Coping Strategy

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Assistant Village Idiot shares his new coping strategy for work, which “has taken on a surreal quality of inefficiency lately”:

I’ve decided I’m in a sitcom or a reality show. This is all being taped, and they’re going to be broadcasting my reactions nationwide. So I don’t want to be an ass. I want to appear witty, efficient, good-hearted, wise.

Fixing a Perception Problem

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

While discussing the high-tech XM25, Schmedlap explains how his unit used not-so-smart grenade launchers to appease the locals:

In OIF III, my unit fought against a hodge-podge of various insurgent/terrorist factions that came and went in our AO. Lacking intelligence to do much more than fight them when they exposed themselves, that was about all that we did. In all of the firefights that we had over a year-long deployment (more than I can count), we had zero KIAs and all wounds were RTD.

Nonetheless, the people in the city would complain that we “weren’t fighting back.” As they saw it, a few insurgents would dump multiple magazines of 7.62 at us, throw a few grenades, fire a few RPGs — all indiscriminately — and we would only return well-aimed fire. To the Iraqi citiizens, this looked like we were weak, because we were not firing nearly as many rounds, we were being cautious, and anything that got blown up was a result of enemy munitions.

Even though we were killing the attackers and suffering no losses in the process and no collateral damage or civilian casualties, we somehow looked weak in the eyes of the folks in the neighborhood (didn’t make sense then and still makes no sense). Explaining to them our rationale (avoiding civilian casualties) only earned us eye-rolls and disgust.

So here is how we fixed that perception problem. We started making copious use of 40mm. 40mm was actually far preferable to 7.62mm because it did not ricochet (in prior months, we accidentally hit some civilians with ricochets). On occasions when an OP spotted an IED emplacer and could have shot him with one round to the chest, we fired 40mm.

We set up a free fire zone in which we told no civilians to travel. When we got attacked from that location, we peppered the place with so much 40mm, 25mm, and even hellfires, that rumors began to spread that we had surrounded and killed Zarquawi (when, in fact, we were simply making quick work of a few random combatants).

In the first month of this new tact, we fired more AT-4s than in the prior six months combined. It actually caught the attention of the BDE S-4 who noticed an enormous amount of class V being pushed our way — he feared that we were stockpiling it or carelessly discarding ammo once it got dirty.

The result of these actions? We experienced no greater tactical success against the jerk-offs whom we were fighting against, but the populace had a far more favorable opinion of our efforts. Now, instead of more gunfire coming from the enemy, they saw more coming from us. It was reassuring to them and they actually thanked us for “finally” fighting back.

Harvard scientists reverse the ageing process in mice

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School were able to dramatically reverse the ageing process in mice — which had been bred to age prematurely, because they lacked telomerase:

Without the enzyme, the mice aged prematurely and suffered ailments, including a poor sense of smell, smaller brain size, infertility and damaged intestines and spleens. But when DePinho gave the mice injections to reactivate the enzyme, it repaired the damaged tissues and reversed the signs of ageing.

“These were severely aged animals, but after a month of treatment they showed a substantial restoration, including the growth of new neurons in their brains,” said DePinho.

Repeating the trick in humans will be more difficult. Mice make telomerase throughout their lives, but the enzyme is switched off in adult humans, an evolutionary compromise that stops cells growing out of control and turning into cancer. Raising levels of telomerase in people might slow the ageing process, but it makes the risk of cancer soar.

A Chestertonian Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

G.K. Chesterton shares some thoughts on our American Thanksgiving holiday:

The Americans have established a Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers reached America. The English might very well establish another Thanksgiving Day; to celebrate the happy fact that the Pilgrim Fathers left England.

I know that this is still regarded as a historical heresy, by those who have long ceased to worry about a religious heresy. For while these persons still insist that the Pilgrim Fathers were champions of religious liberty, nothing is more certain than the fact that an ordinary modern liberal, sailing with them, would have found no liberty, and would have intensely disliked all that he found of religion.

Even Thanksgiving Day itself, though it is now kept in a most kindly and charming fashion by numbers of quite liberal and large-minded Americans, was originally intended, I believe, as a sort of iconoclastic expedient for destroying the celebration of Christmas. The Puritans everywhere had a curious and rabid dislike of Christmas; which does not encourage me, for one, to develop a special and spiritual fervour for Puritanism.

Oddly enough, however, the Puritan tradition in America has always celebrated Thanksgiving Day by often eliminating the Christmas Pudding, but preserving the Christmas Turkey. I do not know why, unless the name of Turkey reminded them of the Prophet of Islam, who was also the first Prophet of Prohibition.

(From And What About The Quakers? Hat tip to Kalim Kassam.)

One XM25 Per Squad

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

The XM25 Counter Defilade Targeting Engagement System — which shoots 25-mm grenades just past cover — is finally deploying to Afghanistan. Only a few prototypes are heading over now, but that should change:

The Army plans on purchasing more than 12,500 XM25 systems at about $25,000 to 35,000 apiece starting in 2012, which will be enough to put one in each of the Army’s infantry squads and Special Forces teams, according to Lehner.

Grisly Statistical Discrimination in The Road

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Bryan Caplan recently watched The Road, a particularly bleak post-apocalyptic movie, and he realized that such a scenario leads to some especially grisly statistical discrimination:

In the movie, about 80% of the people seem to be murderous cannibals. This is common knowledge. As a result, everyone is tempted to shoot first and ask questions later. After all, even if two perfectly innocent human beings bump into each other, each can rationally assume the worst about the other.

Notice the tipping point. Once [the probability that] a stranger is a murderous cannibal gets high enough, morally confident statistical discrimination spirals out of control. Even if the stranger down the road isn’t a cannibal, he has a strong motive to preemptively murder you — which gives you a strong motive to preemptively murder him.

As I commented there, a true crisis inverts many of our moral intuitions:

When the number of humans suddenly outstrips food production, how bad is homicide? Killing people now may reduce the number of even more painful deaths in the near future.

For instance, after the limited nuclear strike or asteroid collision that sets off our apocalyptic scenario, our local community can expect a few years of crop failures, but they have enough canned food and dry grain to feed all 1,200 people for one month.

Should they feed everyone for one month, and then starve en masse? Should they draw lots and euthanize 1,150 people, so that 50 can live through two years? Is that practical? Should they send all the young men to seize food from any nearby communities? That’s not so different from drawing lots — some die, and the survivors get more food.

It’s a different world from the one we expect, where we presuppose law and order and nutritional plenty.

(Imagine trying to bootstrap society after such a cataclysm.)

Virtually Prepared

Monday, November 29th, 2010

BBC’s TopGear decided to conduct an experiment recently, putting, in its own words, the undisputed grandmaster of iRacing — a fiendishly difficult driving simulator that recreates the exact physics of scores of race cars and circuits from around the world — into a real Star Mazda racer to see how he’d do:

He’s a humble bloke, a quiet 30-year-old with a hint of podge around the midriff and, if we’re honest, everywhere else too. Despite the cameras and attention, he doesn’t strut like a superstar. Instead his head is bowed, his words softly spoken. He appears thoughtful — analytical, measured — and as he digests instructions, he simulates a gearchange and angles the wheel, like he’s sat here a hundred times before. Which he has. Virtually.

After one installation lap to check everything’s working, he starts his first flyer. All eyes turn to the final corner, a swooping downhill-right with a vicious wall on the outside, ready to collect understeery mishaps. Here comes Greger. The engine revs high and hard and his downshifts sound perfectly matched. Then he comes into sight and, to the sound of many sucked teeth, absolutely bloody nails it through the bend, throttle balanced, car planted. His only hiccup is a late upshift, that has the rotary engine blatting off its limiter. “Time to crank up the revs,” says Alan. “He’s quick.”

The telemetry confirms it. His braking points are spot on. He’s firm and precise on the throttle. And in the fastest corner, he’s entering at 100mph compared to an experienced driver’s 110 — a sign of absolute confidence and natural feel for grip. Remember, this is a guy who has never sat in a racing car in his life — he’s only referencing thousands of virtual laps. Then, on lap four, he pops in a 1:24.8, just three seconds off a solid time around here. He reckons the car feels more grippy than it does online, but that’s probably down to set-up and baking-hot tarmac. It’s a weirdly familiar experience, he says, like déjà vu… with added sweat.

So the computer simulation prepared him quite well — but the computer can’t mimic every element o the racing experience:

The air temperature is 34 degrees [Celsius]; in the cockpit, it’s probably closer to 45. It’s just too extreme for the increasingly sickly looking bloke from the Arctic. Then there’s the g-forces. Road Atlanta is a bucking, weaving, undulating place, where your tummy floats over crests, then smashes into your intestines through compressions. This is another first for Greger. He’s never been on a rollercoaster, or even in a fast road car. In fact, the quickest he’s ever been was on the flight over here, which also happened to be his first plane ride. Which would explain why, as he hurtles down the back straight at 100 mph, he throws up, right inside his helmet. When he rolls into the pits, little flecks of sick roll down his visor and his overalls are soggy around the neck.

He’s feeling woozy, but after some motion sickness pills, we coax him back into the car. “You’re doing a great job, much quicker than I thought,” Alan tells him. “Now let’s zone in on those shifts — keep them sweet.” Each time around, he gets smoother, employing a progressive technique and lapping faster and faster. But with every bump and turn, the physical forces inflict themselves on Greger’s ill-equipped body. He’s getting stretched and squeezed. At times his head weighs double. Now you know why F1 drivers have neck muscles like dock ropes and the metabolism of a gun-dog.

It’s easy to forget that race-car drivers are elite athletes.

There’s No Escaping Hauser’s Law

Monday, November 29th, 2010

There’s no escaping Hauser’s Law:

Over the past six decades, tax revenues as a percentage of GDP have averaged just under 19% regardless of the top marginal personal income tax rate. The top marginal rate has been as high as 92% (1952-53) and as low as 28% (1988-90).

(I’ve mentioned that you can’t soak the rich before.)

Nine percent of holiday shoppers plan to buy an iPad

Monday, November 29th, 2010

A recent survey by ChangeWave Research found that 9% of holiday shoppers plan to buy an iPad in the next 90 days.

Georges St-Pierre in SportsCenter Ad

Friday, November 26th, 2010

I love Georges St-Pierre‘s cubicle:

Want An iPod Nano Watch?

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Apparently Steve Jobs joked that the iPod Nano is small enough to make a good watch, and designer Scott Wilson decided to run with the idea and to fund it via Kickstarter — $25 to pre-order the lower-end TikTok watch-band, $50 to pre-order the higher-end LunaTik kit, hot-stamped and CNC’d out of aluminum.

A Streaming Company

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Netflix considers itself a streaming company, which also offers DVD-by-mail:

The dilemma for Hollywood was neatly spelled out in a Netflix announcement Monday of a new subscription service: $7.99 a month for unlimited downloads of movies and television shows, compared with $19.99 a month for a plan that allows the subscriber to have three discs out at a time, sent through the mail, plus unlimited downloads. For studios that only a few years ago were selling new DVDs for $30, that represents a huge drop in profits.
For the first time, the company will spend more over the holidays to stream movies than to ship DVDs in its familiar red envelopes (although it is still spending more than half a billion dollars on postage this year). And that shift coincides with an ominous development for cable companies, which long controlled home entertainment: for the first time in their history, cable television subscriptions fell in the United States in the last two quarters — a trend some attribute to the rise of Netflix, which allows consumers to bypass their cable box to stream movies and shows.

Netflix now has the frothy stock price to show for its success. The stock has enjoyed a Google-like rise, nearly quadrupling from its 52-week low in January, and with a market value of nearly $10 billion, Netflix is now worth more than some of the Hollywood studios that license movies to it.

In some ways, the closest parallel as a one-stop digital marketplace is iTunes, the Apple service that has put itself at the center of the digital world and has used that power to demand concessions from its suppliers.

Netflix offers a new source of revenue for the studios — but it also presents a threat to their current revenue streams:

“As the home entertainment industry comes under pressure, they are the only guy standing there in a red shirt writing checks,” said Rich Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG Research. “That makes Netflix really unique right now.”

The biggest check came a few months ago, when the company spent nearly $1 billion to stream movies from three Hollywood studios — Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate.

Steve Swasey, the company’s vice president for communications, said, “As we move from paying U.S. postage to acquiring movies and television episodes from the studios and networks, Netflix can become one of their top customers.”

But digital economics can be much less lucrative to content companies. For example, under the terms of Netflix’s deal with Starz, the pay-TV channel, which allows Netflix to stream movies from Sony and Disney, Netflix pays about 15 cents a month for each subscriber, much less than the $4 to $5 a month that cable and satellite owners pay for access to Starz, according to research by Mr. Greenfield.

For that reason, Netflix is increasingly viewed as a threat by cable companies and movie studios, who are considering a variety of ways to put the brakes on the company’s growth.

A Thanksgiving Lesson

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

It’s time to revisit the Thanksgiving lesson learned — the hard way — by Governor William Bradford and the early Pilgrims, who nearly starved under their proto-communist regime:

[Ending corn collectivism] had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.

For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.

Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them

The Mayflower Compact

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

The Mayflower Compact is written in a semi-archaic script — using a y-like thorn with a superscript e for the — but it’s still legible:

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620


Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Adam Savage asks, WTF, TSA?: