Archive for March, 2010


Bat Bombs

   Posted by: John    in Random Stuff

From the Uncle John’s Slightly Irregular Bathroom Reader

In the days and weeks following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a lot of people wrote letters to President Roosevelt.  Some wrote to express their sympathy with the victims or their outrage at the attack; others made suggestions about how to fight back against Japan.

One man, a dentist from Irwin, Pennsylvania, wanted to talk about bats.  His name was Lytle S. Adams, and he had recently been to the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, home to one of the largest bat colonies in North America.  When Adams learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor, his thoughts returned to the bats he’d seen.  Could they be useful to the war effort?  He was convinced they could.

In his letter to the president, Adams explained that bats are capable of carrying more than their own weight in flight.  In many species, for example, the mother bat carries two or even three of her young as she searches for food.  If bats could carry their children, Adams reasoned, why couldn’t they carry tiny bombs?

The dentist’s plan went further: Bats hate sunlight, so if bats carrying time-delayed incendiary devices could be released over a Japanese city shortly before dawn, as the sun rose, the bats would seek refuge from the light.  Many would roost in the eaves and attics of buildings, a great number of which were made of flammable materials like wood, bamboo, and paper soaked in fish oil.  When the firebombs detonated, thousands of tiny fires would start in buildings all over the city.

Not only that, bats typically hide out of sight in hard-to-reach places, and that would make the fires difficult to detect.  By the time they were discovered, the fires would be well established but still small enough at first (each bat would weigh less than half an ounce, so the bombs would have to be small, too) that people would have a fighting chance to escape.  Casualties would be lower than with conventional firebombs, which weighed hundreds of pounds and engulfed entire buildings on impact, giving occupants no warning and no chance to escape.  For all their destructive power, Adams believed that “bat bombs” could be a more humane weapon of war than regular firebombs.

How many fires could be started with bats?  “Approximately 200,000 bats could be transported in one airplane,” Adams write, “and still allow one-half the payload capacity to permit free air circulation and increased gasoline load.  Ten such planes would carry two million fire starters.”

Perhaps the most impressive feature of bat bombs was not their destructive power, but the psychological impact they could have on the Japanese.  The bats would be dropped by planes before dawn, and by the time the bombs went off, the planes would be long gone.  Entire cities would ignite spontaneously and burn to the ground…with no warning and no explanation.

“The effect of the destruction from such a mysterious source would be a shock to the morale of the Japanese people as no amount of ordinary bombing could accomplish,” Adams wrote to Roosevelt.  “It would render the Japanese people homeless and their industries useless, yet the innocent could escape with their lives.”

How flammable were Japanese cities?  When a woman living in Osaka, Japan, knocked over her hibachi-type cook stove in 1911, 11,000 homes burned to the ground.  And it was raining.

President Roosevelt forwarded Adams’s letter to Colonel William J. Donovan, who would soon head the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA.  “It sounds like a perfectly wild idea but it is worth looking into,” FDR wrote.  “This man is not a nut.”

Dr. Adams got the go-ahead to assemble a 20 person staff and begin working out the details on how such a weapon might be built.  What species of bats would be best?  What kind of firebomb would be used?  How would the device be attached to the bat?  How would the bats be dropped over cities?  There was a lot to figure out.  Here’s what they came up with.

The Bats

The researches decided early on that they would use a species called the Mexican free-tailed bat.  They weighed about half an ounce but were capable of carrying a load of as much as three-quarters of an ounce.  Tens of millions of them made their summer homes in caves in Texas and other southwestern states.  Just as important, these bats hibernated in the winter.  That meant they could be put into artificial hibernation so that the bombs could be attached, then kept in cold storage until they were ready to be released over Japan.

The Incendiary Bombs

Once of the researchers assigned to the project was an incendiary bomb specialist, a chemist named Louis Fieser.  He devised a tiny bomb that weighed a little over half an ounce and consisted of a timer and thin plastic capsule measuring three-quarters of an inch in diameter by two inches long, filled with a jellied gasoline he’d invented, napalm.

Initially the designers planned to attach a bomb to each bat’s chest with a piece of string and a surgical clip that mimicked the way baby bats latched onto their mother’s fur with their claws.  But that turned out to be too complicated, so they switched to a simple adhesive and just glued the bombs to the bats.

The “Bombshell”

If you just threw a bunch of hibernating bats out of an airplane, their fragile wings would break the moment they hit the airstream at 150 mph or else they would fall all the way to the ground and die on impact before they could emerge from hibernation.  So the researchers designed a protective bomb-shaped canister to put the bats into.   The “bombshell” was cigar-shaped and had fins, just like a regular bomb, except that it was filled with bats and was poked full of holes so they could breathe.

Inside the canister, the hibernating bats were packed into cardboard trays similar to eggshell cartons, and these cartons were stacked one on top of the other.  Each bombshell held 26 cardboard trays, each of which held 40 bats.  That meant each bomb would contain 1,040 bats.

How it worked

1)  The bombshell was designed so that when it was dropped from a plane, it would free-fall to an altitude of 4,000 feet, at which point a parachute would deploy, slowing its descent.

2)  When the parachute opened, the bomb’s outer shell would pop off and fall away.  The stacked cardboard trays, which were tied to one another with short lengths of string, would then drop down and hang from the parachute about three inches apart, like rungs on a rope ladder.

3)  As the cardboard trays dropped into position, a tiny wire would be pulled from the incendiary device attached to each bat.  Just like pulling a pin from a hand grenade, when the string was pulled, the firebombs would be armed and set to go off in 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or whatever the interval the bombers chose.

4)  The bats, now exposed to the warm air and floating slowly to the earth, would have enough time to warm up, emerge from their hibernating state, climb out of their individual egg-carton compartments, and fly away to seek shelter.

5)  When time ran out, the incendiary device glued to their chest would explode into flames, incinerating them instantly and setting fire to whatever structure they had taken refuge in.

A bombshell filled with bats and tiny firebombs sounded clever, but would it really work?  Dr. Adams’s team built a prototype, loaded it with 1,040 bats fitted with dummy bombs, and dropped it from a plane in a remote region outside Carlsbad Air Force Base in New Mexico.  The test went off nearly without a hitch: the parachute deployed, the trays dropped open, and the bats awakened from hibernation and flew off in search of shelter from the sun.

The only snafu was that the researchers misjudged how far winds would carry the bat trays.  Instead of landing in the middle of nowhere (the project was top secret, after all), the bats ended up flying to a ranch and roosting in the bar and ranch house.  The researchers caught up with the creatures half an hour later and collected them as the mystified rancher looked on (he never did learn what the bats were carrying or what they were for).

But the real proof of the power of bat bombs came later that day when Louis Fieser, the incendiary specialist, wanted some film footage of a bat armed with a live incendiary bomb actually exploding into flames.  He took six hibernating bats out of cold storage and set their bombs to detonate in 15 minutes, figuring that in such a short time, the bats would still be hibernating and wouldn’t fly away.

What Fieser failed to take into consideration was that on a hot New Mexico afternoon, the bats would come out of hibernation quickly.  All six bats woke up within 10 minutes, escaped, and roosted in the rafters of various buildings of the airfield where the test was being conducted.  Five minutes later the bombs went off, and every building on the airfield, the control tower, barracks, offices, and hangers, burned to the ground.

Believe it or not, bat bombs were found to be more effective than conventional firebombs.  One study concluded that a planeload of conventional firebombs would start between 167 and 400 fires, whereas a planeload of bat bombs would start between 3,625 and 4,748 fires. 

So how many bats died in combat during World War 2?  Not even one.  After spending 27  months and $2 million looking into the feasibility of bat bombs, the Pentagon canceled the program in March 1944.  The military claimed that the bats were too unpredictable to be useful, but Jack Couffer, a research scientist who worked on the project, has a different theory.  Couffer speculates in his memoirs that the government knew the Manhattan Project was making steady progress toward the world’s first atomic bomb, and the military decided to focus on that instead.

Which explanation is true?  Only the U.S. government know for sure.  Sixty plus years later, the reasons for the cancellation of the program, like the blueprints to the incendiary device itself, are still classified.


Why Men Are Just Happier People

   Posted by: John    in Fun Stuff

  • Your last name stays put
  • The garage is all yours
  • Wrinkles add character
  • Wedding plans take care of themselves
  • Chocolate is just another snack
  • Car mechanics tell you the truth
  • You never have to drive to another gas station because this one’s just too icky
  • Same work, better pay
  • You know stuff about tanks
  • A 5 day vacation requires only one suitcase
  • You can open all your own jars
  • Wedding dress – $5000; Tuxedo rental – $100
  • The occasional well-rendered belch is practically expected
  • New shoes don’t cut, blister, or mangle your feet
  • One mood, ALL the time
  • Phone conversations are over is 30 seconds flat
  • You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness
  • If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend
  • Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack
  • Everything on your face stays its original color
  • Three pairs of shoes are more than enough
  • You don’t have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt
  • You almost never have strap problems in public
  • You are unable to see the wrinkles in your clothes
  • The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades
  • You don’t have to shave below your neck
  • Your belly usually hides your big hips
  • One wallet and one pair of shoes, one color, all seasons
  • You can “do” your nails with a pocketknife
  • You have freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache
  • You can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives, on Dec. 24 in 45 minutes

You Can’t Deny This Is True

   Posted by: John    in Politics


Can’t argue with this one.

   Posted by: John    in Fun Stuff

Taken from one of my “Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader” books:

Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert is so good at parodying arrogant new hosts that it makes you wonder if he’s really pretending.

“Why do we have to wait for elections?  Why not have every elected official have electrodes implanted in their chest?  If they don’t please us, every  morning, we stop their hearts.”



Definitions for Today’s World

   Posted by: John    in Fun Stuff

Life Insurance: A contract that keeps you poor all your life so that you can die rich.
Nurse: A person who wakes you up to give you sleeping pills.
Marriage: An agreement in which a man loses his bachelor degree and a woman gains her masters.
Tears: The hydraulic force by which masculine willpower is defeated by feminine water power.
Lecture: An art of transferring information from the notes of the Lecturer to the notes of the students without passing through the minds of either
Conference: The confusion of one man multiplied by the number present.
Compromise: The art of dividing a cake in such a way that everybody believes he got the biggest piece.
Dictionary: A place where success comes before work.
Conference Room: A place where everybody talks, nobody listens and everybody disagrees later on.
Father: A banker provided by nature.
Boss: Someone who is early when you are late and late when you are early.
Politician: One who shakes your hand before elections and your confidence after.
Doctor: A person who kills your ills by pills.
Classic: Books, which people praise, but do not read.
Smile: A curve that can set a lot of things straight.
Office: A place where you can relax after your strenuous home life.
Yawn: The only time some married men ever get to open their mouth.
Etc: A sign to make others believe that you know more than you actually do.
Committee: Individuals who can do nothing individually and sit to decide that nothing can be done together.
Experience: The name men give to their mistakes.


I Remember…The Ham Radio Stuff

   Posted by: John    in I Remember...

One of the things that Dad and I were into was the ham radio gear.  Dad accumulated a marvelous collection of some good stuff and lot more junk.  I remember a number of radios we had and used.  Some of them were troublesome and others were good solid workhorses.

Like this Drake 2-NT transmitter.  These were easy to use and nearly idiotproof.

 It’s only good for Morse code.  And you had to have crystals to use or have  a Variable Frequency Oscillator (VFO).  I did not have a VFO.  When I first got my ham license in 1978, I had exactly 3 crystals.  But at some point Dad came up with a VFO and that was very useful.

We had a Drake 2-C receiver that I used with this.  Again, dang near bulletproof.  They were a good set.

I remember I had these in my bedroom at one point.  I also remember having this massive Hallicrafters receiver that I could listen to the foreign radio stations on the shortwave band. 

I think originally Dad’s “shack” was the little alcove in the south bedroom upstairs.  I think there are still holes in the ceiling where Dad ran cables out of the house.  At some point the other upstairs bedroom became the radio/office/library.  We had lots of room for stuff in there, and boy did we  have stuff in there.  There was a huge desk that we could put all kinds of stuff on, shelves on the wall above it for stuff, another alcove for stuff, a large walk-in closet for stuff.  We had more radio and electronics stuff than the old ham radio store downtown.

We had this Yaesu FT-dx560 behemoth (I know the picture says 400, but the 560 was nearly identical).  I kind of melted the final power tubes in it once when I was using the teletype.  They were not cheap to replace.

The problem is that when transmitting teletype, there are no voice fluctuations nor are there any drops like in morse code.  Just solidly on until you are done transmitting and the tubes get a break.  So, they overheated and melted some of the insides.

We had this Yaesu FT-707 radio.  It was able to run on 12 volts so it was considered a mobile unit.

We had a Kenwood TS-820, but I never really used that radio a whole lot.  There was something wrong with some part of it and I don’t remember what ever happened to it.

Dad built a huge antenna tuner with some massive capacitors and a rolling coil that was about the size of a spaghetti sauce can.  I think it had a couple of antenna switches built into it as well.  And we had this massive antenna rotor that was up on the barn.  The problem was the rotor was from a radar installation and was designed to be moving all the time and it did not have a brake.  The wind would push the antenna and eventually it broke the gears.  But the control box was another huge metal box in the room.

Lots of homemade stuff for Radioteletype (RTTY).  Ah yes, the RTTY stuff.  Like this Model 19 teletype unit.  Huge ancient mechanical thing.   We had a couple of these hanging around, right down to the heavy steel desks.

Then we also had a model 28 unit.  A lot more streamlined and used a letter block for printing instead of old style arm hammers.  Still heavy and bulky though.

The box that demodulated the signal and created the tones was a homemade thing, but the audio tone generator board was a kit.

Dad built a high power RF amplifier so we would not have to push the transmitters so hard.  We needed to have a 240 volt power outlet upstairs but we didn’t.  The final tube in the amp was one that had been used in a commercial radio station and it was capable of over 30,000 watts output, considerably more than a ham operator is allowed.  The power transformer was one of those units that normally sits on a power pole to change the line voltage into 240 volts  before running into the house.  It was hooked up backwards (yes you can do that!) and controlled by a variable transformer (another heavy lump of equipment) that had a big steering wheel like handle on it.  It was real easy to get 5 or 6 thousand volts into that tube if you wanted.  The cool thing was if you wanted to get 500 watts out, you only needed about 40 or 50 watts in, so the transmitter was just loafing.

I found that the transmitter was easier to tune while pushing more than 40 watts.  So I would let it run about 200 watts (the Yaesu 560 radio was capable of about 400 watts out to the antenna), tune it up, then reduce the power output.  Then I would tune the big amp to about 500 watts and be good to go.  One time I forgot to turn down the transmitter power.  I had about 200 watts going into that amplifier.  There must have been 4000 watts heading out to the antenna.  The wattmeter needle hit the stop peg so hard it bent a little and I had to fix it.  The lights got real dim but for some reason it did not blow the fuse.  I could see any bird flying within 50 feet of the antenna getting a little cooked.

We had 2 meter radios as well.  At the time, 220 and 440 MHz were not real common.  But the 144 MHz 2 meter band was.  We had this old Icom 22A 2 meter radio.  Used crystals.  I remember we had 146.94, 146.82, 146.79, 146.52, 146.88,146.79 and a few other frequencies.  We used it for quite a while.

The problem was being bound to a few channels, and this radio only had 22 it could use.  And if you wanted to change them you had to buy crystal sets (2 per channel) and open the case, put them in, etc.  At some point Dad purchased a KDK 2015R and we used that for years.  I still have the KDK but I am not sure if it works or not. 

When I upgraded my license from Novice to Technician, I was able to use the 2 meter band.  One of the nice things about 2 meters and up is the ability to have handheld radios.  Dad had purchased an Icom 2-AT handheld radio.  He found another one for me.  I still have both of these indestructible radios and they still work.

There was a lot more stuff, but these are the ones that I remember using the most.  Good times…


“Somebody Is Using My Computer…”

   Posted by: John    in Computer and Network

I get a real kick out of people who claim that someone is using their computer when they are not around.  In some cases it might even be true.  Might.

I get called to go to a client to do a virus removal.  This is a client that I have done a number of virus removals for, on the same computer.  Yes, it is in an area where a person could go to, ah, unrecommended sites and not be seen. 

Well, it had a bug, and it came from an adult site.  I can go through stuff on the computer to find out where it came from, and I did.  It came from an adult web site. 

I cleaned the computer and changed the password.  If it happens again…there’s no excuse!