Author Archives: Ken Gibson

Join the Mobile Infantry and save the world. Service guarantees citizenship!

Chris Hallquist intrigued me with a recent post about the number of crazy people who think an armed revolution will be needed in the US in the next few years. I’ll ignore the horrible infographic he used at the start of the post for now since I’m currently more interested in his attitude toward such an armed rebellion against the government.

Chris suggests that these people (supposedly 29 percent of Americans) would be too busy getting ready to avoid or run from such a rebellion if they really believed it was coming soon. And I see his point. There are, after all, currently more than a million refugees fleeing Syria’s rebellion.

I’m certainly not in that 29 percent who thinks we will need (or be in) an armed rebellion any time soon (or, indeed, in my lifetime), but I would be one who would take up arms if needed rather than try to hide from the rebellion. Maybe that’s just my age talking. Rebellions tend to involve the young and the old. Those in the middle often have too much to lose.

Hmm, I guess that makes me quite selfish. I’d be pushing the rebellion along, dragging the young with me, who don’t realize the value of their own lives, while putting everyone else who doesn’t want to be involved in mortal danger. All for my high-minded ideals.

And if we win, the surviving young would build statues to assholes like me.

Yeah, that sounds nice. Just be sure to get my beard right.

Seriously, though, that’s my point. I’ve always supported the Second Amendment on the principle that, someday, citizens may need it to defend themselves from the government. I don’t own a gun, nor do I want to own a gun. In case you didn’t know, those things are dangerous!

Still, if the situation arose where I thought we needed to rebel against our government, that danger is a useful trait.

Yet in every rebellion I’ve ever studied, the vast majority of the population just wants to get away, or simply survive. It’s a small minority of the people actually fighting on either side of such a conflict. Most are just like Chris Hallquist, simply looking for a way to lay low until the conflict blows over one way or another.

Studying the American Revolution has made me realize how few people carried the population along towards war and how they used questionable morality and ethics to do so. Nelson Mandela, on the other hand, turned away from violent rebellion and successfully overthrew a well established and armed government using peaceful methods.

Is defending the Second Amendment just the selfish act of a minority of old assholes like me with grand notions of a just armed rebellion? Have I now lost so much of my libertarian ideals that I can’t even muster the strength to defend the Second Amendment anymore?

Come on. The readers on this site should be able to reason some sense back into me. Give it a shot. Or maybe I just need to dig out some of the Heinlein books I read too often as a kid. I just have to avoid picking up that copy of Forever War from the same box.

Hiding from Satan’s Radio

I’ve read several articles about the Texas school district being sued for their policy of forcing students to use an ID card embedded with “tracking” technology. The religious freedom angle seems dubious at best (though in Texas you never can tell), but I was surprised by the number of people worried about technology to “track” school children and the supposed dangers of the technology. I’d like to demonstrate how such concerns are overstated with this particular system.

Most of the people discussing this issue seem to have little to no understanding of this technology, so I’m going to try to clear things up a little from the technical perspective and explain how this is a very poor tracking system at best.

The ID cards in question contain an RFID chip, which is an acronym for Radio Frequency ID. There are several different flavors of RFID, and most people have interacted with it in one of several forms for many years now. The most common use over recent decades has been for product theft detection using a simple passive one-bit RFID circuit.

OK, I’ll try to explain what a “passive one-bit RFID circuit” actually is. First let’s cover the “RFID” part.

It’s a simple (yet ingenious) electronic circuit which has a couple of capabilities. At a minimum an RFID chip must have circuitry to store some information in binary format (zeros and ones or possibly just a single “on/off” state), and contain a two-way radio of some kind, including an antenna.

There are active and passive RFID systems. An active RFID uses some sort of power source directly attached to the circuit (such as a battery) to power the circuitry. A passive RFID contains no local power source. Instead it uses the energy in the radio waves coming from the radio transceiver in the reader. That’s the ingenious part in my opinion. As you can imagine, that’s a very tiny amount of power to work with, so passive systems have extremely limited range.  The range of such passive systems can be from a few inches to several yards depending upon the size of the receiving antenna in the reader and the sensitivity of the receiving radio and its ability to discern signal from noise. But it’s mainly all about the size of the receiving antenna.

That’s why there is a large pair of antennae not too far apart near the exit doors of stores which use passive RFID systems for theft control. If the circuit is in an on state, the RFID circuit responds telling the alarm to sound. The circuit can be switched to an off state using the pad on the checkout counter.

By adding to the complexity (and cost) of the circuit, you can store and transmit more than just an on/off state. The more you store and transmit, the more complexity, so most systems just store enough binary information for a short unique ID number.

Most people use an active RFID system when traveling on tollways. The transceiver stuck to your windshield is an active RFID system. Because it uses a battery, it has a much longer range (dozens of yards when combined with large antennae around the toll plazas). That RFID contains a unique ID number which the tollway authority uses to associate with your car and payment information in a database.

Anyone who has been issued a company ID card with and RFID chip used as a key is familiar with the type of chip used in the school district. It’s a passive system (no battery in the card) and the range primarily depends upon the size of the antenna in the reader. If it’s a small antenna (like the one in the block next to the door you need to unlock), you need to get the card very close for the system to work. That’s why you need to do the Backwards Door Jump to get your card to work while it’s still in your back pocket. It stores an ID number which the database associates with your credentials (such as which doors you should be able to unlock).

If you increase the size of the antenna, you can get the system to work at longer ranges (in the several feet to several yard range before the size of the antenna becomes ridiculous).

So, what does this mean to our school children?

First of all, it’s not like a GPS tracker on your phone. The RFID chip has no clue where it is. The only way it can be used for tracking purposes is by setting up a series of readers and sorting through the data collected to find time stamps for when the chip passed near enough to a reader to communicate. In school I could see where you could place readers at every door to actually track students as they passed through them. If a student were, however, kidnapped, there would be no way to find them unless you managed to get within a few yards of them, and they still carried their ID card.

You wouldn’t even be able to ask the tollway system to look for them since they are only designed to work with the active RFID chips. You just couldn’t reasonably get a big enough antenna to be able to activate the passive chip and actually read the ID in a car passing at a high speed.

I haven’t found anywhere just how the system is being deployed at the schools in question, but I did see they implemented it so they could know when a student was in the building, but wasn’t recorded as being in attendance in a particular class for the purposes of getting federal money. (I guess they get money for the student being in the building no matter where the student is.) They don’t even need to track students within the building, so I suspect they didn’t go to the expense of setting up readers at every door to do so. Placing one at each entrance to the building would do the trick.

Secondly, the RFID chips contain no personal information themselves. If someone were to query that chip by using a portable reader, which they would need to do from a very close range (a few feet unless they carried around a huge antenna), they would simply get a number. To parlay that into a home address, for example, they would need to hack into the school database. Of course if someone did that, they would have every student’s home address and ID numbers. I’m not sure why anyone would first want to read the RFID or how that could be used by an Evil Person out to do evil to the student.

I suppose there could be some student hijinks by creating duplicate ID cards (you can order programmable RFID cards and the radios to read/program them for only a few hundred dollars), but I don’t see how a sexual predator, for example, could use RFIDs for tracking or identifying victims.

Do I like the idea of being tracked? No. I have often discussed the pros/cons of systems which can be combined to create tracking information (such as the tollway RFIDs) with my students. But that’s another topic for another time. I see no reasonable way such a system could be used to track students outside of the school.

For homework, I’d like you to think about the number of RFID chips you have. ID card from your employer? Library card? Tollway box in your car? Public transit card? Are you eager to have a Near Field Communication system in your next phone? (That’s just another RFID standard.)

Did you remember to add your car keys to that list? Most automotive keys have an RFID chip in them which your car talks to when you put it in the ignition. If you want to test that, wrap the top part of your key tightly in aluminum foil, sealing it as best you can around the base, then try to start your car.

I wonder if that student in Texas ever plans on owning a modern car…

Weyland-Yutani Startup?

Could we be seeing the start of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation?

A new space startup company, Planetary Resources, claims they “will overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources“. That sounds like space mining! And it’s not just a bunch of nuts I’ve never heard of backing this idea. The investors include Ross Perot Jr., Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page and Google chairman Eric Schmidt, James Cameron and Microsoft billionaire Charles Simonyi.

One of the classic memes in science fiction is the exploitation of resources beyond Earth, and in particular asteroid mining. We know there are valuable minerals to be mined just sitting around on rocks with orbits not too distant from Earth.
There is platinum, cobalt, gold, cobalt, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium, tungsten, and more, just waiting to be picked up and flung back towards Earth.
And let’s not forget hydrogen and oxygen which is cheap on Earth, but expensive to put up into space. It would be much easier to fling those elements down into Earth orbit than to haul them up from the surface because of the deep gravity well we sit at the bottom of. Those two elements are very valuable as propulsion and already having them up in orbit would reduce the cost of rocket travel beyond Earth orbit enormously.
And I do mean “fling”. Asteroids don’t have a huge mass like a planet the size of Earth does, so it’s easy to get some of that mass away from them. In other words, the gravity well they sit at the bottom of isn’t very deep. In fact, it’s barely more than a rim. We would have more trouble keeping things on the surface of an asteroid than getting them off.
Since we are just talking about minerals or elements, and nothing that is living, a gentle change in velocity, called delta-v, will start any container slowly on its way down towards Earth, which sits at the bottom of a much larger gravity well. With a very precise push, you can expect the containers to either park themselves in Earth orbit, or even into a trajectory that would drop them down onto Earth for recovery, all with that initial push.
This is some very exciting news for space buffs and old kids like me who read all about such operations in science fiction novels. As a kid I just assumed that, by now, I would be working and living in space, yet commercialization of space has been nothing more than a pipe dream until recently.
But dream no more. Space-X corporation is scheduled to launch the first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station on April 30th on a rocket they are designing to be man-certified. Spaceport America is a facility in New Mexico that is specifically designed for commercial space operations including facilities for the tourists Virgin Galactic will be flying into space (although not into orbit yet). Bigelow Aerospace is working on the old NASA inflatable space habitat concept, and expects to use the services of Space-X not only to launch the stations, but to supply crew and supplies. They plan on renting them out to nations or companies that can’t afford to build and launch their own stations.
Asteroid mining, however, is one of the great dreams of space commercialization. The potential for profit is huge, and so are the risks, but it represents a major milestone in man reaching for the stars. The reach this time is not just for exploration and knowledge, but for profit.
In Robert Heinlein’s classic story The Man Who Sold the Moon, the main character recognized that space travel would never become common until people could make money from the venture. He hid some diamonds on a flight to the moon so he could convince people it would be worth going back. In the case of asteroids, we already know the valuable materials to be harvested. It’s just a matter of having the technology to go out there so they can be tossed back to Earth.
If any space miners go along to repair the equipment, I just hope they remember to never, under any circumstances, look into a slimy alien egg as it it opening up. Even with a helmet on, that just never goes well in the end.


What a friggin’ waste of my time! It’s now 6:22 pm local time and still no Rapture. It was supposed to start at 6:00 pm and I was all ready for it. I had my camera with a basic theodolite setup, and pointing directly towards a local church. Being in a typical American city, there are churches every few blocks, of course, so I was ready to slew the camera towards at least one more church as well.

After all, there must be at least some of the pastors and priests or nuns who would get the final calling.
By getting a few directional and angle fixes, plus knowing the distances to the churches, I should have been able to calculate the precise direction of Heaven. At just before 6:04 local time I thought I saw something and took my first fix.
Rapture Photo_003.JPG
It turned out to be nothing but a bird landing in that tree on the left.
Talk about crappy luck. I had the equipment and procedure all setup and ready for a major discovery and nothing happens but a bird landing on a tree.
Update at 9:11 pm

Exclusive WindySat Imagery!

In an effort to keep you up-to-date, Windypundit has sent its spy satellite (WindySat) to check out the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan to see if we could spot the downed Black Hawk helicopter. Sure enough! There it is. That black “X” shaped object to the left of the building.

OK, I admit it. WindySat is down for repairs so I had to get this from GeoEye.
Still, pretty cool…

Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead!

Yes, the Wicked Witch is dead.

The world is certainly a better place without Osama Bin Laden in it.

I would have preferred that Bin Laden had been captured and put on trial, but I suppose he had no intention of allowing that to happen. A capture and trial would have highlighted the difference between vendetta and justice. It also would have softened the inevitable images of Americans celebrating.

I feel satisfaction, not joy, at Bin Laden’s death. Crowds of Americans exalting in celebration over the death of an enemy is predictable, and even understandable, on some level. Despite this, all I can think of when seeing such displays is the footage of extremists around the world celebrating like fools the death of thousands on 9/11. I despised them for celebrating death.

It would have been nice to think that Americans were better than that, but I suppose a mob is a mob, no matter how enlightened the individuals.

Update: Damn. Now I can’t get that blasted song out of my head…