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Archive for February, 2008

Numbers Stations

February 28th, 2008 1 comment

Recently I came across an article at wikipedia about Numbers Stations. I don’t recall how I got there…whether it was a link from somewhere else, of if I stumbled there, but there I was, reading about “shortwave radio stations of uncertain origin.” Apparently they broadcast voices reading strings of numbers, words, letters, tunes or morse code.

This totally reminds me of “Lost.”

I continue reading.

The voices that can be heard on these stations are often mechanically generated. They are in a wide variety of languages, and the voices are usually women’s, though sometimes men’s or children’s voices are used.

Evidence supports popular assumptions that the broadcasts are channels of communication used to send messages to spies. This has not been publicly acknowledged by any government that may operate a numbers station, but in one case, Cuban numbers station espionage has been publicly prosecuted in a United States federal court.[1]

Numbers stations appear and disappear over time (although some follow regular schedules), and their overall activity has increased slightly since the early 1990s. This increase suggests that as spy-related phenomena, they were not unique to the Cold War.

This is one of the most spooky things I have heard of in a long time. I had to have a listen. So I scrolled down to the end of the article, found an external link, and ultimately found a recording for “The Lincolnshire Poacher.”

Weird stuff, huh?!

Back to the article, I learned some more:

According to the notes of The Conet Project,[2] numbers stations have been reported since World War I. If accurate, this would make numbers stations among the earliest radio broadcasts.

It has long been speculated, and was argued in court in one case, that these stations operate as a simple and foolproof method for government agencies to communicate with spies working under cover (sometimes literally[3]). According to this theory, the messages are encrypted with a one-time pad, to avoid any risk of decryption by the enemy. As evidence, numbers stations have changed details of their broadcasts or produced special, nonscheduled broadcasts coincident with extraordinary political events, such as the August Coup.[citation needed]

Others speculate that some of these stations may be related to illegal drug smuggling operations.[4] Unlike government stations, smugglers’ stations would need to be lower powered and irregularly operated, to avoid location by triangulated direction finding, followed by government raids. However, numbers stations have transmitted with impunity for decades, so they are generally presumed to be operated or sponsored only by governments. Also, numbers station transmissions in the international shortwave bands typically require high levels of electric power that is unavailable to ranches, farms, or plantations in isolated drug-growing regions.

Although no broadcaster or government has acknowledged transmitting the numbers, a 1998 article in The Daily Telegraph quoted a spokesperson for the Department of Trade and Industry (the government department that, at that time, regulated radio broadcasting in the United Kingdom) as saying, “These [numbers stations] are what you suppose they are. People shouldn’t be mystified by them. They are not for, shall we say, public consumption.”[7] Listening to numbers stations in the UK is illegal under Section 48 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 , so it is unlikely you could get official permission to listen to them; however, it is unlikely that the legislation would be used to prosecute those who listen to the stations privately. Indeed, one could argue that a listener could not be prosecuted for listening to stations that officially do not exist and in any case, operate illegally on frequencies not allocated to them by the ITU.

I don’t know about you, but this stuff strikes me as very, very odd. Couple this with my earlier post about mirrors on the moon, and, I tell you, I’ve come to realize just how much about the world we live in I don’t know. There are some many strange things going on out there that we have absolutely no idea about. Do you know something? Post a comment and I’ll check it out!

Strange Microsoft Products

February 27th, 2008 No comments

I was walking around the Microsoft campus in Redmond, WA, today, and came across a plaza they have created where they place tiles to commemorate all the products the company has shipped over the years. Below are pictures of some of the more strange products…a few of which I’ve never heard of before.

This is the tile at the entrance to the plaza…sums up their vision from quite a few years ago:

I’m pretty sure most of you have heard of this very popular product from Microsoft:

I bet the investors love this product:

And now the beginning of an animal theme:

I’ve never heard of this one, but as a lover of music, it might have been interesting:

I may head back someday and see what I missed. I wonder if any other software companies have similar commemorative tiles?

Garmin Colorado 400t Updates

February 26th, 2008 6 comments

It looks like Garmin listened to the complaints from the Colorado 400t early adopters, and made some crucial changes to the latest 2.40 version of its software. Here is a list of things they have changed/fixed/added:

  • Improved acquisition time in certain circumstances.
  • Improved power on time.
  • Improved backlight support.
  • Improved support for NiMH batteries.
  • Improved Wherigo player.
  • Added ability to show and review geocaches on the map.
  • Added ability to log geocaches as found.
  • Increased maximum geocache count to 2000.
  • Added support for BlueChart currents.
  • Added ability to view extended information for custom POI’s.
  • Added ability for turn preview beep to reset the backlight timeout.
  • Corrected map to display road labels.
  • Corrected map to display small towns.
  • Corrected map to not change orientation when beginning pan mode.
  • Corrected metric nautical setting to display appropriate map scale.
  • Support for Colorado Field Notes, at geocaching.com.

If Garmin continue in this very positive direction, I think they’ll have a hit on on their hands! Great work, Garmin, for listening to your customers!

Categories: Geocaching, GPS Tags:

Doomsday Vault For Seeds

February 25th, 2008 1 comment

There was a very interesting article today at MSNBC.com about The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. I did some further research on the subject at wikipedia, and came across this reference article.

The wikipedia article has this to say about the mission of the seed vault:

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault’s mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity in traditional genebanks. While the popular press has emphasized its possible utility in the event of a major regional or global catastrophe, it will certainly be more frequently accessed when genebanks lose samples due to mismanagement, accident, equipment failures, funding cuts and natural disasters. Such events occur with some regularity. In recent years, some national genebanks have also been destroyed by war and civil strife. There are some 1,400 crop diversity collections around the world, but many are in politically unstable or environmentally threatened nations.

The MSNBC.com article goes on to further say:

The vault, which Norway built at a cost of about 50 million kroner (US$9.1 million, euro6.25 million), has the capacity to store 4.5 million seed samples from around the globe, shielding them from climate change, wars, natural disasters and other threats.

The frozen mountain has been chilled further by giant air conditioning units to bring the temperature down to -18 Celsius (-0.4 Fahrenheit). Many seeds could last 1,000 years at that temperature, Fowler said.

The vault is designed to withstand earthquakes — successfully tested by a 6.2-magnitude earthquake at Svalbard last week — and even a direct nuclear strike, said construction leader Magnus Bredeli-Tveiten.

Fowler added that even if power systems failed, the permafrost around the vault would help keep the seeds “cold for 200 years even in the worst case climate scenario.”

I had no idea that something like this existed. Never before had I given thought to the fact that it might be a wise thing to keep backups of the seeds that create the crops our world depends on for food, clothing, and a number of other things. After all, if something catastrophic happened to the world, and the outside environment was unsuitable for growing anything at all, that would be the end of our ability to sustain ourselves with crops…never mind the impossibility of delivering roses to your loved on on Valentine’s Day! But, with over 1400 seed vaults dotting the world, I suspect our chances at being sustainable after a horrible earth event are greatly increased. Kudos to those with the foresight to come up with a contingency plan like this!

Makes you wonder what other things we have buried underground.

Categories: Science Tags: , , ,

Massive Amounts of Election Dollars

February 22nd, 2008 No comments

Keeping with the theme of things that amaze and astound me, I came across an article on my BlackJack today called "Clinton campaign spending worries supporters." The article talked about how supporters of the Clinton presidential campaign are concerned that the campaign spending patterns might have "hamstrung her competitiveness against Senator Barack Obama of Illinois." The story went on to talk about some figures that absolutely blew me away as I thought about them:

Nearly $100,000 went for party platters and groceries before the Iowa caucuses, even though the partying mood evaporated quickly. Rooms at the Bellagio luxury hotel in Las Vegas consumed more than $25,000; the Four Seasons, another $5,000. And top consultants collected about $5 million in January, a month of crucial expenses and tough fund-raising.

That’s a lot of money by any standards, and enough cause for alarm if you think about it long enough. But the article goes on to outline some more facts about spending by the top candidates:

The firm that includes Mark Penn, Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategist and pollster, and his team collected $3.8 million for fees and expenses in January; in total, including what the campaign still owes, the firm has billed more than $10 million for consulting, direct mail and other services, an amount other Democratic strategists who are not affiliated with either campaign called stunning.

Howard Wolfson, the communications director and a senior member of the advertising team, earned nearly $267,000 in January. His total, including the campaign’s debt to him, tops $730,000.

The advertising firm owned by Mandy Grunwald, the longtime media strategist for both Mrs. Clinton and Bill Clinton, the former president, has collected $2.3 million in fees and expenses for production costs, and is still owed another $240,000.

Finally came this section, which really took me aback:

Mrs. Clinton came into January with a cash advantage over Mr. Obama, with about $19 million available for the primary, compared with about $13 million for him. She wound up spending at roughly the same rate as Mr. Obama, about a million dollars a day, but because she performed dismally compared to him in raising money, she ended the month essentially in the red and was forced to lend her campaign $5 million, while he had $19 million for the coming contests.

Notice the highlighted portion…"about a million dollars a day." That’s astronomical and just plain sick. A million dollars a day being spent by more than one candidate to garner delegate votes. And we haven’t even reached the election yet.

I looked on wikipedia what the median household income in the United States (2006) is, and it comes out to slightly over $48,000 a year. It would take the average wage earner 20 years to make how much these campaigns spend in a single day. Does anybody else find that just incredibly gross? I can only imagine the good that this money could do for people in this country if applied to things like food and clothing for the poor, support for homeless, support for groups like orphans and sick children, and any of a number of social programs.

How amazing would it be if the country could come together and amass this much wealth to help the social issues facing our society. We can only dream.

Categories: Money Tags:

Strange Facts About The Moon

February 19th, 2008 No comments

I was doing some research today to come up with a new post, and came across this article that has a long list of strange facts about the moon. Here is a sample:

  1. Water Vapor: On March 7, 1971, lunar instruments placed by the astronauts recorded a vapor cloud of water passing across the surface of the moon. The cloud lasted 14 hours and covered an area of about 100 square miles.
  2. Magnetic Rocks: Moon rocks were magnetized. This is odd because there is no magnetic field on the moon itself. This could not have originated from a “close call” with Earth—such an encounter would have ripped the moon apart.
  3. No Volcanoes: Some of the moon’s craters originated internally, yet there is no indication that the moon was ever hot enough to produce volcanic eruptions.
  4. Moon’s Age: The moon is far older than previously expected. Maybe even older than the Earth or the Sun. The oldest age for the Earth is estimated to be 4.6 billion years old; moon rocks were dated at 5.3 billion years old, and the dust upon which they were resting was at least another billion years older.

There are quite a few more interesting facts about that lunar landscape we see almost every night. Give the article a read and you might find something interesting to share at your next party!

If you have a few extra moments, check out the root web site where these facts came from…Informant News. I’m sure the articles here will lead to quite a few more blog posts!

Categories: Astronomy, Science, Weird Tags:

Seattle Skyline At Night

February 19th, 2008 No comments

Took some pictures last night of the Seattle skyline from Alki Beach. In total I took 58 pictures before my second set of batteries ran out. These 12 are the best of the lot.

Categories: Photography Tags:

Run Faster Than Venus Rotates!

February 18th, 2008 2 comments

Reading through the September 2006 issue of Astronomy magazine recently, I came across a two-page spread discussing the speeds of objects in space. Here’s a little list I’ve put together for your consideration:

  1. Person (brisk walk) : 4 mph
  2. Automobile (interstate speed) : 65 mph
  3. Commercial Jet (cruising speed) : 600 mph
  4. Venus Rotational Speed : 4.1 mph
  5. Mercury Rotational Speed : 6.8 mph
  6. Pluto Rotational Speed : 30.4 mph
  7. Earth Rotational Speed : 1,040 mph
  8. Sun Rotational Speed : 2,231 mph
  9. Neptune Rotational Speed : 6,001 mph
  10. Saturn Rotational Speed : 22,994 mph

Some things that strike me as amazing here : Venus’ rotational speed is so slow that you could run around the circumference of Venus before it has a chance to make one full rotation; Saturn is rotating on its axis at a very, very fast pace! I wonder what it would be like to be on the surface of Saturn as it whips around so quickly…is that what accounts for the nasty storms on the surface?

In the big scheme of things these don’t amount to much, but I thought them amazing just the same. We, or at least me, tend to take think in terms of the Earth so often. But, the fact is, there is quite a bit of disparity out in space!

Categories: Astronomy, Science Tags:

Geocaching Is About…

February 14th, 2008 No comments

On this Valentine’s Day, I whipped up a video to give you an idea of what Geocaching is really about.


Geocaching Is About…Click here for another funny movie.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Keep on caching!

Categories: Geocaching, GPS, Videos Tags:

Ten Curious Facts About The Moon

February 13th, 2008 No comments

Wrapping up my series of posts about the moon, here are ten things you probably didn’t know about the round orb that we only notice at night:

  1. When Neil Armstrong took that historical step of “one small step for man one giant step for mankind” it would not have occurred to anyone that the step he took in the dust of the moon was there to stay. It will be there for at least 10 million years.
  2. In a survey conducted in 1988, 13% of those surveyed believe that the moon is made of cheese.
  3. How close can you get without completely running out of gas? Apollo 11 had only 20 seconds of fuel left when they landed on the moon.
  4. In China, the dark shadows that are on the moon are called “the toad in the moon”.
  5. The moon is not a planet, but a satellite of the Earth.
  6. The moon rotates at 10 miles per hour compared to the earth’s rotation of 1000 miles per hour.
  7. One side of the moon is always facing the Earth.
  8. The moon is the only extraterrestrial body that has ever been visited by humans it is also the only body that had samples taken from it.
  9. The moon has no global magnetic field.
  10. On the moon, there is no wind or water.

These facts, and more, can be found at MoonConnection.com.

Categories: Astronomy, Science Tags: