Monthly Archives: August 2006 - Page 2

Tracking the Weather

Not too long ago I was driving through a town and saw they advertised themselves as part of the National Weather Service “StormReady” program. Being a trained spotter for the NWS I’ve heard a lot of jargon and have a better than average idea about what the NWS is responsible for, but I had never heard of this program. Of course when I got home I had to look it up and found that such a program does exist, but apparently is not widely used (as of this date only 1086 communities nationally are certified).

According to the National Weather Service StormReady website:

StormReady is a nationwide community preparedness program that uses a grassroots approach to help communities develop plans to handle all types of severe weather—from tornadoes to tsunamis. The program encourages communities to take a new, proactive approach to improving local hazardous weather operations by providing emergency managers with clear-cut guidelines on how to improve their hazardous weather operations.

As an amateur radio operator and trained spotter I’d like to see more communitites participate in programs such as this as they prepare for inevitable natural disasters.

On another weather related note I discovered a piece of software called Swift WX which claims to have real-time weather radar you can watch from your PC. My suspician is that the software polls the NWS servers for the already free NEXRAD radar data overlays it on maps with other graphics. Note that with current weather radar technology the radar must make several sweeps at varying angles to create a usable composite image which takes several minutes. Furthermore, unlike systems hooked to dedicated radars such as those at many TV stations software such as this must wait for the next data update from the NWS. While this happens frequently, calling it real-time is probably a stretch. I suppose that if you weren’t satisfied using a web-based radar viewing solution a product such as this could be useful, but it doesn’t appear to be anything special.

This airplane will self destruct in…

The purported recent plot to explode a number of airplanes traveling from the UK to the US using liquids mixed in-flight to created improvised explosive devices reminded me of an article I had read some time ago about a much simpler option. As far as I know the method described in this article has never been used in a terrorist attack but the possibility exists and would be difficult to detect. This just goes to show that the current ban on liquids (and in some areas electronics) in carry-on luggage is simply an exercize in futility and making people feel better. Futhermore, it would be foolhardy to spend untold millions (billions?) upgrading airport security with detectors for liquid explosives. When will people learn that anything less than chaining naked passengers who have had full body cavity searches to their seats and flying luggage on a seperate cargo plane will do much to stop terrorists. Yet we continue with the farce of security as our rights and privladges are stripped away by a bloodthirsty federal government led by the so-called “states’ rights” supporters of the Republican Party. But I digress, this story is really about the science of destroying an aircraft in mid-flight with only a single easy to obtain and hide substance.

Unless you are a representative of a national meteorological bureau licensed to carry a barometer (and odds are you’re not), bringing mercury onboard an airplane is strictly forbidden. Why? If it got loose, it could rust the plane to pieces before it had a chance to land. You see, airplanes are made of aluminum, and aluminum is highly unstable.

The entire story can be read at the Popular Science website. The general gist of the article is that airplanes, held together by aluminum parts, are vulnerable to complete disintigration by a chain chemical reaction started by a small amount of mercury. It would be simple to hide such a small amount of mercury or mercury paste in any number of products carried on to an aircraft. Just another example of how simple everyday products could be used in an act of terror and the impossibility of protecting people from such an attack.

Happy 25th birthday to the IBM PC!

The introduction of the IBM PC on August 12, 1981 changed the world, or at least the personal computing industry, forever. Of course this year marks the 25th anniversary of that announcement and it is being covered in a number of places on the internet. Two sites worth looking at are the official IBM site and the brief history of the IBM PC article at LEM.

Survey on putting electronics in checked airline baggage

I received the following message today and I encourage all readers to respond. I think it will be interesting to see the results and I will forward them along as I can.

Please distribute widely, as considered appropriate

I’m (Lauren Weinstein) conducting a little unscientific survey on whether or not airline passengers are willing to place their expensive or important electronic equipment in airline checked baggage (whether “locked” or not, but on most flights unlocked will be required), and how this would affect their flying patterns.

With the above as preface, there are three questions:

1) Are you willing to place all of your significant electronic equipment (including laptop or other computers, cellphones, DVD players, iPods, etc.) in checked baggage for airline flights?

2) If you are required to place such electronic equipment in checked baggage, would it have a significant negative impact on your willingness to fly?

3) Do you mainly fly for business or pleasure?

I will only publish aggregated statistics from this survey, unless
individual persons specifically note that their responses may be
released publicly.

To participate in the survey, please e-mail a note with your responses to:

Only a one word reply is necessary to each of the questions
unless you wish to add comments, which are invited.

Thanks very much.

Lauren Weinstein
Co-Founder, PFIR
People For Internet Responsibility
Co-Founder, IOIC
International Open Internet Coalition
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren’s Blog