The decision to turn to the Mediterranean aroused dark suspicions among American planners

Thursday, September 14th, 2023

American and British leaders knew they couldn’t defeat Germany without the Soviets, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), but Stalin kept complaining that they were leaving the fighting to the Red Army and started putting out peace feelers in Stockholm:

Western leaders didn’t think these feelers would amount to much if they attacked the Germans directly and took pressure off the Soviet Union, as Stalin had been demanding for months. But the British and Americans were virtually immobilized by an acrimonious dispute about what they should do.

The Americans, led by George C. Marshall, army chief of staff, wanted a direct advance by a five-division amphibious landing around Cherbourg in Normandy in 1942 (Operation Sledgehammer).

But the British pressed for an indirect or peripheral strategy, a combination of massive air attacks on German cities and smaller, less-dangerous invasions in the Mediterranean.


Torch at once gained the advantage Roosevelt was hoping for: when Stalin heard about it, he stopped complaining about a second front. But the decision to turn to the Mediterranean aroused dark suspicions among American planners that Churchill was maneuvering the United States into the “soft underbelly” strategy. They feared this would lead to the invasion of Italy, and perhaps Greece, and fatally undermine the plan to collide with the Germans on the beaches of France.

President Roosevelt was less worried, because he hoped “an air war plus the Russians” could defeat Hitler, and a cross-Channel assault might not be necessary.

Musk never changes

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

I started reading (and enjoying) Walter Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography yesterday, so I was surprised to see that Scott Alexander already had a book review of Elon Musk up — but its subtitle clarified:

Not the new one, sorry

This isn’t the new Musk biography everyone’s talking about. This is the 2015 Musk biography by Ashlee Vance. I started reading it in July, before I knew there was a new one. It’s fine: Musk never changes. He’s always been exactly the same person he is now.


Musk has always been exactly the same person he is now, and exactly what he looks like. He is without deception, without subtlety, without unexpected depths.

The main answer to the paradox of “how does he succeed while making so many bad decisions?” is that he’s the most focused person in the world. When he decides to do something, he comes up with an absurdly optimistic timeline for how quickly it can happen if everything goes as well as the laws of physics allow. He — I think the book provides ample evidence for this — genuinely believes this timeline, or at least half-believingly wills for it to be true. Then, when things go less quickly than that, it’s like red-hot knives stabbing his brain. He gets obsessed, screams at everyone involved, puts in twenty hour days for months on end trying to try to get the project “back on track”. He comes up with absurd shortcuts nobody else would ever consider, trying to win back a few days or weeks. If a specific person stands in his way, he fires that person (if they are an employee), unleashes nonstop verbal abuse on them (if they will listen) or sues them (if they’re anyone else). The end result never quite reaches the original goal, but still happens faster than anyone except Elon thought possible. A Tesla employee described his style as demanding a car go from LA to NYC on a single charge, which is impossible, but he puts in such a strong effort that the car makes it to New Mexico.

This is the Musk Strategy For Business Success; the rest is just commentary.

If you want to have a maximum effect on the design of a new engineering system, learn to draw

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

Akin’s Laws of Spacecraft Design may seem niche, Byrne Hobart notes, but they are really general-purpose rules for managing teams:

Or at least teams that are working on problems where some parts can be quantified, some parts are unknown, and mistakes are costly; rockets are obviously an extreme case of this, but that just means there are certain things their designers learn faster and more painfully. Some of them, when generalized, can be quite fun. For example: “If you want to have a maximum effect on the design of a new engineering system, learn to draw. Engineers always wind up designing the vehicle to look like the initial artist’s concept.” This is a more concrete version of what someone might call “vision,” and since it’s more specific, it’s also easier to see why this is hard to pull off.

David Akin originally wrote his laws up to hand out to his senior design class at MIT:

1. Engineering is done with numbers. Analysis without numbers is only an opinion.

2. To design a spacecraft right takes an infinite amount of effort. This is why it’s a good idea to design them to operate when some things are wrong .

3. Design is an iterative process. The necessary number of iterations is one more than the number you have currently done. This is true at any point in time.

4. Your best design efforts will inevitably wind up being useless in the final design. Learn to live with the disappointment.

5. (Miller’s Law) Three points determine a curve.

6. (Mar’s Law) Everything is linear if plotted log-log with a fat magic marker.

7. At the start of any design effort, the person who most wants to be team leader is least likely to be capable of it.

8. In nature, the optimum is almost always in the middle somewhere. Distrust assertions that the optimum is at an extreme point.

9. Not having all the information you need is never a satisfactory excuse for not starting the analysis.

10. When in doubt, estimate. In an emergency, guess. But be sure to go back and clean up the mess when the real numbers come along.

11. Sometimes, the fastest way to get to the end is to throw everything out and start over.

12. There is never a single right solution. There are always multiple wrong ones, though.

13. Design is based on requirements. There’s no justification for designing something one bit “better” than the requirements dictate.

14. (Edison’s Law) “Better” is the enemy of “good”.

15. (Shea’s Law) The ability to improve a design occurs primarily at the interfaces. This is also the prime location for screwing it up.

16. The previous people who did a similar analysis did not have a direct pipeline to the wisdom of the ages. There is therefore no reason to believe their analysis over yours. There is especially no reason to present their analysis as yours.

17. The fact that an analysis appears in print has no relationship to the likelihood of its being correct.

18. Past experience is excellent for providing a reality check. Too much reality can doom an otherwise worthwhile design, though.

19. The odds are greatly against you being immensely smarter than everyone else in the field. If your analysis says your terminal velocity is twice the speed of light, you may have invented warp drive, but the chances are a lot better that you’ve screwed up.

20. A bad design with a good presentation is doomed eventually. A good design with a bad presentation is doomed immediately.

21. (Larrabee’s Law) Half of everything you hear in a classroom is crap. Education is figuring out which half is which.

22. When in doubt, document. (Documentation requirements will reach a maximum shortly after the termination of a program.)

23. The schedule you develop will seem like a complete work of fiction up until the time your customer fires you for not meeting it.

24. It’s called a “Work Breakdown Structure” because the Work remaining will grow until you have a Breakdown, unless you enforce some Structure on it.

25. (Bowden’s Law) Following a testing failure, it’s always possible to refine the analysis to show that you really had negative margins all along.

26. (Montemerlo’s Law) Don’t do nuthin’ dumb.

27. (Varsi’s Law) Schedules only move in one direction.

28. (Ranger’s Law) There ain’t no such thing as a free launch.

29. (von Tiesenhausen’s Law of Program Management) To get an accurate estimate of final program requirements, multiply the initial time estimates by pi, and slide the decimal point on the cost estimates one place to the right.

30. (von Tiesenhausen’s Law of Engineering Design) If you want to have a maximum effect on the design of a new engineering system, learn to draw. Engineers always wind up designing the vehicle to look like the initial artist’s concept.

31. (Mo’s Law of Evolutionary Development) You can’t get to the moon by climbing successively taller trees.

32. (Atkin’s Law of Demonstrations) When the hardware is working perfectly, the really important visitors don’t show up.

33. (Patton’s Law of Program Planning) A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.

34. (Roosevelt’s Law of Task Planning) Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.

35. (de Saint-Exupery’s Law of Design) A designer knows that they have achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

36. Any run-of-the-mill engineer can design something which is elegant. A good engineer designs systems to be efficient. A great engineer designs them to be effective.

37. (Henshaw’s Law) One key to success in a mission is establishing clear lines of blame.

38. Capabilities drive requirements, regardless of what the systems engineering textbooks say.

39. Any exploration program which “just happens” to include a new launch vehicle is, de facto, a launch vehicle program.

39. (alternate formulation) The three keys to keeping a new human space program affordable and on schedule:
1) No new launch vehicles.
2) No new launch vehicles.
3) Whatever you do, don’t develop any new launch vehicles.

40. (McBryan’s Law) You can’t make it better until you make it work.

41. There’s never enough time to do it right, but somehow, there’s always enough time to do it over.

42. If there’s not a flight program, there’s no money.
If there is a flight program, there’s no time.

43. You really understand something the third time you see it (or the first time you teach it.)

44. (Lachance’s Law) “Plenty of time” becomes “not enough time” in a very short time.

45. Space is a completely unforgiving environment. If you screw up the engineering, somebody dies (and there’s no partial credit because most of the analysis was right…)

Marxism remains dangerous nonsense

Tuesday, September 12th, 2023

Tyler Cowan asks, What is valid in Marxism?

1. Capitalist systems, especially before reaching contemporary times, can produce less autonomy than small scale production. Standards of living do rise from industrialization. But I look at many of my rural Mexican friends. They could earn somewhat higher wages in factories, but they prefer to paint ceramics at home. It is more fun and they control their time to a large degree. At some point industrialization can undercut the cultures and networks of suppliers that makes such a choice possible. Marx directs our attention to a certain indivisibility of systems.

2. Marxism promotes an alternative idea of freedom, namely freedom from the market. Anyone who has chosen life as a tenured university professor should not claim that such an idea is complete nonsense. Smith thought in terms of marginal tradeoffs. Marx, above all, focused on inframarginal and systematic effects.

3. The benefits of industrialization take a long time to kick in. Reforming postcommunist economies took fifteen years or more. Poland did most things right and people there are still unhappy. So how long should it take to reform feudalism or other preindustrial structures? Forty years? I take seriously the idea that the industrial revolution did not make people better off right away, so did Marx.

4. Being happy at work is one of the most important things in life. Marx saw the importance of this more clearly than did many of the classical economists. And he saw the importance of inframarginal systemic factors.

5. A growing division of labor can make some people unhappier at their jobs.

To sum up, we all know that capitalism brings a “creative destruction,” to use the phrase of Schumpeter. This is all for the better, but Marx saw how strong both the positive and negative sides of this process would be. And he knew that the relevant problems went deeper than just looking at whether people make rational tradeoffs at the margin. That being said, he overestimated the negative side of the market and underestimated how well capitalism could solve its problems concerning the distribution of income.

Of course marxism, as a political program, remains dangerous nonsense. Marx’s blind spots were enormous, and I still cannot understand how generations of the intelligentsia were taken in by the whole thing.

Storytelling needs to be practiced, just like flying or marksmanship

Monday, September 11th, 2023

Ian Strebel and Matt McKenzie are intelligence officers in the United States Army and Navy, respectively, who have found that creating a compelling narrative takes practice, which traditional military training does not provide:

This can be a big problem for military intelligence professionals — they are trained to deliver intelligence, not to tell stories, so the stories that commanders tell themselves win out. Despite studies showing people are far more likely to remember stories than statistics, the military trains new intelligence professionals to brief intelligence through rote memorization and presentation of information. Neither of us ever received formal training in how to present information and intelligence as a story. This breeds uncreative military intelligence professionals concerned more with being “right” or having all the facts than whether their information is absorbed. Often, when information is presented in this manner, without context, commanders don’t remember what is important or, more importantly, why something is important.


Militaries have used wargames to train ever since Lieutenant Georg Heinrich Rudolf Johann von Reisswitz introduced the concept to an initially skeptical Prussian General Staff in the early nineteenth century. Very simply, a traditional wargame is a board game that simulates some aspects of military combat. The popular game of Risk is a very simple wargame, while chess can be considered as one of the oldest. Wargames can be successful mediums for training, in part, because the narrative holds players responsible for their actions and emotionally attaches them to the game’s results. Tabletop role-playing games are just the modern evolution of the classic wargame.


Tabletop role-playing games are unique from traditional wargames because the collaborative nature of the game means that almost anything can happen. The rules of these games only help structure the narrative and determine the consequences of actions. Players are free, even encouraged, to try anything they can imagine within the limits of that narrative. Most tabletop role-playing games have several rulebooks, but, as with military doctrine, the rules do not and cannot account for every eventuality. Instead, games such as Dungeons & Dragons rely on players’ creativity and flexibility to develop and adapt rules as they go. One of the most essential aspects of such games is the application of chance, usually employed by rolling various-sided polyhedral dice, which encourages out-of-the-box thinking for players and Dungeon Masters, especially in the face of catastrophic failure or, just as critical, catastrophic success.

These rules, when applied to wargames, can make them better — we have firsthand experience with this. Ian acted as an observer during a 2023 joint wargame using the Marine Corps’ Operational Wargame System. During the wargame, an experienced aviator wrestled with the decision of whether to use an exquisite munition to attack a threat reconnaissance drone or let the drone continue unimpeded. Recalling recent footage showing a Russian fighter jet dumping fuel on a U.S. surveillance drone, which downed the MQ-9 into the Black Sea, the aviator said he’d do the same. The wargame moderator said it was a “nice try” but that the move was outside the rules. If, instead, they’d abided by tabletop role-playing game rules, the aviator and moderator would play out the situation. Most likely, the moderator or Dungeon Master would determine, on the fly, the probability of the move’s success based on the game-defined attributes of the two aircraft and ask the aviator to roll a die. The Dungeon Master would use the die results to determine success or failure.

An experienced Dungeon Master might further adjudicate the results by applying a range of outcomes based on the die roll. For example, on a twenty-sided die, a roll of a “1” (critical failure) might result in the loss of the friendly aircraft with no damage to the drone, while a roll of “20” (critical success) might down the drone with minimal fuel loss and allow recovery of the drone sensor equipment. Rolls in between could result in varying degrees and combinations of damage and fuel loss to both the friendly aircraft and drone, as deemed reasonable by the Dungeon Master. Simultaneously, the Dungeon Master would determine the enemy’s reaction to this unanticipated event, both tactically and strategically, as well as the opposing force’s long-term adaptation to this move.

This is not so different from a military intelligence professional’s job: think like the enemy, understand their capabilities, develop possible scenarios, and then play the adversary as operators run through their plans. As previously discussed, while service intelligence schools generally teach presenting just a few courses of action, in a real conflict, there are infinite threat scenarios. Modern intelligence professionals must be flexible, responsive, and creative, in both planning and ad hoc operations. The problem is, short of an actual conflict, there are practically no opportunities for these personnel to practice working in a wide-open world — this is where tabletop role-playing games could prove valuable. As Dungeon Masters, military intelligence professionals can build worlds and scenarios and act as the enemy, or red, force. Most importantly, they will learn to respond spontaneously to unexpected player actions — regardless of whether those actions are incredibly clever or incredibly stupid.

In the Netflix series The Diplomat, Keri Russell succinctly described the problem of intelligence storytelling in three short sentences: “Intelligence is a story. A story based on incomplete facts. Life or death decisions turn on whether people buy the story.”


Dr. James Fielder explained that when games are designed correctly, a synthetic environment is created that becomes real to the players. In such an environment, the learning becomes real even if the risk is not — at least not yet. This is the challenge for both Dungeon Masters and military intelligence professionals. Telling a compelling story that enables others to envision combat environments and the threats within them accurately can be the difference between success and failure.


Storytelling needs to be practiced, just like flying or marksmanship. Pilots can safely make mistakes in simulators or with instructors in the cockpit. Shooters can miss targets on a range until they understand the weapon firing process. Similarly, Dungeons & Dragons provides intelligence personnel the opportunity to practice storytelling with the ability to make and learn from mistakes. After all, if a dragon kills a party of adventurers because the Dungeon Master wasn’t clear, they can simply try again. There are no second chances when giving an operational intelligence briefing before a strike mission.

Wargaming has seen a resurgence in professional military education, something we wholeheartedly support; games make learning fun, effective, and memorable. But integrating games into this education isn’t enough. The armed services only send a military intelligence professional to formal training a few times over a long military career. Comparatively, tabletop role-playing games can provide regular practice for the skills needed in exercises, wargaming, and the real world. After all, as James Sterrett, chief of the Simulation Education Division at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, said, “Experience is a great teacher and well-designed games can deliver experiences that are tailored to drive home learning.”

They make a better argument for a “free” Kriegsspiel or a Braunstein Game than for D&D, but the basic argument is sound.

Stop robbing the little delivery robots

Sunday, September 10th, 2023

Since Los Angeles and Greenville, North Carolina are not Japan, their residents must be asked to stop robbing the little delivery robots that bring groceries and meals to customers:

Los Angeles TV station KTLA5 has recently reported on a number of robot theft and vandalism incidents in West Hollywood, where some robots have been robbed of the goods they’re delivering, including food. The robots are used by local restaurants and are built by Serve Robotics, which pointed out to KTLA5 that despite some incidents the robots still have a 99.9% delivery completion rate.


Early on delivery robot developers have tried to allay commercial customers’ concerns over the potential for theft from robots, showcasing locked compartments and plenty of surveillance tech on the robots themselves, in addition to loud sirens. After a honeymoon period of sorts early on in the pandemic where robots were generally left alone, this is no longer the case, and sirens aren’t stopping acts of theft and vandalism in all cases.

But Los Angeles isn’t the only place where robots are encountering safety issues. The campus of East Carolina University has also seen instances of vandalism against GrubHub robots, made by Starship, earlier this year.


As with far more widespread instances of front porch package thieves or shoplifters, despite the volume of video evidence the robots can produce the police have to actually take some investigative steps to identify and locate the suspects.

They are a very kind and peaceful people

Saturday, September 9th, 2023

Geronimo’s auto­biography includes a chapter on the St. Louis World’s Fair:

When I was at first asked to attend the St. Louis World’s Fair I did not wish to go. Later, when I was told that I would receive good attention and protection, and that the President of the United States said that it would be all right, I consented. I was kept by parties in charge of the Indian Department, who had obtained permission from the President. I stayed in this place for six months. I sold my photographs for twenty-five cents, and was allowed to keep ten cents of this for myself. I also wrote my name for ten, fifteen, or twenty-five cents, as the case might be, and kept all of that money. I often made as much as two dollars a day, and when I returned I had plenty of money — more than I had ever owned before.

Many people in St. Louis invited me to come to their homes, but my keeper always refused.

Every Sunday the President of the Fair sent for me to go to a wild west show. I took part in the roping contests before the audience. There were many other Indian tribes there, and strange people of whom I had never heard.

When people first came to the World’s Fair they did nothing but parade up and down the streets. When they got tired of this they would visit the shows. There were many strange things in these shows. The Government sent guards with me when I went, and I was not allowed to go anywhere without them.

In one of the shows some strange men [Turks] with red caps had some peculiar swords, and they seemed to want to fight. Finally their manager told them they might fight each other. They tried to hit each other over the head with these swords, and I expected both to be wounded or perhaps killed, but neither one was harmed. They would be hard people to kill in a hand-to-hand fight.

In another show there was a strange-looking negro. The manager tied his hands fast, then tied him to a chair. He was securely tied, for I looked myself, and I did not think it was possible for him to get away. Then the manager told him to get loose.

He twisted in his chair for a moment, and then stood up; the ropes were still tied, but he was free. I do not understand how this was done. It was certainly a miraculous power, because no man could have released himself by his own efforts.

In another place a man was on a platform speaking to the audience; they set a basket by the side of the platform and covered it with red calico; then a woman came and got into the basket, and a man covered the basket again with the calico; then the man who was speaking to the audience took a long sword and ran it through the basket, each way, and then down through the cloth cover. I heard the sword cut through the woman’s body, and the manager himself said she was dead; but when the cloth was lifted from the basket she stepped out, smiled, and walked off the stage. I would like to know how she was so quickly healed, and why the wounds did not kill her.

I have never considered bears very intelligent, except in their wild habits, but I had never before seen a white bear. In one of the shows a man had a white bear that was as intelligent as a man. He would do whatever he was told — carry a log on his shoulder, just as a man would; then, when he was told, would put it down again. He did many other things, and seemed to know exactly what his keeper said to him. I am sure that no grizzly bear could be trained to do these things.

One time the guards took me into a little house [Ferris wheel] that had four windows. When we were seated the little house started to move along the ground. Then the guards called my attention to some curious things they had in their pockets. Finally they told me to look out, and when I did so I was scared, for our little house had gone high up in the air, and the people down in the Fair Grounds looked no larger than ants. The men laughed at me for being scared; then they gave me a glass to look through (I often had such glasses which I took from dead officers after battles in Mexico and elsewhere), and I could see rivers, lakes and mountains. But I had never been so high in the air, and I tried to look into the sky. There were no stars, and I could not look at the sun through this glass because the brightness hurt my eyes. Finally I put the glass down, and as they were all laughing at me, I too, began to laugh. Then they said, “Get out!” and when I looked we were on the street again. After we were safe on the land I watched many of these little houses going up and coming down, but I cannot understand how they travel. They are very curious little houses.

One day we went into another show, and as soon as we were in, it changed into night. It was real night, for I could feel the damp air; soon it began to thunder, and the lightnings flashed; it was real lightning, too, for it struck just above our heads. I dodged and wanted to run away, but I could not tell which way to go in order to get out. The guards motioned me to keep still, and so I stayed. In front of us were some strange little people who came out on the platform; then I looked up again and the clouds were all gone, and I could see the stars shining. The little people on the platform did not seem in earnest about anything they did; so I only laughed at them. All the people around where we sat seemed to be laughing at me.

We went into another place and the manager took us into a little room that was made like a cage; then everything around us seemed to be moving; soon the air looked blue, then there were black clouds moving with the wind. Pretty soon it was clear outside; then we saw a few thin white clouds; then the clouds grew thicker, and it rained and hailed with thunder and lightning. Then the thunder retreated and a rainbow appeared in the distance; then it became dark, the moon rose and thousands of stars came out. Soon the sun came up, and we got out of the little room. This was a good show, but it was so strange and unnatural that I was glad to be on the streets again.

We went into one place where they made glassware. I had always thought that these things were made by hand, but they are not. The man had a curious little instrument, and whenever he would blow through this into a little blaze the glass would take any shape he wanted it to. I am not sure, but I think that if I had this kind of an instrument I could make whatever I wished. There seems to be a charm about it. But I suppose it is very difficult to get these little instruments, or other people would have them. The people in this show were so anxious to buy the things the man made that they kept him so busy he could not sit down all day long. I bought many curious things in there and brought them home with me.

At the end of one of the streets some people were getting into a clumsy canoe, upon a kind of shelf, and sliding down into the water. [Shooting the Chute] They seemed to enjoy it, but it looked too fierce for me. If one of these canoes had gone out of its path the people would have been sure to get hurt or killed.

There were some little brown people [Iggorrotes from the Philippines] at the Fair that United States troops captured recently on some islands far away from here.

They did not wear much clothing, and I think that they should not have been allowed to come to the Fair. But they themselves did not seem to know any better. They had some little brass plates, and they tried to play music with these, but I did not think it was music — it was only a rattle. However, they danced to this noise and seemed to think they were giving a fine show.

I do not know how true the report was, but I heard that the President sent them to the Fair so that they could learn some manners, and when they went home teach their people how to dress and how to behave.

I am glad I went to the Fair. I saw many interesting things and learned much of the white people. They are a very kind and peaceful people. During all the time I was at the Fair no one tried to harm me in any way. Had this been among the Mexicans I am sure I should have been compelled to defend myself often.

I wish all my people could have attended the Fair. [Geronimo was also taken to both the Omaha and the Buffalo Expositions, but during that period of his life he was sullen and took no interest in things. The St. Louis Exposition was held after he had adopted the Christian religion and had begun to try to understand our civilization.]

You can generate the same power from just 40% of the elevation change

Friday, September 8th, 2023

One of the simplest ways to store energy is to pump water uphill and then release it later to run a turbine, and now RheEnergise has added a simple tweak, not using water:

It uses a proprietary “high-tech fluid” it calls R-19, which it says is both environmentally neutral and 2.5 times as dense as water.

The result: you can generate the same power from just 40% of the elevation change, using tanks just 40% of the size.

That “dramatically” cuts down on materials and installation costs – and thus energy storage costs – and since the tanks are so much smaller, they’re often able to be buried underground.

He didn’t want to give up his summer conquests, ephemeral as they were

Thursday, September 7th, 2023

As the Stalingrad campaign came to an ignominious end, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), Manstein presented to Hitler and the OKH a plan that would “convert a large-scale withdrawal into an envelopment operation” that would push the Russians against the Sea of Azov and destroy them:

Manstein’s idea would have thrown the enemy on the defensive and transformed the situation in the south. But Hitler refused. He didn’t want to give up his summer conquests, ephemeral as they were. He wanted to keep his troops not only at Stalingrad but in the Caucasus.

Manstein came to have wide personal experience with Hitler’s thinking about war and concluded that he “actually recoiled from risks in the military field.” Hitler refused to allow temporary surrender of territory. He could not see that, in the wide reaches of Russia, the enemy could always mass forces at one point and break through. Only in mobile operations could the superiority of German staffs and fighting troops be exploited. The brilliant holding action of the 48th Panzer Corps along the Chir River demonstrated how superior German leadership and flexible responses, if applied by the whole German army, almost certainly could have stopped Soviet advances and brought about a stalemate. But such a policy was beyond Hitler’s grasp.

Manstein also found that Hitler feared to denude secondary fronts to gain superiority at the point where a decision had to fall. For example, the failure to assemble a large army to relieve Stalingrad had proved disastrous. Hitler could not make rapid decisions. In most cases he finally released too few troops, and sent them too late.

“Obstinate defense of every foot of ground gradually became the be all and end all” of Hitler’s leadership, Manstein wrote. “Hitler thought the arcanum of success lay in clinging at all costs to what he already possessed.” He could never be brought to renounce this notion.

Write what I have spoken

Wednesday, September 6th, 2023

In 1905, famed Apache warrior Geronimo began dictating his story, through a native interpreter, to S. M. Barrett, then superintendent of schools in Lawton, Oklahoma. When, at the end of the first session, Barrett posed a question, the only answer he received was, “Write what I have spoken.”

In Chapter 20, Geronimo explains some of the unwritten laws of the Apache, starting with a description of their trial system

When an Indian has been wronged by a member of his tribe he may, if he does not wish to settle the difficulty personally, make complaint to the Chieftain. If he is unable to meet the offending parties in a personal encounter, and disdains to make complaint, anyone may in his stead inform the chief of this conduct, and then it becomes necessary to have an investigation or trial. Both the accused and the accuser are entitled to witnesses, and their witnesses are not interrupted in any way by questions, but simply say what they wish to say in regard to the matter. The witnesses are not placed under oath, because it is not believed that they will give false testimony in a matter relating to their own people.

The chief of the tribe presides during these trials, but if it is a serious offense he asks two or three leaders to sit with him. These simply determine whether or not the man is guilty. If he is not guilty the matter is ended, and the complaining party has forfeited his right to take personal vengeance, for if he wishes to take vengeance himself, he must object to the trial which would prevent it. If the accused is found guilty the injured party fixes the penalty, which is generally confirmed by the chief and his associates.

Preparation of a Warrior:

To be admitted as a warrior a youth must have gone with the warriors of his tribe four separate times on the warpath.

On the first trip he will be given only very inferior food. With this he must be contented without murmuring. On none of the four trips is he allowed to select his food as the warriors do, but must eat such food as he is permitted to have.

On each of these expeditions he acts as servant, cares for the horses, cooks the food, and does whatever duties he should do without being told. He knows what things are to be done, and without waiting to be told is to do them. He is not allowed to speak to any warrior except in answer to questions or when told to speak.

During these four wars he is expected to learn the sacred names of everything used in war, for after the tribe enters upon the warpath no common names are used in referring to anything appertaining to war in any way. War is a solemn religious matter.

If, after four expeditions, all the warriors are satisfied that the youth has been industrious, has not spoken out of order, has been discreet in all things, has shown courage in battle, has borne all hardships uncomplainingly, and has exhibited no color of cowardice, or weakness of any kind, he may by vote of the council be admitted as a warrior; but if any warrior objects to him upon any account he will be subjected to further tests, and if he meets these courageously, his name may again be proposed. When he has proven beyond question that he can bear hardships without complaint, and that he is a stranger to fear, he is admitted to the council of the warriors in the lowest rank. After this there is no formal test for promotions, but by common consent he assumes a station on the battlefield, and if that position is maintained with honor, he is allowed to keep it, and may be asked, or may volunteer, to take a higher station, but no warrior would presume to take a higher station unless he had assurance from the leaders of the tribe that his [Pg 190]conduct in the first position was worthy of commendation.

From this point upward the only election by the council in formal assembly is the election of the chief.

Old men are not allowed to lead in battle, but their advice is always respected. Old age means loss of physical power and is fatal to active leadership.

Scalp Dance:

After a war party has returned, a modification of the war dance is held. The warriors who have brought scalps from the battles exhibit them to the tribe, and when the dance begins these scalps, elevated on poles or spears, are carried around the camp fires while the dance is in progress. During this dance there is still some of the solemnity of the war dance. There are yells and war whoops, frequently accompanied by discharge of firearms, but there is always more levity than would be permitted at a war dance. After the scalp dance is over the scalps are thrown away. No Apache would keep them, for they are considered defiling.

Creating fractures in rocks with low permeability means that the water in the system can’t easily leak out

Tuesday, September 5th, 2023

Geothermal offers a virtually limitless, always-on source of emissions-free heat and electricity:

If the US could capture just 2% of the thermal energy available two to six miles beneath its surface, it could produce more than 2,000 times the nation’s total annual energy consumption.

But because of geological constraints, high capital costs and other challenges, we barely use it at all: today it accounts for 0.4% of US electricity generation.

To date, developers of geothermal power plants have largely been able to tap only the most promising and economical locations, like this stretch of Nevada. They’ve needed to be able to drill down to porous, permeable, hot rock at relatively low depths. The permeability of the rock is essential for enabling water to move between two human-drilled wells in such a system, but it’s also the feature that’s often missing in otherwise favorable areas.

Starting in the early 1970s, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory began to demonstrate that we could engineer our way around that limitation. They found that by using hydraulic fracturing techniques similar to those now employed in the oil and gas industry, they could create or widen cracks within relatively solid and very hot rock. Then they could add in water, essentially engineering radiators deep underground.

Such an “enhanced” geothermal system then basically works like any other, but it opens the possibility of building power plants in places where the rock isn’t already permeable enough to allow hot water to circulate easily. Researchers in the field have argued for decades that if we drive down the cost of such techniques, it will unlock vast new stretches of the planet for geothermal development.

A noted MIT study in 2006 estimated that with a $1 billion investment over 15 years, enhanced geothermal plants could produce 100 gigawatts of new capacity on the grid by 2050, putting it into the same league as more popular renewable sources. (By comparison, about 135 gigawatts of solar capacity and 140 gigawatts of wind have been installed across the US.)


Creating fractures in rocks with low permeability means that the water in the system can’t easily leak out into other areas. Consequently, if you close off the well system and keep pumping in water, you can build up mechanical pressure within the system, as the fractured rock sections push against the earth.

“The fractures are able to dilate and change shape, almost like balloons,” Norbeck says.

That pressure can then be put to use. In a series of modeling experiments, Fervo found that once the valve was opened again, those balloons effectively deflated, the flow of water increased, and electricity generation surged. If they “charged it” for days, by adding water but not letting it out, it could then generate electricity for days.

The transparent battlefield has changed everything

Monday, September 4th, 2023

The War in Ukraine, Edward Luttwak notes, is a war that must be fought by sheer, grinding, attrition, just like the First World War on the Western Front, with almost none of the maneuver warfare exploits that made celebrities of Guderian, Rommel, Patton, and Rokossovsky in the Second World War, and Arik Sharon in 1967 and 1973:

All those masters of war won disproportionate victories with surprise offensives. Arriving in fast-moving columns, their forces greatly outnumbered and overwhelmed a specific sector, while the bulk of the enemy, distributed across an entire front, could not intervene in time.

In other words, “manoeuvre warfare” depends entirely on surprise. Even in the Second World War, there was reliable aerial photography, so that pre-battle concentrations of tanks, trucks and artillery tractors could not escape detection as they gathered over a period of weeks. But once the offensive columns moved, it was hard to keep them under observation, let alone predict their destination. Photography was impeded by night, clouds and enemy fighters, leaving more than enough uncertainty to deceive enemies with decoys, simulated radio traffic, and the false tales of double agents.

This is how it came to be that on D-Day, 6 June 1944, the strongest German Panzer columns ended up being massed behind Calais to face Patton’s fictional First United States Army Group, while the Allies were landing in Normandy 230 miles away. Douglas MacArthur’s Inchon landings in September 1950, which nullified a string of North Korean victories in the preceding months, likewise achieved total surprise by very elaborately simulating a landing at Kunsan, 100 miles to the south.

None of this could happen now. The Americans, Russians and other military powers have observation satellites equipped with synthetic-aperture radars, capable of revealing single tanks, let alone any large grouping of forces, regardless of visibility, while their returns are refreshed often enough to detect troop movements in hours if not in minutes. Any other information drawn from intercepts, aerial reconnaissance or ground observation merely supplements this reliable intelligence. It is enough to make the battlefield transparent and operational surprise impossible, killing off the manoeuvre warfare that can win battles quickly and without mounds of casualties.

In early summer, when the Ukrainians deployed the precious “operational reserve” they had built up, there was no great mystery as to what they would do with it: attack somewhere south of Zaporizhzhia and fight their way down to the Black Sea.


While the Ukrainians were training and deploying, the Russians south of the Dnipro were digging trench lines shielded by minefields that stretch roughly 625 miles — 185 miles longer than the Western Front at its greatest extent. Napoleon called this style of linear defence a “cordon”, a thick rope made of infantry to hold the enemy along a long front. And, in his own time, he rightly explained why cordons were the stupidest way of defending a front: the enemy would arrive in columns and easily cut through the few troops holding the particular sector they attacked.

But once again the transparent battlefield has changed everything. Watching the Ukrainians advance in real time, the Russians could send their forces to intercept them in equal if not greater numbers. And even if the numbers were equal, the combat would be unequal because the Russians would be shielded by their minefields and by their trenches.

Anything can become a full-time job if enough people are paying attention

Sunday, September 3rd, 2023

Matthew Mercer is the most famous Dungeons & Dragons player in the world:

Critical Role is a miraculous success, with 2 million YouTube subscribers and an additional 1.3 million followers on Twitch. Critical Role’s first season, called “Vox Machina,” ran for 115 episodes over the course of two-and-a-half years, demolishing the meager expectations of the eight-player cast. Those episodes, often four hours in length, were produced by the digital media brand Geek & Sundry, but in 2018 — when Mercer reconvened the Critical Role crew for a second season — they did so as a fully independent LLC, called Critical Role Productions. With that, his leisurely nights around the table officially transformed into a for-profit endeavor.

The pivot paid off in spades. A 2021 data leak out of Twitch confirmed that Critical Role is one of the richest channels on the platform, generating a mammoth $9.6 million in revenue between 2019 and 2021. The show has quickly become a fixture of the geek-media ecosystem and is blessed by a litany of third-party investments. There are now Critical Role novelizations, comic books, and most notably, an animated Amazon Prime television adaptation.


Mercer has his own theories about why Critical Role struck oil. He believes the troupe came together at the right time, during the dawn of the livestreaming revolution, when the world was still adjusting to what was possible with this brand-new hyperspeed broadcasting medium. It also helped that they all, including Mercer, were voice actors of some renown before signing up for the campaign. (Ashley Johnson, who has appeared in all three seasons of the show, is best known for playing Ellie in the acclaimed The Last of Us video games, and Travis Willingham, who serves as CEO of Critical Role Productions, has stepped into the booth to portray everyone from Sandman to Thor for Marvel.) The stars each had a robust presence on social media, which they dutifully funneled toward their newly formed Dungeons & Dragons series. One of the great revelations of the 2020s is that anything — even a weekly tabletop group — can become a full-time job if enough people are paying attention.

People think that satellites are secure

Saturday, September 2nd, 2023

In a presentation at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, Johannes Willbold, a PhD student at Germany’s Ruhr University Bochum, explained he had studied three types of satellites and found that many were utterly defenseless against remote takeover because they lack the most basic security systems:

“People think that satellites are secure,” he said. “Those are expensive assets and they should have encryption and authentication. I assume that criminals think the same and they are too hard to target and you need to be some kind of cryptography genius. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to give this talk.”

Satellite operators have been lucky so far. The prevailing wisdom is that hacking this kit would be prohibitively expensive due to the high cost of ground stations that communicate with the orbital birds, and that such hardware benefited from security by obscurity — that getting hold of the details of the firmware would be too difficult. Neither is true, the research indicates.

For example, both AWS and Microsoft’s Azure now offer Ground Station as a Service (GSaaS) to communicate with LEO satellites, so communication is simply a matter of plonking down a credit card. As for getting details on firmware, the commercial space industry has flourished in recent years and many of the components used on multiple platforms are easy to buy and study. Willbold estimated a hacker could build their own ground station for around $10,000 in parts.

As an academic, Willbold took a more direct approach. He just asked satellite operators for the relevant details for his paper [PDF]. Some of them agreed (although he did have to sign an NDA in one case) and the results somewhat mirrored the early computing days, when security was sidelined because of the lack of computing power and memory.

He studied three different types of satellite: an ESTCube-1, a tiny CubeSat 2013 running an Arm Cortex-M3 processor, a larger CubeSat OPS-SAT operated by the European Space Agency as an orbital research platform, and the so-called Flying Laptop – a larger and more advanced satellite run by the Institute of Space Systems at the University of Stuttgart.

The results were depressing. Both the CubeSats failed at a most basic level, with no authentication protocols, and they were broadcasting signals without encryption. With some code Willbold would have been able to take over the satellites’ basic control functions and lock out the legitimate owner, which he demonstrated during the talk with a simulation.

The Flying Laptop was a different case, however. It had basic security systems in place and tried to isolate core functions from interference. However, with some skill, code, and standard techniques, this satellite too proved vulnerable.

The first Japanese feature-length animated film was made for the the Japanese Naval Ministry in 1944

Friday, September 1st, 2023

The first Japanese feature-length animated film — the first animé — doesn’t get much attention these days, even though it’s beautifully made, in a Disney-inspired style, because the film, Momotaro: Sacred Sailors, or Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, was made for the the Japanese Naval Ministry in 1944 and released in 1945, a few months before Japan surrendered:

About 45 minutes in they start preparing for an airborne attack against a European colony.

The bumbling Brits who surrender to the Japanese are depicted…with a horn on their heads?


The Japanese did have marine paratroopers in World War II, by the way:

The troops were officially part of the Special Naval Landing Forces (SNLF or Rikusentai).


Paratroop units were only organized on the very eve of the war, beginning in September 1941.


Two companies, numbering 849 paratroopers, from the 1st Yokosuka SNLF, carried out Japan’s first ever combat air drop, during the Battle of Menado, in the Netherlands East Indies, on January 11, 1942.