April 19, 1995: Oklahoma City Bombing

Eastern side and rear of St. Joseph's Cathedral, located at 225 Fourth Street, NW. in downtown Oklahoma City Doesn’t seem like it was really 24 years ago. Oklahoma City bombing.

Image by Nyttend, via the Wiki. Click the image for a better view and more info.

The Oklahoma City bombing occurred when a truck packed with explosives was detonated on April 19, 1995, outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, leaving 168 people dead and hundreds more injured. The blast was set off by anti-government militant Timothy McVeigh, who in 2001 was executed for his crimes. His co-conspirator Terry Nichols was sentenced to life in prison. Until September 11, 2001, the Oklahoma City bombing was the worst terrorist attack to take place on U.S. soil.

It seems like most people are for forgetting about OKC.

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The IBM 360 – And How It Changed Computing

DM IBM S360I hate it when I miss important anniversaries. The 360 was announced on April 7, 1964. Building the System/360 Mainframe Nearly Destroyed IBM.

(The image is an IBM System/360 Model 20 CPU with front panels removed, with IBM 2560 MFCM (Multi-Function Card Machine) Ben Franske [CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. Click for a larger view.)

Before the 360, computers were one-off. If you wanted to upgrade to a larger system, every piece of software had to be rewritten. Upgrading to a newer processor required buying new disk and tape drives, as well as printers. To put it bluntly…

By the end of the 1950s, computer users faced a seemingly intractable problem. Had it not been solved, it would have prevented computers from becoming widespread, and any thoughts of living in an Information Age would have been fiction.

So they pretty much bet the company, and embarked on a path that leads to where we are today, where you can add new disk-drives to old computers, where you can upgrade your graphics processor, or add more ports or a new printer by mostly just plugging it in, or you can buy a new computer and use your old mouse, keyboard, monitor and printer.

Their report called for five compatible computers, labeled processors (defined as the computer, its memory, and channels to connect to peripheral equipment). The software and peripherals for one processor were to work with all other processors. The plan called for using standard hardware and software interfaces between computers and peripherals, such as between disk drives and tape drives connecting to computers, so that the peripherals did not have to be swapped out when a new processor was installed. The recommendations became the basis for the System/360.

Principles of Operations, or Principles of Ops, – which grew out of that original report, and spelled out everything – was a standard volume on every system-programmer’s, DBA’s, and other’s desks. The last time I can clearly remember having a copy on my desk was in 1997. (That was when I was pushed into management…tricked, might be a better description of what happened…)

In short, the IBM 360 was the first computer you could upgrade. And it was just what people needed.

In the first month following the S/360 announcement, customers worldwide ordered over 100,000 systems. To put that number in perspective, in that same year in the United Kingdom, all of Western Europe, the United States, and Japan, there were slightly more than 20,000 computers of any kind installed.

Say it again. The order backlog was nearly 500 percent of the then worldwide-installed-base.

Anyway, anyone interested in tech might want to look at that bit of history. (Hat tip to the Chicago Boyz.)

The Night Witches – The WWII, All-female Bomber Regiment

More WWII History? Sure. Night Witches: The Female Fighter Pilots of World War II. The Germans came to call them Nachthexen – Night Witches. Why? Keep reading.

Officially, they were the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, though that designation changed over time as they accumulated honors. It was the only regiment that remained all female during the war. (Or at anytime since.) Pilots, navigators, mechanics, the CO… They were ALL women.

The Atlantic calls them fighter pilots, but it is hard to characterize the planes they flew as “fighter planes” by WWII standards. They flew wood and canvas biplanes originally designed for training, and then pressed into service for crop dusting. Low and slow doesn’t begin to cover it. The image at the right is of a Polikarpov Po-2, the plane used by the regiment. (Click to enlarge.)

Its members, who ranged in age from 17 to 26, flew primarily at night, making do with planes that were—per their plywood-and-canvas construction—generally reserved for training and crop-dusting. They often operated in stealth mode, idling their engines as they neared their targets and then gliding their way to their bomb release points. As a result, their planes made little more than soft “whooshing” noises as they flew by.

Those noises reminded the Germans, apparently, of the sound of a witch’s broomstick. So the Nazis began calling the female fighter pilots Nachthexen: “night witches.” They were loathed. And they were feared. Any German pilot who downed a “witch” was automatically awarded an Iron Cross.

The old biplanes had a maximum speed that was slower than the stall speed of most of the German planes of the day. This made them fairly difficult to shoot down in a dog fight. Difficult, but not impossible.

And tracer fire was especially a problem. Wood and painted canvas don’t react well to incendiary fire. They were flying very slow by the standards of the day, and even if their planes didn’t make a lot of noise, the Germans did learn to identify the noise they did make.

As you can imagine, they didn’t get a lot of respect at the beginning of their service. Aside from the substandard planes, they had hand-me-down uniforms, and senior officers who were upset at being sent a bunch of “girlies.” That changed as they proved that women really can fly planes. They were one of the first aviation regiments to be elevated to “guard status.”

They dropped 3,000 tons of bombs on the Germans over the course of the war. They also dropped food and ammunition to Soviet troops.

While I was trying to find a decent video on this subject, I ran across this one from NBC. They managed to get part of an interview with one of the last survivors of the regiment, from the Russian Archives. (I can’t embed it here, so just a link.) It isn’t as entertaining as the one below, but it is good, and it isn’t an hour long. (It’s a bit over 5 minutes.) And it is in English.

This video from “We are the Mighty” is pretty good – it has a lot of info – even if it is a bit over the top. (They get points for a Monty Python reference.)

There is an all-female Black Sabbath tribute band named Nightwitches, (I can’t recommend them) and there is also a Sabaton song (Heavy Metal) that is a tribute to the Soviet regiment. I also can’t recommend it. YMMV

If you have the stamina for English subtitles on a Russian film, there is a 2008 film by Gunilla Bresky (available on YouTube in several parts) that includes quite few interviews with the Natten Haxor (Night Witches in Russian) who were still alive at the time. As well as letters they sent, and film from the time. While it won’t give Ken Burns a run for his money, it isn’t bad, even if it is in fairly low resolution. There is supposed to be a feature film from the 1980s, but I haven’t had time to look that up just yet. There is also a Russian series The Night Swallows, but with the English subtitles, and the soap-opera nature of the show, I haven’t been able to watch much of it.

April 12, 1861 – The Attack on Fort Sumter

This is perhaps the quintessential example of failing to consider the ramifications of your actions. The Civil War begins.

The bloodiest four years in American history begin when Confederate shore batteries under General P.G.T. Beauregard open fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Bay. During the next 34 hours, 50 Confederate guns and mortars launched more than 4,000 rounds at the poorly supplied fort. On April 13, U.S. Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. Two days later, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to quell the Southern “insurrection.”

Although things went the South’s way for quite some time, in a few years, when US “Unconditional Surrender” Grant was running the show, and William Tecumseh Sherman was marching across Georgia, things would look differently.

If you have never seen Ken Burns’ The Civil War it is worth a look, even if you don’t usually like history. This series (9 episodes) does a good job of bringing the past alive. It is streaming somewhere like Hulu or Amazon, though I can’t remember where. Or maybe your local library has a copy.

10 April 1815 – Mount Tambora

1816 was The Year Without Summer because of a volcano on Sumbawa Island that erupted in 1815. What’s the Largest Recorded Volcanic Eruption?

Tambora’s volcanic activity reached a peak in April 1815, when it erupted with an explosion so loud that it was heard on Sumatra Island, more than 1,200 miles away.

Estimates of the death toll vary. This article lists 70,000. I’ve seen estimates as high as 300,000 due to famine in 1816. There were snow storms in June in New York and southern Canada that left a foot of snow. Crops failed worldwide due to all the ash that was ejected into the high atmosphere.

The Mount Tambora eruption ejected between 50 and 150 cubic kilometers of magma. (That is about 24 cubic miles.) It pumped 60 megatons of sulfur into the atmosphere.

There have been larger volcanoes, such as the last eruption of the Yellowstone super-caldera, 650,000 years ago, but it wasn’t part of recorded history.

WaPo Apparently Doesn’t Remember Who Was President in 2011

While they mention the NATO-assisted overthrow of Qaddafi, there is no mention of whose idea it was. In Libya, fears of full-blown civil war as fighting nears capital Tripoli.

A battle for control of Tripoli would mark the most significant escalation of violence in oil- and gas-rich Libya since the toppling of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi in 2011 following a populist rebellion backed by NATO bombing

But Foreign Affairs (at least in 2015) wasn’t so forgetful.

On March 17, 2011, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973, spearheaded by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, authorizing military intervention in Libya. The goal, Obama explained, was to save the lives of peaceful, pro-democracy protesters who found themselves the target of a crackdown by Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.

It didn’t work out that way.

In retrospect, Obama’s intervention in Libya was an abject failure, judged even by its own standards. Libya has not only failed to evolve into a democracy; it has devolved into a failed state. Violent deaths and other human rights abuses have increased severalfold. Rather than helping the United States combat terrorism, as Qaddafi did during his last decade in power, Libya now serves as a safe haven for militias affiliated with both al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Hat tip to Pirate’s Cove, who also links to the WaPo opinion pages where they seem to be lobbying for more intervention on the part of the US.

Let’s go to the NY Times opinion pages, where they are suddenly cool with American intervention. If they can bash Trump at the same time

April 4, 1949: North Atlantic Treaty Signed in Washington

This was the formation of NATO.

The original membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) consisted of Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United States. NATO formed the backbone of the West’s military bulwark against the USSR and its allies for the next 40 years, with its membership growing larger over the course of the Cold War era. Greece and Turkey were admitted in 1952, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in 1955 and Spain in 1982. Unhappy with its role in the organization, France opted to withdraw from military participation in NATO in 1966 and did not return until 1995.

The treaty was in response to several things. A coup in February of 1948 in Czechoslovakia sponsored by the Soviet Union. The USSR cutting off access to Berlin in June of 1948 – sparking the Berlin Airlift.