Give Me a Break


I recently read John Stossel’s book, ‘Give me a Break‘, and found it to be quite ‘refreshing’. While most of the news you read seems determined to frighten you, his book shows you that there’s little need to be worried about things that the mainstream media seems to obsess over such as airline crashes, cancer threats, or exploding Bic lighters. John exposes lots of myths and also the government programs that often seem to do more harm than good for the people they are supposed to help. I guess I’m a bit of a free market liberatarian, because I found myself nodding in agreement with many of the conclusions he draws in the book. One of the most unusual aspects of the book is where he exposes himself for taking advantage of a government handout called National Flood Insurance that uses taxpayer’s money to insure wealthy people for building ocean-front homes in areas where it is not safe to build. He also mentions that when he was slapped around by a 280 lb. WWF wrestler (which I saw on TV when it occurred) his hearing ‘injury’ stayed with him until his lawsuit was settled. Then it mysteriously disappeared. That seems to be a common trait of being a victim. Until we rise above it, our victimhood will follow us around. I think that is probably one of the most profound messages in the book.

Taiwan visit


I’m back in the U.S.A. after a short trip to Taiwan. I visited Taiwan for the first time in 2000 and have been back more than a half dozen times. My dad talked of Taiwan often, since he visited it several times when he was in the Navy but he referred to it by its Portugese name, Formosa, which means ‘beautiful island’. I mentioned Taiwan in another blog a few times when I was there in January/February of this year.

Many of HP’s technology partners are based in Taiwan and so there are ample opportunities to travel there to meet with them. Lately, I’ve been traveling to discuss HP’s LightScribe technology with various optical drive partners. The Taiwanese people are hard working, friendly, and very gracious hosts. My hosts are often women professionals, and Taiwan is ahead of the U.S. in recognizing the value that women bring to the workplace, promoting them into customer-facing jobs with a lot of responsibility. They are certainly much farther ahead in placing women in these jobs than countries such as Japan, where the only time I saw women in meetings was when it was time for them to serve the tea. 🙁

The first time I was in Taipei, Terri was also traveling in Asia and our stays in the capital of Taiwan coincided. Her trip was for 3 weeks through 4 Asian countries, so it was quite a coincidence to run into her in Taiwan and we were able to share a hotel room which was nice because we hadn’t seen each other in a few weeks by that time. The last time Terri visited Taiwan, she talked about beautiful women in glass booths selling gum. I’d had never noticed these girls or their booths. After she had piqued my interest about them, I began to look around and sure enough it seemed that they were everywhere, at least a few on each city block with the tell-tale neon lights to help you locate them. They sell gum that is made with an extract of the betel nut. The truckers like the gum and are good customers of the betel nut girls. I did a little research on the betel nut and found that people chew it for stress reduction, feelings of well-being, and heightened awareness. It contains three major alkaloids: arecoline, pilocarpine, and muscarine. I recall that in James Mitchner’s Pulitzer Award winning book, Tales of the South Pacific, he frequently mentioned the chewing of the betel nut by natives of the south pacific islands. He made it sound rather unappealing, like chewing tobacco, but I suppose if you can put it in gum form, maybe it makes it socially more acceptable. I didn’t get a chance to stop and buy any of it, but next time I may. It appears to be in the same league as caffiene as far as its addictiveness. I’ll just have to remember not to take it to Singapore with me, where chewing gum is still illegal. 🙂

Satellites, part deux


The last time I blogged about satellites, it was related to Amateur (ham radio) satellites. Yesterday I read a news story about a company called World Space that had just raised a lot of money for a broadcast radio satellite system in Europe, Africa, and Asia similar to those used by XM and Sirius in North America. The man behind World Space is Noah Samara and he is a key figure in satellite radio development. I looked him up on Google and found that he had graduated from East Stroudsburg State College in Pennsylvania. I know this because he was asked to come back and give a commencement speech and I must say that it’s one of the best commencement speeches I’ve read.

I’ve always been intrigued by these new radio broadcast satellites, since I know the challenges and limitations of satellite communications and I’m pretty sure I would have been one of the people who would have questioned the technical and logistical feasibility of such a business model had I been asked for my opinion, say around 1990, when Noah started his company. And it sounds like I wouldn’t have been alone. It’s a good thing that people persevere in spite of the experts’ opinions.

I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a satellite radio, one that I could move between my car, motorcycle, and airplane and so I wanted to figure out the difference between the two approaches used by Sirius and XM. In the case of XM, they use standard geo-synchronous satellites which are located in the Clark belt, which is a ring aligned with the equator about 24,000 miles from the earth. Most communication satellites are in this location because it allows them to be weightless as they rotate with the earth. Their centripetal force exactly cancels out the gravitational pull of the earth. Therefore, they need to use little fuel to stay positioned. It’s a good thing too, since a satellite’s life expectancy is around 15 years and there are no refueling stations in the Clark belt. This also gives them the advantage of staying in one location, so high gain dish antennas can be used which means they don’t have to transmit their signal with as much power (power is also a scarce resource in space). However, that advantage is lost with satellite radio because in a mobile environment, you can’t expect to keep a highly directional dish antenna pointed at the satellite.

If you click on the image above, you’ll get a larger image which makes it easier to see all of the man-made satellites orbiting the earth in the Clark belt. If you look closer to the globe, you can see the low-earth orbiting satellites, which orbit the earth approximately every 100 minutes, flying just a few hundred miles above the surface. These are satellites used to take images such as the spy satellites and weather satellites. If you would like to see where these images came from, visit the J-Track website sponsored by NASA and select Jtrack 3D. It requires a Java applet to be downloaded to your computer, but the results are definitely worth it. You can rotate the whole image around and view these satellites from every angle.

Sirius uses a completely different approach. They use an elliptical orbit that allows the 3 satellites to spend more time directly overhead since in North America geosynchronous satellites have a low angle and can be more easily blocked by buildings, or even a passing truck.

You can see from the animation above that there is always at least one satellite over the U.S. at all times. The orbit for each satellite takes about a day.

Both companies use ground-based repeaters to help overcome the inevitable dead spots created by obstructions, but this only needs to be done in a relatively small number of urban locations. Sirius, because of the less obstructed view of the satellites needs fewer repeaters.

If you are interested in comparing the two satellite radio companies to see the features of their respective products, there is a nice chart of it here.

PA Trip


I was in Pennsylvania last week for my nephew James’ confirmation. I had the honor of being his sponsor. I’m sure if they gave out awards for the farthest traveled, I would have won hands down. It was a short trip, just a few days which we spent mostly with Terri’s sisters. I did get to go flying with my friend John. We rented a plane from the Forty Fort aiport and flew all over the back mountain and as far north as Towanda where we landed and then followed the Susquehanna river back down to Tunkhannock. I got some nice pictures of the Nicholson Bridge, but forgot my camera at Terri’s sister’s, so I’ll have to wait until she mails it back to me before I can post any of them. The Nicholson Bridge, built from 1912-1915 was the largest concrete bridge in the world at the time of its completion and is still in use today.

Bishop James Timlin performed the confirmation cermony and he was a very engaging and charasmatic speaker. I was surprised to see him there because he officially retired in 2003 at age 75 but there he was, in a role it seemed he was born to play. If you were to ask a Hollywood director to cast an Irish Catholic Bishop, he’d have a hard time coming up with one who’d fit the part better than James C. Timlin. One thing that sets Timlin apart from other Catholic Bishops is that he has been a pilot for over 45 years and flies his own Beech Debonair. I remember reading about this a while ago and because of my fascination with all things that fly, I couldn’t help being impressed. Even growing up it seemed that the Catholic priests had some pretty nice pads and cars, despite that vow of poverty…or maybe that was for nuns :-).