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Friday, 28 February 2003

Friday morning

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Mountains, molehills and airport

No really, it does feel like I've lost a phantom limb.

I tried re-installing the 10.2.4 combo update. My laptop thought about this very intently for a while, decided that it really needed to be rebooted (I quite happily obliged), and then I logged back in. Airport still not working.

When I finally get home, it's straight on to Apple tech support with my customer ID handy. I explain to Helpful Woman that I'm really having terrible trouble with my airport. She thanks me kindly, asks for my details and there is much rejoicing due to the fact that I bought Applecare, which seemed like a frivolous waste of a couple hundred pounds at the time. I now get transferred to an airport specialist.

Actually, I don't. What I do get instead is eight minutes of hold music punctuated by a very apologetic prerecorded voice telling me about how Apple's new products have overwhelmed their support lines and that my call is very important to them. Well, yes. My call is very important to me, too. I'm glad we all agree. Oh, and the apologetic prerecorded voice tells me to check out apple.com.uk for details of these new products that have so unfortunately been overwhelming support lines left, right and centre.

I finally get to speak to Mr. Airport Specialist. I explain the problem. Airport won't pick up the local network. Well. It kind of will, if I hit it over the head with a blunt object, tie it to a table, threaten to poke its eyes out with, oh, I don't know, an iPod and ram the SSID of the network into its mouth. Then it kind of works. It picks up the MAC address of the base station and proceeds to do bugger all.

"I see," says Mr. Airport Specialist. "Tell me, what base station are you connecting to?"

"It's a D-Link WAP," says I. At this point, alarm bells are going off in my head. It's third party. Tech support people hate third party hardware and software. They have some kind of grudge against it, as if it came in the middle of the night and stole their children.

"Ah," says Mr. Airport Specialist. "We don't support third party hardware. You'll have to talk to D-Link."

Time for a dazzling riposte. "Ah, but no! You see, I can't even create an ad-hoc network using the airport software! I get an error! Therefore it couldn't possibly the third party hardware, because I should still be able to create an ad-hoc network if the third party hardware were malfunctioning!" I triumphantly jab the air with a pencil in the general direction of the call centre.

"Oh." There's some silence. "I'll have to go and check something."

More hold music. Yes, the call is important to you. We've established that.

Mr. Airport Specialist comes back. "Yeah, there might be a problem with the airport card. But seeing as you don't have another Mac or an Apple base station to connect it to, we can't really do much diagnosis remotely. So you're going to have to take it to a service centre, get them to take it out and test it in another Mac or something."

At this point, Mr. Airport Specialist starts to fall over himself and attempts to find me the nearest Apple certified support centre. He comes up with Inmac, who are in Runcorn. What follows is an amusing game of telephone tag:

Me: Hello, is that Inmac? I've been told you're an Apple Support Centre.
Inmac guy #1: No, we're not.
Me: Oh. Well Apple said you were.
Inmac guy #1: They lied.
Me: I see. Well, they said your Runcorn office was. Can I have their phone number?
Inmac guy #1: Here's their number.
Me: Hello, is that Inmac in Runcorn? I've been told you're an Apple Support Centre.
Inmac woman #1: Yes, we are!
Me: Great. I have this problem with my Mac that I didn't buy from you, but Apple said it'd be okay for you to have a look at it.
Inmac woman #1: Oookay. Well, you're speaking to the PC side. Here's the number for the Mac people.
Me: Hello, is that Inmac in Runcorn? I've been told you're an Apple Support Centre.
Inmac guy #2: Yes, we are.
Me: Great. I have this problem with my Mac that I didn't buy from you, but Apple said it'd be okay for you to have a look at it.
Inmac guy #2: Ah, this is Mac sales. You want tech support.
Me: I see.
Inmac guy #2: I shall transfer you.
Me: Hello, is that Inmac tech support in Runcorn? I've been told you're an Apple Support Centre.
Inmac guy #1: Hang on.
Me: Oh, it's you.
Inmac guy #1: Yes.
Me: Well, are you?
Inmac guy #1: No.
Me: Are you sure?
Inmac guy #1: Yes.
Me: Because all your friends think you are. And Apple.
Inmac guy #1: Well, we're not. Still.
Me: I see.

At this point, I gave up, and am going to try these guys instead, seeing as they're next to Ikea (long story).

More later, I expect.

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Thursday, 27 February 2003

Thursday morning

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A momumental disaster

Last night, the airport card in my laptop decided to inexplicably stop working. The first thing it did was to fail to pick up any signal whatsoever from our access point--not much of a big deal, seeing as this happens every now and again due to the 15in PowerBook's absolutely terrible wi-fi antenna.

Easily solved--sit down next to the access point and persuade the laptop that yes, there is in fact a pretty strong wireless signal floating around the ether. Normally, this works. It didn't last night.

Ooookay. Well, let's try a reboot. Still nothing doing.

By now a faint sort of panic is starting to set in. I'm breaking out in a sweat. The thought of actually having to use a Windows laptop just because the Apple one has a duff wireless card is getting to me. (Mental note: keep calm, it's only wireless net access. It's nothing serious, it's not as if I've lost a limb or anything. Well. Maybe a phantom limb. That can receive and transmit data at 11mbit/s. Sigh.)

Fine. A second reboot. Still nothing. Scrabble through the pretty box that the laptop came in, find Apple hardware diagnostic CD. Everything's fine. Everything. Especially the Airport card. Panic a little more. Decide to check and repair permissions on the boot volume. Ta-da, tens of files with wrong permissions (not like that's ever a surprise). Reboot. Still nothing.

Do that drum-fingers-on-desk thing. Inspiration hits: zap PRAM. Find toothpick, press button on back of machine for ten seconds. Reboot. Still nothing.

Enter SSID manually into network configuration. It connects--the base station ID changes from a default 44:44:44 etc. to the same MAC on the access point, but a dialog box pops up saying that "An error occurred connecting to the base station". Well, that's useful. Try to create an ad-hoc network. "There was an error creating the computer-to-computer network." Well woo bloody hoo.

Leaf through AppleCare documentation. Note idly that step 6 in suggested diagnostic/repair procedure is "reinstall operating system" and that step 6 occurs before step 7, which is "call Apple". A friend on IRC wonders if step 5 is "Buy a new Mac".

Call Apple. Apple closed (8am to 8pm weekdays in the UK). Call back tomorrow.

This morning: praise the lord, am not the only one whom this has affected. Unfortunately, other people don't have a solution either.

The exact error in the console log is:

WirelessScan timeout waiting for first scan result

Which happens whenever I turn airport on.

More later, I expect.

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Wednesday, 26 February 2003

I Want My MTV (War Coverage)

Of course, the sensible thing to do is actually read resolution 1441. An informed opinion is a damn sight better than an uninformed one. But most of us can't do that: we're too busy having the next pop culture meme rammed down our eyeballs by MTV. So, it's nice to know that MTV Europe are on the ball, and actually have an entire section of their site dedicated to the forthcoming (probably) war.

That's not enough, though. Sit down, because this might come as something of a shock. Tony Blair's going on MTV. That's right. To an audience of 300 million homes worldwide, Tony's going to earnestly explain why it's important for us to kick Saddam's ass and why he's a bad man. Tony Blair. He's down with the kids, yo.

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Wednesday morning

  • Huh. There's an iDisk utility for Windows XP
  • Steven Frank on how PDAs are only just working out how to deal with removable storage
  • Pioneer 10 gone, Metafilter discussion at 11
  • Gellar's Gone, via Whedonesque
  • The Reg reviews Sony Ericsson's P800 and pronounces that "it's a great phone and a thoroughly respectable PDA, all in one, at a price that undercuts PDAs"
  • Another Akihabara field report at Gizmodo
  • Caring for your introvert. No comment.
  • Office 2003 is hitting the news: a proper report at Infoworld, and annoying idiotic comment at slashdot
  • The Today programme on Radio 4 covered works in the EU coming to the end of their 50 years of copyright and ended the report asking 'Who will invest in recordings if they aren't assured of their profits?' and interviewing an industry lobbyist gunning for 95 years of copyright who said 'In Europe, it's said we have culture, and in America it's said they have entertainment. How ironic that the Americans protect their entertainment more than we do our culture' to which the only reasonable response was perhaps oh, fuck off
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Tuesday, 25 February 2003

Tuesday morning

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Monday, 24 February 2003

Blah blah test blah

This is a test post over XML-RPC from NetNewsWire (and editing in Kung-Log!)

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Monday morning

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Sunday, 23 February 2003


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Saturday, 22 February 2003


My brother has put online a great essay about synaesthesia:

Synaesthesia is unique in that it is perhaps the only psychological trait that `routinely inspires envy in those who study it experimentally'; the majority of synaesthetes interviewed have said that they would not want to lose their rare form of experience. Whether or not synaesthesia confers more traditional advantages over non-synaesthetes, such as memory or intelligence, has provoked much interest - for example, could synaesthesia have been responsible for some part of Feynman's flair with physics? Small studies have demonstrated that some grapheme-colour synaesthetes can recall a number array with significantly more accuracy than non-synaesthetes, but this performance advantage was not shown in all synaesthetes tested. While anecdotal reports of synaesthetes possessing exceptional memory in facts or dates abound, there have been no large scale trials comparing the memory or intelligence of synaesthetes to non-synaesthetes, so currently we have no answer to synaesthesia's possible cognitive benefits. [more]

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Friday, 21 February 2003

More Ready.gov remixes

Ready.gov remixes:

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Thursday, 20 February 2003

Recent reading

Two books in the recently read pile now:

Alastair Reynold's Redemption Ark was a wonderful read. I'm probably not in the right frame of mind to write a review at the moment, so I'll direct you instead to Rich Baker's review. Of interest is Reynold's list of hard-SF authors, and a rant about the hard-SF genre.

Second up was Greg Bear's Foundation and Chaos which, while good, wasn't an Asimov novel. Oh well. Again, I'm lazy, and am attempting to direct you to someone else's review only Adrian hasn't written it yet.

I am still two thirds of the way through The Blank Slate, which is annoying me no end.

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OneNote to rule them all

Microsoft's inadvertent release of an Office 2003 beta has enabled a select few (well, MSDN subscribers) to take a look at OneNote. Of particular interest to me:

One visual difference is immediately obvious: OneNote does not come with a "Save" option. The program automatically saves handwritten notes or text as they are inputted and again when the user closes a document. [more]


OneNote documents also use different organizational methods than those found in Word. The user's OneNote notebook is organized into pages that are accessed using tabs across the top of a document. Each page also can be divided into sub pages, which are accessed by tabs running down the side of a document. [more]

To the former: dear mother of God thank you. To the latter, hooray for new models for organising information. And yes, while they may not be new-new, they're certainly new-different for the majority of users.

I have a few thoughts on saving (we shouldn't have to) and OneNote (it sounds brilliant) in my articles section.

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Terrorism forces us to make a choice

"Don't be afraid... Be Ready" is the message from www.ready.gov, a new website launched by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

I'll say this. I like the design. It's clean. It's accessible (though I say that in the "relatively easy to navigate, but I haven't checked actual disability accessability"). It's also, to me and a few others, unintentionally amusing.

Perhaps is the gravity of the subject matter. The site informs citizens about what they should do in response to, and how to plan for, biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological threats. All very fine and good. That's important. It's just that some of the advice seems a little, well, obvious.

For example, the section about what to do in case of a nuclear blast:

Take cover immediately, below ground if possible, though any shield or shelter will help protect you from the immediate effects of the blast and the pressure wave.

Sensible. But, of course, it's a nuclear blast. Last I heard, those were pretty fatal. Still, no sense in being pessimistic about these sorts of things. Duck-and-cover, eh?

Quickly assess the situation.

I would like to place a bet on most assessments running along the lines of "dear mother of God we're going to die," before collapsing into hysterics.

Some of the visuals are particularly encouraging. Or not, as the case may be. Again, they're clear, and illustrated in that 1950s "how to escape a flaming plane" manner. One good one is the "make a plan in a moving vehicle" graphic:

Frame one appeals to any sort of dark sense of humour. It's guaranteed to put a damper on your day, especially when you get home from work: "So, I was driving along and then HOLY FUCK THE ROAD EXPLODED." If you're still managing to keep a straight face, I dare you to glance at frame two without seeing any hint at all of suggestiveness.

Still, at least the site gives some advices as to what to do about a chemical attack:

A chemical attack is the deliberate release of a toxic gas, liquid or solid that can poison people and the environment.

Or it's just the by-product of an industrial process gone haywire. Or an intentional industrial process and a rather cold-hearted corporation. Which isn't terrorism. But can be just as bad. Hey-ho.

Many sick or dead birds, fish or small animals are also cause for suspicion.

Hang on one tension-popping minute! I've heard of rivers where that's happened! Wait. Environmental pollution again. Oops.

Oh well. It's probably just a case of my dark sense of humour. I expect to see this parodied on The Daily Show by the end of the week. It's a wonderful site, it really is.

As ever, head over to Metafilter to join in with the discussion.

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Thursday morning

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Wednesday, 19 February 2003

New and noted

New additions to my reading list over the past couple of weeks:

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Getting better all the time

Thanks to Cal, who's been tirelessly pointing out all the bugs in this site's code for the last few weeks.

Fixed so far: some dodgy css (background colors, mostly), and a bunch of javascript code that was throwing up errors. The latter fix means that the cookies for comments should work properly now.

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Charlie Stross sees the future

Charlie Stross writes about visiting MIT's infamous media lab:

Take the down elevator again and you're in the quantum computing lab, next to a two-metre high dewar flask full of liquid nitrogen. This is where they're trying to build a quantum computer -- exploiting the eldritch physical phenomenon of quantum decoherence to solve complex iterative problems in linear time. (It's a bit of a culture shock after the children's symphony and the sympathetic steering wheel, but you're beginning to get a feel for how off-balance a tour of this building can make you -- if you expect a random surprise around every corner you won't go wrong.) [more]

Jealous? Me? Of course not.

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Posh Frock

BBC News Online launches its redesign. It's wider. Tom weighs in, as does Metafilter.

Oh, and this was amusing: hi to Copydesk, Danny O'Brien, Dave Barry and Parallax View. Giles swears blind he didn't have anything to do with it.

In other news, look at the pretty spike.

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Tuesday, 18 February 2003

How CNN edited Blix's transcript, redux

It turns out there's more - updates in the original entry.

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MS to debut threedegrees beta. Let's hope it doesn't suck as much as MSN Messenger:

The new software, threedegrees, creates a peer-to-peer social group where young people can chat, share photos, listen to music and meet friends. Concurrent with the beta, Microsoft also plans to release the Windows Peer-to-Peer Update for Windows XP. [CNet and MSNBC]

Of particular interest is:

Threedegrees is also a fascinating experiment in how music can be legally shared over the Internet. After much negotiation, the labels OK’d musicmix, once Microsoft agreed to somewhat hobble its features. (Playlists have a maximum of 60 tunes, and the songs won’t play unless the original owner is participating.)

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Sunday, 16 February 2003

How CNN edited Blix's transcript (UPDATED)

Update 18 Feb 03: CNN's transcript spread to an innocent party - see below for details.

Update 17 Feb 03: CNN have now updated their page, see below for details.

Last time, I said that the media wasn't trying hard enough. This time, they're outright fucking lying.

Here's CNN's transcript of the Blix report on Friday. And here's the BBC transcript.

Note that the BBC prefixes theirs with the statement:

Here is the full text of chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix's speech to the UN Security Council on disarming Iraq.

Whereas the CNN rider is:

Following is a transcript of chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's February 14 presentation to the U.N. Security Council on the progress of the inspection effort in Iraq.

It turns out that that some people think that CNN left 750 words out from their transcript, which isn't particularly encouraging. At all. This isn't good. So I went and checked myself.

After grabbing the text from the two transcripts, correcting for where the BBC inserted a whole bunch of whitespace, there it was. A count in Word says that there's 866 words in one version that aren't in the other. At all. And they're, variously, about Iraqi moves towards compliance and partial refutation of the evidence presented by Powell to the UNSC.

I've put up the two plaintext files I've worked on here (BBC) and here (CNN).

For comparison, here is the text of the report at the UN and Fox News. Those who are entertaining the notion that perhaps the BBC's version is the inaccurate one can rest easy that CNN's transcript also differs from that made available at the UN. For posterity, there's a cached copy of the CNN article here, in case it's updated over at CNN.

I realise that CNN say that theirs is a "transcript" as opposed to a "full transcript", but really, what the fuck?

If you haven't already, it might be a good idea to give some feedback to CNN.

UPDATE (17:49 GMT 17 Feb 03)
CNN have now updated their copy of the transcript. The new version, at the same address, has a timestamp at the top of "Monday, February 17, 2003 Posted: 2:47 AM EST (0747 GMT)" and now includes the missing sections. I have not been able to find any mention of the change, so this appears to be a silent re-editing. I still have a plaintext of the original CNN transcript and a cached copy of the page that was on CNN's site.

UPDATE (14:04 GMT 18 Feb 03)
In an interesting turn of events, it turns out that another organisation has been burned by CNN. Searching for the same pattern of text as found in the unoriginal article yielded two hits, both from the same source. Here's one at Yahoo UK and the original, at ePolitix [cached ePolitix copy].

So I called up ePolitix, thinking that they might be interested to know that the transcript they put up on Friday wasn't full or complete and was missing the now-legendary 866 words. I got put through to a guy called Chris Smith in their editorial department, and we managed to talk everything through. We had thought that perhaps the UN had issued an abbreviated draft release on Friday, and that's why the CNN and ePolitix versions were the same, but this didn't explain why the BBC managed to put up a complete version on Friday, too. It turns out that ePolitix sourced their version from CNN.

Now let me make this part perfectly clear: Chris was very happy that the discrepancies were pointed out to him and told me that ePolitix will be putting up the full version and issuing a correction, something that CNN hasn't done as yet. ePolitix were not aware that they had an incorrect version.

There had always been an off-chance that CNN had gotten hold of a draft version, but this is increasingly appearing to be not the case.

Let me also say that one of the reasons why I am pleased with ePolitix is that I was able to contact them in person about their version of the transcript. To my knowledge, no one I know has received a satisfactory response from CNN about their editing, and none I know has yet received anything but a form letter. If you have had a response from an actual person at CNN, please leave a comment below and let me know.

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Google buys Pyra

Holy shit. More at Dan Gillmore, Slashdot, Evan Williams, Boing Boing, Metafilter and just about everywhere else.

Best head over to Darren to get a roundup of the commentary, but Matt's got it - the secret word is memex.

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Saturday, 15 February 2003

Friday, 14 February 2003

The curse of massively multiplayer immersive games

I have a new article up on the future of massively multiplayer immersive games, the best example of which to date has been the Microsoft/Warner Brothers/Dreamworks promotion of A.I., with all subsequent attempts crashing and burning

The ultimate problem with the massively multiplayer immersive gaming genre as it stands at the moment is a profound and depressing lack of innovation: since Microsoft/Warner Brothers released the AI promotion (and I hate to be carping on about this), the amount of real and successful innovation in the field has been next to nil. The main (weak) additions to the genre have been that of prize money (and there may well be problems with that, depending on what kind of game you're trying to build), and even more media tie-ins.
To be blunt: they have all, to a greater or lesser extent, sucked. [more]

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Tuesday, 11 February 2003

Inflection Point

I have a new essay up, Inflection Point, which is about--amongst other things--what would happen if we never had to save documents:

When you write something down on a piece of paper, you're not expected to laminate it or perform some other bizarre closing ritual before you file it away in your desk drawer. You would be surprised if you wrote down a note to yourself and when you went back to it the next day, half of it was inexplicably missing after you swear blind you remember writing it. [more]

Comments and feedback are greatly appreciated.

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Monday, 10 February 2003

Apple Blah Blah Apple XServe Raid Blah

ObNewAppleStuff: XServe and XServe RAID.

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Sk8er Boi

Richard Herring has a hilarious deconstruction of Avril Lavigne's Sk8er Boi:

Avril Lavigne is heading for a fall. I have many problems with her catchy, but self-satisfied hit record “Skater Boy”.
I know I am 35 and should have better things to do that de-construct the lyrics of a song written by a petulant teenager, but I don’t. I also hope that if I do this then Avril may look herself up in a search engine (oh, she does it, believe me, don’t you Avril?), find this page (providing I’ve spelt her name right) and realise the folly of her youth and change her ways. [more]

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Collective Detective

BBC News covers the collective:

It is not just many hands that make light work. Many minds do too.
New forms of collaboration on the net are giving rise to clever crowds able to solve challenges and puzzles that most individuals would struggle to tackle alone.
These novel forms of problem-solving are emerging because the net makes it easy for people to keep in constant touch, to bring together experts on wildly different subjects, and to access much of the world's knowledge. [more]

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Shuttle linkdump

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Sunday, 09 February 2003


Some small things have changed around here: ext|circ is now using SimpleComments to blend together trackbacks and comments, and I've incorporated a Antipixel-inspired design for the commenting UI that should be somewhat better than the dross that was around before.

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I was watching MTV UK's Dancefloor Chart and two videos stood out: one was Love on the Run, a new track by Chicance that bore a striking resemblance to the Philip K Dick story Paycheck (which looks like it's in development as a film), and the other... well, I'd try and find out only MTV UK are useless and haven't updated their chart since the 27th of January.

Anyway. The second video (it turns out for Katoi's touch you) had a kind of flat-shaded vector 3D look that reminded me of Another World, a game that came out in 1991 for the Amiga and was later ported to the PC, SNES and Sega Genesis/Megadrive. As far as I was concerned, it was the Half Life of platformers, down to the "scientist meets research institute, research institute meets scientist, scientist and research institute produce high energy physics experiment, experiment backfires and ejects scientist into alien world" theme that works oh-so-well.

Another World simply was amazing, and the screenshots don't really do it justice: you had to see the thing move in fluid motion, and the damn thing fit on one disk. It was followed--more or less--by Flashback and Fade to Black, the former of which didn't look that impressive while the latter can probably be thought of as Half-Life's great grandaddy seeing as it came out in 1995 to Half-Life's 1998.

It's nice to see that games with a different visual look are still being made. The trend nowadays seems to be to throw more and more polygons at something until your eyes bleed--not that I have anything against Doom III--but The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is rapidly becoming the reason that's not Super Monkey Ball pushing me towards getting a Gamecube.

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Saturday, 08 February 2003

The Cathedral and the Shuttle

Rich Baker writes of a vision for space:

Since the winding down of Apollo, the space programme has not been building treasure ships but cathedrals. The Soviet Union bowed out of the space race and NASA turned its attention to Mars. Or rather it would've done so if its budget had allowed. Instead began developing the Space Transportation System, the Shuttle, with which it intended to make access to space cheap enough to build a space station from which to launch interplanetary ships to Mars. The intention was not science, not profit, but sheer adventure, the romance of space travel, blue jewel of Earth dusted with swirls of cloud, the magic of footprints in red dust. And it has been beautiful, and awesome, and magical.Now, though, we've lost a second orbiter. We've find ourselves with foundations and scaffolding, but no cathedral. The scaffolding is starting to crumble, the dreams are being scaled down. No science of any significance has been done, nowhere has been explored, and there's no prospect of getting anywhere any time soon. The problem is that NASA's vision incorporates romance, but not profit; and romance can only conjure up so much money. [more]

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Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality

Clay Shirky has a new essay out which will no doubt displease idealists:

A persistent theme among people writing about the social aspects of weblogging is to note (and usually lament) the rise of an A-list, a small set of webloggers who account for a majority of the traffic in the weblog world. This complaint follows a common pattern we've seen with MUDs, BBSes, and online communities like Echo and the WELL. A new social system starts, and seems delightfully free of the elitism and cliquishness of the existing systems. Then, as the new system grows, problems of scale set in. Not everyone can participate in every conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard. Some core group seems more connected than the rest of us, and so on.
Prior to recent theoretical work on social networks, the usual explanations invoked individual behaviors: some members of the community had sold out, the spirit of the early days was being diluted by the newcomers, et cetera. We now know that these explanations are wrong, or at least beside the point. What matters is this: Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality. [more]

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Friday, 07 February 2003

And then I saw my brain

My brother had an fMRI scan done on his brain today:

Today I had an interesting and unique experience - I had my brain scanned by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The point of this was to take part in one of my friend's psychology research experiments, earn £27 and also (arguably most importantly) get a picture of my brain. [more]

I wonder if he's going to be able to get copies of the data (I'm hoping yes).

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That's got to be a record

Got this a few minutes ago:

Wonderful. Piss me off by sending spam, and do it again by cashing in on a tragedy, then do it one last time by conning people who actually believe it into sending money to a company that probably doesn't even exist. Oh, and myspace.com suck for selling email addresses.

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The Smoking Gun

Now that all the hullaballoo has died down, I can present to you the shocking truth.

Itt's only been speculation up until now that Colin Powell's presentation was created in PowerPoint. I mean, there's a non-zero chance that the State Department could've used Keynote. We know that many years ago, Microsoft software infiltrated the US Government but, to our best efforts, they haven't disclosed quite how widespread its use is.

All that changed this week - after a shock team of inspectors forced their way into the Bureau of Public Affairs, trailing U2 spyplanes and UAV drones behind them, we found the following page at the State Department: Iraq: Failing to Disarm which proudly displays, amongst information such as video and transcripts, this smoking gun: PowerPoint Presentaton Accompanying the Secretary's Speech at the UN [PDF file -- 1.1Mb]".

Those who enjoy submitting themselves to mindless Flash can also have a look-see at the presentation at the Washington Post, who have a Flash slideshow up, and if you just want commentary on this whole PowerPoint shebang, you'd better head over to Ben Rooney's article at The Guardian.

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Ask and you shall receive

Danny O'Brien asks for the draft of the EU constitution in plaintext, seeing as it's provided as a PDF.

Courtesy of pdftotext, ta-da.

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Thursday, 06 February 2003

Shuttle (Debris) Rustling

NASA's information page on Columbia says this:

Located Debris All debris is United States Government property and is critical to the investigation of the shuttle accident. Any and all debris from the accident is to be left alone and reported to Government authorities. Unauthorized persons found in possession of accident debris will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Which is why I'm happy and sad that BBC News is reporting this:

Two Texans have been charged stealing two pieces of debris from the wreck of the Columbia shuttle which broke apart over the US at the weekend. [more]

NASA's latest report emphasises looking for the missing link, lending credence to the assumption that a piece of lightweight foam really couldn't have done critical damage to Columbia.

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Webb strikes again

An delightful post by Matt Webb on food information phone lines:

Tate & Lyle I ask how sugar is made. Customer care put me through to a sugar factory. I ask how sugar is made. Factory put me through to the technical department. I ask how sugar is made. Technical department put me through to a sugar engineer. I ask how sugar is made. Sugar engineer asks me how much time I've got. I ask for the overview. Lovely sugar engineer spends nearly quarter of an hour talking me through the growing, shipping, refinement and chemical processes. My favourite. [more]

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Wednesday, 05 February 2003

Then, I Had An Adlai Stevenson Moment

Matt Jones expresses it better than I do, but see if you can guess what I was doing at 3:30pm today:

[15:33:30] [danhon] Ooh, starting now.
[15:36:06] [danhon] OMG
[15:36:14] [danhon] It's a powerpoint presentation.

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Tuesday, 04 February 2003

The Media Isn't Trying Hard Enough

This post is prompted by a similar one at Illruminations.

I've been following the Columbia tragedy quite closely, and I've pretty much come to one unescapable conclusion. If you have any interest, at all, in finding out what happened, please don't treat the media as your first port of call.

So, the media is useful for a few things. Uncovering memos, for starters. Airing grievances from employees. But when they're not covering those things, they're way behind the curve. Not just that, but the new practice of hiring anchors whose only redeeming qualities are, to put it bluntly, look nice and be able to read an autocue are somewhat disturbing.

Everyone has seen the CNN graphic cockup, where it was claimed that the Shuttle was traveling at 18 times the speed of light. Now, CNN's coverage on Saturday was by and large exemplary compared to some other networks: I was watching them because I'd switched over from Fox News who were relatively quick off the ball but managed to fall off it more or less straight away when I heard the anchorwoman talk about the Shuttle being "200,000 miles away".

Then, there's the countless second-guessing. The shuttle should have been ferried to the ISS. The shuttle should've had EVA capability. The tiles on the underside should have been inspected. The shuttle should have tile repair capability. There should have been an escape route (yes, at Mach 18 and at an altitude of 200,000 feet it's rather trivial). Things like these involve a slightly-more than trivial amount of research, but research that should be done. But then there's the other type of research, research that's trivial.

I was talking about this with friends. The media's job is to provide accurate reporting, and to provide that reporting as quickly as it can. There is no excuse for not doing fact checking, because then you're not reporting news. You're reporting anything you want. There's no excuse for an anchor not having at least some grounding of science to know that the Shuttle wouldn't be 200,000 miles away from earth (for the record, the mean distance from the Earth to the moon is about 238,855 miles), and even less that the person creating onscreen graphics shouldn't know that the Shuttle can't travel at 18 times the speed of light. I expected that the public would do some sort of fact-checking on the media on this, but not to this extent.

Please, if you're at all interested in this, then check out the Columbia Loss FAQ [text, html].

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Tuesday links

  • Blah, blah new iMacs
  • sci.space.shuttle's Columbia Loss FAQ [text, html] which you should read if you think real life is like Armageddon or Space Cowboys
  • HP's Jena semantic web toolkit
  • Tom takes on NYT op-eds

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Sunday, 02 February 2003


In memory of the crew of STS-107

Today's Columbia links:

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Saturday, 01 February 2003

Columbia, NASA tech briefing

20:30 GMT: The NASA Technical Briefing has started. Information prior to the briefing is in the previous entry, here.

Ron Dittemore (Shuttle program manager) - devastated at the events unfolded this morning at the loss of seven family members; somber mood in teams when trying to understand the events, thoughts and prayers to the families of the astronauts - true heros.
We'll tell you as much as we know and be as honest as we can with you and try and fill in the blanks over the coming days and weeks; established a number of different teams and have contingency plans, preserving data, beginning thorough and complete investigations, mobilising forces, engineers, technicians to understand what went wrong.
It's appropriate that we tell the public to be careful with the debris, what we fly in space is operated in many cases with toxic propellants; some of the debris may be contaminated, so we need to be careful, don't wish any harm to come anybody who would be honestly seeking to help.
Have not positively identified any items that have been recovered, staging an attempt to ensure all recovered items are managed appropriately, have not established any debris or status of crew remains.
First indications loss of temperature sensors in left wing, inboard/outboard elevon on left wing, seconds and minutes later other problems including loss of tyre pressure indications on left main gear, then excessive structural heating. Caution: cannot yet say what caused loss, still early in investigation, going to take time to work through evidence. Hardware is being impounded, KSC processing stopped, impounding last data received from crew. Data will be poured over 24hrs/day for the foreseeable future.
Milt Heflin (Chief flight director): This is a bad day; glad that he lives and works in a country where if we have a bad day, we fix it. We will fix it. Said today it was a good day to land, as we came in, marvelling at the fact that no weather issues at launch, anywhere, and minor fog today. Was a fantastic mission, seemed to be coming to the right conclusion.
Specifics: recent, fresh information. 7:53am central, indication of off-scale temperature measurements on left inboard/outboard hydraulic systems, loss of temperature measurment, no indication of high/low (telemetry lost). 7:56am, left main gear tyre well, brakeline and tyre temperatures saw increase. During this time, vehicle was performing fine, no indication of any problems. 7:58am central, had bomb-line temperatures (sp?) embedded in structure of vehicle, all over orbiter, 3 temperatures on left side of vehicle at left wing area, off-scale reading again (not high/low, but lost measurements entirely). 7:59am central time, (no second data yet) in/outboard turret/tyre(?) temperatures, off-scale low, about 8 measurements total at that time: one of these measurements sensed onboard by computers gave crew message indication that they could look at on displays and we think they were acknowledging that measurement that they saw, vehicle was fine, no problems at that time. When things like this happen, acknowledge it, recognise it, do what we might need to do with it. That was the last transmission from the crew.
Lost all vehicle data at 8:00 cst, altitude at 207,135 feet and travelling at Mach 18.3, flight control team during this time, lost data and clearly began to know that we had a bad day. That's all I've got.
Taking questions now: Houston (Melissa Jacobs, Fox News) - where will debris be taken? no decision on this at the moment (dittemore), still identifying locations for teams to meet and gather and start process of recovering debris, part of activities to identify staging area and collection point - will be done later today, teams not quite in the air, staging at different airports, converging on NE Texas.
(can't make out questioners' names) "What is status of shuttle programme?" (dittemore) stop-work activities put in motion, minimised processing at KSC so that don't do anything that might disturb evidence, slowing down manufacturing processes, in Louisiana where manufacturing external tank, doing that in different areas around the country for different pieces of hardware. Slowdown for launch schedule yet to be determined. External investigative board as mentioned by O'Keefe, so we can clearly understand what was the root cause of the problem, if we understand the root cause and what we need to do about it, and accomplish that on the other flows, then we can re-start. Too early to tell.
(about the Progress module for Station) Contents to be shipped to Station appropriate to fact that we may not be there for a while, enough consumables, supplies for the crew to go through latter part of june without a shuttle visit, there's time to work through this and get back on our schedule, we'll have to work that through the coming days and weeks.
Explain to people not from the area how tight the community is: (dittemore) more than a job, this (human spaceflight) is a passion, an emotional event. work together as family members and treat each other that way. whether the loss of a crewmember or ground team or processing team, it's a sad loss, we're a close community. we know the risks, we know they're manageable and can have deadly consequences, we're bound together with the threat of disaster and have to count on each other to do the job right, we have a professional and emotional dependency. losing seven family members is devastating to us. we appreciate the thoughts, prayers, care and support
(heflin) I've been through three of these, each time you see a coming together of all the community here, our landscape has changed. Spaceflight business today is going to be much different than it was yesterday, it was different after Apollo 1, it was different after Challenger and it was different--the passion is here. Sometimes it's a shame that it takes things like this for this country to pull together and care, and it shouldn't. We're good, this country's great, it shouldn't take these things to cause a coming together.
8 sensors, one triggering a notification, which sensor was that: (heflin) left inboard/outboard hydraulic temperatures on lefthand side, they all went "off-scale low", bottom number of measurement that they went to, indicating loss of the measurement itself. (dittemore) as if someone cut the wire)
at 7:53 first loss of sensor information, any communication with crew? (heflin) set of measurement on LHS that went off-scale low, reported by flight controller responsible for mechanical hydraulic systems, when this happens, if any action to take, anything that needs to be done--controller tells director and crew, these were measurements that, not all announced to the crew, so crew had no indication (more telemetry on ground than crew), nothing to indicate any difficulty at all, had we seen anything that required action, we would have taken it. we train very hard to react in a short amount of time to react in situations, if we don't have anything that we see we've got to do, we don't spend the time talking about it, we focus on the next event.
during launch, concerns about debris hitting wing, is that true, any concern: (dittemore) it is true, after launch, there was a piece of foam that is used as insulation on the external tank in the area of the bi-pod, forward attach between orbiter and external tank, piece of foam shed, in review the following day, saw debris drop off, looked like it impacted the orbiter on left wing, where, it's hard for us to tell, somewhere between the mid and outward span, we spent a goodly amount of time reviewing and analysing that film and the potential impact, would there be any consequences, through analysis and through calling back experience on tile, it was judged that that event did not represent a safety concern and so the technical community got together across the community and judged that to be acceptable and so as we look at that in hindsight, that impact was on the left wing and we have all the indications that were on the left wing, we can't discount that there might be a connection, have to caution you and ourselves, can't rush to judgment on it. in this business, lots of things that look like smoking gun, so have to do lots of regression analysis,
what goes forward now with astronaut training: (dittemore) period of mourning in this community, will launch shuttles when we're ready, training will continue, best therapy is to get on with your job. Stay focussed on the job ahead, what we need to accomplish.
was there a black box type device on board: (dittemore) there is no hardened black data or voice recorder, we do have data and voice recorders, if they survived the entry and impact, we will look to see if there is any information there, on the timeline, the sensors that just quit working: during this time, the vehicle was operating perfectly, had gone into roll reversal, where vehicle banks left, banks right, and does so to bleed off energy, to land at the right speed at the KSC, had rolled itself into roll reversal, everything from flight control perspective was perfect, some indication that it was not vehicle loss of control issue, hints of where we need to go look.
foam, was there any consideration that EVA might be necessary to look, loss of sensor readings, sense of how unusual that is: (dittemore) easy answer is that sensor readings - yes that happens, sensor that quits working is not alarming factor, in fact, understand that several sensors can quit working and not result of sensor not working, but avionics box or mux/demux and signature to us is that the wire was cut, have seen this on occasion, train for it many times over, not unusual when we see it to understand whether a single sensor problem or avionics box, team today could not see any common thread between sensors, made it more significant, as soon as not common avionics box, independent sensors, we knew that something was not right. about the foam EVA: we do not have the capability to perform a spacewalk and do tile repair, we operate within the confines of the payload bay, there was no arm on this mission, all we had trained to do on a spacewalk perspective that might be an emergency, e.g. latch in payload bay door closing sequence, can do that, but no capability to go over the side of the vehicle and underneath it and look for an area of distress and repair it. If we thought we had a tile problem, the risk you take when you launch is that you may suffer a tile issue, all we can do is before we launch, design robust systems so that a loss of tile capability will not result in loss of crew or vehicle. Not able to look on underside - why we believe to fly safely is that we test our tiles on the ground, they're robust and hard enough to withstand impact and design environment so we don't have those circumstances. Don't believe that the ET debris impact was the cause of our problem, but now we're going to have to go back and check it. It's not fair to represent the tile damage as a source, but we need to look at it.
caltech astronomer reports of earlier debris flying off shuttle: (dittemore) have not heard such reports, sometimes see plasma, it's not debris, byproduct of going fast, if saw something going over hawaii, doubtful that we had somethign in hawaii causing thermal concern, lost vehicle at about Mach 18, at 3,000 degrees fahrenheit on leading edge, if had a structural or thermal problem, you would expect to get it at peak heating, not at hawaii, would expect it at the most extreme environment.
When was excessive structural heating, when was mission control worried: (dittemore), bond(sp?)-line temps on LHS, off-scale low, looks like rest of measurement had been cuts, so misspoke on excessive heating, lost those measurements too. Mood was upbeat, then understood multiple loss of sensors, no commonality, lost voice with crew, lost tracking data, had no TV, did not have reports of debris at the time, knew we were in an area of good communication coverage... should have had good tracking, had lost it, most anxious.
Debris in other states not Texas, Oklahoma: cannot confirm in Oklahoma, would doubt it, ground track north of Dallas, path through NE Texas, from NW to SE.
how many experiments, in terms of data, required safe return, or could new lab modules have contributed: (heflin) don't have information on terms of data return, can't imagine labs had anything to do with it. (dittemore) some downlinked, others had to come back and be analysed, but ecstatic over results and looking forward to telling crew what a great job they'd done.
last words from the crew: (heflin) last transmission was, had to do with measurement that gave indication to crew and alert that they acknowledged. Cannot say what word was, personally don't know, when something like that, crew response is typical, to let ground know they see that.
(two more questions before other NASA centres) has brief loss of communication happened during re-entry before: (dittemore) lose communication from time to time during orbit phase, sometimes for 90 minutes, but during re-entry any dropouts generally brief and during peak heating times when plasma at maximum extent, so brief dropout is no reason to be concerned, experience is we gain it back fairly quickly, our concern was we made calls to them that they did not respond, then via UHF and they did not respond and it became evident we were in difficult circumstances
anomalous readings, was it a situation where you were committed, was there any corrective action at that point that you could have done: (dittemore) nothing we could do, just observe, any future downstream impact at the landing, if all we did was lose those twelve sensors, no impact to this flight at all, sensors do not impact flying qualities, how we control, all they do is let us know how systems perform so when we turn around for next flight, let us know where to look.
(and I'm taking a break now, questions have gone over to Kennedy)
any question of using telescopes to examine any damage, changing angle of attack: (dittemore) short answer: nothing we can do about tile damage. have investigated using other assets to examine shuttle, tried once when drag chute door lost, pictures received were not useful. did not believe pictures would be useful and zero that we could do about it, elected not even to take the pictures, believed technical analysis was sufficient, could not do anything about it anyway.
7:53 event, where sensors located relative to wing structure/main body structure: (dittemore) located at left inboard elevon, left outboard elevon, elevons at back part of wing, trailing edge, and remember impact was on front part of wing. cannot draw conclusions yet, need to pore over data, first indication was left inboard out, left outboard, next indication left main gear wheel well, like it's moving forward to front of wing, doesn't mean anything at this point, how we lost sensors was as if wires just cut, could be wires were being lost at some other location not on trailing edge of wing, have to piece all together, cannot say today that there's significance that evidence started at trailing edge and worked forward, just as can't say debris at front wing, tile, is why we lost the vehicle, have to factor in with more evidence
mission controllers standing, listening to someone addressing them, who by, and what discussion: (heflin) fortunate in agency at JSC to have people in employee assistance programme, jackie reese (sp?) programme to help employees deal with situations like this, as part of response to this, jackie called in and made herself available so prior to releasing entry team, front room, room on tv and back rooms were gathered and jackie reese was giving them about 5 minutes of what they should do as a human being who has gone through something like this as you leave work and you go home, giving assistance and providing her office to be available for individuals, that's what you saw, I'm glad she did it, she's available to help us and we will need the help. (dittemore) our communities are grieving, at marshall, alabama, KSC, JSC, grieving all over the country, this will help us get through difficult times, we appreciate their service.
hints as to where the problem developed: (dittemore) don't recall when I said I had hints, sensors are interesting, remind myself that that may not be the facts, having indications of debris impact on leading edges, have areas I want to look at, debris I want to see, to see if it leads down a particular path of investigation, too early to speculate on where that will lead, thorough, methodical, will take some times, days, weeks, to pull it all together.
mission elapsed time, last lost data, what vehicle was like, roll reversal etc: (heflin) completed roll reversal 1 at MET (mission elapsed time) 15 days, 22 hours, 50 seconds, altitude at 224,390 feet, Mach 20.9, no indication of control problem prior to loss of data, from vehicle standpoint, had nothing to indicate event that occurred, in hindsight, will probably tie together. Loss of vehicle data at 14 days, 22 hours, 20 minutes, 22 seconds, altitude 207,135 feet at Mach 18.3.
age issue of columbia as oldest orbiter, any original instrumentation on and active: (dittemore) columbia amazing machine, first shuttle vehicle to fly into space, 28th flight, wasn't most experienced vehicle, Discovery has at least 30 flights, don't think age is a factor, if have opportunity to look at vehicles, they are kept in pristine shape, tender loving care into care of vehicles so they look brand new, doesn't mean there aren't areas of wear, there are areas of corrosion, our job to manage that and the wear to continue to fly safely. Had a lot more instrumentation in columbia in its design and its structure than other three vehicles as it was the first, several years ago, elected to take it out as no longer being used, removed about 1200 pounds of instrumentation and wiring, no extra instrumentation that would add to detective work, what was there before we took it out was not being used.
(heflin) not able to say when it happened, happened prior to 9:30 central
how much of a hardship to fly shuttle manifest with three ships: (dittemore) thoughts not on what to come of this tragedy, thoughts on what happened this morning, seven families, children, spouses, extended family, grief, what we missed what I missed, to allow this to happen... it's going to be a difficult day for all of us.
indication of excessive heating on any part of shuttle, possibility of bi-pod could've come hard as well as foam: (dittemore) no information about excessive heating, all we have is information that says sensors quit working, if we do have information about excessive heating, will get back to you, think we'll have wholesome meetings on a regular basis over the next few days. as far as the bi-pod, we believe it was foam, we do not believe it was any metal, no opportunty for metal to be shed, films show that when debris impacted wind, puff of debris, it disintegrated itself, so I don't believe there's any chance that it was hardware, it was all soft foam insulation.
overstressing in roll reversal, left bank at 57 degrees: (dittemore) that is not uncommon in roll reversal, seen steeper banks than just mentioned, will have to go back and look if that is a factor, part of gathering debris, inspecting debris, seeing if anything there if this was structure failure, or whether thermal related or some other, going to have to be detectives and look at debris and gather evidence.
sudden change in heat envelope: (dittemore) speculative for changes in thermal environment translating to area of wiring, hard to respond to that question today, will be glad to try to answer it in the coming weeks to respond to it factually. (heflin) you can continue to ask questions like this, everything is speculation, that's not fair, accurate and I know you want to be accurate.
families: (dittemore) no firsthand knowledge.
after communication loss, any deviation in flight path: (dittemore) when lost comms, lost ability to track, no indication whether or not off flight path, no indication as to breakup, only when review tv coverage saw breakup. (heflin) at control centre, have plots of trajectory, stared at it for a long time as tracking ended over texas, stopped and... reflected back on what I saw with Challenger.
(Questions from NASA HQ) what investigators looking for and when: (dittemore) effort kicked off prior to this morning, why debris she from bi-pod region of tank, reason kicked off knew needed to understand prior to next flight, already aggresively on path to try to understand whether it was any concern since happened two times in last three flights. Was planned element in flight review for next flights, already in place, already ongoing. Today, asked external tank project team and Lockheed Martin, contractor for tank in Louisiana, to isolate certain hardware, to gather data, pertinent to discussion and to make sure not in jeopardy any evidence that might be helpful
Contingency for ISS in event of extended shuttle grounding: (dittemore) Station programme management, in contact with international partners, will be resupplying with Progress, soyuz launch planned later in spring, sufficient consumables to go through end of june without shuttle support, beyond that, no further information, hope we get this resolved in coming weeks, meantime know we have months of adequate supply and means of resupply.
recovery of debris approach, NTSB role, how long it will take before know what's happened: (dittemore) many govt agencies helping to respond, NTSB at Nasa's disposal, FBI, local/state law enforcement, FEMA, assets and efforts of government whereever we need to gather and collect debris, identify crew remains, all ongoing, being organised, tremendous effort engaged in process of coming together all over the country.
any satellites out there that might have caught what happened, what types of debris anxious to see, first responders trained for recovery of hazardous material: anxious to see pictures of tank, have crew get out of seats and take motion and stills of separating from tank on routine basis, only evidence of what tank looks like before tank destroyed, no evidence other than film, anxious to see that film, to see if it looked similar to what experienced on STS-12 when debris shed on same area, obviously not getting that information, that's what we're looking for.
rebuilding from debris, as with TWA-800: (dittemore) treating like aircraft incident, gather everything, see if we can solve puzzle, when breaking apart at 200k feet at Mach 18, at peak heating, some evidence may have burned up at re-entry, or spread out over wide territory, hope to get as much as we can, piece it together as best we can to solve puzzle.
(Moving to Marshall, 15 more minutes)
role of centers: (dittemore) managers, experts coming together, as with flow line and crack issues. Will pull together management, center directors, headquarters, tech experts at teams, wide use of best and brightest to solve this problem and try to understand what happened, put in proper corrective action.
anything from investigations of Apollo 1 and Challenger to help this investigation: (dittemore) what we're implementing today is a process that has been tried over time, many of procedures implementing today were lesson learned, outgrowth from previous incidents, putting into practice as a result from previous lessons learned, study, understand reports never to repeat the problems of the past, all of our goals never to have to sit here in front of you and describe these events again, we're very disappointed, it's hard to tell you how disappointed, how sad we are at this event, and somewhere along the line, we missed something, or we're gonna learn something new that we couldkn't do anything about, but I guarantee you we're gonna fix it.
marshall: (dittemore) many experts at marshall will be involved, don't have names of individuals, if judge appropriate, will give that information to you.
who's leading: (dittemore) led as one NASA activity, mishap investigation team that is a standing team in case we have events like this happen, chairman of mishap investigation team is Mr. David Widdle (sp?) trained investigator in mishaps, went to NTSB school, NASA's commander on the scene, on the way to staging areas, prime interface with all other agencies, talented, marvelous team pull together, named prior to each flight standing ready just in case we have to do these things, plan never to use them, in this case, trained and pressed into service.
(Questions move to Dryden)
49 landings at Edwards, 2.5 year hiatus, future flights might be held, what possible impact on Edwards AFB: (dittemore) suspect won't feel much impact at all at Edwards, is used as secondary landing site in case bad weather at Florida and no consumables to get into Florida/KSC facilities, Challenger's delay was because we had to do some hardware redesign to make ourselves to get ourselves to the confidence that we could fly, necessary to implement, develop, certify and took some time to do. Will have to see how this tragedy works through the same type of engineering and technical scrutiny if there is some hardware change, we'll have to work through that, development, design, certification, testing, too early to say what the case will be.
(Questions to JPL)
how are families responding: (dittemore) O'keefe gave statement, don't want to add more than has been previously stated as to their reaction (heflin) they will have a huge amount of support from this family
(Questions to Langley)
how many tiles in area where sensors located before cause catastrophic breach of surface, what to do in flight if catastrophic breach and know about it prior to re-entry: (dittemore) don't know how many tiles, can't respond to that hear, today, have no capability to repair tile, only recourse to design so that we don't lose tiles, so we can take impacts without it being a safety concern, we have lost tiles before on bottom of vehicle, have had debris impacts before, they have all been acceptable and don't represent safety of flight concern, would like a harder tile, but it has not to date presented a safety concern and have no recourse if we lose tiles, only effective course is to prevent loss through design and test, and has been perfectly adequate to this point.
Briefing ends: B-Roll package for STS-107 mission, next briefing likely around noon central tomorrow (tentative), if you're discovering debris, telephone hotline and email address for reporting information that may help: telephone line is 281 483 3388, mail address should be online now for text reports, images for investigation send to nasamitimages@jsc.nasa.gov. Briefing ends, 22:08 GMT.

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Columbia Lost

14:35 GMT / 09:35 EST Breaking news on CNN is that contact has been lost with Columbia at 14:00 GMT / 09:00 EST, NASA has declared a contingency and that there's debris in the atmosphere. This does not look good. If you're in the Dallas Fort Worth area, don't go near any debris at all and report it immediately.

Last communication was at 14:00 GMT at a height of 200k feet, for a planned landing at Kennedy at 14:16 GMT.

14:42 GMT: Bush admin is convening an inter-agency domestic event conference.

14:47 GMT: CNN eyewitness reports in Texas report seeing "spirals" in the sky and hearing a loud boom that shook houses.

14:49 GMT: Fox News is reporting that NASA have alerted search and rescue teams in Texas.

14:59 GMT: Administration officials are saying that they do not believe this was terrorism - the shuttle was at a height of 200,00 feet travelling at about Mach 6.

15:04 GMT: CNN is recapping: footage shows that around 9am eastern, the shuttle broke up at around Mach 6 at around 200,000 feet that the shuttle broke up into five or six pieces "streaks", several phonecalls from the area in Texas have seen pieces of the shuttle break up. The crew had been in orbit for 16 days since Jan 16, and was most noticeable for carrying the first Israeli astronaut. At launch, engineers were examing a piece of debris (ice?) that came off the main liquid fuel tank (not the two SRBs) that struck the insulating tiles on Columbia. CNN is saying that engineers determined that it was not a significant issue.

15:06 GMT: Nasa's page for Columbia's mission: STS-107 is being updated in real time:

Entry Flight Director Leroy Cain declared a contingency for the shuttle Columbia at around 8:14 central time this morning (1414 GMT) as the shuttle and its seven astronauts headed for a landing at the Kennedy Space Center. [STS-107]

15:13 GMT: Some links: NASA Space Shuttle News Reference Manual [google cache], slashdot, Metafilter, Ben Hammersley, and Google News

16:02 GMT: News coverage has moved into something like a holding pattern, there's coverage at Spaceflight Now and NASA is holding a press conference at 16:30 GMT, about half an hour from now.

16:06 GMT: From Juby.net:

Nick has access to orbital data for various satellites and other objects. He and Chris started looking at the data before it got locked up, and it appears that Columbia pulled up around 3 am, and continued to erratically change its path.

16:11 GMT: Undoubtedly some people will be drawing parallels with what will happen now to what happened after Challenger. Challenger's flight was in 1986, on 28 January, the next mission was STS-26, in 1988 on 29th September.

16:13 GMT: CNN now has stills footage of debris on the ground.

16:47 GMT: NASA press conference due at 16:30 hasn't started yet, it's due "soon"

17:16 GMT: Fox News is showing footage of cordoned-off debris on the ground and the AP is reporting eyewitness accounts of debris in Nacogdoches, Texas. The NASA press conference that was scheduled for 16:30 GMT was pushed back to 17:00 GMT and has not yet started.

19:00 GMT: There will be a NASA technical briefing at 20:00 GMT / 15:00 EST. Dave Winer is amassing coverage over at Scripting News

19:08 GMT: Bush has just finished his address; Columbia is lost, "there are no survivors", but the US space programme wil not be derailed.

20:30 GMT: NASA Technical Briefing starts, I've roughly transcribed the entirety of the briefing, less about 5-10 minutes in the middle to rest my hands in the next entry.

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