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June 10, 2019


This isn't totally new. But seriously disturbing nonetheless.

Here’s something the public didn’t know until today: If one of the U.S. military’s new F-35 stealth fighters has to climb at a steep angle in order to dodge an enemy attack, design flaws mean the plane might suddenly tumble out of control and crash.

Also, some versions of the F-35 can’t accelerate to supersonic speed without melting their own tails or shedding the expensive coating that helps to give the planes their radar-evading qualities.

So now we're building our air force around a plane that can't fight. Awesome. (Note, this isn't a dig at the current administration. This fiasco has spanned several.)

Meet our probable next Prime Minister.

Britain, inadvertently, managed to separate reverence and power. The Queen has little power but gets reverence. The Prime Minister has power but gets little reverence. He's the head of government but has to stand in parliament on a regular basis and take whatever, hopefully metaphorical, rotten tomatoes the opposition cares to toss at him.

The American presidency is losing some of its reverence. Would Trump, instead of Bush, have been able to persuade the country and the world into invading Iraq?

Would Trump, instead of Bush, have been able to persuade the country and the world into invading Iraq?

Ha! Trump wouldn't even have managed to get our allies (a concept foreign to him) to support invading Afghanistan. At this point, all the US can count on is other countries (at most) making no-cost suck-up-to-Trump gestures while leaving us to cope with anything and everything on our own. Gonna take years, probably decades, to undo the damage.

The latest F-35 problems appear to only affect the B (short take off/vertical landing) and C (carrier) versions. The Air Force's A version seems to be okay.

I learned the other day that while some amount of ADA code was inherited from the F-22 project, a large majority of the new code for the F-35 is written in C/C++. I assume some combination of "Well, we didn't really need all those static safety/reliability features in most of the code," and "Do you know how hard it is to find experienced ADA programmers?"

"Do you know how hard it is to find experienced ADA programmers?"

God forbid we should actually invest in training up our own people in the skills we need!

C++ melts stealth cladding!

Here's the lineups for the first debate.

First night:
Cory Booker
Julián Castro
Bill de Blasio
John Delaney
Tulsi Gabbard
Jay Inslee
Amy Klobuchar
Beto O’Rourke
Tim Ryan
Elizabeth Warren

Second night:
Michael Bennet
Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Pete Buttigieg
Kirsten Gillibrand
Kamala Harris
John Hickenlooper
Bernie Sanders
Eric Swalwell
Marianne Williamson
Andrew Yang

Per the NYTimes latest poll summaries, Warren is the only one of the top five in her group. Haven't decided if that's a plus or minus. Candidates like Hickenlooper might was well drop out -- no one is going to pay any attention to what he says in a group with Biden, Sanders, Harris, and Buttigieg.

C++ melts stealth cladding!

I knew it would be good for something someday.

I can never keep my fighter planes straight, but the mentions reminded me of this.

I'm an about-to-be-out-of-work sort-of programmer, maybe I could brush up....


the GOP is objectively-pro-foreign-election-interference.


I can never keep my fighter planes straight, but the mentions reminded me of this.

From the link:
"It was a computer glitch in the millions of lines of code, somebody made an error in a couple lines of the code and everything goes."

OK, a bunch of us here are IT folks. Has anyone, ever, encountered a piece of computer software which DIDN'T have multiple errors in the code? (I sure haven't.)

If you have a clue, you write error recovery code. You keep systems separate, so one piece going down doesn't crash everything else. Apparently the programmers for the F-22 didn't.

Greatest President ever!!!

wj: not disputing what you said at 2:55 at all, but the quote is from a Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd (Ret.), and it's not clear whether he knows a line of code from an apple pie.

Here's another link, with some speculations in the comments.

the F22 is a much better looking plane than the F35. we should just use those.

JanieM: Assuming, based on the comments, that it was a problem with crossing the 180 E/W meridian, I at least sympathize with them. (I expect highly paid professionals to have dealt with such edge cases, but I sympathize.) I have some of my own mapping software for generating cartograms and prism maps (eg, this one. When I started working on global maps, I ran into the 180 E/W problem. In the special case of the whole world, or slices of the whole world parallel to the equator, some of the polygons "wrap". The libraries I use don't understand the notion of spaces that "wrap". I'm still working my way through how to handle the edge case for all of the odd nonlinear transformations.

Michael Cain -- I think you've been asked before, but wouldn't you like to do a front page post on your maps??

As to the rest of your 7:21: it's interesting to hear from someone who has faced the problem. I agree that highly paid professionals (to say the least!) might have been expected to figure out a way to deal with it in a multi-gazillion dollar project where lives would be at stake.

In fact, now I wonder: hasn't airplane software in general already had to deal with it...? It's not like the International Date Line is a mysterious new entity that just revealed itself to humanity.

(My drugs are maybe making me snarkier than usual. I was warned that I should warn the people I live with. Since I live alone, I'll warn you all.)

That's it, I'm getting my own place, &-)

JanieM -- Speaking as very much not-an-expert, from first principles, I would think that a civilian airplane has relatively few things to keep track of. Basically, a position and distances to a few fixed places maybe a couple of moving ones. Everything in latitude and longitude, with software that understands the discontinuity.

A fighter potentially has very many more things to keep track of. Friendlies in formation (including tankers in the case described), enemies, missiles from both sides, etc. Lots of complicated calculations of volumes and such: can my missile hit the target, can that missile hit me, am I too far from the tanker? Modern fighters are doing an awful lot of processing to provide useful situational awareness. If I were doing the design, all of the combat stuff would be done on a nice continuous local 3D space. But the overall navigation system would look like the civilian plane with the discontinuity, and would feed into the combat system: here's the border, don't cross it. Edge and corner conditions can be odd. Moreso the more pieces of independent software that are running. Still, that's why we're paying Lockheed-Martin the big bucks.

I don't think I've been asked to do anything about the maps, although russell is always kind in his remarks about the quality.

When I started working on global maps, I ran into the 180 E/W problem

Long ago, I worked on a weather analysis system. One of the guys worked up a display that would show geographic and political maps, for anywhere in the world, and re-project them in real time at user command. The system would lay weather graphics on top of that.

It was really cool, and fast. He did a great job.

He was really proud of it, and one day when his then-11-year-old son was in the office, he did a show and tell.

The kid watches dad demo his handiwork, and says:

"It only does Earth?"

Tough crowd.

russell, that's a great story. There is no sense having much of an ego around your kids.

I find it hard to believe that there could be a dateline bug. Surely there's a GlobalPosition object, with thoroughly tested methods for geometrical calculations.

It seems possible that there could be a performance issue when positions are used from either side the dateline, which makes the calculations too slow for the rest of the system (what with the pesky plane moving all the time).

Re Boris, and partly for the craic (as they say in Ireland), because we must get our laughs somehow:


And, for anyone interested in the aforementioned Rory Stewart (certainly the most interesting, if possibly the least likely to be successful of the leadership candidates), here is his campaign launch speech. It's 20 minutes long, and for approx the first 5 or 6 of those pretty ho-hum, but after that you may be able to see why he's making an increasing stir:


I've just posted twice, inoffensively, but I think for some reason they've gone into the spam trap.

I'll try again, and if successful you can leave my two posts in the spam trap!

Excellent and witty Marina Hyde piece on Boris, and the other Tory leadership hopefuls:


Campaign launch speech by the aforementioned (in the Hyde piece) Rory Stewart, by far the most interesting (if the least likely to succeed) of the Tory leadership hopefuls. It's 20 minutes long, the first 5 or 6 are fairly ho-hum, but after that it starts to show why he's starting to make something of a stir:


Three times now!

I find it hard to believe that there could be a dateline bug. Surely there's a GlobalPosition object, with thoroughly tested methods for geometrical calculations.

There are, no doubt, dozens if not hundreds. The problem is, somebody - some human person or persons - wrote them.

Bugs are like porn. If you can imagine it, there is a bug about it.

Thanks russell, if it was you who got me out!

I'll try again, and if successful you can leave my two posts in the spam trap!

Done as instructed. ;-)

I will add a link to a guest post at BJ by a British BJ commenter (handle: Tony Jay) whose writing is incredibly entertaining *and* educational for the less-informed. I didn't read the whole thing -- I'm on a diet, ya know -- but I did read the paragraph about Rory Stewart, because long ago I enjoyed his book about his walk across Central Asia....

Many thanks Janie!

And thanks too for that entertaining BJ piece. For anyone who doesn't read the whole thing, but is still interested in Rory Stewart, the opium reference is because when all the candidates were being quizzed on past drug use after Michael Gove preemptively outed himself for cocaine use in his past life as a journalist, Rory Stewart confessed to having smoked opium once as the pipe was passed round when he was a guest at a wedding in Iran...again, the most interesting (in so many ways) of the contenders!

I find it hard to believe that there could be a dateline bug.

Military planes would have been using UTC time for navigation purposes any way.

There are, no doubt, dozens if not hundreds [of GlobalPosition objects]. The problem is, somebody - some human person or persons - wrote them.

The other problem is, you have to be willing to use them. A lot of places have a "not invented here" culture. Sometimes expressed as an actual ban on using code from elsewhere -- usually justified as a concern for possible bugs (!) or a need to be able to maintain the code.

No personal experience, but I can also imagine DoD putting a clause in their contracts specifying "no third party software".

Three times now!

The paradigm that Typepad uses to dump posts into the spam folder defies analysis. At least my analysis. But it's definitely not anything as simple as "contains links that might be problematic." Because some things dumped there (from me!) don't include any links.

Well isn't this fun:

The owner of a Japanese tanker attacked in the Gulf of Oman offered a different account Friday of the nature of the attack than that provided by the United States.
“The crew are saying it was hit with a flying object. They say something came flying toward them, then there was an explosion, then there was a hole in the vessel,” he told reporters. “Then some crew witnessed a second shot.”

The United States said the tanker was attacked by limpet mines and released a video that it said showed men aboard an Iranian boat removing an unexploded mine from one of the ships.

But Katada offered an alternative version of how the events unfolded.
On Thursday, company officials said the vessel, which had been carrying methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore, was first hit by what appeared to be an artillery shell toward the stern, causing a fire in the engine room that crew members were able to extinguish.
“When the shell hit, it was above the water surface by quite a lot,” Katada said Friday. “Because of that, there is no doubt that it wasn’t a torpedo.”

But then, only the terminally credulous believed the Trump story anyway.

I can also imagine DoD putting a clause in their contracts specifying "no third party software".

I worked for a while for a company whose product was a platform for distributed simulations, based on a protocol used by the military for war gaming. They also had a war game application.

The company was founded by a couple of guys from BBN, who (BBN) are most notable for their work in developing the basic internet protocols, basically on DARPA's dime.

Net/net, it was an environment steeped in the whole defense contracting universe. About a third of my career has been in that world at this point.

The guys that owned the simulation company were on a mission to get the DoD to use plain old commercial off the shelf (COTS) software. They were happy to compete on that basis, and the amount of money that is, frankly, pissed away by the habit of building bespoke versions of stuff that you can buy off the shelf is astounding.

There are obvious requirements specific to the military - resilience, failover, security - but many many many purely commercial products are happy to build those into their products in order to have a shot at federal business. The place I work at now checks the FedRAMP (federal security requirements)box as a matter of policy, and requires our partners to do the same. And the feds are not even close to our primary market.

There are obvious areas where purpose-built stuff is needed. There is not a large market for fighter jet control systems, or missile guidance systems, or any number of other things, outside of the federal arena.

But I have, at various times, worked on fairly expensive projects that were, frankly, 'custom-built' versions of stuff you could do quite easily in Excel, or Basecamp, or any of 100 no-code database apps.

Your tax dollars at work.

And now for something completely different.
From Developmental Cell
Or, a less technical version

Birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians all have webbed feet during early development but, with a few exceptions, only amphibians conserve this trait. Nobody has understood what turns webbed digits “off” in terrestrial animals but new work to be published in Developmental Cell reveals that oxygen is important. The team behind the work knew from past experiments that low oxygen levels often led mice to be born with webbed feet. Curious if the same was true in birds, they incubated chicken eggs in high and low oxygen environments. Low oxygen resulted in chickens with webbed feet. Fascinated, they repeated the experiment with tadpoles. Low oxygen levels common to ponds led tadpoles to develop webbed feet while high oxygen levels drove them to develop toes. Given this finding, the researchers argue that as animals started laying eggs on land long ago, the oxygenated environment there played a key part in bringing webbed digits to an end.

My state's unemployment insurance system runs on a 30+ year old piece of bespoke software. We couldn't use any of the standard systems that vendors have written because we have a unique method of allocating employer payments into the system that none of the vendors want to include/support. It's all old enough that the wrappers for the legacy system have wrappers. (When I think about the actual data flow when an unemployed worker submits their weekly information using a browser, I cry.)

Every few years, the Joint Budget Committee staffer who handles the Dept of Labor budget makes a presentation to the committee explaining the long-term savings that could be achieved by changing the statute and buying an off-the-shelf UI package. For some reason none of us staffers have ever figured out, the Legislature refuses to change it.

If you thought that the administration wasn't positioning itself to start a war with Iran, consider

Riiight. Because the Taliban wouldn't be behind an attack in Afghanistan.... (No matter what they say.)

yeah, but Hillary was a hawk

I averaged 12.4 campaign-related e-mails per day this past week. I'm curious about when the actual peak will be. Before or after the debates? Before or after the first primaries?

A year and some ago I was thinking about making my cartogram software open source, and built most of a small web site to contain the project. I never went public, but you can look at it here. If all you want to do is look at the pictures, I'd suggest the pages

  • Introduction,
  • Some History,
  • Eye Candy, and
  • To Do List
in that order.

Michael Cain -- thanks! I will certainly go exploring. My job ends June 30, and though I have some longstanding projects to dive into, I'm also going to be thinking about a "hobby" or two to play with.

I love maps. My sister-in-law calls my family "map readers and ice cream eaters." Of course, we're also a "look it up" family; the internet has pushed that trait into overdrive.

I am looking for a technical term from language theory that I somehow forgot.
Languages tend to be more than just vocabulary and grammar, they can usually not be completely mastered without knowledge about cultural context. There is a term for languages where it is essentially impossible to communicate without that. Most languages spoken in Europe are on the other end of the spectrum, i.e. they can be used with minimal cultural knowledge, and metaphors tend to be relatively straightforward und unspecific (i.e. not too tightly bound to the specific culture).
So, what is the term for languages of the former type? I thought it was something like 'hermetic' but I find only references to philosophy and art not language typology.

Michael, that is just way, way, cool! (I am, obviously, also a serious map junkie.)

Sadly, the Eye Candy videos don't appear to video -- at least not with my version of Chrome. Sigh.

It's bog-standard MP4 video and HTML5. My (ancient) desktop Mac Chrome requires me to right-click and pull up the controls for each video in order to get them to play. But they do play.

Mobile device? Chrome on my phone only offers me the option to download the video, won't play it afterwards, and hides it someplace that no other applications can find it. Really, Google?

Sometime this evening I'll update the eye candy page's HTML to turn controls on initially and see if that helps. I'll put up another comment after I do that.

Try again now. Both of my phone and my Mac's Chrome comes up with the video controls exposed, and plays the video. Had to force a page refresh on the phone.

Still no joy with Chrome. But with Firefox it works just fine.

And it's way cool! Did I say that?

There are, no doubt, dozens if not hundreds...

There are many bugs in any large body of code. But there should not be any in a simple, important, easily tested, and very commonly reused method within it.

In my banking days I had overall responsibility for a large derivatives valuation library. Undoubtedly there were many bugs in it. But I'd be willing to bet that the small number of implementations of the Black-Scholes formula were correct.

Then why things like this happen remains.... a mystery.


Gosh, could it be that we're not promoting the general welfare? I mean, insulin available just over the border (if you are lucky enough to live close to the northern border) without a prescription and for a fraction of what it costs here. How did that happen???

I'm willing to accept explanations of "excessive interference in the market here" (although last I looked, Canada was more inclined to that than we are). Or anything else anyone would care to offer up. But pretty clearly there has to be some kind of explanation -- and anyone with a political philosophy needs figure out how to warp it to explain the facts.

Some years ago under Bush the Lesser Floridian pharmacies sold maps of Canadian cities* near the border for seniors to use that could not afford US prescription drugs and found it cheaper to travel to Canada to get them.
The administration answered with propaganda that those Canadian drugs were of dangerously low quality and also a target for Al Qaeda to poison. When that did not deter the old folks there were actual deliberations to start a stop-and-frisk program to seize the contraband and to publicly humiliate those that would not tithe the US pharma industry.

*iirc there were even rumors of bus tickets.

Speaking of frisking people at the border, last month I had my first experience of ICE getting on my bus in Augusta before it left for Boston. I got the impression that this is now more the rule than the exception.

We are heading toward a police state; and of course that's my privilege speaking, since for a lot of people we've been there for a while now.

This deserves a whole post, so I'll leave it there for the moment.

Gotta admit, Netanyahu knows how to play Trump like a fiddle.

Money quote:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his first steps Sunday to express his gratitude to President Trump, unveiling, at a specially convened cabinet meeting, a plaque marking the spot where Israel’s newest town — Trump Heights — will sit.
Trump Heights? Shudder.

A future prime target for attacks, I presume.

"If you ask an anecdotal average New Yorker, their response is usually, “That’s it?” Their disbelief is understandable since the city has some 8 million permanent residents and often swells to as much as 20 million during peak hours and holidays. (Guess a lot of people really enjoy flagging down cabs.)

But either way, 5.7 million is a lot, and one of the elements managing it is an operating system that fell into obscurity a quarter-century ago: IBM’s OS/2."
The Forgotten Operating System That Keeps the NYC Subway System Alive: Vintage technology has powered the innards of the NYC subway system for decades—and sometimes, it surfaces in interesting ways. This one’s for you, OS/2 fans.

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