This unfortunate disaster made me wonder whether such an event is possible as a form of assassination.

Perhaps so. In really bad weather, most aircraft use the ILS signals as an approach aid to a runway. The glide slope portion of the radio signal gives vertical guidance; the localizer portion give horizontal guidance. The two taken together create a conical shape, through the center of which an airplane is supposed to fly safely down to the touchdown point on the runway.

Now what if someone meddles with the signals? The glide slope signals are rather fickle. Some misplaced metal near the glide slope transmitter shack can change their angle. An airplane following the erroneous signal could track far below its normal track, and if there happens to be a hill there, bang.

An attentive pilot in a well-equipped plane might notice some signs. His altimeter would indicate lower than usual, and his vertical speed indicator may show a non-constant rate of descent. If he has a radar altimeter, it may warn that he’s too close to the ground. He may have GPWS. On the other hand, a pilot fixated on his ILS displays may not notice those things until too late.

If the assassination team has practiced well ahead of time, they may be able to place a glide-slope-disrupting object in place very quickly – and remove it just as quickly, perhaps by driving a truck right up to the glideslope transmitter shack to a point predetermined to cause the right sort of disruption. This need not even leave a mark behind, so the attack can be tried multiple times without much notice. In thick fog, the local airport security apparatus may not even have to be corrupted, since runways may not be visible from the terminal buildings / tower.

Posted Sat Apr 10 07:37:00 2010 Tags:

This service is a great idea. It’s a newish free problem-tracking system for concerns in one’s municipality. One can use it to report “streetlight out on the corner of X and Y”, and if one’s city has employees who monitor the list, the problem’s resolution can be tracked publicly. Many cities already use this to some extent.

Posted Mon Apr 12 11:08:00 2010 Tags:

Limited time offer!
I blame this development on Weird Al.

Posted Wed Apr 14 20:50:00 2010 Tags:

Our 5.4-year-old little guy took part in a regional music competition the other day. People who know him will not be surprised that he stood out.

Eric and his piano teacher chose a piece to perform that he mastered about a month ago. We figured any difficulties would come from the performance etiquette aspects of the show rather than the music, so over time we practised pre- and post-playing behaviours. In the end, an unexpected factor complicated things.

The event was held inside a local church. We arrived ten minutes early to watch the previous block of competitors. A baby-grand piano at the front, four small competitors sitting in the first row pews, an ‘adjudicator’ at a table midway back in the aisle, and then way, way at the back, families and spectators. The whole environment is sterile: no phones, no cameras, no talking. A kid is called, takes his turn with 10-60 seconds of music, and sits back down up front. The adjudicator writes notes on a sheet of paper, and writes, and writes, in silence. A few minutes go by. The next kid is called. Repeat. Wow.

Well, sitting quietly is not one of Eric’s fortes. He hardly goes to school (and we’re still not sure whether he’ll join the normal grade-1 stream next fall), and we haven’t tried hard to turn him into a sit-still-and-quiet robot at home either. His patience has developed well, but his expressions of boredom have not been repressed. So, we figured that the mere act of waiting silently and calmly for twenty minutes would be difficult. But it was still worth the try, since his music is beyond normal for his years.

Finally it was his group’s turn. He went up with his thick score book, took his place. There was a long delay at the beginning, where the staff were conversing with the kids about who would need a booster-bench. Eric declined, but wanted to know whether his instrument was to be a grand piano, a baby grand piano, or something in between. I don’t think they humored him with an answer. A minute later, finally it was time to start.

The first little girl went up and performed. Eric sat and listened. The little girl sat down, and the writing began. Right away, Eric stood up, asked “Is it my turn?”, and thus broke protocol. The judge lady nicely asked him to wait, so wait he did. There was a rather loud yawn heard throughout the hall, but we can’t be entirely certain that Eric was its emitter.

Finally, it was Eric’s turn. He announced, with a clear and loud voice, his name and the name of the piece he was about to play. Off he went. It started well. Near the middle, Eric realized that he was playing on a physical piano instead of our Korg M3-88 at home, and that this was rather cool. So during the last half, he continued to play the music, but half-stood up, and peeked over the piano’s face onto the strings and hammers. As he played & peeked, his tempo had become a bit sloppy. The music seemed to distract him from his new purpose: to study the piano mechanism. The crowd started whispering; a few seconds later, there was friendly laughter throughout the room. They all broke protocol!

Eric was done, and everyone clapped. Eric moved toward his seat up front, then took a detour. He walked up to the adjudicator lady about to start marking him, got right up, and asked “What mistakes were there? Did I make any mistakes?”. The lady was taken aback, but still in a friendly way asked him to go back and wait, as she still had to write down. Some more friendly snickers in the crowd, though some made goofy bewildered “can you believe that?” faces. Eric sighed, and got back to his seat. Two more kids to go.

Eric paid attention to when they were playing. The rest of the time, he was overtly bored of just sitting there. He got on his knees, turned around, and spied upon the audience. He reclined (not to the extent of bothering his peers, only to confound them). He looked all around. There may have been a few more yawns. With no recordings, one can’t be sure.

But one can be sure that once all competitors played, and the final round of note-writing concluded, the adjudicator lady went up front to talk to all the kids. She asked whether this was their first time playing to the public; whether they enjoyed the performance. She offered a sentence or two about each performance as per what was good and what to improve upon. Then the award ribbons were about to go out.

“Did I get a tie?” asked Eric, before the lady started handing them out. “Yes.”, she answered, as she handed “tied for third place” ribbons to Eric and another kid. Eric asked “Why did I get a tie?”, not apparently realizing the ranking aspect, just the fact of equal results as someone else. “It just turned out that way” was the answer, as the other ribbons were quickly handed out. More snickers and a few more goofy faces from the audience. A few seconds later, it was over. Time to pick up the score books and head on out. Eric asked for help from one of the staff to tie his shoe laces, which they did, after another moment’s reluctance. Juimiin rescued the boy from any further complications.

He broke the ice in that room that day. His only victim was decorum. He cared not a whit about his actual ranking. He is such a genuine little boy. And we love him just that way.

Posted Thu Apr 15 18:41:00 2010 Tags:

This is very naughty.

UPDATE 2010-05-23: Today I ran into a charming young girl named Ayesha. I believe this name is a variant of Aisha, the historical “wife” mentioned in the above cartoon. This Ayesha was about nine, the same age as when Mohammed had his way with Aisha. How tragic.

Posted Sun Apr 25 19:05:00 2010 Tags:

A message from the future:

Date: 2110 February 28
To: unknown descendants of owner of 1990s Honda Accord with 2009 Ontario license plate ANMD 351.
Subject: credit warning

Evidence collected indicates that this vehicle eschewed compulsory recycling during the gasoline purges of 2025. It was left in the ancient parking garage just east of Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario, and has turned into a heap of rust and goo. A colony of nanobeetles has nested within it, and is threatening to become sentient. Unlimited liability resulting from interspecies conflict would be charged to your galactic credit account.

From our internet archives, here is what the car looked like exactly one hundred years ago, already two years into its imprisonment:

Posted Tue Apr 27 11:44:00 2010 Tags: