Missile Nostalgia

I’ve mentioned that I’m a space nerd, but my interest extends beyond the normal civilian programs.  If you know the history of the space race and of civilian space efforts, you know that they’re inextricably linked with military programs.  Many military space programs have operated under cover of peaceful civilian ones.  I write this prologue because I don’t want you to think that I’m interested in war and death.  That is to say, I’m not just a space nerd; I’m a technology nerd.  I’m all about the technologies, the efforts, the possibilities.

I’m fascinated with military technology.  I’m not so interested in the intent of the designers or the creators as I am in the underlying nature of the objects and ideas.

And so I’d like to introduce you to Sprint and Spartan.

These missiles were part of the Safeguard program.  This was an early anti-ballistic-missile program undertaken by the United States.  It was a system of tracking radars, computers, and intercept missiles meant to protect American assets from nuclear attack. The missiles are what really interest me.  Spartan would rocket into space to intercept warheads before they hit the atmosphere.  Sprint, on the other hand, was a point defense, a last-ditch effort to destroy a warhead before it was in range of its target.

The logistics involved in intercepting a warhead are really something to behold.  You have to track the warhead, plot its trajectory very accurately, issue launch orders, and have a missile with enough acceleration to meet the target within the desired kill zone.

Those challenges are hard enough for Spartan, but Spartan has the luxury of time — its target needed several minutes just to get to the kill zone.  Sprint’s target was practically in the kill zone when Sprint launched.  Sprint’s launch to intercept time was on the order of 15 seconds!  15 seconds to travel 30 kilometers from a dead stop.  100G acceleration.  It accelerated so fast that it needed a heat shield that burned away in flight, just so that the rest of the rocket didn’t melt from the air friction.

Check out the video below.  It gives you a brief outline of the whole system and shows actual test launches of Spartan and Sprint.


Hail Columbia!

Image of Shuttle Columbia launchI must confess that I’m a space nerd.  It’s an affliction I’ve had since I was four or five years old.  Rockets, satellites, astronauts, cosmonauts, freeze-dried ice cream, the works.

When I was a kid, my Dad traveled to the USA quite frequently on business.  It just so happened that some of his trips were to Texas.  To a nerdy space kid like me, the word “Texas” equated to “Houston, Texas” which equated to “Johnson Space Center“, NASA‘s Mission Control.  I don’t recall if my Dad came up with the idea or if I nagged him mercilessly, but either way my Dad, my Mom, and I made two trips to JSC.

It was heavenly.  We toured the buildings, ate authentic NASA cafeteria food, spotted astronauts, took stereotypical tourist shots (Dad peering into the nozzle of a giant Saturn engine), and felt like a part of the whole operation.  We even picked up some NASA patches from a gift shop and my Mom sewed them onto a pale blue jacket of mine.  It looked like (to my mind) a real astronaut jacket for going around the town and impressing people.  I wore it everywhere.

As I got older, I gradually discovered the realities of the Shuttle program and the ugly nature of political compromise.  It was like going to Disney Land as a kid, then realizing as a teenager that the guy in the Mickey costume lived in a bachelor apartment on a steady diet of mac and cheese.  The romantic view was gone.

So, on to the point of this post.  I am the King of reminiscence.  I love to watch old documentaries and movies that remind me of how I used to feel.

Well, today I happened to be flipping through the TV channels and saw “Hail Columbia!”, a documentary about the launch of the first Space Shuttle, Columbia, in 1981.  The film was released in 1982, so it is full of the feelings of hope and possibility that pervaded at the time.  Watching it gives you the feeling that something great is happening and that we’ll all be living on space station in a decade.

I highly recommend that everyone watch it, nasaphiles and normal humans alike.  It’s in IMAX, but it also shows up on HD channels from time to time, and is available on DVD from Amazon.

Czech it out.

 

New Arrival – IGEL 3/2 Thin Client

Just picked up an IGEL 3/2 thin client, low power computer from Surplus By Design.

It doesn’t have much in the way of specs, but it should be enough to run a basic server for backups and playing around with Linux.

Finding information on these machines isn’t easy (they’ve been end-of-life’d), so I’ll put everything I’ve found into this post.  Maybe it will help some other poor soul.

Specs:

Rear shot

  • 400MHz Via Eden processor
  • 128MB SD-RAM in a SODIMM package (512MB maximum supported)
  • 3 USB 2.0 ports (one front, two rear)
  • 10/100 LAN onboard
  • VGA D-Sub connector attached to onboard S3 Savage4 graphics chip (8MB)
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports
  • Compact Flash header (internal) with maximum 1GB CF card
  • Smart card reader (internal)
  • 1 X Stereo output and 1 X Microphone input
  • 1 X Parallel port (DB-25)
  • 1 X Serial port (DB-9)

Supported Operating Systems:

  • Damn Small Linux
  • (more to follow)

Notes:

  • Identifying models can be a bit difficult; the unit itself will have a marking like “IGEL 3/2” but the company uses a different naming scheme in their documentation and support
  • IGEL 3/2 is officially known as the IGEL 364 LX or IGEL 364 Compact

Streaming Music WILL NOT Destroy the Planet

Facepalm

Facepalm

A report with a very “link bait” title is making the rounds: “The Dark Side of the Tune: The Hidden Energy Cost of Digital Music Consumption.”

The premise is thus:

  • Music used to be encoded on physical objects, like records or CDs (things which had a one-time energy cost), that were possessed by a consumer
  • Music is transitioning from physical storage to electronic storage; the consumer doesn’t keep an object in his house, he just requests that an electronic copy of a song be sent to him via the Internet
  • It doesn’t cost much to transfer or “stream” music in this way, but it must be done many times over the life of the consumer
  • The net energy cost of streaming* music** will far outpace the net energy cost of providing music on physical media
  • Music** streaming* will some day consume a double-digit percentage of the world’s energy production (unless we start a concerted effort to find new technologies, why oh why haven’t we started researching these things, oh wait we have, why are we writing this report in the first place)
* The report arbitrarily assumes that half of all music streaming will occur using wireless networks, presumably using much more energy per unit data than physical networks.

** An interesting bit of conflation happens here: the report is nominally about music, but the calculations of bandwidth usage include things like uncompressed video.

The first three points are basically true.  The latter two are bat-shit insane.

Some doozies I cherry-picked from the report:

 “Even with all traffic moving over to WiMAX, this traffic will nevertheless consume the energy equivalent of 21 per cent of the world’s total electricity consumption in 2010.”

!#%$&^%!&%!!!!!!!   They’re suggesting that in 2027, 1 billion people would be using WiMAX (a questionable assumption) as their primary music-streaming connection (a very questionable assumption) with the same rate of power usage (an even more questionable assumption) per unit data transferred.

“To further illustrate the scale of data traffic and its energy drain, 2011 YouTube statistics indicate some 4 billion video streams per day [see Appendix 2].  Assuming a 1GB file size per video (half of YouTube’s 2GB cap), this represents daily data traffic consumption of approximately 8 exabytes – annually equivalent to 0.1 per cent of the world’s electricity consumption in 2010.”

!^$&@%$&!%@&$T!!!$R4!!!  I like that they arbitrarily set the average file size at half of maximum size.  I was once able to eat an entire cake for dinner, therefore I eat half a cake for dinner each night.  Lunacy.  There are a whole bunch of faulty assumptions being made.

  1. Even if a user has uploaded a 1GB video to YouTube, that does not mean that all the viewers will be downloading 1GB each time they view the video.  YouTube converts all videos to multiple sizes and qualities.
  2. There is no way in hell that the average video size is even close to 1GB.  According to this study done in 2010, the average length of a YouTube video was around 4 minutes.  Even if we are generous and assume that all videos are HD (around 20MB per minute), that works out to 80MB average.  80MB versus 1000MB.  A bit of a difference.
  3. The study assumes that 2 billion people globally will be streaming two hours of music every day, half of them using ADSL, half of them using GPRS.  What’s GPRS?  Oh, you know how everyone is rolling out 3G and 4G mobile phone networks?  GPRS is 2G.  Right, so 1 billion people are going to be using a technology that NO ONE is rolling out anymore, anywhere.  Also notice that there are only two types of service mentioned here: physical network, cellular/mobile network.  Did someone forget Wi-Fi?  Most users not blessed with an unlimited cellular/mobile data plan (which is damned near everyone in the Americas, anyway) will opt for the much cheaper Wi-Fi in their own homes, coffee shops, schools, business, etc.  This report pegs the energy usage of GPRS at around 2.5 times that of Wi-Fi.  I know this is an industry group for the music business, but I wonder if they get money from carriers to demonstrate the need for large government cash infusions into… carriers.

 

The whole report is a real trip.  If you are a policy maker, investor, or unusually gullible, I will simply advise you not to take anything in that report seriously.

Oh, you also have to subscribe to their newsletter in order to access the paper.  You can unsubscribe right away, apparently.  I will be.

How to stop HP printers from grabbing drive letters

A few months ago, I purchased a used HP Officejet Pro L7780 for my parents.  It was quite an upgrade from the little Epson all-in-one that they had been using for the past few years.  But there was a problem…

The software and drivers are painful to use.

I don’t know what kind of UX work went into this stuff, but it wasn’t enough.  The drivers aren’t easy to install (especially for the scanner function), errors are cryptic and have a morbid finality to them, and a lot of the software’s behaviour isn’t user-customizable.

My biggest gripe, outside of the installation problems, is with the network mapping feature. The printer has a set of media card slots (SD, compact flash, etc.) that can be mapped to a drive letter on the user’s computer.  For some reason, known only to HP, the mapping isn’t persistent and it isn’t controlled by the user; that is to say, the mapping has to be re-established each time the system boots, and the user can’t tell it which drive letter to use.

HP’s kludgy solution to the persistence issue (which is odd since persistent mapping is a feature in many operating systems) is to run a service at boot time.  The service checks for available drive letters starting at Z and working backwards.  When it finds one, it assigns it to the printer’s card slots.  This means that no matter how you arrange your drives, the printer’s card slots will always show up somewhere in your drive list.  It also means that the card slots can bounce around the drive listing with no fixed address.

For most of us, this isn’t a practical problem, just an annoyance.  I can see that this behaviour would be beneficial in some situations.  For instance, a novice user won’t be able to accidentally block access to the card slots by assigning their preferred drive letter to another device.

Personally, I want to be asked for my preference and I want to be able to change the software’s behaviour.

There is no way to use HP’s software to assign a preferred drive letter.  It will always do the search from Z to A.

Stop the HP mapping service

The network drive mapping is done by a service called “HP Network Devices Support”.  By default, the service launches when Windows boots.  The easiest thing to do is to disable the service completely.

Open up the Services management console.  In Windows 7, click on the Start button, type services.msc then press the Enter key.

Scroll through the list until you find HP Network Devices Support.

You can see that the “Startup Type” is set to Automatic (Delayed).

Right-click on “HP Network Devices Support” and left-click on Properties.

Left-click on the Startup Type drop-down box and select Disabled.  Click Apply.  Now turn off the service by clicking on Stop.  Now click OK.

When you’re done, the Services console should look like this:

Okay, you’re done!  The HP software will no longer try to map your printer’s card slots.  Please note that you will still get pop-ups from HP software telling you that your printer is disconnected.  If you want to stop those notifications completely, go back to the Services console, then Stop and Disable the following services:

  • HP Cue DeviceDiscovery Service
  • HP Service
  • hpqcxs08
If you still want access to the media slots, read on.

Making a permanent mapping

Under Windows 7, setting this up is quite easy.

Click the Start button, then click on Computer in the menu that appears.  You should see a list of drives.

There will be a set of links near the top of the window which say Organize, System properties, etc.  Click on the one that says Map network drive.

Choose your preferred drive letter from the list.

For this next part, you need to know the IP address or the network name of your printer.  The network name is best, since the printer’s IP may change if your router uses DHCP to assign addresses.  The network name will stay the same.

If you’re unsure of the IP or the network name, check your router’s setup.  It should have a list of connected devices.

Click in the text field next to Folder, then type two backslashes, followed by the IP or the network name of the printer.  Now click the Browse button.  A dialog window should open with a list of network devices.  If your printer appears in the list, click on the triangle next to it to reveal a folder named “memory_card“.  Click on “memory_card“, then OK.

To make this mapping permanent, click the checkbox next to “Reconnect at logon”.

The printer should now be listed in Computer with the drive letter you chose.

Some User Experience Mistakes

  • Unexpected behaviour:  the printer’s card slots are storage devices, but they are behaving unlike other storage devices.  When the user adds a new USB stick or other memory device, Windows either asks for a preferred drive letter or it assigns the next available drive letter sorted from A to Z.  The HP software doesn’t ask the user for a preferred letter and chooses the next available letter sorted from Z to A.
  • No choice / lack of choice:  there is no way for a user to change the drive mapping behaviour by using the printer’s software.  The user is forced to either live with it or disable the mapping service entirely.  The card slots can be manually mapped to a specific drive letter, but this is an advanced procedure that most users couldn’t do.