How Long Before TSA Bans Lithium-ion Batteries on All Flights?

The backpack was apparently full of electronics. (Which I take to be phone, tablet, notebook.) Backpack catches fire on Southwest Airlines aircraft at Chicago Midway International Airport.

The fire was put out and contained to the cabin on the aircraft, according to Chicago Fire Department. They also said the incident was due to either a battery or charger.

And of course bomb and arson units were called out because terrorism is the new normal.

Lithium-ion batteries catch fire. It is one of their many qualities.

Status Quo Ante

So that experiment is changing themes was a bust. And I’ve gone back to where I was before. That theme I had tentatively installed suppressed some HTML. (Strike and Insert being the straw that broke the camel’s back.) The theme I currently have active also suppresses some HTML, around the formatting of lists, which is why I embarked on that exercise in the first place.

I suppose this means I need to pay something for running this blog, if I want to be able to control the Cascading Style Sheets or at least pay for a premium theme. That means, I have to consider not paying WordPress, but paying someone else as well.

I hate it when the free ice-cream sucks.

Keeping Trains Running in the Snow

This is the A-2 Interlocking in Chicago. It is just west of The Loop. Seven of eleven Metra lines (Chicago suburban commuter trains) pass through this interlocking, which was state-of-the-art in 1932. If this were to freeze up in the winter, it would bring chaos to commuters. And yes, this does count as a bit of infrastructure that has been ignored so long, it is in desperate need of updating. Current plans are estimated to cost on the order of half a billion dollars, but both Chicago and the State of Illinois are broke.

So here’s a short video of Chicago’s A-2 interlocking in winter. And here is Metra’s description.

Despite popular belief, the tracks themselves are not on fire. Instead, the flames come from a gas-fed system that runs adjacent to the rail, generating heat on the critical areas where the switches are supposed to make contact. Without that contact, the switches default to “fail-safe” mode, which means any trains that need to pass through the interlocking will have to wait until the switches make contact with the rail and complete an electric circuit. Until then, train movement is halted.

“Mobile Cathedrals of Awe-inspiring Scale”

Here is another video on Bucket Wheel Excavators (BWE), though smaller than Bagger 293. This one is a 45 minute episode of Dirty Great Machines. It covers some BWEs in Greece, a company in Germany that builds the gear boxes, for these things. It also covers some smaller machines mining iron ore in Australia. I find this kind of thing fascinating. (I also love the fact that some of the BWEs were built by Krupps. If you know Krupps it is because they make coffee equipment for restaurants.)

The quote that forms the title to this post comes from the video.

Bergensbanen – A Piece of Infrastructure That Hasn’t Been Ignored

UPDATED: A higher-def version of the video.

So the folks in Texas were complaining about the “cold weather.” So here is a video of cold weather from Norway. And an interesting bit of infrastructure.

This is a (somewhat) interesting video from a unique perspective. Train Driver’s View: “Stormy” winter conditions on the mountainpass (Bergen Line, Norway). Bergensbanen is the Norwegian name for the train line between Oslo and Bergen, Norway. Actually it can be a bit hypnotic, but pay attention to the river valleys the train is moving through. The scenery is stunning in parts. The video follows the run from Voss to Ål.

At 2 hours, or so, it is way to long, but some pieces of it are interesting. I will point those out below, and note a few things struck me. (I haven’t seen it all.)

First a couple of the comments on the video:

I can’t imagine British trains operating in these conditions.

And

Trains in Australia don’t go this fast when it’s sunny.

These trains are constructed with snowplows on the front, and at some point (1:06:03 at Finse, which is about 1200 meters above sea level) the train passes a locomotive-mounted snowblower.

One of the things that struck me, is the driver’s unswerving faith that there is no problem with the tracks, even when you can’t see the tracks, but then you couldn’t stop in time, even if you did see something, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

It becomes very clear that the quality of the rail is amazing. The camera probably has image stabilization, but even given that, the train couldn’t run this fast without the road being so smooth. (Out in the rural area, at about 24:30 into the video, she opens up the throttles a bit, and goes screaming through the snow.) It’s been decades since I traveled by train in the US, but even the dedicated commuter lines around Chicago, that didn’t carry freight traffic, were not this smooth. And the lines that did carry freight, were awful.

The last thing that I will mention is the scale of building a railroad through the mountains. The number and quality of the tunnels.

Construction started with the building of roads to get in supplies to the construction sites, completed in 1902. The construction was exceptionally challenging, at high altitudes in a region without roads and with a climate that saw many meters of snow in the winter and temperatures far below freezing. 113 tunnels, totaling 28 kilometres (17 mi) had to be built; the longest being the 5,311 metres (17,425 ft) Gravehalsen Tunnel, alone costing NOK 3 million and the longest tunnel north of the Alps. It took six years to build, and had to be excavated manually through solid gneiss. Laying of track was started in 1906, and in 1907 the two groups, both having started at their own end, met at Ustaoset. A small celebration was made at the spot.

How long has California been working on its high-speed-rail-to-nowhere? The Bergensbanen is 371 kilometres (231 miles).

A long tunnel starts at 37:30. and on all the tunnels, “the light at the end of the tunnel” is an interesting effect. Mostly an artifact of the video camera, but still… (Hat tip to LB1901)

OK. 2 more things:

Newer videos, with a higher-def, more sophisticated camera, have better views of the tunnels. (e.g. Called out on a day off to FLIRT in 4K UltraHD.

I want to say that there are remarkably few grade crossings. I grew up in a part of Illinois where you could be assured of being caught on the wrong side of 125-car train at least once a week. Given the terrain that line passes through, there are so many cut hills, to keep the grade in spec, building bridges doesn’t seem to be an issue. It probably also helps that in most of the areas the train passes through, the railroad was the first bit of infrastructure built.

Changes to Layout in Works

I have finally had enough of the limitations of my current WordPress layout. But since I can’t have access to the Cascading Style Sheets, unless I pay, I am stuck choosing one of their stock themes. So I’m not sure I expect the changes to be an improvement exactly. But I will see where I end up.

If things look a bit strange, from time to time, well, let me know if there is an actual problem.

The real problem is that WP is PUSHING everyone to adopt this damn block format. Which is fine if you are selling shoes, but I’m not.

DNS over HTTPS – or – Why is your ISP spying on you?

UPDATED: to reflect a newer version of the VPN list from Torrent Freak.

Or DoH has been in the news, because it turns out, your Internet Service Provider, or your Cellphone Carrier if you are using them, is spying on your internet access. Everything you do on the internet. Why aren’t you using a VPN? If you EVER do ANYTHING on a public WiFi, you should have a VPN that you trust. (Hint: You CANNOT trust a VPN that is Free. You also can’t trust all of them that you pay for. TorrentFreak is your friend.) A video version of the story is at this link: Security Now Episode 740. And the Show Notes are at this link.

Incidentally, you can bypass all of this nonsense on Android and iOS by downloading and running the 1.1.1.1 app. (Available in both stores.) This is Cloudflare’s solution. And while that means you are trusting Cloudflare, Mozilla has done a credible job of vetting them, and will keep them on their toes. And they are certainly more trustworthy than Comcast, Verizon, et al. Note that 1.1.1.1 is NOT a complete VPN. If you run a VPN (see the Torrent Freak link) this problem of your ISP spying on you is less of an issue.

DoH prevents the ISPs from doing some simple spying, which is why Comcast is so upset, they have to spread Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt all over the place. Six of the seven major web browsers are implementing DoH, it just isn’t on by default yet. Well as usual, it isn’t clear what Apple is doing, since they almost never answer questions.

Brave

Tom Lowenthal, Product Manager at Brave for Privacy & Security told ZDNet: “We absolutely want to implement it. Implementing DoH is far more than just the technical work, though. We need to decide on sensible and protective defaults for the vast majority of people who don’t think about their DNS configuration while making sure that we don’t break things for the people and organizations who have carefully tuned their setup.” Because Brave is built on top of the Chromium open-source browser codebase, DoH support is available. However, the Brave team has yet tweaked the feature so that it works exactly the way they wish. So DoH is already there in the codebase the way the Google Chrome team designed it to work, as we’ve previously described. DoH in Brave can be enabled at: brave://flags/#dns-over-https

Chrome

As we know, Google Chrome is the second browser after Firefox to add DoH support. DoH isn’t yet enabled by default for everyone since Google is currently running a limited experiment with a small number of users to see how DoH fares in a real-world test. As we’ve noted, they take an adaptive approach, first honoring the user’s existing DNS provider to see whether it supports DoH and using it it possible. If not it follows various heuristic paths. DoH in Chrome can be enabled at: chrome://flags/#dns-over-https

Edge

A Microsoft spokesperson told ZDNet that they were supportive of DoH, but they couldn’t share their exact plans. However, like Brave, the soon-to-be-released Chromium-based version of Edge already supports DoH. DoH in Edge can be enabled at: edge://flags/#dns-over-https Additional thoughts, tips and tricks from an Edge developer are here: https://textslashplain.com/2019/11/06/thoughts-on-dns-over-https/

Firefox

As we know, Firefox was the first out of the gate with DoH and took some undeserved, in my opinion, arrows in its back for simply standardizing upon Cloudflare as their DoH provider. No one took the time to understand how rigorously Mozilla vetted Cloudflare. And many people who don’t listen to this podcast might mistakenly believe that Cloudflare is just another CDN. But anyone who can erect a large wall of Lava Lamps and use their video images to generate true random numbers definitely stands out as an innovator. Which is what we know them to be. DoH can be enabled in Firefox through its Settings UI.

Opera

Opera has already rolled out DoH support. The feature is disabled by default for all users but it can be enabled at any time in the stable release, and it works without users going through any additional steps. The flip side of the “no additional steps” is that Opera has followed Firefox’s lead and simply routes all DoH traffic to Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 DoH resolver. Users of Opera’s popular VPN should not, however, that the two are incompatible and the VPN must be disabled for DoH to work. On the other hand, if you’re using a VPN you already have a privacy-encrypting tunnel which zips right past your ISP or service provider, so DoH is not needed in VPN mode. DoH can be enabled in Opera at: opera://flags/opera-doh

Safari

ZDNet was unable to obtain any reply from Apple about Safari but ZDNet notes that since Apple has recently been investing in user privacy-focused features, the chances are good that DoH will eventually appear in Safari.

Vivaldi

Being yet another Chromium-based browser, Vilvadi also works like Chrome. DoH can be enabled in Vivaldi at: vivaldi://flags/#dns-over-https

It Isn’t Only The USA That Has Been Ignoring Infrastructure

The UK just recently had an emergency related to the spillway of a dam. BBC – Whaley Bridge: How well was the dam maintained?

On 1 August 2019, water poured over the auxiliary spillway of the Toddbrook Reservoir, in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, UK. This was in the middle of a torrential downpour. (They got ½ month’s rainfall in 1 day.) The concrete spillway failed in fairly short order, and the earth, of a mostly earthen dam, began to erode. Evacuations were ordered. (This has reminded several people of the Oroville Dam near-disaster of 2017.)

There is a great picture of the spillway at the BBC article above that shows plants growing through the concrete, that would seem to indicate that the spillway was not maintained the way it should have been. Despite that, its annual inspections have rated the dam as “fine.” But then the dam at Oroville was inspected, and it was rated as “fine” or something to that effect, right before it failed spectacularly. (At least no one died in either event.)

The Canal and River Trust said the annual inspection of Toddbrook Reservoir in November was “absolutely fine”.

This coincided with an independent inspection taking place every 10 years, and the trust said this was fine too.

Both Oroville and Toddbrook dams were inspected. In both cases they were deemed in fine shape. Right before their spillways failed, nearly undermining the integrity of the dams. Seems like the inspections are not worth that much.

Background on the Toddbrook reservoir can be found at the Wiki.

In many ways the UK is worse off when it comes to aging infrastructure than the US. While they didn’t go in for grand designs like the Oroville dam, they have quite a few smaller ones. And they are old.

[Dr Panagiotis Michalis, who has been researching dams since 2010,] believes dams are a “ticking bomb” because of their ageing infrastructure and thinks incidents like the one at Whaley Bridge will become more common.

“In the UK the majority of the dams are more than 100 years old. That means they’ve exceeded their design lifespan,” he said.

You can’t ignore a major engineering work like a dam, that has exceeded its designed life, without catastrophic consequences. And yet it seems that is exactly what we are doing. Whaley Bridge dam collapse is a wake-up call: Concrete infrastructure demands maintenance.

At almost 50 years old, the thin grey line of concrete protecting the town of Whaley Bridge from the reservoir just a mile away has reached the end of its life. To fail to invest in and maintain these structures is reckless.

In the case of Toddbrook Reservoir, images of the damaged spillway may point to lack of enough maintenance. Drone footage shot by Miles Haslam in 2016 shows plants and grass growing on the surface of the spillway. This could mean the concrete surface may have already been cracked, or even that the foundation of the concrete spillway had been undermined, allowing plant life to grow. All this should be subject to a future investigation.

There is drone footage of the damn, at that 2nd link above, from 2016 that clearly shows the vegetation growing through the concrete.

And, drawing on all he learned from covering the Oroville near-disaster, Juan Browne, of Blancliro, also has coverage of the Whaley Bridge dam.

In both the cases of Toddbrook/Whaley Bridge and Oroville we avoided loss-of-life, but these are not the only two dams with problems. Trusting to luck, when people could die is certainly reckless.

“Ground Breaking Engineering” – Literally

London recently built some new underground tunnels. (Well, recent in terms of the history of London.) They did this by drilling under the city – avoiding all the existing tunnels, water mains, building foundations, etc. – using 8 tunnel boring machines (TBM) from the German firm Herrenknecht AG. (Pronouced “Heron-connect”.)

These machines cut through the rock and clay, removed the material, and build a reinforced-concrete tunnel shell as they go.

The most interesting video on the subject is from Dirty Great Machines (that video is after the break), but since it is 45 minutes or so, I know that most people won’t watch it.

If you are only tied into the hype spread by American media, you might think that Elon Musk developed TBMs, but Herrenknecht has machines drilling tunnels all over the world. Train tunnels, sewer tunnels, all kinds of tunnels. It’s just the infrastructure that makes modern life possible.

Here is a 2 minute video that is sadly very dry, but does manage to be fairly instructive in how these things work.

After the break you will find an episode of the short-lived TV show, Dirty Great Machines, on how TBMs are designed and built, tunnel boring operations in London, and Mexico City. There is also a bit of information on the Roadheader, a smaller machine used in tunneling that can make sharper turns.

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F*c*book Is Acting Like a Monopoly?

Color me shocked! (OK, not too shocked.) Massive Facebook document leak gives ammunition to investigators.

Facebook is facing a new round of intense scrutiny worldwide after 7,000 pages of confidential files stemming from a lawsuit were made public yesterday. Those documents are not the ones California’s attorney general needs, though, so separately, the company is also facing a court challenge demanding it produce more documentation for an investigation amid allegations of stonewalling.

I have a F*c*book profile. It is disabled. I log in once a year or so and change the password, and disable it again. Because I don’t care to be someone’s product.