" /> CTDATA: February 2003 Archives

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February 28, 2003

Kottke: Google is Not a Search Company

Jason Kottke has written an insightful deconstruction of Google from a business perspective. His piece begins:

With their acquisition of Pyra and new Content-Targeted Advertising offering, it should be apparent that Google is not a search company. What they are exactly is unclear, but their biggest asset is: a highly annotated map of the web.

This timely and well-written article could easily form the basis for a larger article in a major business publication. It's highly recommended.

February 27, 2003

In Memory of "Mister Rogers"

Dave Aiello wrote, "By now, everyone has heard that Fred Rogers died today of cancer at age 74. He was the host of the longest show on public television, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

"Fred Rogers had stomach cancer, a disease that tends to kill people quickly. His death makes a difficult period in our nation's history more difficult for many people. He might have been the most reassuring public figure in America during the last half of his life."

"The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a great article about Mister Rogers today. He was originally from Latrobe and produced the show from Pittsburgh for 33 years. The article says, 'The list of awards presented to Mr. Rogers runs more than 25 single-spaced, typed pages and includes lifetime achievement awards from the Daytime Emmys and the Television Critics Association.' He's one of the few people associated with television that I think most Americans would agree deserved every award and accolade he got."

"I can't remember why, but, the other day I started singing the song It's Such a Good Feeling (to know you're alive...). That song comes to my mind from time to time, often in times of stress. I think it helps me put my troubles into better perspective."

"I hope that one day my children will watch Mister Rogers Neighborhood and think of Fred Rogers as their neighbor. May his soul rest in peace."

February 26, 2003

Updated Version of Dave Aiello's Resume is Posted

Dave Aiello wrote, "I just posted an updated version of my resume on this web site. This version includes the following recently-completed work:"

  • an application I wrote employing Amazon Web Services using SOAP and REST,
  • an interface I built between Slash and Weblogs.com using XML-RPC,
  • an implementation of Interchange 4.9.x for a client of one of my consulting clients
  • a server consolidation effort I worked on, using VMware ESX server,
  • two updates to the Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association Officiating Program web site.

"I think this work prepares me for bigger responsibilities. Please contact me by email at dave_aiello at ctdata.com if I can help you."

Dave Aiello's "Senior Internet Developer" Resume

Dave is a senior internet developer with extensive project leadership, system integration, and application architecture experience.

Read on for [ Contact Information | Experience | Education | Additional Training | References ]

See also [ Biographical Sketch of Dave Aiello ]

Contact Information

  • Mailing address

    Dave Aiello

    P.O. Box 1057

    Hightstown, NJ 08520

  • Telephone

    609-918-9650 x 101, voice

    609-918-9681, fax

  • Email



February 2003

USA Hockey / Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association


  • Designed and developed security and user on-boarding functionsto permit all regional administrators to access the membership database in a membership management application. The application was primarily written in Perl and Microsoft SQL Server, and run on iPlanet Web Server for Windows NT/2000.

January 2003

Chatham Township Data Corporation

  • Designed and developed an application of Amazon Web Services that allowed for the near real-time querying of the Amazon book catalog to obtain product availability and retail pricing information. Developed Perl-based SOAP and REST (XML over HTTP) interfaces to Amazon.com. Application runs on a Red Hat Linux 7.2 server.
  • Designed and developed an interface between the Slash Open Source web content management application and Weblogs.com (a third-party website) that allows a Slash-based web site to notify Weblogs.com whenever the Slash-based site has been updated. This takes the form of an XML-RPC client written in Perl. Interface runs on either Windows NT/2000 or UNIX/Linux.

September - December 2002

Logical Approach Software


  • Developed an e-commerce site for a client of Logical Approach Software. Installed and integrated Interchange 4.9.6 with Red Hat Linux 7.2 and mySQL. Created the product catalog. Successfully implemented UPS on-line rate lookup and Visa/Mastercard processing.
  • Worked to consolidate and reduce the cost of the Logical Approach IT infrastructure. Implemented network monitoring at the physical, logical, and service levels. Helped to consolidate server applications to reduce the number of servers in production using VMware ESX Server. Began the migration of certain client services from Windows 2000 to Linux.

June - August 2002

USA Hockey / Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association


  • Led the production of a second-generation membership management application. Migrated all of the existing membership data from the original web site to the new web site using an ETL (extract-transfer-load) process that involved SQL Server BCP and the Perl DBI/DBD modules.

October 2001-April 2002

Bear Stearns & Co., Inc.


  • Worked as a member of a large team to redevelop the main client-facing web portal. Participated in the development, testing, and implementation of the Data Migration Subsystem, and the Web Publishing Subsystem. Also participated in the integration and user acceptance tests for the Portal itself.
  • On the Data Migration Subsystem, work primarily involved using Perl and Sybase, with Sybperl and DBI/DBD middleware. On the Web Publishing Subsystem, work involved extensive use of Solaris and HP/UX scripting languages (including Perl and ksh/Korn Shell), Java (J2SE and J2EE), BroadVision Blade Runner, and Verity. XML, XSL, and XSLT was also an important part of work on the Web Publishing Subsystem.

June 1998-August 2001

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Inc.


  • Led the development of a large Web-based knowledge management application for the internal audit department. The application was primarily written in Perl and Sybase, and run on iPlanet Web Server for Solaris.
  • Worked on the inter-departmental team that built the Employee Portal based on Epicentric Portal Server, jRun (Java/JSP), and Sybase. Migrated the application from Windows NT 4 to Solaris prior to the merger with Chase Manhattan Bank. Later helped migrate J.P. Morgan applications to the Chase portal infrastructure.
  • Consulted with various J.P. Morgan and Chase groups on web content syndication using RSS and ICE. Translated structured data using XSLT.

March-May 1998

Lipton, a unit of Unilever's North American Foods Group


  • Consolidated a number of partially functioning Web Pages to create a single, coherent Web Site. This became the Unilever North American Foods Intranet, accomodating divisions marketing products under the Lipton, Breyers, Good Humor, and Ragu trademarks.
  • Designed the look and feel of the North American Foods Intranet using NetObjects Fusion. Deployed the Web Site to Lotus Domino on Windows NT.
  • Wrote small LotusScript applications to provide Notes database integration for applications like directory search.

December 1997-March 1998

Automatic Data Processing


  • Served as the database architect for IRexpress, a Web Site that provides services to the Investor Relations departments of client firms.
  • Managed schema migrations between 16 SQL Server databases on four servers. Wrote most of the stored procedures and triggers. Tuned the database for performance.
  • Wrote End-of-Day batch processes in ActiveState Perl for Win32. Made the script portable to a Sybase/UNIX environment by abstracting calls to the Windows operating system away from the core logic of the batch processes.

1995 - present

Chatham Township Data Corporation


  • Developed a database driven Web Site for the company. Technology used is Perl, Microsoft SQL Server 6.5, and Netscape Enterprise Server on Windows NT 4.0.
  • Managed Netscape SuiteSpot server suite for these small corporate clients who wanted to outsource Web and email services.
  • Wrote scripts to automate user account creation in Netscape Directory Server (using Perl and the Net::LDAP interface).

Previous Experience

1991 - 1995

Various positions in consulting and IT management

  • Schering-Plough Research Institute
  • J.P. Morgan & Company, Inc. (two successful consulting assigments)
  • Teach for America

  • L.L. Bean, Inc.


1985 - 1989

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Troy, NY

  • B.S., Management
  • Concentration in Management Information Systems

Additional Training

  • Linux Security for the System Administrator, January 2001, LinuxWorld Expo, New York.
  • Linux System Administration & Network Administration, October 1999, Atlanta Linux Showcase, Atlanta, GA.
  • Netscape Enterprise Server Training Course, April 1997, Edison, NJ.
  • Sunsoft Java Development Camp, January 1996, Philadelphia, PA.


Available on request.

In Memory of the Victims of "The Other Attack" on the World Trade Center

Dave Aiello wrote, "Ten years ago today, Ramzi Yousef and some associates placed a bomb in the second parking level of The World Trade Center. It was detonated at about 12:18pm. Six people lost their lives and hundreds were injured."

"Today we remember the victims of the first World Trade Center attack. They were arguably the first victims in the war that Islamic militants are waging against the United States and its interests throughout the world."

"This week, U.S. News and World Report published an excellent review of the relationship between the first World Trade Center attack and September 11. It also summarizes the manhunt that ensued after the 1993 bombing, culminating with the arrest of Yousef in Pakistan in 1995."

"The U.S. News article cites a book called The Cell: Inside the 9/11 Plot, And Why the FBI and CIA Failed to Stop It, a book reviewed on CTDATA back in October. We highly recommended the book because it helps to connect the dots between the Meir Kahane assassination, the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, and September 11."

February 25, 2003

Politics Creeps Into NY Times Technology Stories

Dave Aiello wrote, "Over the past few months, CTDATA has pointed out several instances of political bias in general news coverage in The New York Times. Up to now, I have read the technology articles in the Times relatively uncritically, because I didn't think there were many reasons to spin this subject matter."

"That was until I read Deal May Freshen Up Google's Links, an article that is ostensibly about Google's acquisition of Pyra Labs, the provider of Blogger. Midway through the article, it talks about the development of Google News in a way that is self-serving to The New York Times and establishment journalism:"

Google's attempt to automate news gathering on its news page (news.google.com) is still under development but has already earned some ridicule from journalists. Google News scans some 4,000 news sites and compiles a page of links, using clues like the content and placement of articles to arrange headlines. The page resembles other news sites, but there have been glitches. For example, Google News was more than an hour behind human-powered sites CNN.com and Yahoo News with word of the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia.

Dave Aiello continued, "I was scanning the web for news of the Columbia disintegration at the time, and my recollection is that Google News was not terribly late with the Columbia story. Furthermore, on that Saturday morning, most news site home pages did not say that the Columbia had been lost until after The Drudge Report put up its siren at 9:38am Eastern Time."

"But, all of this wouldn't matter if David Gallagher attributed the ridicule that he says Google News has received from journalists to an actual journalist. By saying this without attribution, I have to conclude that this is his opinion, or that of his editors. He also should have consulted an Internet expert to provide another point of view that might have provided context to the alleged ridicule."

"This is exactly the kind of media bias that Bernard Goldberg railed against in his groundbreaking book
Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News
. Gallagher's article subtly reinforces the media's contention that the public should not look at the Internet for news without first having it filtered through editors at places like The New York Times. By extension, the article itself is a swipe at the concept of weblogging, because weblogging is primarily done by non-journalists who by the media's definition do not exercise proper editorial judgement."

"So, I'll be reading New York Times technology articles much more carefully in the future. The question that I'm still struggling with is why should I have to?"

Update by Dave Aiello: Doc Searls pointed to this article and added a lengthy and thoughtful critique at his own website. Doc has actually met David Gallagher. He says that Gallagher blogs himself and freelances for the Times. He says Gallagher's a nice guy.

I can only react to what I read in print in this case, and I consider the point about Google News to be an opinion in the midst of a news story. That's been a problem in a number of cases at the New York Times recently. So, to some extent, David Gallagher stumbled over a reader who already had his antenna up, and probably wouldn't have gotten this response from me if his piece had been published elsewhere.

Daypop Adds Word Bursts to Their Toolset

Over the weekend, Daypop announced that it had implemented a word burst reporting tool. According to the announcement that Dan Chan made on his weblog:

Shortly after putting up the Top 40, I realized there were plenty of memes that make the rounds that weren't accompanied by links. Either the meme was a topic of conversation that had no link, or it was a meme that had no single, authoritative link. Catching heightened word usage is a natural extension to the Top 40.

I kept the idea on the back burner until very recently, when I realized Joe Millionaire was the buzz, but there were no authoritative links to anchor the meme. There was the one link to the Joe Millionaire site but few bloggers linked to it when writing about the show....

Chan goes on to say that he heard about word burst research done at Cornell and published in New Scientist, that this brought it altogether for him, and as a result he produced the Daypop Word Bursts function.

It's amazing that Daypop produced this function so quickly. But they had the infrastructure to do it quickly, took a shot at it, and will undoubtedly improve it.

Dave Aiello wrote, "FWIW, Dave Winer pointed Daypop word bursts out on Scripting News a few minutes before I began writing this story. Thanks for jogging my memory."

InfoWorld: Many Large Corporations Avoid Using Scripting Languages for What They Do Best

Slashdot pointed out that Chad Dickerson spent an entire column discussing the fact that some major corporations discourage the use of scripting languages like Perl and Python to solve problems to which they are uniquely suited. According to the article:

Although it has often been subtle, there is a level of quiet discomfort between the “scripting” versus “programming” factions in some corporate development environments in which I have participated. In some instances, executive-level technology management has held scripting languages in disdain as not being “real” languages for day-to-day problem solving, which has discouraged highly talented scripters on staff from practicing their craft....

On a practical level, I’ve found that two things happen in these environments: 1) many of the most talented scripters eventually become disgruntled and leave for scripting-friendly pastures, and 2) the “real” developers spend days and weeks writing Java and C++ code to solve problems that those talented Perl or Python programmers could have knocked out in a few hours.

In our experience, this is definitely true in environments that do not have a long history of UNIX usage.

You'd think that Windows shops would be more open to scripting languages like Perl and Python, since many depend on Visual Basic for strategic applications. However, sites that use Visual Basic do a lot of development using IDEs, while Perl and Python are generally not used in those contexts.

February 24, 2003

Lance Armstrong and Wife Announce Their Separation

Julie Aiello pointed out that Lance and Kristen Armstrong announced their separation in a major article in the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday. According to the article:

The two separated in late January and have been living apart since. Lance Armstrong has been staying at another house, a family retreat, that he owns southwest of Austin.... Last weekend, {The Lance Armstrong Foundation} raised about $500,000 at its Live to Ride Gala in Austin. But Kristin Armstrong was out of town and did not attend, the first public clue of their separation.

For six years, the sporting world has watched Lance Armstrong's recovery and rise to the top of cycling, accompanied by his rise to the top of sports marketing. His autobiography was a best seller, and he was last year's Sportsman of the Year, as chosen by Sports Illustrated. His relationship with Kristin and their growing family has been a key part of the story.

The American-Statesman article also includes a carefully worded statement from the couple.

LanceArmstrong.com points to this story, although the other major cycling sites are remarkably quiet about it.

Update: In April, Lance and Kristin Armstrong announced that they were working at reconciliation.

Now, The BBC Promotes Mobile Blogging

The BBC has run an article about mobile weblog writing. This has resulted in another round of attention from webloggers, like CTDATA and Slashdot.

You have to marvel at the white-hot nature of this technology concept, when so many major sites are willing to give attention to software in such early stages of development.

For what it's worth (FWIW), the first article posted on CTDATA.com from a mobile device appeared on March 5, 2002. This goes to show you that the traditional editing interfaces for weblogs have been available to mobile users for a long time. The technology to connect to websites from cellphones has existed since CDPD-enabled phones and micro web browsers debuted a long time ago.

Media Metrix Restates Visitor Counts for Major Sites for 4Q2002

Another interesting article in The New York Times says that ComScore Media Metrix released revised visitor statistics for major web sites in the fourth quarter of 2002. The reason stated for doing this was a flaw that the statisticians detected in their new methodology, initially released in October.

The article goes on to explain how Media Metrix was sold last year as a result of financial problems at Jupiter Media Metrix. In the course of selling the Media Metrix operation to ComScore, the companies had to deal with the settlement of a patent dispute with Nielsen/NetRatings. This resulted in the need to develop a new methodology.

NY Times Compares Tungsten W, Blackberry 6710

On Thursday, David Pogue compared the Palm Tungsten W and the RIM Blackberry 6710 in The New York Times. This article is interesting because it cited strong features in each unit, but didn't attempt to pick a winner in a head-to-head comparison. This is good because it is becoming more and more difficult to match up the latest integrated mobile devices as different approaches prove to be successful.

February 23, 2003

NJ Turnpike Closed Due to Fog?

Dave Aiello wrote, "The New Jersey Turnpike has been closed for its entire length, since 10:45am EST, reportedly due to severe lack of visibility as a result of fog. This is the first time I can ever remember the entire road being closed for this reason."

"This highway has speed control signs that allow the speed limit to be reduced when conditions warrant. So, if fog is a problem, I'd think that they would just keep reducing the speed limit until the danger was of travelling was not great. I understand that the posted speed on the Turnpike for vehicles already on the road is now 30 miles per hour."

"What triggered the closing? Was there some sort of huge chain reaction accident or something?"

February 21, 2003

Algorithms Developed to Use "Word Bursts" to Identify Trends

Earlier this week New Scientist reported that a researcher at Cornell had developed algorithms to detect word bursts in text documents and that these bursts may help to identify trends or new ideas. The article suggests that the new finding in this research has to do with the rate of increase in mentions of a term.

Although this represents the results of new research, some work has already been done in this area. Google produces a report on search trends that they call Google Zeitgeist. This is a weekly or monthly snapshot of recent search queries, not a time series analysis.

Some webloggers cited the New Scientist article as another justification for Google's acquisition of Pyra, but that seems unlikely for a number of reasons that have been discussed here previously.

Danger to Release Color Version of HipTop in Europe

Guy Kewney reports that Danger is rolling out a color version of its HipTop mobile device in Europe. It will be interesting to see how well this device sells through to end users.

One of the more interesting revelations in this article is that Danger CEO Hank Nothhaft says, "{The design of the HipTop} grew out of the WebTV project, which the founders of Danger sold to Microsoft, and then moved on to do this."

On a related note, there's a pretty nice review of the U.S. version of the HipTop (called the T-Mobile Sidekick) over on Geek.com. It's got some excellent pictures of the device and a detailed description of a user's experience.

Explosion Rocks Staten Island Oil Transfer Terminal

Scott Aiello reports that he was driving a large truck across the Goethals Bridge at the time when an explosion rocked an oil transfer station in Staten Island, a mile or two south of the bridge. He said that most of the traffic stopped on the bridge to look at the plume of smoke. This was on the left side of the bridge, from the perspective of New Jersey-bound traffic.

Scott reports that he subsequently drove his truck the rest of the way across the bridge, and kept driving back to work. Now, the smoke extends across the sky for miles and is visible from The Garden State Parkway in Roselle Park, NJ.

The explosion is reported to have taken place at about 10:10am, Eastern Time.

BTW Scott, Happy Birthday.

WiredNews Talks About Tools Under Development for Mobile Blogging

Wired News reported that a number of tools that are under development to allow weblog writers to update their sites using mobile devices. Among the tools available are Manywhere Moblogger, Wapblog, FoneBlog, and Kablog.

Some of these tools are prototype quality at best. But, it is astounding how quickly developers are announcing product ideas in this space. It's almost as if everyone with any development skill in the weblog community thinks that it is time to publicize their ideas, now that a major acquisition has been made in this part of the market.

February 20, 2003

Another Reason Google May Have Wanted to Buy Pyra

Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineWatch.com suggests another reason why Google may have wanted to buy Pyra, the provider of Blogger, blogs may be an ideal distribution platform for Google's AdWords. According to Sullivan:

The Blogger network features plenty of high-quality web sites where Google could place contextually-relevant paid listings.

Huh? How can Google put its paid listings, which are generated by search requests, out on pages where no searches take place? Simple. Google just needs to make an educated guess as to what a page is about. That's easily done in various ways. Google could analyze its search logs to see which sites in the Blogger.com network are coming up for particular queries. In other cases, the content of the weblog makes it obvious what it's about.

Newsmonster Under Development as Cross-Platform Weblog Management Tool

Doc Searls pointed out that Newsmonster is under development. Newsmonster is a cross-platform reader/manager for RSS-enabled sites. This looks like a great product for people who would like some of the functionality of products like Radio and Amphetadesk but don't run them because of platform or workstation configuration issues.

Update: Jason DeFillippo noted that Newsmonster doesn't play too well with other applications that also use Mozilla. YMMV.

Counterprotest Inside San Francisco Anti War Rally Achieves Notoriety

Congratulations to Kfir Alfia and Alan Lipton for achieving a media coup. Their small scale counterprotest at the San Francisco anti war rally last weekend got them on the air on the Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage radio programs. It also got their counterprotest photos posted on RushLimbaugh.com.

If you haven't seen these photos, they are very provocative. They include the following statements:

  • Protect Islamic Property Rights Against Western Imperialism! Say No to War (picture of woman in burkha tied to a pole)
  • Except for Ending Slavery, Fascism, Nazism, and Communism, War Has Never Solved Anything
  • Communism Has Only Killed 100 Million People, Let's Give it Another Chance
  • Saddam Only Kills His Own People, It's None of Our Business

Why Doesn't Google's PageRank Allow Negative Votes?

Dave Aiello wrote, "Google has provided a great service to the Internet community by implementing its PageRank technology to help identify the most relevant information on the web. Google describes PageRank as follows:"

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important."

Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google remembers each time it conducts a search.

Dave Aiello continued, "The only issue I have with PageRank is that it doesn't provide a way for me to indicate that I do not agree with a link that I place on my website. If I am criticizing something in an article on my site, I would like to be able to link to it. But, under the PageRank algorithm, that counts as a sort of endorsement of the information pointed to by the link."

"I think that PageRank could deal with criticism fairly easily, if it could be expressed in the markup of pages. I would say that links coded normally could be considered positive references to the object page, but links coded with some sort of additional meta data could count as negative references."

"I'd be interested to know if other webloggers think that a system like this would work, and if it would be helpful in identifying information appearing on the Internet that is technically flawed, factually incorrect, or in some way reprehensible."

Building a Blogroll with Blogrolling.com is Easy

Dave Aiello wrote, "Many weblogs have 'blogrolls' that are sets of links to other weblogs that the author consults frequently. Lists like these can be tedious to maintain, but a service called Blogrolling.com makes it much easier."

"Blogrolling.com is a simple service that lets you flag the home pages of weblogs you visit (using a Javascript-enabled browser bookmark), and retrieve the blogroll via RSS or a piece of Javascript code."

"I built a blogroll by revisiting my browser bookmarks, hitting the Blogroll this button on my navigation bar each time and filling out a small dialog box. Then, I added an RSS Slashbox to the CTDATA.com home page, and I had a working blogroll."

"It actually took longer to write the story describing the process of building a blogroll using Blogrolling.com than it did to build and integrate the blogroll in the first place. This service is highly recommended. I wish I'd thought of it first...."

February 19, 2003

How Weblog Monitors Automatically Discover RSS Feeds

Dave Aiello wrote, "I noticed that BlogStreet had no idea that CTDATA, RCNJ, and AAHArefs exist and I decided to figure out why. One reason appeared to be that BlogStreet uses a mechanism to automatically discover the URL for the RSS feed for a website."

"In the BlogStreet FAQ, I found an entry explaining how BlogStreet discovers the RSS feed for a website:"

The easiest and confirming to standards {sic} way is to include the following meta tag on your blog's index page:

<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS" href="__YOUR_RSS_URL__">

RSS Discovery has other algorithms to identify a blog's RSS feed but the above mentioned is the best manner to do so.

Dave Aiello continued, "Once I found this information, and changed the websites' headers accordingly, I wondered how long this standard had been in existence. I googled a portion of the meta tag, and found reference to an update to the standard on DiveIntoMark.com on June 2, 2002. So, this standard must have been developed around the middle of last year."

Orioles Pitcher's Death Tentatively Linked to Use of Ephedra

The Baltimore Sun reports that Broward County medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper has tentatively linked the death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler to use of an over-the-counter weight loss product containing ephedra. Ephedra contains the stimulant ephedrine, a substance banned by the International Olympic Committee, the National Football League, and other sports organizing bodies. The article says:

Major League Baseball did attempt to include ephedra and ephedrine on a list of banned substances during the labor negotiations that led to the sport's new steroid-testing policy, but met with resistance from the Major League Baseball Players Association.

The last time baseball's drug policy came under public scrutiny was when Mark McGuire broke Roger Maris' single season home run record. At that point, the issue was McGuire's use of androstenedione, a performance-enhancing drug that he has subsequently denounced. "Andro" is a product that can lower the level of HDL in the blood and increase the risk of heart attack, if taken in large amounts.

Of course, the controversy over McGuire's use of andro was muted by the fact that he was chasing a record, and also that the risks of using it were not understood by the public. Now that an American professional athlete has died in a manner that indicates that a stimulant may have contributed significantly, sports drug policies will come under increased scruitiny. It's about time.

February 18, 2003

Critics Charge that Arbitron Study Is Biased in Favor of Radio Consolidation

Dave Aiello wrote, "Reuters reported Tuesday that consumer rights groups are criticizing a new study of consolidation in the radio industry, produced by Arbitron, a media and market research firm with radio expertise. According to Reuters, the study reported that 79 percent of the listeners surveyed 'said they get more or the same amount of programming choices from local radio than they did five years ago'".

"The article contains quotes from the spokesman for a consumer rights group, the Future of Music Coalition, an organization critical of consolidation that has already taken place in the industry":

It's clearly in their best interest to say that radio is great.

The federal government is in the process of evaluating changes and potentially allowing further consolidation, while the broadcast industry has an obvious agenda to defend these changes and push for more.

Dave Aiello continued, "You would have to be incredibly naive to think that a study that says that relies on current listeners to subjectively judge the diversity of radio programming was indicative of successful evolution of the radio industry. What about people like me, who gave up on listening to music radio several years ago? The only sector of radio that seems to be growing from my perspective is talk radio, and that growth is primarily limited to politically conservative shows."

"Music radio appears to be controlled by large corporations that dominate station ownership and either outdoor advertising or concert promotion in each local media market. There is a steady stream of media reports that indicate that radio airplay is determined by promotional payments, the equivalent of supermarket slotting fees. This was once referred to as payola and was the subject of a number of federal investigations, dating back to the 1960s."

Read on for more....

Dave Aiello continued:

I could argue that the radio industry has figured out how to take advantage of the problems that are causing the decline of the recording industry. Radio stations have vertically integrated to take advantage of the promotional money spent by the recording industry to advertise its major acts. This has resulted in the homogenization of radio stations into very static formats. This has been done in order to allow the precise targeting of promotional efforts to specific types of listeners.

In individual markets, this has led to a severe lack of listener choice. If you live in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, enjoy listening to country music, but dislike the format of radio station WXTU, you have no alternative on the AM or FM bands. This lack of diversity is what has caused people interested in listening to music on radio to defect in droves.

If there was true diversity of radio content, then services like XM Satellite Radio would not have any chance of succeeding in most populated parts of North America. Other alternatives, like streaming audio, would not have become as controversial as they did two or three years ago.

But, Arbitron wants consumers and legislators to believe that further consolidation of the radio industry is a good thing. I suggest that they prove it by showing increased aggregate listenership for English language music stations on a market-by-market basis over a long period of time. Until they do that, I'll continue to say that studies like this are propaganda. And, I'll continue to listen to news and talk shows when I'm in my car or at my desk in the office.

Kellner, Foe of TiVo, Steps Down at Turner Broadcasting

The New York Times is reporting that Jamie Kellner is stepping down as Chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting, a unit of AOL Time Warner. Although Kellner is credited with a leading role in the founding of the Fox and WB television networks, he has been under increasing pressure in his current role, due to the continued underperformance of Turner properties like CNN.

Kellner had been mentioned on CTDATA back in May, when we reported that he told Cableworld Magazine that typical uses of a device like TiVo amount to theft of service because viewers use them to skip advertisements.

Anyone who feels that they have the right to dictate how people watch television programs delivered to their homes in such a comprehensive manner is ill-suited to a career as a broadcast executive in the United States. Perhaps he would do better in a country that does not have the traditions of individual liberty and intellectual property rights that exist here.

Natural Size of Weblog Audience May Be Around 150 People

Steve Mallett wrote another provocative article for O'Reilly Network called Community <= 150. In it, he draws upon information in Malcolm Gladwell's
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
by Steven Johnson to suggest that the natural size of a weblog's audience may be as small as 150 readers:

I've found that bloggers are outpacing slashdot for innovative topics and conversation and I don't think it's the blogging mechanisms that achieve that as much as the natural selection of bloggers they connect with. The number of blogs that I read hovers around 150. Beyond that many start to contain the same voice as others and/or are equal replacements for ones in my list already and so don't add any value....

Consider another phenomenom we've all experienced. You join a community, whether it's an email list, website or other and it gains some popularity and so the members in the community grows into an unmanagable size. When I say manageable, I mean self-managing. And so you leave or become frustated and you lament the 'good ole days' of what your community was.

Dale Earnhardt Inc. Web Site Opens

Scott Aiello pointed out that the new Dale Earnhardt, Inc. web site, www.daleearnhardtinc.com, launched a few days before last week's Daytona 500. The site includes insider news about DEI, drivers, and other racing team information.

This site will be the primary distributor for tickets to a Dale Earnhardt tribute concert scheduled for June 28 at Daytona International Speedway. The concert will include performances from Sheryl Crow, Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, and Kenny Chesney.

February 17, 2003

First Shoveling Experience of the Blizzard of 2003

Dave Aiello said, "I opened our garage, and saw that my entire driveway was covered with snow to the depth of 2 to 3 feet (91 cm). The apron of our driveway (where it meets the street) has snow that is probably 4 feet deep."

"I decided that I would alternate one hour of shoveling with one hour of rest for at least today's remaining daylight hours. I hope the conditions at your house are better than they are here."

Update 10:15pm EST: "After 4 1/2 hours of shoveling, I cleared 500-600 cubic feet of snow from the driveway at my home. That gives me the ability to back my SUV out into the street. I'll have to shovel some more tomorrow in order to be able to free my wife's car from the snow bank that is our driveway."

Delaware Has Traffic Cameras as Well

Scott Kuykendall points out that Delaware DOT also has highway traffic cameras. He says that he finds these cameras more useful than radio traffic reports.

Traffic Cameras on Route 1 in Central NJ Show Depth of the Snowfall Problem

Dave Aiello wrote, "For an idea of how much snow Central New Jersey has received in the last 24 hours, take a look at the NJDOT's traffic cameras on U.S. 1. Obviously, this will only look like a snow emergency for a few more hours."

"I didn't realize that these cameras were on-line until I saw Edward Felten of Princeton University mention them on his weblog, freedom-to-tinker.com. So I Googled Route 1 Traffic camera NJ, and found them."

"It looks like we've got fewer traffic cameras than the State of Washington does. But, it's a start for our area."

Microsoft Wants Web Communities Like the Democrats Want Talk Radio

About 10 days ago, Robert Scoble wrote that Microsoft is jealous of Slashdot and Scripting News. In his article, he quoted a marketing person who works closely with Microsoft as saying, "Microsoft wants to help webloggers and others build strong communities like Slashdot around {Microsoft} products." Scoble then went on to give 9 reasons why this will not work.

This seems quite similar to the effort by Democratic Party activists to create a talk radio network that emphasizes the left wing viewpoint to compete with established hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage.

Both Microsoft and the Democratic Party have virtual monopolies in areas of American bureaucracy that are key influencers of public opinion. Microsoft nearly owns the IT departments of mid-sized corporations, and dominates the retail distribution sector of the computer industry. The Democratic Party has the mainstream media and most of academia in its back pocket.

You'd figure that both of these institutions would know that they can be the dominant force in their parts of American Society for years to come if they remain patient, cater to the true believers, and keep convincing a significant percentage of newcomers that their ideology is correct. By taking their eyes off the ball and courting the natural constituencies of their competitors, Microsoft and the Democratic Party have given their competitors unexpected shots at legitimacy.

Let's hope that these trends continue.

February 16, 2003

Why Post Comments on a Weblog When You Can Roll Your Own?

On O'Reilly Network, Steve Mallett pointed out an obvious side-effect of the momentum of the blogging phenomenon: the deterioration of the comments sections of all but the largest weblogs. This is so obvious, but rarely discussed in print:

Let's say that there is a really interesting story on Slashdot about a subject close to your heart. You wish to contribute to the conversation taking place, but have not commented in the first 200-300 comments. You're voice is generally lost among those already written....

What I've noticed is that people are choosing to have their conversations among themselves via weblog and have taken their conversation to a different level insuring their voice is heard. Among conversations between five to ten people each will make commentary from their own personal soapbox, their weblog instead of commenting in someone else's space.

The implications of this phenomenon are profound. If you haven't considered this web community evolutionary megatrend, you should definitely read the article.

Worst Snow Storm in Seven Years Hits New Jersey

If you live between Washington, DC, and Boston, you already know that the Northeast is experiencing the biggest snow storm since 1996 today. Here in East Windsor, we are expecting 18 inches to two feet by tomorrow night.

For those of you outside the United States, two feet is about 60 cm. That's more snow than we got in the entire 2001-2002 winter season, AFAIK.

If you have nothing to do tomorrow, bring your shovel.

Google Buys Pyra, But Why?

Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury News broke the story that Google has bought Pyra Labs, better known for its Blogger weblog software and services. Our big question about the acquisition, not answered to our satisfaction in Gillmor's otherwise excellent article, is why?

The most obvious reason we can find for Google to buy Pyra is to get access to the referrer logs of thousands of actively updated weblogs. This would give Google some insight into news that is resonating at the grassroots level. Often such news is not yet hitting the major publications that it indexes with Google News.

Is that the reason they did the deal? Who knows? But, the other factor to consider is price. They may have been able to do this deal very cheaply, given the valuation that free services like Blogger have these days.

Why I Didn't Buy TurboTax This Year

Dave Aiello wrote, "As the United States approaches tax season, I want to go on the record, saying that this year I did not buy a copy of TurboTax, for the first time in seven or eight years. I refused to buy the product because I am not willing to accept the permanent installation of digital rights management software on my computer, just so my wife and I can file our taxes."

"I decided to buy TaxCut from Block Finacial Software. This product has improved a lot in the past few years. It's the scrappy underdog. And, the company that makes it is treating its customers with respect."

"I am not alone in this movement. Martin O'Donnell, our friend in Seattle, sent me an email two weeks ago, saying:"

Although I have been using Intuit tax software for 10 years, I just returned my copy of TurboTax 2002 to Costco for a full refund, I'll be taking Walt Mossberg's advice and switching to TaxCut.

Walter Mossberg's review of TurboTax and TaxCut in the Wall Street Journal was quite explicit about the problem that he had with TurboTax:

...Intuit, in an effort to curb piracy, now is forcing folks who buy TurboTax to jump through hoops to use it. Users must contact Intuit to "activate" the software, a process that limits full use of TurboTax to a single PC. To enforce this system, Intuit secretly installs third-party monitoring software on users' PCs....

So, this year I emphatically recommend H&R Block's TaxCut over Intuit's TurboTax. They both do the job of preparing any straightforward tax return. But Intuit has decided to treat all its TurboTax customers like potential criminals, and to limit the ways that even honest people can use the product. Why subject yourself to that?

To which Dave Aiello said, "Amen, Walter."

February 15, 2003

Dave Winer May Have Convinced Himself of a Need for War Against Iraq

Dave Winer has begun to say things on Scripting News that imply that he is in favor of an attack on Iraq. This is significant because he has been very skeptical about many Bush Administration activities since September 11.

Yesterday, he reflected on the speeches given in response to the reports by Blix and El Baradei:

I listened to the UN report by the inspectors, and reps from all sides, including Iraq. I think the UK and US make good points that the French, Russian and Chinese didn't address. Do I think Hussein is serious about disarming? Come on, give me a break.... I'm still not sure it's best for the US to invade Iraq, but I don't buy the arguments our supposed allies are providing against going to war.

And then today, Winer comments on the Max Boot editorial in the New York Times that debunks the leftist theory that the U.S. wants to go to war primarily to control Iraq's oil resources:

...we all know what he does with the oil money -- he uses it to build nukes, missiles to deliver them, etc etc.... Why anyone would stand up for him is beyond me. Yet that's what the French, Germans, Russians and Chinese (and others) are doing. This makes no sense. (Unless you consider the possibility that they have conflicts of interest.)

Maybe what Winer is hinting at is that an invasion would uncover a great deal of evidence that these countries did business with Iraq that advanced Iraq's weapons programs.

In any event, it is interesting to read Winer's views at this critical time, given his skepticism about some of the administration's domestic security agenda, and his lack of respect for many Bush appointees.

February 14, 2003

Reaction to Blix's Latest Presentation Shows Everything We Need to Know About UN Security Council

The reaction of the United Nations Security Council to today's reports from Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei was nothing if not predictable. Media reports like the Associated Press' Major Powers Insist on Iraq Inspections demonstrate the degree to which the media is complicit in the anti-war agenda of the left throughout the world.

In his report, Blix cited improved cooperation by Saddam's government and reported the hunt for banned arms had thus far failed to find weapons of mass destruction. Blix said it was significant that "many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for."

The Associated Press decided not to point out the terms of Security Council Resolution 1441 that form the basis for the inspection regime. The resolution says that Iraq is required to destroy stocks of biological and chemical weapons, dismantle its nuclear weapons programs, and do away with missiles that can travel more than 150 kilometers. These are the sorts of things that Hans Blix means when he says "proscribed weapons and items {that} are not accounted for."

Powell sat silently as speaker after speaker rejected the United States' position that Iraq has run out of time to comply with a string of U.N. disarmament resolutions.

The reason that the countries who oppose the United States on this issue can dispute the United States' position is that the resolution gives Iraq a "final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations." It doesn't say how long this opportunity should last.

Kudos to United Press International for running a piece called Analysis: Where are the arms from before? that lays out the reasons why "Hans Blix's briefing to the Security Council Friday... had something for everybody...." Although this article calls the countries on the Security Council who wish inspections to continue "the majority", it is one of the few articles published by the mainstream media to list the countries that called for the U.N. to take action now.

It is precisely these unanswered questions that form the basis of the indictment the United States, Britain, Spain, Mexico and Chile made Friday at the United Nations against Saddam's regime.

Ubergeek.tv Does a Spoof of "Switch" Ads for Linux

Brett Tofel pointed out that ubergeek.tv has produced an animated spoof of an Apple "Switch" ad, promoting Linux. This is one funny piece of animation-- definitely recommended.

FWIW, they have several other animations accessible from the sidebar at www.ubergeek.tv. Two of them would be disturbing to children, but the others are worth watching.

February 13, 2003

Dave Aiello Quoted in O'Reilly's Online Catalog

Dave Aiello wrote, "I Googled myself a little while ago, as I do from time to time, and found that I am now quoted on the reviews page for the book
Running Weblogs with Slash
. O'Reilly's web site quotes me as follows:"

if you have a desire to build a web site running on Slash and you don't want to spend the months that it took me to read the code line-by-line, 'Running Weblogs with Slash' is a good place to start...I would strongly recommend this book to you if you plan to build a Slash-based site and you want to develop a basic understanding of the Slash software as quickly as possible.

(The passage originally appeared in my review of 'Running Weblogs with Slash' that ran on Slashdot about a year ago.)

"This is one of the happiest discoveries I've made recently. To the folks that run oreilly.com, thanks for quoting me."

PayPal Account Started for Replacement of Doc Searls' Laptop

Dave Aiello wrote, "Chris Pirillo announced that he started a PayPal account to buy Doc Searls a new laptop. This is a nice idea and an even better PR move for Chris. This story made me review what I know about Doc's situation, and a similarly expensive loss that occurred in my area recently."

"Doc said that his laptop was stolen from his car. So, some insurance should pay for replacement of the equipment itself."

"I know of a high school hockey player here in New Jersey that had all of his goalie equipment stolen from his parents' car-- also a small four-figure replacement cost. When I asked him how the loss was dealt with, he told me that his parents' homeowner's insurance paid for replacement."

"Assuming that this coverage is not unique to New Jersey, I would expect that Doc would get his laptop replaced in that manner as well, unless the computer was owned by a company rather than him, personally. If the computer is owned by a company, then all bets are off regarding replacement-- it depends on how much insurance the company has and what it covers."

NASA Releases Text of Emails Discussing Shuttle Landing Failure Scenarios

NASA has released an email thread about the possibility of landing gear failures during the attempt to land the shuttle Columbia on February 1. At this point in the investigation, it is not clear whether landing gear failure contributed to the disintegration of the shuttle.

This information has been reported in articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Associated Press. All of these articles analyze the same emails and point out nearly the same features of them, namely that:

  1. Robert Daugherty said he was "erring way on the side of absolute worst case scenarios", and
  2. James Heflin said that in his email, Mr. Daugherty was "what-iffing, which is something we do a whole lot of".

The New York Times also published excerpts of the emails that NASA released. This is useful because hardcopy readers deserve the opportunity to read the main points of the emails in context, not just summaries of what the emails said.

The fact that NASA released these emails yesterday is interesting. One conclusion that can be drawn from it is that a major difference between this disaster and The Challenger is the volume of email communication that could be made public through official or unofficial releases. This both maintains pressure on NASA administrators and provides them with a way to reassure the public.

Of course, there will probably be hell to pay if any emails materialize that attempt to raise red flags without the kind of preambles that Daugherty put in his email.

February 12, 2003

It Never Hurts to Review Old Code

Dave Aiello wrote, "In the course of adding an XML-RPC ping for weblogs.com to CTDATA, I found a significant inefficiency in our version of slashd. The program was recreating at least one index page every time it checked for updated stories. When you multiply this inefficiency by three weblogs and four or five iterations per hour, that's a major waste of CPU cycles."

"I'm all for finding and fixing inefficiencies as a by-product of adding a seemingly unrelated new feature."

CTDATA Puts Its Weblogs on Weblogs.com

Dave Aiello wrote, "For a long time, I have wondered why the weblogs that we run here at CTDATA are highly ranked by Google, but hardly exist from the perspective of some of the major weblog community sites. One of the problems I have noticed is that our sites do not appear on 'weblog aggregators' like weblogs.com."

"In the course of reading recent articles like Building with Blogs in Linux Journal, I came to the conclusion that a lot of weblog community sites are driven off aggregators like weblogs.com. So, I integrated a simple Perl script into our version of Slash called weblogUpdatesPing by Hans Kellner."

"This Perl script uses IO::Socket to create an XML-RPC connection to a server at weblogs.com. This notifies weblogs.com that one of our sites has been updated. Weblogs.com then hits the site to verify that the site has been updated, and adds it to its changes.xml document. Other weblog community sites read that document in order to derive statistics about the weblog community."

"The bottom line is that CTDATA.com, RCNJ.org, and AAHArefs.org will be on the RADAR screen of a lot more people in the weblog community. We'll see if this results in more traffic to our sites."

February 11, 2003

Excellent Weblogging Article Published in March 2003 Edition of Linux Journal

Doc Searls and Dave Sifry wrote an excellent article in the March 2003 issue of Linux Journal called Building with Blogs. If you want to read the article today, you'll have to buy the magazine, because LJ doesn't put most of its content on the web (at least immediately).

The article has a great overview of blogging systems, discussion sites, content management systems, and wikis, as well as a list of 10 criteria that can be used to determine whether the configuration of any one of these software platforms qualifies as a weblog.

February 10, 2003

Doc Searls' Laptop Stolen

Dave Aiello wrote, "Doc Searls, the Senior Editor of Linux Journal, reported that his laptop was stolen on Saturday. Searls said, 'Pretty much my whole life was on it. I'm not even sure what to do next....' You're telling me. I'd be dead if this happened to me (figuratively)."

"I wrote to Doc and expressed my sympathy. He was the only prominent weblogger to pick up my story about astronaut Mike Mullane's book and the eerie way Mullane predicted the disintegration of a shuttle due to reentry problems. I wish I could do more for him, but all I could do was say:"


I'm truly sorry to hear about your laptop. This made me go out and get a copy of Arkeia Light for the server in my office and start backing up my laptop....

Dave continued, "Let this be a lesson for the rest of us. Get with the program and back up your digital life. I'm humble enough to say that I have a problem with this sort of disaster preparedness, and I'll do what I can to mitigate the problem before the end of the week."

February 7, 2003

Former Astronaut Imagined Shuttle Breakup Scenario in "Liftoff!, An Astronaut's Dream"

Dave Aiello wrote, "Many of you know that CTDATA sells used books as part of our experiments in e-commerce. Yesterday, we sold a copy of a book called
Lift Off!: An Astronaut's Dream
, a 96 page book for school children, and the customer asked us to ship it out in an expedited manner."

"As I was packing the book, I glanced through it, and realized that it discusses a situation where the shuttle Atlantis was damaged by debris that fell off the right-side rocket booster at launch. This occurred on flight STS-27, December 2-6, 1988."

"Chapter 8 of the book, written by retired astronaut R. Mike Mullane, discusses his effort to check the shuttle for tile damage. Mullane writes:"

"Atlantis? Houston. We were wondering if you saw anything break off the top of the right booster during ascent.... In a review of the ground films of your launch, engineers thought they saw something come off the tip of the booster."

"Atlantis, we want Mike to use the robot arm to look at the belly...."

I shiver with fear as I imagine what would happen to Atlantis if there is major damage. On reentry, fire would melt a hole in the belly and then start buringing through wires and equipment....

Meanwhile, the commander and the pilot would be doing everything possible to keep the shuttle flying straight. But, in the end, atmospheric friction would win the battle. The shuttle would start groaning and vibrating as pieces of the wings burned off... and the shuttle would slowly spin out of control. From the ground it would look like a giant shooting star, scattering flaming pieces of aluminum across the sky. I would be dead.... That's what I'm thinking as I carefully twist the robot arm underneath the fusilage.

Finally, the belly heat tiles come into view on the television screen. We gasp. Hundreds of tiles are scraped and gouged! At least one tile is completely missing. What's going to happen to us on reentry?

Dave Aiello continued, "Of course, Atlantis and its crew survived and successfully landed at Andrews Air Force Base. But, more than 700 tiles on the bottom of the shuttle had been damaged beyond repair."

"The breakup scenario that Mullane describes may be very close to what actually happened to shuttle Columbia. The biggest difference between Mullane's story and the Columbia disaster may be that Columbia did not carry a robot arm on its last mission."

"This is a wonderful book that tells a lot of shuttle flight details that I did not know. I'll have to get another copy and read it cover-to-cover."

February 6, 2003

Powell Wins Over Lots of Americans with U.N. Presentation

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented evidence of Iraq's continuing effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction to the United Nations security council. He followed this up today with a presentation to the U.S. Senate.

According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll seven in ten Americans believe Iraq has biological weapons, while 61 percent believe that Powell presented enough evidence to justify a war with Iraq. This indicates that the presentation was very convincing, because the media reported that the evidence that Powell would present would be circumstantial at best. Many people seemed more skeptical about the grounds for war before the presentation than after.

February 5, 2003

NASA Says That Alternatives to Attempting a Columbia Landing Were Not Feasible

On Monday, The New York Times published an article that listed the alternatives that NASA engineers had discussed to allowing Columbia to proceed with a landing attempt and why none of these scenarios was feasilble. One of the most oft-cited alternatives was accelerating the launch of Atlantis, the Shuttle closest to readiness. However, the article says:

...Atlantis is still in its hangar, and to rush it to launching would have required NASA to circumvent most of its safety measures. "It takes about three weeks, at our best effort, to prepare the shuttle for launch once we're at the pad," Bruce Buckingham {a Kennedy Space Center spokesman} said, "and we're not even at the pad." Further, Columbia had enough oxygen, supplies and fuel (for its thrusters only) to remain in orbit for only five more days, said Patrick Ryan, a spokesman at the Johnson Space Center....

Slashdot Asks "Where Should Space Exploration Go From Here?"

A lot of Slashdot readers are big fans of space exploration. So, it should not be a surprise that a great deal of interesting feedback was posted to the article called Where Should Space Exploration Go From Here?. The original questions were:

I have done extensive reading since the Columbia tragedy about what's next for human space exploration. Most of the punditry agrees that extending the shuttle program for many more years is a bad idea. So what are the practical alternatives? I've seen ideas for new spacecraft, a carbon nanotube space elevator, among other things. What are the best ideas you've seen? Will the best idea win, or the one with the most pork barrel contracts? Does space travel/exploration have to be THIS expensive? What are the best short term/long term solutions?

Reports to NASA Indicated Detatched Foam from External Tank Often Damaged Shuttle Tiles

Roger Hedgecock filled in for Rush Limbaugh yesterday on The Rush Limbaugh radio program. At the beginning of the show, Hedgecock reported that a NASA Engineer named Greg Katnik had reported that foam from the external tank had struck the Columbia orbiter on the STS-87 mission in 1997. According to an article found on a NASA educational web site:

...the extent of damage at the conclusion of this mission was not "normal."

The pattern of hits did not follow aerodynamic expectations, and the number, size and severity of hits were abnormal. Three hundred and eight hits were counted during the inspection, one-hundred and thirty two (132) were greater than one inch. Some of the hits measured fifteen (15) inches long with depths measuring up to one and one-half (1 1/2) inches. Considering that the depth of the tile is two (2) inches, a 75% penetration depth had been reached. Over one hundred (100) tiles have been removed from the Columbia because they were irreparable. The inspection revealed the damage, now the "detective process" began.

During the STS-87 mission, there was a change made on the external tank. Because of NASA's goal to use environmentally friendly products, a new method of "foaming" the external tank had been used for this mission and the STS-86 mission. It is suspected that large amounts of foam separated from the external tank and impacted the orbiter. This caused significant damage to the protective tiles of the orbiter. Foam cause damage to a ceramic tile?! That seems unlikely, however when that foam is combined with a flight velocity between speeds of MACH two to MACH four, it becomes a projectile with incredible damage potential. The big question? At what phase of the flight did it happen and what changes need to be made to correct this for future missions?

Also yesterday, RushLimbaugh.com pointed to an article that appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle about the danger of the so-called zipper effect and its effect on the integrity of the orbiters' heat shields. The zipper effect is a chain reaction of silicate tile damage that spreads from the initial loss of or damage to as few as one tile. According to the article, "This kind of damage might have conspired with some other, as-yet-unknown problem, experts said, to create the aerodynamic disturbances and heat-related system failures NASA observed during Columbia's final seconds."

The Chronicle article referred to a 1994 study by Paul Fischbeck and M. Elisabeth Pate-Cornell of problems with the management of thermal protection systems at NASA. It also points out the existance of a new thermal protection system, developed for the now cancelled X-33 space plane that is "billed as cheaper and more durable than fragile ceramic tiles."

Much of this information is picked up by The New York Times and The Washington Post in articles published today.

February 3, 2003

Rush Limbaugh: Placement of European Allies' Joint Statement is a Political Message in Itself

On Monday, Rush Limbaugh came back for one day in the midst of a planned vacation to provide his listeners with his take on the major events of the past week. He made one particularly interesting comment in connection with the January 30 statement from the leaders of eight European countries supporting the U.S. position on the impending war with Iraq: The statement's placement in The Wall Street Journal was, in and of itself, an important political statement.

According to Limbaugh, in the past, this sort of open letter would have appeared in The New York Times. However, that newspaper has made no secret of its view that Europe is united in oppsition to the U.S.'s effort to depose the current government in Iraq as soon as possible. Furthermore, many conservatives feel that the Times' news stories are written from a viewpoint that excludes evidence that contradicts their editorial position. So, the conclusion that Limbaugh made is nothing if not reasonable.

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page also pointed out the controversy over the joint statement that has arisen in liberal media circles:

Our sin seems to be that we assisted in exposing as fraudulent the conventional wisdom that France and Germany speak for all of Europe, and that all of Europe is now anti-American. Those ideas were always false, but they were peddled as true because they served the political purposes of those, both in Europe and America, who oppose President Bush on Iraq.

The notion that France and Germany speak for all of Europe is especially absurd, akin to assuming that New York City and Washington, D.C., speak for all of America.

"When Your Water Breaks, Call Your Lawyer"

The New York Times reports in its Tuesday edition that many doctors in New Jersey followed through on the threat to stop seeing patients for non-emergency care in protest of the state's unwillingness to address runaway malpractice insurance costs. One doctor is reported to have carried a sign saying "When Your Water Breaks, Call Your Lawyer" at a protest that took place at Christ Hospital in Jersey City.

In spite of the connotation the aforementioned placard, Dr. Robert Rigolosi, president of the Medical Society of New Jersey said, "We will continue to see emergency cases, we will continue to do deliveries of pregnant women...."

Another article in The New York Times talks about the increased patient load seen by Emergency Departments throughout the state: "A spokesman for {The New Jersey Hospital Association}, Ron Czajkowski, said that some hospitals reported seeing double or triple the usual number of patients, most of them children or the elderly."

Dave Winer on the U.S. Space Program and the Web as a News Source During Crises

Dave Winer speaks for a lot of people who believe in the "big goals" approach to space exploration:

Space travel is more important than the seven people who died and the billions of dollars that were lost. Every time we've gone to space there were benefits that we didn't know about before, that we reaped later. The computer you're using right now is a product of lots of space missions. This is where the moon mission style of development came from. I'm a big believer in it because it produces results. Declare an impossible mission and then achieve it. Then take stock. There's a pretty good chance you invented something important along the way. But you were too busy to notice.

Winer's essay also calls for an effort to document problems that people had in getting information quickly on to the web in the aftermath of the Columbia disaster. This is not so much a request for a catalog of access problems, if any occurred, but, for a discussion of issues with the efficiency of weblog publishing tools. This is a good idea.

Doc Searls Produces an Excellent Series of Links on Columbia Disaster

Doc Searls has a lot of interest in space exploration. Check out the large set of links he created to information about and reflections on the Columbia disaster.

Austrian Television Network Airs Documentary About NASA Outsourcing Quickly After Columbia Disaster

In an email exchange between Peter A. Frank and Dave Aiello, Peter Frank wrote:

I was wondering when you {Dave Aiello} might be posting something about Columbia? Just a few hours after the break-up during re-entry, the Austrian television network ORF was airing an amazing documentary that seemed so well prepared that one might have thought them to know that something was going to happen.

They mainly focused on the privatization of NASA's space program and its subsequent outsourcing to Boeing and Lockheed. I guess that many people must have noticed problems with the huge administrative effort that eventually killed the 7 crew members of Columbia.

I remember strongly arguing for a continuation of manned space flight after the Challenger disaster. I knew that riding an explosive bullet into space was risky, but I never thought about the ride home....

The ORF web site, mainly written in German, contains a lot of information about the Columbia disaster. If you can't read German, Google Language Tools do an excellent job of translating the articles.

Peter and his wife, Ramona Morel, live in the suburbs of Zurich, Switzerland. Peter graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was a student in the United States at around the time of the Challenger disaster.

February 2, 2003

Things We Found Out About NASA and the Shuttle Program

Dave Aiello wrote, "Saturday morning, Kathleen and I were sitting in our office reading email on our computers when my Handspring Treo SMS tone sounded, and the following message appeared:"

2/1/03 9:59

NASA loses contact with space shuttle Columbia just before landing in Florida, 7 on board./REUTERS

"As I reached for the 'on' button on the radio across the room, I thought to myself, 'This is either another Apollo 13 or they're already dead.' Of course, the latter turned out to be right."

"I'm still trying to make up my mind about what this all means. But, I spent some time looking at the web and found a number of interesting articles about NASA and the Shuttle program. Read on if you're interested in what I've found...."

Dave Aiello continued:

So much of the initial news was almost content free, except for the long range video of the breakup of the orbiter. One of the more interesting was a mailing list posting from someone who claims to be a former shuttle flight controller:

...The video shows a large object separating, then a flash and puff in the contrail and then the breakup. I believe the large object {coming off the Shuttle} was the left wing and it was probably during a roll reversal. The left wing was struck by External Tank debris during Ascent. The wing leading edge temperature is {approximately} 3000 deg during Entry."

The Sacramento Bee ran an Associated Press article on Saturday that indicated that an astronomer who works at the Caltech Owens Valley Radio Observatory believes that he saw the breakup of Columbia actually begin over California:

As it tracked from west to east over the Owens Valley it was leaving a bright trail. As it actually moved over the valley there were a couple of flashes. ... Then we could see there were things clearly trailing the orbiter subsequent to that.

Some guy named Gregg Easterbrook has been critical of the Space Shuttle program for a long time. He wrote about it in The Washington Monthly back in April 1980, in an article called Beam Me Out of this Death Trap, Scotty. And he's still at it, with The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped in the Time Magazine to be published on February 10.

Over on Space.com, an article from July 12, 2001 is called NASA Considers Mothballing Shuttle Columbia:

NASA's oldest shuttle orbiter might be mothballed as part of an agency bid to deal with a projected budget shortfall of about $800 million over the next six years, officials said Thursday....Placing Columbia in storage is one option being considered as a countermeasure to the anticipated cost growth, officials said. Others include scaling back, delaying or canceling planned shuttle upgrades, such as the development of advanced auxiliary power units for the agency's $8 billion shuttle fleet, which also includes shuttles Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. The closure of NASA shuttle test facilities is yet another option.

In The Times of London, the notion is floated that NASA ignored a shuttle safety alert. Perhaps more troubling is the photo of an astronaut's helmet that is placed in that story, below the headline.

The Independent, also a British newspaper, suggests that the space shuttle and the International Space Station may be mothballed for two or three years as a result of the disaster.

The New York Times says that NASA has indications of unexpected temperature rises on the exterior left side of the craft near the wheel well. It further says that the guidance system detected a drag on the left side four minutes later, and may have attempted to compensate. Two minutes later Columbia broke up.

Finally, OpinionJournal.com published an essay by Peggy Noonan called The Days of Miracle and Wonder. Noonan is known to have contributed to Reagan's speech after the Challenger disaster. So, it's important to read her sense of this tragedy as well.