Efficency End To End

From The Economist:

ENGINES on airliners are highly efficient when they are in flight, but not when operating on the ground. When a plane is taxiing under its own power, the engines burn vast amounts of fuel. A Boeing 747 can consume a tonne of fuel and emit several tonnes of carbon dioxide during an average 17-minute taxi to take-off. And when the aircraft lands there is likely to be another long drive to the passenger gate. Which is why there are various methods being developed for aircraft to use other means of propulsion while moving around an airport.

If you think about it, this was an area ripe for innovation for a long time now. Obviously having a second engine for taxi purposes on board is ruled out for weight and space reasons. Something external is obvious since these negatives are shed when it’s detached. Since engines would only need to start shortly before takeoff it would also mean less noise at airports.

It’s interesting that in engineering you focus on the primary use case and make it efficient. Once you’re done you continue to refine and make it more efficient. The folly is when you forget about other low hanging fruit near the edge cases, in this case when the plane is on the ground. While not a huge savings, it can potentially add up.

Urinal Flies Of Schiphol

I’ve noticed the flies in Schiphol airport urinals the last few visits, but never knew their purpose. I admittedly didn’t put much effort into figuring it out now I know:

Fly into Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and, if you do what most people do after a long flight, you are probably headed to the lavatory. If you’re a guy, you’ll see that Schiphol’s bathrooms sports a feature many do not — urinals, with flies on them, as pictured right. Stare for a minute and you’ll notice that the fly doesn’t move. Look around, and you’ll note that the flies are everywhere — one per urinal, all the way down the row.

…It’s a target, plain and simple. Something for customers to aim at as they urinate.

This likely would not have been my first guess.

Security Through Obscurity TSA/GSM Edition

It’s impossible to write code these days without having to study security to some extent. The byproduct of this is that since digital security concepts are based largely on real life, you see the obvious gaps in real life “security”. The quotes are intentional because many/most attempts only provide the feeling of security as opposed to real security.

“Security through obscurity” is perhaps one of the most insane of ideas. The principle being that if the implementation is kept secret the entire application is secure (emphasis on if). If it’s compromised, then you’re in trouble.

TSA “Security”

Books have been written about how poor the TSA is at security. Bruce Schneier is likely one of the best when it comes to pointing out the silly practices and how little it actually does for actual security.

The latest security directive was sent to thousands of individuals at airlines around the world. Needless to say it was leaked (imagine that). Of course the TSA wasn’t thrilled about that. What this does show is that the TSA is simply hoping any potential terrorist is too dumb to do something original. See Bruce Schneier’s piece linked above which draws the same conclusion.

The fake boarding pass scheme is another great example.

Millimeter wave scanner’s (those fully body scanners) haven’t even been 100% implemented yet and have been defeated. Al Qaeda has already figured out that they could mimic drug smugglers and place bombs in certain body cavities. A CT scan would detect that but a full body CT scan is too much radiation and too slow for routine use. No sane person would use a CT scan for security. You would certainly kill more than you would save. That means a complementary prostate exam or “bend and spread” (limited success in prison) is pretty much the only solution. Of course surgical implantation would defeat that as well.

Edit 1/1/2010 @ 3:00 PM EST: The TSA has apparently realized how pointless their legal efforts were and have withdrawn its subpoena.

GSMA “Security”

GSMA (GSM Association) are the folks behind GSM A5/1 encryption used in the majority of phones worldwide which is supposed to keep your calls secure and safe from prying ears. Karsten Nohl figured out how it can be broken. It’s noteworthy that this is an 18-year-old standard from days when computing power was much more limited. It’s also noteworthy that most governments and criminals have likely figured this stuff out already (they just aren’t sharing). The GSMA response:

“What he is doing would be illegal in Britain and the United States. To do this while supposedly being concerned about privacy is beyond me.”

Mike Masnick at TechDirt decoded the PR speak decoded:

… First, claiming it’s “theoretically possible, but practically unlikely” means that it’s very, very possible and quite likely. To then say that no one else had broken the code since its adoption fifteen years ago is almost certainly false. What she means is that no one else who’s broken the code has gone public with it — probably because it’s much more lucrative keeping that info to themselves…

Wikipedia has a rundown of the security of A5/1.

Elvis Takes Off

The other day I mentioned that it’s possible to clone a RFID passport, a massive security risk that the government seemingly doesn’t care to much about. It’s no longer really a proof of concept. Elvis now has an accepted RFID passport. That’s right. Mr. dead in 1977 Elvis Aaron Presley. The hack was done in Amsterdam, but you can bet it will be done elsewhere as time progresses.

They Forgot One Minor Detail

From the National Post:

Airport employees in Vancouver were forced into the role of babysitters after a family forgot their 18-month-old toddler after clearing security and boarded a flight to Winnipeg without him.

Did anyone see this and not immediately think of Home Alone (yes, the title of this post came from the tagline of the first movie).

St. Maarten Airport Fun

A week ago I came back from St. Maarten, an island known for it’s weather and beaches. There are a few ways to tell a good beach from a great one:

  1. Clean beaches.
  2. Evidence that topless tanning is allowed.
  3. Signs like the one to the left warning you of death by heavy metal.

A beach with an active runway for an international airport makes for a good time. So much so I got to this beach a several times. Equipped with a camera phone I took some video’s of the fun. The video’s are slightly grainy since it was taken on a phone, and a bit shaky since the jet blast could be pretty strong at times.

For the record, sand does go through clothing at that speed. It was strong enough that I wasn’t able to watch a takeoff live as I had to turn my head and close my eyes. Only afterward could I watch the video replay.


Boeing 747 takeoff (can’t even keep the camera up).

Almost being hit by a DHL plane

Side Shot of a landing

There’s about a dozen videos and a few pictures.

Top 10 Airports

Here’s an article on the Top 10 Airports in the World. They are billed as great places to pass time while waiting. And boy is this article a load of manure.

I’ve flown out of John F. Kennedy International Airport (though not the mentioned Terminal 6), connected at Los Angeles International Airport (with a layover), and spend 12 hrs delayed at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

First of all, their description of Schiphol is borderline fraudulent. Believe me, all airports are boring after about 1hr. Everything they mention is a bit smaller than the description implies. To give you an idea, take the size of the country and compare the scale to that of the United States. Got that ratio handy? Then take a small Atlantic City Casino, Museum, etc. from the US and shrink it down by that same ratio. That’s about accurate.

I never saw any celebrities at LAX, but perhaps that’s because I was there before the sun came up on a layover, and that was in July as I recall. Any celebrity with money, and some without were somewhere else but LA.