20110113

Firing squads, funny landing gear, American Nazis, unsuspicious numbers, and shark attacks!

Today's post takes a look a cryptography, the German American Bund, Ronnie Lee Gardner's execution, shark attacks, and an unusual B-36.





Sharks, for one reason or another, evoke a primordial fear in humans. However, their reputation as ferocious, blood-hungry killers may be a bit jaded: only 113 humans have been killed in unprovoked shark attacks in the United States. Of course, this list is surely incomplete due to unrecorded killings, by which we can probably double the estimate safely; the list lacks attacks that were not fatal, as well. Four species are predominately responsible: bull shark, tiger shark, oceanic whitetip shark and the great white shark. I also noted a correlation with the posted ages on the list: the victims tend to be young (below 25 years), or older (past middle-aged).

In cryptography, the "nothing up my sleeve number" is simply a digit (or pattern of) that no not arouse suspicion. In many ciphers and hashed, constants are used as random algorithms. Using a number that is readily recognizable as innocent, such as pi, allows the user to not fear it is part of a "nefarious purpose", i.e. a backdoor entry. This is analogous to a magician showing the audience that there is nothing up his sleeves. However, much like magic, the illusion is often harder to see, and showing off your innocence may actually be a distraction from the real secret.

Ronnie Lee Gardner was a murderer who his headlined last year when the state of Utah put him to death by an unusual method: firing squad. Only a few states ever actually legally codified this method in the 20th century, although we know that it was used frequently from the Revolution to the Civil War. In this case, Gardner requested firing squad specifically, and was willing to sue to get it, due to a religious desire to have his blood spilt in atonement. As a Morman, he clung to a belief (obscure, according to a press release made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the day before) that murder is a sin so heinous that even Jesus's sacrifice on the cross couldn't forgive, and that facing his death willingly with repentance and allowing his blood to spill was the only way to be forgiven. One of the five rifles was loaded with a wax round to diffuse the possible guilt by offering doubt as to which individual may have dealt a killing blow.

The execution chamber at Utah State Prison: to the left, the lethal injection gurney, with the slots for the firing squad behind it, and the chair the condemned sits in to the right.

The German American Bund was the premier organization promoting Nazi beliefs in the United States before the fall of the Third Reich. After the previous organization, the Friends of New Germany, was labelled as the "American Nazi Party" by Congress, it was reorganized by Hitler under a new name and leadership: Fritz Julius Kuhn, the "American F├╝hrer". Despite Kuhn's frustrations of a lack of support from Hitler, the group gained notice at the President's Day parade in New York City, but went into decline as World War II broke out. Kuhn was prosecuted for embezzlement, and in 1942, the organization lost all semblance of coherence when it was denounced by a group of German-Americans (including Babe Ruth).

The last item of the day is an unusual image. On Wikipedia, the very best content (articles, lists, images, portals, etc.) is called "featured", and File:B-36 tracked gear edit.jpg is one of those featured images. The Convair B-36 was not one of the better known aircraft of the Cold War, but it does have some interesting claims to fame: the largest mass-produced piston aircraft, the longest wingspan of a combat aircraft (there are larger transport planes), the first strategic bomber designed with nuclear weapons in mind (previous aircraft had to be modified to accommodate their payloads), and the first bomber with an intercontinental range (before midair refueling became all the rage). But what makes this particular image stand out is the landing gear: instead of wheels, it uses a continuous track. The B-36's gear was arranged oddly enough that it put a great deal of weight on a small area, and single wheel gear required uneconomical amounts of rubber, not to mention could damage runways. The track was prototyped, but the Air Force implemented a bogie instead.
It's a plane! It's a tank! It's... sinking into the grass?

That's all for today, boys and girls. Happy reading!

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