Jerky Renaissance

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

We’re witnessing a jerky renaissance, as consumers shift toward high-protein snacks:

Sales of jerky rose 13.6% to $760.2 million for the year ended Aug. 12, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago market-research firm. That follows several years of growth, including a 13.4% sales rise in 2011.

Whether they are looking to build muscle or slim down, consumers are exhibiting a growing appetite for protein-rich snacks. In a 2010 survey of 2,000 consumers, 38% said they “always or usually choose foods or beverages because they are high in protein,” compared with 22% in 2002, according to HealthFocus International, a St. Petersburg, Fla., food market-research firm.

Meat jerky “is like Greek yogurt for men,” says Lu Ann Williams, head of research for Innova Market Insights, based in the Netherlands.

Last year alone, Innova tracked 140 “meat snack” introductions compared with 75 two years earlier. Other protein launches last year included 55 new hummus products, compared with 33 in the earlier period, and 240 new protein bars, compared with 130 earlier.

A serious hurdle, though, stands in the way of jerky’s upward sales trajectory. “We call it jerky shame,” says Tom Ennis, chief executive of Oberto Brands, of Kent, Wash., which has relaunched its jerky line with seven “all natural” products, including Hickory Beef and Spicy Sweet.

Perky Jerky’s maker was surprised to discover that 60% of its customers are women — lululemons in their marketing argot.

Slim Jim’s still focused on young men:

It’s a male rite of passage with teen guys to buy the first stick “you can afford with the change you have in your pocket,” Mr. Marple says. (The standard Slim Jim “Giant Stick” retails for around $1.30.) “It’s ‘I’m becoming a man,’ ” Mr. Marple says. But then something happens to guys in their 20s, he says. “They seek variety in snacking, and they’re moving to chips and Tostitos.”

Slim Jim launched a “man medicine” ad campaign last year, lampooning men whose increasing life responsibilities lead them to wear baby carriers and lug shopping bags. For such lapsed “menergy levels,” one spot says, “reach for a Slim Jim.”

So, young men move up from jerky to chips? Odd.

Deterrence beyond the State

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Deterrence is as old as fear, Thomas Rid notes, but it only became systematically recognized in the twentieth century — with its new basis in three key assumptions:

The first common assumption is theoretical: that the role of deterrence is to avoid all adversarial offensive action, and that once force is used, deterrence has failed.

The second widespread assumption is historical: that the origins of the modern theory of deterrence go back to the rise of airpower in the 1930s and then evolved and matured during the nuclear stand-off in the Cold War.

The third orthodoxy is operational: that deterrence is largely limited to nuclear confrontations and, in a more limited way, to symmetric conventional military powers between armies, while terrorism and political violence are most difficult to deter.

The Israeli experience runs counter to all three assumptions:

This article has found that Israel’s use of military force, increasingly, is not just one act of force to compel one actor to fulfil one specific political goal at one given time; deterrence connects a series of acts of force to create and maintain general norms of behaviour for many militant actors over an extended period of time. This observation requires an adaptation of deterrence as a strategic concept. Israel’s conventional view of deterrence can be restated along the following lines: battle victories were the singular events, or dots; deterrence was the line to connect these dots into a larger, grand strategic picture. This line of Israeli strategic thought implicitly rearranges offence and defence under the umbrella of deterrence. Offenses may be swift, limited and strategic, in the sense that such offensives against well-established opponents redefine new (or old) rules of the game in one intensive spike of violence. But such an outburst of force may be embedded in a larger defensive strategy: deterrence, which is designed to maintain these rules and avoid the opponent ‘eroding’ them. Deterrence, in other words, connects rule-setting battle victory and rule-maintaining acts of retaliation, designed to be swift, certain but measured. It is more general than specific. Quotidian deterrence, therefore, is stretched out over time, open-ended and marked by the absence of victory. It is more restrictive than absolute. This understanding of deterrence can give what may appear as tactical tit-for-tat deeper strategic meaning. It equips a singular military response with exemplary character, in effect keeping intact a norm of behaviour, the so-called ‘rules of the game’. Such rules make future Israeli responses, so the theory goes, more predictable, thus enabling adversaries to make moderating cost-benefit calculations.

Several limiting characteristics of Israel’s approach stand out. The first limiting feature is the strategy’s imperfection. Deterrence would hardly prevent armed confrontation at all times. Aggression and retaliation were seen as necessary evils that should be kept on as low a level as possible, but that could not be pushed down to zero. Error, misunderstanding and probing are hard-wired into this arrangement. Israel’s adversaries are highly ideological and may be driven by religious motivations with a different notion of rational behaviour. Militant groups, depending on their strength, may also have limited control of other groups operating in the same area, and even if one political group is a de facto sovereign, such as Hamas in Gaza after 2007, it may have difficulty dissuading competing extremist groups such as Islamic Jihad from launching attacks. Once norms and rules of the game are effectively established, offenders are also likely to try finding loopholes, to attack in a way that makes a counter-value attack problematic or impossible. An example was a series of cross-border intrusions into southern Israel from Sinai on 18 August 2011, stated by the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committee, a militant group. And eventually politics may interfere on either side, pushing hard-liners to take action for internal political reasons. For those reasons and more, strategic planners have to assume that violence will never cease entirely. Success does not mean no violence; success means less violence.

Second is the assumption of continuity. Israeli deterrence had long assumed a continuity of adversity, which might never turn into a genuinely friendly relationship. It assumed a continuity of a threat, perhaps even an existential one, which ultimately could not be eliminated. Even the successful establishment of a Palestinian state would not end Israel’s problem with political violence. In this sense the Jewish state’s defensive doctrine reflected thousands of years of Jewish history, an experience too often marred by violence and near-extermination. But the traditional notion of Israeli state-on-state deterrence still assumed decision, that is victory, although those victories against Arab states always assumed a temporary character. The idea of ‘cumulative deterrence’ expresses this perhaps resigned rationale. Decisive battle victory and, in order to assure it, a sophisticated early warning capability as well as self-reliance, were staples of Israel’s security doctrine for a long time. But as the non-state threat came to the fore, the strategic goal of each operation, of each battle, shifted. It was not clear-cut victory any more, but teaching the enemy a lesson: that the use of force would not bring victory and glory, but shame and pain. Paradoxically it is the measured operational success of the IDF’s energetic deterrence posture that enables a persistent political passivity in Jerusalem that may come to cost the democratic Jewish state dearly.

A third challenge is proving that deterrence shows the desired effects. How can one know if deterrence works or not? Deterrence is often credited with successfully avoiding a nuclear exchange during the Cold War. That nothing happened shows that deterrence worked. But such reasoning is highly problematic. In the Israeli case, on closer inspection, what is known as the ‘evidential problem’ in the philosophy of law is less intricate. Something actually happened and demonstrates that deterrence works – there were fewer attacks than before. But such a measurable change is only masking an epistemological problem which, ultimately, seems insurmountable. When asked for the evidence that deterrence in a particular situation actually works, Itai Brun, a brigadier general and head of the Dado Center, the IDF’s strategic think tank, points to one overarching criterion that in most other trials would stand for the absence of evidence: sheket, he said in Hebrew: Quiet.
A final insight pushes the argument into philosophical territory. The analysis is not free from contradictions, and the Israeli strategy is not free from contradictions, because ultimately reality is not free from contradictions. It may be in the genuine interest of a militant group to strike Israeli territory in a given situation, for instance to show that the Palestinian resistance continues, or to provoke an Israeli counterstrike in order to politically exploit the ‘Zionist aggression’, but at the same time escalation may be against the same group’s interest because it damages international support and because IDF strikes could damage sensitive installations or kill critical personnel. Conversely, for Israel, responding to aggression may bring positive and negative consequences at the same time, even when only the narrow impact on one militant group is considered. Another example is the desired predictability of Israeli retaliation. Strategic thinkers in Tel Aviv assume that it is in their country’s interests to be perceived as both predictable and unreasonable at the same time.96 A sophisticated strategy, and sophisticated strategic theory, should be able to accommodate such contradictions, not ban them and keep the analysis artificially clean.

This unusual insight leads to an unusual conclusion. The recent Israeli experience with deterrence, as unlikely as it may seem at first glance, appears quintessentially postmodern. Cold War deterrence theory bears modernist traces. The Soviet-American superpower confrontation was characterized by a mutual belief in a general theory, in quantification, in structure, in clear lines between peace and war, in victory followed by an end of enmity. There was a towering belief in universal progress, in short, as illustrated by the widespread euphoria of the early 1990s. Israel’s experience offers the starkest of contrasts. It is diverse, not unified; it is case-specific and particular, not universalistic; the IDF’s approach vis-à-vis its various non-state enemies at various borders is fragmented, not holistic; Israeli strategists assume that reality itself is contradictory and shape-shifting, and that not even the most orderly minds can bring it into neat agreement and steadiness; the IDF now takes into account granular cultural and emotional considerations when assessing potential actions of its adversaries, quite unlike positivists and realists; leaders rely equally on tacit and explicit knowledge, not just on quantitative analysis and formal doctrine; and if necessary, Israeli operators are more pragmatic than principled. Yet this overall inclination seems to extend to the dark side of the postmodern condition. The Jewish state’s political and military strategy is resigned, even cynical, without the genuine optimism and captivating vision that marked the Zionist dream, once an archetypically modernist phenomenon itself. Today Israeli grand strategy seemingly embraces an imperfect and unending state of gridlock, and has parted with the West’s quintessentially modern idea of continuous improvement and progress. But this probing line of thought runs into one problem. If the Israeli experience with deterrence appears postmodern and disillusioned, the more vital question is whether Israel had ever fully and unequivocally embraced the West’s fanciful modern condition in the first place. Has the future arrived late in Jerusalem, or perhaps early?

Aircraft Carriers in Space

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

Science-fiction authors often model their space battles on historical naval conflicts — the Age of Sail, World War I or World War II surface action, submarines, or fighters in space — so a show like Battlestar Galactica ends up with thinly disguised aircraft carriers in space.

The influence also goes the other way though, as Chris Weuve points out:

Many people point to the development of the shipboard Combat Information Center in World War II as being inspired by E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensman novels from the 1940s. Smith realized that with hundreds of ships over huge expanses, the mere act of coordinating them was problematic. I think there is a synergistic effect. I also know a number of naval officers who have admitted to me that the reason they joined the Navy was because Starfleet Command wasn’t hiring.

The Combat Information Center is that wonderfully telegenic room full of maps, computer consoles, and sweeping polar displays of radar and sonar echos:

Early versions were used in the second world war; according to Rear Admiral Cal Laning, the idea for a command information center was taken “specifically, consciously, and directly” from the spaceship Directrix in the Lensman novels of E.E. Smith, Ph.D., and influenced by the works of his friend and collaborator Robert Heinlein, a retired American Naval Officer.

After the numerous losses during the various naval battles off Guadalcanal during the war of attrition that was part and parcel of the Solomon Islands campaign and the Battle of Guadalcanal the United States Navy employed operational analysis, determined many of their losses were due to procedure and disorganization, and implemented the Combat Information Centers building on what was initially called “radar plot” according to an essay “CIC Yesterday and Today” by the Naval Historical Center.

That same article points out that in 1942 radar, radar procedure, battle experiences, needs, and the CIC all grew up together as needs developed and experience was gained and training spread, all in fits and starts beginning with the earliest radar uses in the Pacific battles starting with the Coral Sea, when radar gave rise to the first tentative attempt to vector an Air CAP to approaching Japanese flights, maturing some before the Battle of Midway, where post-battle analysis of Coral Sea’s results had given more confidence in the ability and to the process and the desire was bolstered by new procedures giving their measure of added confidence.

So, why wouldn’t we see aircraft carriers in space?

Aircraft carriers are a particularly good model to illustrate how the differences between the ocean and the air really drive how naval combat works, and hence don’t work so well when converted to space. An aircraft carrier is built around three things: the flight deck, which functions as the airplanes’ doorway between the sea and the sky, and also the parking lot for the airplanes; the hangar deck, where essential aircraft maintenance is carried out; and the propulsion spaces, because you really want that flight deck to be moving fast to generate wind over the deck, which in turn makes it easier to land and take off. Everything about the “airport” aspects of an aircraft carrier point towards making it big: big engines, and big flight deck that is also elevated away from the turbulence of the ocean surface. So, since you need a big ship anyway, we decide to put a lot of planes on, plus extra fuel, command and control facilities, a hospital, a post office, and so on. You name it, an aircraft carrier has it.

But in space, you don’t need that doorway between the sea and the sky, because your “fighter” is operating in the same medium as the mothership. You don’t need a flight deck. You just need a hatch, or maybe just a clamp that attaches the fighter to the hull if you don’t mind leaving it outside. You don’t need the big engines or the big elevated flight deck. And hence it doesn’t make nearly so much sense to put all of your eggs in one basket. There might still be some efficiencies in grouping them together, but the fighters are probably more analogous to helicopters rather than F-18s. Almost every ship in the U.S. Navy carries a helicopter, or at least could temporarily.

As always, amateurs study tactics, while the pros study logistics:

Another issue is that modern naval warfare is very much tied to a logistics. There is a lifeline to the shore, and on top of that, there is this support network across the world, such as satellite, meteorological support, and land-based aircraft. Air campaigns are planned ashore. This idea that Captain Kirk leaves on a five-year mission? We go to sea for six or nine months at a time, with continuous logistical support, and when we come back, the ships are pretty beaten up. They need refit. It’s hard to imagine these spaceships going out alone and unafraid without any sort of support. Most sci-fi authors ignore that, and haven’t thought about what would be needed. Interestingly, the sci-fi authors of the 1950s were better at thinking it though. It was a time when everyone was talking about how a hydroponics section would be needed to provide food on a starship. Maybe nowadays you can say you have a magic power source, or nanotech to produce the materials you need. But I really get the impression that sci-fi doesn’t really understand this stuff.

Economic Lessons from American History

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

John Steele Gordon shares five economic lessons from American history:

  1. Governments Are Terrible Investors
  2. Politicians Have Self-Interest Too
  3. Immigration is a Good Thing
  4. Good Ideas Spread, Bad Ones Don’t
  5. Markets Hate Uncertainty

Blue Smoke

Friday, September 28th, 2012

One of Jerry Pournelle’s readers discusses smoke on a plane some more:

Many airliners still retain the option to open a window in the cockpit, at least on the ground. That’s because the pilot may have no way to exit the aircraft in the event of a fire preventing the pilot from reaching another exit. Smoke in the cockpit is one of the worst airborne emergencies for 2 reasons. First, the smoke may be so toxic that onset of neurological deficit or blood-oxygen transport problems may be only a matter of seconds. Second, the first indication of an aircraft fire or smoke/fumes in the cockpit is usually someone on board saying “hey do you smell something?”, at which point everyone around immediately takes a deep breath or two, inhaling quite a bit of whatever is in the air, delaying starting the emergency procedure procedures while everyone sits around going “I dunno it smells like a bad air filter, what do you think?”

In military aviation we try to beat these considerations into the brains of our student pilots, but over time a little complacency often sets in.

When airborne depending on the aircraft type, there may be an option to depressurize and “ram-dump” the environmental system, which opens ram air ducts to force outside air into the cockpit/cabin. I’m sure every aircraft will have variations in how this works but the basic idea that there is a switch that immediately shuts off conditioned pressurized air circulation and opens up ram-air from the outside is pretty much standard. It isn’t much different from opening a window.

I do know that my one major smoke/fume in the cockpit incident dropped my blood oxygen level to around 85% in a matter of minutes and resulted in an overnight hospital stay, from only 2 or 3 breaths of the smoke-filled air before I got on 100% oxygen.

Pournelle has had limited experience with cabin smoke but the one incident he went through went much as described:

“Hey do you smell something funny?” Followed by discussion followed by “Let’s get this bird down fast!” Fortunately it was minor, although at 38,000 feet nothing involving blue smoke is really minor.

In Case Of Emergency

Friday, September 28th, 2012

When the Cold War ended and the Russian army began to shrink, its airborne divisions didn’t:

Airborne commanders made a convincing case that their elite troops would remain professional and increasingly be among the few combat troops that could really be depended on. Thus the airborne force did not shrink as much as other ground troops. This decision was vindicated in 1999, when Russian troops were sent back into rebellious Chechnya and defeated the separatist rebels there. In the first three years of fighting in Chechnya, over 12,000 paratroopers served there, and were the most effective troops. This success led to the temporary expansion of the airborne force from 40,000 troops to 45,000 troops. Finally, in 2006, the last paratroopers withdrew from Chechnya, largely replaced by interior ministry paramilitary forces. Two years later, paratroopers again proved their professionalism and effectiveness when they led the invasion of Georgia, just south of Chechnya. The airborne force currently consists of about 35,000 troops (organized into four small divisions plus an independent brigade and an independent regiment).

Russia embraced airborne troops 80 years ago — but its paratroopers have rarely actually been airborne:

Russia pioneered the development of airborne forces in the 1930s and by 1941 had five “airborne corps” (each with about 10,000 troops, equivalent to an American airborne division). These units were not fully equipped and the purges of the late 1930s had eliminated some of the best airborne officers. Then when the Germans invaded in June, 1941, the Russian air force was quickly destroyed. Lacking air transports, and with the Germans rapidly advancing on the ground, the five airborne corps were sent in as ground troops. Most of these paratroopers were killed before the end of the year, thus destroying the airborne force Russia had spent the last nine years building up. They did not die in vain, however, as the Germans had a tough time whenever they encountered the Russian paratroopers. But by early 1942, only two of the three airborne corps was intact, and suffering from heavy losses.

Before the pre-war Russian paratroopers were destroyed, some of them did get a chance to use their parachuting skills. Between December 1941 and March 1942, 3,500 paratroopers were dropped behind German lines to assist the growing number of guerilla units being formed. Another 7,000 troops were brought in via gliders (as were supplies for the guerillas.) This activity caught the attention of the Germans, and they eventually wiped out nearly all of these troops.

Undismayed, the surviving Russian paratroopers were used to train more airborne troops, and five more airborne corps were quickly formed. All ten airborne corps saw a lot of combat during early 1942. There were some small parachute drops, but none had much impact on the fighting. In mid-1942, the ten airborne corps, and five independent airborne brigades, were turned into regular infantry units and sent south to fight in the battles that led to the German defeat at Stalingrad in early 1943. But even before this campaign was over, paratroopers were pulled out of their infantry jobs at the end of 1942 and used to organize ten Guards Airborne Divisions (basically the same as the previous Airborne Corps). But again an emergency arose that kept the paratroopers on the ground. The Germans launched another major offensive in early 1943, and the paratroopers were once more sent in as ground troops, and most of them were lost.

Undismayed, the Russians raised another twenty airborne brigades (about 50,000 troops), which they used to form another six airborne corps. Three of these brigades were used in the first deliberate attempt to use paratroopers to support a major operation. This was the largest Russian airborne operation to date.

On September 24th, 1943, three parachute and three air landing brigades hit ground 40 kilometers behind German lines along the Dnieper River near Kanev. It was a disaster. Hastily organized, most of the paratroopers had never jumped out of an airplane before, although most had at least jumped from a training tower in a parachute harness. The inexperienced pilots had to do the drop at night, to avoid the risk of German fighters and there was not enough transport aircraft. The Russians had also not learned how important it was to move away from their drop zones quickly and form into larger units. The small, scattered Russian were quickly run down and destroyed by the Germans. What can be said is that the distraction took some German combat units away from the front line, and they did allow the oncoming Russian armor units to advance a bit farther than they otherwise would have.

Stalin was not happy with this, the first real test of Russian airborne forces in their designed role. While the persistent efforts to organize new airborne units recognized that the airborne capability was important, the Russian air force was never able to support airborne operations sufficiently to make them work. For the rest of the war, Soviet airborne forces were kept on the back burner. It wasn’t until after the war that the parachute divisions again became well trained and equipped forces, with sufficient air transports to move them into combat.

But because of changes in technology (helicopters, too many anti-aircraft weapons for transports to operate over enemy territory), the age of major parachute infantry operations had passed. Paratroopers became well trained infantry, all volunteers and eager to jump out of aircraft. Just the kind of guys you need for emergencies.

Are ADHD Medications Overprescribed?

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Are ADHD medications overprescribed?

In a 2010 study in the Journal of Health Economics, researchers found that the youngest children among U.S. kindergartners (those born in August) were 40% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and twice as likely to take ADHD medications as the oldest kindergartners studied (those born in September). Similar results were found in a study of children ages 6 to 12 published this year in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Simply put, this means that the people making the diagnoses aren’t distinguishing, in many cases, between normal developmental immaturity and ADHD. The author of the U.S. study estimates that this mistake could account for 20% of the current ADHD diagnoses in the U.S., or about 900,000 children, by his count.

Elon Musk, the 21st Century Industrialist

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Elon Musk is a 21st Century Industrialist — Steve Jobs, John D. Rockefeller, and Howard Hughes rolled into one. Even before he started Tesla and SpaceX he was running crazy ventures:

Musk put himself through Penn by throwing massive parties at a house he lived in with Adeo Ressi, another student. Ressi created day-glo artworks to give the house the feel of a club; Musk managed the finances. Ressi remembers Musk converting one of his works of art into a desk. “I’m like, ‘Dude, that’s like installation art in our party house.’ It wasn’t a desk. It was a work of art. The argument about this went on and on, and maybe today in his infinite wisdom he’ll admit that, ‘Adeo, that was art.’?” When asked about this, Musk says, “It was a desk.”

As an undergraduate, Musk wrote business plans for an electronic book-scanning service and an “ultra-capacitor” energy storage venture. He bored dates with monologues on the wonders of electric cars. To get any of his grand projects started, he needed a lot of money. So in 1995 he bailed out of a graduate program in applied physics at Stanford and, with Kimbal, started an Internet map and directory venture called Zip2. Four years later, they sold Zip2 to Compaq Computer for more than $300 million.

Musk took his winnings and plowed them into another startup called This was basically an online bank and would later become PayPal. Musk was the largest shareholder — and, for a time, CEO — until EBay acquired it for $1.5 billion in 2002. He made $180 million.

Musk poured that fortune into SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity, and funded a data-center software company called Everdream, among other ventures. He palled around with Hollywood types, which is how he got to know Favreau. Musk executive-produced the satirical 2005 movie Thank You for Smoking.

Hey Pilot, open the doggone window!

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Science-fiction author Jerry Pournelle was an aeronautical engineer at the dawn of the Jet Age, when he was asked to study smoke at high altitudes:

The Internet is abuzz with stories of how stupid Romney must be because he said something about aircraft ventilation. The occasion was a heavy smoke incident on a flight that his wife took. The Huffington Post went insane with laughter about how Romney was so stupid he wondered why you can’t just open the windows on a jet plane. Clearly he is not qualified to be President, and in fact must be so incompetent as to need a keeper. Of course the first assumption is that the Huffington Post and other media must be joking; but apparently they were not.

Next comes the ‘news’ that Romney was joking. Probably graveyard humor on hearing that his wife had been in danger but was now safe. Whether or not Romney was joking, which should have been obvious — it’s not as if he has never been aboard a jet airplane. He may even have owned one — it’s not quite so trivial a question as you might at first think. As it happens I know something about this from a long time ago.

This was once a serious topic for discussion and study. As it happens I was in the Human Factors and Reliability Group at Boeing when the 707 went commercial. Boeing’s marketing methods for the 707 were simple: the Company brought the Chief Pilots of most of the major airlines to Seattle as guests to watch the Gold Cup 90-mile unlimited hydroplane boat races from the Boeing barge on Lake Washington. The Gold cup is run in heats, with a major break between heats for mechanical overhaul, and during one of the recesses, without prior announcement, the watching crowd (and the TV audience of course) was told to Look Up! Here comes the new Boeing 707 Stratocruiser! At which point Chief Test Pilot Tex Johnston brought the Dash 90 — the flying prototype of the 707 — down the length of Lake Washington, and at about 700 feet he barrel rolls just in front of the Boeing barge. The result was that within a week every senior pilot in America was in his President’s office panting “We gotta have one!” and Boeing had about a hundred orders within a month.

Boeing began building and selling the 707. Howard Hughes came up to Boeing Field in his private Constellation, and camped out at the end of the runway (with about 17 young lady starlets and stewardesses) while negotiating the design and purchase of a fleet of them. The commercial jet age began.

But within a month of the first commercial passenger jet flight — people paid a premium price for a jet ticket, since it cut hours off cross country flight times — they had a cabin pressure loss above 40,000 feet. The passenger oxygen masks deployed, but people didn’t know how to use them. The pilots did an emergency dive to 7500 feet, then a more gradual descent, so that there was enough oxygen content and cabin pressure for breathing without oxygen masks, but the FAA gave Boeing notice that within 30 days we had to give sufficient evidence that the passenger oxygen system was safe or the 707 fleet would be grounded. Dr. Don Stuhring, the Boeing Central Medical flight surgeon, and I as a human factors engineer were given the task: come up with evidence acceptable to the aviation medicine and human factors professional community, and do it fast.

We spent the next three weeks at the University of Washington altitude chamber. Of course Boeing had a good altitude chamber — in fact a better one than the UW — but we wanted the UW people involved in the experiments including data collection so there would be no question of the accuracy of the data. We took several rides to 40,000 feet a day — actually on most I took them, with Dr. Stuhring outside to preside if there was medical need, which there never was — and flew flight profiles of emergency cabin pressure losses, rapid descent to 10,000 feet and gradual descent to 5,000, with the subjects using the emergency oxygen system while we monitored blood oxygen content, heart rate, and other data. In those days collecting physiological data from non-restrained subjects was very difficult, and I had to use a bank of analog computers to filter out electronic noise. The subjects were paid volunteers from the UW student body, faculty, and staff, and included young and old, sick and healthy. It was a heck of a month, but we got the data, it was accepted by the relevant boards, and the 707 wasn’t grounded.

We (Don Stuhring and I) also participated in discussions about ventilation. What would happen if there were smoke incidents? Obviously you can’t open the cabin to external ventilation if you’re much above 10,000 feet, but rapid descent will fix that. Deployment of the passenger oxygen system will buy you some time, but if the smoke isn’t dissipated you got problems. There was serious discussion of building in external windows operable by the cabin crew. The alternative was a pilot controlled ventilation system, which raises the question of its reliability. We had considerable confidence in the competence of the flight attendants — generally known as stewardesses — despite the public  ‘coffee, tea, or milk?’ jokes about ‘stews’; and if we started looking into things that might fill the cabin with smoke most of those might also cripple a pilot compartment controlled ventilation system. I remember saying something to the effect that I had a lot more confidence that Miss Sparling here can open the window than I have in the hydraulics working after parts of it turn into blue smoke.

We’ve come a long way from those days in the 1950’s, but clearly there’s still the possibility of a smoke incident and ventilation problem. And some of us may remember that prior to jet aircraft there were manually operable windows on passenger airline craft. Didn’t George Kennedy open one of them and fire a flare in one of the sequels to “Airport”?

For those who don’t know: without a very efficient oxygen mask delivering pure oxygen, you won’t perform well, or even last long, above 30,000 feet. We learned a lot about that in World War II. With pure oxygen at positive pressure you can manage at about 43,000 feet (this is from memory, but it’s in the right range) but you’re already in need of a pressure suit.

Of course if you’re inhaling smoke at high altitudes you’re really in trouble. Efficient ventilation of aircraft at high altitudes has been the subject of considerable study, particularly for military aircraft — how do you get a Flying Fortress home if there’s smoke in the cabin and AA guns below? But I wouldn’t expect the Huffington Post columnists or editors to know much about that. Their “update” on the incident still doesn’t show much understanding, but that’s to be expected too. Which is fine; my point is that it’s a more complex subject than they think, and Mr. Romney is clearly aware of that. I doubt he knows as much about it as I do, but that’s another story. At one time Stuhring and I knew more about it than perhaps anyone did, not because I was so smart, but because I had reason to think about it. Mr. Romney has a tendency to answer questions asked of him, and to have confidence that if what he says is wrong, someone will correct him. That was true of Newt Gingrich, too, and it’s no bad trait for a President since it shows that he expects to have smart advisors who will say what they think.

The incident tells a lot about many people; perhaps more about the press than about Mr. Romney.

Growing up Gangnam Style

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Euny Hong grew up Gangnam Style — but the South Korea of her youth had none of Psy’s irony:

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I witnessed Seoul’s transformation from a grim, dangerously crowded place where all designer garments were counterfeit into a glamorous and rich global mega-city where — as Psy shows — people are fabulously well-dressed, but they still have to hang out in parking garages.

Irony is that special privilege of wealthy nations — Aristophanes, possibly the world’s first satirist, wrote his plays as Athens was becoming the dominant power in the region; Cervantes wrote at the height of Spain’s naval wealth; and Alexander Pope was born the year that England defeated the Spanish Armada. First, one scrambles for wealth; then one luxuriates in mocking the effeteness that comes with it.

Thus “Gangnam Style” signals the emergence of irony in South Korea, meaning that the country has reached the final stage in any state’s evolution. If you don’t think that irony is a measure of eliteness, think of how annoyed you were the last time you were accused of not having any. Americans have told me that Asians have no irony; in Europe, where I last lived, I was told that Americans have none.

South Korea had no irony when I arrived there. I can say that as plainly as I can say that it had no McDonald’s (it arrived in 1988, in Gangnam, of course). The Korean language has no word for irony, nor for “parody,” which is why the Korean press has been using the English word “parody” to describe Gangnam Style.

After a 20-year stint in the US, where I was born, my parents returned to their native Korea and set up in Gangnam’s snobbiest neighborhood, Apgujeong, sometimes called the Beverly Hills of Seoul; the major shopping street is named Rodeo Drive. I attended Gu-jung elementary and middle school—the highest-rated, most entitled, most hated school in the entire country.

In 1987, every schoolchild in South Korea made a mandatory donation toward the building of the “Peace Dam,” a project of then-President Chun Doo-Hwan’s. The North Koreans were allegedly building a dam of mass destruction close to the North-South border. The dam would collect water flowing from the north and then one day, when we least expected it, the North would unleash the water and flatten Seoul. The retaliatory Peace Dam, to be built in the south, would send the water back north. I do not pretend to understand the engineering involved.

The teacher hit all of us, one at a time, with her wooden stick wrapped with black electrical tape. We had all brought the recommended donation of 200 won (at the time, the equivalent of 25 American cents).

“You are from Gangnam,” the teacher said, a phrase she used often, as in, This is Sparta. “If the nationwide minimum is 200 won, you have to bring at least 1,000 won. You shouldn’t have to be told.”

You can’t have irony when you’re being hit with sticks wrapped with black electrical tape. Or, when you’re being forced to prepare a speech every semester to enter in your school’s Anti-Communist Speech Contest.

South Korea wanted nothing more than for its GDP to skyrocket, but it didn’t want to deal with increasing individual wealth. The clashing goals made South Korea a stark raving mad place to live in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

My school enforced rules to make the increasing income disparities less visible. Students were not permitted to wear watches exceeding 20,000 won in value or shoes exceeding 9,000 won. We were not permitted to be picked up or dropped off at school by private car — which became a matter of controversy, since students were often required to stay at school very late into the night, giving rise to safety concerns.

Korean law prohibited private tutors for school subjects, for fear that this would give an advantage to the wealthy. Most students at my school had them anyway.

Throwing like a girl

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

I am shocked — shocked! — to learn that girls do indeed throw like girls:

Janet Hyde, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has studied the gender gap across a broad spectrum of skills. She believes that men and women aren’t as different as they are often portrayed, and she has mined data on social, psychological, communication and physical traits, skills and behaviors to quantify the gap. After looking at 46 meta-analyses, Hyde found what she defined as a “very large” difference in only two skills: throwing velocity and throwing distance.

The throwing gap has been researched for more than half a century, and the results have been consistent. According to Jerry Thomas, dean of the College of Education at the University of North Texas in Denton, who did the throwing research Hyde cites in her paper, “The overhand throwing gap, beginning at 4 years of age, is three times the difference of any other motor task, and it just gets bigger across age. By 18, there’s hardly any overlap in the distribution: Nearly every boy by age 15 throws better than the best girl.”

Around the world, at all ages, boys throw better — a lot better — than girls. Studies of overhand ball throwing across different cultures have found that pre-pubescent girls throw 51 to 69 percent of the distance that boys do, at 51 to 78 percent of the velocity. As they get older, the differences increase; one U.S. study found that girls age 14 to 18 threw only 39 percent as far as boys (an average of about 75 feet vs. about 192 feet). The question is why.

The power in an overhand throw — and in a golf swing, a tennis serve or a baseball swing — comes from the separate turning of hips and shoulders. The hips rotate forward and the body opens, and then the shoulders snap around. Women tend to rotate their hips and shoulders together, and even expert women throwers don’t get the differential that men get. “The one-piece rotation is the biggest difference,” says Thomas. “It keeps women from creating speed at the hand.” Even when women learn to rotate hips and shoulders separately, they don’t do it as fast as men.

There doesn’t appear to be a muscular or structural reason for the difference.

(Hat tip to that notoriously misogynistic jock, Tyler Cowen.)

The Cold, Paradoxical Logic of Strategy

Monday, September 24th, 2012

The realm of conflict is ruled by the cold logic of strategy, Edward Luttwak says — the cold, paradoxical logic of strategy:

(Hat tip to our Slovenian guest.)

Flight Attendant Cited Over Gun at Philly Airport

Monday, September 24th, 2012

A flight attendant forgot to take a gun out of her purse before leaving for work at Philadelphia International Airport, where TSA agents noticed the gun and alerted police.

A police officer tried to make the weapon safe by removing the bullets — but ended up shooting a round in the process. No one was hurt:

Investigators say the flight attendant has a valid gun permit. She has been cited for passing the gun through a security checkpoint.

Evers says the discharge is being investigated by Internal Affairs and the officer who accidentally discharged the gun will go back to training on handling weapons.

When you hear someone say that police officers are trained, remember your last corporate training — and the people who passed the course.

How to Coach Your Kid

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Daniel Coyle (The Talent Code) shares this anecdote from a reader on how to coach your kid:

Dylan was working on his shot this summer, and it was coming along. More zip, more elevation. Like a basketball player in the driveway working on his shot, Dylan was pounding the hockey pucks into the goalie net, which had a target in each corner. While his speed was developing, his aim was not. For instance, he might be trying to hit the top left corner and end up in the bottom right quadrant. This type of result was happening routinely. Aim just seemed beyond his reach at this point in his development. Summer was winding down.

In mid-August, while he was in the middle of his bucket of pucks, I asked him to stop; put down his stick; take off his gloves; pick up a puck and throw it like a pitcher or a quarter back to the top left corner. He whipped it over the net. But with in 10 throws he was narrowing in, and within 20 throws he was consistently in the range.

I asked him while he kept throwing, “Dylan, can you feel your brain talking to your hand? Trying to figure out when to release the puck?” He said he could. After about 40 throws, I suggested he put the gloves back and grab his stick. I told him, “Dylan, that blade at the end of your stick, I don’t want you to think of it as a blade anymore. Think of it as another hand, that can grab a puck and is connected to your brain. Let them talk to each other, and control when you release the puck.”

First shot: top left corner. Dylan just looked over at me, and smiled with wonder and surprise. Pretty cool moment for us. Moreover, his aim improved dramatically thereafter. Once, two weeks later towards the end of the summer he nailed four pucks in a row into that same top left corner.

Coyle summarizes the real way to be a good coach:

  • It’s not about explaining big things; it’s about directing the kid’s attention to little things.
  • It’s not about talk. It’s about asking questions, inspiring action, and creating vivid feedback so they can figure it out.
  • It’s not about you, parents — it’s about them.

None of this addresses the central issue of coaching your own kid though: getting your own kid to listen to you.

American troops love Warhammer 40K

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

What kind of people stage make-believe wars with Space Marines? Real Marines, of course — and members of the other services:

Games Workshop’s U.S.-based outreach manager estimates that 20 to 25 percent of Games Workshop’s American customers are active members of the military. If you include veterans, she says, that number jumps to about 40 percent.


40K may not be a true simulation of armed conflict, but it’s part of a centuries-long tradition of war games. After World War II, U.S. Navy Adm. Chester W. Nimitz credited gaming for helping the Allies prepare. “The war with Japan had been re-enacted in the game rooms here by so many people and in so many different ways,” he said, “that nothing that happened during the war was a surprise—absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics towards the end of the war; we had not visualized those.”

Elements of gaming are still present in modern warfare. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Carey served as an operations officer (an S3, to be exact) for an infantry battalion. His responsibilities included developing battle plans from the tactical operations center. “In the movies when you see the room/tent with all the maps, projection screens, and radios with guys moving icons around on a map board — that’s the TOC,” he said in an email. “In a way, running a TOC is as close to hobby war gaming as it gets in the military.”

Who’s hauling all their miniatures overseas?