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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Slick android launcher

One of the cool things about android devices is how you can change the interface.  I recently came across a cool new app called the "Next 3D Launcher", which I have installed and am still learning.

In this video the phone starts out with a typical android interface, then moves to the Next Launcher, where every swipe moves the screen in 3D.  Slick!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Rooting the Android Phone

I like to dabble with technology.  I've built the last several computers that I have owned, and managed to troubleshoot them and make repairs when things conked out.

I used Blackberry phones for several years, but recently decided that it was time to own a phone with a bigger display and more options.  A year or so ago, I bought a Droid Razr Maxx HD.  I chose that particular phone because it has a massive 3300 milliamp hour battery.  I wasn't keen on having to recharge a phone more often than once per day.  I have now had the phone for about a year, and found it to be pretty useful and also very robust.

I spend a lot of time reading techie websites like Ars Technica, and learned a little about "rooting" Android phones.  I never gave rooting my phone much thought (it seemed risky), but for one reason or another I recently decided to try it.  The idea I might turn my phone into an expensive paperweight didn't seem too awful now that it's a year old.  Turning the phone into a brick was definitely a possibility, because I am not any kind of hacker.

This past week I set out to root my phone, but it wasn't nearly as easy as I had been led to believe.  I had done a lot of reading about it, and watched several videos of people rooting their phones.  It all seemed very simple:  Download the exploit script, set up your phone to accept it, then run the script.  Rooting android phones requires using an exploit to trick the phone into thinking a developer is debugging it, then installing a different file for the phone to read when you re-start it.

There were three tools I tried to use, and they all failed.  All the videos I watched and all the information I read was valid for an older version of Android.  My wireless carrier recently updated the version of the Android Operating System that my phone uses.  This update locked the phone bootloader, which prevented the exploit from loading the file that would grant root access.

Finally after a lot of additional searching, I located an exploit that claimed to work on the Samsung Galaxy 3, and "should work" on all other droid devices.  I took a gamble and used that exploit, called "Saferoot", and three days of failure and stumbling around the internet finally paid off!  I managed to root the phone and get "Superuser access".

"Yeah whatever", you are probably thinking. 

Well there are some *very* cool things you can do when you have root access. 

Without rooting your phone, when you install an app, you either have to accept all the permissions that it requires, or do without the app.  Why would a simple flashlight app need access to my contacts list?

With root access, you can install Titanium Backup, which allows you to make a backup image of your phone, freeze apps, and most importantly, deny them permissions that you don't want them to have.

You can install Cyanogenmod, an open-source operating system that contains no bloatware apps and due to the transparency of open-source software, is free of spyware.

You can install AdFree, which mostly eliminates ads from showing up on your phone, by blocking data requests to known advertising hosts.  Interestingly Google removed this app from the Google Play Store a year ago.  It was probably getting between advertisers and a big pile of cash, and they weren't happy about that.  To install this app, you have to sideload it by downloading the .apk file onto your PC, and then installing it into your phone, then activating it from a file manager. 

You can install Permissions Denied, which, Like Titanium Backup, allows you (the owner of the phone) to restrict permissions that apps request.

The TOR browser app for android (known as Orbot) can also take advantage of root access, although it also works without it.  This allows a user to use the web anonymously.

Needless to say, rooting your phone is very much frowned upon by the government and also by your wireless carrier, which are both excellent reasons to do it!  Also, bear in mind that it is your phone, not theirs.  As with anything that belongs to you, you should feel free to do with it as you please.

On a less tech note, I have found a use for used toilet paper tubes, which helps make life a little less cluttered.  Lots of loose and frequently tangled-up USB and earbud cables now have a home.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

K-141, Project 949A. Kursk [АПЛ "Курск"] Oscar II Class

The loss of the Kursk is recent enough that it probably doesn't need to be retold here, but I will do so anyway, in remembrance of the men lost.

Kursk was an Oscar II class submarine, and the last submarine built in the Soviet era.  Construction began in 1990, and by the time she was completed and launched in 1994, the cold war had ended.

The Oscar II class were the largest attack submarines ever built, running about 500ft long, and 60 feet wide.  When viewed in cross-section, the inner hull of the Oscar II class was circular, while the outer hull was oval-shaped.  This oval-shaped outer hull gave the Oscar II ships the appearance of being fat.  Between the inner and outer hulls were missile tubes containing 24 anti-ship missiles, as well as air banks.

Kursk in port.

The reason Oscar Class submarines look "fat".   Lots of anti-surface ship firepower.

 Profile of an Oscar II Class submarine

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the sailors of the Northern Fleet were intermittently paid, and little money was available for repair and maintenance of the fleet.  Kursk only made a single patrol between her launching in 1994 and her loss in 2000.  With the lack of sea-time, it is probable that her crew was not well-trained, and certainly not proficient.  It's not clear whether a well-trained and proficient crew would have altered the outcome, however.

On August 12, 2000, Kursk was participating in the largest Russian Naval exercise in 9 years, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Three other submarines, the Russian flagship battlecruiser "Petr Velikiy" (Peter the Great) were participating, along with a flotilla of smaller vessels.

Kursk was preparing to fire a dummy torpedo at the battlecruiser Petr Velikiy, when an explosion occured.  The accepted theory is that the highly concentrated HTP (High-Test Peroxide) hydrogen peroxide which fueled the torpedo leaked out and reacted, causing the torpedo engine to detonate, starting a fire.

A similar explosion caused by an HTP-fuelled torpedo was responsible for the loss of HMS Sidon in 1955, after which the British Navy abandoned torpedoes propelled by peroxide.

This first explosion was recorded on the SOSUS network, and was estimated to have an explosive force of 220-550lb TNT.  A second, larger explosion measuring 6000-14000 lbs of TNT occured 135 seconds after the first explosion.  Kursk came to rest in just 350 feet of water.

Rescue offers were made immediately by US, British, and Norwegian teams, but these offers were rebuffed by the Russian Navy.  It was believed at the time that there were no survivors from the initial explosion.

I will turn the saddest part of this sinking over to Wikipedia:

Captain Lieutenant Dmitriy Kolesnikov, one of the survivors of the first explosion, survived in the ninth compartment in the turbine room at the stern of the boat after explosions destroyed compartments 1-5. Recovery workers found notes on his body. They showed 23 sailors (out of 118 aboard) had managed to enter compartment nine after the ship sank.

There has been much debate over how long the sailors might have survived. Some point out that many potassium superoxide chemical cartridges, used to absorb carbon dioxide and chemically release oxygen to enable survival, were found used when the craft was recovered, suggesting some of the crew survived for a significant time.

Kolesnikov's last note has a time of 15:15, indicating that he and the others in the aft compartment lived at least four hours after the explosion.   32 hours after the first explosion no sound was heard (i.e. hull tapping) to signal the Russian Submarine Rescue Vehicle Priz, when it attempted to mate with the aft escape trunk. 

The oxygen generator cartridges appear to have been the cause of death; a sailor appears to have accidentally brought a cartridge in contact with the sea water, causing a chemical reaction and a flash fire. The official investigation into the disaster showed some men appeared to have survived the fire by plunging under the water.  Fire marks on the walls indicate the water was at waist level in the lower area at this time.  However, the fire rapidly used up the remaining oxygen in the air, causing death by asphyxiation.

In July 2002, the investigation committee concluded that a technical malfunction on a single Type 65-76 "Kit" (Whale) torpedo caused the first explosion, triggering a fire in the torpedo room which, two minutes later, caused 5-7 additional torpedo warheads to detonate.

The second explosion destroyed a large section of the submarine (at least 4 of the 9 compartments) killing up to 95 of the 118 crew members and causing the submarine to sink. Around 23 crew members survived the sinking and took refuge in the ninth compartment where they died due to carbon monoxide poisoning following a fire in that compartment (between 6 and 32 hours after the sinking).

Kursk was raised from the ocean floor in a difficult and expensive recovery project.  Her bow was an unrecoverable mess and was cut off, using carbide coated cables.  She was re-floated and returned to Russia, where her two reactors were decomissioned, and her side missiles were removed.  Those of her 118 crew that were recovered were buried with honors.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

K-278 Komsomolets (Project 685 Плавник), Mike Class

K-278 was a unique and magnificent submarine.  Only one of this class of ship was built.  Because she was so unusual, construction took an unusually long 5 years.  Her construction began in April 1978, she was launched in May 1983, and commissioned on the last day of 1984.  The Soviet Navy rarely named their submarines, but this ship was special, and received the name of "Komsomolets" - which means "a member of the Young Communist League".

Komsomolets was to the Soviet Navy what the USS Thresher was to the US Navy.  She was a fourth-generation nuclear ship, a platform for testing a host of very advanced features. 

Komsomolets was a typical Soviet design with a tough inner hull and a thin outer hull.  However her inner hull was made from titanium alloy.   Welding titanium is notoriously difficult - even the tiniest amount of oxygen will ruin the weld.   To assemble this ship, a special airtight building was constructed, and then filled with argon gas.   Shipyard workers in forced air breathing suits would enter the building, and assemble and weld the titanium alloy plates of the inner hull together, in complete absence of oxygen.

In August 1984 Komsomolets dove to a record depth for a warship of 3350ft, a testament to the engineers who designed her, the welders who built her, and the men who put their lives on the line in this impressive prototype.  This depth is significantly deeper than any US military submarine can go, and far deeper than the US MK-48 torpedo could operate at that time.

K-278 was equipped with seven watertight compartments.  The compartments closest to the sail were toughened even further against internal flooding.  She was equipped with an escape pod at the rear of the sail that would hold crewmembers, and could be released from the ship in the event of disaster.  She was highly automated, and operated with about half the crew that similar ships would carry.

In a break with the past, Komsomolets used a single PWR of 190MW and what appear to be dual counter-rotating screws for propulsion.  It had been suspected that this ship would use dual liquid metal reactors for higher speed, but the Soviets were apparently becoming more interested in stealth than raw power and speed.

She was one of the better-looking Soviet submarines, capable of carrying a mix of torpedoes and cruise missiles with conventional or nuclear warheads

Profile of K-278.

Image of K-278 underway.

In April 1989, after four years of shake-downs to test her automatic systems, weapons systems, and pressure hull, Komsomolets went on her first actual patrol.  It ended tragically. 

K-278 was the deepest-diving military submarine ever built.  At her maximum operating depth, the surrounding seawater pressure would be about 1500 psi.   The High Pressure Air Banks would have to contain several times that pressure, because an Emergency Main Ballast Tank Blow must *rapidly* displace the water in the ballast tanks.

Greater air pressure allows the ship to get positive buoyancy faster, which under flooding conditions means greater survival odds for the ship.  Komsomolets was so deep-diving that her high pressure air banks must have contained phenomenal pressure.  An educated guess about the operating pressure of her air banks is 8000 psig, and that could very easily be on on the low side.

On April 7, 1989 a high pressure air line that led from a high pressure air bank to the main ballast tanks through the engine room ruptured on K-278.  Sheared off pipes containing gas such pressure can bend and whip like noodles due to the force of air jetting out of them.  In this case, the sheared off pipe damaged an oil system, which in turn leaked oil on a hot steam turbine.  A flash fire broke out, fanned by the still-leaking (and probably deafening) high pressure air.  The ship was running at a depth of 1100 feet.

The control room noticed an increase in the temperature of the engine room, and called back to ask about the trouble.  there was no answer.  They delayed activating the Freon fire supression system, knowing that Freon would suffocate everyone in the engine room, but eventually they activated it.   Unknown to the control room, the Freon was ineffective at smothering the fire due to the massive inflow of air from the high pressure air bank. 

Although the watertight doors were shut and ventilation isolated immediately when the casualty started, the fire spread to other compartments.  The engine room, which was engulfed in flames, was also pressurized by air blasting from the ruptured air pipe.  This pressure pushed flames into other compartments via cable penetrations.

The ship begam to die.  The reactor scrammed (tripped), so the turbine generators soon lost steam pressure and also tripped.  This caused a loss of most electrical power.  The main propulsion turbines also stopped turning as steam pressure faded.  Hydraulic pumps that were powered by the turbine generators, and which activate the rudder and planes, also lost power.  As the hydraulic pressure bled down, the ship's rudder drifted stuck, in the down direction.  The depth of the ship was now 500 feet. 

An emergency main ballast tank blow brought the ship to the surface.  For several hours, most of the crew was topside, except for those involved in fighting the casualty.  The temperature in the engine room eventually reached 2000 F, and melted through a pipe or some other system that prevented seawater from entering the ship. 

Shortly after surfacing, the ship sank in rough water, with the surviving crew abandoning ship.  The captain and four other officers who had remained on board as the submarine sank entered the escape capsule and ejected.  Apparently as the submarine sank with the hull compromised, air pressure built up inside the ship.  When the five entered the escape capsule, the air pressure was much higher than normal.  When they opened the hatch of the escape capsule after surfacing, there was an explosive decompression that killed two of them and knocked two others unconscious.  Only one of the five managed to exit the escape capsule after it reached the surface, before it also flooded and sank. 

A Soviet floating fish factory arrived on site just 81 minutes after K-278 sunk.  By this time 5 men had already died from hypothermia.  25 men were rescued and survived, but 42 others are on Eternal Patrol in K-278.

K-278 Komsomolets, a very unique and impressive ship, lies in 5500 feet of water, carrying two nuclear-tipped torpedoes.  Traces of plutonium have shown up near the wreck, and this is of great concern, because it is a rich fishing area.  In the future K-278 may be raised to remove her radioactive materials from such an important source of food.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

K-219 (Project 667A)

K-219 was a Soviet ballistic missile submarine.  She was a Yankee I class ship, which carried sixteen liquid-fueled nuclear missiles for use against land targets in the US.  The ship was propelled by two PWR reactors, and had two propellor shafts.

On a side note, the Soviet Navy gets credit for envisioning and building the first submarine to carry an ICBM, the Zulu Class submarine.  The Zulu was a conventional diesel-electric submarine that was modified with an extended sail to carry a single nuclear-tipped long-range missile.  It was also the first submarine to test launch a ballistic missile.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

K-431 (Project 675)

K-431 was an Echo II class submarine.  Construction was started in January 1964, and she was commissioned in September of 1965, in a very rapid construction process.  The Echo II class was a twin reactor ship which carried cruise missiles for attacking surface ships.