Monday, March 28, 2011

Consumer Visual Package Tracking: It's Only a Matter of Time

At the gym, I had an idea that I thought was clever, but then I realized was kind of obvious. (It was caused, no doubt, from that oscillation between increased blood flow and decreased oxygen availability to the brain that you get with exercise.)

The idea was to have shippers like FedEx or UPS ("LOGISTICS") install digital cameras at all package tracking checkpoints, so that when a package is scanned, a photo is taken and made available for all your obsessive package-tracking needs.

It would include a digital camera in the hand-held package scanner, so the delivery person could snap a photo of the package on your porch, as proof of delivery.

It turns out, of course, that the technology pretty much exists -- visual package tracking -- and is in use... just in specialized industrial applications, not on the mass consumer scale yet:

Mobotix Visual Package Tracking
Visual package tracking system photo from Mobotix.

I expect someone like Amazon or Zappos will start rolling it out soon.

The next step, of course, involves clear-topped delivery trucks and UAVs, but I'll save that for the patent application.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lexington Institute arms Libyan rescue V-22 Ospreys with FUD projectors

The Marine Corps' MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft had a pretty high-profile role in Tuesday's rescue of one of  two F-15E crewmembers who went down in Libya late Monday night.

MV-22 Osprey in Afghanistan
US Marine Corps Flickr image, used under Creative Commons license.

In fairly predictable fashion, on Wednesday, over at the Lexington Institute's Early Warning blog, Loren Thompson, Ph.D. (who seems to have a reputation for having never met a big-ticket weapons system he hasn't liked -- save for ones built by companies that don't underwrite the Institute), capitalized on the rescue as an opportunity to bang the drum for the Osprey, and for big-ticket, high-capability weapons systems in general: "Marine Rescue Mission In Libya Shows Value Of V-22, And Raises A Question For Policymakers."

It features some pretty bold-faced intellectual dishonesty.

Loren Thompson, Ph.D. states:
This week, two Ospreys from the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge provided a real-world demonstration of why the Marines were so eager to acquire the aircraft. With close air support from Harrier jumpjets, the Ospreys rescued the stranded pilot of an Air Force F-15E fighter-bomber that had crashed in Libya. Because they are tilt-rotors rather than conventional helicopters, the Ospreys got to the downed pilot faster than any conventional helicopter could have. In fact, it isn't so clear regular helicopters could have rescued the pilot at all, given the distances involved. [Emphasis added.]
I'd say it's pretty darned clear that regular helicopters could have rescued the pilot, given that details of the rescue operation had been published the day before in the Navy Times ("Details of Marines' pilot rescue released") and outlined the aircraft package involved: two MV-22B Ospreys, two AV-8B Harrier jets; a KC-130J tanker, and two CH-53E helicopters carrying the Marine Quick Reaction Force (which didn't actually land, as it wasn't required).

As to the distances involved, the article says 130 nautical miles. The range of the CH-53E is 540 nautical miles. I'm unclear as to which part of that isn't so clear.

Selling Past the Close
Now, if you compare the specs for the V-22 Osprey vs. the CH-53E Super Stallion, you can see that the Osprey clearly has advantages in speed (over 100 mph faster at sea level) and range (879 to 540 nautical miles) over the Super Stallion. And the piece would have been a perfectly good shill job without completely omitting the role of regular helicopters and then creating fear, uncertainty and doubt about their ability to do the job at all.

I guess it isn't so clear that the last sentence is necessary at all. Then again, I'm not a Ph.D.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dumb Things I Have Worn Around My Neck

I don't wear jewelry (visibly, at least), with the lone exception being a necklace. A few things I have worn:

IMG_5281 Silver dragon pendant on red string. Loong means "dragon" in Chinese -- the character is on the reverse side. I rarely take it off except to change the string, which is why it's tarnished) -- it's kind of my thing now.

Hardware is just a brass eyelet and clasp from a craft store. FYI - craft stores are good for little fasteners and other items for keychains and such, sometimes better than hardware stores.

A gift from Mom.

IMG_5268 Stone carving of a Mayan symbol (I believe) that's basically the equivalent of my birth sign. It also reminds people of the tiki doll necklace from the Brady Bunch. It's kind of heavy and I don't wear it much any more, especially after I got bonked with my surfboard and nearly drowned. No, wait, that was Greg Brady.

Worn on a leather cord, with more cheap craft store hardware. If I ever want to wear it again, I'll probably need to get a longer cord -- my neck's gotten wider.

A gift from my sister, who brought it back from Mexico.

IMG_5270 Simple polished hematite donut, topped by two other flat beads. I made it myself from bead store materials back in college, I think. Took me a while to find the right kind of cord.

It looks a little bit like the wireless necklace mics you see people wear on reality TV shows when they are naked.

IMG_5272 A pewter pendant depicting a Pacific Northwest Native design of some sort of animal. The cord is gutted paracord, tied with a fisherman's knot, which you can use to adjust the length. The original chain gave me contact dermatitis, which is a fancy way of saying "rash."

A gift from a former girlfriend who brought it back from Seattle, a long time ago. I wasn't very good to her. I still feel a little bad about that.

IMG_5275 My Galactitags -- apparently, the Web site is back, and still with the original proprietors (or at least, with someone else with a P.O. box in Sea Girt, NJ). I wrote about them before.

IMG_5304 Kabar TDI LDK (Last Ditch Knife.) One of my modest collection of neck knives (knives designed to be worn around the neck, not for neck-stabbing) that I never carry. (I just don't have a need for fixed blades.) The blade is only 1-5/8" long.

IMG_5290Gold chain. Yes, I grew up in New Jersey. No, I never wear it these days.

IMG_5289White gold (I think) chain. I, too, never wear it.

Tip: If you're idly swinging the chain around and you accidentally hit yourself in the glasses, it will leave a line of small scratches in them. Ask me how I know this.

All together now:


[Not pictured: Albatross]

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dumb Question: Why Doesn't the Arab League Enforce a Libya No-Fly Zone?

If the Arab League just endorsed a no-fly zone in Libya, why does everyone assume NATO (read: the US) has to be the ones to enforce it?

If you listen to some folks beating the drums for unilateral US military action because they feel that rolling up the Libyan air force and air defenses would be such a cakewalk -- well, if they're so antiquated, do we really need the capabilities of the fifth-generation F-22? (Some say no -- after all, we managed pretty well in the intra-war Iraq no-fly zone without supercruise or stealth, and the Iraq air defenses were much more robust. At least at first.)

And if F-18s, F-16s, and F-15s can do the job... let's see, who else in the region has that kind of hardware?

Why, some of the more prominent members of the Arab League! And some of them are right next door!
  • Egypt has airfields and 220 F-16s (courtesy of all that US foreign military assistance over the years)
  • Saudi Arabia has a bunch of few F-15s and Tornados (And even sortied some of them during the first Gulf War. Plus, maybe they could underwrite some of the costs)
  • Kuwait has F-18s [Insert Charlie Sheen joke here]
  • Even Bahrain could kick in a few F-16s.
(Hell, if you want to get really wacky, let the Syrians bring their MiGs, too.)
Granted, these forces wouldn't be as well-trained, equipped, capable, precise or integrated as Western forces. And an overland approach from Egypt would probably face more air defense challenges than carrier attacks or sorties from Italy. And there would probably be more collateral damage.

But I can think of a few Middle Eastern regimes that could use a few brownie points with their own discontented populations by helping an emerging democratic movement in the region.

Plus, wouldn't they like to look like they had some power of their own to assert, instead of running screaming to the West (again) for help? (Okay, fine: Have NATO provide intel on air defense sites and maybe some AWACS coverage.)

And, if you want to be mercenary about it, if Arab League militaries lose any planes to those antiquated Libyan defenses -- well, replacements mean more foreign military sales for Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

I Didn't Wave Goodbye

So there I was, standing in the office parking lot, just a few cars, the flashing yellow light of the security patrol, and me, staring up at the sky like a tourist blocking a New York City sidewalk.

I moved past the streetlamps, down to the artificial water feature to get a clearer view of the sky. Being so close to Dulles airport, I was afraid I'd miss the show by fixing on the wrong moving light, only noticing the strobe after it was too late.

7:22pm. Right on schedule, high overhead (higher than I was expecting because I looked at the wrong elevation numbers), a bright moving dot. Space Shuttle Discovery. Up and over, and gone.

7:24pm. Following the same track, the International Space Station. (Though honestly, I thought the one was the other.)

Thinking, This is so cool.

Letting the sense of wonder displace work angst. Girl trouble. Random life noise.

Then remembering that I'm too old to be an astronaut. [Not the case, as it turns out, though it's ever more-increasingly unlikely.]

Then remembering that I don't have the temperament to earn the millions needed to buy my way into space.

But it was still a good few minutes in space.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Discovered: The Secret to Making a Windows Laptop Crash-Proof

My work machine is a T60 ThinkPad. It started this morning with a BSOD, and over the course of the rest of the day, had two system freezes requiring power cycling and then two black-screen crashes which save you the trouble by spontaneously rebooting for you.

However, I've solved the problem, and in the process, figured out how to make any Windows laptop crash-proof. It takes two simple steps:

1. Locate this button. Press and hold for 8-10 seconds:



Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Dumb Sandwiches I Have Made Lately

* There is nothing quite like the stupid you feel when you go to make toast and find the toast you left in the toaster and forgot about the last time you made toast.

* If you leave American cheese in the fridge long enough, it will petrify into something resembling peanut brittle, only made entirely out of cheese:

American Cheese chips.

I will say this again: it's a chip made entirely out of cheese.

I'm surprised that someone hasn't tried selling this as a snack product yet.

* "Carolina deli turkey" is very moist, probably because it's been soaked in chicken broth or some such. It's still tasty, though.

* Turkey pastrami is neither turkey, nor pastrami. Discuss.