Archive for February, 2010

We only ask because we want you to be safe, ladies.

Saturday, February 27th, 2010


Nose. Face.

Saturday, February 27th, 2010


A decision fraught with dangers

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

The Department of Defence has decided to change policy in order to allow women to serve on submarine crews. Unless stopped by legislation, it goes into effect in 30 days.

This is not, to my mind, a good idea. I served on a missile sub back in the 1970s, and I doubt that too many things have changed all that much. Most commentary on the issue has dealt with the close quarters and lack of privacy. I agree with those concerns – as a junior officer, I shared a stateroom with two other JOs. Most of the crew had only a curtain on their bunk to provide privacy. Those aren’t the only concerns, though, and I’d like to address some others.

Let’s start with health issues. The big one is, of course, pregnancy. Pregnant women may not serve in shipboard billets; they have to be assigned to shore duty. This causes resentment in men, because they end up serving longer tours at sea because shore billets are filled with pregnant women. It causes problems on shore, because up to 34% of the billets are filled with pregnant women who are unable to handle necessary duties.

Ship movements can be affected – women who become pregnant prior to a deployment must be replaced, and submarines aren’t assigned superfluous crew who can take over as last-minute replacements. When I injured my knee while we were tied up to the tender prior to a patrol, I was told by the doctor that if I weren’t on a submarine crew, he’d have put me into the hospital. He didn’t, because there was nobody to take my place on the patrol. The latest information I was able to find showed that in 2005, 14% of all women in the Navy were single mothers, and almost two-thirds of the pregnancies were unplanned. It seems obvious that single mothers aren’t easy to assign to sea duty, and single women aren’t easy to keep on sea duty.

Operational security can also be affected. Particularly with missile subs, the idea is to head out alone and hide as much as possible. Missiles are less effective as a deterrent if the sub that carries them can be found and sunk before it can launch them. Normally, it takes a severe medical emergency to get someone medevac’d from a missile sub. Would a woman whose pregnancy was discovered during a deployment be eligible for a medical evacuation?

This brings up legal issues related to health. The atmosphere on a submarine does not match the normal atmosphere. Carbon dioxide has a significant effect on blood chemistry; when I was on the sub, the CO2 scrubbers couldn’t keep the CO2 level anywhere near as low as it is in the general atmosphere. The excess CO2 went into solution in the bloodstream and formed carbolic acid, dropping blood pH like a rock. The Navy was just starting investigations of long-term health effects when I was serving, and I don’t know what, if anything, has been determined about them. I would not take odds against someone bringing suit against the Navy and citing these issues if her child was born with problems. Or claiming that exposure to radiation was the problem – everyone on a nuclear submarine is considered a radiation worker.

Women on submarines is an issue that’s come up before – this comment on a Metafilter thread brings up several issues. There are others that come to mind – in the Naval Aviation community, it’s generally considered that you can’t make flag rank without having served in a command billet at sea. One of the original reasons for women being assigned to sea duty was the difficulty in advancement to high rank without having served at sea. I’m unaware of any similar requirement to serve on a submarine, though, unless it’s to command a submarine group, so that shouldn’t be an issue here.

Even without considering submarine duty, women in the Navy recognize that there are problems with women in the Navy. Not with all women, but there are both good and bad performers of both sexes, and the accommodations that are made for women provide opportunities that some women will take advantage of to the detriment of others.

I think allowing women to serve on submarines is a bad idea, for several reasons. But what do I know? I’m a guy who felt that it was a mistake to let women into the Naval Academy. Just because at that time women weren’t allowed on sea duty at all (except on hospital ships) was surely no reason to prevent them from taking one of the limited slots available, was it?

Is ‘oblivious’ on the checklist?

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Facial hair, but not a full beard? Check.

Geeky personality? Check.

Hairy chest? Check.

Loves to read? Check.

Cries at soppy film endings? It’s my secret shame.

Gray hair? Check.

Glasses? For reading, anyway.

Passionate supporter of a sports team? Nope, that’s gotta be why I didn’t notice women throwing themselves at me when Marion and I were in England, nor do I see it now.

Via Ghost of a Flea.

Want to do some reading?

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned Steve Green’s quest for science fiction recommendations. One of the comments had a link to the CDs that Baen Books has been including in some of the books they publish. I’ve bought two or three of the books that contain these, but it’s nice to see so many of them in one place.

The files are out there

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

British Government UFO files released.

Via SynthStuff.

You think you’ve got snow?

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

You don’t have snow.

We’ve been having snow here in the Denver area for the last couple days, but nothing like that shown in those photos. I’ve seen snow that matches the photos of the “roads with walls” before – I’ve driven on roads like that in rural Idaho in the late 1970s, and parts of Rabbit Ears Pass look like that almost every time I drive that way.

Quote of the Day

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Steve Green has a post up requesting advice on science fiction to read. He’s received a number of good suggestions, many of which I’ve read. I was particularly taken by a recommendation for H. Beam Piper, who is one of my favorite authors. That comment included a link to his author section on Project Gutenberg, and, in particular, Rebel Raider, from which comes the following. I thought the quote was particularly timely. I could have limited it to just the last sentence, but I felt the context was worth it.

In this last, his best selling-point was a recent act of the Confederate States Congress called the Scott Partisan Ranger Law. This piece of legislation was, in effect, an extension of the principles of prize law and privateering to land warfare. It authorized the formation of independent cavalry companies, to be considered part of the armed forces of the Confederacy, their members to serve without pay and mount themselves, in return for which they were to be entitled to keep any spoil of war captured from the enemy. The terms “enemy” and “spoil of war” were defined so liberally as to cover almost anything not the property of the government or citizens of the Confederacy. There were provisions, also, entitling partisan companies to draw on the Confederate government for arms and ammunition and permitting them to turn in and receive payment for any spoil which they did not wish to keep for themselves.

The law had met with considerable opposition from the Confederate military authorities, who claimed that it would attract men and horses away from the regular service and into ineffective freebooting. There is no doubt that a number of independent companies organized under the Scott Law accomplished nothing of military value. Some degenerated into mere bandit gangs, full of deserters from both sides, and terrible only to the unfortunate Confederate citizens living within their range of operations. On the other hand, as Mosby was to demonstrate, a properly employed partisan company could be of considerable use.

It was the provision about booty, however, which appealed to Mosby. As he intended operating in the Union rear, where the richest plunder could be found, he hoped that the prospect would attract numerous recruits. The countryside contained many men capable of bearing arms who had remained at home to look after their farms but who would be more than willing to ride with him now and then in hope of securing a new horse for farm work, or some needed harness, or food and blankets for their families. The regular Mosby Men called them the “Conglomerates,” and Mosby himself once said that they resembled the Democrat party, being “held together only by the cohesive power of public plunder.”

Note: I updated the post to make it clearer that Rebel Raider is history, not fiction. Piper was a history buff – in the introduction to one of his books (a collection of short stories, I believe, although it’s not handy for me to check), Jerry Pournelle states that Piper knew both the grand sweep of history, as well as many of the obscure stories.

This looks like fun

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

The Museum of Unworkable Devices.

What you see may not be what you get

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

There’s an interesting post here about heisenbugs and compiler optimizers. I’ve found two compiler bugs in my time. One was related to the optimizer, although it wasn’t due to the compiler generating incorrect code. Well, not quite, anyway.

In one case, a commercial embedded cross-compiler, the optimized code the compiler was generating was logically correct code. The problem was that it was incorrect in context. I was accessing machine registers that had to be accessed with 16-bit operations – if you tried to access half of the register with a byte operation, the processor would overwrite the other half of the register with random data. Naturally, the compiler was optimizing 16-bit accesses that only dealt with one byte of the register to 8-bit operations, because that was the better thing to do when dealing with normal memory. The compiler could produce code for several related variants of the processor in question, and I’m not sure that the register restrictions in question applied to other processors at the time.

I reported what was happening to the vendor, and they changed it in the next release of the compiler, but I couldn’t wait for the fix, and had to use assembly language to produce my access routines.

The other instance involved an IDE that used GCC as a cross-compiler. Our code wasn’t working, and initial investigation showed results that made no sense – one passed parameter was getting the value meant for the other, and another was getting a garbage value. Closer examination of the generated code showed that the stack frame for the function call in question was being built incorrectly, which beggared belief. Why was it only happening on this one call, rather than on all of them? If it were a general bug, there would be virtually no programs would be compiled correctly – what was it about this one call? Further investigation showed that the vendor had grabbed a version of GCC that had been pulled from distribution after about a day because of a significant bug involving calling across languages – calling C routines from C worked, as did calling C++ routines from C++, but calling one from the other didn’t … the specific bug that we were seeing, although we didn’t realize that it was due to a cross-language call until we saw the release notes on the GNU website. We were lucky that the vendor provided the capability to tell the IDE how to access other tools, or we’d have been dead in the water on our project.

It’s not often that you run into compiler bugs, unless you’re the one maintaining the compiler (in which case you probably see them more often than you’d care to). Most times, the problem is in your code, not the compiler. However, you can’t rule it out, particularly if you’re doing things that stress the compiler’s capabilities, or use features that most people don’t require. Some people make a point of looking for compiler bugs, which is nice of them. It’s not what I’d care to do on a daily basis, although I have designed and written test code to verify that language features work as intended.