Sat-ND, 12.12.1997 Cheese & Onion <belch!>
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Did you know that December is International Useless Facts Month?
When it comes to useless facts, this so-called newsletter can hardly be beaten. I reckon no publication on the Internet is more useless than this one. However, I still found a way to celebrate Useless Facts Month while even increasing Sat-ND's uselessness by including extremely useless facts supplied by the Office of Extremely Useless Facts (OEUF.) Well, those are not always facts actually, but they're useless anyway... so who cares?!
The leaders of France, Germany and Britain recently called for an integrated European aerospace and defence electronics industry capable of competing with U.S. giants. British Aerospace Plc, Aerospatiale and Daimler-Benz Aerospace were asked to present a plan with a detailed timetable before March 31, 1998.
The government leaders mainly think of civil aeroplane builder Airbus, but if they actually mean the "compete with the U.S." stuff, such an integration would only make sense when it also includes all civil and military aerospace activities as well as defence electronics. It would include satellites and satellite launches.
There has already been a emphatic "Non!" from Arianespace. The launch service provider's chairman Luton said in an interview that "it is good when satellite construction is separated from carrier systems." Combining Arianespace's launch services with building satellites could create conflicts of interest and lead to sensitive industrial data getting into the wrong hands, he claimed.
Arianespace is controlled by French government-owned companies and organisations that together own a 55 percent stake. The French Space Agency (CNES) alone holds 32 percent but has reportedly signalled it might sell its stake to France's state-owned Aerospatiale, whose holding would then rise to 40 percent.
USELESS FACT: Giraffes fall six feet when they're born.
Multi Media Asia Indonesia (MMAI) and Alcatel signed a US$115 million contract covering the entire ground segment of the "interactive" M2A (Multi Media Asia) satellite network. Starting in 2000, M2A will offer two-way voice and data services, Internet access, fax and DTH television services to some four million subscribers in several Asian countries.
The ground segment contract calls for Alcatel to design and deliver one network control system, one national gateway, three regional gateway stations, six local mini-gateways and 1,000 pre-production subscriber terminals -- all before the end of 1999. Executives at both companies said they expected follow-on agreements for M2A expansion throughout Asia in the future.
USELESS FACT: The condom is named after Dr. Charles Condom.
Teledesic LLC, which is building a global, broadband "Internet-in-the-Sky," announced that its chairman, telecommunications entrepreneur Craig McCaw, will assume the additional role of chief executive officer again.
"Because Bill Gates and I have so much personal interest in Teledesic, we've decided that it's best for me to play a more active role in the company's development," said McCaw, 48. "I will build on the contributions our CEO David Twyver made during the past year."
Twyver, 51, who joined Teledesic in October 1996, will serve on a newly formed executive committee of Teledesic's board of directors with McCaw and Steve Hooper, a long-time McCaw associate. Hooper has been nominated to join Teledesic's board and will share the company's CEO responsibilities with McCaw.
Using a constellation of 288 low-Earth-orbit satellites, Teledesic plans to create the world's first network to provide affordable, worldwide, "fiber-like" access to telecommunications services by late 2002. Billionaires McCaw and Gates hold a one-third interest each in Teledesic.
Observers said the move was as an attempt to build a financial foundation for the company that has to raise at least US$9 billion to complete its satellite infrastructure. As of now, it has about US$300 million on hand, analysts estimate.
USELESS FACT: A mere ounce (28.35 g) of dioxin could kill 10 million people.
Okay, I have to admit that I don't know what it means when Standard & Poor's today said it "affirmed its double-'A'-plus long-term and its 'A-1'-plus short-term local and foreign currency issuer credit ratings, and its double-'A'-plus foreign currency senior unsecured rating on European Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Eutelsat)." Phew!
Standard & Poor's also revised the outlook from stable to negative, and I guess I do understand that. "The outlook revision reflects the potential negative rating impact of proposed changes in the organizational structure as Eutelsat continues to consider long-term alternative arrangements. Historically, Eutelsat's shareholder structure and the strongly implied support of its member countries has been a key support for the rating."
Eutelsat has so far been more or less an organisation mainly owned by European governments through their state-owned telecommunications giants. Now, with deregulation and competition coming up, there is no guarantee that Eutelsat will stay the world's fourth-largest satellite operator and the leading satellite operator in Europe with an estimated 27% market share (revenue basis).
Standard & Poor's pointed out that "In order to enable improved access to satellite capacity from nonsignatories in an increasingly liberal and competitive market place, Eutelsat continues to evaluate alternative ownership and its commercial arrangements, including allowing multiple signatories from one country, as well as considering potential privatization. Successful adaptation of the multiple signatory concept into Eutelsat's structure by signatories and member governments, which has yet to occur, could potentially dilute member government support of signatory obligations upon which current ratings are based."
If privatisation is approved and effected, Eutelsat's future creditworthiness will in a nutshell depend on how the organisation performs and not on how the governments backing it now are rated. "Eutelsat's expected structural evolution will be a lengthy process, the outcome of which is uncertain. More clarity should emerge after the Assembly of Parties meeting in May 1998. Standard & Poor's nevertheless anticipates that ratings will continue to factor in some member government support. Strength in demand for Eutelsat's satellite services is expected to continue over the medium term alongside positive industry fundamentals. However, ratings could be lowered if the addition of multiple signatories or other restructuring changes serve to weaken the currently strong implied support of Eutelsat's member governments," Standard & Poor's said.
USELESS FACT: In 2000 BC, Egyptians used crocodile dung as a contraceptive.
Russian space officials said NASA was partly to blame for the death of space monkey Multik last January (Sat-ND, 9.1./23.4./28.11.97.)
Inesa Kozlovskaya, a senior Russian space official, told a Russian daily that NASA helped kill Multik by urging that surgery be performed on the animal too soon after it returned to Earth. "We knew full well that during the first two days after return from space, astronauts -- whether humans or animals -- must be treated very gently," Kozlovskaya was quoted as saying.
The space monkey research project had drawn criticism from animal rights activists. One of the most prominent, French actress Brigitte Bardot, had lobbied the U.S. Congress to cut funding for the flights. The project will now switch to mice and rats it remains to be seen whether animal rights activists stay as active as they have been.
USELESS FACT: A monkey was once tried and convicted for smoking a cigarette in South Bend, Indiana.
There's more bad news for the big guys who so far were the only ones to send up spy satellites. Early Bird, a U.S. commercial imaging spacecraft, will not only be launched from a Russian launch pad after a delay or more than one year (Sat-ND, 9.12.97.) In order to have a look at the pictures Early Bird takes, you will need just an Internet account and a credit card.
The race is on for commercial high-resolution imagery in the range of a one-metre resolution. While this will still take some time, Early Bird will offer at least a resolution of up to three metres probably the best commercially available so far, albeit just in black & white.
And this is how it's supposed to work: you provide the operating company EarthWatch of Colorado, USA with the co-ordinates of the location you want to have photographed, and within two days you can download the result from their Web site. High-resolution pictures will be sent on CD-ROM.
Certain governments are, as could be expected, rather concerned and demand the implementation of a "shutter control." But maybe it's not the prospect of the bad guys having access to space imaging that worries them. After all, it maybe possible for anybody with Internet access and some money to direct a high-resolution imaging satellite over disaster areas, combat zones, and so forth just to check whether what the mainstream media report is true.
USELESS FACT: Most Americans' car horns beep in the key of F.
Germany's Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa) and the Anglo-French group Matra Marconi Space signed a cooperation deal with Russia's Khrunichev Space Centre to launch a satellite project to collect what they called data about the Earth's environment.
The companies said they planned to create a "European Bank for Ecological Data" to compile information on the earth's atmosphere, water and land that may be used to track phenomena such as natural disasters or global warming. It may certainly be used for other purposes as well.
Nice photos, anyway, and they can according to Khrunichev's director general, Anatoly Kiselev, be provided to "various countries, international organisations, private organisations, whoever."
Dasa said in a statement the companies would set up a joint working group next year that would develop a detailed proposal on the satellite data bank. They would then submit a plan to the EU on ways to raise money for the project.
USELESS FACT: The human aura cannot be photographed through polyester.
You may know Illich Ramirez Sanchez under the name of "Carlos." The alleged international terrorist was captured by French secret agents in Sudan well, maybe. France so far wouldn't elaborate on details how Mr Sanchez was brought to France.
This leaves room for loads of articles and even books speculating about what has really happened. Two apparently French authors, Roland Jacquard and Dominique Nasplezes, claim in a book titled "Carlos, The Secret File" that Mr Sanchez was monitored by a U.S. satellite in his retreat in Sudan in the weeks before he was handed over to France.
"We can reveal that he was being tracked day and night by a an American KH-11 high-definition spy satellite," they said, adding that the satellite could photograph objects as small as 15 cm. KH may by the way be an abbreviation for key hole.
While the story may or may not be true, it's nonetheless interesting that the KH-11 can even peek through roofs. The authors claim that Mr Sanchez would while away time watching videos of spy films(!), reading books and U.S. magazines including Forbes and Fortune. He would also visit the Armenian Club in Khartoum for drinks and games of cards. How exciting.
By the way: the Space Policy Program Web site of the Federation of American Scientists has no records of KH-11's launched past 1988 (unless I'm blind.) Those satellites' usual operational life used to be around three years, although this probably was improved. The sixth KH-11 launched in December 1984 remained in service through late 1995.
USELESS FACT: Craven Walker invented the lava lamp, and its contents are coloured wax and water.
DirecPC Turbo Newscast allows U.S. users to choose their favourite newsgroups from the thousands available and have them delivered by satellite straight onto their PC hard drives -- without having to use the phone for the transfer of information.
Just for once, this is push technology that does make sense, as well as its distribution via satellite. This is not about real-time communications, it's about your favourite Usenet newsgroups delivered to your PC where you can browse them offline later with any newsreader. It remains to be seen whether the service will include just some or all newsgroups knowwhatimeannudgenudgewinkwink.
Turbo Newscast, available free with any DirecPC Turbo Internet subscription, is now beginning beta tests with existing customers; a final version is expected in early 1998. DirecPC receiving hardware retails in most (U.S.) locations for as low as US$299 with monthly Turbo Internet service packages starting at US$19.95.
USELESS QUOTE: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." -- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
Hughes Network Systems also announced the availability of DirecPC(TM) Turbo Webcast(TM), a new satellite-based consumer push service which delivers some of the most popular sites on the Internet to subscribers' PCs without using phone lines to transfer the information.
That's of course much less interesting. Turbo Webcast offers popular Web "channels" such as E! Online, ABCNEWS.com, Excite Business and Investing Channel by Quicken.com, and Disney.com by satellite to a 55-cm elliptical dish, which is in turn connected to the user's PC, where the content is stored upon delivery.
Maybe because the live-delivery rates of up to 400 Kbps which are possible in theory are not always reached in real life? Anyway, in contrast to tens of thousands of newsgroups, this service is very limited and will probably just clutter your hard disk.
USELESS FACT: Walt Disney had wooden teeth!
Okay, don't say I'd suppress facts I don't like. I don't! More French people see television sets rather than computers as the best way of using the Internet, CD-ROM and other interactive services at home. Of course, they are said to eat millions of frogs a year, too.
Anyway, a six-monthly study by market research group Publimetrie found 36 percent of those questioned last October saw the television set as their ideal multimedia tool, up from 20 percent in March. The number of those who (correctly) felt a home computer was the tool they'd need fell from 35 to 29 percent.
Home computers seem to be quite popular in France, at least 63 percent of those asked said they had one. (That may include Minitel terminals that now act more or less as an electronic replacement for phone directories.)
Anyway, 97 percent said they were not connected to the Internet at home and 89 percent have no Internet connection at work. The proportion of customers not intending to buy multimedia equipment even rose to 72 percent in October from 71 percent in March.
So, will France become a playground for TV-based Internet services? He he... no way! An Internet subscription interested just eight percent of those questioned. Remember, there's always a huge difference between what people say they want and what people will actually do (or buy, or subscribe to.)
USELESS FACT: In France there's a place called Y. [Why?]
How come almost every U.S. company uses the word "revolutionary" in their press releases even if they don't want to overturn the government? Here's just another one.
True Dimensional Sound (TDS), the revolutionary new audio technology that restores the harmonic loss that occurs during the recording and playback process of an audio signal, has successfully been tested to dramatically improve the clarity, response, and overall sound quality of radio station broadcasts without over modulating the signal or increasing the band width.
Yes, there is a loss as far as FM broadcasts are concerned. Unlike CD recordings, which offer a frequency range of up to 22 kHz, FM is limited to 14 kHz. There's no way to circumvent that; you can only try to fool the average listener to make him/her think the signal is somewhat better. However, most adults cannot detect frequencies above 14 kHz after all. So, what Dimensional Sound, Inc announced right now is just another psycho-acoustic trick that may let any station sound even larger and bigger.
Alan Woodall, Jr., owner of South 106FM and WDAK AM540, whose family has been in the radio broadcast business in Columbus, Georgia since 1940, stated, "In our families 57 years in radio, we've never encountered anything like it. The audible enhancement of TDS is not subtle. It is immediate and quite apparent. With the flick of a TDS switch, our 100kW FM station is now capable of producing a broadcast that gives our listeners better than CD quality music."
This is, of course, complete bullshit because it is technically impossible. The station may just sound nicer to a majority of listeners, and that may be reason enough for other stations to buy it. On the physical/technical side, the signal is by no means improved but just tweaked to please the audience. FM cannot and will not replace CD. Never ever. [Trust me, I'm an engineer.]
True Dimensional Sound <http://www.TDSaudio.com/>
USELESS FACT: You can tell a turtle's sex by its sound. Males grunt, females hiss.
Copyright 1997 by Peter C. Klanowski, pck@LyNet.De. All rights reserved.
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