Friday, August 25, 2017

Extortion-17 Memorial

Sheva-Apelbaum Extortion-17 Memorial

This memorial is dedicated to the men of Extortion 17 who on 6 August 2011, lost their lives on a mission in Wardak province, west of Kabul. A  U.S. Boeing CH-47 Chinook military helicopter was shot down while transporting a quick reaction force attempting to reinforce an engaged unit of Army Rangers.

The crash killed all 38 people on board—25 American special operations personnel, five United States Army National Guard and Army Reserve crewmen, seven Afghan commandos, and one Afghan interpreter—as well as a U.S. military working dog.  You can view the interactive memorial site by clicking on this Link.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tough Lock

Sheva Apelbaum and Feynman Lock

Combination locks are fascinating devices.  Each one, in its own way, is a little magic box that contains a secret. If you have the password, you are welcome to come in.  If you don’t, well then, tough luck.

Several years ago, I lost the combination for my bicycle lock, but eventually, I figured it out using brute force. (See my Picking Locks post for details.)

            Sheva Apelbaum Bike Lock

Walking home recently, I passed by several discarded boxes of items on a street corner and noticed a shiny combination lock on the top of the pile.  Wow, I thought! Why would anyone discard a perfectly good, relatively new combination lock?

Sheva Apelbaum Combination Lock

Unlike my bicycle lock which had several combination disks, this lock had a single dial. I picked it up and tried to pull open the bolt, but no luck, it was in the locked position. So I turned it over to see if the combination was written on the back but it wasn’t.  I know some lock manufacturers can provide a lost combination if you have the serial number, but alas, this lock had no serial number either.

Well, I guessed, that would explain why it had been discarded. Someone must have locked it, forgotten the combination, and then couldn't open it ever again. What good is a lock that can’t be used?

When I got home, I checked several online combination lock resources.  Most of them showed how to open a lock using a variety of methods such as force or shimming, and one source even provided an accelerated brute force attack method. But none provided a fast way to recover a lost combination.
Following the motto: “no matter how difficult, every problem has a solution”, I proceeded to disassemble the lock and see if I could find a way to recover the combination.

An examination of the back of the lock revealed that it had been sealed by pressing down the casing over the backplate.  This packing method is similar to how restaurants close aluminum take-out food containers.
Sheva Apelbaum Combo Lock Opening
I fixed the lock in a vise and slowly unfolded the crease using a knife and holding down the back plate. Once the crease was straightened, I pulled off the back plate.
Sheva Apelbaum Combo Lock Backside Plate

The removal of the back plate revealed a second plate. This one had several holes and notches in it (see image above).

Using needle nose pliers, I gently pulled out the notched plate out of the casing. I finally had access to the interior of the lock. YES!

Sheva Apelbaum Combo Lock Parts 2Sheva Apelbaum Combo Lock Parts 1

Combination Lock Parts List: B: Lock bolt
C: Hasp retainer clip
D: Back plate
E: Cylindrical lock body
F: Interior plate (used to carry two commination disks and support the interior parts)
G: Spring loaded clasp
H1:Combination disk
H1:Combination disk
I1: Compression spring (to keep the two combination disk properly spaced)
I2: Plastic retainer clip
J1: Plastic retainer clip
J2: Plastic retainer clip
K: Combination dial
L: Combination disk (attached to the inferior body of part E and directly connected to Part K)
M: Alignment grove in L combination disk
The notched plate was holding two combination disks (parts H1 and H2 ). The combination disks were attached to a metal shaft with plastic retainers (part J1 and J2), a plastic spacer I1, and a spring I1.
Sheva Apelbaum Combo Lock Inside Parts
The cylinder body of the lock had several parts as well. It contained:
  1. The third combination disk (part L) which was connected to the number dial (part K).
  2. A long U-shaped solid metal bar (part B)
  3. A retainer (part C)
  4. A spring loaded hinge with a notch (part G)
    Sheva Apelbaum Combo Lock Inside 
The lock mechanism turned out to be little more complex than what I had expected. Part B, the U shaped metal bar (lock bolt), was held in position by a notch located on part G.
Sheva Apelbaum Combo Lock Inside View
The only way for that notch to move out of the way and allow the bolt to be released was for the small tab in part G to be aligned with groove M (see below).

Sheva Apelbaum Combo Lock Inside Hinge

I also noticed that part L had a little tab dimple.  It was connected to the number dial (part K) that was rotated in order to select the lock combinations. This dimple was responsible for driving the two combination disks (parts H1-H2) when rotating to the left and right. Apparently, the dimple on part L engaged similar dimples present on parts H1 and H2.

By now, I had a pretty good understanding of how the lock worked. When the user rotated the dial on the face of the lock to the first number, it aligned the M grove with the G notch. Next, when the second number was dialed, the H1 grove aligned with the G notch. Then, when the third number was dialed, the notch on H2 was aligned with the G notch.  Now all the disc had their groves aligned with the G notch which allowed the B bolt to be pulled.

So the combination for this lock (or any other combination lock) is governed by the locations of the dimples on the combination disks. Pretty ingenious if you ask me!
Ok, so now I knew how the lock worked, but how do you translate the locations of the dimples on the combination disks to the actual combination numbers? 
Sheva Apelbaum Combo Lock View Hole
The answer eluded me for several days until it finally occurred to me: why not drill a view hole and watch the combination disks align? I started with the first combination disk rotating it until it was aligned with the notch on part G.  I marked the number that was shown on the dial (part B) and then repeated this maneuver two more times for the other numbers.

After this step, I reassembled the lock and proceeded to try the combination. I held my breath and pulled on the bolt and heard the sweet clicking sound of the disengaging latch. VICTORY!
This posting is dedicated to Richard Feynman, the ultimate lock pick master and the inventor of the shimming method.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Washington DC Winter Break 2012

During winter vacation from school, my family decided to take a road trip.  After a lot of brainstorming about where we should go, I thought that it would be interesting to visit Washington D.C.  I had been to Washington D.C. only once before when I was much younger, so I knew this would be the perfect spot for site seeing and history.

After a several hour ride, we arrived at the city as the sun was setting.  We checked into the Willard InterContinental Hotel which was located on Pennsylvania Avenue, the same street as the White House.  The Willard has a pretty distinguished history. It was host to almost every president since Franklin Pierce (1853).

Abraham Lincoln stayed at The Willard a few days before his inauguration. A little-known fact is that previous to his assassination at the Ford Theater, Lincoln was the target of an earlier assassination plot. In an effort to protect him from this first attempt, he was smuggled into the Willard Hotel.

Sheva Apelbaum Willard InterContinental Hotel
The Willard Hotel Lobby

Interestingly enough, the term “lobbyist” originated at the Willard hotel as well and is attributed to president Grant.  The terms is traced to the regulars who frequented the hotel.  Grant would come over to smoke cigars by the fireplace and used to get annoyed by the unending crowds of people hanging around the lobby attempting to talk to him and influence him.   Some of the other distinguished Willard visitors included Charles Dickens and  Emily Dickenson.

Once settled in, we set out to explore the town and our first stop was the National Archives. I especially wanted to see the National Archives because it is there that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are kept.  There we also found several interesting exhibits including one about the Cuban missile crisis and another highlighting American Presidents.

In one alcove, there was a display outlining how documents are preserved and stored with several actual letters displayed on the walls. One in particular was especially fascinating, it was a letter from the then 12 year old Fidel Castro written to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In it, Castro apologized a few times for his poor English and then asked Roosevelt to send him a ten dollar bill, “green American”, because he had never seen such a bill before. We got a good chuckle out of that (and we’re guessing Castro has since had a chance to even handle one or two)!

Sheva Apelbaum National Archives Building
National Archive Building

Sheva Apelbaum National Archives Hall
Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom

Then finally we came upon what I had been so anxious see. In a dark, domed ceiling rotunda designed to allow for maximum preservation and security, there sat the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Each had been placed in special glass top viewing boxes.

 The physical Declaration of Independence, in particular, was very familiar to me as I’ve been working to memorize it over the past year.  I was shocked to see that the actual document itself was so faded that it was difficult to read. Of all of the signatures at the bottom of the document, it was only John Hancock’s which I could make out with any certainty. This makes a lot of sense, as Hancock had signed his name right in the middle at the top of the signatures and in larger and darker letters than all of the rest of the signers. The size and flamboyance of his signature here is the reason why we use the term “John Hancock” in common parlance to refer to a person’s signature.

On the way out, I also discovered that the Archives has a real copy of the Magna Carta (one of only four surviving copies), England’s 13th-century predecessor to our Constitution.

The Magna Carta

Next on the agenda – Capitol Hill. I always wanted to go there to sit in and listen to Congress and Senate sessions.  Well, this was my lucky day!  It just happens that both were in sessions and because of the proximately to Christmas, there were almost no visitors on site, so we managed to get in.

Sheva Apelbaum Congress Pass
Entry ticket to Congress

Sheva Apelbaum Senate Pass
Entry ticket to the Senate

The particular Congress session turned out to be a pro forma session so there was no voting or debating, but it was still so amazing to witness a congressional session. The Senate session, on the other hand, was much more productive. While we were there, they debated the extension of the FISA bill.  Some senators argued that it was important to extend the bill to allow the various intelligence agencies to do their work effectively; others argued that without the proper checks and balances, the NSA could potentially spy on American citizens without court warrants. I got to hear both sides of the argument, which I found fascinating. The senators were compelling, articulate, and persuasive.  Also during the session, we got to see vice president Joseph Biden and Senator Brian Schatz, a new Senator from Hawaii, who was just sworn into Senate.

Sheva Apelbaum Capital Building
Capital building

Sheva Apelbaum Congress House Sheva Apelbaum Senate House
The Senate and Congress chambers

Sheva Apelbaum Senate Seating Arrangements 2012
Seating arrangements for the Senate chamber

On the last night in Washington D.C, we visited the Lincoln Memorial.  It was a cold, clear evening and we walked there from Capitol Hill.  It is hard to describe this beautiful structure.  The colossal and majestic statue of Lincoln, one of the most influential people in American History, towered authoritatively over us.

Sheva Apelbaum Lincoln Memorial 1
The Lincoln Memorial

Sheva Apelbaum Lincoln Memorial 2
Lincoln Statue

Standing inside the colonnade, I looked directly across the mall and saw the Washington Monument.  It was a white and tall structure that rose magnificently over the dark moonlit sky. The view was breathtaking!

Sheva Apelbaum the Washington Needle
The Washington Monument

On the last day in Washington, we decided to stop at Arlington National Cemetery to visit the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  On the way there, my dad took us to a tomb of a “Friend” and a personal hero of his, Orde Wingate. Wingate was a Major-General in the British Army who with his friend, General Joseph Stillwell—(the author of the Peanut poem), pioneered the long-range penetration, jungle warfare, and commando tactics.

Wingate was killed along with eight other crew members when their B25 crashed during a storm into a mountainside in present-day Manipur, India. All nine men were originally buried in India, but all were eventually exhumed and brought to Arlington where they are buried together in a collective grave.
Sheva Apelbaum Orde Charles Wingate Tomb
Orde Wingate’s tomb

I was puzzled by the fact that there were two civilians on the flight.  My dad didn’t know who they were but suggested that I do some research to find out.  After digging around for a while, I discovered that the two civilians were war correspondents who had been covering allied operations in Burma.

The crew and passengers were:
    Brian F. Hodges - USAAF 1st Lieutenant B25 Pilot
    Stephen A. Wanderer - USAAF2nd Lieutenant B25 Co-Pilot
    James W. Hickey - USAAFSergeant Technical Radio-Gunner
    Vernon A. McIninch - USAAFStaff Sergeant Aerial Gunner
    Frank Sadoski - USAAF Technical Sergeant Engineer-Gunner
    Orde C. Wingate - UK Major General, DSO, 2 Bars, Twice MiD
    George H. Borrow - UK Captain Aide-de-camp to MG Wingate
    Stanley Wills - UK War Correspondent London Daily Herald
    Stuart W. Emeny - UK War Correspondent London News-Chronicle

    The last stop before hitting the road back home was the Tomb of the Unknown.  The Tomb of the Unknown is guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Weather doesn’t stop the guards from their duties—we heard that even during the recent hurricane Sandy, the guards remained at their post.

    While watching the ceremony of the changing of the guards, there was a fly-over of four F18 Hornets.  They weren’t related to the actual guard ceremony, rather they flew in honor of a US Navy Admiral who was buried earlier that day.  They appeared out of nowhere and cruised over us.  They were sleek and beautiful; then, one of them broke formation and gracefully claimed straight up.  I felt their engines roar and just as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone. (I’ve got to find a way to ride one of these beauties!)

    On the way home I thought about all the great sites we visited and how amazing it was to witness first hand the legislative process in action.  And all this, just a few hours away from home! Who said that you need to fly to the other side of the world to have fun?

    C.B.I Roundup Vol. II No. 30 Reg. No. L5015 Delhi, Thursday, April 6, 1944.
    SEAC Souvenir, The Service’s newspaper of South East Asia Command.

    Friday, December 21, 2012


    Sheva Apelbaum Wright Glider

    Idly sitting between yellow lines,
    That marks the beginning of newly found peace.
    Suddenly  roaring—3…2…1…and up into the sky,
    Gliding, soaring, climbing,
    I’m free.
    Wandering mind, drifting through endless sky.
    Worries are gone, replaced with wonder.
    Twirling, swirling,
    The earth itself daring to be defied.
    The vast stretch of sparkling sky,
    Met by the churning of the water below,
    Threatening to swallow anything.
    Calling in to the tower.
    Static swallowing words up like a hungry lion.
    The vital connection between earth and sky constantly hums,
    As I lift higher and higher,
    Up into the sky.
    But my time has come to end.
    As I see approaching lights,
    Like a treasure chest filled with jewels.
    I slowly touch down and the wheels glide smoothly over the runway.
    Now I wait, gaze fixed skyward, patiently waiting….
    Until the day when I can go up again.

    Monday, November 5, 2012

    Sandy, The Hurricane of 2012

    Foster Avenu Marina-Sheva Apelbaum

    By now, everyone has probably heard about Hurricane Sandy. The news made it look like it was going to be pretty bad, and if you were in the midst of it, it did look like the world was coming to an end. Long Island and New Jersey got hit pretty hard, but luckily for us, the only thing we lost was power, tree branches, and a small apple tree.

    The day of the storm, the sky was a darkish green with many swirling clouds.  The last hour or two before the storm hit, it was complete chaos. Everyone was tying down anything that could fly in the wind.  The windows of the supermarket on mainstreet were boarded up with plywood.  Our hardware store was completely sold out of flashlights, batteries, and radios.

    In my house, we were getting ready for the storm of the century collecting emergency supplies including water, food, camping equipment, clothes, and blankets.  As evening fell, the storm got stronger. The wind was howling outside, bending our 30-foot oak trees as if they were made out of rubber. I was standing near the front of the house when suddenly there was a huge bang, the sky lit up bright white, and the entire block lost power. It turns out that one of the transformers in our neighborhood exploded.

    The storm was officially overhead.  After several minutes of complete darkness, I saw flickering lights everywhere as our neighbors lit up candles and turned on flashlights. Because of the danger of falling trees, my parents decided to move our operation downstairs (we weren’t in the flood zone).  We lit our flashlights and headlamps and used a small portable gas stove to heat up water for coffee and hot chocolate.  We used an emergency radio to listen to NOAA broadcasts and for entertainment, we read some books and listened to a shortwave Canadian radio station playing Classical music.
    Throughout this entire ordeal, I had a vague notion that I forgot something outside.  Just as I was about to fall a sleep, I suddenly remembered what it was. In my haste to get everything to the basement, I forgot to take down my Betsy Ross flag that hangs on my tree house!

    The next morning, we all ventured outside to find that our block was covered with fallen branches and a couple of fallen trees.  On the side of my house was a very old crab apple tree that was uprooted. After we had some breakfast, it was time to clean up. My dad brought out several saws and handed me one.  Apparently, I was just about to be inducted into the lumberjack hall of fame.  I found out very quickly that cutting a whole tree down is easier said than done. It took me 15 minutes just to cut the first 4 inch branch because the wet wood kept on seizing the saw blade.

    Fallen Apple Tree Sandy 2012-Sheva Apelbaum

    As I was busy cutting down the trunk, our neighbor who had a generator offered to help with his electric saw. My dad thanked him for his generosity but said that it would be a good idea for me to learn how to do it manually. It took about 3 hours to get the whole tree cut up and moved to the street. Despite the blisters and sore muscles that it cost me, it was fun trying something that I had never done before.

    After we finished removing the fallen tree branches and raking up the leaves, I climbed up to my tree house and got a closer look at my flag. It was torn and tattered.  I brought it inside in the hopes of salvaging it.  The following day we got our electricity back for several hours and with the help of my mom and a sewing machine, I stitched the flag back into shape.  Afterwards we went out for a flag raising ceremony.  I played the Star Spangled Banner on my violin as the stars and stripes was blowing beautifully in the wind.

    Raising the Flag Hurricane Sandy 2102-Sheva Apelbaum
    Star Spangled Banner Sandy 2012

    We live in a small town and people here tend to be very friendly and helpful in general, but now after the storm, they really mobilized in droves to help each other. As we drove around the neighborhood, I could see tables on the side of the road with signs offering “Free Hot Coffee” or invitations to “Come charge your phones”. Complete strangers were offering to share their hot water and food, even their homes! It was so heart warming to see such collective generosity.

    Sayville Main Street 1940-Sheva Apelbaum

    Despite the limited damage it caused to our home, Sandy did turn out to be a devastating storm for many. It flooded entire neighborhoods and leveled dozens of houses while fires burned down blocks and blocks of houses. So many people lost all they had and some even lost family members.

    Monday, September 10, 2012

    Good ol’ Italy

    Picture 695Picture 517

    Italy is so beautiful. Everywhere you turn it is filled with history, from Hadrian’s tomb to the Coliseum to the Pantheon. You ’ll definitely want to check those out if you are ever going to go there.

    Picture 440Picture 670

    But Italy’s appeal doesn’t end with its historical monuments. Now moving on to the food, there is only one word I that could use to describe it: delicious!

    Picture 470

    Especially gelato, I’m a big fan of gelato. Most everyone at least likes ice-cream, right? As a matter of fact, I’d go beyond “delicious” to describe gelato. I’d even venture to call it “scrumdidlyumptious” (with full credit to Roald Dahl for the perfect vocabulary term).

    I absolutely loved eating out at night. Unlike some parts of America, in Italy, almost every single restaurant is opened at night. Even during the wee hours, you can still hear the sound of people laughing and distant music playing in the street. Never a moment will you be bored in good ol’ Italy! I enjoyed our trip there very much.

    Monday, September 3, 2012

    On the Wings of an Eagle

    150 Cessna-Sheva ApelbaumPreflight-Sheva Apelbaum

    For the past couple of years, I have started thinking about going to the USNA. I have a particular interest in the Navy, especially the Navy Air. Ever since I saw aircraft carrier operations and their pilot’s amazing ability to take off and land on a dime, my dream has become to fly.

    Just recently, my mom and dad told me that if I was serious about flying, they would look into it.  Last week, while driving over the weekend, my mom suddenly pulled into a parking lot in our town’s airport.  We got out of the car and walked into a small office on the outskirts of the runway.  When I asked my mom where we were going, she said that it was a surprise.  We entered the office and she and my father chatted with the gentleman behind the counter.  Before I could tell what was going on, I was seated in a briefing room prepping for my first flight!   To say that I was incredibly excited just doesn’t adequately capture how I felt.  After a pre-flight briefing and detailed explanations of the plane structure and operations, my instructor and I went outside to do the preflight inspection.

    This inspection included:
    1. A.R.R.O.W (Airworthiness Certificate, Radio Station License, Registration Certificate, Operating Limitations,Weight and Balance)
    2. Parking Break
    3. Control Wheel Lock
    4. Ignition Switch
    5. Avionics Master Switch
    6. Master Switch
    7. Fuel Quantity Indicators
    8.  Lights
    9. Pilot Tube Cover
    10. Pilot Heat
    11. Avionics Cooling Fan
    12. Alternate Static Source Value
    13. Annunciator Panel Switch
    14. Fuel Selector Valve
    15 Fuel Shutoff Valve
    16. Flaps

    US Marines Scout-Sheva Apelbaum

    After we checked everything on the list, we continued to inspect the plane. Next was the fuel test to make sure there is no debris or water in it. Having a foreign object inside the fuel can make it dangerous because problems with the fuel can lead to engine stall. Finally after all of the inspections were done, we got into the plane, started the engine, and moved towards the runway.

    We obtained permission from the tower and taxied down the runway. We stopped at the end and turned our nose towards the wind. Lights CHECK! Flaps—CHECK! Engine—ON! Throttle—ENGAGED! And then we were finally off! Up we went—500 feet, 1000 feet, 2000 feet. I took the wheel at about 2300 feet and climbed to 2600 on my own.  I leveled off and the plane was all mine.

    150 Cessna Cockpit-Sheva Apelbaum

    Seeing the world at 2600 feet is definitely an incredible experience. I often dream of flying, but this was better than any dream I have ever had.  In just an hour I flew the entire length of Long Island and across the Long Island Sound to Connecticut.  I got to execute some slow turns, use the pedals, and practice ascending and descending, and this was just my first try!

    When we landed, I filled-in my log book and had it signed by my instructor.  As soon as I got into the car heading home, I wanted to go right back up. It was all I could think about during the day. I can’t wait until my next class when I will learn more advanced maneuvers.  My dad says I’ve got the “bug” and I agree. There was nothing more incredible than flying a plane on a clear day!

    Pilot Logbook-Sheva Apelbaum

    Dedicated to Neil Armstrong, who past away last month.

    Neil A. Armstrong-Sheva Apelbaum

    “Gliders, sailplanes, they're wonderful flying machines. It's the closest you can come to being a bird.”