Super Bowl Sunday With The Foxes

I watched until it looked like Pittsburgh had put it away, then fell asleep. I half heard the 100 yard runback with my eyes closed and head on a pillow on the sofa.

Super Bowl Sunday–I never got out of my pajamas. Didn’t shower until after 10p.

madeline.jpgWe started the day watching the entire “Puppy Bowl V.” OK, I didn’t totally dedicate myself to PB-V but I was in the room. I love Harry Kalas’ voice, but he really isn’t a great v/o reader.

I want the Beagle with lighter brown markings as a family member–Madeline.

We were watching NBC when Matt Lauer interviewed President Obama. Audio problems! Wow. That never used to happen on the network. I’m curious if this was staffed and set-up the same as it would have been 8-years ago?

Was President Obama too casual? No tie. Is it OK for the president to make Inspector Gadget references? Is it OK for a president to be impolitic and take sides in a football game, as he did?

He seemed like the nicest, most engaging and charming president of my lifetime. He makes Bill Clinton seem like Grover Cleveland.

I was uncomfortable President Obama was so relaxed and casual. It’s my problem I suppose. Just not used to it.

Coin toss. Who knew General Patraeus was short?

I didn’t have a lot of interest in the actual game. I watched until it looked like Pittsburgh had put it away, then fell asleep. I half heard the 100 yard runback with my eyes closed and head on a pillow on the sofa.

I did wake up for the exciting conclusion.

One of the best parts of the day was reading Ana Marie Cox (the original Wonkette) on Twitter. Here’s a sample.

A Husky/Beagle mix playing in #puppybowl. That must have been one hell of a blind date.

Will @animalplanet be sued by FCC for showing pussy during halftime of the #puppybowl?

Griffey totally railroaded out of #puppybowl!!! Nipping is the opposite of “un-puppylike behavior”!

Apparently David Patraeus overseeing superbowl coin toss but not the Iraq elections

Are NFL coaches’ headsets the only form of technology that gets *larger* as it improves?

I don’t even really “get” football but even I understand that a 100-yard interception return is bad. Maybe the Cards are McCain after all.

This “Born to Run” song is kind of catchy! I think it could be a hit!

Cheering for the Cards reminds me of how being a Democrat used to feel.

Pitchers and catchers only a few weeks away!

Something Isn’t Right In Space

So what the hell is going on? Why would we jeopardize our low Earth orbiting fleet (which doesn’t include most weather, communications and TV satellites, but does include the International Space Station, Space Shuttle, GPS, mapping and spy satellites) in an act we’ve already condemned when executed by others?

Back in January I wrote about the US spy satellite that will soon come crashing to the Earth. Sure, it’s got all sorts of scary chemistry (specifically hydrazine) on board, but there’s nothing to worry about, right?

Last week most of the experts were poo pooing the danger this satellite’s fiery reentry would bring. Satellites… even big satellites… come down all the time. That’s what they said until Thursday.

All of a sudden we want to shoot this school bus sized piece of space junk down. Shades of Bruce Willis!

From the Chicago Tribune:

Speaking to reporters, Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , and James Jeffrey, the deputy national security adviser, said the Navy’s window of opportunity to strike the satellite before it enters the Earth’s atmosphere begins in the next three or four days. Cartwright said the window would likely remain open for seven or eight days.

If the satellite is not intercepted, it is expected to enter the atmosphere in late February or early March.

“This has no aerodynamic properties,” Cartwright said of the satellite. “Once it hits the atmosphere, it tumbles, it breaks apart. It is very unpredictable and next to impossible to engage. So what we’re trying to do here is catch it just prior to the last minute, so it’s absolutely low as possible, outside the atmosphere, so that the debris comes down as quickly as possible.”

A satellite is one lone object. Shoot it down and you get thousands, maybe tens of thousands of tiny objects, all unguided and some likely to remain in orbit for a long time. At orbital speed, even a small object with little mass is destructive.

Back in 1996, after the space shuttle had shifted its course to avoid a dead satellite, the New York times published this:

Dr. Donald J. Kessler, NASA’s senior scientist for orbital debris studies at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in an interview that space junk was a growing problem threatening the safety of spacecraft and astronauts. The Air Force tracks more than 7,000 pieces of debris larger than a baseball, including old rocket parts, outmoded satellites, discarded tools, remnants of explosions, and other odds and ends moving in orbit at more than 17,000 miles per hour. And researchers estimate there are more than 150,000 smaller objects that also pose a danger of collision.

“It’s common for space shuttles to show evidence of frequent hits, but nothing catastrophic has happened,” Dr. Kessler said. “We are now getting good international cooperation to control space debris, but it will continue to be a problem for a long time and we have to take precautions.”

Illustrating how real the problem is, Dr. Kessler said astronauts servicing the Hubble Space Telescope found a half-inch hole punched through its main antenna. And after a flight of the shuttle Columbia last October, engineers found a similar-sized crater in a cargo bay door caused by the impact of a tiny piece of solder, he said.

Here’s the operative sentence: “We are now getting good international cooperation to control space debris.” In other words, space debris is bad and everyone should stop creating it.

In fact, last January, after the Chinese blasted one of their own satellites out of orbit, the US Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva said:

…the January 11 event created hundreds of pieces of large orbital debris, the majority of which will stay in orbit for more than 100 years. A much larger number of smaller, but still hazardous, pieces of debris were also created.

The United States is concerned about the increased risk to human spaceflight and space infrastructure as a result of this action, a risk that is shared by all space-faring nations. The United States and many other nations have satellites in space in conformity with international agreements that provide for their national security, and foreign policy and economic interests.

So what the hell is going on? Why would we jeopardize our low Earth orbiting fleet (which doesn’t include most weather, communications and TV satellites, but does include the International Space Station, Space Shuttle, GPS, mapping and spy satellites) in an act we’ve already condemned when executed by others?

Is there something that vile or that secret in this spy satellite? Are we looking for a little target practice to show everyone we’re every bit as capable as the Chinese? I don’t know.

My “educated amateur” space knowledge says, something doesn’t seem right… something doesn’t smell right… something doesn’t add up.

There are missing pieces to this story I neither possess nor understand. I sure hope someone else does, and they are free to speak.

What Goes Up – Take 2

A few days ago I wrote about the US spy satellite that will soon come crashing to the Earth. “Falling US satellite is not dangerous,” was the sentiment attributed to NASA.

The Air Force looks at it a little differently. Gen. Gene Renuart, who heads of U.S. Northern Command was interviewed by the AP.

“…it looks like it might re-enter into the North American area,” then the U.S. military along with the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will either have to deal with the impact or assist Canadian or Mexican authorities.

Say what?

We haven’t heard the last of this out-of-control bad boy. Odds are nothing happens, but today no one can guarantee that.

Waiting Up For Me

Usually, when I come home from work, Helaine is already asleep. I understand her plight. Light sleeping Helaine needs to get some quality pillow time before “Snoring Geoff” comes to bed.

Last night, as I pulled in front of our house, I noticed a light on in the family room. She was awake, and I knew why.

Sitting on the sofa, Helaine had her laptop running with the Phillies game on. As is often her custom in a close game, the sound was down.

Just in case you’re not a baseball fan, let me get you caught up. The Phils began the season by losing nearly a month’s worth of games. As spring progressed, it was easy to see the Phils weren’t going to have a good year.

As poorly as the Phillies played, the Mets were their opposite. They were steamrolling through the regular season and by the first days of summer, post season play seemed inevitable.

And then it changed!

I’m not sure how, but the Phillies have clawed their way back. It’s obviously been done with smoke and mirrors, because they don’t have any relief pitching. I say that and I’m a fan!

So, as we stand now, the Phillies are tantalizingly close to catching the Mets, but the season is dwindling. That’s why last night’s game against St. Louis was keeping Helaine up.

The Phillies went ahead in the top of the 9th only to give up the lead in the bottom of the inning. The 9th became the 10th and then the 11th. With every Cardinal batter we feared… no, we knew, the wheels would come off the cart and the Phillies would lose.

They didn’t.

In the 14th inning and out of position players, the Phillies scored three, held on and won! Jose Mesa, the General Custer of closers, pitched two flawless innings.

Poor Helaine. For her, it was the middle of the night!

Odds are we’ll end the season disappointed. The Phils are still 1&#189 games out of first and 1&#189 games behind the San Diego Padres for the Wild Card. They need to catch up to play on, and with other teams in front, it’s might be out of their control.

Right now, it’s just fun rooting for them. They seem to want to win.

It was also very nice to see my wife when I got home. Thanks Phils.

Off To New York

This is my parents last full day in Connecticut. Tomorrow, at an ungodly hour, they fly the day’s only non-stop from BDL to PBI.

The goal of the Connecticut Foxes was to make this a vacation full of activity, and we’ve succeeded. Maybe we were a little too aggressive in planning for my dad. We have taken him to the edge of his physical limits… though that wasn’t our intention.

Today was our day to head to New York and the Lower East Side. Stef, Helaine and my Mom love shopping there, but after this week, we knew it would be too much for my dad.

The solution was mine. The five of us would travel to New York together, but when the women headed to Canal Street, my dad and I would continue to Whitehall Terminal and the State Island Ferry.

When I was a kid a trip on the Staten Island Ferry cost 5&#162. Later, it was raised to 25&#162. About ten years ago, to lower the cost of commuting from Staten Island, the fare was removed altogether.

It’s a phenomenal free trip from The Battery, at Manhattan’s southern tip, to St. George on Staten Island. You go through the Upper Harbor, past Governors Island, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island.

It’s easy to forget, as I had, how busy a harbor this is. There are ocean going freighters moving past barges and tugs and other local working boats. We actually cruised by LSV-!, the Army’s General Frank S. Besson, Jr.

I thought the Army only had ships in Jack Lemmon movies!

Our ferry to Staten Island and back was the John F. Kennedy, christened in 1965. It, like all the ferries, is a stubby, dirty orange behemoth. There is no front. The ferry is commanded from both ends.

We took the outbound leg, standing outside on the upper deck on the port side. That’s the best view of the Statue of Liberty.

On the return we stood at the very front of the Kennedy, with an ever sharpening view of Lower Manhattan, the ‘satellite city’ of office towers that’s grown up in the Hoboken/Jersey City area and the smaller, older, office buildings in Downtown Brooklyn.

This trip, like nearly every other trip to New York was heavily dependent on the New York City subway system. I know some people are a little apprehensive, but it’s a great way to get around. It’s certainly faster than driving. Service is frequent… every few minutes on some lines.

The downside is, the cars are sometimes dirty and there are often people soliciting for (often dubious) charities. We had one guy beg while holding up sandwiches, ostensibly for any homeless on the train. We also had an accordionist join us – hand outstretched. His charity begins in the home.

There was one other downside today. When we headed from Whitehall Street, at the ferry slip, to Cortlandt Street, we discovered the Cortlandt Street Station is closed due to the reconstruction around the World Trade Center site. That aded a walk I didn’t plan on from City Hall down to Cortlandt.

We met up with the girls at Century 21, an &#252ber clothing department store, about a block from Ground Zero. My dad and I sat in the shoe department while (mostly) Stef did her damage upstairs!

The final stop of the day was dinner at the Stage Deli. It was very good, but my first choice was to head to Chinatown for Chinese food. I can’t name one Chinese restaurant down there, but I’m sure whatever we would have found would have been great.

By the way – on a trip like this, majority rules. It’s no sin to be outvoted.

The Stage is in the mid-50s on 7th Avenue while Grand Central Terminal is at 42nd and Park Avenue. That wasn’t too much of a hike for Helaine, Stef and me, but it was too a lot for my parents. We threw them in a cab and met them at the train station.

We were home by 8:30 PM.

My parents need to go home to recuperate from their vacation!

Blogger’s note: I took well over 300 photos today. I was saddened to see a few pieces of dust had settled on “Clicky’s” sensor. That was easily cured with a bulb duster I carry… but not until I had shot at least 250 photos that need an extra hand to be acceptable.

Just Call Me Geoff

Over time, more and more people have taken to calling me Mr. Fox. It’s a little disturbing, because I don’t want to be that old.

I usually tell them, “My name is Geoff. Mr Fox lives in a condo in Florida.”

Of course Mr. is the least of the titles you can have with your name. You could be Dr., or Rev., or Senator, or… well the list is nearly endless.

A few years ago, while perusing the British Airways website I came across their choice of titles. I saw the list cited today on another website and thought I’d post it here – just for fun.

Some are so obscure, I have no idea what they could possibly be. I do know, few holders of these titles will ever be flying with me in Row 39, aft of the wing.

Click the list and choose a title. They’re free.

Abe Lincoln – Wired

I often listen to NPR while taking my shower. Today, on Talk of the Nation, Neil Conan spoke with Tom Wheeler who had an op-ed piece in this morning’s Washington Post and who also wrote the book, “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War.”

(I)nsight into our greatest president is possible through the nearly 1,000 messages he sent via the new telegraph technology. These 19th-century versions of e-mail messages preserve his spur-of-the-moment thoughts and are the closest we will come to a transcript of a conversation with Abraham Lincoln. In their unstructured form, Lincoln comes alive.

Are you kidding? Lincoln was our first president to communicate electronically. I guess he really was the Great Communicator.

This made Abraham Lincoln our first president with instant access to information. Imagine how that benefited him as he formulated our political and military strategy during the Civil War?

You owe it to yourself to read the op-ed column.

Oh, and Happy Birthday Abe.

Continue reading “Abe Lincoln – Wired”

May I Speak A Moment On Security?

If everything I’ve read turns out to be true, we just dodged a major bullet with the discovery of the British/Pakistani terror cell. Now, as was the case with shoe bomber Richard Reed, security at airports will be adjusted.

We need to be safe when we fly. No one questions that. What I question is how we go about it.

Is there anyone, even the TSA, who seriously thinks banning liquids from flights will eliminate the chance of liquid based explosives getting on board? I’m not going to enumerate them here, but I can think of a number of ways these liquids could still get on… and I’m neither evil nor crafty.

The real point is, liquids in the cabin are only one of dozens, maybe hundreds, of threats available to terrorists. They have the distinct advantage of being on offense with the ability to call audibles at the line of scrimmage.

Actually, the football analogy works, if you’re old enough to remember Bill Cosby’s 40+ year old “Toss of the Coin” routine.

“General Cornwallis of the British, this is General Washington of the Continental Army.”

“General Washington of the Continental Army, this is General Cornwallis of the British.”

“If you’d shake hands, gentlemen.”

“O.K., British call the toss.”

“British called heads, it is tails.”

“General Washington, what are you gonna do?”

“General Washington says his troops will dress however they wish, in any color, in buckskins and coonskin caps, and hide behind the rocks and trees and shoot out at random.”

“British, you will all wear bright red, all shoot at the same time, and march forward in a straight line.”

We’ve known about liquid explosives for a long time and our intelligence community probably knows more I won’t find out about until the next time someone’s arrested… or not.

Here’s what I’m getting at. We are no safer with me taking off my shoes and leaving my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee (cream and one Splenda, please) in the terminal. Does it make sense to use valuable time and equipment to thoroughly screen my parents when they fly?

Everyone seems to understand my parents aren’t going to blow up a plane, except the TSA. How can that be?

While we are reactionary and regimented in our security methods, those who wish us harm are fleet of foot.

There has to be something more effective and efficient than what we’re doing now.

You Probably Don’t Know Don Kelley

I worked with Don Kelley back on Palm Beach a zillion years ago. An email from a mutual friend told me he was ill and in the intensive care unit at Massachusetts General. That can’t be a good thing.

Judging by what I’ve read, he’s been to hell and back – but is recovering. That’s exceptionally good news.

What makes this blogworthy is that Don’s illness has been documented on its own blog and web page. It’s not something his family decided to do, as much as it’s something that seems to be available through Mass General.

They are using CarePages (what ever happened to SpacesBetweenWords), which seems to be Chicago based and owned by TLContact (again, with the spaces).

TLContact, Inc. improves the healthcare experience by providing tools to help healthcare providers connect with the people they serve. Our customers and partners include the nation

The Mecca Of Ham Radio

This is probably the nerdiest thing I can say about myself. I have been a ham radio operator for nearly 40 years. I was first licensed as a Novice class operator while in high school and then went on to my General, Advanced and Amateur Extra licenses.

I can still remember my first contact or QSO&#185. I didn’t have a radio of my own, so I went to my friend Ralph Press’ house. Using Morse Code, I was able to span the globe from Flushing, Queens all the way to Nassau County, a little farther out on Long Island.

His callsign was WN2RNG. I remember that, because in Morse it had a distinctive rhythm: di dah dit dah dit dah dah dit.

Growing up I lived in apartment 5E. It was a building where outdoor antennas were forbidden. From time-to-time early in my ham radio career I strung up ‘invisible’ antennas of extremely thin, and very flimsy, wire.

Neighbors who knew complained I was ruining their TV reception. They complained even after I moved out and went to college!

It was all for naught. Only as an adult did I being to understand what it took to have a proper antenna and how important that was.

My ham radio career has been through a number of stages. There would be a few years of activity followed by a period of inactivity. I’m in an inactive stage right now. You can blame that on the Internet, which is more efficient than ham radio doing many of the things I enjoyed.

In my last active stretch I became involved in contesting, trying to contact as many other hams as possible in a set period of time, usually exchanging specific bits of information to confirm the contact. I also started toying with QRP or low powered contacts.

I have made contacts to Europe and Asia and everywhere in between with a transceiver I built on my kitchen table, using less power than a flashlight bulb. Once, on vacation, I took it to the Dominican Republic and operated off of D cell batteries with an antenna draped between two palm trees on the beach.

Early on, I used voice for contacts, but I grew tired of that. It was too much like operating an appliance and there didn’t seem to be much skill involved.

In my last ham radio incarnation I was 100% Morse. Ham operators call that CW for continuous wave. It is the most simple form of radio communications.

I became pretty proficient, able to send and receive at nearly 30 words per minute. At that speed you stop listening to individual letters and begin trying to hear words or phrases.

Once you start sending faster than 10-15 words per minute you can’t use the classic Morse key – the ‘brass pounder.’ Instead I used a paddle, with the dit and dah on opposite sides and an electronic keyer to translate my little finger motions into properly spaced tones.

Recently, my friend Harold become the Chief Operating Officer for the American Radio Relay League – the ham radio organization in America. It is headquartered in Newington, CT, about 40 miles from my house.

League Headquarters is ham radio’s Mecca. I went and visited today. It’s been a while since I’d been there.

It’s a difficult time for the ARRL because computers have stolen many of the geeky kids, like me, who used to go into ham radio. Restrictive covenants in housing developments have also made it extremely difficult to put up a decent antenna. They still have plenty of members, but I assume they’re getting progressively older.

ARRL headquarters is an interesting place because it’s a publishing house, membership service center, laboratory where new equipment is evaluated (and those evaluations published) and home of W1AW.

W1AW is to ham radio stations as Yankee Stadium is to ballparks. It is the best known callsign, without a doubt. Today, before I left the league, I sat down and did a little operating at W1AW.

There is, to me, something very romantic and relaxing about operating Morse Code. In a darkened room, with headphones on, totally concentrating, you can pluck weak signals from the ether and have conversations with people from around the world.

Imagine if the simple act of conversing required skill? That’s what CW operating is all about.

Many of the people you speak to don’t understand English, and I certainly don’t speak any foreign languages fluently. That’s where the telegrapher’s abbreviations come in. It’s possible to have a rudimentary conversation without speaking a common language.

I sat down at the W1AW operating position. The transceiver was down on the low end of 20 meters (14.005 mHz to be exact), a wavelength suited for long distance conversations. The rig’s coaxial cable connected it to a large multi-element beam on a tall tower. I was loaded for bear with a very recognizable call.

I called CQ – the universal request to chat. Nothing. I called again and Tom in Cardiff, Wales came back. We talked for a few minutes and, as I signed off, Ludo in Slovakia called me. That was followed by Valentin somewhere in Russia.

Harold estimated my speed at about 18 words per minute, well below my old CW comfort zone. My sending wasn’t entirely flawless either. A number of times I hit dit when I should have hit dah and had to correct myself and resend.

It really felt good.

Maybe it’s time to throw a wire antenna up over the house again and give it another try? Or, maybe, ham radio’s time has come and gone for me. I’m not really sure. There’s certainly a lot more on my plate right now. Where would I fit it in?

Something to ponder. Who knows?

&#185 – Because amateur radio had its beginnings in telegraphy, many Morse Code abbreviations are used, sometimes even when speaking. QSO, QTH, QRZ, QRU – they’re all part of the arcane lexicon.

Comcast High Speed Internet Hosed

Steffie called earlier this evening to tell me the “Internet was down.”

There are many possible failure points before leaving our house, but a quick check of some user forums shows the problem was Comcast’s and not limited to Connecticut. There are some angry subscribers out there tonight.

National

General Outage – Resolved at 4/7/2005 6:40:38 PM EDT

(Connection to the Internet is currently unavailable. Our technicians are aware of the situation and are working to resolve the issue. This outage was logged at : 4/1/2005 6:14:00 PM EDT.)

General Outage

(Connection to the Internet is currently unavailable. Our technicians are aware of the situation and are working to resolve the issue. This outage was logged at : 4/7/2005 5:32:00 PM EDT.)

Could that have been written to be any more confusing? I think it means it’s out… it’s still out.

This is related to their DNS servers, the Comcast computers that tell your computers where to find other computers, were down or slowed or otherwise impaired. So, when you type www.geofffox.com, your computer is never told that corresponds to 66.225.220.189. There are rumors, which I can’t confirm, that this is some sort of organized attack on the Comcast DNS to route users to infected websites.

There are some simple fixes for users. I talked the husband of a co-worker through the procedure in about 90 seconds. Hopefully that won’t be necessary too much longer.

Now that Internet access is being used for everything, including phone service, it’s time it became as dependable as a public utility.

Liking My 8000 Explorer… Sort Of

It is nice to have the DVR (Digital Video Recorder) from Comcast. For the last week I’ve been playing with my Scientific Atlanta 8000 Explorer.

I have been recording like a drunken sailor. Last night I watched Hannah and Her Sisters (which had run at some inconvenient time). I’ve taken to seeing Letterman when I get home from work… even though the show is already in progress. Right now, I’m watching a documentary on water (please, I know how exciting that makes me sound)&#185.

I will have to learn that I’m under no obligation to watch what I record.

The user interface on the DVR to be kludgey at best. There are too many menus which are unreachable directly and must be reached by navigating through other, more general, menus. The listings of recorded or to be recorded show don’t show enough entries at once. As far as I can tell, there is no direct access to see the beginning of a show which is being recorded (In other words, if I walk in at midnight and want to watch Letterman from the beginning, though the recording continues in the background)

Digital TV is always slower in tuning than analog. So the click, click, click of a remote control doesn’t quite have the same speed or satisfaction. I have found this unit even slower than my non-DVR digital tuner. This might be because everything is actually being viewed after having been recorded – even live TV.

Some of the problems have been significant enough to force me to write Scientific Atlanta, who built the box.

Form Confirmation

Thank you for submitting the following information:

name: Geoff Fox

email: me@geofffox.com

submit: Submit

question

My 8000 has shown some strange behavior. Last night, during the playback of a movie (with no other recordings in progress) the playback stopped on three separate occasions. The video just froze – and then returned a few seconds later.

Also, this morning the unit is very slow to respond to channel changes. If, for instance, I enter a “1” on the keypad, it can be nearly 5 seconds before that shows on the LED readout. So, I have no idea whether the signal was even received by the unit.

Thank you, Geoff Fox

I’ll report back on their response… if any.

&#185 – A few seconds after I type that, I had had enough. It’s off and erased.