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This "Smart Ship" is not Smart Enough

Contributed by Alex Shrugged

The Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Yorktown was launched in 1983, participating in Cold War missions and the Gulf War aftermath, but now it is the testbed for the US Navy's new "Smart Ship" program. A fiber optic network backbone has been installed to avoid any radio interference. (I'm simplifying here.) This network links 27 computers and a server sporting dual Pentium CPUs running at a screaming 200 Megahertz. (That is 200 million hertz vs. 3 billion hertz for the average Intel Core i7 today.) The server is running Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 which is less than a year old. (Ooh! Shiny!) The engines are software controlled, but after a software upgrade the engines shutdown. The Yorktown drifts for three hours while the software is fixed. (They are likely looking for the backup media to reload the old software that worked.) A simple data entry error caused a "divide by zero" or as most PC users call it.... "The Blue Screen of Death". Once the problem is fixed, the engines are restarted and they limp back to port. The Yorktown is a "Smart Ship," but no ship is smart enough to divide by zero. [1] [2] [3][4] [5] [6]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
OK. It is remarkable that the Navy was willing to run the latest hardware and software on a cruiser in the midst of actual patrol duties. How did it happen? Well... no one asked the engineers what software would be best. Windows has a swell user interface and for some reason UNIX (a reasonably mature operating system at the time) was unknown to the people filling out the purchase order. UNIX has a very nice graphical interface. For example, in the movie Jurassic Park (1993), the locks on the doors of the park were computer controlled. As the adults struggled to keep a man-eating dinosaur on the other side of the door WITHOUT A MANUAL LOCK, the little girl, Lex, spots the computer screen. She says, "It's a UNIX system. I know this." Indeed. It is a beautiful graphical interface. She locks all the doors. They are saved. Software is complex, and not all cases can be tested, so you must be prepared when the software fails. On the Yorktown they needed a way to switch to manually running the engines quickly. It is just a precaution because you never know when your life is going to depend on it, until it does. [7] [8]


Contributed by Southpaw Ben


My Take by Southpaw Ben

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Contributed by Alex Shrugged

J.K. Rowling has been working on this book for a long time, and it is finally published. The book is a hit! It is about a young orphan boy named Harry Potter who is sent to live with his aunt. He sleeps under the stairs, and he is treated like a servant. One day he gets a letter delivered by an owl, but his aunt and uncle won't let him read it. More and more letters arrive until finally a large man is sent to deliver it personally. Harry Potter is a wizard and he has been invited to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. What follows is an adventure, learning about himself, testing his magical abilities, and trying to find out exactly how his parents died. He was told they had died in an car accident, but in fact they were murdered by a dark wizard who shall not be named. There is also a secret hidden somewhere in the school. It is the philosopher's stone, and someone is trying to steal it. Harry Potter and his friends think they know who it is, but no one will listen without proof. They must find the proof, and stop his evil plan. [9]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The book was released in the United States the next year with the title, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone because no one in the US knows what a philosopher's stone is anymore. It is a magical rock that turns lead into gold and extends one's life. The legend has been around for centuries, but apparently it is new to Americans. I would sit with my kids for hours reading these books, adding voices and questioning them on odd words. For example, "What is a fortnight?" It comes from the Old English word meaning 14 nights (or two weeks). I am a religious man, and some people worry about the magic mentioned in the book. As I read it, the book is respectful of religion. It is not promoting magic. It is simply a story with magic in it. It is a fantasy as are many science fiction stories, by the way. I define magic as Arthur C. Clark did... a technology sufficiently advanced that I cannot distinguish it from magic. If I traveled back in time 200 years, and showed them a flashlight, guess what they would think. BURN THE WITCH! The Harry Potter books are just fun stories, as are movies and TV. Because I didn't take them seriously, my children didn't either. They never tried to "obliviate me". Wait... what was I saying? (For the muggles out there, "obliviate" is to erase someone's memory.) [10] [11]

Notable Births

  • Chloö Grace Moretz: The 11-year-old "Hit Girl" in Kick Ass. (She has her mother's permission to swear.--alexshrugged) [12]
  • Maisie Williams: Arya Stark in HBO's Game of Thrones and a recurring role in Dr. Who. [12]

Notable Deaths

  • Chris Farley (age 33, drug overdose): Tommy Boy and Saturday Night Live. [13]
  • John Denver (age 53, airplane crash): Oh God! and singer-songwriter. [13]
  • Burgess Meredith (age 89, Alzheimer's disease): Mick in Rocky and The Penguin in TV's Batman. [13]

This Year in Film

  • Titanic: The highest grossing film until Avatar comes out. [14]
  • Men in Black: Extremely weird and funny. [14]
  • The Fifth Element: Extremely weird and thrilling. [14]
  • And...: Contact, Starship Troopers, and Gattaca, a biopunk, eugenics science fiction movie. (I recommend it.--alexshrugged) [14]

This Year in TV

  • King of the Hill: Animated sit-com. A running commentary on the Texas middle-class. [15]
  • Daria: Animated sit-com. A running commentary on urban teenage life. (Yes. It is depressingly funny.--alexshrugged) [15]
  • South Park: Animated sit-com. A running commentary on society as a whole. (Brace yourselves.--alexshrugged) [15]
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A high school cheerleader battles the forces of evil and the undead. [15]

This Year in Music

  • Madonna wins Best Actress for the musical Evita: She plays Evita Perón, First lady of Argentina. [16]

This Year in Video Games

  • Final Fantasy 7: A role playing game, fighting eco-terrorists. [17]
  • Gran Turismo: The highest rated racing game of all time. [17]
  • Grand Theft Auto: This was supposed to be a "cops-n-robbers" chase game. Unfortunately, no one wanted to be "the cops", so the game focuses on being the "robbers". The game is noted for the good soundtrack. The real controversy begins with Grand Theft Auto 3, four years later. [17] [18]

In Other News

  • Comet Hale-Bopp is visible to the naked eye for 18 months: The Heaven's Gate UFO religious group believes the comet is a space craft and commits mass suicide in order to catch a ride. 39 are found dead. [19] [20]
  • Mars Pathfinder land on.... MARS!: It lands using a unique airbag bouncing system. (Spoiler alert) In the movie The Martian, Mark Watney uses the Pathfinder radio link to contact Earth. [19]
  • An F5 tornado wipes out Jarrell, Texas: And numerous other tornadoes hit Austin and Cedar Park. (I live in Austin. It was a wild ride. I've written about it on the history segment before.--alexshrugged) [19]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1997, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Seife, Charles. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea. Viking Press. 2000. pp. 1-2. (BOOK)
  2. USS Yorktown (CG-48) Smart Ship Testbed - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  3. Windows NT 4.0 - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  4. Pentium Pro - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  5. Alex Shrugged notes: For context: Linux Slackware 1.0 was released in 1993. Slackware is the oldest Linux distribution still in active development today.
  6. The Slackware Linux Project: Slackware Release Announcement. Slackware.com. 1993--Jul-16.
  7. The Door Locks - YouTube. Retrieved on 3 May 2017. “Scene were the young Lex needs to reboot the park's security systems. Combined with the threat of a Velociraptor on the other side of the door.”
  8. Wired News: Sunk by Windows NT (July 24, 1998). Retrieved on 3 May 2017. “Singley said that human factors were considered in the decision to use NT, partly because it was thought to have a more friendly graphical user interface (GUI) than Unix systems. Critics of the move pointed out that modern Unix-like operating systems have multiple GUIs to choose from.”
  9. Rowling, J. K.. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 0747532699. 
  10. Philosopher's stone - Wikipedia (2017). Retrieved on 3 May 2017.
  11. List of spells in Harry Potter - Wikipedia (2017). Retrieved on 3 May 2017. “First mentioned (not by name) in the Philosopher's Stone by Ron that it was used on Muggles who have seen dragons. First used in Chamber of Secrets by Lockhart who wanted to use it on Harry and Ron; the spell backfired because Ron's wand had been damaged, causing Lockhart to lose most of his own memory (which he never recovers).”
  12. 12.0 12.1 1997 Births - Wikipedia (1997).
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 1997 Deaths - Wikipedia (1997).
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 1997 in film - Wikipedia (1997). Retrieved on 27 January 2017.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 1997 in television - Wikipedia (1997).
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 1997 in music - Wikipedia (1997). Retrieved on 30 January 2017.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 1997 in music - Wikipedia (1997).
  18. Grand Theft Auto III - Wikipedia (2017). Retrieved on 3 May 2017. “Prior to and since the release of Grand Theft Auto III, the game generated several controversies. GameSpy awarded Grand Theft Auto III with Most Offensive Game of the Year, calling it 'absolutely reprehensible'.”
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 1997 - Wikipedia (1997). Retrieved on 30 January 2017.
  20. Heaven's Gate (religious group) - Wikipedia (2017). Retrieved on 3 May 2017.

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