Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Valiant floating jetty arrives at HMNB Clyde

HMNB Clyde, Faslane

A bit too far away for even my longest lens, so no pics, HMNB Clyde at Faslane took delivery of the massive Valiant Jetty this week, manoeuvred to the base by five tugs following its completion at the Inchgreen dry dock in Greenock, almost nine miles away.

The floating jetty will ease the work of the base by allowing up to six Astute class nuclear submarines to berth at the base, without the complications arising from their rise and fall with the tide. The jetty will move with them as the Gare Loch’s three metre tidal range raises and lowers the berthed vessels, and will be constrained by four massive piles at its corners, each said to be as long as Nelson’s column. At each end, a heavy steel “forepeak” provides a mooring for the submarines.

The jetty itself weighs some 44,000 tonnes with concrete walls half a metre thick, containing 12 watertight cells within the 200 metre long reinforced concrete structure, and cost £150 million.

If they don’t move the page again, clicking on the image below will take you to the Royal Navy’s report on Valiant’s arrival, where you can download this, and other images, as desktop wallpaper.

Valiant jetty en route to Faslane

Valiant jetty en route to Faslane

May 21, 2009 Posted by | military, Naval | , , , , | Leave a comment

Tributes for Inverness Station’s cat

Pic from the BBC

Pic from the BBC

It’s nice to see the occasional story that doesn’t have any great world wide implications, but is nonetheless important to those concerned.

Nowadays, it seems to be the exception rather than rule to find that somewhere like a railway station has a mascot – it would be seem more likely to read of its removal on Health and Safety grounds, or to comply with some undiscovered clause in the Terrorism Act.

However, this week, tributes were paid to Diesel, who had resided at Inverness Railway Station for more than ten years, and passed away this week, having been a favourite of both staff and travellers, and received treats from many.

Michelle Crawford, ScotRail’s north business manager, said: “Diesel was a much-loved personality around the station”, and would be missed by many.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

Is the GPS network really at risk?

GPS satelliteOne of my favourite toys since 1998 has been GPS – the Global Positioning System – trivialised nowadays as the detestable SatNav, and humiliated by idiots who don’t even have the brains to look out of their own car windows to see where they are as they drive along two metre wide country lanes in three metre lorries, or drive their cars into ditches, so intent are they on following their SatNav.

Having depended on others, I got my own in 1998 simply because that when the price of street level maps for GPSrs (GPS receivers) fell to reasonable levels.

Back then, the system could be horribly inaccurate, and one friend wouldn’t touch GPS with a bargepole. A committed walker and climber, for some reason he wanted to be able to follow a GPS display in fog/mist without actually looking where he was going, and thought it was a highly dangerous system since he could step off a cliff if he followed it. He reckoned it was no use at all if he still had to look where he was going. We would soon have lost him back then too, as SA (Selective Availability) meant that until May 2000, the American military included a deliberate, pseudo-random error of up to 100 metres in the position signal.

The satellites and GPS are maintained by the US Air Force, and the US government seems to be concerned that despite a spend of £1.3 million to update the system, delay and overspend mean the system is at risk. The first replacement for the original satellites (launched in the 1990s) was due for launch in 2007, but is yet to be sent into orbit (launch now due November 2009).

Russia, India and China have developed their own satellite navigation technologies that are currently being expanded. Not forgetting Europe’s Galileo program and the GNSS  (global navigation satellite system) program, scheduled to begin to roll out next year.

With the dependence of the American military on GPS – it uses a separate signal from the civilian service, but still supplied through the same satellites and technology – it’s hard to see how this warning could be serious, and is more likely a warning shot for funding and resources in future. There are also commercial consideration as so many domestic applications have now adopted GPS, or GPS derived information into their structure – recall how many are employed in SatNav nowadays.

There’s also the navigation side of things, as the system has become increasingly incorporated into aircraft navigational systems, leading to the decline of a number of precision location services that aircraft depend on for flying automatically from locations around the world. Some aircraft now incorporate system which would  – rules permitting – allow them to take off, fly around the world, and land without any intervention from their human pilot, available only to take over in the event of an emergency or system failure.

I suspect budget manoeuvring by fear, rather than any real likelihood of the system collapsing – they just couldn’t afford for that to happen.

Losing the satellites, or not having an effective alternative to fall back onto, would be a commercial disaster on top of the current recession. Judge the industry by the fall in price of receivers:

In 1998, had I paid the going rate, I could have paid between £400 and £500 for a handheld GPSr with a relatively small greysacale LCD. With some makes, a further £100 to £150 would have been need to add street level maps for Europe, and even more for less well known areas.

In 2009, I am looking at TV adverts today for full colour LCD systems with speech and European street level mapping for £100 (well £99.99 to be exact), and if I raise the budget I can have Bluetooth, camera, and even radio reception of data that will amend routes I have set in order to navigate around accidents and other road closures.

And, I haven’t even touched on the mobile phone and other sneaky uses of GPS and related technology.

The world uses GPS, business around the world depend on GPS, manufacturers around the world depend on GPS. They realise that, hence the work on deploying national alternatives.

But, at the moment, would, or even could, the Americans turn off, or allow the present GPS system to fail or become unreliable? Could it afford the backlash? And to go back to its original reason for being – with so many GPS guided weapons dependent on it (and the outcry we have seen when the few weapons fired in a war today go astray) – can the military afford not to keep it operational, regrdless of cost? Even so, that might mean eventually turning off civilan access to save a few $.

The following was published by The Guardian today – it might be a good idea for the SatNav Junkies to print it out now, and carry it with them. It even included advice for how to deal with cliffs!

The Guardian’s Paper Map FAQ:-

How do I turn it on? An atlas operates much like a book, while a map unfolds, accordion-style, to form a large sheet. This should be held in front of you so that any writing is right side up. (How? One hand is operating the wheel/gears while the other is clamping the mobile phone to their ear – Apollo)

Now I can’t see anything! Stop driving. Never attempt to operate a map and a motor vehicle at the same time. (Ah, because it will interfere with the mobile phone – Apollo)

I need to get to Redditch. What do I press? Locate “Redditch” on your map and press it with one finger. Find your current location and press it with your other finger. Now find an unbroken line that connects the two fingers. That is your “route”. You are ready to begin your journey.

I’ve been driving for 40 minutes and it still hasn’t said anything. Should I just keep going straight? The map will not issue instructions. It is up to you to compare the route on the map with information gleaned from your surroundings, and drive accordingly. (Probably better to stop, and wonder how you managed to drive for 40 minutes with a map in front of you and a phone clamped to your ear – Apollo)

Sorry? For example – what does the sign you are passing now say?

“Croeso i Gymru.” Is that good? You’re on the Welsh border. Try to find yourself on the map.

I’m right near the edge of the paper! Is it trying to tell me to drive off a cliff? Don’t be silly. If your satnav told you to drive off a cliff, would you? (Probably – Apollo)

I’ve got quite a funny story about that, actually. Oh, pull over and ask someone.

OK. How do I turn this thing off? It’s a map. Just fold it up the same way you unfolded it, only backwards. Any other questions?


May 21, 2009 Posted by | Aviation, Civilian, military, Transport | , , , , | Leave a comment

Your privacy in whose hands?

EyeballsI can understand the idea of sharing photographs on the internet, and by photographs I mean those taken for their own sake by being interesting, informative, artistic, creative, or similar, and shared through online hosts and galleries.

I’ve never understood why anyone would place their personal family albums online for the world to see, especially if combined with personal details, family histories, name, addresses, and other intimate details. Do they really think they are so interesting, or their egos need such a degree of massaging in public?

More seriously, as I write in 2009, all these details and pictures are often more than enough for those who wish to create a false identity to do so with ease, and apply for driving licenses, bank accounts, loans, credit cards, and more, while the checks that in places are generally so poor that the criminals will have pocketed their proceeds and vanished before the poor mug whose identity has been cloned becomes aware of the deception.

A study published this week by Cambridge PhD students shows that nearly half of all social networking sites retain copies of photographs after being “deleted” by users. The study examined 16 popular websites that host user-uploaded photos, including social networking sites, blogging sites and dedicated-photo-sharing sites. Seven of the 16 sites surveyed were still maintaining copies of users’ photos after they had been deleted by the user. The researchers – Jonathan Anderson, Andrew Lewis, Joseph Bonneau and lecturer Frank Stajano – found that by keeping a note of the URL where the photo is actually stored in a content delivery network, it was possible for them to access the photo even after it had been deleted.

Their report says:

Social networking sites fared especially poorly in the study, with four of eight failing to remove deleted photos, including industry leaders Facebook, MySpace, hi5, and Bebo. Blogging sites also fared poorly, with LiveJournal, Xanga, and SkyRock all failing to remove photos.

Faring well in the study were the dedicated photo sharing sites Flickr, Photobucket, and Fotki, which all removed photos within 1 hour. Three Google-operated websites, Blogger, Picasa, and Orkut, all removed photos within 48 hours. Microsoft’s Windows Live Spaces received special commendation for removing photos instantly.

Interestingly, the only online hosting sites we’ve ever used, or use for that matter, since they were opened years ago are : Photobucket, Flickr, and Picasa. Hopefully, we don’t have to mention which blogging service we use, but it doesn’t seem to have attracted any attention.

It would be interesting to see how the BBC fared if examined in the same way, as it invites online pictures, and these are generally provided with credits and often show family snaps. Although I have seen pubic gripes about its copyright and useage policy, I don’t recall any remarks about having your picture removed from their site once you have given it to them, together with comment/details of the content.

Perhaps you can’t.

This may all seem rather small beer in the great scheme of privacy issues but the Cambridge team has done some valuable research that will steer users to more conscientious sites. Joseph Bonneau makes a good point when he says, “This demonstrates how social networking sites often take a lazy approach to user privacy, doing what’s simpler rather than what is correct. It’s imperative to view privacy as a design constraint, not a legal add-on.”

That last statement should be the guiding ethic for all web companies, to say nothing of the government.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , | Leave a comment

   

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