Back of the Book — April 24, 2021

It's Saturday morning, April 24, 2021, 08:48, and I've made the effort to get this Web page updated and finished on the same day as the program aired, for a change. It had actually gotten posted a few minutes after the program had started to air today because I fell asleep and didn't wake up till after four o'clock this morning. I've added the link to the official WBAI archive of this radio program, and I've greatly enlarged the part about the Ingenuity helicopter. I have also added some of the other topics that we talked about. This should give you a good idea of what we did on this program. The original top of this page follows the arrow. Well, this Web page is a little late.

You can now listen to this program on the official WBAI Archive.

Did you know that I've got a brief synopsis of some of the WBAI LSB meetings?

I have also posted a whole lot of the minutes of the Pacifica National Finance Committee on this Web site. I'm a member of that committee because I'm the WBAI LSB Treasurer.

The next WBAI LSB meeting is scheduled to be held on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, it will probably be held as a teleconference meeting, as the 13 previous public meetings were because of the pandemic.

The WBAI LSB met on Wednesday, April 14, 2021.

The LSB again spent quite a bit of time on a motion that became two motions, sort of, regarding something I can't talk about on the air or even on this Web site, for now. But you'll hear about it on the air at some point, just not from me - until later. Have you visited the official Pacifica Web site lately? Ahem.

Before the meeting I had put out a written Treasurer's Report for all to read.

Some years ago the WBAI LSB voted to hold its regular meetings on the second Wednesday of every month, subject to change by the LSB, which gives us the following schedule:

All of these meetings are set to begin at 7:00 PM.

WBAI has a program schedule up on its Web site. The site has gotten many of the individual program pages together to provide links and such, so check it out.

Here is WBAI's current Internet stream. We can no longer tell if the stream is working without testing every possible stream. Good luck.

WBAI is archiving the programs! WBAI has permanently switched to yet another new archive Web page! This one is more baffling than the previous one. For some time I was unable to post archive blurbs, then I could, and then I couldn't again. You can take a look at it and see if I've been able to post anything on it lately. There are still some limitations, but I am assured that I can plug in the archive blurbs that were lost in the latest upgrade.

This is a link to the latest version of the official WBAI archive. The archiving software appears to have been at least partially fixed. To get to the archive of this program you can use the usual method: you'll have to click on the drop-down menu, which says Display, and find Back of the Book on that menu. We're pretty early in the list, so it shouldn't be too difficult. Once you find the program name click GO and you'll see only this Back of the Book program. Management has fixed some problems that we'd been having with the archives.

For programs before March 23, 2019, we're all out of luck. The changes that took place once WBAI Management took control of the WBAI archives seems to have wiped out all access to anything before that date in March. You'll have to click on the same drop-down menu as above, which says Display, and find Specify Date, it's the second choice from the top. You are then given a little pop-up calendar and you can choose the date of the program there. Then click GO and you'll see a list of programs that aired on that date. For those previous programs you can get the audio, but nothing else, since I can't post anything to those pages anymore. Yeah, it looks like they'll have some alternating program's name prominently there, but if you have the right date it'll be our program. Good luck.

Since the General Manager has banned Sidney Smith from WBAI he's not alternating with us on the air. As of November 2020, Back of the Book airs weekly.

Bring Back Uncle Sidney!

Our friend, fellow WBAI producer and Saddle Pal Uncle Sidney Smith has been banned from WBAI by General Manager Berthold Reimers. The General Manager will not say why. He won't even tell Sidney why he's banned! This is grossly unfair to Sidney and constitutes abuse of Staff. Why did Berthold ban Sidney?

The Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
Another Historic Flying Machine
photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We talked a lot about the little Ingenuity helicopter that took flight on Mars this past week.

The first ever attempt to fly an aircraft on another planet was attempted on Monday, April 19th.

We got up early and we got NASA TV going on the computer. We knew that whatever had happened with the Ingenuity chopper had already happened at about 3:30 in the morning, but NASA couldn't get the data from the Perseverance rover until about three hours later.

So we watched.

The reason why the video hadn't been sent to Earth until three full hours after the historic attempt had happened was because the perseverance rover, which is what had taken the video and to which Ingenuity had sent its own data, had to wait for three hours until the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had arrived in a position where it could get all of the information from Perseverance and then beam it to Earth.

So NASA TV came on at 6:15 AM. NASA had interviews with people like Mimi Aung who is the Project Manager for Ingenuity. Ms. Aung was very chipper about it all. She did acknowledge that there was the possibility of a total failure and said what they'd do in that case, she also talked about what they'd do if there were a partial failure, and she expressed her hope that the experiment would be a total success.

They also talked to the guy who would get the data as it came down.

The mission control people had sent the program for Ingenuity to autonomously take off, hover and land to the Perseverance rover on Sunday. The rover sent the program to Ingenuity.

The ingenuity helicopter cost about $85,000,000 by the way. It included what The New York Times described as an almost off-the-shelf Qualcomm processor. Qualcomm is a company and they make microprocessors, which are the brainy parts of a lot of computers and other devices that need to process data. The particular Qualcomm processor that was installed as the brains of Ingenuity was originally designed for use in cell phones. The New York Times says that it has more computing power than all of the previous interplanetary spacecraft combined. NASA has a protocol of only using proven electronics, and so they are a mandatory decade or more behind current technology. Ingenuity needed as much computing power as possible because it was going to fly without any human help and flying a helicopter is not the easiest thing in the world to do, whether the world is the Earth or Mars.

This Qualcomm processor wasn't modified to function in the cold temperatures of Mars, and it had flown through space where there is a lot of serious radiation. The surface of Mars is much more flooded with ionizing radiation that the Earth is too. So the processor is lucky that it survived the trip.

So we were watching and there were video illustrations of what the scientists and engineers expected to happen with Ingenuity, and various people were interviewed.

And then at about 6:34 AM the guy in charge of getting the data downloaded says he's gotten a signal from perseverance. NASA says that Mars was about 173,000,000 miles from Earth on Monday, so the signal, traveling at the speed of light, took about 15½ minutes to get from the Perseverance rover to the folks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. And Pickles and I were watching him and the guy next to him while the data came own. NASA provided some more commentary by people to fill the time. The commentators told us that the first indication of what had happened would be a small graph that ought to show the Ingenuity helicopter going up, hovering for a time and then coming down. It would be a pretty simple graph. And then, after quite a bit of waiting, the guy getting the data said that the graph image had come down and the whole thing was nominal. Well, at that point everyone started whooping it up, and Ingenuity's Project Manager Mimi Aung could be seen cheering and ripping up some papers. I think she was tearing up the failure and partial failure speeches.

The altimeter graph for Ingenuity's first flight.
The Graph
photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

And then they showed the video that Perseverance had shot. It was pretty low resolution, but it showed the little helicopter rising up, hovering for a while and coming back down. It's not the most dramatic looking event, but it was quite the accomplishment. Ingenuity had risen into the Martian atmosphere about 10 feet, and hovered there for a little over 30 seconds, and then it had landed safely.

The engineers did a lot of work on Ingenuity. They had to keep it as light as possible, so the tiny helicopter weighed only four pounds, it used a pair of counter rotating propeller blades that had to spin at about 2,500 rpm to get it airborne in that extremely thin atmosphere. The Martian atmosphere is so thin that there is no place you can go on Earth where our air is that thin. The blades themselves are about four feet long and they're made of a carbon fiber outer shell with some sort of a special foam interior to make them strong and light.

So after all of the cheering was over Mimi Aung made her success speech and said, We together flew at Mars, and we together now have this Wright brothers moment. She then said, We will take a moment to celebrate our success and then take a cue from Orville and Wilbur regarding what to do next. History shows they got back to work — to learn as much as they could about their new aircraft — and so will we.

Pickles and I were thrilled to watch this historic event.

There was a second test scheduled for Thursday morning, and I was up looking at the NASA TV Web site just after five o'clock, but they apparently never did a live broadcast of that second flight, which occurred around 5:30 AM that day. NASA later announced that on Thursday Ingenuity's second test flight lasted for 51.9 seconds. The helicopter climbed to 16 feet this time, executed a 5° tilt so that the rotors moved it horizontally in the air for seven feet, then it righted itself and landed.

NASA has named the spot on Mars where Ingenuity is taking off from and landing on Wright Brothers Field. They have named the area in Jezero Crater where Perseverance is operating after science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler. The site is named Octavia E. Butler Landing.

There are three more flights scheduled for Ingenuity, each will involve it going farther. Ms. Aung wants to really test its limits.

Well, we have been successfully invading Mars for decades now. There's a passage from H.G. Wells' 1897, serialized novel The War of the Worlds that sort of relates to the latest accomplishment on Mars. In this passage the unnamed protagonist of the novel has been witnessing the Martian invasion for more than two weeks. He meets a British Army artillery Sargent whom he'd met previously and the unnamed protagonist and the artillery Sargent have the following discussion while trying to hide in some bushes:

The cover of The War of the Worlds first edition

Have you seen any Martians? I said. Since I crawled out—

They've gone away across London, he said. I guess they've got a bigger camp there. Of a night, all over there, Hampstead way, the sky is alive with their lights. It's like a great city, and in the glare you can just see them moving. By daylight you can't. But nearer-I haven't seen them- (he counted on his fingers) five days. Then I saw a couple across Hammersmith way carrying something big. And the night before last-he stopped and spoke impressively-it was just a matter of lights, but it was something up in the air. I believe they've built a flying-machine, and are learning to fly.

I stopped, on hands and knees, for we had come to the bushes.


Yes, he said, fly.

I went on into a little bower, and sat down.

It is all over with humanity, I said. If they can do that they will simply go round the world.

He nodded.

They will. But— It will relieve things over here a bit. And besides— He looked at me. Aren't you satisfied it is up with humanity? I am. We're down; we're beat.

I stared. Strange as it may seem, I had not arrived at this fact-a fact perfectly obvious so soon as he spoke. I had still held a vague hope; rather, I had kept a lifelong habit of mind. He repeated his words, We're beat. They carried absolute conviction.

It's all over, he said. They've lost one-just one. And they've made their footing good and crippled the greatest power in the world. They've walked over us. The death of that one at Weybridge was an accident. And these are only pioneers. They kept on coming. These green stars-I've seen none these five or six days, but I've no doubt they're falling somewhere every night. Nothing's to be done. We're under! We're beat!

I made him no answer. I sat staring before me, trying in vain to devise some countervailing thought.

This isn't a war, said the artilleryman. It never was a war, any more than there's war between man and ants.

Suddenly I recalled the night in the observatory.

After the tenth shot they fired no more-at least, until the first cylinder came.

How do you know? said the artilleryman. I explained. He thought. Something wrong with the gun, he said. But what if there is? They'll get it right again. And even if there's a delay, how can it alter the end? It's just men and ants. There's the ants builds their cities, live their lives, have wars, revolutions, until the men want them out of the way, and then they go out of the way. That's what we are now-just ants. Only—

Yes, I said.

We're eatable ants.

We sat looking at each other.

And what will they do with us? I said.

That's what I've been thinking, he said; that's what I've been thinking. After Weybridge I went south-thinking. I saw what was up. Most of the people were hard at it squealing and exciting themselves. But I'm not so fond of squealing. I've been in sight of death once or twice; I'm not an ornamental soldier, and at the best and worst, death-it's just death. And it's the man that keeps on thinking comes through. I saw everyone tracking away south. Says I, Food won't last this way,' and I turned right back. I went for the Martians like a sparrow goes for man. All round-he waved a hand to the horizon-they're starving in heaps, bolting, treading on each other. . . .

He saw my face, and halted awkwardly.

No doubt lots who had money have gone away to France, he said. He seemed to hesitate whether to apologise, met my eyes, and went on: There's food all about here. Canned things in shops; wines, spirits, mineral waters; and the water mains and drains are empty. Well, I was telling you what I was thinking. Here's intelligent things, I said, and it seems they want us for food. First, they'll smash us up-ships, machines, guns, cities, all the order and organisation. All that will go. If we were the size of ants we might pull through. But we're not. It's all too bulky to stop. That's the first certainty.' Eh?

I assented.

We talked about personal cyber security a little bit on this program.

Some bad passwords
Some Bad Passwords

The National Cyber Security Centre has issued it's annual chastisement for people using weak passwords. People are using easy-to-guess passwords, including their pet's name, family members' names, significant dates, their favorite sports team or even just the word Password. The National Cyber Security Centre suggests that 15% of people have used their pet's name as their password at some point, while 14% have used the name of a family member. A further 13% have used a significant date, such as a birthday or anniversary, while 6% have used the sports team they support as their password. So if someone knows you at all they have a really good chance of guessing your password. And if you're on line and telling everyone on some huge social media platform all about yourself and the details of your life that information could end up in the hands of malicious hackers who could break into all sorts of things that you use passwords for.

Criminals also use software to brute force a password, and if you use a weak, one word password they can have a really good chance at success. There is also something called a dictionary attack where software is used to throw in common words, and if you use one of those you're easy prey. Not only do some people use weak passwords, but some people use the same weak password for multiple things. So someone might use the same password for their Facebook password and their bank account. So if someone gets your Facebook password by guessing based on what information about yourself you've revealed they'll also probably try that same password out on other accounts you have, like your bank account. And if you put a lot of your personal information out on-line they may know what bank you use. So if at some point you complained that you bank, the Temple of Doom Trust Company, has gouged you on banking fees, the people who've grabbed at least one of your passwords will know where to try it out next.

So the the National Cyber Security Centre is telling people to create their passwords by using three random words to help secure their accounts. Of course random is very hard to do. And you should make one for each account that you have to use a password on, which will lessen the damage if one of them gets compromised. The National Cyber Security Centre suggests that while a three word password, or passphrase, is easy to remember it's harder to crack. They also recommend getting and using password managing software. That type of software will hold your passwords for you, and you can have one password for it. I recommend letting some serious password managers create your password as well as keep it. That way you have one password you really need to remember and then you can have many others that are truly hard to crack at your disposal. My recommendation is that folks should check out KeePass which will generate a strong password and KeePass has some handy features.

The National Cyber Security Centre suggests that users should save passwords to their web browser. This lets users easily login to Web sites, and it also helps to protect them against some on-line traps because some password managers won't work if the Web site is a fake version of the Web site designed to steal credentials. They also recommend two factor authentication wherever possible.

There are a lot of issues that are considered hazardous to talk about on the air at WBAI, even though the gag rule was lifted in 2002. However, there is the Internet! There are mailing lists which you can subscribe to and Web based message boards devoted to WBAI and Pacifica issues. Many controversial WBAI/Pacifica issues are discussed on these lists.

One open list that no longer exists was the WBAI specific Goodlight Web based message board. It was sometimes referred to on Back of the Book as the bleepin' blue board, owing to the blue background that was used on its Web pages. This one had many people posting anonymously and there was also an ancillary WBAI people board that was just totally out of hand.

In June 2012, I ended up having to salvage the bleepin' blue board, and so I was the moderator on it for its last seven years, until it got too expensive.

Sometimes we used to have live interaction with people posting on the Goodlight Board during the program.

Our very own Uncle Sidney Smith, whose program Saturday Morning With the Radio On used to alternate with us, has a blog these days. You can reach his blog here.

There used to be a number of mailing lists related to Pacifica and WBAI. Unfortunately, they were all located on Yahoo! Groups. When Yahoo! Groups was totally shut down in December 2020, all of those mailing lists ceased to exist. One year earlier their file sections and archives of E-mails, had been excised leaving only the ability to send E-mails back and forth among the members. Now it's all gone. Older Back of the Book program Web pages tell a little more about those lists.

We like to stay interactive with our listeners. Here are the various options for you to get in touch with us.

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WBAI related links

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The contents of this Web page are copyright © 2021, R. Paul Martin.