The Ultra-Aerodynamic Schlörwagen

September 17th, 2014

The Schlörwagen German experimental vehicle from 1939 achieved a drag coefficient of 0.15 — making it dramatically more streamlined than a modern Prius:

Despite the lack of widespread wind tunnel testing and computer modeling, the 1920s and 1930s were a booming era for aerodynamics. The Czech Tatra 77, Chrysler Airflow, and Mercedes-Benz 540K Streamliner were impressive attempts to limit drag. These cars “conformed to the still fairly primitive understanding of aerodynamics (or streamlining) of the day, which approximates to making a car as close to a teardrop as possible,” says Sam Livingstone, director at Car Design Research and a judge for the World Car Awards. They looked a bit unusual but not loony, and they went into production, with varying levels of success.

Schlörwagen 3

The Schlörwagen was something else altogether. German engineer Karl Schlör, at the Aerodynamischen Versuchsanstalt (Aerodynamic Institute) in Göttingeng, started with a 38-horsepower Mercedes 170H. Inspired by the shape of airplane wings, he redesigned the exterior, setting the windows flush with the shell for cleaner airflow and extending the body over the front wheels. “Basically, the Schlörwagen is a wing on wheels,” says Andreas Dillmann, head of the Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the successor to the Aerodynamischen Versuchsanstalt.

Schlörwagen 1

The result, unveiled at the 1939 International Motor Show in Berlin, was nicknamed the “Göttingen Egg.” It was nearly seven feet wide (just inches narrower than a first-generation Hummer) and had three-row seating for seven.

Schlörwagen 2

The changes worked: The 170H topped out at roughly 65 mph. The Schlörwagen, using the same engine, hit 84. And it needed just eight liters of fuel to cover 62 miles, a 20 to 35 percent improvement. The 0.15 drag coefficient is beaten only by modern designs of less practical cars like the General Motors EV1 and Volkswagen XL1.

Testing Battalions

September 17th, 2014

In 1953 Gen. DePuy ended up back in Europe, testing battalions:

It was very strenuous because each one of those tests lasted for a day and a half. We didn’t get any sleep and then, after one day of rest, we would test another battalion. I went through a little over 20 battalions each year. I watched people do it right, and I watched people do it wrong. I saw a lot more do it wrong than I saw do it right. I was struck by the fact that those who had commanded battalions in war were something like five times as good and those who hadn’t. I blamed a little of that on Leavenworth, because the ones who hadn’t commanded in war, more or less took a passive attitude, and waited for voluminous recommendations from their staff. With all of that going on, there was never time enough to move the troops, or to let them dig in, or to do all of the things that they had to do. They were always late, or lost, or mixed-up in one way or another. Now, the guys who previously had commanded battalions, more or less made up their own minds, and the staff ran around behind them and made it work. They gave the troops plenty of time to move and to dig in, which made it a lot better.

The Tim Ferriss Show

September 16th, 2014

If you enjoyed Peter Thiel’s recent AMA, you might also enjoy his quasi-interview on The Tim Ferriss Show.

For that matter, you might also enjoy the previous episode, with the most interesting man in the world, Kevin Kelly.

Catastrophe 1914

September 16th, 2014

While reading Catastrophe 1914, by Max Hastings, Vox Day has noticed a few things:

  1. Civilian leadership usually appoints the wrong commanders.
  2. The main thing lacking in military leaders, from the highest level to the lowest, is a willingness to accept the risk of defeat. Nothing assures failure like indecisiveness.
  3. Advances in communications technology increases the amount of civilian interference into war operations.
  4. Civilian leadership seldom has a clear objective in mind.
  5. Military commanders regard “the book” as an intrinsic excuse and therefore have a tendency to cling to it.
  6. A historian’s take on a given war is strongly influenced by his nationalist sympathies.
  7. The temptation to interfere with a strategic plan once it is put into action appears to be almost overwhelming.

Tarot Counselors

September 16th, 2014

Robin Hanson recently watched a demonstration of Tarot card reading:

The reader threw out various associations of the cards she threw down, and watched the subject carefully for reactions, moving the interpretation closer to the options in which the client seemed to be more engaged. Though the subject was a skeptic, she admitted to finding the experience quite compelling.

Contrast such life readings to school career counselors. Such counselors usually refer to statistics about the income or gradations rates of broad categories of people given certain types of careers, colleges, or majors. Such advice may be evidence based but it seems far less compelling to students. It is not connected to salient recent personal experiences or the subjects, or to outcomes in which they are very emotionally engaged. It is clear but uncertain, in contrast to the certainty and ambiguity of Tarot readings.

It seems obvious to me that many students would be more engaged by more Tarot like career counseling. It also seems obvious that many parents and other citizens would loudly object, as this would be seen as unscientific and lower the status of this school, at least among elites. Even if the process just took on the appearance of Tarot readings but mainly gave the usual career counseling content.

The high status of science seems to push many people to have less compelling and engaging stories of their lives, even if such stories are more accurate.

How Caffeine Evolved to Help Plants Survive

September 16th, 2014

The ability to produce caffeine evolved separately in multiple different plants:

When coffee leaves die and fall to the ground, they contaminate the soil with caffeine, which makes it difficult for other plants to germinate. Coffee may thus use caffeine to kill off the competition.

Coffee plants also use caffeine to ward off insects that would otherwise feast on their leaves and beans. At high doses, caffeine can be toxic to insects. As a result, insects have evolved taste receptors that help them avoid ingesting caffeine.

But coffee and a number of other plants also lace their nectar with low doses of caffeine, and in that form, it seems to benefit the plants in a different way.

Plants make nectar to feed insects and other animals so they’ll spread their pollen. When insects feed on caffeine-spiked nectar, they get a beneficial buzz: they become much more likely to remember the scent of the flower. This enhanced memory may make it more likely that the insect will revisit the flower and spread its pollen further.

A1 Intelligence

September 16th, 2014

After the war, DePuy found himself working as an attaché in Hungary, where he stumbled into intelligence:

I did have one experience in Hungary which almost changed the whole pattern of my life. It almost turned me into the intelligence game permanently — something that I did not want. We really were not trained to collect information in a clandestine manner although at the time, Eastern Europe was a boiling pot of clandestine activity. We military chaps were amateurs. But, one day we received a message from Washington to go to Mohacs to report on the Danube bridge which the Germans had dropped in late 1944, as the Russians started their envelopment of Budapest. Some intelligence analyst in Washington was trying to complete the book — there was one being compiled on each country — and there were reports that the bridge was being rebuilt. So, one sunny autumn day in 1949, I put on my Air Force fur collared flight jacket — no hat — civilian trousers and shirt, and stirred up my Hungarian jeep driver — a blond crew cut chap in a field jacket with no hat — and we drove south to Mohacs.

Mohacs, by the way, is the site of the defeat of the Hungarian Army by the Turks. It lies 10 miles or so west of the main highway into Budapest from the southeast, which is the link with Rumania along the north bank of the Danube, and with Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia. It is about 75 miles south of Budapest. The trip down was uneventful and the bridge, it turned out, was not being rebuilt. As we returned to the main road leading north to Budapest, we encountered a Russian military convoy proceeding north. It consisted of US jeeps, 2 1 /2-ton trucks, stake and platform 10-ton trucks, plus artillery and towed antitank guns. The convoy seemingly was endless. So, as we sat there at the road junction, we counted the vehicles and recorded bumper numbers. The march units were closed up but there were gaps between serials. After an hour we became impatient and pulled into a gap. The only identification on our jeep was a small 6 by 8 inch enamel US flag on the right base of the windshield. Fortunately, we looked like all of the Russian jeeps in the convoy. Anyway, about 30 miles up the road, the column turned into a huge forested area on the right or east of the highway. A large group of officers and MPs were on the road and there was no way we could avoid turning in so we tucked up close behind a 2 1 /2-ton truck and scooted in with the convoy. The delegation on the road looked at us hard but didn’t stop us.

Inside the forest the road swept around in a large circle. We were moving counterclockwise. To the right, at intervals of perhaps 200 to 300 yards, were parking areas and bivouacs, most of them occupied with Russian troops and equipment. After about a mile, the element we were following turned into one of these areas and we were alone on the circular inner road — and a bit nervous I might add. Soon we came up behind a Budapest municipal water sprinkler wetting down the road. We could see no way out except to follow the circular road. It led us by tank parks, artillery parks, and command posts with lots of radio antennae, etcetera. I kept notes and counted everything. Lo and behold, we finally came back to the point near the main highway where we had entered. The MPs were still there and we chose not to exit through them so we started our second trip around the circuit. After more counting and more nervousness we reached the far side of the circle and found a small firebreak road which we followed to the east. It finally took us out of the forest and we found back roads which led to the main highway north of the Russian encampment.

In the legation I stayed up most of the night preparing a very voluminous and detailed report. In those days we had a book of Russian bumper numbers which identified divisions and regiments. It turned out that we had seen ninety percent of the 17th Guards Mechanized Division moving from the USSR to Hungary in preparation for the invasion of Yugoslavia from the north. In those days we had no satellite photography or other coverage. My report on a scale of A to F for reliability of the source, and 1 to 5 for accuracy of the information, was rated A1 . For a short time I became the darling of the US intelligence community. It nearly did me in professionally. It nearly sucked me into the intelligence business permanently, but after one tour with the Central Intelligence Agency, I was able to squirm out of an assignment to G-2, US Army, Europe (USAREUR), in 1952, and resume my career as a tactical officer with infantry units and staffs.

Tracking Tease

September 15th, 2014

Weapons Man got a call from some friends who tried out a new Tracking Point smart rifle, and it lives up to the hype:

  • Best packaged gun any of them had ever seen. In the gunsmith’s experience, that’s out of thousands of new guns.
  • First shot, cold bore, no attempt to zero, 350 meters, IPSC sized metal silhouette: “ding!” They all laughed like maniacs. It does what the ads say.
  • By the day’s end, the least experienced long-range shooter, who’d never fired a round at over 200 meters, was hitting moving silhouettes at 850 yards.

Playing the Steppe Warfare Game

September 15th, 2014

The only way to dismantle a nomadic empire is to play the steppe warfare game as well as they do:

That meant changing both the strategic aims and tactical principles Chinese armies usually relied on in extended campaigns. Sunzi’s judgment that “one who excels in employing the military subjugates other people’s armies without engaging in battle, captures people’s fortified cities without attacking them, and destroys other people’s states without prolonged fighting. He must fight under Heaven with the paramount aim of ‘preservation’” was sensible in the context it was written — a world of agrarian warfare in an interstate system of two dozen petty kingdoms that lacked the means to sustain extended operations — but it was suicidal on the steppe. “Preservation” cannot be the paramount aim of an army operating on the steppe. A nomad that gets away is a nomad that will fight you on a later day. Conversely, nomadic peoples had very little in terms of lands, cities, or possessions worth plundering or preserving. A nomadic empire’s greatest wealth was its people. Warfare between nomadic confederations were ultimately wars over people, where one side would do everything in its power to slaughter as much as the enemy as they could and capture, forcibly resettle, and incorporate into their own military anybody left over.

The Han followed the same basic strategy. The aim of generals like Wei Qing and Huo Qubing was to kill every single man, woman and child they came across and by doing so instill such terror in their enemies that tribes would surrender en masse upon their arrival. By trapping the Xiongnu into one bloody slug match after another the Han forced them into a grinding war of attrition that favored the side with the larger population reserves. The Xiongnu were unprepared for such carnage in their own lands; within the first decade of the conflict the Han’s sudden attacks forced the Xiongnu to retreat from their homeland in the Ordos to the steppes of northern Mongolia. Then came a sustained — and successful — effort to apply the same sort of pressure on the Xiongnu’s allies and vassals in Turkestan and Fergana. By sacking oasis towns and massacring tribes to the east, the Han were able to terrorize the peoples of Turkestan into switching their allegiance to China or declare their independence from the Xiongnu.

The Xiongnu were left isolated north of the Orkhorn. Under constant military pressure and cut off from the goods they had always extorted from agrarian peoples in China and Turkestan, the Xiongnu political elite began to fracture. A series of succession crises and weak leaders ensued; by 58 BC the Xiongnu’s domain had fallen into open civil war. It was one of the aspiring claimants to the title of Chanyu that this conflict produced who traveled to Chang’an, accepted the Han’s suzerainty, and ended eighty years of war between the Han and the Xiongnu.

How did the Chinese transform an enemy whose realm stretched thousands of miles across Inner Asia into a mere tributary vassal? They did it through eighty years of flame and blood and terror. Any narrative of Han-Xiongnu relations that passes over these sixty years of grueling warfare is a dishonest depiction of the times.

How to Write 225 Words Per Minute With a Pen

September 15th, 2014

Journalist Dennis Hollier uses a smartpen to write 225 words per minute — but it’s not the high-tech pen that lets him do that:

But [the optical character recognition software] doesn’t work for me, I explain, because even though I’m recording this interview with the latest model Sky wifi smartpen, I’m taking notes using a 19th Century technology called Gregg shorthand.

In many respects, Gregg is even more ingenious than the smartpen. And, although no electronics or gizmos were involved, it was a tremendously powerful and influential technology for nearly 100 years. Now, it’s become the key to my workflow in the Internet age.

Gregg is a way of compressing language. You are the machine that does the encoding and decoding. And your brain can do it in real time at very, very high speeds. To understand why, you have to know a little about how it works.

Gregg is basically a much simpler and more efficient writing system than longhand English. This starts with the letters themselves. The Roman alphabet, which we use to write English, is much more complicated than is strictly necessary to distinguish one letter from another. To print a lower-case “b”, for example, requires a long, downward stroke with a clockwise loop at the base. Then, you have to pick up your pen to move to the next letter, an extraneous step that takes up almost as much time as the writing itself. Cursive (when was the last time you heard that word?) may seem a little faster, but it actually requires additional strokes, short ligatures at the beginning and the end of each letter. That’s a lot of wasted motion, which is why cursive is actually only about 10 percent faster than print.

In contrast, Gregg’s “letters” are much simpler shapes.

Gregg Shorthand Paragraph

If you wanted to be an executive secretary, you needed a certificate from Gregg saying you qualified at 150 words per minute. If you wanted to be a court reporter, you had to demonstrate you could write an astonishing 225 words per minute with better than 98 percent accuracy. Altogether, millions of people passed through Gregg training and the Gregg certification system.

For nearly a century, Gregg was an essential part of American society. As recently as the 1970s, almost every high school in the country taught Gregg. Certainly, every business school and most colleges offered Gregg-certified shorthand courses.

The infantry is a sensor

September 15th, 2014

The infantry is a sensor, Gen. DePuy explains:

One of the comments that I’ve made has infuriated the Infantry School. Now, I don’t blame them for being infuriated, but I honestly concluded at the end of World War II, when I soberly considered what I had accomplished, that I had moved the forward observers of the artillery across France and Germany. In other words, my battalion was the means by which Field Artillery forward observers were moved to the next piece of high ground. Once you had a forward observer on a piece of ground, he could call up five to ten battalions of artillery and that meant you had moved combat power to the next observation point — more combat power than the light infantry could dispose of. Now, you needed the infantry to do that. You needed the infantry to protect them, but the combat power came from this other source, and I think that trend has accelerated ever since. I think the infantry has the dirtiest job of them all. But, if you want to be rigorously analytical about what you’re really trying to do, it’s trying to move combat power forward to destroy the enemy, and the combat power that you are moving forward has been, in the past, mostly artillery, and that is even more true today. The infantry has a lot of ears and a lot of eyeballs. Now, it can call forward even more artillery fire and different kinds of munitions — Cannon Launched Guided Projectiles (CLGPs), the Family of Scatterable Mines (FASCAMs), Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICMs), high explosive (HE), smoke, and illumination, and soon they will also have terminally guided anti-armor munitions. The infantry is a sensor. It’s a sensory organization that works into the fabric of the terrain and the enemy, and can call in all of this firepower — including artillery and TAC air that can really do the killing.

Tree Cathedral

September 14th, 2014

Giuliano Mauri conceived a Tree Cathedral, which was started near the northern Italian city of Bergamo in 2010, a year after his death:

The Tree Cathedral consists of 42 columns forming a basilica of five aisles. Fir poles and branches from hazels and chestnuts have been woven together to create a supporting structure for the 42 beeches planted to eventually grow and form the columns. As planned, the surrounding support structure will deteriorate as the beeches grow, creating a seamless transition from the man-made to the natural.

Tree Cathedral or Cattedrale Vegetale near Bergamo by Giuliano Mauri

Standing at the foot of Mount Arera, the Tree Cathedral’s structure includes 1,800 fir poles, 600 chestnut branches, and 6,000 meters of hazel branches joined together with wood, nails, and string. The Cathedral takes up 650 square meters and took months to construct. It is more than 90 feet long, nearly 80 feet wide, and ranges in height from about 16 feet to nearly 70 feet.

I can easily imagine Tolkien’s elves building this way — which brings us to Eric S. Raymond’s thoughts on Tolkien and Christopher Alexander’s Timeless Way of Building:

Before you read the rest of this post, go look at these pictures of a Hobbit Pub and a Hobbit House. And recall the lovely Bag End sets from Peter Jackson’s LOTR movies.

Hobbit Pub

I have a very powerful reaction to these buildings that, I believe, has nothing to do with having been a Tolkien fan for most of my life. In fact, some of the most Tolkien-specific details — the round doors, the dragon motifs in the pub — could be removed without attenuating that reaction a bit.

Hobbit House in Chester County, PA

To me, they feel right. They feel like home. And I’m not entirely sure why, because I’ve never lived in such antique architecture. But I think it may have something to do with Christopher Alexander’s “Timeless Way of Building”.

The Best Tactical Training

September 14th, 2014

After the Bulge came the best tactical training a US Army officer could ask for:

I suppose the best tactical training that people ever got without any great jeopardy and just enough casualties to make it exciting and serious, was as a result of the fighting we did from the end of the Battle of the Bulge to the end of the war.

There were many actions, all fought at the company and battalion level. We were mounted in trucks and had five tanks and five tank destroyers. Hopefully, the direct support artillery was in range. It was a small self-contained battalion task force. You were expected to pursue the Germans, and you fought a lot of small engagements. Each one was different. The terrain was different, the enemy weapons and strengths were different, and the circumstances were different, but the mission was always the same — to go.

Now, to me, that’s the best training anybody ever got in the world. You can almost tell which people had that experience, particularly the people who were battalion commanders and had enough force to play with, and who had an independent mission in a zone of their own. The company commander was under the control of the battalion commander, right? The regimental commander just assigned zones. So, it was a battalion commander’s war at that time.

Well, one of the things that had been impressed upon me by that time, was that we weren’t getting any direct fire suppression. We just weren’t very good at that, and by that time, you see, we were outrunning much of our artillery. We never had more than about one battalion of artillery available because we were moving too fast. So, we no longer tried to suppress only with indirect fire. My heavy weapons company, “D” Company, had six mortars and eight heavy machine guns.

I didn’t think that was enough so I took .50 caliber machine guns from the trains and made a big .50 caliber platoon. Then I would attach the three heavy machine gun platoons to a single company. And, every time we would become involved in one of these little battles, wherever it was, I’d put that company in an overwatch position. I didn’t call it overwatch then. I didn’t know that word at the time. I put it in a base of fire. The commander had eight heavy machine guns, six .50 caliber machine guns, and the light machine guns of that company, and he had the company to protect it and to help move it. So, two companies were my maneuver companies, and one company was my fire support company, my base of fire company. I’ll tell you, it really was marvelous. They just overwhelmed anything that we ran up against. My regret is that it took so long to figure that out.

Pin him down with direct fire and move around him by maneuver. The serious war was really over by the time we got smart. I always used to maneuver with the tanks and overwatch with the tank destroyers. If it was a little village, if it was the corner of the woods, if it was a hill with brush on it, whatever or wherever it was, we’d just smother it with fire and get total fire superiority. Then, we’d move around the flank and go get ‘em — usually from the rear. Almost without exception they’d all come out yelling “Kamerad, Kamerad.” It was the only way I could figure out how to get firepower out of a light infantry battalion.

I would have loved to command a tank battalion or an armored task force. That’s why the mechanized infantry squad, which we were discussing earlier, can be very small, because it can operate in the fire envelope of the armored task force. If it’s a tank company with a mech platoon, we’re only talking about 15 or 20 men who are going to get out on foot to fight, but what we’ve got is about 10 or 12 tanks and about four Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) with automatic weapons on them that can totally suppress that woodline or those buildings.

The Han Logistics Machine

September 13th, 2014

The logistics machine the Han created to defeat the Xiongnu is one of the marvels of the ancient world, T. Greer explains:

Each of the Han’s campaigns was a feat worthy of Alexander. Alexander only pushed to India once. The Han launched these campaigns year after year for decades. The sheer expanse of the conflict is staggering; Han armies ranged from Fergana to Manchuria, theaters 3,000 miles apart. Each campaign required the mobilization of tens of thousands of men and double the number of animals.

Close Air Support in WWII

September 13th, 2014

Gen. DePuy describes how close air support worked in World War II:

Well, generally, we didn’t have any close air support. They didn’t have a system back then like we have now. There was no tactical air control system. When we first went to Mayenne and to Le Mans, they had Air Force officers in trucks with radios with our two lead battalions. That was the only time in the war that I saw that — the only time! They talked to the fighters, the P-47s and P-51s, and got them to attack the German tanks and troops that the column ran into. It worked pretty well. In fact, it worked very well. I think flights were rotated over the head of the column, more or less, as a result of preplanning, and when they got there the Air Force officers on the ground would pick them up by radio and direct them in on the target. This was Task Force Weaver. We had priority because this was the breakout from Normandy.

Another story. Across the Saar, I needed some emergency resupply. In order to do that I had to call back to my regiment on the other side of the river and have them go to division. Division went all the way back to the XIX TAC, which was a part of the Ninth Air Force working with Third Army. They launched fighters that had ammo and medicine packed in the wing tanks. They flew up to where we were and found the corner of the woods where we had put out a couple of fluorescent panels in the form of a cross. We had asked that they drop it in the corner of the woods, northwest of the panel, and they did. So, that was sort of remote control. But, other than that, I don’t remember any close air support. The first real use of close air support was in Korea. The Air Force made its money in WWII by armed reconnaissance. It just went out and killed everything it saw.

Apparently [the Germans did have close air support] in Russia, particularly with the Stukas. The Stukas had radios that could talk to a regiment on the ground. They did that a lot, which was closer to close air support than what we had. But, they didn’t use Stukas against the Western Allies because Stukas couldn’t survive against our fighters. Stukas could survive against Russian fighters but they couldn’t survive against P-47s, P-51s, Hurricanes, and Spitfires. So, they didn’t use them at all against us.