Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cell Phones and Emergencies Don't Mix

As the latest in this year's hurricane parade splashes its way through Florida, one ugly reality about our regional and national emergency infrastructure has emerged.

Our wonderful, how-did-we-live-without them, never-out-of-touch cell phone networks are all but useless in wide-scale emergencies. And our increasing dependence on these wireless marvels are exposing a huge gap in one of the most fundamental elements of disaster recovery: communication.

Emergent scenarios present the existing cell network with the two realities it was least designed to handle: high call volume and the need for proximal distance access. The former is simple; cell subscribers outpaced the growth of the cell network, and its attendant capacity. When users in concentrated locations all start using their phones simultaneously, the bandwidth-limited network seizes up, and calls don't go through. The latter is more subtle, but only now being appreciated by more localities - cell networks don't necessarily route 911 calls to the presumptive local authorities, assuming 911 on a given cell phone goes anywhere at all.

That belies the fundamental problem with the cell network: it was never designed to operate under the stress of emergent situations. Cities and cell providers are only now beginning to work out after-the-fact the issues that will allow them to integrate traditional land-line 911 emergency access in their wireless networks. And while even land-lines have their capacity limitations, it doesn't take but a fraction of the corresponding volume to ball-up most cell networks. Worse still is that cell phone problems aren't always as simple as finding a snapped cable; the complex routing mechanisms that get a call from cell phone "A" to cell phone "B" can make failure diagnosis one part science, and one part black magic.

The weaknesses present mutually paradoxical risks. Even if cities were able to flip the technical switches necessary to turn on cell-based 911 access tomorrow, capacity problems would inevitably result in the saturation of a cell network with emergency calls, with reams of frustrated cell users would find their calls going nowhere. Conversely, an infinitely capable network is of limited usefulness in an emergency if no 911 service is available.

These two problems say nothing of the universal issues of dead spots, coverage holes, and other glitches that seem to plague the general cell phone community. For most of us, such failures are minor annoyances we learn to live with. In an emergency, however, such problems may prove to be far more than annoying. We've come to allow ourselves to think of the cell phone as a substantial replacement for the traditional land-line, but overlook the fundamental differences in the technologies that make these capacity and connection problems so real. Land-lines don't have dead spots, don't have coverage holes, and do have nearly a century of real-world experience as their legacy. With cell phones, we're very much learning as we go.

What's the solution? There really isn't one. Cell technology certainly isn't going away; we've engaged in a long-term relationship with our cell phones, marrying our mobility with our inherent desire to be connected 24x7 to...anything. Cell towers are popping up faster than ever, in more locations, and in more forms (checked out that apartment complex's flag pole lately?) to accomodate increasing cell density. Some users are actually abandoning land-lane phones entirely. That means the problem will only get worse.

Will the practical necessity of emergency communications catch up with the torrid pace of cell deployment? Only time will tell. The good folks in Florida emerging from Wilma's aftermath might like to tell us their experience, but it seems their cell phones are still down....

Thursday, October 13, 2005

For a change of pace...file copy problems in XP?

The first week of this blog was mostly rants about the MSM not covering the University of Oklahoma bombing. Now, we're going to take a drastic turn toward the techie side.

Looks like there's a particularly annoying bug hiding somewhere in the bowels of Microsoft Windows XP operating system, particularly manifesting itself when two XP boxes (or, apparently XP- to Server 2003, or even XP-to-Win2K) are attempting to copy large (typically in excess of 700K) files over a network. Sometimes, it can involve copying to USB flash drives, or drives in external enclosures. Whatever the source, the problem is apparently unique to XP, and is causing more than a few people frustrations.

Apparently, after a time, the copy hangs, and eventually the source system will report "Cannot copy : The path is too deep." This has led some to check the actual lengths of file names and paths, but this is a red herring; ultimately, there's a lower-level problem occuring during the copy, and the problem gets bubbled up the system with the "path too long" error, but that's rarely if ever the answer.

Unable to offer any conclusive answers here, I thought I'd post a few possible solutions others have tried with varying degrees of success. Warning, there is no silver bullet - at least so far.

This is a very cursory listing of possible solutions. A great source of more detailed info is available here

1. Be sure all NIC's and switches are set to *either* 100Mb/Full duplex, or 10MB/Full Duplex, but NOT AutoNegotiate. Autonegotiate is the bane of many an otherwise unexplained network problem.

2. Check to ensure any 80-pin cables are absolutely sound; replace if possible.

3. DON'T start renaming files or shortening diretories; the "Path is too deep" is almost never tied to this actual problem.

4. Check/replace network cables.

5. Unregister the AVI preview DLL (shmedia.dll).

6. In the registry, set the TcpAckFrequency to 1, per MSKB article 328890

For the best discussion on this error, check the link listed above. Anyone with other possible solutions are invited to reply here and share the wealth!


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

It was all a, back to the news?

So it was all a hoax.. There was no plot to bomb the NYC subway, no terrorist plan, nothing, just another "informant" giving us garbage, watching officials react and the press trip over itself to cover nothing, whle he laughs at our own ineptitude.

Perhaps now the media will return from covering the non-existent and start covering and investigating what's real...


Monday, October 10, 2005

Is the media finally interested?

Ten days ago, Joel Henry Hinrichs killed himself as he detonated a bomb some 100 yards west of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, a venue packed with 84,000 football fans watching the Sooners take on Kansas State. After almost no national media coverage of the event, two other incidents, one today, involving explosive devices at UCLA and Georgia Tech may be prompting renewed media interest in the Oklahoma University bombing.

Considering that Hinrichs is known to have attempted the purchase of ammonium nitrate fertilizer the same week he concocted his homemade bomb, it strikes me that the national media's interest is long overdue.

This doesn't say that the media must find some smoking gun. It does say they have an absolute duty to investigate, and that's a duty they've sorely failed. Fortunately, the situation may finally be getting attention at CBS.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Terrorism: Media vs Reality

Time more or less suspends itself within the confines of a football stadium, passing only as ticks on scoreboard clock or first downs on the field. That's probably why I can only tell you it was a few minutes before halftime of the game between Oklahoma University and Kansas State University when I heard it, a thunderous "BOOOOOOM" that rumbled through the west side of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, and caused about 10,000 people in the west-side upper deck where my son and I sat to rise in unison for something other than a play on the field.

Thunder from an unexpected storm, I thought? No, the evening was warm and clear, and what bits of rain dotted the state were to the east, and had moved on long ago. An inadvertent blast from the guns of the RufNeks, an intense OU spirit squad that blasts their guns as part of its pregame ritual? Nope...this "boom" was behind us, west of the stadium, possibly from the parking garage. Nope, this was a "boom" that had bad written all over it, but no one knew exactly what. Only the scattering of Oklahoma Highway Patrolman out of the stadium in that same general direction alluded to anything out of the ordinary.

The "boom" turned out to be the explosion of a bomb either tied to or being prepared by a student named Joel Henry Hinrichs, a figure of fact, fiction, and myriad opinion as someone who either chose to end his life conspicuously, only a few hundred feet away from a stadium of 85,000 people, by blowing himself up; or, as a mistake-prone cohort of individuals with a broader objective of causing harm to those same 85,000 as part of a failed terrorist act. Only the FBI knows for sure, and it's a virtual certainty they're not sharing all they know with the rest of us, at least not publicly.

I thought surely this would be the beginning of an entirely new run of negative, frightening national publicity for Oklahoma, forever immortalized as home to the "Oklahoma City Bombing," unwitting conduits for one or more terrorists involved in 9/11, now the possible focus of yet another but larger-scale terrorist attempt right at the heart of one of Oklahoma's most loved pastimes - football.

One week later, however, nothing. Absent a few passing blurbs on FOX, some reports on what some might term "fringe" websites, and a passing reference on even The Drudge Report, the national media has taken a pass on this one. From one perspective, that's not so bad; Oklahoma doesn't need the publicity, at least not that kind. From another, I can't help but wonder, "Huh??"

The sense of wonder doesn't get any more curious than when the news of last night is peppered with reports about a potential bomb plot along the New York City subway system. One terrorist in one location reports that someone who might be plotting something just might be in the US, and the media's typewriters and video cameras can't start rolling fast enough to record and take pictures of -- absolute normalcy. Headlines crossfire about who and what might be involved; about who disclosed what and to whom; and that a soda can prompted an evacuation of the Penn Central station.

In the midst of it, I can't help but be struck by the irony; the national media in an all-too-predictable frenzy over the potential of a terrorist event in New York, but almost completely absent from the story of the actual detonation of an actual bomb within striking distance of 85,000 people in Oklahoma! And when you add to that the fact that local media outlets discovered that Hinrichs attempted to purchase of multiple bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer - the same base component used in the Murrah building bombing ten years ago - and that Hinrichs apartment was apparently chock-full of explosive components, and that Hinrichs apparently attempted to enter Memorial Stadium twice (but was refused when he would not allow his backpack to be searched) and it would seem you have all the ingredients for a story the national media would trip over each other to cover.

Nope. They're sitting this one out.

I, for one, loathe conspiracy theories. I think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I think we really did land on the moon. But I can't help but wonder why a story so rich in potential for the investigative journalism that is presumably held so dear by our fourth estate is given a free pass. If Hinrichs had, somehow, made it into Memorial Stadium before blowing himself up, he would have found himself in the midst of a halftime-throng of hungry, thirsty fans he could have taken out with him; men, women, and children of all walks of life - like me and my son -doing nothing more than waiting for a Coke or a corn dog. I guess that would have attracted media attention.

Our national media - all of them - have dropped the ball by ignoring this story. The sad truth is they didn't really ignore it; they just chose not to cover it.

And that is to their shame.


Friday, October 07, 2005

The Inaugural Post


After having given it much contemplation (about five minutes), and taking into consideration the cost (none, so far), I opted to join this strange world of online narrative and create a blog. This raises the obvious question, "Who the heck are you?"

I go by the handle of SoonerDave, and I frankly don't yet know the ultimate direction this little blog will take. It may be a place for me just to vent, to post my unpublished writings, or to just blather. Who knows. I'm a software developer by trade, a Christian by faith, a husband by vow, and a parent by...well, you fill in that. :) I'm an American conservative, unapologetically so, a college football fan, a would-be writer, and woodworker. So posts to this blog could take any one of those or myriad other directions.

If somehow you've found your way here, welcome. Once we've started the ball rolling with some more specific topics or selected blatherings, your responses will be welcome and encouraged.

Thanks for stopping by.