September 2004

Matthew Broersma, Techworld, reports (via BoingBoing):

A major breakdown in Southern California’s air traffic control system last week was partly due to a “design anomaly” in the way Microsoft Windows servers were integrated into the system, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The radio system shutdown, which lasted more than three hours, left 800 planes in the air without contact to air traffic control, and led to at least five cases where planes came too close to one another, according to comments by the Federal Aviation Administration reported in the LA Times and The New York Times. Air traffic controllers were reduced to using personal mobile phones to pass on warnings to controllers at other facilities, and watched close calls without being able to alert pilots, according to the LA Times report.

The failure was ultimately down to a combination of human error and a design glitch in the Windows servers brought in over the past three years to replace the radio system’s original Unix servers, according to the FAA.

Photo: Executing a Viet Cong officer in Saigon
Eddie Adams photo of S. Vietnamese National Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong officer in Saigon on Feb. 1, 1968. (Photo: AP (file))

The Associated Press reports:

Eddie Adams, a photojournalist whose half-century of arresting work was defined by a single frame - a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photo of a communist guerrilla being executed in a Saigon street during the Vietnam War - died Sunday. He was 71.

Photo of Johnny Ramone

via BoingBoing:

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — Johnny Ramone, guitarist and co-founder of the seminal punk band The Ramones that influenced a generation of rockers, has died. He was 55.

Cory Doctorow writes on BoingBoing:

Meg Hourihan, the co-founder of Pyra, the company that invented Blogger, has retired from technology to become a chef:

So last night I ended my sabbatical and began my new career doing something I’ve always felt passionate about: cooking. I’m working in the kitchen of a restaurant called Fifty-Six Union (mentioned at the bottom of thisFeasting on Nantucket article) here on Nantucket. Yesterday at 3 PM I put on my black chef’s clogs, my black pants and white t-shirt, pulled my Red Sox cap over my hair and got to work peeling and deveining shrimp. Seven hours later, sweatily scrubbing the kitchen floors, I was still smiling.

I’ve learned a lot this summer during my sabbatical but it all can be summarized in three words: follow your heart.

Capsula Mundi Illustration

David Pescovitz, BoingBoing, (via Aeiou) reports:

Capsula Mundi is a design for a biodegradable coffin made from starch plastic that holds the deceased in a fetal position. The stunning artwork was created by Italian designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel:

“Capsula Mundi is planted in the earth like a seed. Above it, to signal the presence of occupied space, is a shallow concave circle dug out of the ground. In the center of which, a tree is planted, the essence of it chosen in life by the dead one, the care of this tree is the responsibility of everyone. The aim is ecological burial, literally a more natural way to decay.

The cemetery will, then, acquire a new look. No longer the overpopulated urban environment with congested architecture, it will be a natural one in contact with the earth, enveloping expansive areas, entire hills consecrated to the cult of the dead. Summarizing, it is a different landscape devoted to the worship of our ancestry: a sacred forest.”

Update: BB reader Jacob Schnickel points out the striking similarity between the Capsula Mundii and Frida Kahlo’s painting of Luther Burbank.

, The Coloradoan, reports:

In a country that constitutionally protects the right to a fair and speedy trial, remarkably few cases ever go before a jury.

During the past three years, less than 1 percent of criminal cases filed in Larimer County made it to trial.

Instead, the vast majority of cases were resolved through plea agreements, a mutual settlement between prosecutors and the defendant, usually with the help of a defense attorney or public defender.

Time Magazine Cover

Xeni Jardin, BoingBoing, reports:

Check out the cover of this week’s TIME [magazine]. (Insert Beavisoid laugh) If you’re unfamiliar with the term “goatse” — it is the very definition of NSFW. A particularly abhorrent image which has become a sort of sick internet in-joke over the years. Search Google and ye shall find. But only if you’re prepared for irreversible eyeball scarification. Or, for an eyeball- and work-safe answer, try wikipedia’s entry. (Thanks, Brad, and Boogah)

Jon Henley in Paris reports for The [UK] Guardian, via BoingBoing:

There are, at most, 15 of them. Their ages range from 19 to 42, their professions from nurse to window dresser, mason to film director. And in a cave beneath the streets of Paris, they built a subterranean cinema whose discovery this week sent the city’s police into a frenzy.

“They freaked out completely,” Lazar, their spokesman, said happily. “They called in the bomb squad, the sniffer dogs, army security, the anti-terrorist squad, the serious crimes unit. They said it was skinheads or subversives. They got it on to national TV news. They hadn’t a clue.”

To be fair, until recently very few people did have a clue about La Mexicaine de la Perforation, a clandestine cell of “urban explorers” which claims its mission is to “reclaim and transform disused city spaces for the creation of zones of expression for free and independent art”.

Robert X. Cringelywrites, via Slashdot:

Twenty-five years ago, I wrote a book using as my word processor a line editor running on an IBM 370/168 mainframe. It was the only computer I had then, so what the heck. Working late one night on my ADM3a dumb terminal, connected to the mainframe over a 300 baud dial-up connection, I pushed the wrong key and sent 8,000 lines — almost 100,000 words — into oblivion. It was one of those moments of instant clarity where the accompanying blast of adrenaline seemed to slow time to a crawl. My finger was still on the key when I realized what I’d done. I wondered if I just kept my finger on the key, pressing down, whether I could keep the command from being executed? Of course not. So I hustled across campus to beg someone to recover my file from a backup tape. And while the backup tape existed (or so they said) it was apparently unreadable. My book was gone, and I’d have to start over.

It could have been worse. Lawrence of Arabia left the hand-written manuscript of his book, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, on a railway platform in London, losing forever 350,000 words that he subsequently wrote again from scratch. At least I had a variety of printouts to scavenge. But the lesson about saving and backing-up was learned forever, reinforced by several hundred hours of work that mistake added to my project.

At the heart of last week’s column about Hurricane Frances was the idea of having a backup strategy, which few individuals (and not even that many organizations) have or implement faithfully. But stercus accidit, so having some plan to protect your data from a storm, from your two year-old, or even from yourself is a good idea. My thoughts to this point have concentrated mainly on how to transfer the data to some physical medium and keep it with me, but there are better and more scalable alternatives, at least one of which I believe could make a nice business.

Read on.

Jon Henley in Paris reports for the UK Guardian, via BoingBoing:

Police in Paris have discovered a fully equipped cinema-cum-restaurant in a large and previously uncharted cavern underneath the capital’s chic 16th arrondissement.

Spencer Reiss, WIRED magazine, reports:

China is staring at the dark side of double-digit growth. Blackouts roll and factory lights flicker, the grid sucked dry by a decade of breakneck industrialization. Oil and natural gas are running low, and belching power plants are burning through coal faster than creaky old railroads can deliver it. Global warming? The most populous nation on earth ranks number two in the world - at least the Kyoto treaty isn’t binding in developing countries. Air pollution? The World Bank says the People’s Republic is home to 16 of the planet’s 20 worst cities. Wind, solar, biomass - the country is grasping at every energy alternative within reach, even flooding a million people out of their ancestral homes with the world’s biggest hydroelectric project. Meanwhile, the government’s plan for holding onto power boils down to a car for every bicycle and air-conditioning for a billion-odd potential dissidents.

What’s an energy-starved autocracy to do?

Go nuclear.

While the West frets about how to keep its sushi cool, hot tubs warm, and Hummers humming without poisoning the planet, the cold-eyed bureaucrats running the People’s Republic of China have launched a nuclear binge right out of That ’70s Show. Late last year, China announced plans to build 30 new reactors - enough to generate twice the capacity of the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam - by 2020. And even that won’t be enough. The Future of Nuclear Power, a 2003 study by a blue-ribbon commission headed by former CIA director John Deutch, concludes that by 2050 the PRC could require the equivalent of 200 full-scale nuke plants. A team of Chinese scientists advising the Beijing leadership puts the figure even higher: 300 gigawatts of nuclear output, not much less than the 350 gigawatts produced worldwide today.

To meet that growing demand, China’s leaders are pursuing two strategies. They’re turning to established nuke plant makers like AECL, Framatome, Mitsubishi, and Westinghouse, which supplied key technology for China’s nine existing atomic power facilities. But they’re also pursuing a second, more audacious course. Physicists and engineers at Beijing’s Tsinghua University have made the first great leap forward in a quarter century, building a new nuclear power facility that promises to be a better way to harness the atom: a pebble-bed reactor. A reactor small enough to be assembled from mass-produced parts and cheap enough for customers without billion-dollar bank accounts. A reactor whose safety is a matter of physics, not operator skill or reinforced concrete. And, for a bona fide fairy-tale ending, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is labeled hydrogen.