Archive for August, 2010

Fall 2010 has begun

On the road to earning a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering this semester marks the real start of the trip. My math and science prerequisites are finally out of the way. From here on out I will be enrolled exclusively in higher level math and core engineering courses. My peers will get to take some electives here and there. Changing my major as many times as I have won’t allow me to do the same.

Somehow, I managed to sign up for three traditional courses all taught in the exact same lecture hall. Mechanical Design 1, Thermodynamics 1, and Mechanics 1 (Statics) are all in the same room! The other course I am taking is Engineering Computing and is given online. To continue on with a declared major of Mechanical Engineering there are five courses that make up something of a do-or-die list. If you do not pass those five courses with a 2.25GPA between them by your second attempt you must change your major. I am taking four of those five courses this semester. If you don’t see me blog/tweet/facebook/do anything but study between now and Christmas break you know why.

5D vs 5DMK2 – ISO Comparison

Today my Canon 5DMK2 DSLR arrived and I got busy with some comparison photos. The unit is a refurbished deal from Canon so I’ll be shooting a ton of frames to make sure everything is in proper working order before I send in my old, broke, Canon Powershot S410 for their recycling program. My first test was to provide a comparison, in a good light situation, of the detail differences between the Canon 5D and the Canon 5DMK2. This setup involved my tripod, a release cable plugged into one of my Pocket Wizard II+ transceivers, my Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens, and my oldest acoustic guitar with one of my amplifiers as a background. Both cameras were set to meter the scene’s average exposure in aperture priority (Av) mode with an f-stop of f/11. All images are direct conversions from the RAW files, and all noise reduction settings were turned off. The color temperature range for the full series of shots was +/- 75K. The 5DMK2 appears to be more saturated than the 5D for the same scene, light, and camera settings. My assumption is that this is a function of several different variables, one of which is likely the newer DIGIC processor. I actually took photos at every single ISO option available when the expanded ISO set is enabled in the custom functions menu but I decided to only post ISOs 100, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200 as direct comparisons. The high end, ISO 12800 and ISO 25600, of the 5DMK2 are also included just because I can.

The pictures can do the talking from here, slideshow below. The each ISO is displayed 5D first, 5DMK2 second. The final two slides are ISO 12800, and ISO 25600.

Flickr Slideshow

Summer 2010 complete

Both summer courses are now finished. I managed a B in Physics 2, and am looking to finish in about the same place in Calculus 3. This is the last summer term I’ll ever take; none of the courses I need from here until graduation are offered in the summer. Taking these two courses during overlapping summer terms was brutal. I spent basically all of my time from June to August sitting in this very chair. I wasn’t sitting here because I wanted to either. Three entire notebooks, in my microscopic handwriting, were filled with line-integrals, gradients, and sketches to make problems visual so I could see what was going on. Sometimes I would stand up at my desk, because I’d been sitting for far too long. A few times I went and took a walk just to remember what the sun looked like. Of course the fact it’s summer in Texas quickly reminded me that in addition to being really bright the sun is also really hot.

With this semester out of the way, I am looking at six more full-time semesters until I graduate with a BSME. If you’d asked me when I graduated high school in 2001 if I thought I would still be working on an undergraduate degree in 2010 I would have laughed at you. Here I am looking at a 2013 graduation. Sure, I changed my major four or five times and spent five years on active duty in the Army – but I still never imagined it’d take this long. If the world ends in 2012, I’m going to be pissed.

Update: Managed a B in Calculus 3 as well. Yee + Haw.

Transparency and ignorance

Given the response to my last entry about the journalistic failures of WikiLeaks, I did my best to ignore this topic. With the level of insanity around the topic today, I can no longer ignore it. If the striking through of my first statements in response to “Collateral Murder” confuses you, allow me to be clear. In no way do I support WikiLeaks. On the surface they appear as a beacon of transparency in a sea of opacity that is the flow of information. If one even chips that surface something far less noble is found. Their continuous claim that as an organization they have attained true objectivity and responsibility in reporting is utterly ridiculous. Cherry picking raw data and packaging it for release as a sensationalized editorial piece is neither objective nor responsible.

In this latest leak, tens of thousands of classified documents from Afghanistan were leaked. From what I have read, and I did admittedly get quite bored somewhere around the 10,000th report, these are almost entirely SIGACT reports. A SIGACT is any report of “significant activity” in an area of operations (AO). What exactly constitutes a SIGACT varies from commander to commander. If Private Joe Snuffy is in an outpost and a traffic officer fires 3 rounds from his AK47 into the sky instead of using a whistle (a practice common in Baqubah during my first tour in Iraq) chances are that action constitutes a SIGACT to his commander. It means absolutely nothing but it will be reported anyway.

The above example is exactly the sort of SIGACT found in the vast majority of the Afghanistan leaks. Several of the reports are of such little relevance that I can assure you, having recorded tens of thousands of SIGACTS myself, the next higher echelon wondered why anyone even wasted the breath to relay the message. This is not to say the entirety of the leaked information is irrelevant but that the majority of it is completely useless drivel. That is, if you understand it. A key problem surrounding the discussion of this leak is that very few people outside the military actually understand these reports. Unfortunately, that does not stop the ignorant masses from opining loudly about the content they’ve read and failed to comprehend.

One of the largest areas to have been discussed in the wake of these leaks is that of civilian casualty reports. Again, without knowing what generates such a report the discussion is rooted in ignorance. Any dead civilian seen by any friendly forces generates such a report. Reading that some unit’s callsign reports four dead and seven wounded civilians near some location in no way indicates by itself that the reporting unit had anything to do with the death or injury of those civilians. Nobody is denying that US-led forces have in fact killed civilians, whether justifiable by ROE or not, but few pay any attention to the very significant number of civilians killed intentionally by other Afghans. Regardless of who does the killing, dead civilians result in CIVCAS (Civilian Casualty) reports.

Perhaps the single most ridiculous claim to come from Julian Assange is “this material was available to every soldier and contractor.” While it is certainly true that each soldier is quite likely granted a provisional secret clearance while deployed in support of combat operations it is patently false to state that each of them is given access to the SIPRnet (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network). In a given infantry company the number of soldiers with digital access to classified information past the moment they report it is very small. Not all contractors have unfettered SIPRnet access either. You get SIPRnet access only if you need it. That need is not determined by you, but by strict policy enforced by the unit’s intelligence and network sections. It follows quite logically then that those in the best position to exploit the SIPRnet have access to such by means of their position inside the intelligence section.

Furthermore, everyone with a real secret (or higher) clearance and access to the SIPRnet is briefed on what is and what is not authorized. There is nobody with a clearance who is unaware of the nature of their access and the consequences of violating the laws under which that access is covered. This gives rise to the baseless nature of another Assange claim wherein he asserts that because everyone can access the information (which is either a gross misunderstanding on his part, or a bold-faced lie) the US military failed to give due diligence to its informers.

Assange, as the face of a secretive organization, ought to know full well that security is an illusion. Many of the people with whom he is associated know this all too well, and work actively to break security mechanisms so that they might be made more secure as a result.

The US military did not release the names of Afghans with whom they had worked to the public. Those names were classified, and their secrecy bound by rules and regulations the violations of which carry strict punishment. Someone broke those rules and regulations and provided the information to WikiLeaks who in turn released the names to the public. WikiLeaks released those names. The US military did not. There is no way to mistake who is explicitly at fault for releasing those names to the public: the individual leaker (possibly Bradley Manning), and the publishing organization (WikiLeaks). These leaks quite literally endangered the lives of Afghans trying to do what they believed to be right. Is it hypocrisy for Secretary Gates to say Assange has blood on his hands? Probably. I know I have blood on my hands, and have dealt with that. Assange needs to come to terms with it himself now. A HUMINT (Human Intelligence) source has a very limited lifespan once exposed, and he has exposed many.

Transparency is important. Make no mistake about my feelings in that regard. The public, to whom our government is legally accountable, deserves to know what is going on in the name of their protection (and at the great expense of their tax dollars). This means both our government, its agencies, and the public have a lot of work to do. Uncle Sam needs to own up to its mistakes and release information in a clear and direct method the public can understand. The public needs to educate themselves on how to go about understanding, as best they can without the frame of reference gained by experience, that information.

Return top