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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

US nuclear force still uses floppy disks

From the BBC

26 May 2016

The US nuclear weapons force still uses a 1970s-era computer system and 8-inch floppy disks, a government report has revealed. The Government Accountability Office said the Pentagon was one of several departments where "legacy systems" urgently needed to be replaced. The report said taxpayers spent $61bn (£41bn) a year on maintaining ageing technologies. It said that was three times more than the investment on modern IT systems.

The report said that the Department of Defence systems that co-ordinated intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers and tanker support aircraft "runs on an IBM Series-1 Computer - a 1970s computing system - and uses eight-inch floppy disks. This system remains in use because, in short, it still works," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt Col Valerie Henderson told the AFP news agency.

"However, to address obsolescence concerns, the floppy drives are scheduled to be replaced with secure digital devices by the end of 2017." She added: "Modernisation across the entire Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications enterprise remains ongoing."

The report said that the Pentagon was planning to fully replace the system by the end of 2020. According to the report, the US treasury also needed to upgrade its systems, which it said was using "assembly language code - a computer language initially used in the 1950s and typically tied to the hardware for which it was developed".

[Well, it’s good to know that the world’s largest nuclear arsenal is being controlled by tried and tested technology almost as old as I am. I’ll sleep soundly in my bed tonight because of that knowledge.]

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Just Finished Reading: A Matter for Men by David Gerrold (FP: 1983)

Still recovering from a disastrous war and struggling to rebuild her armed forces under Versailles style conditions, the US is in no state to fight off a world spanning plague. Millions are dying across the globe when a second plague emerges, and a third, and a forth until eight distinct pandemics rage unchecked. Finally with billions dead the plagues begin to die themselves leaving human civilisation holding on seemingly by sheer will power alone. As nations begin to rebuild they discover strange plants and animals never seen before beginning to dominate any eco-system they encounter. With few scientists available to decide exactly where these creatures came from or what impact they will have on the recovery programme teams are hastily dispatched to investigate. Among them is James McCarthy who, with two years of science at University, is the closest thing they have to an expert. But nothing Jim has learnt so far can prepare him for what he sees on his first mission. Earth is now the home to giant strange looking worms who hunt anything in their territory including man himself. Almost impossible to kill with conventional weapons the human teams must resort to the use of flame throwers and banned napalm to do the job but as the human casualties mount the remaining American armed Forces begin to realise that they are not simply fighting an unknown infestation but are being faced with an invasion of unimaginable power. The object is not only colonisation but the transformation of Earth’s entire ecology and the giant worms are only the first stage!

It did seem like a good idea when I picked this book up in my favourite SF book shop in London decades ago – a whole series of 4 books dealing with the remnants of humanity fighting off an alien invasion. Of course by the time I got to thinking about reading this series the next three books are out of print. I managed to get a decent copy of the second book but, at least presently, have failed to get any more….. and thankfully so! Because this book was quite honestly very poor indeed. In fact I’d go so far as to say, apart from brief moments when an actually decent story was revealed between the dross, that this was pretty appalling. Not only was the plot all over the place (with whole sections seemingly dropped in at random), but the characterisation was terrible, the dialogue even worse than Star Wars and the author had to tie himself in knots to get the story to make even minimal sense. What made it even worse, if such a thing was possible, was that the author continually stopped what little action actually occurred to regularly, and at great length, lecture the reader on his own particular politics. Almost everyone, at some point in the book, stopped the ‘hero’, sat him down and spent 5, 10, 20 pages telling him how to de-programme himself from the existing political regime (presumably one that existed in 1980’s America) and adopt another that I can only surmise could be called ‘Libertarian’. It was all quite bizarre, rather annoying and, frankly, very boring. I’m really sorry that I spent all of that effort trying to get the second volume. Most definitely not recommended.      

Monday, May 23, 2016

Saw one a few days ago..... Totally classic motor.

Just Finished Reading: Chavs – The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones (FP: 2011)

You don’t have to look far – newspapers, political speeches, comedy shows on TV. These days the once powerful and respected working class, the very salt of the Earth have become the scum of the Earth. In other words – Chavs. These are the remnant, the non-aspiring working class who are either unable or unwilling to move (along with everyone else apparently) into the only class worthy of mention – the middle class. According to politicians both from the Right and Left we’re all middle class now. To which the author says: nonsense!

For one thing survey after survey shows that over 50% of the British population regard themselves as working class – so hardly a left-over rump then! Not everyone it seems aspires to be comfortably in the middle of things. The image of things, rather than the reality, is something quite different. Those who don’t aspire are feckless, scroungers, criminal and racist – at least according to the right-wing press and the right-wing politicians who feed the flames of class war (which they believe they’ve won). Ever since Maggie took on and defeated the union shock troops made up of the miners in the early 80’s things have gone from bad to worse for the workers – with ever growing restrictions on union activity and ever loosening constraint on businesses in their hiring and firing practices leading to abominations such as zero hours contracts and so called internships where young people work for months without pay in the hope (rather than the expectation) of a job at the end of it. Inevitably only those whose parents can support them through their university and internship (not the working classes by the way) have any hope at all of progressing in this way leading to the not unsurprising finding that the vast majority of top jobs are occupied by often privately educated children of the upper middle class. Is it any wonder that they look down on their social inferiors?

Time and again, with facts and figures to back up his arguments as well as an impressive array of interviews from the man (or woman) in the street to the so-called great and good who made decisions that affected millions of workers the author successfully debunks myth after myth and lie after lie. Not only does he show that the so-called ‘sink’ estates are products of government policy – particularly the right-to-buy scheme coupled with heavy restrictions on council house building programmes leaving the most run-down areas as the only affordable place to live for the very bottom strata of society but the reason for so much poverty (not unsurprisingly linked to chronic unemployment or underemployment) is again deliberate government policy which eviscerated the very industries that working class areas depended on for their economic and psychological wellbeing.

About the only thing I disagree on, in this otherwise very readable political polemic, is the author’s fixation on Margaret Thatcher as the instigator of the Class War still raging in this country. The war against the working class has its roots in a time before that class existed. It is a war that has been raging since before the Industrial Revolution and it’s not over yet. The rich may think they’ve won and that the workers have been finally put in their place but we’ve been here before and it didn’t go too well for the rich back then. Workers of the World unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains….