Saturday, July 27, 2002

Watch your back Ray!

Judging from my referral log, someone is looking for dirt on the mayor. Not surprising as some of the investigations are getting uncomfortably close to his predecessor. Someone seems to be looking to see if he got a ticket fixed or if there was any funny business with stock when he ran the local Cox Communications branch. Expect to see allegations about Nagin arise soon. FWIW, I doubt they'll be true or have legs. They already tried during the campaign and got no traction. Besides, now that Nagin is actually delivering on his promises, I am pretty sure the people who elected Edwards three times would be willing to forgive most past transgressions so long as he keeps producing.
"Whooooo are you?"
These new whiz-bang IDs were just hitting the street when I was leaving the service about two years ago. Part of their purpose was to serve as a physical key to ensure computer security. The thinking was that one would log into the system using a username, password, and the ID inserted into a card reader and thus only be able to access the files and applications one rated seeing and using. I suppose this system, adding the additional layer of a Smartcard, is somewhat more secure than just username and password, but not that much so. I remember getting into philosophical discussions/arguments with some of the project managers of the Smartcard initiative about them being overly obsessed with the idea of a card with info coded into it. I said that they would do better to go back and look at the original objective, which was to positively ID a service member and give him secure access to those computing assets he needs to do his job. Instead, the card got a life of its own and there was talk of putting medical and personnel records into it. FWIW here were some of the questions the card fetishists could never answer:

  1. How does a possession of a card, username and password positively identify a user? Cards are lost and stolen all the time. Usernames and passwords not impossible to hack/guess.

  2. Since new software/hardware (card reader etc.) will be needed across the DOD, why not explore mature biometrics like retinal scan, fingerprint readers or facial recognition? Then no card would be required and actual presence of the member (OK his eye, finger, or head, anyway) at the workstation is established.

  3. What is the advantage of a physical card with record info stored into it over a virtual record? Records could be maintained in a secure location, backed up and accessible only to positively identified (e.g. retinal scanned) service members and DOD personnel with the authority to access them. As a matter of fact, some soldiers and sailors expressed concern that captors may torture them for whatever information might be stored in the cards (I felt such objections were a little overwrought, captors will torture for what is purportedly in a prisoner's head, card or no. Or just for the pure evil of it). In an era of ubiquitous networks, storing record info in an ID card is about the same thing as handing every service member a floppy disc or CD rom.

  4. Reissuing new ID cards to every active and reserve service member is no mean feat. The process usually takes about 30 minutes per person and the issuing facilities usually take only two at a time. It will take years before everyone has a new ID, and as you see below, the card itself has taken a life of its own and will need to be periodically upgraded.

Now this:

The Pentagon is testing a program to add "biometrics" data to the ID card – information about unique physical characteristics such as a fingerprint, hand shape, iris pattern, voice print or face. That would add another level of security by requiring computer users to log in with their ID card and password and then have their fingerprint or other biometric data scanned to verify who they were.

Wasn't the card supposed to identify the service member. Here is a great example of the bureaucratic mindset. Put the biometric data in the card along with the record information to verify that the person logging in using the card is in fact its owner. The card supports a project office and will receive continued funding to explore more features. The original issue which the card addressed (positively identifying service members) has been supplanted by the making of a better card (much like airline security has been reduced to an exercise in denying travellers their nail clippers rather than really making flights more secure). These people have confused an ID card with positive identification. If we can read and compare biometrics to identify a person, what value does the card add?

Friday, July 26, 2002

Maybe that's their problem...

As a lapsed homebrewer, this article, via NRO's Corner, caught my eye. As a student of history this particular passage stuck out:
Beer began in the Middle East. There are Egyptian tomb paintings showing the brewing process. There even are historians who have suggested the concept of having a city was necessary so people could have surplus cereal to make beer. Could it be beer is at the heart and root of civilization? I'll drink to that.

As the influence of Islam grew in the Middle East, less and less beer was produced. The center for the production and consumption of beer moved to Europe.

There you have it, beer (for that matter booze) as a civilizing force. And look what happened to the culture that shunned it. I can't find a good link but I remember reading somewhere that the framers were boozehounds by today's standards. I know correlation does not equal causation, but it does take industrial and agricultural know how to make large quantities of hooch. Fermented fruit or grain drinks were a good way to preserve the value of perishables and actually may have motivated early communities to start producing beyond subsistence levels. Beer and wine, like flour, dried meat or fish, were means of banking labor in the growing and hunting seasons for potential trade opportunities or lean times. Whisky (basically distilled corn beer) was actually the most valuable form corn could take. Finally, whether you are a drinker or not, I'll bet teetotaler cultures are much less permissive and accepting of one's pursuit of happiness. That goes double for any "Islamic Republics." It's bad enough that one can't get a beer in Kuwait. It's even worse that they wrap their women up like apiculturists and treat them as chattel.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

I dunno, seems to me that NOLA is perfect for the new creative class, especially since Ray is cleaning up the joint.
The harder task is to foster a social climate that lures the best and brightest. Companies will go where good workers want to be--or already are. What's desired are not ballparks and symphonies but exciting street life, rock concerts and opportunities for outdoor recreation. Large gay populations are important, Florida says, because they symbolize the tolerance and diversity that people in the "creative class" value. On most counts, such places as Austin and Seattle do better than Pittsburgh and Buffalo.
Bold mine

Too bad he rated us so low on the "boho Index." He clearly has not lived here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Watch Him

Nagin is no dummy. Yesterday's unprecedented sweep of corrupt city workers gave him credibility among even the most cynical New Orleaneans. And he is laying a large part of the responsibility exactly where it belongs, at the feet of Morial and his former Chief Administrative Officer Marlin Gusman.

Nagin and new Chief Administrative Officer Kimberly Williamson described their wide-ranging sweep, which they predict will lead to canceled sweetheart contracts, if not more firings and arrests, as an ethical obligation. The prior administration's failure to do the same, Nagin implied at his Monday press conference, was an ethical failing.
"What we have found after a little more than one month of this investigation is pervasive, and it is very clear that this type of behavior has been going on for many, many years," Nagin said. "In fact, there is hard evidence that top officials of the previous administration were alerted to these improprieties and did nothing effective to eradicate the inappropriate and certainly criminal activity.

"I mean, think about it. The previous administration had six to eight years, eight years to find this. . . . If I go eight years and somebody brings this type of investigation and my chief administrative officer did not do anything about it, I would fire him. This is inexcusable. It should have been taken care of a long time ago. . . . It's not leadership. It's not management. It's not anything other than complicity," Nagin said.
(bold mine.)

Morial's response was more typical:
"In my eight years as mayor it was my practice to refer to the Office of Municipal Investigation information that was brought to my personal attention regarding violations of the law. I did this on many occasions and I also demanded city department heads follow protocol and refer all information regarding violations of the public trust directly to OMI,"

Blah blah blah. Sounds like his buddy Gore's "no controlling leagal authority" tripe. I get it, it's not his fault, blame the OMI. Seems to me that the OMI works just find with the right executive leasdership. Imagine that, a city executive who executes. Morial and Gusman represent the forces of the bad old go along/git along days of NOLA. They must be defeated utterly lest they and their cronies hunker down and resist reform in hopes of a return to power in three years. When Nagin does succeed turning things around, he is going to be a force to contend with statewide or even nationally- a black democratric Guilliani.

Monday, July 22, 2002

A Salvo Across the Bow

So far, the new mayor has lived up to my expectations. He's hired a whiz kid CTO who is dragging the city's IT infrastructure into the 20th century and has made made measurable improvements to the streets, most notably new LED stop lights that are brighter, last for years, use less power and fail gracefully.

But this morning he lowered the boom. 80 plus people (from the taxi administration, the auto inspection department and illegal cabbies) were arrested for bribery and led off in chains infront of the cameras. It was wonderful. The operation was clearly coordinated with the local press, who jumped on the story like jackals (or whatever predator/scavenger you prefer) on a lame zebra. As further evidence that the man is no fool, Nagin choose to make examples of the two agencies whose subsequent paralysis would matter least to the city since they did not perform their regulatory functions anyway. They only collected payoffs and paychecks. What would be great is if they just eliminated (or at least radically shrunk) these agencies. It's not like all those jobs did anything except provide civil servant jobs for the previous mayors' cronies. I mean, have you seen some of the cabs or cars on the streets here? It really could not get much worse, so if the agencies were not providing the regulation for which they were ostensibly chartered, bloody eliminate them! Oh please let the metermaids be next. (Actually, as much as I revile them, because they are incentivized, they do get around and ticket offenders, sometimes too well)
Bring It On, Dragon
OK, I was able to suspend disbelieve long enough to enjoy a diverting afternoon at the theatre watching Reign of Fire. So I was more than idly interested in the nerd fest that erupted regarding whether the dragon swarms would really have vanquished civilization so handily. While I can’t find fault with most of the Captain’s analysis of dragons vs. jets and missiles and radar et al, I was surprised he did not even mention one existing weapon system that would not only sterilize the airspace of dragons for 100+ mile radius, but could effectively deal with swarms of the critters.
I am of course talking about the Aegis equipped Ticonderoga class cruiser (with the latest Vertical Launch and computer upgrades). The fire control system (for lubbers, that is what directs the missiles and guns, not what puts out fires) has (or had when I was in) a special mode. This special mode was born of the Cold War preparation for the kind of apocalyptic USA/USSR showdown at sea between fleets of ships and swarms of planes and missiles, the prospect of which probably gave Mahan’s ghost lumber of viagra quality (not that I would know anything about that, I mean viagra induced tumescence. Ahem). Anyway, we needed defense against a sky made black with cruise missiles and MIGs, where human reaction time and ability to multitask were just not up to the challenge. So the Navy came up with this special automatic mode of missile and gun direction to deal with expected Soviet saturation attacks on the carrier battle group. This fire control mode was appropriately, if not creatively, named Auto-Special. In the fleet it we said, “If it flies, it dies.”

Bring it on Dragons!(thanx for the cool pic to Matt Hawes)

I, and to my knowledge nobody, has ever seen a Tico go against a swarm of drones in Auto-Special. That would be one hell of an expensive test. I think the biggest Auto-Special salvo I ever saw was three in a live fire exercise. Versus an attacking swarm of dragons I figure the ship would be able to give quite a good account of itself. First, if the ship was “loaded for dragon,” would be 120 SM-2 mach 2+ SAMs. Versus such slow and unstealthy targets, even an unarmed telemetry missile could achieve what we called a “skin on skin” hit. That refers to when a telemetry bird actually struck the drone, rather than merely transmitting the “explode” signal to monitors from close enough to the target to evaluate the shot as a hit. I won’t bother with the math, but I’m pretty sure the kinetic energy of a supersonic missile, warheaded or not, would be sufficient to dispatch a dragon.

Meanwhile, the ship’s 5” 54 caliber guns could be slaved to the Aegis system (Link to FAS, who I know are kinda pinko, but some of their info is pretty good) to take anything that got past the missiles. Closer in, the Phalanx Close In Weapon System (CIWS) would spew streams of 20mm depleted uranium or tungsten rounds at anything that flew a threatening profile toward the ship. If the dragons figured out that the only way to avoid the CIWS was to fly below the speed of the threat envelope which, IIRC, could be set as low as 60 kts, then the guns could be switched to manual and aimed Nintendo style with a joystick and bore sighted infrared camera by an operator in the Combat Information Center.

Finally, men on deck could serve numerous 50 cal machine guns, 25mm Chain Guns, and Stinger missile launchers. They could wear Fire Fighting Ensembles, designed to enable a crewman to fight a fire in an enclosed engine room, as protection from the dragon’s fire breath.
Speaking of fire breath, it would not be much of a weapon against a modern warship, especially considering our ships are equipped with a Counter Measure Wash Down System (basically a giant topside sprinkler system) to protect against and clean up after chemical, biological or radiological attack. In operation this system is very similar to that of rescue truck used by the survivors in the film.

I just described the dragon killing capability of one ship. Anti dragon warfare capability multiplies when one considers the resources of a carrier battle group (pretty cool link, FWIW, I served in a Spruance class DD and Oliver Hazard Perry Class FFG). I don't expect the subs would be of much use except for covert surviellence. OTOH, I doubt a dragon could harm one at all. As Steve described before, the carrier’s air assets could take the fight to the dragons. What a battlegroup gives you is the ability to clear coastal areas of dragons and establish a beachhead for counter attack. It also could provide security for the industry needed to build sufficient armament to retake the rest of the world from the fire breathing fiends.