Using VirtualBox to Host a VPS

Oracle’s VM VirtualBox is a virtualization program that allows you to run another operating system from within your native operating system. Though it is most commonly used to run fully functional operating systems such as Linux or OS X from within Windows 7 (or vice versa), it can also be used to host a Virtual Private Server (VPS).

This post does nothing to compare benchmarks between more efficient (and recommended) VPS environments such as VMware or Linux-VServer, and I would not recommend using VirtualBox as a VPS in a production environment. However, it is useful in many situations, and I’ll let you be the judge of when this should or should not be done. It is certainly acceptable for personal and developmental purposes. And hosting a VPS through something like VirtualBox that is extremely simply to setup and use allows you to easily experiment with configurations and operating systems, or even jump between multiple VPSs on the same computer.

This tutorial assumes you have a rudimentary knowledge of server software and operating systems. I’m going to be explaining virtualization to you, not the details of the server installation and configuration.

 

Setting Up VirtualBox

First, some definitions. When I refer to the host operating system, that is the primary operating system that your computer boots into. When I refer to the guest operating system, that is the virtualized system that is run from within VirtualBox. There will also be references to IP address and ports on the host and guest. They follow the same theme. Now that we’ve got that of the way …

You can pick up VirtualBox for free from their website here. Download and run the installer for your host operating system. Congratulations. VirtualBox is now ready to run. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a guest operating system installed or configured yet, so it doesn’t do much for you. But before we actually install one of those, let’s create a virtual environment for it and configure some VirtualBox settings.

In VirtualBox, click New to create an environment where we install a guest operating system. I’m assuming you’re a civilized human being and installing a Linux server operating system, so select Linux, then select the version of operating system you’re using. If the exact version isn’t in the VirtualBox list, select the parent Linux distribution (for instance, for CentOS you’d select Fedora).

Ideally, you should grant at least half of your host system’s memory to the guest operating system. You should dedicate at least 8GB to the guests hard drive space. Luckily, since this is a virtual environment, you can select to dynamically allocate this space, so the virtual hard drive will only consume space on your host’s hard drive as it is needed. Finish up the wizard, and the guest environment will be created.

Now, to make that guest environment accessible to our host computer. Right-click on the newly created environment and select “Settings”. Click on “Network” in the list on the left, and click on “Adapter 2”. Enable this adapter and, from “Attached to:” select “Bridged Adapter”. This will cause the guest environment to resolve DHCP IP information directly from the host operating system, which means we can now forward some host ports directly to the guest operating system.

Go back to the “Adapter 1” tab, make sure this adapter is “Attached to: NAT”, and click “Advanced”. Click on “Port Forwarding” and add a new TCP forward. Let’s call it “SSH”. Specify 22 for the host and guest ports. This will forward the host machines port 22 to the guest machines port 22—they don’t have to be the same, they just have to match other configurations on the host and guest side of things. It’s also worth adding an “HTTP” forward for port 80 as well as any other the forwards for ports controlling any other services you’d like accessible from the guest environment.

 

Server Operating System

If you haven’t already, now’s the time to choose what operating system you’re going to use for your guest environment. I recommend Ubuntu Server if you’re used to Ubuntu or Debian environments, and CentOS is another wildly popular one, though it’s not my cup of tea. Whatever operating system you choose, download the ISO for it’s installation and open up VirtualBox again.

Right-click on your guest environment and select “Settings”. From the list on the left select “Storage”, and point your virtual disc drive to the ISO you just downloaded. Once this is done, you can simply start the guest environment and it will boot with that disc “in the drive”, so you can install that operating system in the guest environment.

If you’re installing Ubuntu Server, selecting OpenSSH during the install process as well as LAMP and any other services you’d like available will make things much easier for you. However, as I said above, this tutorial assumes you have a rudimentary knowledge of server operating systems, so I’m not going to go into the details of installing those services. But to prove that our port forwards worked, you should at least install OpenSSH (during installation or as soon as you boot into the environment), and if you are able to SSH to your host computer on port 22 and access the guest environment, then everything worked the way it should have.

 

Launching Server When Computer is Booted

It may be useful to launch this virtual server when the computer boots. To do this, create a BAT file with the following command:

VBoxManage startvm “VM Name” –type headless

Place a shortcut to this BAT file in the Startup folder of a (or all) user accounts and you’re good to go. The server will launch and run in the background, allowing you to SSH into the server to control it from a terminal.

For maintenance purposes, you may also want to create a second BAT file for stopping the server (since it’s running in the background with no visible window). To do so, create a BAT file with the following command:

VBoxManage controlvm “VM Name” poweroff

 

Access from External IP

Login to your router and go the Port Forwarding section. Add a new port 22 forward, and forward that port to the IP address of the host. Do the same for port 80 and any other ports you added during the configuration above. Now, by typing in the external IP address of your network, you can SSH into the guest operating system through port 22, and you can utilize other services available to other ports.

There’s a lot more than can be done from here (using DNS to propagate to your external IP address, mail servers, etc.), but this tutorial has gotten you to the point where you can use tutorials for non-virtualized environments tutorials to accomplish those goals now. Good luck with your endeavors!

 

Ernie’s Adventure

What … Is This?

If you’re like my brother and me, you love old-timey computer games almost more than the latest and greatest shoot-em-up.  For as long as I can remember, my brother and I have loved playing classic puzzle games like King’s Quest, Commander Keen (yah, I realize that’s not really a puzzle game), and, later, games like the Myst games.

As such, after years of my brother and I writing our own useful programs, Andrew had a brilliant idea.  “Hey, why don’t we write an old-school adventure game with lousy DOS graphics?  You know, in the fashion of King’s Quest and the like?”

This was an idea through most of 2008, began development in 2009, and became what it is now sometime in 2010.  Obviously, we could have put effort into making these graphics cutting edge … but that would kind of defeat the purpose.  We intentionally made this game for nostalgic purposes.

The music is pure genius, I must say.  Any likenesses you may here throughout the game to other old-timey games you’ve played is purely coincidental.  Don’t sue us.

Alright, I Follow.  So Who’s Ernie?

Ernie was my dog.  I don’t say “was” because he’s dead or anything terrible like that−I say “was” because he now belongs to my brother.  I now have a new dog named Dante, and he and Ernie get along great.  But I digress.

When Andrew started developing The-Yet-To-Be-Named-Old-School-Game, he needed something to fashion it after, and he wanted it to be something he and I had in common, since we had the same affinity for such games.  Ernie must have been trotting by at the time, because he decided to make him the main character.  And thus development began.

Uh, I Didn’t Play Old-Timey Games.  What Do I Do?

Use the arrow keys to move the Ernie character around.  When you walk up to an object you’d like to do something with, type the action.  Then press enter.  Yes, type.  For instance, if you walk up to a shiny object on the ground, try typing the command “get key” and pressing enter.  Don’t know if it’s a keep?  Try the “look” command to see what’s around you.  Be specific.  If you see a person, type “look person”.

The key to these old game typing commands is verb noun.  So to talk (verb) to aperson (noun), you’d type “talk person”.  Don’t know the name of the person?  Type “look” and maybe the description will tell you the name of the person in the screen.

Type “inventory” to see a list of the items in your … you guessed it … inventory!

Oh, and as I said before, this was intentionally made as a DOS-style game.  That means your mouse won’t work at all.  If you’d like to access those menus at the top, press Alt and use the arrow keys to navigate.

The Nerd-Speech in This Post is Minimal.  Anything to Add?

Yah.  The game can also be run on Mac, if you’re interested, but the build isn’t as stable, and, frankly, I didn’t feel like dealing with getting it to that state.  Deal with it.  If you’d really like to see the game run on Mac, you’re more than welcome to brave the build yourself.  You can find it on Andrew’s code repository here.  Don’t say I didn’t warn use.  Seriously.  Not a pretty build.  And even if you do get it to build, I’ve only gotten it to run a few times, and it does crash from time to time.

And speaking of crashing, it may crash a bit on Windows Vista.  I don’t think we got all of the Vista bugs worked out because, well … it’s Vista.  Not worth our time.  But it worked consistently on Windows XP and Windows 7.  Anyway, you know, we offer this game with absolutely no guarantee or warranty.  And it should work just fine for you.  I promise.

Conclusion

If you’re a fan of the classics, or you just really like stalking the work I do, or you just want to take my old dog on a walking-tour of my parent’s house, it’s certainly worth a play through!

And, since a lot of the commands and scenarios on this game are very Laird-specific, I’ll leave comments and such enabled on this page so people can post and help each other out if absolutely necessary.

The End of an Era for NASA

STS-135: The Final (Shuttle) Launch

This morning marked the beginning of the end of an era.  I say the beginning of the end because the era does not conclusively close until next week, when the Space Shuttle Atlantis returns safely the Earth.

The beginning of the end happened at 11:29 A.M. EST as Atlantis’ rocket engines propelled the 4.5 million pound vehicle off the pad and, in eight and a half minutes, out of the Earth’s atmosphere, into space, and up to a speed of 17,320 mph.  (For the astute reader, you’ll note that this means it must be traveling at over 4.81 miles per second as it left the Earth’s atmosphere.)

Ominous weather taunted the launch of this shuttle all week, but all systems were a go this morning, and aside from a slight hold at T-minus 31 seconds (due to the GOX Vent Hood not registering with one of the sensors as fully retracted), Atlantis left the pad and disappeared into the heavy blanket of clouds above in less than forty seconds.

What you may not realize is that, at the time of the launch, according to NASA’s own protocol, the shuttle technically had the red light.  Yesterday, storms were furious around Cape Canaveral, and lightning even struck the ground twice just around the launch pad.  Luckily, there was no significant damage done to the pad or the surrounding area.  The weather, however, persisted.

NASA’s launch safety protocol dictates that precipitation cannot occur within twenty miles of the launch pad during a launch.  This morning, after all launch systems reported back “go”, the weather crew came back without a go.  It wasn’t a no-go, per se.  They just hadn’t reached a verdict yet.  This was at the T-minus 9 minute hold; it was definitely raining within the twenty mile radius.

Ultimately, Mike Leinbach, the Shuttle Launch Director, who gave the launch a go under the assumption that the weather would continue to move away from the launch pad before launch.  This was not a dangerous maneuver, as if weather hadn’t gone as predicted, the launch could have been scrubbed down to the thirty second mark.

The weather was so variable in fact, that Mike Moses, Launch Integration Manager, said in the post-launch press report that the decision to fill the External Fuel Tank (ET) this morning, a six hour process that costs $500,000 to undo, was settled over a game of darts. But the calls were made.  The delays, insignificant.  And after over 1,000 onboard systems were a “go”, STS-135, the final shuttle of its kind, launched safely from Pad 39A this morning.  But this is only the end of one era.  The end of the space shuttle era.  It seems Americans and the media have focused so intently on the ending of this era that they’re acting as though NASA is closing its doors for good.

Nearly one million people were present to watch Atlantis liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center this morning.  That doesn’t include the tens of millions of viewers watching the stream live from all around America and the world.  Certainly this was a momentous occasion—the conclusion of the near $200 billion dollar space shuttle program’s 30-year reign—but NASA has plans to return to space.  They just need a new vehicle to do it in.

The aged space shuttles weren’t originally built to optimal safety standards (you can thank the government for NASA budget cuts on that one), so they’re being retired.  Though the shuttles could continue to fly safely, NASA has brighter plans for the future.  My hope is that the one million people at Cape Canaveral chanting, “U-S-A … U-S-A” and “GO, GO, GO!”, as well as the cubicle-confined fans (like myself) shouting “Get ‘outta here!” from their desk chairs mourn only the conclusion of the shuttle generation, but not the death of NASA.

Eye on the Prize

The Space Shuttle Atlantis was hauling its crew and cargo to the International Space Station, a $100 billion dollar structure in a low-Earth orbit (about 220 miles out).  The Space Shuttle itself was designed primarily for this purpose even—a low-Earth orbit. But what about deep space exploration?  That’s exactly what NASA said.  Orion, the vehicle being built for the future of space travel, is being designed with manned deep exploration in mind.  It’s slated for a completion date of 2016, and it is expected to launch that same year assuming NASA gets a contractor to build a rocket for it and assuming that rocket is also completed by 2016. The Orion space capsule follows the primitive design of the Apollo spacecraft, but with much more of a vision.  Obviously, we’ve advanced quite a ways technologically since the Saturn V rockets boosted the Apollo capsule into space.  The aim for Orion is that she’ll have the reliability and safety the old Apollo spacecraft with the ingenuity and technology of the future.  She’s being built with the purpose of landing a man (or woman) on the surface of Mars.

But … Why Space?  It’s a Money Hog!

A money hog?  Because the space shuttle cost us nearly $2 billion each?  For the $450 million dollar price tag per mission?  Because the shuttle burns more than two million pounds of solid propellant in the two minutes after takeoff?  Because a satellite can cost upwards of $300 million to launch?

Sure, NASA is expensive.  We get it.  But can you name me a way to advance society that doesn’t cost a pretty penny?  You can debate it all you like, and you can argue that the budget for NASA is too large, or that the tax break NASA gets (that’s coming from your pocket) is too much, but the fact remains: NASA paved the way for your current way of life, and space exploration, especially through NASA, will mold the lives of our future generations.

Unfortunately, the advantage of space exploration is currently evading our current administration.  Yet in an economy continually teetering just above and below a 10% unemployment rate, I’d say the jobs created by subcontracted construction of rockets, satellites, space vehicles, space equipment, and research and development projects are nigh invaluable.

Lockheed Martin, the primary contractor for the Orion project, has published posters that boast, “Orion is being built near me!”  And, as a means of spreading out the love (and keeping the primary decision to scrap the project out of the hands of the government), they’ve spread the research, development, and construction work for Orion out over twenty-six separate contractors all over the country.  Not only are they stimulating jobs in the economy, but they’re also inspiring families and the job market alike with the excitement of being involved (directly or indirectly) in the future of the space age.

Don’t Care.  I Still Don’t Need NASA

Perhaps you’re still not convinced.  Maybe you still think you you don’t need NASA, and that NASA has done nothing to personally effect your life and loved ones.  Then I’ll leave you with these thoughts:  well over 1,700 technologies, many of which you use daily, were brought to you from the multi-billion dollar space program and NASA …

… The fibrous material in your tire tread.  Your home’s insulation.  Velcro.  Image processing (which gave you all the technology from a steady cam to image enhancement to HD movies to a personal video and still camera the size of your palm).  Prosthetics.  The GPS in your phone … not to mention the satellite that your phone, television, and possibly even your internet connection talk to … not to mention these satellites are now used to predict weather patterns, tornados, hurricanes, and more.  Health and safety equipment from ventricular devices to help your heart pump blood to more lightweight material that firefighters can wear when entering a burning building.  Cordless tools …

… and much, much more.

Thanks, NASA, for all the work you’ve done not just for our country, but for the entire world.  For inspiring my brother and I to investigate computers, technology, and spacecraft.  For the sense of camaraderie you gave Americans with each other, the rest of the world, and the universe this morning.  For the life changing technology you’ve given us.  Keep shedding more light on the infinite galaxies out there left to explore.

North American P-51 Mustang

One-hundred-seventeen days.  Almost four months.  What could you build in one-hundred-seventeen days?  Perhaps I should rephrase that: what could you build in one-hundred-seventeen days on a government contract? Certainly not an entire aircraft, from the ground up, from scratch-paper to rolling it out of the hanger?

But it has been done.  The North American P-51 Mustang was ordered just one-hundred-seventeen days before the first prototype was rolled out.  That’s an incredible achievement right there.  Before the aircraft even got off the ground, putting all of its air superiority aside, the entire plane was designed and put together in less than four months.  It was flying less than two months after that.

History

Why was the P-51 ordered you might ask? In the early 1940’s as World War II was ramping up, North American Aviation (NAA) realized we had no fighters that met the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) strict requirements, and we were in desperate need of an aircraft that could protect daytime bombing formations deep into Germany.  So in March of 1940, 320 new P-51 aircraft were commissioned by NAA.

It wasn’t until 1943 that enough P-51s were available to start doing some good.  Pilots found that the aircraft was an excellent long range escort fighter.  Finally, it was possible for the RAF to carry out their bombing missions at night, and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) to carry out their bombing missions in the day time with P-51 escort.

As the war wrapped up, jet powered aircraft started to develop.  While many of the earlier aircraft in the Allied fleet couldn’t compete against the faster jet aircraft, the P-51 could.  This allowed the P-51 to be picked as the top piston powered aircraft during the end of the war.

The USAAF consolidated much of its P-51 fleet after the end of the war.  A few upgrades were made to the plane through the 1950’s and the fighter lasted much longer than other piston powered fighter planes.  While much of the world was looking to jet powered fighters, the P-51 continued to have a role even into the 1960’s.  Finally, the last two military P-51s flew in 1968 as chase planes for a military helicopter.  The last P-51 that was downed in military combat flew in 1965.

The P-51 played a vital role in winning Wold War II.

Record

By May of 1945 the top three P-51 groups had shot down 4,950 aircraft; this amounted to half of the USAAF total kills in the entire European theater.  Keep in mind that was only the top three groups, and if you break that down by day, it amounts to over 6.75 kills per day.

The two top scoring aerial combat groups (which exclusively flew P-51s) had 1,229 kills just between the two of them.  During the European campaign, the RAF and USAAF used the P-51 in 123,873 sorties.

Weapons

Machine guns were the dogfighting weapon in World War II.  The P-51 had four 0.30 inch M1919 Browning machine guns and two 0.50 inch M2 Browning machine guns in its wings.  Two more 0.50 inch M2 Browning machine guns were mounted under the engine of the aircraft and were synchronized to fire between the propeller as it rotated.  This technology was developed in WWI and was known as gun synchronization gear.

The P-51 was capable of carrying ten 5 inch long rockets that were mounted under the wings similar to today’s missiles.  It could also carry 2,000 pounds of bombs under the wings in place of the rockets.  On long range missions the later models could replace the weapons with external fuel tanks to extend their range by 300 miles.

Specifications

The P-51 Mustang was a top of the line machine for its time.  Powered by the Merlin V-1650 engine, the first models boasted a top speed of 437 mph, which could keep up with the earliest jet powered aircraft.  The final model, the P-51H, could hit 490 mph.  The P-51 would cruise at around 275 mph and at about 41,900 feet.  Its range was over 1000 miles.  When the P-51D was introduced an additional 300 miles were gained with drop tanks on the wings.

How much did a P-51 cost?  In 1945 the government paid $50,985 for each aircraft.  Converting that to 2011 dollars it would cost around $628,000 to buy a P-51.  After the war, the government sold many of their P-51s for civilian use, some for as little as $1,500.

A total of 16,766 P-51 Mustangs were built.  Many of them were sold to other Allied countries.  It was thought of as the top long range escort fighter of its time.  Many still fly today in homage of the original lead fighter of the USAAF.

Sightings

Sadly, it’s not likely that you’ll be out drinking lemonade on your porch one day and see a formation of P-51s flying over anymore.  You will mostly likely have to go to a museum or an airshow to see one.

There has been a trend over the past few years to do “heritage” flights at airshows with a WWII era plane flying along side one of today’s modern fighters.  Many times the P-51 is chosen for this task.  If you’ve been to a recent airshow and seen one of these “heritage” flights, then it’s possible you’ve seen a P-51.

It’s even harder to see a P-51 in the movies.  There was only one movie made that centers around the P-51 and that was a 1957 film called Battle Hymn.  There are a handful of other movies that you catch glimpses of P-51s: Empire of the Sun, Saving Private Ryan, Memphis Belle, and The Tuskegee Airmen all have a few scenes with P-51s flying.

If you get a chance, head over to an airshow and catch a glimpse of the one of the finest WWII era fighters built.  It will be a trip worth taking.

If you don’t get a chance, buy your own P-51 Mustang model or remote control plane from Amazon! Just follow the links below:

Andrew Laird (usually referred to as “The Brother”) is the sibling of Alex Laird. He shares the same love for airplanes as Alex does and is the guest author of this post.

McDonnel Douglas F/A-18 Hornet

The Fighter/Attack series is one most people are familiar with, and probably the most well-know set of aircraft the Unites States Navy and Air Force produce.  Unfortunately, the understood distinctions between each aircraft are not that well known.  Most commonly, all fighter aircraft are referred to as an F-16.  If you don’t believe me, just look up a few YouTube videos; you’ll be able to see variances in the details of the aircraft, but most of the videos are  will call the aircraft an F-16 … it’s sad, really.

But I digress.

Let’s talk about the second most awesome plane in the Fighter/Attack series (the most awesome being the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, but this aircraft, unfortunately, will not be at the Quad City Air Show): the F/A-18.  And, just to make things interesting, let’s Tarantino this post and get to the interesting stuff first!

 

Where You’ve Seen It

If you recall, the Fat Albert of the Blue Angels was a C-130.  Well, the most recent bread of Blue Angels themselves happen to fly F/A-18 Hornets.  That’s where this post comes in as relating to the Quad City Air Show—not only will their be ground displays of a standard F/A-18, but the Blue Angels will put on a show flying their F/A-18s as well.

The media?  F/A-18s have made appearances in the following popular Hollywood movies: Godzilla (I’d say the scene is obvious enough), The Rock as they attack Alcatraz, Independence Day (the aircraft that Will Smith is shown flying), Clear and Present Danger where an F/A-18 is shown dropping a laser-guided bomb on a vehicle, Tears of the Sun in the final battle, and the F/A-18 Super Hornet, a two-seat variant of the F/A-18 Hornet stars, in Behind Enemy Lines.

Think you saw the F/A-18 in Transformers?  You’d be right!  The Transformers Decepticon, Starscream, morphs into an F-22 Raptor, and flying through the city (when Starscream smashes them down) are also F-22s.  However, the fighters shown lifting off the carrier part-way through the movie are Hornets, and I actually know the pilot who was flying the F/A-18 shown taking off from the carrier!

Ever seen that video of a fighter jet flying and safely landing after losing a wing?  That’s an F/A-18.  The Hornet was the first aircraft of its kind to have the unique ability to be able to safely fly with up to 80% of a wing removed, thanks to some amazing thrust-control software developed by … you guessed it, Rockwell Collins.  I’m not 100% certain, but I believe that functionality has also been implemented in the F-22 Raptor.

Finally, the F/A-18 is one of the most common fighter jets you see at an airshow, next to the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-15 Eagle, so it’s likely that if you’ve been to an air show or two, you’ve probably seen the Hornet or a variation thereof.

 

Specifications

The F/A-18 is powered by two massive power plants mounted on its rear.  The power plants are each F404-GE-402 afterburning engines, capable of thrusting over 18,000 pounds.The weight of the F/A-18 at takeoff is 22,000 pounds.  The thrust-to-weight ratio is nearly 1-to-1, which lends to the aircraft’s amazing maneuverability.

The fighter can hold over 11,000 pounds of fuel in its internal tank and nearly 7,000 pounds in its external fuel tank.  On takeoff, the aircraft will be loaded with different amounts of fuel depending on its roll during flight.  For instance, if it is performing an attack mission, the external fuel tank will not be filled.  However, if is performing a longer-range attack mission, the external fuel tank will be filled, and the plane may weigh up to 52,000 pounds on takeoff.

The Hornet is 56 feet in length, only 15 feet in height, and has a wingspan of 40 feet—again, its very close length-to-width ratio lends to amazing maneuverability during combat.  When loaded with fuel and missiles, the fighter can fly just over 1,000 miles non-stop.

It’s hard to talk about a fighter jet without touching its speeds.  You ready for this?  The F/A-18 has a top speed of mach 1.8—that’s 1,370 mph.  That’s less than two hours to fly coast-to-coast in the United States at its widest point (excluding Alaska, of course).

 

On the Carrier

And while we’re on the subject of dimensions and speed, we should probably talk about the planes use on aircraft carriers, since it was designed with that storage in mind.  Certain later F/A-18 models (E and F) have collapsible wings for better storage on an aircraft carrier, but the standard models (A-D) do not.  This isn’t a huge issue, however, since their wingspan is only 40 feet.  Carriers range in size, but depending on the mixture of aircraft its holding and whether they have collapsible wings or not, a carrier can usually hold anywhere from 85 to 140 fighter planes.

Fighter jets, though extremely powerful, do not have enough thrust to get their aircraft up to liftoff speed before the end of the very short carrier runway, usually around 300 yards or less.  By comparison, United States air regulations require commercial landing strips to be a minimum of 4,033 yards.  So you can see that the fighters are working with a lot less runway here.  So how do they get up to speed?  Four continuous catapults.

A plane cannot lift off the ground until the proper amount of air is moving over the wings to generate lift.  The amount of air needed to generate lift depends on the weight and dimensions of the aircraft, but the catapults on an aircraft carrier, which are entirely steam driven, help lung fighters up to their necessary speed (about 170 mph) before the end of the runway.  It takes that catapults only two seconds to do this.  Usually, they planes don’t quite make it to their necessary speed, which is why you’ll see the heavier fighter jets dip toward the sea just after takeoff of an aircraft carrier.  But don’t worry.  There’s still 240 feet between the flight deck and the thrashing sea, which is plenty of room for the plane to gather the necessary airspeed to gain altitude.

Of course, all of this is just for takeoff.  How does a plane land on such a short runway?  Oh, and you know how a flight deck may be up to 300 yards long for takeoff?  Landing planes come in at a different angle, and they usually only have about 166 yards.  When they lower their landing gear, they also lower a tail hook.  The tail hook is just what it sounds like—a hook that protrudes down from the fighter jet and grabs the arresting wires that are stretched across the carrier’s landing deck.  These wires are pulled tight and screech the aircraft to a halt on the flight deck.

But what if the pilot misses the wires?  Landing on an aircraft carrier is one of the most difficult things a fighter pilot may ever do, so there’s a good chance he may miss the wires.  This means he has to immediately takeoff, fly a loop, and try landing again.  This also means that fighters land on an aircraft carrier at a very high rate of speed compared to a normal runway.  Which also means that as soon as the pilot hits the flight deck, rather than pulling his engines back or slamming on the breaks, he throws the engines to full throttle.  Why?  Because the moment he is signaled that he missed the arresting wires, he needs to be above his 180 mph to take off the other end of the carrier again.  When an aircraft misses the arrest wire, it is known as a “bolter”.  The landing deck of an aircraft carrier is slanting upward at a 14 degree angle from the rest of the aircraft so it can assist bolters in quickly getting back up to a safe altitude after missing the arresting wires.

 

Armaments

Unfortunately, the F/A-18 has no weapon systems … I’m just kidding.  But seriously.  The Hornet comes equipped with a nose-mounted 20 mm M61 Vulcan gatling gun that houses nearly 600 rounds.

The F/A-18 can hold up to nine missiles: two on the wingtips, four under the wing, and three under the external fuel tank.  If you see an equipped F/A-18, it may be carrying Hydra 70 or Zuni rockets, or it may be equipped with AIM-9, AIM-132, IRIS-T, or AIM-120, AIM-7 or AIM-120 air-to-air missiles.  There are also five types of air-to-surface heat-seeking missiles that the Hornet may be carrying, or a few AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile.

You think that’s all?  Of course not.  The Hornet can also be used as a bomber.  The F/A-18 can carry up to eight different types of bombs, including Paveway laser-guided bombs, cluster bombs, JDAM precision-guided bombs, B61/Mk57 nuclear bombs, and more.

 

History and Cost

Boy, after starting with all the cool stuff, the history of the aircraft seems kinda bland, doesn’t it?  If you answered “yes” to that, I question why you’re even reading blogs about airplanes … after all, without aircraft history, we wouldn’t be making bigger, better, faster, and more agile aircraft every decade.

McDonnell Douglas developed the F/A-18 Hornet after gaining the contract from the United States Navy’s Naval Fighter-Attack Experimental program.  The goal of this program was simple:  create an agile aircraft that could replace the Skyhawk, Corsair II, and Phantom II, performing better in every respect than its fighter-series predecessors.  Both the Navy and the Air Force needed a short-takeoff aircraft that was versatile enough to be used on a land-based air base or stored on and launched from an aircraft carrier.

The Navy proposed a design for the aircraft that illustrated a single-man aircraft that could be easily used for bombing and could then defend itself from attacks while it returned to Home Base.  The F/A-18 certainly meets that goal with its superior dog-fighting capabilities, and it proved this ability in Operation Desert Storm, when one aircraft would dog-fight its way to its target, bomb the area, and return to base without a scratch.

The F/A-18 was first tested in 1978 and entered the service in 1983.  The F/A-18 Super Hornet, a two-seater variant of the Hornet developed by Boeing, was introduced in the early 1990s after the Navy retired the F-14 Tomcat, A-6 Intruder, and EA-6 Prowler all at once … without first considering an alternative (oops).

A single F/A-18 Hornet costs just under $40 million.  The F/A-18 Super Hornet costs nearly $60 million.  The fleet size of the F/A-18 family is nearly 3,000 aircraft.

Finally, let’s talk about the cockpit of the aircraft.  Like previous military aircraft I’ve covered, the radio communications and control panel were developed by none other than Rockwell Collins (though, again, we never get credit for this on any of the Wikipedia pages).  Last, but certainly not least, in the late 1990s, Rockwell Collins developed a technology that would automatically adjust engine thrusts in the case of a serious malfunction of aircraft damage.  Originally, the functionality was intended to provide a safe landing for a fighter aircraft if it lost up to 60% of its wing, but the final program allows the F/A-18 to lose up to 80% of one wing and land safely!  Now that’s impressive for an aircraft that may weigh up to 51,000 pounds when filled.

Oh, and here’s a fun fact: though you may think of the F/A-18 as a “heavy” aircraft due to its many pounds by comparison to, say, you’re car, it’s actually classified as a light-weight fighter.  In fact, when the Navy bid the program in the first place, a light-weight fighter was one of their requirements.

Think the F/A-18 Hornet is one of McDonnel Douglas’ finest creations? Buy your own model or remote control version by following the Amazon links below:

Or, if you’re really ambitious, save up a bit for an even bigger scale model:

Boeing AH-64 Apache

Has there ever been a moment in your life in which you’ve seen something and your thought has been, “This is it … I’m about to die.”  Perhaps you’ve been out hiking and you’ve seen some form of wildlife.  Maybe it’s been when you stood on the edge of a massive cliff (I felt this way when I went to the Grand Canyon).  If you’re like Jess, it’s probably been when you’ve seen a spider.

But I don’t think anything could really prepare you for a real life confrontation with today’s aircraft: the Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter.

 

 

The Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne

Think of the Cheyenne as the Apache’s older, fatter brother that ended up being a major disappointment, dropping out of college after the first month.  When hope in the family business was lost with Big Brother Cheyenne, the parents turned to Boeing to save the day with brother Apache.

In 1966, the United States Army was in the market for a jet-assisted attack helicopter that, as a secondary goal beyond defensive escorts, could also dash ahead (up to 244mph) for an offensive front.  Lockheed’s AH-56 was meant to be that helicopter.  Unfortunately, after exceeding the budget, the weight, procuring too many technical difficulties for the Army’s taste, and more than one fatality during test flights, the Army cancelled their contract with Lockheed.  Ten Cheyenne helicopters were completed during production—only four survived testing, three of which are on display at various museums.

 

The Apache Concept

Unfortunately, the Army still needed a jet-assisted helicopter for armored air transportation.  Solutions had been found to many of the technical difficulties the Cheyenne had experienced, but the program was already so over budget that Lockheed was not given the chance to embrace the fixes themselves.  In a new bid, Boeing won production rights to a dual-engine attack helicopter; the dual engines resolved most of the stability issues the Cheyenne had.  A more compact design (due partially in part to the dual engines) led to a lighter aircraft, which fulfilled the Army’s maximum weight requirements.

What the Army really wanted was an aircraft like British Aerospace’s Harrier Jump Jet.  Unfortunately, the Key West Agreement denies the Army the rights to own or produce its own fixed-wing aircraft.  This may seem like a strange policy for a division of the Department of Defense to agree to, but it essentially separates the various types of aircraft owned by each division of the United States Military.  The Air Force controls most of the fixed-wing aircraft, the National Guard and the Army own primarily helicopters, etc; it helps maintain division of roles.  Anyway, their solution to a Harrier-like aircraft without mounting wings was a jet-assisted helicopter.

 

The Production and The Cost

In 1976, four years after the Cheyenne program was cancelled, the concept for the AH-64 was approved.  Two more units were produced, surpassing the Army’s desires for the aircraft, and in 1982, the AH-64 was approved for full production.

The initial production model was known as the AH-64A, a unit that cost $20 million to produce.  In March of 1997, an upgraded version of the AH-64 was developed and called the AH-64D.  This model featured improved sensory systems and enemy detection, superior armor plating, and a safer glass cockpit.  With the improved sensory systems on the AH-64D comes the dome you see on the very top of some of the aircraft.  This dome features advanced targeting technology and radar for targeting.  The dome is elevated so far above the rest of the aircraft so the aircraft can be hiding behind a hill, but the radar targeting system can still lock onto an enemy and fire.

The unit cost of an AH-64D Apache today is about $18 million.  At this time, nearly all AH-64As in existence have been upgraded to AH-64Ds.  To this day, over 1,100 Apache attack helicopters have been developed and are used in action.

One cost the AH-64 Apache did not incur that the Cheyenne did was fatalities in testing.  From the beginning, the Apache helicopter was always a much more stable and controlled design.

 

The Presence and The Sightings

You’ll know when you see the AH-64 Apache.  Most likely because you’ll suddenly find that your pants have been soiled and your legs are shaking involuntarily.  Don’t believe me?  After the AH-64As huge success in non-confrontational combat, the AH-64D was developed with a primary goal of taking advantage of the Apache’s terrifying facade and making it that much more so.  During the Gulf War, only five years after the public release of the new attack helicopter, three Apache helicopters were deployed on a particular mission to help eradicate Iraqi troops.  The moment the Apache helicopters arrived, as they rose over the horizon and came into the enemy troops’ vision, 10,000 Iraqi troops threw down their weapons, fell to their knees, and lifted their arms in surrender; the helicopters never fired a single shot.  Since only two crew members reside in each Apache helicopter, that means six soldiers successfully overthrew 10,000 hostile troops.

Other ways to identify it are by its unusual length for a helicopter—or the fact that it’s a helicopter with twin jet engines, one mounted on either side.  The Apache measures 58 feet in length, 16 feet in height, and has a 17 ft. “wing” span.  The diameter of the rotors is 48 feet, making the rotor disc area 1,809 sq. ft.  When loaded with an average capacity, the Apache weighs a little over 15,000 pounds.  They can have up to two fuel tanks—one internal, one external— totaling over 8,000 pounds of fuel on takeoff.  However, if the AH-64 is on a short-range attack mission, the external fuel tank can be swapped out for 16 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles or 76 70 mm rocket pods.

Which reminds me, an attack helicopter wouldn’t be very complete without its armaments.  Boeing’s AH-64 is always equipped with one 30 mm chain cannon, which may host up to 1,200 rounds.  Though this helicopter has no bombing capabilities, it can have any combination of the following air-to-surface missiles: AGM-114 Hellfire, AGM-122 Sidearm, or BGM-71 TOW.  If an Apache confronts you, it may also be loaded with AIM-9 Sidewinder or AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air heat-seeking missiles.  Finally, the AH-64 Apache can also carry 70 mm rocket pods, as mentioned above, as well as 127 mm rockets.

Other than seeing an Apache attack helicopter at an air show, you may have seen a few make an appearance in the movie Fire Birds, a 1990 film starring Nicolas Cage as an Apache pilot.  Transformers fan?  The “Spinster” Transformer character morphs into an Apache attack helicopter.  The AH-64 also makes appearances in the 1991 movie Toy Soldiers.

Think the AH-64 is the sweetest helicopter around (like me)? Buy your own model or remote control version by following the Amazon links below:

Lockheed C-130 Hercules

My brother and I have always had an obsession with airplanes, spacecraft, and NASA that borders on the unhealthy.  Our obsessive endeavors have taken us annually to the Quad City Air Show, where we have drooled at our magnificent dreams hovering just before our eyes.

This year’s edition of the Quad City Air Show is just around the corner—June 18-19.  And as a tribute to those momentous dates, I have decided to release a special on each of the aircraft that will (cross your fingers) be present or performing at the Quad City Air Show this year.  Today’s installment is the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, an enormous transport aircraft built for the United States Air Force during the Korean War.

 

The Bid

In the post-World War II era, The Korean War shed light on the fact that the current military transport aircraft were simply insufficient; their advancements simply hadn’t kept up with the aircraft and crew they were transporting.  So in 1951, the United States Air Force put out a new General Operation Requirement for leading manufacturers to bid on.

The aircraft needed to be able to host any of the following: 92 passengers, 72 combat troops, or 64 paratroopers.  It also needed five crew members to be operable.  It had a requirement to be able house cargo in excess of 400 sq. ft.  And it would be the first transport aircraft to host a rear-entry ramp—a ramp big enough to fit even the biggest military vehicles—a ramp that could be used for air drops.

In the running for the bid were the usual big-name airliners: Boeing, Douglas, Fairchild, Lockheed, and Northrop, just to name a few.  Lockheed won the design bid and, ultimately, the contract to develop the plane, with their 130-page proposal for a quad-turboprop beast designed specifically for heavy cargo, long-range transportation, short-strip takeoffs from unprepared runways, and the amazing ability to still maintain altitude with one engine down.

After being awarded the winning bid, but before signing the paperwork to accept the contract, a Lockheed engineer remarked to the project leads, “If you sign that letter, you will destroy the Lockheed Company.”  The program was seen as a trivial pursuit for the Lockheed Company as the C-130 would be a defenseless transport aircraft and Lockheed was known for its more combatant pursuits.  Even still, the contract was signed, and Lockheed promptly put 2,000 more units of its prototype into production.

Because I’m a fan of shameless plugs, though Lockheed was the primary contractor on the aircraft and built most of the visible components, the Heads Up Display (HUD), which is the majority of the control panel and radio communications within the cockpit of the aircraft, was developed by Rockwell Collins.

 

The Crew and The Payload

The original C-130, as there have been many editions of the aircraft since then, required five crew members for flight operations: two pilots, one navigator, one flight engineer, and one loadmaster.  The modern C-130 only requires three crew members.

The maximum possible weight of the C-130 is 42,000 pounds.  An average payload during its lifetime is 36,000 pounds.  The cargo of a C-130 may simply consist of palettes full of military or civilian supplies, or it may be carrying vehicles.  For example, its cargo bay could carry up to three Humvees, or two M113 tanks (it could probably carry more space-wise, but each of these tanks weighs in at about 12 tons).

Though the standard C-130 Hercules was bid primarily as a non-combatant cargo aircraft, it has been practically used for offensive attacks by means of its payload ramp.  For instance, a low-altitude flyover with the payload ramp let out can easily lend to the dropping of an M551, a “light” tank (weighing in at 15 tons) designed with an air-drop in mind.  The Hercules has also been used on some occasions to drop “daisy clutter” bombs from its easily accessible payload.

 

The Power

The C-130 can be the host of 21 tons of cargo.  It can drop a 15-ton tank directly out of its payload.  It can hold enough fuel for not only itself, but also for an aircraft it may be meeting to refuel.  And under this stress, how does the Hercules itself fair?  Quite well, actually.

With an average payload weight, the Hercules can still travel just over 1,200 nautical miles.  That’s nearly halfway across the United States.  On the one hand, that may not seem very far considering it’s a cargo aircraft.  On the other hand, it can make that trip in only a little over three hours, and it does it while carrying 21 tons of cargo, not including its own weight, which is itself nearly 38 tons.  Think about that.  That means that, at takeoff, the plain is lifting 77 tons, or 155,000 pounds, off the ground.  To put that into perspective, the United States Department of Transportation does not allow a semi to weigh more than 40 tons.  And the C-130 is doing nearly twice that.  In the air.

The maximum speed of a fully loaded C-130 is 345-417mph, depending on the model.  The aircraft has a 132 ft. wingspan, is 97 feet long, and stands nearly four stories (38 feet) high.  The plane’s ceiling is safely at 28,000 feet, and the aircraft requires 3,290 feet of runway to takeoff and an absolute minimum of 1,500 feet to land.  Carrying an average load, the plane can slow to the surprising speed of 115mph before stalling.

 

The Cost

It’s really the reason you’ve been reading this long, isn’t it?  You want to know what a plane like this costs.  It depends on the model built.  The C-130E cost $11.9 million to build, the H-series cost $30.1 million, and the C-130J costs $48.5 million, to name a few.   Of all types, a total of 2,300 C-130s have been produced.  If you’re like me, you’ll want to know what the cost of the entire fleet is.  Unfortunately, there’s no simple calculation of these numbers that will lend to an accurate portrayal of that cost.  Economic variances since the C-130 was first developed will lend to errors in this calculation.  So we’ll just have to be satisfied to know that the biggest, most powerful, and most expensive C-130J costs something close to $50 million per unit.

 

The Sightings

Ever been to an air show?  More than one?  Then you’ve probably seen the Blue Angels and their chubby companion, Fat Albert.  Fat Albert is probably one of the most well-known C-130s, and he’s known most for his weight.  At nearly every show, he lifts off using Jet-engine Assisted TakeOff, or JATO, to help him lift his overweight body off the ground.

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is also seen in the movies The Green Berets (John Wayne fans?) and The Perfect Storm.  In fact, the footage shown in The Perfect Storm is actually real life footage of National Guard HC-130P refueling a distressed HH-60 helicopter.  And, of course, the plane that takes out that ugly scorpion at the beginning of Transformers was an AC-130, the combatant relative to the C-130.

If you live near an Air Force base, you’ve likely seen one of these freighters lifting into the sky.  They’re easily identified by their immense presence, four five/six-blade propellers, elongated underbelly, huge tail fin, wings along the top of the plane (rather than through the mid-section), and slow maneuvering.  As far as size goes, the Hercules is single most impressive aircraft in the world (save the Boeing C-17 of course).

The Question Project

Music, as defined by Webster, is “the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity.” This has come to be the generally accepted definition of music. However, Webster also defines music as, “An agreeable sound.” Sound, by its second definition, is “the sensation perceived by the sense of hearing.” To hear is to “Perceive or apprehend by ear,” or to “Gain knowledge by hearing.” Hearing is defined as, “The process, function, or power of perceiving sound.” The definition seems a bit circular when you look at it, but essentially music is what your ear perceives as a pleasant sound.

In a post modern sort of way, The Question of Music, Meaning, and Life Project aims to provide the listener with a deep, philosophical sound, or lack-thereof, with which they can meditate on the deeper philosophical questions of life.

Get It!

It is imperative that you read the description of each track to fully understand and appreciate each song on the album.

  1. White Noise – 2:15
  2. The Hows and Whys of What Led to Us – 3:31
  3. Greenpeace – 2:51
  4. I Made the Tree Fall in the Forest – 2:39
  5. Song of the Deaf – 5:24
  6. I’m the Reason Your Nose is Itching – 4:17
  7. The Female Mind – 10:14
  8. We Miss You, Pluto – 4:59
  9. Triangle Sandwiches Taste Better Than Square Ones – 3:03
  10. The Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything – 0:42
  11. What Was the Best thing Before Sliced Bread? – 4:22
  12. Dark Matter – 3:54
  13. Male Thought Patterns – 0:01
  14. Untitled – 3:13
  15. [Hidden Track] – 10:50

Thank you for your support!

The Tracks

White Noise – 2:15

Potentially one of the most controversial tracks on the album, White Noise refuses to live up to its name. The complete lack of artificial noise of any kind renders the possibility of white noise on the track impossible.

Critics have argued that this track is not really worthy of the name White Noise, but the song was written deliberately to shatter the preconceptions of the avid listener. Alone, they will be sitting in their room, ready to hear a track full of White Noise, and they will be completely flabbergasted at the notion that there is no white noise on this track!

Indeed, it seems that the sibling track to White Noise would have to be [Hidden Track], the only track on the entire album which actually articulates some sort of waveform. [Hidden Track] portrays the components that White Noise is lacking, but the average listener will never hear it.

Back to top

The Hows and Whys of What Led to Us – 3:31

In each relationship there is a beginning and an end. The beginning is beautiful, the end is painful and there are peaks and falls all throughout. It is impossible for those who once loved each other to articulate, once the relationship has ended, exactly what drew them to their former partner in the first place. Hurt feelings, raw emotions and healing hearts require just one thing:

Silence.

Back to top

Greenpeace – 2:51

Green.

Peace.

Back to top

I Made the Tree Fall in the Forest – 2:39

This is no laughing matter. If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Presumably no, by the definition of sound. For a sound is the vibration of matter as perceived by hearing. If there is no one there to hear it, no sound can be made, because hearing is part of the definition of a sound. However, hearing is not only done by humans. Hearing is done by animals and all other creatures of creation as well. The chances of there being absolutely nothing around to apprehend the noise vibrations is extremely unlikely.

However the question does suggest that there is no one present to hear it. Since the definition of hearing is circular, perceiving sound through the ear, we can be most certain that a sound is not actually made by the tree falling in the forest with no one around to heart it.

This track was written in loving memory of the numerous trees who have given their lives to prove this point.

Back to top

Song of the Deaf – 5:24

Many people misunderstand this track, assuming it’s silent because deaf people can’t talk. What these people fail to realize is that deaf people actually may be able to talk, they just certainly can’t hear. Dumb people, or their more appeasing title of mute people, are the ones who are unable to speak.

This track is meant to speak directly to deaf people, moving their very soul. Written and performed with the utmost concern for them, this track shows empathy towards them, understanding their inability to hear by intentionally giving them nothing to hear at all. Rather than smacking them in the face with audible sounds and vibrations as if to say, “Ha! You can’t hear this!” the artist chooses to recognize them and give them what they can hear.

Silence.

Back to top

I’m the Reason Your Nose is Itching – 4:17

There’s the old urban legend that if your nose is itching, someone is thinking about you. Is your nose itching right now? It should be. But have you ever stopped to think about the screaming silence of an itch? An itch invokes the sense of feeling and, if from an open sore, potentially even the sense of smelling. It’s likely one could look at the area in need of scratching, by crossing your eyes in the case of your nose, and you could even lick an itch, if you really wanted to. But there’s absolutely no way to hear an itch.

Think about it. It’s an emotional attachment to the one who loves you; an understanding simply through the sense of feeling, but they aren’t even present to be touching you. It takes a true, deep love to be able to affect someone so deeply through the senses without even being present.

This track is a dedication to that love; a silent love that can only be understood by the one who’s nose is itching, silently.

Back to top

The Female Mind – 10:14

The complexity of the female mind cannot be explained with words, sounds, or anything rational. It is obvious that women don’t understand the ways their minds work just as much as (if not more than) the males who try to understand them. “If not more than” is specifically stated not because of a superior intellect in the male gender, but because males simply don’t care to understand the female mind, therefore they give up trying. When they give up on understanding, they understand as much as they understood at the point of giving up, and they do not lose any understand beyond that point because they simply refuse to think about it. However, in the female’s persistence to continue to understand her own mind, she is, in actuality, lessening her own knowledge of her own mind due to the frustrations encountered in realizing more and more how impossible it is to understand herself, thus lowering her own knowledge of herself and other female minds.

The artist doesn’t even attempt to understand the female mind; he simply goes on about it in silence for the entirety of this song, which is probably the way such matters should always be approached.

Back to top

We Miss You, Pluto – 4:59

Poor Pluto has been the victim of much criticism, simply due to its small stature. Pluto was discovered and considered a planet up until the year 2006, at which point so much controversy was stirred over the planet that scientists finally created an entirely new subset of planets known as dwarf planets. Officially, Pluto was placed in this category, but we still think of Pluto as a planet.

By far the most saddening and even disturbing fact of all this is that people seem to be forgetting that planets have feelings too. Calling Pluto a dwarf planet may permanently damage its self image! Did anyone ever stop to think about that?

So, Pluto, here’s to you … A moment of silence in commemoration of when you were a planet. We still think of you as a planet.

Back to top

Triangle Sandwiches Taste Better Than Square Ones – 3:03

The mindset that all sandwiches are created equal is a fallacy of life that far too many people are sucked into.

You say that a sandwich is a sandwich, no matter which way it is cut, but that is simply untrue. For, in fact, the taste of a sandwich may be perceived by one as better if it is cut differently. One of the definitions of taste being “to appreciate or enjoy,” one may appreciate or enjoy a sandwich more if it is cut triangularly, thus rending the sandwich a better tasting one than had it been cut squarely.

In fact, this is most commonly the case, as numerous accounts of triangularly cut sandwiches tasting better then squarely cut ones have emerged all over the globe. While it may be a matter of your taste as to whether or not the triangle sandwich is better or not, it is more likely that you simply are one of those who wishes to go against the trends of everyone, therefore your mind is refusing to allow you to enjoy the superior taste of the triangularly cut sandwich. We pray for you.

This track is dedicated to all the triangle sandwiches that are eaten by people who refuse to admit they taste better. Don’t worry, Sandwich. You do.

Back to top

The Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything – 0:42

The track doesn’t lie. It does, in fact, hold the answer to life, the Universe, and everything within it, though the amateur listener may not notice. (At least, according to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

The track length is forty-two seconds. Digitally, the hexadecimal representation of the background for the Track Artwork is #2A2A2A. The hexadecimal color was chosen purposefully setting RGB to (42, 42, 42), which resulted in the aforementioned hexadecimal color.

There was much debate about whether it was more appropriate to start with RGB: (42, 42, 42) and convert to the hexadecimal representation, which is HEX: #2A2A2A, or whether the hexadecimal color should be set to #424242 to be converted to RGB, which is RGB: (66, 66, 66). After lengthy meetings and phone conferences that no one wanted to attend, the decision was finally made to start with the RGB color and convert to hexadecimal. The final decision was made due to a convincing argument pointing out that the RGB representation of #424242 was a string of sixes, which is frowned upon in most cultures due to its close association with the anti-Christ.

Back to top

What Was the Best Thing Before Sliced Bread? – 4:22

Or, more specifically, when was sliced bread invented, and by whom?

The story is very near and dear to the artist’s heart. Sliced bread was essentially invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, IA. Alex Laird is also from Iowa and enjoys freshly sliced bread each morning. Rohwedder built a prototype for the first bread slicer in 1917, thus rending bread now sliceable. The prototype was destroyed in a supposedly accidental fire.

What many people don’t know is the controversies that have been had over whether slicing bread should be legal or not. In the mid-1900s, street riots broke out frequently simply as a result of arguments of bread slicing, how it should be done, and whether it was ethical. In fact, in 1943, the U.S. put a ban on sliced bread for a short period of time, but the response to this ban was so great that it was soon lifted. This is why the fire destroying Rohwedder’s bread slicer is frequently considered intentional. It wasn’t until the 60s, when peace and love were spreading rampantly, that Americans decided bread should be able to be sliced if people wanted to slice it.

This track contrasts the violent and noisy acts of bread-slicing lovers throughout the years who have fought to keep the slicing legal and remembers their courageous actions.

Back to top

Dark Matter – 3:54

Perhaps one of the most profoundly titled tracks on the album, Dark Matter dares to attempt to give us a glimpse at dark matter itself. (The dark matter being the things in the universe that cannot be seen but their presence can be felt under given circumstances.) Scientists estimate that about 90% of all matter within a given galaxy is dark matter.

Why is this song called Dark Matter? Listen to its silence, absorbing everything around you, meditating specifically on the infiniteness of the universe and the eternity of life after death. Are the hairs on the back of your neck standing up? Is your heart suddenly getting all flippy and floaty? Those are the forces of the universe around you that remain unseen, and this track caused it.

Back to top

Male Thought Patterns – 0:01

Males don’t need to be diagnosed with ADHD, because they all already have it. A male’s thought patterns are disjointed from one another, rarely flowing in a fluid manner. Short and to the point, just like the length and message of this track.

Back to top

Untitled – 3:13

In view of the popular cultures, which currently seems to be craving untitled tracks that precede hidden tracks, the artist includes this track as a nod toward his fellow artists who seem to have slumped into the kitsch of music and sound.

Back to top

[Hidden Track] – 10:50

By far the most moving piece on The Question of Music, Meaning, and Life, [Hidden Track] is the only track to actually feature audible waveforms. Specifically, white noise. In fact, [Hidden Track] is the sibling track to White Noise, a controversial silent track that offers no white noise.

While the general theme of The Question of Music, Meaning, and Life is to contradict all musical norms by going against what is expected, the artist chose to close off the album by following two stereotypes of a mainstream album: firstly, a track which is simply titled Untitled, and secondly, a hidden track which plays after several minutes of silence.

Most shockingly, [Hidden Track] is the only track on the album that actually delivers noise to the listener. This was done intentionally as a final emotional movement to the album in which, after pulling moving the listener emotionally for all the previous, the artist finally gives them what their heart is so longing for: a sound.

Back to top

Booting Linux from a USB Drive on Apple Hardware

After hours of frustration and failure, I finally set up a USB bootable Linux distribution that worked on both a BIOS-based PC or EFI-based Apple system. Ten minutes later, I repeated the process with a second distribution.

I’ve been perusing this fine internet of hours all day, reviewing and attempting to complete step-by-step tutorials that were supposed to allow me to do this. Unfortunately, none of them would actually work on my MacBook Pro, as they promised they would. After finally acquiring a resolution, I decided to post my own step-by-step set of instructions that also claimed to work for a BIOS system or an EFI system. Hopefully it actually works for you as it did for me :).

 

My System, My Recommendation, and My Disclaimer

The systems I was trying to get this work was in conjunction with my out dated, 2008, 2 GHz Intel Core Duo MacBook Pro with a measly 2GB of 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM. I dual boot between OS X Leopard and Windows 7 using Boot Camp. I plug into a 24” Samsung display and use a Bluetooth Logitech MX 5500 keyboard and mouse set at my desk. Using Slax, all of this was compatible and immediately recognized!! I had absolutely no problems with hardware, so I highly recommend using Slax as your portable Linux distribution. I had success with DSL after initial frustrations (the track pad is not recognized, so I was forced to plug a USB mouse in), and it’s simply not as clean or power of a system as Slax is.

Doing all of this in no way effected positively or negatively the booting, reliability or functionality of OS X Leopard or Windows 7 on my system or Windows XP on any of the BIOS-based systems I ran this on. However, as always, proceed at your own risk.

I recommend the 4GB flash drive from Amazon below, as it is cheap and reliable. Though you don’t need a full 4GB flash drive, if you ever want to throw a larger distribution of Linux onto the flash drive at any time, or if you’d like to use the drive for other storage at a later date, this is a good size and a great price.  Also … it’s hard to find a smaller drive than 4GB these days!

 

Setting Up an EFI System

Boot into Mac OS and follow these steps:

  1. Download and install rEFIt.
  2. Restart your computer.

Complicated, huh? The initial restart after installing rEFIt will not show a boot loader, but all following restarts will display a boot loader if multiple bootable systems are attached to your Apple computer or other EFI-based system.

rEFIt will essentially overtake Boot Camp. Before installing rEFIt on my system, when I wanted to boot into Windows 7 I had to hold down the Alt-Option key when booting. Once rEFIt is installed, the boot menu is shown whenever the computer is booted. After a given number of seconds, it will boot into the default operating system, which is usually OS X.

 

Setting Up a BIOS System

Your BIOS must support the ability to boot from a USB drive. Follow these instructions on a BIOS-based (any standard Windows-based) computer:

  1. Restart your computer.
  2. At some point your computer will inform you that you can press some key to enter the BIOS setup (probably some key like F8, F12, or Del). Hold that key down. If you miss it, restart and try again.
  3. Unfortunately, every computer is different in the BIOS menu setup. Do not change anything you are unfamiliar.
  4. You may need to enable the ability to boot from a USB drive.
  5. You will most likely need to change the boot sequence, moving your USB drive higher than your standard HDD.
  6. Make sure that you save your changes to the BIOS before restarting.

 

Setting Up Your USB Drive

NOTE: Generally speaking, the instructions given on a portable Linux distribution’s website will tell you to run some bootinst.bat file that will configure your USB drive to boot properly. This will work for most BIOS-based systems, and may work with some distributions on some EFI systems, but it generally would not work for me. The solution given below, theoretically, works on all systems.

In a Windows environment (it’s just easiest that way, trust me), follow these steps:

  1. Download and extract Syslinux. Since we’re in Windows, it’d be most beneficial to download the zip file. Extract it to a convenient location like C:\Syslinux.
  2. Download your favorite portable Linux distribution. It has been verified that this works with DSL (I can’t spell it out … My Mom reads this!), DSL-N, and Slax.
  3. Plug your USB drive into your computer.
  4. Backup any data on the USB drive you wish to keep! Right-click on the USB drive and select “Format.” Format the drive to either FAT-16 or FAT-32. I recommend FAT-32. A quick format will be fine.
  5. Extract the contents of your favorite portable Linux distribution onto your USB drive using your favorite decompression program.
  6. In Windows XP, click Start then Run, type “cmd,” then press Enter.
  7. In Windows Vista or Windows 7, click Start and simply type “cmd.” Click on the Command Prompt icon to launch it.
  8. From the Command Prompt, navigate to the win32 folder of where you extracted Syslinux. So, in my case, type “cd C:\Syslinux\win32\”.
  9. From the win32 folder of Syslinux, type “syslinux.exe -ma :” where is replaced with the drive letter of your USB drive. Most commonly this will be E or F (it does need to be followed by a colon), but you can verify this by checking in My Computer.
  10. Assuming you don’t receive any errors, your USB drive should now be set up for booting.

 

Conclusion

In theory, you should now be able restart your system and it will notice that you have a bootable USB drive in the computer (assuming, of course, that you do). If rEFIt opens, use the arrow keys to navigate to your USB drive and press Enter. If your on a BIOS system, you may need to press a key (if it tells you to press a key for the boot menu), but most likely it will pop up with a message telling you to press any key to boot Linux. If you don’t press any key, it may continue into your standard operating system, so you’ll want to strike that Enter key.

I hope this works as well for all of you as it did for me! It’s always handy to have a portable, friendly, and compatible version of Linux in your slacks that you can whip out and use anytime, on any computer.

Hotel California

Joe Kmetz and I were on our way to Krista’s house over Turkey Break and I had designated Joe as the DJ for the trip. At some point during the drive we ended up listening to “Hotel California,” probably the best song the Eagles ever wrote and performed. This spawned a discussion as to the meaning of the song. Unfortunately, neither of us knew for sure, but I promised Joe I would investigate the song as soon as I had time.

Though you can play “Hotel California” on Guitar Hero by yourself and sound surprisingly similar to the original track, there’s nothing realistic about that. On the Hell Freezes Over album, the Eagles used eight guitars to perform this song. In the original studio mix, only five were used. Still, this should give you some measure of the caliber of this song. It is an amazing piece for guitar, and I never tire of listening to it.

Musical melodies aside, the lyrics of the song span quite a bit of controversies. The interpretations of this song range from the drug use, cannibalism, Hotel California being another name for the Camarillo State Hospital (a psychiatric hospital), to devil worship and the Church of Satan.

I’m going to have to go ahead and debunk all the most popular rumors, as none of them are even remotely close to being true (except possibly the drug use one, though indirectly). Let’s lay out the most popular rumors and look at why they aren’t true. For your convenience, you can find the lyrics to the song here and you can listen to the song here.

Background on the Eagles

The Eagles are one of the most successful American rock bands of the 1970s. The Eagles were founded in the early 70s in Los Angeles, California, by Glenn Frey (singer, guitarist, songwriter), Don Henley (singer, guitarist, drummer, songwriter), Randy Meisner (singer, bassist, songwriter), and Bernie Leadon (singer, guitarist). It’s also worth mentioning the former member Don Felder (singer, guitarist, songwriter), as he helped write “Hotel California” and performed part of the guitar solo. The band has five number-one singles and six number-one albums so far. Their fifth album was Hotel California.

“Hotel California” is a song by the Eagles on the rock album of the same name, Hotel California, released in 1976. The theme of the whole album is essentially that of Manifest Destiny and the American Dream and the rise and falls in-thereof. The album isn’t exactly a rock opera, but it does seem to follow a common theme: it starts with “Hotel California” and comes to a culmination with “The Last Resort,” a song that narrates the demise of society as the conclusive warning to the theme of the album.

After its release, Hotel California received a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1978, the song has been considered by Rolling Stone to be the 49th greatest song of all time, and Guitar World Magazine ranked the guitar solo as the 8th greatest of all time. “Hotel California” reached 20th on the Billboard Top 100 in 1977.

It’s a Real Hotel

It turns out there’s a real hotel in California! A few of them, actually. Unfortunately, there is no hotel in California that goes under the name of Hotel California. There is, however, a hotel in Todos Santos, Mexico, just across the border, that goes by the name of Hotel California. The hotel also went under the name of The Hotel Mission (“I heard the Mission bell”). The name of the hotel changed several times after the popularity of the song grew so as to attract tourists. The problem is the Eagles never actually stayed there, and that location is not what the song is referring to.

It’s an Insane Asylum

“Next thing I remember / I was running for the door / I had to find the passage back / To the place I was before / “Relax,” said the night man / “We are programmed to receive / You can check out any time you like / But you can never leave.”

People who believe this rumor may simply be getting confused by the fact that the Eagles’s record company for the album before Hotel California was Asylum Records. The song isn’t actually about an insane asylum; there is no asylum anywhere in California or even the entire United States by the name of Hotel California.

Some still insist that the Hotel California is a nickname for the Camarillo State Hospital in Camarillo, California. But since the Eagles said in an interview in 1995 that it wasn’t in reference to a particular location, and since it wouldn’t really make much sense to take the pictures for the album artwork at the Beverly Hills Hotel if the song were really about the Camarillo State Hospital, the song probably isn’t in reference to an insane asylum. Though the imagery in the song does seem to describe states of insanity at times.

It’s a Hospital

Still, people insist that the Hotel California must be a real building somewhere, so they conjecture that perhaps it is a hospital somewhere. The rumor further claims that the song is actually about cancer.

“My head grew heavy and my site grew dim.” It could be a reference to the pains of the cancer that is evidently killing the body. “There she stood in the doorway” is alleged to be a reference to a nurse, and “And she showed me the way / There were voices down the corridor” is the nurse leading him down the hallways of the hospital, other cancer patients calling out to the narrator as he walks by. “They stab it with their Steely knives / But they just can’t kill the beast” could be a reference to repeated attempts to kill the cancer.

The song could be a metaphor for cancer, if you chose to interpret that way, but that wasn’t the intention when it was written.

It’s About Steely Dan

The line “They stab it with their Steely knives / But they just can’t kill the beast” is a reference to Steely Dan, an American rock band that had a healthy competition with the Eagles around the time Hotel California came out.

The Eagles were apparently impressed by the fact that Steely Dan didn’t require any rhyme or reason to the meaning in the lyrics of their song. The Eagles decided it would be pretty sweet to mention Steely Dan in their song, even though the rest of the song has absolutely nothing to do with them. Steely Dan had previously mention the Eagles in their song Everything You Did with the line “Turn up the Eagles the neighbors are listening” in 1976.

It’s About Cannibalism

Apparently the references to a secluded hotel with corridors and hallways that were an endless maze that entrapped anyone who entered reminded too many people of H. H. Holmes and the Murder Castle. I guess he didn’t eat his guests, but his story probably set people up for paranoia.

One theory that got spread around via chain mail muses that the reason “You can check out anytime you like / But you can never leave” is because the only way to truly leave is to be stabbed by those “Steely knives!” Apparently the hotel in the distance enticed you only to serve you up for dinner the following day. There’s really not much evidence of this in the song, and the band members have denied it.

It’s About the Church of Satan

Probably the most well known (and most misunderstood) meaning for the song says that it is a reference to devil worship and the Church of Satan. Such lines as “I was thinking to myself / This could be Heaven or this could be Hell,” “We haven’t had that spirit here / Since nineteen sixty-nine,” “… they just can’t kill the beast,” and “You can check out anytime you like / But you can never leave” apparently solidify this claim. Additionally, the album artwork has a bit of an eerie feel, and people claim that the photographs were taken at the same place where the Satanic Bible was written. “The Beast” referred to in the song is alleged to be Satan.

Anton LeVay finished the Satanic Bible in 1969, three years after founding his church. Supposedly ever since the bible was finished the Holy Spirit hasn’t been present at the Satanic Church (as if he was before?) and that’s what the line in the song is referencing. This claim falls short when you recognize that the line directly before this clarifies a reference to the spirit of wine, not the Holy Spirit. Additionally, once you join the occult you are apparently unable to get out. Considering the previous claims fall short, I’m going to entertain the thought that “the beast” must be a metaphorical character referring to something other than Satan.

The artwork for the album was actually shot at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills. The Eagles say that the reason for the shadowy figures is due to poor lighting and a poor camera. The ghostly figure in the window who many claim is supposed to be either Satan himself or Anton LaVey is actually a publicity guy from Asylum Records. Any physical similarities to LaVey or the Devil himself are purely coincidental.

Further claims state that the Hotel California is a reference to a hotel on California St. in San Francisco which the Church of Satan purchased and converted into their headquarters. The building in question was called The Black House and was actually an old Victorian mansion, not a hotel. It was the headquarters for the Church of Satan used by Anton LaVey in 1966 until his death in 1997. The Satanic Church lost custody of the house after LaVey’s death, and it was torn down in 2001.

It is also rumored that the Eagles were members of the Church of Satan and that they were disciples of LeVay. While a very unreliable source claims that the Waco Tribune-Herald interview Larry Salter, the Eagle’s manager, and he admitted that the Eagle’s were involved with the Church of Satan, the interview was apparently back in 1982 and the original can’t be found …

Then there’s that whole bit about playing the song backward to hear a satanic message. That’s a bit of a stretch. Especially considering sites like that try to say the same thing about Metallica, Megadeath, and Kiss songs and, let’s be honest, you don’t need to play those songs backward to hear a Satanic message. Anyway, if you listen to the entire song backward yourself, you’ll find that it’s quite bogus.

Some have said that the Church of Satan is registered in California under the name “Hotel California,” but there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim.

It’s about Sex and Drugs

“Warm smell of Colitas / Rising up through the air”
“I saw a shimmering light”
“There she stood in the doorway / I heard the mission bell / I was thinking to myself / This could be Heaven or this could be Hell. / Then she lit up a candle / And she showed me the way”
“She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys / That she calls friends / How they dance in the courtyard / Sweet summer sweat / Some dance to remember / Some dance to forget”
“And still the voices are calling from far away / Wake you up in the middle of the night”
“Mirrors on the ceiling / Pink champagne on ice / And she said, ‘We are all just prisoners here / Of our own device’”
“You can check out anytime you like / But you can never leave”

This theory has the most overwhelming amount of evidence straight out of the song, and it’s also closest to the true meaning.

Probably the most explicit reference in the song is that of Colitas, a Spanish term meaning “little tails,” which could be a reference to the Cannabis plant (marijuana). The rest of the imagery in the song is a very strong implication that the narrator may not be entirely sane (or lucid) while he’s telling us his tale. A shimmering light and a vision of a hotel? Voices echoing down the hallways? Mirrors on the ceiling (seeing many things from many angles, which would happen when you hallucinate)?

It’s usually said that the song is warning against the use of drugs, given it’s generally negative view towards the subject, especially considering the narrators regret that he can’t seem to get out of the lifestyle he has become trapped in.

So What’s it Really About?

And now we come to the true meaning of this song, which is only slightly disappointing after reading all the wild previous possibilities!

Well, Henley and Frey claim that Colitas is a desert flower that smells good. Well, it may very well be a desert flower, but it’s still most likely slang for Cannabis. In their defense, I did read somewhere that a Mexican translated the words “little bud” to “Colitas” for them, neglecting to mention the marijuana reference, so they may not have completely understood what they were saying.

That being said, they explained in an interview in 1995 that the song is about the dangers of hedonism and greed, specifically as it applies to the American Dream and their own achieving fame and fortune in the worlds eyes. They wanted to warn not only California of this, but the entire nation. Unfortunately, due to a poor choice in the title of both the song and the album, it’s most commonly only associated with the Californian mindset.

It’s not a reference to any type of building, it’s not about cannibalism, and it’s not about the Church of Satan. The Steely Dan reference was, in fact, true. The song was the Eagles’ look back at their own lives, realizing how they had become caught up in the famous lifestyle (“Her mind is Tiffany-twisted / She got a Mercedes-Benz”), a lifestyle which has trapped them and isn’t turning out to be everything they had wanted (“We are all just prisoners here / Of our own device,” “You can check out anytime you like / But you can never leave”).

It makes sense if you consider that the song is the first on the album that addresses the issues of drugs, temptation, fame, relationships, and the American Dream.

 

There you have it! That’s the true meaning of the song Hotel California. I’m glad we had this discussion. I was sick of hearing comparisons to the Church of Satan.