Faked, finger-on-the-button rage could bring the Soviets to heel

Thursday, November 30th, 2023

Henry Kissinger just passed away — at the age of 100. His name has shown up here in a few dozen posts. The earliest substantive post discusses The Nukes of October:

Codenamed Giant Lance, Nixon’s plan was the culmination of a strategy of premeditated madness he had developed with national security adviser Henry Kissinger. The details of this episode remained secret for 35 years and have never been fully told. Now, thanks to documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, it’s clear that Giant Lance was the leading example of what historians came to call the “madman theory”: Nixon’s notion that faked, finger-on-the-button rage could bring the Soviets to heel.

Volume one of Kissinger is the best thing Niall Ferguson has done, in his own opinion.

Electrified trailer cuts fuel consumption in semi-trucks by 36.3%

Wednesday, November 29th, 2023

When hybrid vehicles were first catching on, I wondered if electrifying a semi-truck trailer would improve performance and efficiency:

Range Energy makes truck trailers, with a clever connection to any standard tractor cab, loaded with electric powertrains to turn any semi into an efficient hybrid. They also let you push entire trailers around by hand at the depot in “shopping cart mode.”

Range’s 53-foot (16-m) RA-01 trailer packs its own 200-kWh battery, as well as an 800-volt e-axle powertrain that can put up to 14,000 Nm (10,326 lb-ft) of torque, at up to 350 kW (469 hp), through the rear wheels. The same battery also feeds a rear liftgate and powered landing gear.

It works with any electric or diesel-powered cab and is perfectly suitable for fleet operations, without any modification to the trucks. It takes its cues from a smart kingpin, which basically senses the acceleration and braking loads that the tractor is putting on the trailer, and uses its electric motors to help out.


In fuel economy testing performed by Mesilla Valley Transportation Solutions, Range reports a fuel economy boost of 3.25 mpg (72.4 L/100km) , representing a 36.9% efficiency gain against the test truck’s standard fuel consumption.


The test was conducted on a “25.5-mile (41-km) urban/highway loop at approximately 59,000 lb (26,760 kg) gross vehicle weight and 60-mph (96.5-km/h) top speeds across multiple scenarios including stop/go and steady-speed portions.”The test was conducted on a “25.5-mile (41-km) urban/highway loop at approximately 59,000 lb (26,760 kg) gross vehicle weight and 60-mph (96.5-km/h) top speeds across multiple scenarios including stop/go and steady-speed portions.”


Even beyond that 200-mile range once the battery is completely depleted, Range still expects about a 10-15% efficiency boost over a regular trailer for the rest of the trip, simply through the energy it can capture and release through regenerative braking.


And then there’s “shopping cart mode” – which uses a similar control approach to let you disconnect a fully-loaded trailer from the truck and push it around manually like a hand trolley, with the electric motors helping all the way.

Iraqi criminal organizations and militia groups target convoys and containers for weapons and equipment

Tuesday, November 28th, 2023

American bases in Iraq and Syria are plagued by thefts of weapons and equipment:

Military investigations launched earlier this year found that “multiple sensitive weapons and equipment” — including guided missile launch systems as well as drones — have been stolen in Iraq. This follows hundreds of thousands of dollars in military gear that were purloined from U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria between 2020 and 2022, as reported earlier this year by The Intercept.

America’s bases in Iraq and Syria ostensibly exist to conduct “counter-ISIS missions,” but experts say they are used primarily as a check against Iran. Since the October outbreak of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, these bases have come under regular rocket and drone attacks as part of an undeclared war between the U.S. and Iran and its surrogate militias.

The U.S. has increasingly responded to those attacks. In Syria, the U.S. launched “precision strikes” on a “training facility and a safe house” allegedly used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The U.S. has since employed an AC-130 gunship against an “Iranian-backed militia vehicle and a number of Iranian-backed militia personnel” at an undisclosed location, following a ballistic missile attack on Al Asad Air Base in Western Iraq. “The President has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. personnel,” said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, justifying U.S. strikes.


In February, military investigators were notified that 13 commercial drones, valued at about $162,500, were stolen from a U.S. facility in Erbil, Iraq, sometime last year. The agents identified no suspects, and no leads are mentioned in the file.

A separate investigation discovered that “multiple sensitive weapons and equipment” including targeting sight and launcher units for Javelin missiles — a shoulder-fired guided missile that locks on its targets — were stolen at or en route to Forward Operating Base Union III in Baghdad, Iraq. The loss to the U.S. government was estimated at almost $480,000.

Investigators did not believe the thefts were an inside job. “No known U.S. personnel were involved,” according to a criminal investigations file. The investigators instead refer to locals as the likely suspects. “Iraqi criminal organizations and militia groups target convoys and containers for weapons and equipment,” the document stated. “Further there have been systemic issues with U.S. containers being pilfered by these groups and local nationals outside of Union III, due to the lack of security.”

Losing one drone for one submarine was a good exchange rate

Monday, November 27th, 2023

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingIn the late 1950s, David Hambling notes (in Swarm Troopers), the latest sonar could detect a submarine more than twenty miles away, but the best anti-submarine weapons only had a range of a few miles:

The US Navy wanted to bridge the gap with a Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter or DASH. This was a small helicopter capable of carrying a single weapon and dropping it at the required spot, guided by a controller back on board ship.

The DASH was based on a one-man helicopter called a “Rotorcycle” built by Gyrodyne Company. This had two rotor blades rotating in opposite directions for lift, and a propeller for forward motion. The drone version was the size of a small car and weighed just over a ton. By 1963, the US Navy had eighty of them.


DASH was designed to be expendable; when it dropped a Mk57 nuclear depth charge it would be within the lethal radius of the resulting explosion. The powerful warhead, from five to twenty kilotons, guaranteed that the sub would be destroyed, and losing one drone for one submarine was a good exchange rate. The idea that DASH should carry a non-nuclear homing torpedo and come back afterwards was a case of mission creep; according to the original design it was only supposed to make one flight.


Executive Officer Phil King of the USS Blue modified a DASH, adding a television camera for reconnaissance and gunnery direction. Known as SNOOPY missions, these involved the DASH flying out to find targets. The operator identified them via the television link, and the destroyer then opened up with its battery of five-inch guns. The drone operator could see where the shells were landing and tell the gunners how to adjust their aim.

Further developments followed, including NITE PANTHER and BLOW LOW versions equipped with additional fuel tanks for longer range, night-vision systems and airborne radar.

The next logical step was to convert the DASH from finding targets to attacking them. NITE GAZELLE, GUN SHIP, and ATTACK DRONE were all individual modified aircraft with a range of weaponry including a six-barreled minigun firing four thousand rounds a minute, grenade launchers, bomblet dispensers and bombs, as well as a laser designator for directing smart bombs. The idea was that drones with guns would deal with the ground defenses, leaving the way clear for the bomber drones to hit targets with pinpoint accuracy.


“It became quite evident that the Navy no longer wanted DASH and wanted to move onto LAMPS manned helicopters.”

LAMPS was the Light Airborne Multipurpose System, a new manned helicopter that would operate from destroyers and take over the role of DASH. Removing DASH from the picture meant there would be no competition, and nobody would be able to argue that LAMPS was unnecessary.


The LAMPS project became the SH-60 Sea Hawk, now a multibillion dollar success story.

You could not truly be the chief technology or product officer unless you were the CEO

Sunday, November 26th, 2023

Elon Musk by Walter IsaacsonFor the first six months of Zip2, Elon Musk and his brother Kimbal slept at the office, Walter Isaacson explains (in his biography of Elon), and showered at the YMCA:

Even after they moved in, Elon spent many nights in the office, crashing under his desk when he was exhausted from coding. “He had no pillow, he had no sleeping bag. I don’t know how he did it,” says Jim Ambras, an early employee. “Once in a while, if we had a customer meeting in the morning, I’d have to tell him to go home and shower.”


Errol Musk, not yet estranged from his sons, visited from South Africa and gave them $ 28,000 plus a beat-up car he bought for $ 500. Their mother, Maye, came from Toronto more often, bringing food and clothes. She gave them $ 10,000 and let them use her credit card because they had not been approved for one.

They got their first break when they visited Navteq, which had a database of maps. The company agreed to license it to the Musks for free until they started making a profit. Elon wrote a program that merged the maps with a listing of businesses in the area. “You could use your cursor and zoom in and move around the map,” says Kimbal. “That stuff is totally normal today, but it was mind-blowing to see that at the time. I think Elon and I were the first humans to see it work on the internet.” They named the company Zip2, as in “Zip to where you want to go.”


They bought a big frame for a computer rack and put one of their small computers inside, so that visitors would think they had a giant server. They named it “The Machine That Goes Ping,” after a Monty Python sketch. “Every time investors would come in, we showed them the tower,” Kimbal says, “and we would laugh because it made them think we were doing hardcore stuff.”

Maye flew from Toronto to help prepare for the meetings with venture capitalists, often staying up all night at Kinko’s to print the presentations. “It was a dollar a page for color, which we could barely afford,” she says. “We would all be exhausted except Elon. He was always up late doing the coding.”


They were soon astounded by an offer from Mohr Davidow Ventures to invest $ 3 million in the company. The final presentation to the firm was scheduled for a Monday, and that weekend Kimbal decided to make a quick trip to Toronto to fix their mother’s computer, which had broken. “We love our mom,” he explains. As he was leaving on Sunday to fly back to San Francisco, he got stopped by U.S. border officials at the airport who looked in his luggage and saw the pitch deck, business cards, and other documents for the company. Because he did not have a U.S. work visa, they wouldn’t let him board the plane. He had a friend pick him up at the airport and drive him across the border, where he told a less vigilant border officer that they were heading down to see the David Letterman show. He managed to catch the late plane from Buffalo to San Francisco, and made it in time for the pitch.

Mohr Davidow loved the presentation and finalized the investment. The firm also found an immigration lawyer to help the two Musks get work visas and gave them each $ 30,000 to purchase cars. Elon bought a 1967 Jaguar E-type. As a kid in South Africa, he had seen a picture of the car in a book on the best convertibles ever made, and he had vowed to buy one if he ever struck it rich. “It was the most beautiful car you could imagine,” he says, “but it broke down at least once a week.”

The venture capitalists soon did what they often do: bring in adult supervision to take over from the young founders. It had happened to Steve Jobs at Apple and to Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google. Rich Sorkin, who had run business development for an audio equipment company, was made the CEO of Zip2. Elon was moved aside to chief technology officer. At first, he thought the change would suit him; he could focus on building the product. But he learned a lesson. “I never wanted to be a CEO,” he says, “but I learned that you could not truly be the chief technology or product officer unless you were the CEO.”

Adolf Hitler rejected any retreat not actually forced on him by the Red Army

Saturday, November 25th, 2023

By January 1944, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), the Red Army had twice the men and tanks as the German army:

The only possibility for Germany to avoid total defeat was immediate withdrawal to the 1941 frontier and construction of a deep mine-strewn defensive line studded with antitank guns, advocated by Erwin Rommel.

Heinz Guderian and Erich von Manstein recommended a similar approach, but Adolf Hitler rejected any retreat not actually forced on him by the Red Army, and on March 30 ousted Manstein. Consequently, throughout 1944, German forces in the east conducted one pointless defensive stand and one retreat after another.

Napoleon represented the Enlightenment on horseback

Thursday, November 23rd, 2023

Napoleon by Andrew RobertsWhen I saw that Ridley Scott was directing a biopic of Napoleon, that nudged me to finally read a biography of the Emperor of the French, which I’d been meaning to do for…decades?

Dwarkesh Patel recently interviewed Andrew Roberts, the author of the biography I just read, and noted that there’s a “cult of Napoleon” in Silicon Valley:

Roberts’ introduction summarizes Napoleon’s accomplishments:

He came to power through a military coup only six years after entering the country as a penniless political refugee.


Although his conquests ended in defeat and ignominious imprisonment, over the course of his short but eventful life he fought sixty battles and lost only seven.


Yet his greatest and most lasting victories were those of his institutions, which put an end to the chaos of the French Revolution and cemented its guiding principle of equality before the law.


Napoleon’s bridges, reservoirs, canals and sewers remain in use throughout France. The French foreign ministry sits above the stone quays he built along the Seine, and the Cour des Comptes still checks public spending accounts more than two centuries after he founded it. The Légion d’Honneur, an honor he introduced to take the place of feudal privilege, is highly coveted; France’s top secondary schools, many of them founded by Napoleon, provide excellent education and his Conseil d’État still meets every Wednesday to vet laws.


The leadership skills he employed to inspire his men have been adopted by other leaders over the centuries, yet never equaled except perhaps by his great devotee Winston Churchill.


The fact that his army was willing to follow him even after the retreat from Moscow, the battle of Leipzig and the fall of Paris testifies to his capacity to make ordinary people feel that they were capable of doing extraordinary, history-making deeds.


Napoleon’s love affair with Josephine has been presented all too often in plays, novels and movies as a Romeo and Juliet story: in fact, it was anything but. He had an overwhelming crush on her, but she didn’t love him, at least in the beginning, and was unfaithful from the very start of their marriage. When he learned of her infidelities two years later while on campaign in the middle of the Egyptian desert, he was devastated. He took a mistress in Cairo in part to protect himself from accusations of cuckoldry, which were far more dangerous for a French general of the era than those of adultery. Yet he forgave Josephine when he returned to France, and they started off on a decade of harmonious marital and sexual contentment, despite his taking a series of mistresses. Josephine remained faithful and even fell in love with him. When he decided to divorce for dynastic and geostrategic reasons, Josephine was desolate but they remained friendly.


He could entirely close off one part of his mind to what was going on in the rest of it; he himself likened it to being able to open and close drawers in a cupboard. On the eve of battle, as aides-de-camp were arriving and departing with orders to his marshals and reports from his generals, he could dictate his thoughts on the establishment of a girls’ school for the orphans of members of the Légion d’Honneur, and shortly after having captured Moscow he set down the regulations governing the Comédie-Française. No detail about his empire was too minute for his restless, questing energy. The prefect of a department would be instructed to stop taking his young mistress to the opera; an obscure country priest would be reprimanded for giving a bad sermon on his birthday; a corporal told he was drinking too much; a demi-brigade that it could stitch the words ‘Les Incomparables’ in gold onto its standard. He was one of the most unrelenting micromanagers in history, but this obsession with details did not prevent him from radically transforming the physical, legal, political and cultural landscape of Europe.


Napoleon represented the Enlightenment on horseback.


‘They seek to destroy the Revolution by attacking my person,’ he said after the failure of the royalist assassination plot of 1804. ‘I will defend it, for I am the Revolution.’ His characteristic egotism aside, Napoleon was right. He personified the best parts of the French Revolution, the ones that have survived and infused European life ever since.


The ideas that underpin our modern world—meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances and so on—were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire. At the same time he dispensed with the absurd revolutionary calendar of ten-day weeks, the theology of the Cult of the Supreme Being, the corruption and cronyism of the Directory and the hyper-inflation that had characterized the dying days of the Republic.

Drop a howitzer on them

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2023

The GBU-28 is a 5,000-pound laser-guided “bunker busting” bomb:

It was designed, manufactured, and deployed in less than three weeks due to an urgent need during Operation Desert Storm to penetrate hardened Iraqi command centers located deep underground.


The GBU-28 is unique in that time between the finalized design being approved to its first use in combat test took only two weeks between the 13th and 27th of February 1991.

The name apparently refers to the fact that this Guided Bomb Unit was designed, built, and ready to drop in four weeks:

The initial batch of GBU-28s was built from modified 8 inch/203 mm artillery barrels (principally from deactivated M110 howitzers), but later examples are purpose-built with the BLU-113 bomb body made by National Forge of Irvine, Pennsylvania. They weigh 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg) and contain 630 pounds (286 kg) of Tritonal explosive.


It proved capable of penetrating over 50 meters (164 ft) of earth or 5 meters (16 ft) of solid concrete; this was demonstrated when a test bomb, bolted to a missile sled, smashed through 22 ft (6.7 m) of reinforced concrete and still retained enough kinetic energy to travel a half-mile downrange.

It looks more like a missile than a bomb:

F-15 Dropping GBU-28

The Navy has disposed of 142 reactor compartment packages

Tuesday, November 21st, 2023

For more than a decade, the US Navy has considered the former Enterprise — CVN-65, not NCC-1701 — no longer operational:

In fact, since 2018, the 1,101-foot behemoth has been mostly floating pier side in Newport News, Va., awaiting final dismantlement and disposal.

Ships come and go in the Navy, but their disposal is not usually such a prolonged and complicated affair. They can be used as target practice for what the Navy calls a “SINKEX” or handed over to scrapping and salvaging companies, among other options.

But for a host of reasons, those routes are non-starters for the service’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.


The Navy is not going into this process blind. It has decades of experience rendering nuclear-powered submarines and cruisers safe. Since 1986, the service has disposed of 142 reactor compartment packages, according to Navy spokesman Alan Baribeau.

The traditional process for disposing of a nuclear-powered sub begins with defueling the boat and towing it to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., where workers cut out the section of the ship containing the propulsion plants. The spent fuel, reactors and reactor compartments are packaged and sent to various Department of Energy facilities, which specialize in long-term storage and disposal of nuclear materials, in the Pacific Northwest.

“That was a lot easier with submarines and cruisers,” said Steven Wills, an analyst at the Center for Maritime Strategy. “These [carriers] take up too much space and affect operational units that are based in Bremerton.”

Compared to modern submarines that house just one reactor, Enterprise has eight, a remnant of the early stages of nuclear technology when construction began in 1958. The Nimitz-class, which the service started building in the 1960s, has two reactors per ship. (Baribeau noted that the design differences between Enterprise, the Nimitz and Ford-class carriers will be taken into consideration when the latter classes are prepared for disposal, but added that “lessons learned” from Enterprise will inform the Navy’s choices for its successors.)

Even just finding a place to dock a carrier can be challenging.


Clark noted the Navy’s original nuclear propulsion programs predate the civilian nuclear energy sector, meaning it was an imperative at the time for the Pentagon to have the expertise in-house to see the technology’s lifecycle through from start to finish. But, unlike when Enterprise was being built, there are now private companies capable of dismantling nuclear power plants.

The television technology was a limitation

Monday, November 20th, 2023

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingAmerica’s first attack drones date back to World War 2, David Hambling notes (in Swarm Troopers):

Lt. Commander Delmar Farhney worked with the US Naval Research Laboratory in the 1930s building radio-controlled anti-aircraft targets for the Navy. It was an exciting era to be working with radio, and Farhney was convinced that unmanned aircraft would be devastatingly effective. By 1941, he had extended his work to aircraft capable of accurately dropping torpedoes and depth charges. Incidentally, Farhney was the first to officially refer to his aircraft as “drones,” a usage the military has since tried to suppress.


He could not use metal, so the TDN-1 was made from plywood.


Some of the work was carried out by organ makers Wurlitzer, with their long experience at shaping plywood. The TDR-1 had a wingspan of forty-eight feet, a speed of almost a hundred and fifty miles per hour, and awkward tricycle landing gear to give space for a 2,000-pound bomb or torpedo slung beneath the fuselage

As an airplane, the TDR-1 was unremarkable, but it was equipped with a remarkable technological breakthrough: remote control by television. Dr. Vladimir Zworykin of RCA was one of the inventors of the television, and he was keen to put it to use in drones. The prototype cameras weighed over three hundred pounds including the transmitter, but this was shrunk into a miniature system weighing ninety-seven pounds, packed into a box the size of a carry-on suitcase. The picture was monochrome with a respectable resolution (350 lines) and a refresh rate of forty hertz, but the image was poor by modern standards. The drone operator had to work under a black cloth to see the green, five-inch screen clearly in daylight.


It was controlled from a modified Avenger torpedo bomber flying up to eight miles away. The special Avenger had a crew of four, with pilot, radio operator, and gunner joined by a drone operator. The latter had a joystick, a television screen, and a rotary telephone dial. The dial controlled altitude and released weapons by dialing specific numbers, and the television gave a real sense of being in the drone.


The drones were eventually allowed to attack a derelict Japanese freighter called Yamazuki Maru off Guadalcanal. Three out of four drones hit the target, and, after some hesitation, the unit was sent into action.

The STAG-1 drones successfully attacked anti-aircraft sites, gun positions, ships, and even a lighthouse. Many of them were used in suicide attacks against challenging targets; the Japanese, not knowing they were unmanned, called them “American kamikazes.”


The commander of the STAG-1, Lt Commander Robert Jones, was convinced that their successes would prove the value of the drone concept. He believed drones would be an important weapon in the assault on mainland Japan. But the Navy top brass did not agree. The drones might be good for precision attacks, but what were needed were formations of heavy bombers. After the drones were all expended, STAG-1 was reassigned. Commander Jones watched unhappily as the thirty Avenger control planes were dumped overboard in Reynard Sound.

The television technology was a limitation, as anyone who has worked with monochrome images can appreciate. Targets that had a clear silhouette, like a ship on the water, showed up clearly and were easy to hit. But any target surrounded by jungle tended to be invisible on the small screen, as they blended in with the confused background.

(Meanwhile, experiments with larger radio-controlled aircraft as suicide bombers against major targets had limited success. In the most famous disaster, Lt Joseph Kennedy Junior was killed when a “robot” PB4Y-1 bomber blew up prematurely in 1944. This left his younger brother John F Kennedy as the family heir.)

Both Farhney and Jones continued the struggle to get drones recognised, and during the Korean War, unmanned attack planes were tried again. In 1952, six obsolete F6F Hellcats were converted to unmanned operation. They were controlled from nearby AD-2Q Skyraiders, with a television system developed from the one on the TDR-1. Flying from the aircraft carrier USS Boxer, the drones successfully hit a power plant, a railway tunnel, and a bridge. Jones wanted to continue operations and attack the Yalu River bridges, which had survived repeated attacks by US heavy bombers.

Farhney went on to become a Rear Admiral and headed the Navy’s guided missile research effort — and in the 1950s he made a number of public statements about UFOs, which he believed to be craft of extraterrestrial origin.

Most PhDs are irrelevant

Sunday, November 19th, 2023

Elon Musk by Walter IsaacsonElon Musk planned on studying material science at Stanford, Walter Isaacson explains (in his biography of Elon), after getting his physics degree from Penn:

Still fascinated by capacitors, he wanted to research how they might power electric cars. “The idea was to leverage advanced chip-making equipment to make a solid state ultracapacitor with enough energy density to give a car long range,” he says. But as he got closer to enrolling, he began to worry. “I figured I could spend several years at Stanford, get a PhD, and my conclusion on capacitors would be that they aren’t feasible,” he says. “Most PhDs are irrelevant. The number that actually move the needle is almost none.”


“I thought about the things that will truly affect humanity,” he says. “I came up with three: the internet, sustainable energy, and space travel.”


Musk had come up with an idea for an internet company during his final year at Penn, when an executive from NYNEX came to speak about the phone company’s plans to launch an online version of the Yellow Pages. Dubbed “Big Yellow,” it would have interactive features so that users could tailor the information to their personal needs, the executive said. Musk thought (correctly, as it turned out) that NYNEX had no clue how to make it truly interactive. “Why don’t we do it ourselves?” he suggested to Kimbal, and he began writing code that could combine business listings with map data. They dubbed it the Virtual City Navigator.


Nicholson, who had a PhD from Stanford, did not equivocate. “The internet revolution only comes once in a lifetime, so strike while the iron is hot,” he told Musk as they walked along the shore of Lake Ontario. “You will have lots of time to go to graduate school later if you’re still interested.” When Musk got back to Palo Alto, he told Ren he had made up his mind. “I need to put everything else on hold,” he said. “I need to catch the internet wave.”

He actually hedged his bets. He officially enrolled at Stanford and then immediately requested a deferral. “I’ve written some software with the first internet maps and Yellow Pages directory,” he told Bill Nix, the material science professor. “I will probably fail, and if so I would like to come back.” Nix said it would not be a problem for Musk to defer his studies, but he predicted that he would never come back.

Each American soldier in Normandy got six and one-quarter pounds of rations a day

Saturday, November 18th, 2023

The initial American landing force for Normandy, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), comprised 130,000 men, with 1.2 million more to follow in ninety days:

With them would go 137,000 wheeled vehicles, 4,200 fully tracked vehicles, and 3,500 cannons. Also assembled were prodigious amounts of supplies. Each American soldier in Normandy got six and one-quarter pounds of rations a day, each German three and one-third. On the other hand, a German rifle company’s small-arms ammunition scale was 56,000 rounds, an American company’s 21,000.


By September 1944, German aircraft fuel production was only 10,000 tons, while the Luftwaffe’s minimum monthly demand was 160,000 tons. These deficiencies reduced the menace of new German jet-engine fighters, now being introduced.

As charge is stored, an electrocaloric material will heat up

Friday, November 17th, 2023

Heat pumps — refrigerators, air conditioners, heaters — consume 30 percent of the world’s electricity, but capacitor-based heat pumps could “pump” more efficiently:

Compressing a gas will heat it up while lowering the pressure cools it down. However, various other materials undergo similar heating and cooling in response to other external influences, including physical stress, magnetic fields, or electric fields. In many cases, these materials remain solid despite experiencing significant changes in temperature, which could potentially simplify the supporting equipment needed for heating and cooling.

In the new work, done by researchers mostly based in Luxembourg, the researchers focused on materials that change temperature in response to electric fields, generically known as electrocalorics. While a variety of configurations have been tested for these materials, researchers have settled on a layered capacitor structure, with the electric field of the material changing as more charge is stored within it. As charge is stored, an electrocaloric material will heat up. When the charge is drained, they’ll draw in heat from the environment.

This has a significant advantage regarding the power needed for the device to operate since the current generated when draining the capacitor can just be used to power something. There’s a little energy lost during the round-trip in and out of storage, but that can potentially be limited to less than one percent.

The thing that uses power is the fact that the capacitors are entirely solid-state—on their own, they’ll just sit in either the source or sink environment. So, you either have to expend energy to physically move the device between the environments or transfer heat from the electrocaloric device to some other material that does the moving. In this case, the researchers simply exchanged heat with the source and sink by pumping a liquid through the electrocaloric material.

For the electrocaloric device, the researchers created a multilayer capacitor using a lead/scandium/tantalum oxide material. This was crafted into a series of parallel plates with gaps in between them, which allowed fluid to flow through the device.

The hardware worked by adding charge to the capacitor, which would heat the fluid in its immediate vicinity. That fluid would then be pumped to exchange heat with one environment, warming it up. While that was happening, the charge was drained from the device, cooling the fresh fluid that had been pumped into place. That cooled fluid was then pumped out to exchange heat with a separate environment, allowing the cycle to be repeated. Over time, this would gradually cool the first environment while heating the second.

And it worked. Heat was effectively transferred between the two environments, and measurements suggested that the device itself was capable of changing temperature by as much as 21° C. That’s a 50 percent improvement over the best electrocaloric device previously demonstrated. The cooling power is the equivalent of 5.6 watts, which works out to be about 116 W/kg of material.

It was also quite stable. The researchers built up a voltage difference of 400 V across the capacitor without any sign of breakdown, and performance remained steady across 100,000 cycles tested for this publication. Based on accelerated aging tests, the researchers estimate that one of these devices would last over 30 years in typical conditions.

The researchers also calculated its Carnot efficiency. This was higher for tests where the total temperature difference was relatively small. Assuming the power stored in the capacitor was put to use, the hardware can reach 64 percent of the maximum theoretical efficiency, which is considerably higher than any previous electrocaloric device.

Their inventors were not scientists

Thursday, November 16th, 2023

Was science really the key to the Industrial Revolution?

Most of the significant inventions of the Industrial Revolution were not undergirded by a deep scientific understanding, and their inventors were not scientists.

The standard chronology ignores many of the important events of the previous 500 years. Widespread trade expanded throughout Europe. Artists began using linear perspective and mathematicians learned to use derivatives. Financiers started joint stock corporations and ships navigated the open seas. Fiscally powerful states were conducting warfare on a global scale.

Most kids get very little out of school

Tuesday, November 14th, 2023

Austin Scholar, a gifted teenager at the unconventional Alpha school in Austin, commented on X (Twitter) that “half of our graduating seniors score the EXACT same on standardized tests as the highest-performing 3rd graders,” suggesting that, “kids are literally wasting nine years of their lives,” accompanied by this table of math test scores for the top half of test-takers from kindergarten through 12th grade:

MAP Spring Mathematics Student Achievement Percentiles with Austin Scholar's Annotations
Many kids are getting very little out of school, but that’s not what this comparison shows. This comparison shows that gifted children can move through the curriculum far, far faster than they’re allowed to.

What shows that most kids get very little out of school is the curve of the median student’s performance, which climbs nicely for the first few grades and then almost levels off, so that a typical 12th-grader knows almost nothing more than a typical 8th-grader.

Since the typical student learns roughly nothing in high school, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to keep them there, going through the motions.

(School does provide childcare and juvenile detention, though.)

These are MAP test results, by the way. When you look at the lower and upper halves, the results are even more revealing:

MAP Spring Mathematics Student Achievement Percentiles 1-49
MAP Spring Mathematics Student Achievement Percentiles 50-99

The top 1st-graders outperform many 12th-graders.

The bottom 13 percent of 12th-graders are obviously not scholars, but one 7th-grader per couple classrooms (98th percentile) has the fundamental skills of a college-bound senior (90th percentile).