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Telling Your ASOS From Your Elbow

The federal Automated Surface Observation System, or ASOS, is installed at more than 900 airports throughout the USA. The confusing thing is that ASOS sounds a lot and acts a lot like AWOS and ATIS – respectively Automated Weather Observation System and Automated Terminal Information System. And then there’s HIWAS – Here’s a lesson in Alphabet Soup:

ASOS Sensors measure cloud coverage, visibility, temperature, dewpoint and wind, and observe the weather, for example, whether it’s snowing or raining. These measurements in turn are used to make METARs (the traditional ICAO Meteorological Aerodrome Report you’re already used to) and SPECIs (Special observations). For as much as you’ll ever need to know about the technical mechanics of ASOS, a wonderful online resource is available free at the AOPA Air Safety Foundation,

ASOS can be flawed (say a cloud happens to be above the station but the rest of the sky is clear; ASOS would report a cloud ceiling when one doesn’t exist), and therefore the ASOS observations are always monitored and sometimes augmented or even replaced by human weather observers.

The Automated Terminal Information System is a looped recording that plays continuously over radio and, in many cases, available by telephone as well (telephone numbers are listed in the Airport/Facilities Directory – A/FDs). ATIS contains ceiling, visibility, obstructions to visibility, temperature, dew point, wind direction, wind speed, altimeter, and instrument approach(es) and runway(s) in use. It may also include information on Land and Hold Short Operations (see related story). It includes as well Remarks, which can include density altitude, variable visibility, variable wind direction, and the remarks of the weather observer making the recording, such as the type of precipitation or intensity of a storm.

Unlike the federally-funded ASOS, AWOS is almost entirely a state-funded program, and generally speaking somewhat less accurate, or at least less encompassing, than ASOS.

Hazardous In-Flight Weather Advisory Service. HIWAS is a looped, continuous recorded radio broadcast which contains in-flight advisories of severe weather over selected VORs. This includes any hazardous weather advisories received from the national Weather Service that are occurring or forecasted to occur within a 150 nautical mile radius of the selected VOR. They include AIRMETS, SIGMETs, convective SIGMETs, any urgent PIREPs, or any other information that qualifies in the judgment of the specialist placing the HIWAS.

The frequencies over which HIWAS is broadcast is listed on charts and in A/FDs. Any time a new HIWAS is recorded, the FSS will broadcast, on all radio frequencies except 121.5, an announcement telling pilots to listen to the HIWAS – “Attention all aircraft, monitor HIWAS or contact Flight Watch or Flight Service for a new urgent AIRMET information.” Do it. They sometimes will mention the frequency but again, the HIWAS frequency is listed on charts and the A/FD.

Surviving Oktoberfest

Alosius, the Bavarian fairy tale goes, descended from heaven to deliver a note from God to the Bavarian government, but got so sidetracked drinking beer in the Hofbrauhaus that he never got around to making the delivery.

If Bavarian beer is reason enough for one man to give up his place in heaven, it’s no wonder that each year 6 million people from all over the world descend on Munich for the Oktoberfest – the granddaddy of beer festivals.

The festival, which runs Sept. 16 through Oct. 1, is Munich’s largest and most economically important tourist attraction. Tourists and locals will leave behind almost $750 million this year, and a lot of that will be in chunks of $5 and $7 (the prices, respectively, of a pretzel and a one-liter glass of Bavaria’s finest).

There’s not a whole lot you can do about those prices, but there are ways of cutting costs during your stay.

There are several factors working against visitors economically during this year’s Oktoberfest, not the least of which is the near-collapse of the dollar against the deutsche mark (currently about 1.4 to the dollar). Where you can cut costs is on basics – accommodations, food and transport.

The largest expense is accommodations, and since hotel rooms are almost completely booked, it’s a seller’s market all the way. Unless you’re the most die-hard adventurer, go for a package deal; it can save you money. Average rack rates (“off-the-street” prices) in the city’s hotels range from about $60 to $125 per night; you can cut this practically in half by booking a package well in advance.

Unfortunately for hostelers, Bavarian youth hostels leave much to be desired – service can be grumpy and at the prices they charge you may as well stay in a bed and breakfast or guest house.

If you haven’t pre-booked, a wonderful local resource is the Fremdenverkehrsamt counter at the central train station and airport, and at the central office of the Munich City Tourist Board at Sendlinger Strasse 1 near the Marienplatz.

The friendly, English-speaking staff members at these offices will do their best to match your budget and book you into a hotel, B&B or hostel for a $3.50 booking charge. They also dispense reliable tourist information and maps of the city.

If you’re under 26, the cheapest place too stay is at the Jugendlager am Kapuzinerholzl – it’s a giant circus tent that gives you a place on the floor with mattresses and blankets, hot showers and free tea for an incredible $5.

Last but certainly not least there’s camping, and the weather is usually good enough to make this worth your while.

Here’s where they really get you at the Oktoberfest tents.

After a liter of beer or two, the reluctance to part with $20 for a glass of beer and a chicken leg tends to waver, so make sure you eat before you arrive. Munich has an international range of restaurants, but national foods that are inexpensive in the United States – Indian and Mexican, for example – carry luxury price tags here.

Doing it yourself is obviously the cheapest way. Supermarkets vary tremendously in price. Avoid shops in the central train station at all costs, where prices for staple goods are 30 to 50 percent higher than in regular shops and markets. Also tempting – but expensive – is the outdoor Viktualienmarkt near Marienplatz, which looks like a quaint European market but is actually a luxury farmers’ market for rich locals and tourists.

The cheapest places to head for supplies are Aldi or Norma supermarkets. There’s a good Norma in the center on Landwehrstrasse just west of Sonnenstrasse, about five minutes from Karlsplatz (Stachus). The store has lots of canned goods, cold cuts, prepackaged bread, sausage and very inexpensive wine – you can get a decent liter of Italian, French or South African wine for $1 to $2.50.

Grabbing a little something is easy enough. Look for Muller bakeries and Vinzenzmurr delicatessens all over the city (several in the center). Muller has small cheese rolls and pizzas for about $1.75, and Vinzenzmurr has hot buffets and salad bars (watch the price there) and snacks from about $4 to $6, and a wide selection of cheeses. Buy a loaf of Supersonne (sunflower bread) or Finnenbrot (dark, heavy, grain- and seed-filled bread) from Muller and a couple of chunks of cheese and sausage at Vinzenzmurr – two of you will be set for the day for under $10.

Another good option for cheap eats are Metzgerei (butcher shops), which sell uniquely Bavarian snacks such as Leberkas, Schinkensemmel or Salamisemmel – respectively, a pate-like substance, ham and salami served on crusty rolls with mustard. Toss in some excellent German potato salad and enormous pickles and you can usually get a filling meal for under $5.

Finally, there are many Greek and Turkish fast-food restaurants in the area around the central station that serve shish kebab, falafel and Turkish pizza for about $3 each.

Getting Around
The festival is held at the Theresienwiese – Theresa Meadows – a 10-minute walk from the central train station, and is served by its own metro station. If you’re asking directions, say “d’wies’n” (dee-veezen), the diminutive nickname, which is what everyone around here calls the place. Trams and buses heading that way, though, sport signs reading “Zur Festwiese” – to the Festival Meadow.

You don’t want to have much to do with a car during the Oktoberfest; you wouldn’t be able to park anywhere near the fair anyway. Munich’s excellent public transportation system goes on overtime during the festival, and the price of a ride is about $2 with the purchase of a Streifenkarte – five-ride strip ticket.

A special single-ride ticket for any area within two U-bahn stations of the central station is about $1. The tickets are available from kiosks, bus drivers and blue vending machines marked with a ”K” all over the city.

On any mode of public transportation (U- or S-bahn, bus or tram), you need to validate your ticket yourself. The ticket strips have numbered sections from 1 to 10. You need to cancel one section for each transport zone you will cross into; most rides in the city center take two strips.

Failure to validate your ticket can result in a hefty on-the-spot fine of about $85 by the ubiquitous inspectors who pop up out of nowhere and enthusiastically prosecute scofflaws.

Munich’s comfortable (usually Mercedes-Benz) taxis can be expensive propositions, with a short ride in the center averaging $7 to $10, and a ride to the airport commanding $50. If you’re ready to part with that, you can catch a taxi at stands throughout the city, or order one by telephone.

Startups To Benefit From UMTS Spending

Imagine you’re a telecom, and you wake up this sunny Friday to realize it’s not a dream, you really did just pay £8 billion for two German third-generation mobile license blocks. Yes, you paid much more than you wanted for fewer license blocks than you’d hoped. And when your friends ask you what, specifically, you will do with this license, you can’t answer.

If you think you hear laughing, it’s probably coming from Denmark.

“We were all laughing about this just yesterday,” said Soren Jessen Nielsen, head of strategic business development in Europe for BlueKite, which just closed a $36 million round of funding from a VC group headed by Texas Pacific Group and including Credit Suisse First Boston. The investors purchased a 21 percent stake in BlueKite, which develops proprietary bandwidth optimizing technologies and a software platform aimed at increasing network capacity and Internet access speeds for fixed and mobile networks.

“Bandwidth is finite; it’s absolute,” said Nielson, who scoffs at UMTS hype. “A 2MB line into a PDA? Please. When UMTS comes, no one has any idea what they’re going to do with it. But I’ll tell you, whatever they (the telcos) do, they’re going to run into the same bandwidth problems and capacity issues that you have with GSM and Edge. You ain’t gonna have multimedia while traveling on a train, forget that one – that’s marketing hype.”

But whether BlueKite believes the UMTS dream or not, it’s hoping to profit from it. The San Francisco-based company, with roots in Copenhagen, may be one example of how startups in Europe can benefit from the trucks full of money being thrown at UMTS. Whether you believe UMTS is the Great White Hope or a Big Fat Joke, one thing European VCs seem to agree on is that companies developing applications for next-generation mobile networks are worth funding. With telcos around Europe set to pay up to $200 billion for licenses, they may have little money left to develop their own applications to run on these networks. Enter wireless communications, software and technology startups.

“There is a ton of work to be done to create these UMTS-based applications, and this is an area where small companies are really needed, and where they can do a good job,” said Peter Dietz, managing director of TakeOff VC Management. He believes the UMTS bidding war will cause larger companies to leave to small companies the work of making the applications that will make UMTS sexy. “I can’t name names at the moment, but we have already been discussing this with two of the German companies in our portfolio; one is something of a cross between an IT service and a multimedia agency, and the other is a pure software development company.”

Kim Bach, vice president at 2m Invest in Copenhagen added: “This is a perfect example of the “Tornado effect.’ There’s so much money being spent in this area that it’s impossible to imagine it won’t have a positive effect on the small suppliers.”

Bach has seen this market development coming for a long while. 2m has been sinking money into the organization that is now BlueKite since 1993, when it was called RadioMail, and it had teamed up with Motorola to make Newton-like handheld devices.

“We really knew the idea of wireless computers was the way to go in the future, but we were out,well, let’s say a bit too early,” Bach said. “But we were sure this technology would have to have a breakthrough sometime, so we kept feeding what would become BlueKite until a couple of years ago when they really took off.”

BlueKite’s reincarnation about two-and-a-half years ago, headed up by CEO David Cox, was funded by $1 million in seed money from 2m, which owns 41.6 percent of the company. BlueKite started with offices in Silicon Valley, but fleeing high prices and labor costs, it moved it kept its administration in San Francisco, but moved research and development to Los Angeles. In the last year, the company has grown from 10 employees to more than 70, and has offices in Copenhagen, London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris.

2m invested an additional $3 million last year. BlueKite’s aim is to develop technologies that better manage bandwidth and compress data, but still utilize existing infrastructure. For example, on a standard ISDN line, BlueKite technology can determine, on an ongoing basis, whether a given user needs two or three channels, or just to keep one open on an idle mode.

In fact, BlueKite already offers a technology that allows ISDN-speed data transfer rates over existing wireless networks for companies including British Telecom, Swisscom and Telecell Portugal, as well as Connect Austria.

“We looked at everyone offering solutions to bring high-speed mobile data transfer,” said Lars Reichelt, currently COO of Connect Austria and soon to be director of wireless for Europe at Yahoo. “When we finished, BlueKite came up by far the best,” even with competitors including Nokia and Ericsson offering similar products. “This is a great tool, and it makes the workplace truly mobile. You don’t have to worry about fumbling around looking for a proper phone plug – in Austria there are seven approved types of phone plugs. It costs 3 shillings ($0.20) a minute, and you can work while others watch in wonder.”

BlueKite may well be poised for growth during the development of the so-called mobile future, but it won’t be alone for long. Software companies are desperately needed to build the very applications that will make UMTS profitable, and most startups aren’t clueless to the trend. Some industry estimates put the number of WAP development companies at over 600 in Europe alone, and VCs are desperately trying to plunk their cash into the right wireless companies. Yesterday, every VC wanted a in its portfolio, now they want wireless startups.

“This (the development of UMTS) creates opportunities for smaller companies,” said Stephan Uhlmann at Deutsche Venture Capital Gesellschaft. “There’s a great opportunity here for developers of applications that will bring products to end users via UMTS.”

Standards Battle? What Standards Battle?

A standards battle of VHS-Betamax proportions has been brewing, and the winner will control how you copy DVDs on your home computer. Among those least concerned about who wins is Roland Lacher, the outspoken chief executive of Singulus Technologies AG, based in Kahl, Germany.

“Philips DVD+RW will win the battle,” Lacher said. “DVD-RW and DVD-RAM will die.”

Not that the outcome really matters to Lacher. His machines will probably manufacture the DVDs you buy, regardless of which standard wins.

Singulus, the leading manufacturer of the machines that make optical disks (including DVDs and CDs), is doing well despite the standards war.

When CDs – plastic platters coated with metalized film that reflects laser light – were introduced 20 years ago, optical disks became an exciting new market.

By pitting the metallic surface, manufacturers can create light and dark spots. A light spot is read as a “1,” a dark one as a “0.” Measure these digits 44,100 times a second and the disk will recreate audio with startling clarity.

The catch is that to create a uniform, nonbubbling metalizer, you need extremely good – and extremely expensive – technology. And to create the machines that make the disks, you need lots of know-how.

With access to a labor pool of university-educated employees and Ph.D. researchers, Singulus says it has overcome the German obstacles of high wages and taxes and expensive travel to the company’s main markets: the United States and Asia.

“We do 100 percent of the R&D and engineering here,” Lacher said, “and outsource 100 percent of parts and components.”

To market the products, the company established scores of corporate subsidiaries, bypassing sales agents with local representation.

The formula seems to work. Although the Swiss-based company Unaxis Holding AG competes in components of the systems, Singulus has become the world leader in complete CD and DVD manufacturing systems.

Last year, Singulus said, it booked 182 DVD systems, or 65 percent of worldwide market share. (A metalizer starts at E130,000 while a DVD-recordable machine costs more than E1 million.)

Singulus posted E35 million ($38 million) in net profit last year on revenue of E286 million. Both figures grew about 25 percent from 2001, beating the company’s own expectations of a 20 percent rise, and it did so with 13 percent profit margins.

To say that investors associate Lacher with the company’s trajectory is like saying there’s some banking in Frankfurt. Lacher has an outspoken and steadfast vision for the company he helped create.

He ran Leybold AG’s thin-film coating systems division, where he oversaw research and development, sales and production in the 1990s.

Along with outside investors and a Leybold manager, Reiner Seiler, Lacher led a management buyout of Leybold’s CD business in 1996. Singulus went public in 1997.

Since then, advances in computer speeds and hard-drive technologies have rendered the 650-megabyte CD almost quaint.

A market boom is being fueled by worldwide appetite for storage capacity for movies, games and data, as well as in new DVD technologies such as the Blu-ray Disc, which uses the shorter wavelength of blue light to afford denser data storage. (Singulus said it would make the Blu-ray standard as well.)

The company’s customers are mainly DVD and CD makers in the entertainment and computer industries. Its machines have been used to produce CDs with holographic images for Microsoft Corp. and Technicolor, a division of Thomson Multimedia SA.

Product lines include Skyline CD-audio and CD-ROM making machines (38 percent of sales), Spaceline DVD systems (37 percent), Streamline recordable-CD systems (10 percent) and Singulus metalizers (3 percent).

Equipment sales have been picking up in the United States and Europe, and analysts estimate that the market will enjoy steady double-digit growth in the next two years.

In Asia, as DVDs start to replace the more common CD-Video format (an Asian standard for movie disks), saturation may be postponed even further.

Analysts are impressed with the company’s technology and management. But the analysts, investors and the company itself realize that once the market is saturated, Singulus will need to have another product lineup waiting in the wings.

Lacher is gambling that that product will be nonvolatile computer memory, or M-RAM, easily appreciated by anyone who has ever lost power while working on a spreadsheet, as it holds its data even without being powered.

Singulus is betting that the similar technologies used in making chips and disks will help it enter the semiconductor market.

As with DVDs, making M-RAM is essentially a matter of putting very thin film on a substrate and sandwiching it together with a sort of di-electric mayonnaise.

Analysts concede the logic on paper, but they also wonder whether the company can successfully break into a consolidating industry with high entry barriers and an entirely different breed of customers.

“It’s a pretty conservative industry,” Bruno Winiger, analyst at Vontobel Holding AG in Zurich, said in referring to the memory chip field.

“They use proven technologies, and they’re not fond of experimenting with things. It’s not just the technology but also the long-lasting connections to the players in the market. It’s a different customer base, and a different way of selling.”

Qualifying as a chip supplier to a company like Toshiba Corp. in the semiconductor market – where products are routinely one ten-thousandth of the thickness of a human hair – involves a more stringent process than in other industries.

To succeed in this market, a start-up needs to offer a product that is drastically superior to that of the competition.

“More established semiconductor companies such as AMD and others just have more resources to draw on for R&D, and they can draw on three decades of semiconductor manufacturing experience,” said Uche Orji, who heads the European semiconductor team at JP Morgan in London.

Furthermore, the semiconductor industry is consolidating – looking for fewer, not more, suppliers. That development, Orji said, “is a lot more challenging than people may expect.”

Lacher said he was not deterred by the odds.

“Everything’s a risk,” he said. “We think it’s a managed one. We’ve got the technology ahead of the competition.”

And if it fails?

“We’ve invested E5 million in this over two years,” Lacher said. “Look at our balance sheet – that’s pocket change.”

Special Use Airspaces In The USA

There’s a saying, or at least there should be, in American aviation, and it goes something like this: “Just one F-16 streaking at Mach speed 500 feet over your head can ruin your day.” It was for this very reason that my buddy Kees and I were somewhat alarmed last autumn when we were informed by ATC that the MOA we were about to enter was active down to 10,000 feet. At the time, we were level at 9,500.

Heck, even if I didn’t know what an MOA was, I’d have requested a lower altitude – say, 5000 feet lower. Given the American penchant for acronyms, for all one knows MOA could stand for “Mushed on Arrival”. But of course, MOA stands for Military Operations Area, and as one would suspect, the United States is particularly chock full of active MOAs, apparently allowing US armed forces to practice dropping large bombs into small pickle barrels from unusual attitudes and at high speed.

One must also take special note of the differences between all the so called Special Use Airspaces, or SUAs: MOAs, Warning Areas, Restricted Areas, Prohibited Areas, and the ever-so homey-sounding Controlled Firing Area. All of these SUAs are covered under Part 73 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR).


According to the latest Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), an MOA is “…airspace established outside of Class A Airspace area to separate or segregate certain nonhazardous military activities from IFR traffic and to identify for VFR traffic where these activities are conducted.”

Remember that activities that are “nonhazardous” from the military’s point of view (they refer to planes not dropping bombs or firing missiles, but rather merely performing aerobatic or abrupt maneuvers at alarmingly high rates of speed) are rather more hazardous than the conditions to which your typical VFR pilot is accustomed.

But this does not mean that you cannot fly in an MOA – you can, but you’d be a fool not to check on the latest information about activity within it. Fortunately, MOAs are indicated on Sectional, VFR Terminal Area, and Enroute Low Altitude Charts (see Box), and when you’re within 100 miles of one, any pilot can get the skinny on activity by contacting the local Flight Service Station (tune your radio to 122.0).

FSS will give you information about activities, or scheduled activities in the MOA in question. Even if the MOA is active, you still may be perfectly capable of flying through – FSS will have information on the “operations floor” of the activity, and let you know, for example, that it’s safe to enter at the time you call as long as you stay below a certain altitude. Heed this advice.

Even if you have contacted FSS, you are also expected to contact the MOA’s controlling authority before you enter an active MOA.

Warning Areas
Warning Areas, denoted by a dark blue hatched line, and noted with the letter ‘W”, denote areas along the three nautical mile limit around the US coastline – areas in which US armed forces or NASA may be conducting operations that could have infelicitous effects on one’s GA aircraft.

For the Mother Lode of Warning Areas, take a gander at the Jacksonville, VFR Florida sectional, whose entire coastline is one long blue hatched area from north to south, with individual Warning Areas within the larger, Warning Mother Ship. This is because Florida’s coast is particularly important the US, for air force, naval and NASA activities (see the box).

You may fly into a Warning Area that is not active; see the box for information.

Restricted Areas
These are essentially Warning Areas on the ground as opposed to in international waters, and similarly marked with a number referencing the SUA legend (see box). The threats within a Restricted Area include gunfire, aerial gunfire or missile and (ahem) guided missile launches, any of which could crimp your style. As with Warning Areas, you may fly through Restricted Areas when they are not active. Be certain!

Prohibited Areas
The USA only has a few “No Fly Zones”, currently established in Washington, D.C.; Kennebunkport, Maine; Waco, TX, Thurmont, Maryland; Amarillo, Texas; and Mount Vernon, Virginia. These too are marked by dark blue hatched lines, and the word Prohibited, with a number beginning with P. (See box) According to the FAR, “No person may operate an aircraft within a prohibited area unless authorization has been granted by the using agency.” FAR Section 73.85 defines the “Using agency” as “…the agency, organization or military command that established the requirements for the prohibited area.” FAR Sections 73.87 through 73.99 define designated prohibited areas.

Note too, that Prohibited Areas change from time to time.

Controlled Firing Areas
The best part of Controlled Firing Areas isn’t what they are – areas in which military types are firing all sorts of cool stuff all over the place – but rather what they are not: a threat to you. Under the terms of this SUA, and what makes it different from all other SUAs, any aircraft spotted – either by a plane spotter or radar – means that all activities within the CFA is immediately halted. So insignificant to pilots is the CFA that they are not even listed on charts – we just thought you’d like to know about them!

Having all this information in the recesses of your mind is fine and good, but put it to use to avoid inadvertently violating an SUA. Before getting your standard Weather Briefing (see related article), study the sectional chart of your intended route, and ask the briefer specifically about any SUAs you might approach to see if they are active. Check the NOTAM’s (Notices to Airmen) – your briefer should do it as part of the standard briefing, but if he or she doesn’t, make sure you ask.

One other phenomenon in the states are TFRs – Temporary Flight Restrictions. These are temporary designations of an area as restricted or, more likely, prohibited, sue to any number of reasons. It could be because of flooding or other natural disaster. A TFR is put in place when a plane crash – such as EgyptAir or the John F Kennedy accident – results in heavy recovery activity. They’re slapped on any area in which heavy small plane and helicopter activity is occurring, such as the American football Super Bowl. And TFRs are put in place whenever the President of the United States pops down to the corner store – wherever the convoy is, there’s a TFR. TFRs are covered in FAR part 91.137.

Soviet Spoke In The Wheels Of Progress

Life has changed very little over the past few years for Stanislaw Kudrzycki, a shift supervisor for the Polish national railway (PKP) and his 19-person crew at Kuznica on what is now the Poland-Belarus border.

At the railway station of this desolate town, a 24-hour a day operation functions a in exactly the same way it did when it was established in 1972 to change the wheel trucks on trains crossing into and out of the Soviet Union. The Russian rail gauge is 24cm wider than European gauge (a legacy of Tsarist xenophobia), the reasoning being that foreigners intending to invade by train would first need to capture rolling stock.

If the system ever did thwart foreign invaders (it managed to severely impede progress of Nazi troops, who scrambled to regauge the lines to Moscow during World War II) it caused far greater frustration to rail travelers from Europe, who were compelled to change trains at the Polish Soviet border.

As one traveler put it, “the border crossing was the worst part of the trip. It was freezing, we had to go to the nightmare of the Soviet customs clearance before walking half a kilometre hauling our luggage. The experience didn’t exactly translate as ‘welcome to the Soviet Union.’” But in the 1960s, as the Soviet authorities began to rely upon tourism as an important source of hard currency income, they were forced to change the abominable border conditions.

They redesigned their train cars to the little more than flat bottomed cargo containers with seats, which could be placed upon changeable wheel truck assemblies. The trucks consist of two axles, four wheels, shock absorbers and a seat upon which the train can be fastened using a “male/female” connector in the manner similar to a key fitting into a lock. For inbound trains the European-gauge wheel trucks are removed and rolled out from underneath the cars, and Soviet-gauge wheel trucks are rolled in and attached. The outbound procedure is the reverse.

A Bit of History
In 1972 the Soviet Union constructed the changing station at Kuznica and contracted PKP to operate and maintain it (it has always has been a Polish operation despite the facility’s decidedly Soviet appearance). Now, as a train reaches the border, its cars are separated and placed next to hydraulic lift platforms which work in essentially the same manner as giant car jacks. After the wagons are separated, they are hosted 2m off the ground, the wheel trucks are rolled out from beneath the train, and new wheel trucks rolled in. Once the new wheel trucks have been manually lined up with the lynch point, the wagons are lowered onto the trucks fastened and re-connected.

It is a complicated, labor intensive operation. After each car has been lifted, workers walk underneath and attach the wheel trucks to a steel cable which pulls them down the track; they are then stored until the train’s return. When the new wheel trucks arer rolled in, they must be manually positioned using such crude tools as bent pieces of track as hammers and extra long crow bars to rock the wheel trucks backwards and forwards until the connecting points are aligned.

To one not aware of what is happening (and most Westerners aren’t), the procedure can be a harrowing experience with threatening Cold War over tones. Passengers are forbidden to leave the cars during the operation, which often takes place very early in the morning, and spend the turnaround time watching workers scurrying beneath their windows. Armed Polish soldiers patrol the kilmometre-long stretch of the work area, and the eerie silence is broken only by the constant slamming of wheel trucks being pulled into line and rolled down the tracks.

Dangers at Every Turn
Every aspect of the procedure, which takes between 60 and 90 minutes per train, is dangerous. During the winter, when the average temperature falls to minus 15 degrees Celsius, workers stand exposed for periods of up to two hours and than retreat to an overheated lounge area; illnesses are common. The hydraulic lifts, which are both electrically and manually operated during the procedure, have failed on at least one occasion, sending one of the 50 ton cars and its passengers crashing to the ground.

Workers say that one woman passenger has been killed, and seven people have lost limbs, when they were caught between 9 ton wheel trucks that were being rolled down to track. Drunken passengers routinely fall out of the cars. And there’s always the danger that a conductor will forget to lock the door to prevent entry to a car’s toilet, which empty directly onto the tracks. Should someone flush during the wheel changing procedure, the consequences are unfortunate for any worker who happens to be standing on the tracks beneath the drain output.

Kuznica, five hours east of Warsaw, is a tiny farming town also happens to have major railroad border crossings. These are seeing more business than ever. Russians and citizens of other former Soviet republics bring all their worldly possessions to sell in Warsaw’s markets, and wait in line at the border for an average of three days to cross into Poland. On their return, having sold their possessions and car in which they came, they buy a train ticket to Kuznica where they walk across the border. They then walk a few kilometres to the Grodno station, where they can pay for connecting tickets in roubles.

Where Mr. Kudrzycki and his crew used to be controlled absolutely by the military – even to the extent that they had to request permission to go to the toilet – they are now very much under their own control. These days, the crew makes it very clear to the guards that they are merely putting up with them.

Even the once powerful and feared Russian train conductors, who would use any opportunity to exercise their authority, now stand by sheepishly as the workers go about their business. “They still try to throw their weight around from time to time,” says Mr. Kudrzycki, “but now they’re just a joke.’

“We used to do our job while the army stood guard, keeping passengers into cars, making sure people were taking photographs of the facility or sniffing around near the border,” one of the workers said. “Now the Army is ‘protecting’ us from the Russians, trying to keep them out!’

The whole crew, having a tea break between train arrivals in their smoke filled lounge, began to laugh. “An hour ago, to Russian passengers got sent back over the border,” said another. “They tried to get in invitations written in outrageous Polish – bad grammar, made up streets and towns, ridiculous names. It must have been written by a Pole with a great sense of humor.” (While Russians do not need a Visa to enter Poland, they must have an invitation from a Polish citizen)

The crew’s tea break ends. The St. Petersburg-Warsaw train is pulling in, and we follow Mr. Kudrzycki to the 15m control tower. Standing at his control console, he presses one of several dozen lighted buttons as he speaks. The action has no discernible effect, and a worker’s voice blares over a two-way radio speaker: the remote control is not functioning, so he’ll do whatever needs to be done manually. “That’s normal,” Mr. Kudrzycki says, pointing scornfully to the console, which looks like a 1950s comic strip version of a control panel of the future.

“You hear that radio? It was installed last month,” he continues, “I’ve been here for four years, everyone else since 1972, and they only installed a radio last month. Before that we would use hand signals, or send messages in a chain: he tells him, that guy tells the other guy, the other guy comes upstairs and tells me…’

There may be a lot of problems, but Mr. Kudrzycki is still sure of at least one thing: he’s not in danger of being laid off. “In Portugal,” he says almost wistfully, “they have the wide gauge rails as well. But they’re using a new technology. They have contractible axles on the trains; as they cross the border the axles expand by springs and become wide enough to run on the rails.’

“But,” he continues, “my job’s safe. Do you have any idea how expensive that system is?’

Software Pirates Rule In Russia

russia_piratesEvery day here and in dozens of other Russian cities, pirate dealers sell copies of the world’s most popular software titles at $5 per CD-ROM.

Despite fears about the economy, small and medium-sized businesses are flourishing in this elegant northwestern Russian city – and pirated software is installed on almost all of their computers.

Nearly all high-end computer games, Encyclopaedia Britannicas and other educational and reference CDs are distributed through illegal sources.Bootlegged software use is certainly not limited to Russia. Industry analysts say that 27 percent of the software running on American computers is pirated.

And the Business Software Alliance, which monitors business software piracy, says 43 percent of PC business applications installed in Western Europe are illegal copies.

In Russia, however, the piracy rates are a stunning 91 percent for business applications and 93 percent for entertainment software, according to Eric Schwartz, counsel to the International Intellectual Property Association, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that lobbies internationally on behalf of the copyright industry.

Schwartz said that piracy in Russia costs American entertainment software manufacturers $223 million a year and business software makers almost $300 million. The Business Software Alliance estimates worldwide revenue losses to the software industry from piracy at $11.4 billion.

Under the 1992 agreement with the United States that guaranteed Most Favored Nation trading status, Russia is required to effectively enforce anti-piracy laws, but actual enforcement is virtually nonexistent.

Meeting the Dealers

The dealers, who operate in stalls and kiosks around major transportation hubs or in full-scale markets usually 15 minutes from the city center, offer an enormous range of titles, usually bundled in a form their manufacturers would never dream of.

“That’s Windows 98, Front Page 98, Outlook 98, MS Office 97 SR1 and, uh, yeah, Adobe 5.0,” said Pyotr R., a student at St. Petersburg Technical University, of a single CD-ROM. “On the disk there are files, like ‘crack’or ‘serial’ or something, and that’s where you’ll find the CD keys,” he said, referring to the codes that unlock CD-ROMs and allow users to install the programs.

Pyotr (who spoke, as did all others interviewed for this article, on condition of anonymity) sold that disk, plus a second one containing Lotus Organizer 97, several anti-virus programs and some DOS utilities, for 60 rubles or about $10.

Another dealer was offering Windows NT 4.0 for $5, and Back Office for $10. According to Microsoft, the recommended retail prices for these products are $1,609 and $5,599.

Many Russians, who during the days of the Soviet Union bought most necessities through black market sources, think nothing of buying their software this way. They even defend the markets as providing a commodity that had been long-denied them.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, inexpensive computers began to flood into the country from Taiwan, Germany and the United States, increasing the importance of these illegal software markets. Spending at least $800 on a computer was an enormous investment for Russians, even relatively well-paid St Petersburgians who earn an average salary of around $350 a month. Those who did buy one were in no position to consider purchasing software legitimately, even if it were readily available, which it often wasn’t.

These days, though, legitimate outlets for hardware and software are popping up everywhere in Russia; computer magazines offer licensed versions of everything available in the United States and Western Europe, and software makers advertise in the city’s well-established English-language media.

The markets continue to thrive with an alarming degree of perceived legitimacy. Outside the Sennaya Square metro station in St. Petersburg, a police officer approached a pirate dealer (who offered, among other things, Adobe Font Folio and QuarkXPress) and angrily chastised him for not prominently displaying his license to operate the stall. When the dealer complied, the policeman moved on.

Customers feel secure that the pirated copies will work and that belief appears well-founded. Bootlegged titles come with a written guarantee – good for 15 days from the date of purchase – that they’re virus-free and fully functional.

And files on the CDs themselves boast of high-quality, code-cracking techniques: “When so many groups bring you non-working fakes, X-FORCE always gets you the Best of the Best. ACCEPT NO IMITATION!” boasts one.

“There’s a lot of viruses around in Russia,” said Dima V., a system administrator who runs several small company networks in St. Petersburg using bootlegged copies of Windows NT 4.0, “but most of the disks you buy in the markets are clean. The guys are there every day and if they give you a virus you’ll come back – it’s just easier to sell you the real thing.”

Foreigners get in on the action

Russians are not by any means the only people installing the pirated programs. While employees of multinational companies or representatives of American companies would never dream of risking their job by violating copyright laws, self-employed Westerners, or ones who have established small Russian companies have no qualms about doing so.

They also pose a question software manufacturers find difficult to answer: Who would buy a network operating system package for $5,000 when it’s available for $5?

“Nobody,” said Todd M., an American business owner in St. Petersburg, whose 24-PC network runs a host of Microsoft applications that were all bootlegged.

“There’s just no financial incentive for me to pay the kind of prices that legitimate software costs,” he said. “I mean, it would be nice to get customer service right from the source, but we have really excellent computer technicians and programmers in Russia and they can fix all the little problems that we have.”

Customer support and upgrades are just what the manufacturers point to as advantages of licensed software, even in markets like Russia.

“There are enormous incentives,” said Microsoft’s Mark Thomas, “to buying legitimate software, and they start with excellent customer support and service and upgrades. We spend $3 billion a year on research and development and the money that we make goes right back into making products better and better products. The pirates don’t make any investment in the industry.”

And local industry, Thomas pointed out, suffers disproportionately in the face of piracy.

“A huge amount of our resources are put into making sure local industry builds on our platform,” he said. “When a local company creates packages for, say, accounting firms, and somebody can come along and buy it for $5, these local companies can lose their shirts.”

Piracy getting worse

Despite heavy lobbying by industry representatives and government agencies, piracy has worsened. As CD copying technology becomes cheaper, large factories in Russia and other countries, including Bulgaria, churn out copies of software copied by increasingly sophisticated groups in countries around the world, especially in Asia.

Encyclopaedia Britannica wrote off Malaysia as a market effectively destroyed by pirates, who sold 98 out of every 100 copies of its flagship Encyclopaedia three-CD set for a fraction of its recommended retail price of $125. The same disks, which have not officially even been offered for sale in Russia, are readily available in the St. Petersburg markets for $10.

“For Encyclopaedia Britannica, the cost of piracy is millions a year,” said James Strachan, EB’s international product manager. “One hundred percent of the value of our product is an investment in the authority and depth of our content,” he said. “Piracy causes us extreme concern and we do everything we can to root it out and prosecute.”

Todd M., the businessman with the 24-PC network, offers little hope that the situation will soon change in favor of manufacturers.

“With all the problems I have running my business here in Russia, from armed tax police to Byzantine procedures and customs duties, software piracy just doesn’t register with me,” he said.


“It’s the one thing about doing business here that’s somebody else’s problem.”

Setting up Squid. Then Using It.

So I’m here in California, staying at a hotel for ten days and want to look at some websites. Nothing too fancy, some blog entries, research for upcoming reports, maybe some racy stuff like No-Load Mutual Funds. And I am, of course, like you, on a free, open, wireless connection. My mail is tunneled, but web isn’t. So I realize I should set up a proxy server somewhere else, like at home, and tunnel into it, lest anyone sniffing on the local WiFi LAN (not that I’d ever do something like that with something like Wireshark) or indeed the hotel’s wireless contractor have a record of everything I look at and type.

No brainer: Squid’s your man. But in looking around for a plain-English How-To set up Squid and then use it guide, I couldn’t find one. So here it is. The first thing to do then, is install and configure Squid.

Setting Up Squid
Because I am on Gentoo, this was easy:

emerge —sync
emerge squid

I bet on Debian it’s as simple as

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install squid

Once Squid was installed, I saved the original /etc/squid/squid.conf file as a backup and then made this my new one:

http_port 3128
cache_mem 50 MB
visible_hostname DOSA
cache_dir ufs /var/cache/squid 500 16 256
offline_mode off
maximum_object_size 102400 KB
reload_into_ims off
pipeline_prefetch on
acl my_network src
acl localhost src
acl all src
http_access allow my_network
http_access allow localhost
http_access deny all

Then save, and restart squid (or start it)

/etc/init.d/squid start

That, you’ll see, allows traffic from both local network and localhost but not to anyone else. We’re accessing via SSH, so once we’re tunneled in, we are on localhost.

I only allow access to the box via one port for SSH, and that is not a standard port. This little security-by-obscurity kludge was not for defense against hackers, but only to stop the bots from constantly knocking on my door and filling up my auth.log with automated login attempts. Those attempts were useless anyway because of the actual (non-obscurity-related) security measure: I don’t allow remote login with a keyboard password – you need a pre-saved key. Also, of course, the firewall does not accept connections to the Squid port – to get at that port, you need to SSH in and do port forwarding. (If anyone can tell me a better, safer way to do this I’d be obliged.)

There’s some other authentication stuff one could do quite easily (forcing a user prompt in the browser when users start a new session to authenticate to Squid via pam) that I feel comfortable ignoring in this case because I’m fairly confident about the physical access to the network (if that’s breached I have bigger problems) and also because web access to the box is limited as I’ve just described.

Setting Up The Tunnel
Now the trick is to get my machine here in the hotel to talk to Squid across an encrypted SSH tunnel lest I send my blog password and evidence of my looking at IBEX 35 stocks to everyone in my 17-floor hotel. This machine is an Ubuntu box, so I set up a simple SSH tunnel with port forwarding – using the technique first rattled off to me by Ian Sacklow, head of the Capital District Linux Users Group, while we were standing in a Barnes & Noble store about three years ago:

sudo ssh -L 3128: -p 7890 -f -N

The -L means bind the local port (given first) to the remote port (given last) of the server (given in the middle, wrapped between ::s). Put in a mnemonic way,


By that standard, I’m binding port 3128 of my local machine ( to port 3128 of the remote machine. Then I specify the remote machine with the and specific port command (if that is required).

The -f sends the SSH shell to the background – but brings it back if the SSH server prompts for a password or sends something else back. The -N (in SSH2 only) says, “And while you’re in the background, don’t execute any remote commands,” or in this case, “Just set up the tunnel and make yerself scarce.”

If you’ve timed out a sudo session or if you have just opened the terminal, you’ll be first prompted for your user password to carry out the sudo part of the command. Once that’s done, if your SSH server allows you to use keyboard interactive logins and you don’t have a remote key, then you’ll be prompted for the password of the user name on the remote server. Enter it and if accepted, you should just return to a local user prompt. Same if you have an SSH key – after running the tunnel command, you’ll just be returned to a local user prompt.

Tip: If you set up the tunnel and you get a message saying that the local port is already in use, find out what’s using it: in this case, you’d run:

sudo lsof -i tcp:3128

That should get you info about what’s running. Kill it and then start the tunnel again. Unless you decide that you don’t want to kill it, in which case, you’d change the local bind to a different port. It doesn’t matter a whit to either SSH or Squid.

Firefox settings screenshotSetting up Firefox
Now things are easy. You’ve got Squid running on the remote server. You’ve got an SSH tunnel connecting you to it. Now just tell Firefox where to look. In Firefox select Edit -> Preferences -> Network -> Connection Settings. Tick the radio button marked, ‘Manual Proxy Configuration’, type E’’ in the HTTP Proxy box and ‘3128’ (or whatever) into the Port box, click OK, then Close. Now type into your URL bar and see what happens. With luck, you’ll get taken to Google.

To make sure you’re actually using the proxy, SSH into the Squid server box, and look at the tail of /var/log/squid/store.log. You should see something about google. To watch it change in near real time, do:

tail -f /var/log/squid/store.log

And surf to another location.

Web surfing in hotels or coffee shops is nasty stuff. This is one way to add a modicum of privacy to your activities at no cost but your time. Of course, corporate firewall requirements might require some modification to the tunnel commands to get out to your server, but shouldn’t present too much trouble. But beware – an entire industry exists which seeks to discover people engaged in just that kind of activity, which is certainly against your corporate access policy.

SAP profit surges 60% as profile rises in U.S

SAP AG, the German-based business software giant, said Thursday that first-quarter net earnings rose 60 percent from a year earlier, to E298 million ($325 million), but revenue dropped 8 percent to E1.52 billion.

The company makes software that businesses use for accounting, supply-chain management and customer relationship management. Headquartered in Walldorf, Germany, SAP is the largest business application vendor in the United States and has nearly 20,000 corporate customers worldwide.

SAP said it expanded its U.S. market share in the first quarter, without specifying figures, and cut its operating costs substantially without cutting jobs.

But analysts pointed out that certain sources of revenue, such as those for software maintenance and for consulting services, were down, as were earnings overall in Europe.

SAP said that while the number of European sales contracts increased, companies bought less. Because of a weak European economy, it said, revenue in Europe, the Middle East and Africa dipped 4 percent to E854 million.

First-quarter Asia-Pacific revenue increased 7 percent to E198 million.

In the Americas, where SAP has recently reorganized its U.S. sales force and implemented cost-cutting measures, revenue was down 20 percent at E468 million. When measured in constant currency rates, however, there was a 1 percent increase.

Maintenance revenues – fees the company charges to maintain software it has already sold – increased by 1.8 percent to E608 million but fell short of the company’s own forecasts.

Consulting revenue fell 12 percent to E476 million.

Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein in Frankfurt downgraded the stock to “hold” from “buy.” But Morgan Stanley said that SAP performed well in view of the global economic situation.

“As a trajectory, those revenues are a bit of a concern,” said Ross MacMillan, vice president at Morgan Stanley. “But the company is doing a phenomenal job of controlling costs. They’ve ratcheted costs down almost E140 million by cutting variable costs and without layoffs.”

The stock closed up E4.85 at E94.10 in Frankfurt.

The results are the last to be reported before Hasso Plattner, an SAP co-founder, steps down as chief executive next month.

Russian Cooking Comes Of Age

Russian-Borsch-Recipe-Me-cookingAs fodder for guide book humor, Soviet cuisine led with its chin. It’s not that there wasn’t any good food available in the country, it’s just that you had to search long and hard for it. In between looking and finding, visitors were faced down by enormous portions of overcooked vegetables, potatoes slathered in vegetable oil, mystery meat and the occasional pancake with sour cream.

And at Moscow’s middle-eastern restaurants, one would wondered whether ” belly dancing” meant theirs or the dancer’s.

Now days, with availability of high-quality fresh ingredients from around the country and the world at an all time high, Russians are cooking up a storm. And despite their reliance on just a tad more fat then most Western chefs, they’re pretty darn good at it.

The newly-slicked-up Russian Television stations – and their sponsors – have not been slow to capitalize on this trend. One of the most popular cooking shows on Russian television is Smak (which sort of translates to ‘Pleasant Taste’), sponsored by Uncle BenE’s rice and hosted by Andrey Makarevich, former lead singer of the famous 70’s and 80’s-era rock group Time Machine. Now a bit older, a bit paunchier but still as charming as ever, Makarevich’s show features recipes from and appearances by famous (and not so famous) guests.

On May 8, the day before Victory Day, Smak featured cartoonist-cum-television commercial actor Ufimtsev, proffering his recipe for what he calls Baked Chicken and I call ‘Victory Chicken Statue on a Bed Of Wild Rice’ (you’ll get it when you see the recipe).

In a halting, slightly nervous but mostly confident manner, Ufimtsev set about chopping garlic, mushing butter and generally being the elder statesman about the kitchen.

And lo and behold, as the thing started to take shape, I realized that this was the Russian version of the chicken my fat- and-cholesterol-fearing father prepares in New York using a metal contraption that looks something like a Tonka super sex toy, designed to hold the chicken upright during cooking so that the evil fat drips away from the meat. ‘Boy, this is terrific’, says dad, and judging by the looks of things on Smak, Russians think so, too.

UfimtsevE’s Victory Chicken Statue

(From Smak)


one medium-sized chicken, washed

small bunch of dill

several (6 to 8) cloves of garlic

1 cup water

one stick softened butter

1 thick 500 ml or 750 ml glass Bottle (such as a European beer bottle)


One cup wild rice

two cups cold water

one tablespoon softened butterv
dash salt


Fill the bottle about a quarter-full with water, and add about two cloves of crushed garlic. Impale the washed chicken on of the bottle so that it looks sort of like a chicken statue. The chicken should reach almost, but not quite, to the bottle bottom.

Spread the softened butter all over the chicken, using your hands, followed by crushed garlic. Place the chicken statue on a cookie sheet (to catch fat) in a pre-heated 200°C/400°F oven for about an hour or until done.

The fat drips from the outside of the bird onto the cookie sheet; from inside into the bottle, steaming water infuses the chicken meat with garlic aroma. The contents of the bottle are later discarded.

It didn’t explode on TV, so I don’t see why it would at your house, but for the attorneys’ sake, I should say that the whole thing is AWFULLY DANGEROUS and should all have a warning label and don’t try this at home unless you’re a professional. Use as thick a bottle as you can. If you’re still worried, you’re probably the kind of person who thinks that baseball bats should have warning labels.


In a small pot, place the rice into the cold water, add butter and salt, bring to a boil; stir briefly and reduce to a simmer and cover the pot for twenty minutes or until the water is gone and small steam holes appear in the surface of the rice on the pot. Don’t stir during cooking and for God’s sake don’t overcook it or keep opening the pot to see if it’s done all the time.

Spread the rice out on a serving dish large enough to accommodate the chicken. When the chicken’s done, place it on the bed of rice (Smak, of course, prefer that it be Uncle Ben’s!). Um, before you do that, it’s probably good to remove the now- filled bottle – grasp it, with the aid of a pot holder, and pull the chicken off the top carefully with two forks.

Chop finely the bunch of dill and three cloves of garlic, and mix the two together in a small bowl. Pour some of the pan drippings on top of the chicken, then sprinkle the garlic-dill mixture on top as a garnish.

You can modify this recipe to be Fatly Correct by ditching the butter and not garnishing with pan drippings; the inside of the bird will still be sumptuous and moist. If you’re really into it, remove the skin, but AFTER cooking. Come on, live a little.