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October 13, 2005

Scariest Headline of the Day: 'FAA Upgrading Radar to Keep Planes on Controllers' Screens'

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You'll find it on page A11 of today's Washington Post over Sara Kehaulani Goo's probing story of the continuing problems with the FAA's radar tracking of planes in the Washington, D.C. region.

Of course, this is the part of the country you'd expect to have the very best radar in the nation: that it is faulty should raise eyebrows elsewhere about what might — and more importantly, might not — be on air controllers' screens.

Last week was the first I'd read of disappearing planes.

The good news is that the problem of vanishing aircraft is diminishing.

The bad news is that, according to FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown, "There continue to be problems with planes disappearing from the scopes."

The FAA initially said that the radar issue was chaff raised by the air traffic controllers' union to aid them in negotiations but apparently the outages, or "jumps" as they're euphemistically called in the business, are real.

STOP PRESS — a bookofjoe exclusive, just in:

"FAA's Washington region air traffic controllers choose theme song"

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But I digress.

Here's the Post story.

    FAA Upgrading Radar to Keep Planes on Controllers' Screens

    The Federal Aviation Administration said it is upgrading radar equipment to help prevent aircraft from disappearing from the computer screens of air traffic controllers.

    Controllers at the FAA's Washington Center in Leesburg have reported numerous instances over the past month in which a plane or several planes suddenly disappeared from radar screens for more than 30 seconds.

    Over the weekend, FAA officials upgraded radar in The Plains, Va., that was responsible for some of the incidents. An FAA official said the agency is also working to upgrade radar at two other locations and is ready to respond if the problem recurs, using an aircraft and vehicle equipped with spectrum analysis equipment.

    "We are concerned because we want to know every anomaly that affects the national airspace system," said Steven B. Zaidman, vice president for technical operations services at FAA.

    "We have an active bunch of technicians and air traffic specialists who continue to look at it."

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    Since the radar upgrade was completed in The Plains, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said there continue to be problems with planes disappearing from the scopes, but she said they are "less severe."

    The union representing air traffic controllers said it was pleased with the FAA's response.

    An FAA spokesman initially suggested that the controllers had raised the safety issue as a negotiating tactic during contract talks.

    "We're very relieved the FAA is finally taking this situation seriously," said Ruth Marlin, executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, in a statement.

    "Controllers at Washington Center have been forced to scramble on too many occasions reacting to the mysterious equipment failures."

    On at least one occasion, Sept. 27, multiple radars intermittently went out, which FAA officials said was highly unusual.

    The FAA said the problem has not occurred since then, although occasionally one radar will "jump" and a plane will disappear for about 12 seconds and then reappear.

    Controllers direct traffic by referring to data on their screens that identify an aircraft and its speed and altitude.

    During a radar jump, the information about the plane remains on the screen, but the plane's exact location disappears for 12 to 30 seconds.

    Airplane information is delivered to controllers by radar that communicates with the aircraft's transponder.

    Controllers in Leesburg handle air traffic for a broad region from New York to North Carolina and from the East Coast to West Virginia at 18,000 feet and higher.

    If controllers cannot temporarily view their planes on radar scopes, they revert to non-radar procedures, which involve spacing planes farther apart as a safety precaution.

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    In some cases when controllers said they had to do this, they claim it resulted in small delays for some planes at some airports.

October 13, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's Oldest Noodles Found

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Just in, the news that a 4000–year–old bowl of noodles (above), the earliest example ever found, has been unearthed at the Lajia archaelogical site near the Yellow River in northwestern China.

The beautifully preserved noodles were discovered in an overturned, sealed bowl buried under ten feet of sediment.

Radiocarbon dating was used to determine their age.

Houyuan Lu of Beijing's Chinese Academy of Sciences said, in an email interview, "This is the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found."

The noodles were made from two kinds of millet, a grain indigenous to China and widely cultivated there 7,000 years ago.

Until this discovery, reported today in the journal Nature, the oldest account of the existence of noodles was in a 1,900–year–old book written during the East Han Dynasty in China.

October 13, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Birdwoman of Kyrgyzstan — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice burnishes her hawk credentials for 2008

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Easily the most striking photo in yesterday's papers was the one above, from the Washington Post.

It features the highest ranking woman ever in the history of the United States government in Kyrgyzstan, along with a prize leather–helmeted trained bird of prey brought to the airport there to greet her.

Rice is currently visiting a number of countries in the area.

Expect to see this picture again in 2008 when Rice runs against Hillary Clinton for the presidency.

October 13, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Fashion Forward Magnetic Bracelet

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Just how bold are you?

Prepared to get out there beyond the bleeding edge of fashion, where you work without a net?

Then this is your bracelet.

Sure, it's advertised in Sporty's Toolshop Catalog but that's because cool people know to look beyond the workshop space.

Every time you wear this alluring accessory it's new, what with all the cool decorations and charms you can add simply by passing your wrist over them.

From the website:

    Magnetic Wristband

    Tired of always losing screws, nuts, bolts, tools, nails, etc. when doing small jobs around the workshop or house?

    This ingenious wristband's super-strong 2 1/4" x 1 1/4" magnetic surface holds all those small items in place while you nail, put in a screw or thread a bolt.

    Sturdy nylon strap is 11 1/2"L x 2"W and adjusts to fit with Velcro® straps.

Tell you what: wear this bracelet and they'll even part the velvet ropes for you at Bungalow 8.

Just tell Amy that bookofjoe sent you.

$19.50 here (screws and screwdriver not included).

[not suggested by Edwina Ings–Chambers — but it could have been]

October 13, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Mercedes–Benz 2006 R–Class Grand Sports Tourer

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When I saw a photo of this new Mercedes in a full–page color ad in yesterday's New York Times I immediately checked the date: nope, it wasn't April 1.

This abomination of automobile design wasn't a joke but, rather, the latest in a series of missteps by the once–great car company.

It starts at $48,775.

Find out more here.

Just do me one small favor: if you buy one and decide to stop by, please — park it out on the street instead of in my driveway.

What were they thinking in Stuttgart?

How many hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in creating this lead–pipe cinch of a disaster?

October 13, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Finger Tray

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Way beyond sublime is this wonderful drink tray, designed by Martino d'Esposito for Ligne Roset.

In white, red or black formed plastic.

Just like a bowling ball except there's a place for every single one of your fingers.

Balances nice and steadily on your hand.

Amaze your friends with your newfound serving skills.

So cool.

You'll have to contact Ligne Roset or visit one of their many stores around the world to get one — no can do online.

October 13, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Charms — by Kay Ryan

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The dead do not
become stars or ghosts.
In fact, they are
hardly undone.
Soon their randomly
dispersed parts
reappear one
by one on
foreign hosts—
the beloved ear
or freckled arm,
separate as a
milagro or bracelet
charm. It is not
grotesque, though
odd. Even a piece
does us some good.
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October 13, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Cell Phone Stand Paperweight

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I was almost certain I'd written about this device in the past but my crack research team couldn't find a post about it in an exhaustive search of my archives.

Perhaps it appeared in Version 1.0, which would explain its virtual vaporization.

No matter — I've got a whole new crowd of homies now so it doesn't make a whole lot of difference if it appeared back in the day or not.

But enough.

Ha — fooled you.

Bet you 99% of joeheads thought "I digress" would follow "but" above.

But I digress.

I actually purchased one of these bat weights for use as a bat weight, many years ago.

From time to time I like to go to one of those amusement parks with the automatic pitching machines and take some swings — kind of the past revisited, from back in the day as a boy growing up in Milwaukee when I wanted nothing more in life than to be a major league baseball player.

Of course, back then there was no internet so I had no idea there were things better than playing ball.

Anyway, I bought the bat weight cause that's the cool way to warm up before you step into the batter's box, as opposed to swinging two bats at a time.

Well, one day I was annoyed about the fact that my cellphone screen was hard to see without picking up the phone from wherever it was lying.

Then I glanced over at my bat, which I keep propped in the corner because it reminds me of happy times.

And I looked at the bat weight, and the penny dropped.

Sure enough, you put your cellphone inside, even with the charging cord attached at the bottom, and it sits there perfectly and securely, the screen easily visible.

The weight's so heavy (28 oz. — nearly two pounds of vinyl–coated cast iron) that you can punch the buttons with one hand and the phone won't budge.

If you've got an earpiece, whether wired or Bluetooth, you're even better off.

And like I said up top, it's an excellent paperweight.

And in a pinch I suppose you could skull somebody with it and do some very serious damage.

Don't bother with the smaller, lighter Little League version in blue — step up to the plate with Rei Kawakubo black.

$7.99 here.

Full disclosure: I just did a survey of my house and found I have eight of these weights — I put one anywhere I might happen to take a phone call.

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Note added 12:43 p.m. today:

I also keep one in my car, right on the center divider: perfect for in–car one–handed use.

It's so heavy you could also put it up on your dashboard if you liked; the vinyl coating is soft enough to give it the grip required not to slide around on turns and suchlike.

October 13, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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