Who’s paying attention to the prey?

October 18th, 2019

In The Crime Fighter, Jack Maple, one time New York City Transit Police officer and later Deputy Commissioner of NYPD, describes how he would spot criminals:

He would simply look for “prey”, and then look for who was paying attention to the “prey”. In short, he had to think like a criminal.

10 major areas that modern military forces choose to ignore

October 17th, 2019

Carlton W. Meyer lists 10 major areas that modern military forces choose to ignore:

1. The lethality of of precision guided munitions to easily destroy ultra-expensive ships, tanks, and aircraft has been dismissed.

2. The use of small lasers to blind combatants. The US Marine Corps recently added expensive “dazzlers” to its machine guns that will prove more effective than the gun itself.

3. The inability to replace munitions stocks in a timely manner. Most nations have limited stockpiles and the complexity of some make rapid production impossible. If the USA becomes involved in a major war that lasts longer than a month, it will have to pause for several months until new munitions are produced and delivered.

4. The humanitarian disaster that would result by disrupting the fragile economy of megacities. This occurred during World War II, but today’s big cities are ten times larger! Armies may face hoards of millions of starving people begging for help.

5. The millions of civilian vehicles on the world’s roads. It is impossible to tell if they are friend or foe unless inspected up close. Soldiers can use this to their advantage, which makes urban operations very dangerous for both civilians and soldiers.

6. The problem of thousands of commercial aircraft roaming the globe. Agents aboard can collect intelligence and these present long-range targeting problems for precision guided munitions that may kill hundreds of innocents.

7. Adding warheads to inexpensive, commercial, hobbyist UAVs create deadly “suicide micro-drones.”

8. Modern anti-tank weapons are equally effective anti-aircraft weapons against slower targets like low flying helicopters and aircraft transports. A helicopter assault or airborne drop near a modern army will be disastrous as anti-tank missiles shoot upwards and knock down aircraft.

9. Modern body armor has made 5.56mm and even 7.62mm bullets less lethal.

10. Fleets of surface ships cannot hide for long in big oceans.

(Hat tip to commenter Sam J.)

A Nobel-winning economist goes to Burning Man

October 16th, 2019

Economist Paul Romer went to Burning Man:

It was the first time that Mr. Romer, the former chief economist of the World Bank, had attended the annual bacchanal.

A week earlier, there was hardly anything here, in the remote desert of northwest Nevada. Then tens of thousands of people had just shown up, many in the middle of the night. They had formed an instant city, with a road network, and a raucous street life, and a weird make-do architecture.

[...]

To economists, cities are labor markets. And labor markets can’t function when there are no roads leading workers out of their favelas, or when would-be inventors never meet because they live in gridlock.

Mr. Romer’s answer is to do with this moment what Burning Man does every summer: Stake out the street grid; separate public from private space; and leave room for what’s to come. Then let the free market take over. No market mechanism can ever create the road network that connects everyone. The government must do that first.

[...]

Most of the structure that has been added since feels invisible to the people who come: the streets that are surveyed to be exactly 40 feet wide, the plazas that steer people together without crowding them, the 430 fire extinguishers around town, each tracked by its own QR code.

[...]

After 1996, the founders also began putting up a fence around the city, a pentagon with perfectly straight sightlines. Nominally, it is a “trash fence,” catching debris before it blows into the desert. But it also defines the edge of the city, so that it is possible to stand at the boundary line and stare out into an open desert uncluttered by tents or plywood art. The fence is an urban growth boundary. It is as much about keeping out interlopers as keeping people in.

The best offenses use the width and the depth of the field

October 14th, 2019

NFL offenses averaged more points per possession and yards per play last year than ever before by challenging defenses to cover the entire football field:

Fifty years ago, college football was upended by an idea that began this way of thinking. It was a formation called the wishbone. Texas used it to win 30 consecutive games, and other powerhouses like Alabama and Oklahoma soon followed en route to national championships of their own.

The wishbone was based on the concept of the triple-option. A quarterback could hand off, run the ball himself, or later pitch it to another running back. Passing was a rarity. But this antiquated offense was also futuristic: it took advantage of the vast width of a football field. Running was no longer limited to a singular direction. Defenders had to make a choice between going after the guy with the ball, or the one who would later receive it.

But the wishbone shunted another dimension. Because passing was such an afterthought, wishbone teams didn’t push the ball vertically. When Texas went undefeated in 1969, the Longhorns ran for 3,630 yards and passed for only 1,091.

“The best offenses use the width—and the depth of the field,” McVay says.

Other scheming minds looked for an edge by revolutionizing the passing game. The “West Coast Offense,” which Bill Walsh used to win three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, attacked the edges of the field with a preponderance of higher percentage, shorter-length passes. Observers likened it to reconstructing the running game into a passing attack.

Other twists opened up the vertical element. In 1980, the Chargers broke the NFL record for most passing yards in a season, and by 1985 they had five of the six most prolific passing years ever. They did it with a self-explanatory offense called “Air Coryell.” Their coach, Don Coryell, wanted to air the ball as far down field as frequently as possible.

Still, there was a lingering question: how could an offense attack defenses in every direction on every play? The solution was hiding in plain sight—in college football. It just took shockingly long to trickle up to the pros.

In 2000, the same season the Ravens won the Super Bowl with one of the best defenses in NFL history, something far more important happened: Northwestern won a bunch of football games. The Wildcats didn’t invent the spread offense, but when a bunch of eggheads started using it to topple powerhouses, the whole football world had to pay attention. They beat No. 7 Wisconsin, thumped No. 18 Michigan State and then toppled No. 12 Michigan 54-51 in a nationally televised thriller.

“I saw them almost scoring at will,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said afterward.

Variations of the spread proliferated across college football. Teams lined up wide on every play with four or five receivers. They played almost exclusively out of the shotgun. The most radical teams adopted an extreme version known as the “Air Raid,” which played at hyperspeed and eschewed the idea of striking a balance between running plays and passing plays.

[...]

In 2001, NFL teams used the shotgun on just 14% of plays, according to Football Outsiders. In 2006, it was still just 20%. By last season, that had skyrocketed to 64%. [...] The Chiefs lined up in the shotgun on 81% of snaps last year.

A few years ago, Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, looked at Texas Tech’s unorthodox offense.

Half of Americans read a book in the last year

October 13th, 2019

The size of the American reading public varies depending on one’s definition of reading:

In 2017, about 53 percent of American adults (roughly 125 million people) read at least one book not for school or for work in the previous 12 months, according to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Five years earlier, the NEA ran a more detailed survey, and found that 23 percent of American adults were “light” readers (finishing one to five titles per year), 10 percent were “moderate” (six to 11 titles), 13 percent were “frequent” (12 to 49 titles), and a dedicated 5 percent were “avid” (50 books and up).

Go anywhere and land anywhere quickly and quietly

October 12th, 2019

Kitty Hawk’s HVSD — or Heaviside, after renowned physicist and electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside — is an electric aircraft designed to go anywhere and land anywhere quickly and quietly:

The aircraft is 100 times quieter than a helicopter, the pair said. And it’s faster. Thrun says HVSD, which has a range of about 100 miles, can travel from San Jose to San Francisco in 15 minutes. The aircraft can be flown autonomously or manually, but even then most of the tasks of flying are handled by the computer, not the human.

Moments after walking around HVSD, the decibel meter, still in Thrun’s grasp, gets put to work. A helicopter that is stationed about 150 feet from where we’re standing is fired up. After two minutes, the helicopter lifts off, its whop-whop-whop lingering even as the craft is more than 600 feet in the air and begins its circular flight path around the testing area. The meter pops above 85 decibels and stays there for several minutes. The decibels go beyond 88 decibels at landing.

Later, after the helicopter lands and the engine slowly winds down, the test turns to HVSD.

An engineer, who is standing in an open air tower, brings HVSD suddenly to life. Unlike a helicopter, the HVSD starts and lifts off in just seconds. There is sound as it lifts off — hitting about 80 decibels — but what’s striking is the brevity. The take-off sound lasts fewer than 10 seconds. As HVSD gains altitude and then circles above us, the only sound is a few engineers and technicians talking nearby.

Once Thrun quiets the crew, the noise falls below 40 decibels, which is what a typical, quiet residential neighborhood registers at. HVSD is nearby at about 600 feet of altitude, but it is barely audible as it circles above us. An office with an air conditioning running might be about 50 decibels, Thrun says for comparison.

“The calculus here is that this has to be socially acceptable for people,” Thrun says. “There’s a reason why helicopters are not: they’re for rich people and they’re noisy.”

(Hat tip to Hans G. Schantz, whose Hidden Truth novels feature Heaviside.)

A tank or fighter jet is prized not for its practical utility

October 11th, 2019

American defense experts who come to the island all agree that the Taiwanese military needs cheap, expendable, mass-produced weapons systems to deter a Chinese invasion force, but that’s not what Taiwanese leaders buy:

On June 6, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense announced a $2.25 billion arms purchase from the United States. package was broken down into two parts: $250 million for a consignment of Stinger missiles, and $2 billion for 108 main battle tanks. The first part of the package fits well enough within a distributed “anti-access” defense posture. The second purchase does not.

Taiwan is a piebald of jungle-covered mountains, muddy rice paddies, and densely populated urban cores—terrain that frustrates tank maneuver. The most likely use for tanks like these would be in formation near beaches for counter-landing operations, where they would be extremely vulnerable to attack from the air. As Chinese commanders would never land an invasion force unless they first secure air superiority, these tanks will never amount to anything more than 108 very expensive sitting ducks.

The purchase fits a longstanding Taiwanese pattern: prioritizing high-prestige platforms over people. The Ministry of National Defense has cut military pensions and failed to pay volunteer soldiers a competitive wage or provide them with necessary benefits, and it doesn’t have enough bullets on hand for conscripts to practice riflery more than a few times in their entire course of duty.

Yet in addition to buying the tanks, President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration has promised to find $8 billion—equivalent to 70 percent of Taiwan’s 2019 military budget—to purchase 66 new F-16 fighter jets (even though in the event of a conflict with China most of these would be destroyed by PLA missiles while still on their runways). The Taiwanese navy also regularly promotes plans for an indigenously constructed helicopter carrier and Aegis-style destroyer. Billions have been poured into developing indigenous jet engines and fighters. Most disastrous of all, around one-tenth of the defense budget has been earmarked for the development of Taiwan’s indigenous submarine program. According to the wildly optimistic government projections, the very first of these submarines will be seaworthy in 2025. Only a few more could be built before the decade’s close, at an estimated $1 billion per ship.

Taiwanese leaders’ defense priorities make a perverse sort of sense, T. Greer argues:

Taiwanese leaders have a powerful political incentive to raise Taiwan’s stature on the international stage and publicly resist Chinese attempts to cut it away from its allies. Similarly, they are incentivized to show that under their leadership, the Taiwanese military remains a world-class fighting force. Purchasing fancy military equipment makes little strategic sense, but it accomplishes both of these objectives.

In an anonymous interview, one DPP official told me why he believed the purchase of the tanks was so important: “The purchase is a signal that the DPP can lead on defense. It will give the people more confidence that we are not being outclassed by the Chinese. And most important, that Tsai’s good relationship with the Americans is the reason for that.” A senior official interviewed by a Center for Security Policy Studies research team justified Taiwanese requests for F-35 fighter jets, rather than less expensive drones, with similar logic: “You can’t create a hero pilot of a UAV.” The CSPS team concluded that for most of the Taiwanese officials they interviewed, “buying advanced aircraft from the United States was at least as much about assuring the public as it was about improving war-fighting capability.”

This is especially important given Taiwan’s lack of a formal alliance with the United States. For Taiwanese leaders, weapons sales are one of the few metrics available to judge the U.S. commitment to their cause. Taiwanese leaders can trumpet their purchase of American-made weapons systems as something their party has done to raise Taiwan’s international stature. A tank or fighter jet is prized not for its practical utility but its symbolic value.

The brain seems to be wired to be periodically distractible

October 10th, 2019

To pay attention, the brain uses filters, not a spotlight:

For a long time, because attention seemed so intricately tied up with consciousness and other complex functions, scientists assumed that it was first and foremost a cortical phenomenon. A major departure from that line of thinking came in 1984, when Francis Crick, known for his work on the structure of DNA, proposed that the attentional searchlight was controlled by a region deep in the brain called the thalamus, parts of which receive input from sensory domains and feed information to the cortex. He developed a theory in which the sensory thalamus acted not just as a relay station, but also as a gatekeeper — not just a bridge, but a sieve — staunching some of the flow of data to establish a certain level of focus.

[...]

[Michael Halassa, a neuroscientist at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] was drawn to a thin layer of inhibitory neurons called the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), which wraps around the rest of the thalamus like a shell. By the time Halassa was a postdoctoral researcher, he had already found a coarse level of gating in that brain area: The TRN seemed to let sensory inputs through when an animal was awake and attentive to something in its environment, but it suppressed them when the animal was asleep.

In 2015, Halassa and his colleagues discovered another, finer level of gating that further implicated the TRN as part of Crick’s long-sought circuit — this time involving how animals select what to focus on when their attention is divided among different senses. In the study, the researchers used mice trained to run as directed by flashing lights and sweeping audio tones. They then simultaneously presented the animals with conflicting commands from the lights and tones, but also cued them about which signal to disregard. The mice’s responses showed how effectively they were focusing their attention. Throughout the task, the researchers used well-established techniques to shut off activity in various brain regions to see what interfered with the animals’ performance.

As expected, the prefrontal cortex, which issues high-level commands to other parts of the brain, was crucial. But the team also observed that if a trial required the mice to attend to vision, turning on neurons in the visual TRN interfered with their performance. And when those neurons were silenced, the mice had more difficulty paying attention to sound. In effect, the network was turning the knobs on inhibitory processes, not excitatory ones, with the TRN inhibiting information that the prefrontal cortex deemed distracting. If the mouse needed to prioritize auditory information, the prefrontal cortex told the visual TRN to increase its activity to suppress the visual thalamus — stripping away irrelevant visual data.

The attentional searchlight metaphor was backward: The brain wasn’t brightening the light on stimuli of interest; it was lowering the lights on everything else.

[...]

With tasks similar to those they’d used in 2015, the team probed the functional effects of various brain regions on one another, as well as the neuronal connections between them. The full circuit, they found, goes from the prefrontal cortex to a much deeper structure called the basal ganglia (often associated with motor control and a host of other functions), then to the TRN and the thalamus, before finally going back up to higher cortical regions. So, for instance, as visual information passes from the eye to the visual thalamus, it can get intercepted almost immediately if it’s not relevant to the given task. The basal ganglia can step in and activate the visual TRN to screen out the extraneous stimuli, in keeping with the prefrontal cortex’s directive.

[...]

Halassa’s findings indicate that the brain casts extraneous perceptions aside earlier than expected. “What’s interesting,” said Ian Fiebelkorn, a cognitive neuroscientist at Princeton University, is that “filtering is starting at that very first step, before the information even reaches the visual cortex.”

[...]

According to his findings, the focus of the attentional spotlight seems to get relatively weaker about four times per second, presumably to prevent animals from staying overly focused on a single location or stimulus in their environment. That very brief suppression of what’s important gives other, peripheral stimuli an indirect boost, creating an opportunity for the brain to shift its attention to something else if necessary. “The brain seems to be wired to be periodically distractible,” he said.

It’s a very vulnerable point, and plants have targeted it

October 9th, 2019

Monarch butterflies eat only milkweed, a poisonous plant that should kill them, and even store the toxins in their own bodies as a defense against hungry birds:

Only three genetic mutations were necessary to turn the butterflies from vulnerable to resistant, the researchers reported in the journal Nature. They were able to introduce these mutations into fruit flies, and suddenly they were able to eat milkweed, too.

[...]

Insects began dining on plants over 400 million years ago, spurring the evolution of many botanical defenses, including harsh chemicals. Certain plants, including milkweed, make particularly nasty toxins known as cardiac glycosides.

The right dose can stop a beating heart or disrupt the nervous system. For thousands of years, African hunters have put these poisons on the tips of arrows. Agatha Christie wrote a murder mystery featuring foxglove, which produces cardiac glycosides.

The toxins gum up so-called sodium pumps, an essential component of all animal cells. “It’s a very vulnerable point, and plants have targeted it,” said Susanne Dobler, a molecular biologist at the University of Hamburg in Germany.

These pumps move positively charged sodium atoms out of cells, giving their interiors a negative charge. Heart cells need sodium pumps to build enough electrical charge to deliver a heartbeat. Nerves use the pumps to produce signals to the brain. If the pumps fail, then those functions come to a halt.

[...]

The researchers compared the genes that serve as blueprints for the sodium pump in poison-resistant species, like the milkweed beetle and the milkweed bug. Most of these species, it turned out, had gained the same three mutations.

[...]

Monarchs share one of the mutations with a related butterfly that doesn’t eat milkweed, and a second mutation with a closer relative that eats milkweed but doesn’t store cardiac glycosides in its wings. The third mutation arose in an even more recent ancestor.

Gaining these mutations gradually altered the sodium pumps in the monarchs’ cells, Dr. Dobler suspected, so that the cardiac glycosides couldn’t disrupt them. As the butterflies became more resistant, they were able to enjoy a new supply of food untouched by most other insects.

[...]

Noah Whiteman, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, led the effort to test this hypothesis. “These three mutations may be the thing that unlocked the door” for the butterflies, he said.

He and his colleagues figured out how to use Crispr, the gene-editing technology, to introduce the mutations into fruit flies. The flies survive on rotting fruit, and even a small dose of cardiac glycosides can be deadly to them.

The researchers began by giving the flies the first mutation to arise in the ancestors of monarchs. The larvae that carried this mutation were able to survive on a diet of yeast laced with low levels of cardiac glycosides.

The second mutation let the flies withstand even more toxins, and the third made them entirely resistant. With all three mutations, the flies even ate dried milkweed powder.

The third mutation had another striking effect. When the flies with the gene developed into adults, their bodies carried low levels of cardiac glycoside, useful as a defense against predation.

O brave new world that has such insects in it!

It produces leaders who were taught from birth to lead

October 8th, 2019

The Guardian takes a curious look at the Americans who think a monarchy would solve their political problems:

Sean wasn’t always a monarchist. The history graduate student, who’s in his early 20s, grew up Catholic in central Massachusetts in what he described as “a pretty staunch Republican household”. But in college, a love of history, particularly the Roman Empire, ultimately drew him to monarchism and away from what he described as the “rah-rah American republicanism” of his childhood.

“Most people tend to get more liberal in college,” he told me. While earning his undergraduate degree at a Catholic liberal arts school close to where he grew up, he explained: “I ended up looking into medieval political theory and getting more conservative. The monarchies I find most interesting and think we should replicate go back to the late Middle Ages.”

Sean’s views shifted not only thanks to his medieval studies, but also after learning more about US foreign policy.

“Having a background in history, I naturally gravitated toward monarchism because I felt that my national government wasn’t looking at issues of public welfare or national coherence or national unity,” he said. “Our political system has been irrevocably poisoned by political partisanship.”

[...]

For an American monarchist like Sean, his preferred system of government “is some manner of elective monarchy modeled to a degree after what you saw in the Holy Roman Empire”, he told me. “The individual governor of each of the 50 states could vote amongst themselves on a new monarch in the event of an emperor stepping down … One of the reasons that I, and many others, favor monarchy, has to do with the benefits that a single individual can have when it comes to matters of foreign policy, international relations, international trade, et cetera.”

Others were drawn to monarchy more explicitly because of Trump. One self-identified American semi-constitutionalist explained: “I always had some monarchist sympathies, but I went full turncoat when I saw how moronically people were treating politics after 2016 and realized that our current system was breeding a bunch of nutjobs. After that I became convinced that a monarch or something is needed to keep politicians and the like in check.”

[...]

In 2018, the New York Times cited a study conducted by a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, which discovered “‘robust and quantitatively meaningful evidence’ that monarchies outperform other forms of government”, and provide nations with “stability that often translates into economic gains”.

[...]

“When I was younger I thought monarchy was stupid and made no sense, like most children who were raised on republican (not the American political party) propaganda,” one Reddit user explained to me. “I can’t remember a specific moment when I thought for the first time, ‘monarchy is the best form of government,’ it was just a gradual change. Why am I a monarchist? I’m a monarchist because I believe that monarchy produces a stable government and unites a people, it produces leaders who were taught from birth to lead.”

Heat training can boost your cool-weather performance

October 7th, 2019

A 2010 study from the University of Oregon found that 10 days of training in 104 degrees Fahrenheit boosted cyclists’ VO2max by 5 percent, Alex Hutchinson notes, even when the subjects were later tested in cool temperatures, and a new study out of Swansea University supports this finding:

The study involved 22 cyclists (all male, alas), all of whom were serious amateur cyclists training an average of 14 hours a week and competing regularly. The adaptation protocol was 10 consecutive days of cycling in the lab for 60 minutes at an intensity equal to 50 percent of their VO2max, with half of them in the heat group at a room temperature of 100.4 F (38 degrees Celsius) and the other half in a control group at 68 F (20 C). They also continued with their normal training outside the lab, subtracting their lab rides to maintain roughly the same training volume as usual. The outcome measure on the test days was VO2max, a marker of aerobic fitness that has a reasonably good correlation with race performance, tested at 68 F (20 C).

If you looked at the data right after the heat adaptation period, or even a couple of days later, you’d conclude that it makes you worse. The VO2max readings were lower. But three days after the heat adaptation, VO2max readings started to climb, and four days afterwards, they peaked at 4.9 percent higher than baseline, strikingly similar to the 2010 Oregon study. The control group, meanwhile, hardly saw any change.

It wasn’t a 100 percent honest honest mistake

October 6th, 2019

Boeing’s MCAS (the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) was an honest mistake, but the secrecy shrouding the program’s very existence told you it wasn’t a 100 percent honest honest mistake:

According to Rick Ludtke, a former Boeing employee, Boeing agreed to rebate Southwest $1 million for every MAX it bought, if the FAA required level-D simulator training for the carrier’s pilots.

[...]

Simulator training for Southwest’s 9,000 pilots would have been a pain, but hardly ruinous; aviation industry analyst Kit Darby said it would cost about $2,000 a head. It was also unlikely: The FAA had three levels of “differences” training that wouldn’t have necessarily required simulators. But the No Sim Edict would haunt the program; it basically required any change significant enough for designers to worry about to be concealed, suppressed, or relegated to a footnote that would then be redacted from the final version of the MAX. And that was a predicament, because for every other airline buying the MAX, the selling point was a major difference from the last generation of 737: unprecedented fuel efficiency in line with the new Airbus A320neo.

The MAX and the Neo derived their fuel efficiency from the same source: massive “LEAP” engines manufactured by CFM, a 50-50 joint venture of GE and the French conglomerate Safran. The engines’ fans were 20 inches — or just over 40 percent larger in diameter than the original 737 Pratt & Whitneys, and the engines themselves weighed in at approximately 6,120 pounds, about twice the weight of the original engines. The planes were also considerably longer, heavier, and wider of wingspan. What they couldn’t be, without redesigning the landing gear and really jeopardizing the grandfathered FAA certification, was taller, and that was a problem. The engines were too big to tuck into their original spot underneath the wings, so engineers mounted them slightly forward, just in front of the wings.

This alteration created a shift in the plane’s center of gravity pronounced enough that it raised a red flag when the MAX was still just a model plane about the size of an eagle, running tests in a wind tunnel. The model kept botching certain extreme maneuvers, because the plane’s new aerodynamic profile was dragging its tail down and causing its nose to pitch up. So the engineers devised a software fix called MCAS, which pushed the nose down in response to an obscure set of circumstances in conjunction with the “speed trim system,” which Boeing had devised in the 1980s to smooth takeoffs. Once the 737 MAX materialized as a real-life plane about four years later, however, test pilots discovered new realms in which the plane was more stall-prone than its predecessors. So Boeing modified MCAS to turn down the nose of the plane whenever an angle-of-attack (AOA) sensor detected a stall, regardless of the speed. That involved giving the system more power and removing a safeguard, but not, in any formal or genuine way, running its modifications by the FAA, which might have had reservations with two critical traits of the revamped system: Firstly, that there are two AOA sensors on a 737, but only one, fatefully, was programmed to trigger MCAS. The former Boeing engineer Ludtke and an anonymous whistle-blower interviewed by 60 Minutes Australia both have a simple explanation for this: Any program coded to take data from both sensors would have had to account for the possibility the sensors might disagree with each other and devise a contingency for reconciling the mixed signals. Whatever that contingency, it would have involved some kind of cockpit alert, which would in turn have required additional training — probably not level-D training, but no one wanted to risk that. So the system was programmed to turn the nose down at the feedback of a single (and somewhat flimsy) sensor. And, for still unknown and truly mysterious reasons, it was programmed to nosedive again five seconds later, and again five seconds after that, over and over ad literal nauseam.

An unwritten but zealously enforced handshake agreement

October 5th, 2019

I didn’t realize quite how cozy Southwest and Boeing had grown:

On something of a lark, Boeing had given Kelleher a sweet no-money-down deal on his first four 737s in 1971, and Kelleher repaid the favor by buying more than 1,000 737s over the next 50 years — and zero of any other plane. According to a recent lawsuit against Southwest and Boeing, the airline had rewarded this loyalty with an unwritten but zealously enforced “handshake” agreement, dating back to the 1990s, that Boeing would not sell any planes for less than Southwest was paying, or Boeing would send Southwest a rebate check. And in exchange for that guarantee, Southwest reliably swooped in with big orders and/or accelerated payments after accidents, stock price plunges, or both; the same lawsuit claims that, after September 11, the airline formed an off–balance-sheet slush fund to bail out Boeing during unanticipated shortfalls, and lent other airlines its own planes when Boeing production fell behind, all while it waited patiently for its order deliveries to be filled at a time when it was convenient for Boeing. As the carriers became more profitable in the twenty-first century, more of them followed Southwest’s lead and helped Boeing make its numbers, with United Airlines and Alaska Airlines pitching in during fourth-quarter 2015, alongside Southwest, to make payments not due until 2016. Those partnerships were but one numbers-smoothing mechanism in a diversified tool kit Boeing had assembled over the previous generation for making its complex and volatile business more palatable to Wall Street, and while not entirely kosher and not at all sustainable, they were by far the least destructive tool in the kit — until Southwest called in the favor on its orders for the MAX.

Traumatic brain injury causes intestinal damage

October 4th, 2019

University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) researchers have found a two-way link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and intestinal changes:

Researchers have known for years that TBI has significant effects on the gastrointestinal tract, but until now, scientists have not recognized that brain trauma can make the colon more permeable, potentially allowing allow harmful microbes to migrate from the intestine to other areas of the body, causing infection.. People are 12 times more likely to die from blood poisoning after TBI, which is often caused by bacteria, and 2.5 times more likely to die of a digestive system problem, compared with those without such injury.

In this study, the researchers examined mice that received an experimental TBI. They found that the intestinal wall of the colon became more permeable after trauma, changes that were sustained over the following month.

It is not clear how TBI causes these gut changes. A key factor in the process may be enteric glial cells (EGCs), a class of cells that exist in the gut. These cells are similar to brain astroglial cells, and both types of glial cells are activated after TBI. After TBI, such activation is associated with brain inflammation that contributes to delayed tissue damage in the brain. Researchers don’t know whether activation of ECGs after TBI contributes to intestinal injury or is instead an attempt to compensate for the injury.

The researchers also focused on the two-way nature of the process: how gut dysfunction may worsen brain inflammation and tissue loss after TBI. They infected the mice with Citrobacter rodentium, a species of bacteria that is the rodent equivalent of E. coli, which infects humans. In mice with a TBI who were infected with this the bacteria, brain inflammation worsened. Furthermore, in the hippocampus, a key region for memory, the mice who had TBI and were then infected lost more neurons than animals without infection.

Counter a charging attacker

October 3rd, 2019

If backing up doesn’t work very well, what should a defender do to counter a charging attacker who is armed with a contact weapon?

The best way to solve this problem is to set up two people, one armed with a training knife and one armed with a Simunitions or airsoft pistol. While the knife attacker charges, the person with the gun experiments, trying to move backwards, laterally, or forwards. The “right” answer depends on a lot of factors including the defender’s agility, the defender’s draw time, the attacker’s speed, and the initial stand off distance before the attacker charges.

This kind of drilling, while tiring, is exceptionally valuable. After a dozen or so reps, the defender gets a “feel” for what tactic might work best for any given attack. That knowledge is invaluable.

I’ve done this drill with hundreds of students over the years. The most successful movement pattern I’ve found is somewhat counter intuitive.

Moving FORWARDS at a 45 degree angle to the attacker’s charge almost always works. Sprint forwards at a 45 degree angle away from the attacker’s knife side. If the attacker has the knife in his right hand, you should try to sprint past the attacker’s left shoulder. Running towards the unarmed side reduces the chance that he can reach out and cut you as you sprint past him.

This straight-line movement will cause the attacker to have to change his course to intercept you. That almost always buys you time to get your gun into play.

I advise students to sprint straight ahead until they are a couple steps past their attacker. At that point the defender should continue to move in an arcing pattern with the goal of taking the attacker’s back. In reality, the attacker will keep pivoting to adjust to your movement and you will usually be unable to truly get his back. It doesn’t matter. By now you have your gun in play and are putting rounds on the bad guy.