Tuesday, 31 August 2010

OED and Shock and Awe

The nearest we've seen to warfare between technologically advanced nations was the air assault on Baghdad in 2003. Amongst the ordnance directed at the city were a number of NNEMP or non-nuclear electro-magnetic pulse devices. These generate a very intense pulse of electro-magnetic energy that knocks out electronics; cellphones, vehicle engine management systems, radio and communications equipment, computers, TVs and even some toasters and other kitchen appliances. EMP weapons are the future. Baghdad was the first real chance to test the new weapons, and you can bet over the past seven years the results have inspired many useful improvements.

Until recently, our rail network was proofed against EMP weapons, giving us substantial national resilience. This was because the signalling system was not electronic but electro-mechanical. Both my boat engines are EMP proof, having not a single electronic between them.

And EMP devices may also be used by a government against its own population; I'll bet North Korea, Iran and similar simmering nationlets are already considering the option of knocking out all civilian communications capacity if things get too sticky, and I'll bet some dissidents are already keeping spare devices inside Faraday Cages or lead envelopes. The security services are also conscious that it's relatively easy for terrorists to construct and detonate an EMP device at the heart of a crowded city; imagine 7/7 if police and ambulance radios were knocked out, and central London's cellphone network rendered inoperative.

The point is, electronics and electronic records are uniquely vulnerable. Unless you store binary data on a punch-tape at the bottom of a salt mine, it risks remote damage. If the OUP decides not to publish a paper edition of the 3rd Edition of the OED they are taking a big risk for a small gain. English is the world's greatest language, the apex and apotheosis of human civilisation. We should accord it the value it deserves.


SimonF said...

In 1976, MiG-25 pilot Viktor Belenko defected from the Soviet Union with his plane, landing in Japan. When details of the plane were released t the press there was much guffawing about the backward nature of the radio and radar which used valve technology rather than modern transistor technology.

Those in the know knew exactly what it meant, the plane would survive the EMP effects of a nuclear strike.


BrianSJ said...

Vellum would be good. The newer the medium, the more transient it is.

Just Asking said...

Isn't a severe Solar Magnetic Storm due around 2012/2013?

Ed P said...

Yes, the impending solar storm will test/destroy quite a few satellites and ground-based systems too.

And your boat engine, if petrol, could suffer from a burnt-out ignition coil - if the pulse is strong enough there is little that's unaffected.

Just think of all those poor lost souls relying on GPS and who do not possess maps (and probably couldn't read one anyway)!

Anonymous said...

Article on Solar Storms here:
Also recommend googling 'Carrington Event' - happened around 1850.