ElGordillo
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
  Minor earthquake in Costa Rica, not many hurt

We just had a teeny little tremor, 7.45 am local time. Felt about a 4.0,

 
Sunday, August 15, 2004
  L'affaire Blunkett
Hot off the presses: according to The Sun, hardline UK Home Secretary David Blunkett has been having a three-year affair with Kimberly Fortier, the (married, one child) publisher of The Spectator.
 
  I Vow to Thee
Fox News's website has a column entitled Tongue Tied, which reports on the latest PC inanities. Lead item is about this story, in which the Bishop of Hulme (near Manchester) wrote in his diocesan newsletter that the hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country was heretical and nationalist. It's a beautiful hymn, often sung at services of remembrance. It's usually set to the Jupiter Theme from The Planets by Gustav Holst. The words are actually from the poem The Two Fatherlands by Sir Cecil Spring Rice:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love:
the love that asks no questions, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar, the dearest and the best;
the love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
the love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King:
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering:
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.

The two fatherlands are, of course, the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Kingdom of Heaven.

The first stanza has to be read in context. The poem was written during the Great War. From the standpoint of eighty years on, it is hard to contemplate the burden that the First World War put on Britain. British Empire forces suffered over three million casualties, 900,000 of them fatal. This was a casualty rate of 36% of all mobilised forces. Every village in the UK has a war memorial (I can think of five within walking distance of my parents' house). Other nations sustained even more horrendous losses (a staggering 76.3% of French and Russian forces became casualties - to put that into perspective, imagine 106,000 killed and wounded among the 140,000 US service personnel deployed in Iraq). Here's my reference.

Quite obviously, such losses were a tremendous drain on the willpower and morale of the country. Hortatory poems like the above were absolutely necessary to sustain the drive to win. I won't discuss whether the First World War was senseless or not - it's still a contentious issue and real military historians, rather than wannabes like me, disagree on this point. I will say, however, that having started it, Britain had an obligation to finish the job.

The second stanza of the poem seems to me to be the sort of thing with which no practising Christian could find offense. Compare and contrast the way the poet says the House of God grows - soul by soul and silently - with the fire and the sword that accompanies the growth of the house of Allah.

The bishop finds parallels with the rise of the Nazis in the 1930's (usually a fairly good indication of a batty argument). It's true that there's a worrying increase in the level of support for nasty groups such as the British National Party. But what the sanctimonious adherents of all things multi-culti do not seem to realise is that they are putting the cart before the horse. It isn't support for white supremacy that means we have to slavishly kow-tow to every bien pensant viewpoint on 'cultural diversity'. It's the outright denigration and hijacking of peoples' sense of identity that is causing the disaffectaion and alienation. When a vicar says that a pub called 'The Saracen's Head' should change its name because Muslims might find it offensive, he is materially increasing the likelihood that a brick (or worse) will find its way through the window of the local mosque. If there is no outlet in the gentle and inoffensive patriotism that most Britons ascribe to, the head of steam will find its release in altogether more sinister directions.

I'm an atheist, so the pronunciamentos of priests carry about as much weight with me as the lackwit bloviations of a Barbra Streisand or Vanessa Redgrave. But if Anglicans wish to find a reason for the empty pews in their churches, they need look no further than Bishop Stephen Lowe, fatuous oaf.

 
  Bloody Maria
Bloody Mary's are a thing of joy and beauty. But me, I prefer the variant known as a Bloody Maria, which uses tequila instead of vodka. Here's the recipe:

In a cocktail shaker, combine

  • 1/2 tsp celery salt

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

  • 1/2 tsp grated horseradish

  • 2 tsp Tabasco

  • 1 tsp Worcester Sauce

  • juice of 1 lime

  • 6 oz tequila (nothing too pricy - Joe Crow will do)

  • 10 oz tomato juice

  • handful of ice cubes


Shake until the cocktail shaker is almost too cold to handle. Serve. Repeat until satiety or unconsciousness is reached.


 
  802.11n
This is interesting. The IEEE 802.11 group is canvassing proposals for a new wireless LAN sub-standard, 801.11n, that would allow up to 540 megabits per second. That is very, very fast. The bandwidth allocated to 802.11 is in two chunks, one around the microwave oven frequency of 2.4GHz (UHF) and another up around the 5 GHz region (SHF J-band). The channels are only 20 MHz wide. Putting half a gigabit per second through a channel that narrow is going to be a fairly amazing technical challenge. Of course the actual data rate is going to be nowhere near the 540 Mbps on-air value, as a lot of the available capacity will be taken up with overhead (I'd hazard a guess that throughput will max out at around 150 Mbps). Even so, these sorts of speeds are astonishing. In 1998/99, when I was working on a precursor to 802.11 called HIPERLAN, the proposal was for speeds of ~15 Mbps data at the MAC level over a 25 Mbps PHY layer. With off-the-shelf technology, that was completely unattainable then. The biggest problem we faced was that the computational power required was so large. With the system we were working on, in order to mitigate what is known as multi-path propagation (whereby the signal from transmitter to receiver can go via several different paths, and thus ends up smeared out in time) you need a signal-processing device called an equaliser. In essence, this time-shifts portions of the received signal to reconstitute it at a given instant. Our calculations showed that we needed GigaFLOPs of compute power to do this, which was way in advance of the speed of a general purpose computer's CPU. Custom hardware can be optimised to work a lot faster on specific problems, but the other worry we had was power consumption. The required power for MOS technologies goes up with clock speed. Mere battery drain wasn't the problem; the figures we had suggested you'd be able to fry eggs on your wireless LAN card. Of course, Moore's Law will usually come to your rescue, but I never expected it to arrive so soon.

I'd like to know what techniques these guys are going to use to get their data-rates this high. I presume that at a minimum they will be using spread spectrum OFDM with a very high coding gain, and a lot of diversity combining techniques. If they're using additional channel coding (which I'm sure they are), then the decoder technology is going to be interesting. I'd love to see a Viterbi decoder running at Gigahertz clock frequencies.

Something I've said before: it's engineers and scientists who are most blown away by the pace of technological advance. The ordinary guy in the street has no idea how, say, a mobile phone works. People like me, who've been exposed to their inner workings, know just how much time and effort have gone into their design. The GSM mobile phone standard, for example. represents thousands of man-years of work. It's several feet of shelf space, and you need to be a competent electronic engineer to make head or tail of it. This stuff is really quite insanely hard. It's amazing that there exists so many thousands of people on the planet who are smart enough to do it.

UPDATE: I've been out of this field for a long time, so it's entirely possible that some of my technical conjectures are way off-base. Nonetheless, sending half a billion bits of info per second over any radio interface is astonishing.

UPDATE 2: The simplest way to increase data rate is to increase channel bandwidth (Shannon-Hartley equation). When I was still in the field. we were talking about wireless LANs operating in the 60 GHz region. This is attractive, because there's not much going on up there, so you can have nice wide channels. Another handy thing is that there's a strong absorption line from atmospheric oxygen in this region, which helps with frequency re-use, hence areal density of transmission, by cutting effective range. Trouble is, working at EHF (30-300 GHz) is very hard. After all, at the top end, you're only a decade away from far infra-red. Wavelength of light is only 5mm at 60 GHz.

 
  Rain, rain, go away
It's raining so hard I can't even see the other side of the valley, 500m away. Every time there's a storm in the Caribbean we get the fallout a few days later. So I guess what we're seeing here is the side-effects of Charley. When Mitch rolled through Honduras and Nicaragua we got practically incessant rain for twelve days. A couple of Costa Ricans were killed in a landslide, but the toll in Honduras and Nicaragua was 12,000.

Fortunately, due to the Coriolis effect, it's virtually impossible for a hurricane to make landfall in Costa Rica. By the time it gets to this longitude, it will have veered off to the north.
 
  Sunday Cocktail Recipe
A screwdriver is not just orange juice with a shot of vodka in it. At least, not if you do it right. Here's my Screwdriver de Luxe:

Get a large (13-14oz) highball glass. Cut a wedge of orange and rub it round the rim. Lightly sugar the rim. In a cocktail shaker, mix a handful of ice cubes, three ounces of good orange vodka (Absolut Mandrin or Stoli Oranj are perfect), 1/2 oz of Cointreau, 1oz of Seville orange juice and 7oz of orange juice (fresh-squeezed if you can get it, but under no accounts any brand with added sugar). Shake vigorously et voilá!

Alternatively, you can put all the ingredients into a blender and mix on high for 30 seconds or so. This whisks in air bubbles and crushes the ice and makes a delicious Screwdriver Smoothie. The Seville orange juice (often sold in Latino stores as Naranja Agria) offsets the sweetness of the other ingredients.
 
  Hmm
I appear to have been possessed by the spirit of Steven Den Beste.

 
  World War Zero
There's a superb, must-read article by Norman Podhoretz over at Commentary Magazine. He discusses the rise of modern Arab/Muslim terror in the post-WW2 era. He claims we are now fighting World War Four (number Three being the Cold War). He's right, but I'd like to go further. What we're fighting now is the ur-World War, World War Zero. And we've been fighting it for nearly 1,500 years. Our enemy now is the same as it has been since the sixth century: militant, expansionist (and revanchist) Islam.

It's hard sometimes to realise just how long this fight has been going on. We forget, but the Islamofascists don't. Bin Laden used to talk of 'the tragedy of Andalusia'. He is referring to the victory of Ferdinand and Isabela in finally ridding Spain of its Moorish conquerors. That was 1492. Five hundred and twelve years ago. And the Wahabbists still rememember. Under their credo, any land that was ever under their control is forever in the dar al-Islam, so to them, modern Spain is a heathen interloper.

The memories go back further than that. Edward Creasy counts the battle of Tours as one of the most decisive battles in world history. Gibbon wrote

A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Muhammed.

The battle of Tours took place on October 10th, 732 A.D. This was fewer than two hundred years after Mohammed's birth (c. 570 A.D.), and already the Muslims had penetrated into the Loire region. That's 150 miles or so from Paris and 200 from the Channel coast. Prior to this, of course, the whole of North Africa and the Arabian peninsula had fallen under the Islamic yoke. The romantic notion that 'people of the Book' were given protection under Islamic rule is bunkum. The predominantly Christian and animist populations of North Africa were subjected to a great slaughter. The city of Bordeaux was sacked (i.e. its inhabitants were put to the sword) by Abd er Rahman, the Andalusian governor who was eventually killed at Tours. It might have been possible as a Christian or Jew to scratch out a living, but woe betide you if you did not accept your third-class status as a dhimmi. As for me, I'm an atheist, which to the Islamofascists makes me even lower than a Jew. According to the likes of bin Laden, I'm fair game to be killed at any time.

The struggle against expansionist Islam didn't end with their expulsion from Andalusia (although after Tours there were no more attempted invasions of Western Europe). The last gasp of the invading empire on European soil was the lifting of the siege of Vienna in 1683. The Ottoman Empire tottered on for another 235 years until its defeat at the end of the Great War.

It's important we remember that the Crusades (no matter how brutal and incompetent they were) were a defensive measure. Likewise, it is vital that we grasp the true import of the War on Terrorism. The 9/11 Commission report made it abundantly clear that the enemy we face is not 'terror' in the abstract, but specifically militant Islam. 'Islam' does not mean 'peace', despite what any number of well-meaning people, including George Bush, may say. It means 'submission'. Submission to the will of Allah, interpreted, of course, by his earthly representatives. Anywhere not under Islamic rule is dar al-Harb, the House of War. Demographics in Western Continental Europe look extremely worrying. There are signs that some of the European nations, especially the Netherlands, are waking up to the fact that they have a large, unassimilated and increasingly radical foreign element in their societies. Others, such as France, already have Islamic minorities of such a size as to make doing anything about it nearly impossible. This, unfortunately, means that if and when France does decide to act, the methods it will have to use will be very distasteful (mass expulsions, arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention of suspected radicals, etc.) If matters get too out of hand, I foresee race wars. And if there's one thing Europe has proven to be adept at, it's killing large numbers of people based on their colour or creed. Pogrom is a Russian word, but its application has hardly been confined to east of the Urals.

Several commentators, on the Web and elsewhere, have divided people in the West into September 10th people and September 11th people. A huge number of people, including, I would guess, virtually everyone who intends to vote for Kerry in November, are September 10th people. The people who believe this is a fight for survival are September 11th people. I'm neither. I'm an October 10th, 732 person.
 
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