Atomic I/O letters column #74Originally published in Atomic: Maximum Power Computing Last modified 16-Jan-2015.
A friend of mine and I are working on a project to "disrupt" a satellite in orbit. Using 30-plus microwave magnetrons, hundreds of capacitors, 12V batteries, an old trailer (for the housing) and a custom designed PC board, we would like to concentrate that energy and tunnel it towards our target, a satellite. Preferably a Foxtel sat that is used to send video imagery to hundreds of thousands of homes across Australia.
My question is, in your opinion, what would be the margin of failure, if we have the correct coordinates and enough microwave energy, to successfully disrupt and perhaps damage a satellite?
We have already built a smaller, more compact unit that is capable of destroying motherboards, ICs etc. We originally intended to use this "brain boiler" to raise the temperature of people's brains to the point of collapse, but haven't exactly had the right situation to test it.
The very lowest of low earth orbits is about 200 kilometres up. If your beam diverges by only half a degree - and I assure you that it'll actually be much worse than that - then it will illuminate an area 1.7 kilometres in diameter at a distance of 200 kilometres.
This will reduce the power per unit area of the beam by a factor of several million, compared with the power it has if you just shoot your friend on the other side of the room with it.
If you've got fifty synchronised magnetrons aimed at that 200km-away target, each emitting a thousand watts, you'll be illuminating that target with around 20 milliwatts of energy per square metre (ignoring atmospheric losses, which will be considerable if there are any clouds...). That energy level is easy enough to detect, but no good if you want to fry something.
And very few satellites are that low. The International Space Station is about 360 kilometres up, but it still needs regular re-boosts to compensate for drag from the outskirts of the atmosphere.
If you're interested in shooting at TV satellites, your situation will be far, far worse.
Satellites that sit still in the sky so that fixed antennas can always see them are, by definition, in geostationary orbit. That means they're orbiting above the equator, and so far up that the orbital period of the satellite is the same as the rotational period of the earth. The orbital period of the International Space Station is only about 92 minutes. You need to go a lot higher to get a period of 24 hours.
A satellite in such an orbit, such as the Optus C1 which you hope to attack, will be about 35,786 kilometres above sea level. Add a bit if you're not shooting from directly under it (in the case of the C1, that'd put you in the middle of the ocean, 1300km north-east of New Guinea).
Now, even if your beam divergence is an extremely unlikely 0.1 degrees, you'll be illuminating an area some 62 kilometres in diameter. The satellite would therefore need an antenna many times larger than it is to collect enough energy from your beam to dimly light one small LED.
Note that the beams from purpose-built finely-tuned very large satellite uplink antennas are still wide enough that satellites have to be separated by at least a whole degree or two. Your beam won't be that good.
Home-made microwave weapons, usually referred to as High Energy Radio Frequency or HERF guns, are extremely dangerous to be near but quite easy to make. One of the several reasons why we see few to no electromagnetic beam weapons on the world's battlefields, though, is because it is so much easier to deliver energy to an even slightly distant target by hurling a chunk of metal at it than by trying to focus a beam tightly enough that it can still achieve something when it gets there.
It is, of course, not easy to hurl metal at a target 36,000 kilometres away, which is why anti-satellite weapons are so difficult to make. If you could shoot even civilian satellites down with a HERF gun, even if you needed a nuclear power plant to run the weapon, then people would have been doing it since about 20 minutes after the launch of Sputnik.
I am, like many other people, having trouble with running all my favourite games on Vista.
After a while, I stumbled upon a page that talks about running two operating systems at the same time on the same desktop. The software is made by VMware.
Would running XP on Vista via this software cure Vista's compatibility issues?
There are many interesting things you can do with "virtualisation" software, but this isn't one of them.
To cut to the chase, what you want to do is dual boot Vista and XP, by installing XP on your Vista computer and telling it to not "upgrade" Vista, then crossing your fingers and throwing salt over your shoulder. You don't want to run one OS within the other.
If nothing else, the performance penalty of virtualisation is likely to make a lot of games unpleasant to play on a virtual machine, if they can run at all. 3D support is, for instance, flaky to nonexistent in virtualisation packages.
Price, though, is not a problem. VMware Player (which can run virtual machines but not create them) and VMware Server (which can create them) are both free downloads, as is Microsoft's Virtual PC package for Windows.
Note that the Vista Home license agreement specifically forbids running the OS on a virtual machine. It'll work fine, but Microsoft want you to pay more if you intend to do that. Nobody's entirely sure why this is, beyond the fact that Microsoft like money.
A mate of mine who I've known for quite some time only recently informed me that he was "booted" by a CRT picture tube some years ago. Today, whenever he touches a floppy disk (and a lot of other electronic componentry) he kills it instantly. We tested this time and time again.
To be absolutely certain, I stuffed around 1Mb of data onto five brand new floppies and laid them out on a wooden table. He proceeded to pick them up and then place them back down. I quickly threw them in the drive, and four were unreadable. The disk that survived only worked twice.
We used two different floppy drives for proper testing.
Could you please give us some advice, because every time he comes over he destroys something in my room. Only last week I had purchased a brand new Sapphire Radeon X1650 Pro. He touched it. I installed it. All I saw was green vertical lines.
They never mentioned the side effects!
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Fortunately, your friend's difficulties with technology are entirely outweighed by the fact that he is worth at least a million US dollars.
There is, you see, no way for a human being to be permanently charged with electricity or made magnetic - well, not according to well-accepted basic physics, anyway. So the ability you report is, clearly, paranormal.
The Australian Skeptics have a $AU100,000 prize for anybody who can demonstrate a paranormal ability - and there's a $20,000 spotter's fee for anybody who merely nominates someone who later wins the prize!
That's small potatoes compared with James Randi's Million Dollar Challenge, though.
That Challenge has now switched to an invitation-only basis (the most recent invitation has been extended to the proponents of some $US7250 speaker cables...), because Randi's sick of being bombarded with green-ink lots-of-underlining letters from loonies who're constitutionally unable to actually engage in any real testing of their alleged powers. But your friend will be a shoo-in to get invited once he's already won the Australian prize!
I've a passing acquaintance with Barry Williams, President of the Oz Skeptics, and I've swapped mail with Randi as well. So I'll be happy to help you out if you have problems with your application.
It would, of course, be churlish of me to point out that it's quite easy to barbecue a video card just by touching it if you don't take proper anti-static precautions. It's also very easy to wipe floppy disks by using elementary conjuring techniques and small rare earth magnet.
Your friend, of course, certainly is not having a bit of a lend of you by doing any such underhanded things. He will therefore pass with flying colours the tests which have, in the past, invariably been failed by other people who claim to be "magnetic", or able to damage any electronic item that comes near them, and so on.
"Magnetic body" stunts actually have quite a storied history. The most basic is making a compass needle turn with your mind - or, more accurately, with a magnet hidden on your foot or leg, under the table (the audience always watches your hands).
The world is also strangely well supplied with "magnetic" people who claim that cutlery, for instance, will stick to them. This usually seems to be, boringly, because they've got sticky skin.
I'm sure your friend is the real thing, though. Get ready to cash in!
My son dropped his Nintendo DS in the toilet. I went to pull the cover off so as to give it a chance to dry out while I crossed my fingers, but noticed that some of the Phillips heads were not really Phillips heads. They are small screws that look like a Y and I dare not try to open them lest I mangle them.
So what is the best way, short of removing the cover, that this could be given a chance to dry out? A sunny window ledge? How long before I know if it's cactus or not?
The funny screws are the "tri wing" type. They're too small for most standard hex tri-wing bits to fit, but drivers to suit them are easy to find on eBay. Not that that helps you right now, of course.
Put the wet DS somewhere warm and breezy. An adjustable lamp with a 100W bulb in it pointed at the item in question from a suitable distance, plus a desk fan blowing over it, will give you your best chance. Remove the battery and the GBA-slot cover, obviously. Turn the DS over a couple of times while it dries.
There's no harm in leaving such a setup going for a day or more, but there shouldn't be any water left, even in nooks and crannies, after 12 hours or so with the DS warmed to 70-odd degrees Celsius.
You can displace water from electronics by dunking the device in alcohol - plain meths is OK. The alcohol then evaporates much faster than water would, but it can, itself, damage things that water wouldn't have.
Tapwater is not very dangerous to most electronics, but that does indeed depend on how long the water's left there. The game port contacts and the LCD hardware would be the most susceptible to damage, I think.