The Pegasus booster carries it to 95,000 feet at Mach 7, where the X-43 engine takes over.  After the flight, the X-43A will land in the Pacific and sink. Really!

A B52 is supposed to fly with X-43A number 2 attached underneath in the next few days. If all goes well, the X-43A will make its flight on February 21. It's supposed to fly at Mach 7, and the third X-43A will hopefully make Mach 10.

Bush Nukes English

George Bush gave his State of the Union speech this week. He pronounced "nuclear" wrong about a half dozen times. He said that he is good for the country and steroids are bad. That's about all I got out of it.

Luckily, was paying more attention. Here are the high points:

Polls show that most Americans were still laughing at the Dean Scream from the night before and could not concentrate on Bush's speech. The Republican National Committee was incensed at Dean's devious tactics.


Bush said that Iraq had "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities." Related program activities? That's a little vague. In last year's State of the Union speech Bush said Saddam Hussein had enough anthrax to "kill several million people," enough botulinum toxin to "subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure" and enough chemical agents to "kill untold thousands." He hasn't mentioned why nobody can find all this.

The Secretary of State now says Iraq may not have had weapons of mass destruction before the war. This was shortly after the U.S. head weapons-of-mass-destruction-hunter resigned and said he didn't believe the stockpiles of chemical, bio, or nuclear weapons existed.

Bush said, "Oops."

The Vice President said, "they gotta be there somewhere..."

NASA and Hubble

Bush announced the other day great new plans for NASA, included a permanently manned (and womaned, presumably) research station on the moon, and a manned mission to Mars. Sound familiar? His dad announced almost the same thing about 15 years ago, but Congress decided it cost too much.

As a result, it looks like NASA may cancel some research projects and concentrate on the manned missions. Some people are worried that after this happens, Congress will poo-poo the Bush space initiative and NASA will end up with a lot of cancelled and scaled-down projects, and not much else. There was even more worry about this when Bush didn't mention the new space initiative in the State of the Union.,1282,61937,00.html

Bush made his announcement on January 14. On January 16, NASA boss Sean cancelled the shuttle mission to refurbish and repair the Hubble Space Telescope. As a result, Hubble will probably fail in the next few years because it's just about out of gyros. Sean said the cancellation of the Hubble mission had nothing to do with Bush's announcement.

NASA already has $200,000,000 worth of instruments waiting to be installed on Hubble. But what's $200 million out of a $500 billion annual budget deficit?


Here's a picture of Saturn taken from Hubble, I think in 2000:

      (hi-hes image, 3000x1500)

There's a new space telescope that's supposed to be launched in 2011, but I don't think it will have any visible light capability, only near-infrared. I'm not sure how detrimental the lack of visible light capability will be without Hubble.


In 1974, Mariner 10 flew by Mercury three times, and sent back thousands of photos. This is remarkable because the internet was not yet available for ftp transmission from Mercury.

Near the right edge of this photo of Mercury you can see a shadow. I think it must be a cell phone tower.

      (hi-res image, 4872x2592)

30 years later, and barring any political intervention, the Messenger spacecraft will launch this May on a Delta II rocket. It will fly by Venus three times, Mercury twice, and then will settle into an elliptical orbit around Mercury.

Terrorists are Everywhere!

Since September 11, 2001, the Air Force has scrambled fighters or diverted air patrols in the U.S. more than 1600 times in response to potential terrorist threats. So far they haven't shot down anybody. That is actually pretty impressive. I would have expected at least one accident or near miss in that many intercepts of civilian planes.

This week I got close to White Sands Missile Range and was greeted by an F-117. I doubt if it was there for me, but it was a couple miles away and a thousand feet below me when I went by. That's the first time I've ever seen an F-117 out flying around. I wouldn't have known what it was if the air traffic controller hadn't mentioned it when he warned me of the traffic. I was happy to see that the stealth fighter had his transponder on.

Federal Budget Deficit

Lots of people are warning the government about a $500,000,000,000 budget deficit. That's not a debt. That is the U.S. government spending well over a billion dollars a day more than it's receiving in taxes. This cannot continue indefinitely, no matter how good the President says the economy is.

The 2004 U.S. budget deficit is supposed to be 5.1% of the gross domestic product, or GDP. The GDP is the total amount of money made by everybody in the country (plus or minus a whole mess of details).

Bush says he'll reduce the deficit by 50% in 5 years. Of course, he won't be in office in five years, and 50% is nowhere near a balanced budget. Some people are not impressed.

In the European Union or the Euro Zone, I'm not sure which, there is a self-imposed limit of 3% deficit and 60% national debt based on the GDP. France is in trouble for having a 2004 deficit of 3.7%, and Germany is considered way out of line at 3.9%.

The U.S. economy flunks on both measures, with a budget deficit of 2004 expected to be 5.1%, and the national debt around 70%. Here are some numbers from various countries. These are 2002, 2003, and 2004 numbers, depending on which I found first on the internet. I didn't intentionally use different years to slant the data. I also typed these in by hand, so there is liable to be at a mistake or two.

The budget deficit is how much more is spent per year by a government than is taken in. The national debt is the amount of money owed by a government.

Budget Deficit, percent of GDP
6.8% Japan
5.1% U.S.
3.6% Germany
3.1% France
2.9% United Kingdom
2.7% Portugal
2.6% Euro Zone
2.3% Italy
2.0% Denmark
1.3% Sweden
0.6% Austria
0.1% Belgium
0.1% Spain
-0.3% Australia
-1.1% Netherlands
< 0 Canada (not sure how much)

National Debt, percent of GDP
129% Japan (2003)
107% Italy (2002)
105% Belgium (2002)
70% U.S. (2004)
69% Austria (2002)
61% Germany (2002)
59% France (2002)
58% Portugal (2002)
55% Spain (2002)
53% Sweden (2002)
53% Netherlands (2002)
47% Australia (2002)
45% Denmark (2002)
44% Canada (2003)
38% United Kingdom (2002)

Here's a chart of the national debt, not including the current 7 trillion number:


This one is adjusted for inflation:


The U.S. National Debt has more than doubled in the past 15 years. One really puzzling thing is that the national debt has gone up every year for the past bunch of years, even through the years between the Bushes when we had budget surpluses.

Surely those people in Washington weren't lying to us about that, were they? How can you have a budget surplus and still increase the national debt? I guess it goes back to that indeterminate conflict between the political truth and the mathematical truth.

I was planning to vote for the presidential candidate who will balance the budget in 2 years or less, but I haven't found one yet.

Passenger Pigeons

Jet Blue caught a lot of flack a few months ago when they 'fessed up to giving their passenger data to the government for security screening.

Northwest airlines took the high road. Northwest boss Richard said, "Northwest Airlines will not share customer information, as JetBlue Airways has." The only problem was that Northwest already had shared their customer data when he said this. With NASA. NASA is giving up Hubble, and conducting security screening research instead? They were for a while anyway. The funding went away in FY2003.



With all those billions going into TSA and DHS, I'm surprised they'd recruit NASA for something like this. Maybe TSA suckered NASA because of the potential adverse publicity.

NASA also used individual census records in their research, which is considered bad form in privacy circles. To compound this, the Census Bureau told the Census Advisory Committee that they "were not providing data to any other government agency."

What's the government response to all this hoopla? They're thumbing their noses at it. The TSA is planning to order all airlines to turn over all passenger records to the "master database." But they have no choice -- terrorists are everywhere. Besides, they promise that the data won't be misused.

Ghost Ship

A Taiwanese fishing vessel was floating around off the coast of Australia about a year ago. This was odd, because nobody was on the ship. 2 Taiwanese officers and 10 Indonesian crew were missing. People are guessing that it was pirates, a mutiny, or some kind of Survival TV show. The ghost ship will be sunk as an artificial reef.,5936,8381367^953,00.html

On the opposite side of the earth, a French fishing trawler was the victim of a hit and run. A ship, probably a freighter, rammed the fishing boat, sunk it, and kept on going. The freighter may not have heard the collision, but they probably heard the distress signal sent out by the crew of the fishing boat.

Practical Genetics

The GloFish is a genetically altered zebra fish that glows bright red under a black light. They transplanted a gene from a sea anemone. California banned the fish last month, and now some people are trying to get the FDA, DHHS, and other regulatory agencies to regulate the fish back into the laboratory.

Yorktown Technologies sells the fish. I'm not sure if they made the first one or bought the rights to them.

Keeping Score on Mars

The Mars Rover may be in trouble. Proving that computer professionals do work at NASA, there seems to be some contention as to whether it's a software or hardware problem. A second lander made it to the opposite side of Mars last night. Here's what it looks like there:


Meanwhile, ESA's Beagle II seemed to have met with an early demise.

Mars exploration is difficult, even when you get the units of measurement right. You can keep track of the successes and failures with the Mars Scorecard -- Mars vs. Earth. So far, Mars is in the lead.

Even though the Beagle II seems dead, Mars Express, Beagle II's ride, is still in orbit around mars. Here's a picture from Mars Express of Valles Marineris:

      (hi-res image, 4096x4096)


New versions of Adobe Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro block images of money to help fight counterfeiting. However, the limitations are easy to circumvent.,1377,61890,00.html

Photo Mud still edits money.


The "VDB" you can barely make out at the base of Lincoln's shoulder are the initials of Victor David Brenner, the designer of the Lincoln cent.

$4,000,000 Jackpot

In October 2000, the governor of Missouri, Mel Carnahan, died in a plane crash. His son Randy flew the plane. One other person was on the plane and also died.

It was night, cloudy, and raining. The plane took off into the clouds. The attitude indicator stopped working, but there were two of them in the plane. The second one was working OK. He discussed this with the controller. The attitude indicator is a gyro-driven display that shows you which way is up when you're flying in the clouds. It shows you which way is up when you're not in the clouds, but you generally don't need it then.

About 15 minutes into the flight, the plane crashed. The most likely cause was the pilot got disoriented and spiraled into the ground. He got disoriented because of night time, turbulence, and having to look over to the secondary attitude indicator in the right seat.


One thing the reports did not mention is that the autopilot would have turned itself off when the primary attitude indicator failed. I think this was an important factor, especially if the pilot was not used to hand-flying the plane in the clouds.

Both attitude indicators are air-driven by vacuum pumps. The NTSB found that the two vacuum pumps on the plane were working at the time of the crash. The can tell this because the scratches on the blades show they were turning when the plane crashed.

One of the vacuum pumps can drive all the air-driven instruments in the plane, so both would have to fail in order to cause the attitude indicator to fail. This didn't happen, because the secondary attitude indicator was working, according to the pilot on the radio and NTSB from the evidence of the crash.

Jean Carnahan, the widow of the governor, sued the manufacturer of the vacuum pumps, claiming they failed and caused the crash. And she won a million dollars! The rest of the family got another 3 million. There was nothing wrong with vacuum pumps -- they worked fine.

How did they do this? Vacuum pumps commonly fail after several hundred hours of operation. That's why there are backups. Once in a while this causes a crash. This was enough proof for $4,000,000.

Here's an excerpt from the NTSB report. It is clear that this crash was not caused by a vacuum pump failure, but nobody seems to care. Are lawsuit awards like this so common that it's no big deal?

The pilot indicated to ATC several times that he was having problems with the airplane's primary attitude indicator. He also told ATC that he was trying to use the right-side attitude indicator, which indicates that the airplane did not experience a total vacuum system failure. Examination of the wreckage revealed rotational marks in the left and right engine vacuum pumps, which indicates that they were most likely functioning at 30 the time of impact. Further, one of the vacuum gage system failure indicator buttons exhibited evidence of having been in almost the fully retracted position (the other indicator button was found in the partially retracted position), which indicates that adequate vacuum existed for the airplane's instruments to operate. [footnote: Pump tests show that a single vacuum pump can provide adequate pressure and flow capacity if the other pump has become inoperative and the flapper valve has failed in the open position. For more information, see the January 9, 2002, addendum to the Systems Group Chairman's Factual Report.]

On the basis of the examination of the left-side (primary) attitude indicator, it was determined that the rotor was most likely spinning, but not at a high enough rpm to keep the display erect (the wreckage fragments of the left-side attitude indicator clearly aligned in an inverted attitude), indicating that this attitude indicator was not displaying properly at the time of impact. Although the pilot reported that his primary attitude indicator had failed and examination of the attitude indicator supported that such a failure had occurred, the investigation could not determine the cause of the failure in that instrument.

On the basis of the examination of the right-side attitude indicator, it was determined that the rotor was spinning, the display was erect when the airplane made initial contact with the trees, and the attitude it displayed was consistent with the airplane's attitude when it struck the trees (as determined by an inspection of the accident site and a three-dimensional model of the airplane's flightpath through the trees), indicating that this attitude indicator was functioning properly until the time of impact.

After first reporting that the primary attitude indicator was malfunctioning, the pilot continued flight for about 11 minutes, including two controlled heading changes, indicating that the pilot had functioning cockpit instruments and that he could control the airplane. Further, in the event that an instrument malfunction occurs, instrument flight rules (IFR)-qualified pilots are trained to use other relevant instruments, which evidence indicates were operating on the accident airplane (the right-side attitude indicator). Therefore, the loss of the primary attitude indicator alone does not explain why the pilot lost control of the airplane and crashed.

However, the right-side attitude indicator was not large and would have been several feet to the right of the pilot. Therefore, using the right-side attitude indicator would have resulted in the pilot making frequent, rapid head movements to cross-check that instrument with the other instruments. The pilot's head movements most likely caused him to experience spatial disorientation. Further, the rain conditions in which the pilot was maneuvering would have increased the noise level in the cockpit, and the presence of turbulence would have made it more difficult to control the airplane with failed instrumentation, both of which would likely have exacerbated the pilot's spatial disorientation.

Jean Carnahan, after getting her $1,000,000 award, said "This case was never about money."  Right.

Just Good Clean Fun?

Mississippi ranked number on in political corruption, according to the newsletter Corporate Crime Reporter.

The ratings were for politicians convicted on federal corruption charges. I assume that Illinois would take the top spot if any of the crooked politicians in Chicago were ever convicted. Here's a heartwarming article about the city of Chicago spending millions of dollars hiring trucks by the hour that are left idling, unused.

[ Note from the future, Septemer 2, 2009:  Someone named Tina claiming ownership has demanded I remove this article. After 5 years?!!!  It seems like it could be politically motivated to me, so I may have to check into this again. ]

Who owns the trucks? Political friends and donors. What about the bidding process? There is none.

The sad part is that there are no plans to stop this practice in Chicago. It's been going on for 50 years, in one form or another, and they have no intention of stopping now. It seems like there are federal laws against bribery and embezzlement, but maybe they don't apply in Chicago. Or maybe all the federal agents are busy enforcing the new anti-spam laws.

Chicago Mayor Daley was unavailable for comment because he was in job interview with Halliburton.

21,000 foot Helicopter

In January 1946, 58 years ago, C.A. Moeller and Dimitry Viner flew an Army Sikorsky R-5 helicopter to 21,000 feet at Stratford, CT. It was an unofficial world record. The R-5 is similar to this YH-5:

Here's a picture of Moeller and Viner, along with three other Sikorsky pilots. Left to right are R.L. Nields, M.L. Bugbee, D.D. Viner, R.S. Decker, and C.A. Moeller. They are standing in front of the 100th Sikorsky R-4 helicopter in December 1944.


The picture comes from the Sikorsky archives:

Here's some info about Dimitry Viner:

Here's a story about Igor Sikorsky from a 1956 Reader's Digest:

Mike Rowe made a web site called Microsoft didn't like it, so they sicked their lawyers on Mike Rowe. The press got ahold of the story and made Microsoft look really mean, picking on a poor 17-year-old.

      News Article

Now the MikeRoweSoft site is going strong.

Designer Steroids

Bush said steroids are bad, and I think he's right. But some underground labs are making new, illegal steroids that are hard to detect. It only takes a few months, since they don't have to mess with all those pesky testing procedures. And the side effects? Since the steroids are illegal and the labs are usually overseas, there's not much recourse for people who get burned.

     Designer Steroid Article, Scientific American

Yahoo Popups has a new popup stopper. That's pretty funny, because Yahoo also has pop ads on their web site. First they irritate you, then they get you to download their software to fix it.

2004 Vaporware Awards!,1282,61935,00.html

.... and don't forget WMD:,1283,62029,00.html

Pictures of Today - Yosemite in January!


Yosemite Falls

      pict1201      pict1213      pict1206

Half Dome


Half Dome, from 16,500 feet.


El Capitan, about 3,500 feet tall.

      pict1395      pict1238      pict1250

      pict1252      pict1412      pict1414

El Capitan, from 16,500 feet.


Bridal Veil Falls

      pict1273      pict1277
      pict1269      pict1373

A funny looking tree.


A view from the rim.

      pict1317      pict1319      pict1329

      pict1342      pict1343      pict1344

      pict1346      pict1353

Merced River


One of the Locals


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