The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Waiting for the cold front

It's mid-July today, at least until around 8pm, when late April should return. The Tribune reported this morning that our spring has had nearly three times the rain as last spring, but actually hasn't gotten much wetter than normal.

Meanwhile:

Finally, via The Onion, Google Maps now shows you shortcuts through people's houses when they're not home.

More about the insanity of crypto

A couple more resources about "web3" (cryptocurrencies, NFTs, DAOs, etc) crossed my inbox this week. Even before going through these stories and essays, the only way I can understand the persistence of the fantastic thinking that drives all this stuff is that the people most engaged with it turn out to be the same people who believe all kinds of other fantasies and wish-fulfillment stories.

Case in point: the extreme right-wing protestors up in Canada have received almost all of their funding from American right-wingnuts. Remember: the protestors believe, counter to all evidence, that vaccines cause more harm than good, and that they have a right to remain part of a common society without the responsibility of protecting others in that society from easily-avoided harm.

Because Canada really wants them to go away, and even more than that does not want foreigners funding domestic terrorists, the Canadian government blocked the cross-border financial transfers to the Maple Morons through the regular banking system. It took about 36 seconds for the Americans to try again using cryptocurrencies, and about 14 seconds longer for scammers to piggyback on the effort:

Canada Unity 2022, the group of anti-vaccine protestors who have snarled traffic in Ottawa and earned accolades in the right-wing media, wants to talk to you about Bitcoin.

A handful of the group’s organizers held a press conference on Facebook Live Wednesday that quickly devolved into a presentation on the popular form of cryptocurrency, confusing many of their supporters who were watching online.

“Are we at a press conference for Freedom Convoy 2022 or having some guy shove Bitcoin down our throats?” one commenter griped. “Very disappointed! I came to see updates about progress made by our Truckers.”

In some respects, the convergence of the anti-vaxx protests and Bitcoin was probably inevitable. Last month, the protests drew support from one of the biggest proponents of Bitcoin in the world, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who tweeted “Canadian truckers rule.” Former President Donald Trump has voiced support, and right-wing figures from Tucker Carlson to Ben Shapiro to Michael Flynn have seized on the trucker protests.

Even better, the way organizers have decided to distribute the Bitcoin meant for the rationality- and education-challenged protestors might not exactly show the benefits of cryptocurrencies in the best light:

Instead of giving the truckers the money in a cash format they can actually use, the "professional orange-piller" in charge of the Bitcoin distribution has explained a multi-step plan to give truckers pieces of paper with seed phrases printed on them. The seed phrases will be placed into sealed envelopes along with instructions on how to create a Bitcoin wallet, which are then "numbered and squiggly random lines should be drawn on the envelope to help with later identification". The volunteers then plan to physically destroy the printer with shears and screwdrivers, to try to prevent attackers from pulling the seed phrases out of the device memory. Of course once the trucker has their seed phrase, they have to go through the multi-step process of gaining access to the Bitcoin wallet on their smartphone, and then figure out how on earth to actually use their newfound Bitcoins to, say, pay for fuel.

That comment comes from software engineer Molly White, who has a delightful and detailed series of essays on blockchain in general. If you have any questions about web3 or blockchain and don't want a sales pitch from someone trying to keep the value his holdings inflated until he can dump them on you, start with White.

In a world where people devalue the study of history and economics in favor of shouting to the world about their magical beliefs, the rise of crypto doesn't surprise me. I don't know what will happen when it all collapses, but I have a pretty good idea who'll get hurt. I wonder who the right-wingnuts will blame when they lose everything? Probably not themselves.

Earth to Warren...come in, Warren...

One hundred years ago today, President Warren Harding installed a "Radio Phone" in his White House office. As the Tribune reported, "Navy radio experts commenced work to-day installing the latest scientific means of communication."

Flash forward to now:

  • Margaret Talbot argues that Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whom nobody ever elected to public office, is playing a long game to bring her right-wing Catholic ideology into the mainstream—or, at least, to enshrine it in the law.
  • Times columnist Margaret Renkl, writing from Nashville, argues that Tennessee has bigger problems than just one school board banning Maus.
  • Ultra-low-cost airlines Spirit and Frontier have merged, after years of dating and several previous feints toward the altar.
  • The oldest pub in the United Kingdom will close because of lost revenue during the pandemic, according to its current proprietor. The landlord hopes the pub, first opened in 793 CE, reopens soon.

And finally, Max Boot asks, why does anyone care what Ben, Jerry, Whoopi, or Joe have to say? In my conversation just now with the reader who sent me the link, I pointed out that people have had about the same reaction to every new communications technology back to the printing press. (Probably back to the stone tablet, if you really think about it.)

Happy 2nd Covidversary! And 5G...

Yes, today is the second anniversary of the first confirmed Covid-19 case popping up in Washington State. But that's not what this post is about.

No, instead, I want to highlight two articles about why airlines really do not like 5G mobile networks—at least, not the way the US implemented them:

“TO BE BLUNT,” reads a statement from ten U.S. airline executives, “the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.” That was in a letter sent to the White House, the FAA and the FCC. “Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly,” it continues, “the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded.”

There’s perhaps an element of hysteria and hyperbole in play here, as you’d maybe expect. But there’s also a big problem, and unless things are quickly worked out, the potential does exist for massive flight disruptions.

Most of the issue revolves around a cockpit device known as a radar altimeter (sometimes called a “radio altimeter”). Unlike the plane’s primary altimeters, which measure height above a particular barometric pressure level, the radar altimeter measures height above the ground itself. Essentially it bounces a signal off the terrain below and determines its vertical distance, displayed in feet.

What this interference would actually look like, I’m not sure. Would it be some transient flickering? A failure of the instrument? Whatever it might be, the implications of an outside signal messing with this data, when you’re low over the runway in the fog or blowing snow, hardly need explaining.

The FAA has published a list of at-risk runways; there are hundreds of them. Pilots may not land on these runways during low-vis conditions that require a radar altimeter — i.e. Category II or III approaches — without a special authorization. That authorization comes in the form of something called an “alternative means of compliance,” or AMOC. Two types of radar altimeters commonly installed on Boeing and Airbus models have been judged safe for operation into certain runways. For now, however, this AMOC clearance applies only to around 20 percent of the country’s busiest airports.

The entire thing is a mess. And we saw it coming. Airlines, along with pilot unions and other industry groups, have been sounding the alarm on this for the better part of two years.

How did this happen? Well, the previous administration didn't believe that governments should interfere with business, so no one at the FCC (which approved the 5G implementation) discussed it with anyone at the FAA until the FAA blew a gasket. And yet, in other countries, 5G rollouts haven't caused any of these problems. Maybe because the other countries, with their functioning governments, got the implementation right:

The French antennas have permanent safeguards in airport buffer zones that provide more protection than the US ones. Further, the French antennas near airports have to be tilted downward to reduce interference, and the French antennas have far less power. Not mentioned here but also notable is that in Europe, the C-Band spectrum is in the 3.4 to 3.8 GHz range, so it’s further away from the range that radio altimeters use.

The FAA has a handy infographic explaining this in more detail:

It must be nice to live in a country with a functioning government.

Update: The Times columnist Peter Coy has more about the previous administration's political infighting that led us here.

Spicy poké

I swear, the local poké place used three shots of chili oil instead of one today. Whew. (Not that I'm complaining, of course.)

While my mouth slowly incinerates, I'm reading these:

On that last point, comedians Jimmy Carr and Emil Wakim lay down epic burns against anti-vaxxers:

Blazing 5G

About that new phone, I have to say, I am very impressed with T-Mobile's new 5G network:

Also note that temperature bug in the upper-left corner. Yes, it was 26°C yesterday afternoon in Chicago. For comparison, October 10th has a normal high temperature of 18.2°C. June 7th has a normal high of 26°C. I hope autumn actually starts sometime this month.

New phone, who dis?

After 2½ years and one unfortunate crunching sound last week, I've finally gotten a new phone. I decided to go with the Samsung Galaxy S21. So far, I like it, though with any new hardware you also get new software. Some of the basic apps work differently.

Switching phones got really easy in the past couple of years, though. The only dicey part came when I had to transfer all my multifactor codes over. And I have to keep my old phone handy for a while in case I missed one.

Now my eyes hurt from squinting at all the screens for two hours, though.

You're right, we experts don't know anything

As a follower of and contributor to the Time Zone mailing list, I have some understanding of how time zones work. I also understand how the official Time Zone Database (TZDB) works, and how changes to the list propagate out to things like, say, your cell phone. Most mobile phone operators need at least a few weeks, preferably a few months, to ensure that changes to the TZDB get tested and pushed out to everyone's phones.

If only the government of Samoa knew anything at all about this process:

The sudden dumping of Daylight Savings Time by the Government last week left much of the nation waking up in confusion on Sunday as their phones and other devices automatically updated to show the wrong time.

At the time of writing mobile phones and other cellular-enabled devices and computers were displaying the time as 10 am when, in fact, under the new policy it was 9 am. 

Many Samoans who rely upon their phones as alarm clocks were awoken or arrived at church early because of the automatic update to their mobile devices.

The decision taken by the Cabinet to not activate daylight savings time this year was apparently made earlier this month. 

The coordinators of the TZDB hold their collective breaths each year while waiting for certain religious authorities to decide when to change the clocks in about a dozen populous countries in the Middle East and Africa. But those countries know about the tight timing and work with IANA and their mobile providers to prevent exactly what happened today in Samoa.

It turns out, no one even bothered to tell us that Samoa had cancelled daylight saving time until yesterday, and no one in Samoa's government ever sent us the official notice from 10 days ago.

Nice work, guys.

Nobody ever listens to poor Zathras.

Unfortunate encounter; or why I really don't fear a robot takeover

I have a Roomba. I have a dog. When these two things live in the same house, every dog-and-Roomba owner has the same anxiety: will they interact in such a way that will require a messy cleanup? iRobot, who manufacture Roombas, have a new model advertised (only $850!) to reduce this anxiety considerably.

I do not have this new model. I have an older model. And yesterday, anxiety turned to horror.

Fortunately (depending on how you look at it), Cassie's accident must have happened at least 12 hours before the Roomba found it, so the offending matter had dried up. Unfortunately, the Roomba hit it early in its run. Fortunately, the damage didn't look as bad from out here. And fortunately, I keep a set of Roomba parts on hand just in case.

When I got home last night, Cassie wagged and wiggled exactly to the point of me entering the room where she'd left her present for the robot. Even before I had noticed the mess she tucked tail and ran back to the living room.

Maybe I should buy the $850 model that can avoid small objects on the floor?

Happy birthday, 5150

Today is the 40th birthday of the IBM 5150—better known as the IBM PC:

It wasn't that long before the August 1981 debut of the IBM PC that an IBM computer often cost as much as $9 million and required an air-conditioned quarter-acre of space and 60 people to run and keep it loaded with instructions.

The IBM PC changed all that. It was a very small machine that could not only process information faster than those ponderous mainframes of the 1960s but also hook up to the home TV set, process text and store more words than a huge cookbook -- all for a price tag of less than $1,600.

Well, sure, $1600 for a 16k model with no peripherals. The one my dad bought in 1981 and handed down to me in 1986 had a whopping 64k of RAM and two 360k 5¼" floppy drives. That specimen, with software and a printer, cost about $9,000, or about $27,000 today.

IBM has more:

Don Estridge, acting lab director at the time, volunteered to head the project. Joe Bauman, plant manager for the Boca Raton site, offered manufacturing help. Mel Hallerman, who was working on the IBM Series/1, stepped forward with his software knowledge and was brought in as chief programmer. And so it went. As word spread about what was going on, talent and expertise were drawn in.

Estridge decided early that to be successful and to meet deadlines, the group had to stick to the plan: using tested vendor technology; a standardized, one-model product; open architecture; and outside sales channels for quick consumer market saturation.

About a dozen people made up the first development team, recalls Dave Bradley, who wrote the interface code for the new product. "For a month, we met every morning to hash out what it was this machine had to do and then in the afternoons worked on the morning's decisions. We started to build a prototype to take — by the end of the year — to a then little-known company called Microsoft." The team beat that deadline. The engineers were virtually finished with the machine by April 1981, when the manufacturing team took over.

The $1,565 price bought a system unit, a keyboard and a color/graphics capability. Options included a display, a printer, two diskette drives, extra memory, communications, game adapter and application packages — including one for text processing. The development team referred to their creation as a mini-compact, at a mini-price, with IBM engineering under the hood.

Sure, the Apple ][ gave families an inexpensive computer to play with, but the IBM 5150 gave businesses an inexpensive computer to play with, and that made all the difference. I'm writing this on a Microsoft- and Intel-based computer whose architecture goes straight back to the 5150 I have in my museum.