Sunday, September 28, 2008

Phones, Power and Disasters.

I would like to point up a problem. One that became evident in the aftermath of Ike. One that I have not seen discussed anywhere else. The problem? Phones. Not Cellular Phones. Not VOIP phones, but what used to be called POTS (plain old telephone system) phones or landlines.

First a little technical history. In years gone by, the telephone system was powered by the local switching station, which had entire rooms full of batteries that were used if the power went out at the substation. They also had huge diesel powered or natural gas powered gensets that would kick in when the power went out to keep the batteries charged. This system was designed in the 1940's and 50's as a function of the national civil defense infrastructure in case the Russians ever decided to try to nuke us back to the stone age. It had three levels of backups to keep the system powered and operational in the event of a disaster of any sort. The only thing that would take down the phone system was physical damage to the lines themselves.

That is no longer the case for a large percentage of the phone system.

After the storm passed Sunday, many of us still had a working phone. We could make and receive calls to our freaked out relatives as long as we had a line powered telephone. But by Sunday evening or Monday morning, nobody who was still without power had a working landline. Why? Because the phone company has made massive changes in the way the infrastructure works over the last 10 years in order to accommodate the much higher bandwidth that customers are demanding and disaster immunity is not and has not been a priority issue. That needs to change.

In order to deliver high bandwidth data and voice systems, the phone company has had to roll out more and more fiberoptics closer and closer to the end users. Now, instead of your dial tone being generated at the local switching office as it used to be, the dial tone is most often generated in big putty colored cabinets called B-52's or local fiber loop cabinets, which are generally only a few thousand feet from your home. These boxes have small battery backup systems and are powered by the power grid, just as your house is, but they do not have a third level of backup. They do not have a standby generator integrated into the system to power them. So when power to the grid is lost, the battery backup is the last and ONLY line of defense to keep the lines functional. The cabinets DO have a connection on the side of them to allow them to be powered by a portable generator, but that means that a technician must carry a portable generator to each and every box, hook it up, fuel it, and start it, and then periodically return to refuel it, and then hope that someone who is more desperate to power their freezer or their A/C system doesn't happen along and take the generator and use it themselves.

The solution is to install a small automated standby power generation systems in the neighborhood of 5KW (about 10HP), preferably powered by a NG line at each loop box. The phone companies will complain that is cost prohibitive, but they are having to do that and much more as it is anyway. Until we demand a more robust design, the Phone companies will continue to give disaster recovery short shrift.

Catholic, Pro-choice: Pick ONE.

H/T SouthernTragedy and Hot Air

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The ad Obama does not want you to see, Part Two

Some weeks back I noted that the Obama Campaign sought to have the Justice Department force TV stations to pull an independently produced ad discussing Bill Ayres the unrepentant terrorist and his links to Obama. Now they are up to their old tricks again, trying to prevent stations from airing a series of ads produced by the NRA discussing Obama's and Biden's factually accurate stances on gun control and gun bans. (he's very much in favor of disarming us.)

You know, because freedom of speech and freedom to keep and bear arms are just so unamerican...

China's time machine

It would seem that China has not only developed a manned space program, but they have built a functioning time machine as part of the program. You see the Chinese State News organization Xinhua, posted a news story describing a successful launch of China's long-awaited space mission and including detailed dialogue between astronauts launched on the Internet today. There is only one problem. You see, the rocket was still on the pad and had not launched yet.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Richard Wright: Wish you were here...

Lost in the noise that was Hurricane Ike was an obituary that I wished to note, but due to power and connectivity issues I was unable to.

Keyboardist Richard Wright, founding member of Pink Floyd passed away on September 15, 2008 after a long battle with cancer. He was 65 years old.

Shine on my friend.... Shine on.....

Friday, September 12, 2008

Michael WIlliams to debate his opponent

Details are being worked out for a debate between Michael Williams and Mark Thompson. Frankly, I didn't think Williams HAD an opponent anyone would be stupid enough to vote for, but then again I am reminded that some people are dumber than stumps too.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Monday, September 08, 2008

A Soldier's message to Senator Obama

Well said!

H/T Lawdog

In memory of: Galveston 1900 Hurricane

On the afternoon of September 8th, 1900, at least 6000 people died in Galveston (one out of every six of the 37,000 residents) and between 10,000 and 12,000 overall died as a result of the storm and between $20 million and $40 million (in 1900 dollars, $700 million to $1.4 Billion in today's dollars) worth of damage was caused by a hurricane that came ashore on Galveston island. Storm warnings had been issued but the meteorologist in charge of the Galveston office believed that no storm surge could hurt Galveston Island so little, if any, preparation was made. In those days there was no radar, or weather satellites. The only information about storms at sea came from ships that happened to blunder into the midst of one. This was and still is the worst natural disaster in US history. Far more destructive than Katrina, or any storm before or since. The NWS meteorologist, by the name of Dr. Isaac M. Cline, learned the hard way that the most destructive part of a storm was not wind, it was water. He lost his daughter and his pregnant wife to the storm's waves. As a result of this storm, Galveston was remade. The entire island was raised 17 feet at the seawall, with a downward grade of 1 ft in 1500ft towards Galveston bay. All surviving buildings were jacked up and dredge fill from the bay was pumped in over several years time to accomplish the task. 16 million cubic yards of fill was required for the task. A seawall was built as well to protect the city. These undertakings were the brainchild of three engineers hired by the city. You might recognize the name of one of them: Alfred Nobel.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A small news tidbit you might not have read about

At least not if you read the Chronicle.... They buried it in the business section.

If you have any investments that might have been invested in Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac, you are officially SCREWED. Your entire investment has been wiped out. Vanished. All at the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen. This will DESTROY the markets for the forseeable future. So even if you DIDN'T invest in them, you're STILL screwed.

Remember, they are from the government, and they are here to help....... Run before they "help" you next.

Update: The original link was to a Chronicle reprint of a NY Times story that was published in the business section with little fanfare. Due to contractual obligations The Chronicle can only keep online links to the Times for 24 hours, therefore I have edited the link to point to the original Times story. The Chronicle DID finally get around to noticing the importance of this and published a similar story in Section A today(9/7/08), but not on the front page. No, they put it on page A14.

Update 2: Today,(9/8/08) they finally put it on the front page.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Do you feel a chill in the air?

he sun has entered a quiet phase, there has not been any sunspot activity for a month. A chart of sunspot activity over the last decade shows a steep decline. Heliomagnetic activity has also decreased. Historically when the sun enters such a quiet phase, terrestrial temperatures fall.