News & Views

Jamming GPS: Intentional Interference Increasing

Portable GPS jammer available to public

 

Even as our nascent eLoran system is being shut down here in North America, concerns over the vulnerability of GPS and other sat-nav systems are growing elsewhere. Late last month in the U.K., at a symposium hosted by the Royal Institute of Navigation and the Digital Systems Knowledge Transfer Network, several scientists and engineers discussed the increasing threat posed by those seeking to intentionally interfere with GPS signals. Just Google the term "GPS jammer" and you'll get a sense of the scope of the problem. Once GPS jamming equipment was used solely by government and military types for discrete purposes, but now it is commercially available, at prices starting below $100, to anyone who can think up a use for it. Most of these units are quite small and are only powerful enough to mask a car or truck with a GPS transponder aboard, but others are quite powerful, with effective ranges exceeding 300 meters at ground level.

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North Atlantic Plastic Patch

 

Those of you who sail and cruise in the Atlantic Ocean will probably not be pleased to learn that scientists have confirmed there is a vast patch of floating plastic debris in a band between 22 and 38 degrees north that rivals the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in size and density. Kara Lavender Law, a researcher with the Sea Education Association (SEA), shared this depressing revelation with scientists gathered at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Portland, Oregon, earlier this week. According to Law, most of the debris picked up in surface trawl nets over the course of a 20-year SEA study consisted of fine bits of plastic up to one centimeter in size. The maximum density observed was 200,000 bits of plastic per one square kilometer.

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School Ship Concordia Disaster

I'm sure a few Hollywood agents are already wrangling over the rights to this one. It's got everything needed for a blockbuster movie script: a crowd of innocent kids, some seriously mortal danger, plus a big fat happy ending. The scary part of the tale concerns the fate of the Canadian school ship Concordia, a 188-foot square-rigger with 48 high-school students aboard, that sank in a matter of minutes last Wednesday after being struck by a savage microburst 300 miles off the coast of Brazil. The miraculous part of the story is that everyone aboard--all the students, plus 16 other crew--escaped alive and was brought safely to shore.

Smack dab in the middle of this drama we find one huge unanswered question: why did it take Brazilian authorities over 24 hours to respond to Concordia's distress signal???

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America's Cup: Valentine's Day Massacre

 

I am back from Miami and have lots to share with you, but first we should wrap up the AC coverage. As predicted here on WaveTrain, Larry "the Oracle" Ellison has crushed Ernie "the Alinghi" Bertarelli 2-zip in the best-of-three series. The first race didn't get sailed until Friday morning ET (our hero intended to file a gear post at that time, but instead watched the race on his laptop in the boat show press room), and the second race only got off yesterday after the Principal Race Officer Harold Bennett reportedly quelled a mutiny aboard the committee boat (big kudos to Scuttlebutt's Cory Friedman on that mega-scoop). But the outcome was never in doubt. Ernie and his cat were little more than bullet-riddled corpses by the time it was all over.

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Let's Have a Tea Party for Loran

While celebrating the start of America's Cup racing come Monday don't forget to shed a tear and hoist a cold one for our old friend Loran, which is scheduled to get shut down the same day. For you Sarah Palin fans who like to rail against the idiocy of the federal government, this should make an excellent talking point. Having spent $160 million over the past 10 years to upgrade Loran to "enhanced" eLoran status so it can serve as an effective back-up for the GPS system, the government will now flush that money down the toilet, in spite of the fact that shutting down the Loran system will probably cost more than finishing the upgrade.

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America's Cup Predictions

 

Get ready to set your alarm clocks, sports fans. The good news is you will (finally!) be able to watch Race One of the Great AC Showdown live via the Internet at ESPN360.com next Monday. The bad news is you'll have to get up at 0-dark-hundred (3:45 a.m.) to do it. If you're too lazy to manage this, I'll save you some trouble and make a bold prediction: Larry is going to take Ernie down in two straight races.

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That Crazy Italian Guy

I first met Alessandro di Benedetto on a dock in November 1992 in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, as we were both preparing to sail across the North Atlantic from the Canary Islands to the Bahamas to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage to America. I was crewing on an Australian-owned Taswell 56 called Antipodes that was enrolled with 145 other yachts in Jimmy Cornell's America 500 rally. Alessandro planned to cross with his father on a 18-foot Hobie Cat called United States of the World.

As I remember, Alessandro was the quiet one; his father, Federico, was the voluble, talkative one. They roamed the docks where all the rally boats were tied up handing out photocopies of a letter they had sent to the Secretary General of the United Nations. In the letter they explained that the purpose of their voyage was to help establish a new democratic international order based on economic justice and environmental responsibility. Not surprisingly, they were often referred to casually as "those crazy Italian guys."

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Too Much Teen Spirit?

 

So now the fat is in the fire. We have two pubescent girls on the loose bound non-stop around the globe via Cape Horn and the Southern Ocean with all the world watching and cheering them on. Abby Sunderland, age 16 (in the photo above), departed Marina del Rey in Los Angeles on Saturday, and as I write is west of Ensenada heading south down the Mexican coast. Meanwhile, her rival, Jessica Watson, also 16, of Queensland, Australia, who already cleared Cape Horn on January 13, suffered multiple knockdowns over the weekend while riding out a 70-knot gale. During the worst of these her boat, an S&S 34 called Ella's Pink Lady, was reportedly inverted at a 180-degree angle. Jessica's EPIRB was ignited, though not intentionally, and both she and her boat are purportedly in good shape.

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Global Plumbing

 

Here's an oceanic news flash from the realm of geoscience: the Bering Strait is a valve that can play an important role in global climate trends. Open the valve (its current position; see photo) and the northern hemisphere tends to get cooler. Close the valve and it tends to get warmer.

No, this intriguing bit of climatological wisdom will not prove useful next time you have to dismantle your marine toilet...

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