You’ll Really Want An “Undo” Button When You Accidentally Send A Ballistic Missile Warning

Hawaiians started their weekend with quite a fright, waking up Saturday morning to a ballistic missile alert that turned out to be a false alarm. In between the public anger, profuse apologies from officials, and geopolitical commentary, it might be hard to find some information for the more technical-minded. For this audience, The Atlantic has compiled a brief history of infrastructure behind emergency alerts.

As a system intended to announce life-critical information when seconds count, all information on the system is prepared ahead of time for immediate delivery. As a large hodgepodge linking together multiple government IT systems, there’s no surprise it is unwieldy to use. These two aspects collided Saturday morning: there was no prepared “Sorry, false alarm” retraction message so one had to be built from scratch using specialized equipment, uploaded across systems, and broadcast 38 minutes after the initial false alarm. In the context of government bureaucracy, that was really fast and must have required hacking through red tape behind the scenes.

However, a single person’s mistake causing such chaos and requiring that much time to correct is unacceptable. This episode has already prompted a lot of questions whose answers will hopefully improve the alert system for everyone’s benefit. At the very least, a retraction is now part of the list of prepared messages. But we’ve also attracted attention of malicious hackers to this system with obvious problems in design, in implementation, and also has access to emergency broadcast channels. The system needs to be fixed before any more chaotic false alarms – either accidental or malicious – erode its credibility.

We’ve covered both the cold-war era CONELRAD and the more recent Emergency Broadcast System. We’ve also seen Dallas’ tornado siren warning system hacked. They weren’t the first, they won’t be the last.

(Image: Test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM via US Air Force.)

Ephemeral Photographs Staged With Artful Inventions

[Gordon Kirkwood’s] focus as a photographer is in capturing ephemeral phenomena, that is, things that are exhilarating to see but also fleeting. In the pursuit of documenting such blips of beauty found in the natural word, he has taken on engineering the circumstance through which they occur by means of technology.

One of the amazing mechanical creations he’s constructed to aid in his photography is a large computer controlled, bubble blower. A few stepper motors work to dilate three segments of soap-soaked rope engaged at 120 degree angles to create a triangular aperture. When the aperture closes, the segments overlap slightly, covering themselves with a consistent coating of suds. When the segments stretch apart, a fan blows a current of air towards the center, pushing the sheath of fluid into ginormous glimmering orbs which he uses as the focal point in some of his photographs.

bubbleAparatus

More currently, [Gordon] has been developing a body of work that involves zapping botanical subject matter with a quarter-million volts from a portable arc producing device he’s created and capturing the reaction with an ultra low-tech camera (the kind with the bellow and sheet you hide under while exposing the film). Using a method all his own, the shots recorded on large format film are claimed to turn out with even more clarity than any current digital camera in use today. [Gordon] has launched a crowd funding campaign to support a pilgrimage to the majestic island of Hawaii, where he’ll use his lightning producing apparatus on ten different specimens of tropical plant life so that he can record the outcome with his tried and proven technique. (see below an artsy shot of his lightning summoner)

lighteningAparatus

Sometimes Kickstarter isn’t so much about commercialism as it is starting a dialogue with the world and beginning a personal adventure. May the journey lead to new inventions and larger, more ambitious projects! Oh yeah- the bubble blowing machine is a must-see in action. Wicked cool:

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Smart Attic Fan

fan

[Andrew] lives in Hawaii where the climate usually doesn’t necessitate heating and cooling systems. Usually, some open windows and doors will cool the house down enough. This relies on the breeze though, and that isn’t always there. [Andrew] came up with the solution of automating an attic fan to circulate air depending on outside temperature. Sure, he could have just installed a fan with a switch, but he wanted it to do all the work itself. He used a PIC16F877 as the brains and made the pretty control panel shown above.