It was a race to see who would run out of money last

Sunday, December 31st, 2023

Elon Musk by Walter IsaacsonElon Musk developed viral marketing techniques for, Walter Isaacson explains (in his biography of Elon), including bounties for users who signed up friends, and he had a vision of making both a banking service and a social network:

Like Steve Jobs, he had a passion for simplicity when it came to designing user interface screens. “I honed the user interface to get the fewest number of keystrokes to open an account,” he says. Originally there were long forms to fill out, including providing a social security number and home address. “Why do we need that?” Musk kept asking. “Delete!” One important little breakthrough was that customers didn’t need to have user names; their email address served that purpose.

One driver of growth was a feature that they originally thought was no big deal: the ability to send money by email. That became wildly popular, especially on the auction site eBay, where users were looking for an easy way to pay strangers for purchases.

As Musk monitored the names of new customers signing up, one caught his eye: Peter Thiel. He was one of the founders of a company named Confinity that had been located in the same building as and was now just down the street. Both Thiel and his primary cofounder Max Levchin were as intense as Musk, but they were more disciplined. Like, their company offered a person-to-person payment service. Confinity’s version was called PayPal.


“It was this crazy competition where we both had insane dollar bonuses to get customers to sign up and refer friends,” says Thiel. As Musk later put it, “It was a race to see who would run out of money last.”


Thiel asked him how he envisioned potential merger terms. “We would own ninety percent of the merged company and you would own ten percent,” Musk replied. Levchin was not quite sure what to make of Musk. Was he serious? They had roughly equal user bases. “He had an extremely serious I’m-not-joking look on his face, but underneath there seemed to be an ironic streak,” Levchin says. As Musk later conceded, “We were playing a game.”

After the PayPal team left the lunch, Levchin told Thiel, “This will never hunt, so let’s move on.” Thiel, however, was better at reading people. “This is just an opening,” he told Levchin. “You just have to be patient with a guy like Elon.”

The courtship continued through January 2000, causing Musk to postpone his honeymoon with Justine. Michael Moritz,’s primary investor, arranged a meeting of the two camps in his Sand Hill Road office. Thiel got a ride with Musk in his McLaren.

“So, what can this car do?” Thiel asked.

“Watch this,” Musk replied, pulling into the fast lane and flooring the accelerator.

The rear axle broke and the car spun around, hit an embankment, and flew in the air like a flying saucer. Parts of the body shredded. Thiel, a practicing libertarian, was not wearing a seatbelt, but he emerged unscathed. He was able to hitch a ride up to the Sequoia offices. Musk, also unhurt, stayed behind for a half-hour to have his car towed away, then joined the meeting without telling Harris what had happened. Later, Musk was able to laugh and say, “At least it showed Peter I was unafraid of risks.” Says Thiel, “Yeah, I realized he was a bit crazy.”

Nobody finishes books

Friday, December 29th, 2023

Nobody finishes reading his books, Paul Bloom admits:

How often do people make it to the end of books? The mathematician Jordan Ellenberg did some number crunching, looking at the passages marked by Amazon Kindle readers and estimating what percentage of them finished. This percentage is what he calls the Hawking Index, named after Stephen Hawking’s notoriously unread book A Brief History of Time.

The Hawking Index of Hawking’s Brief History is just 6.6%.

I blame…the system. Authors are expected to write non-fiction books that are about 70,000 to 100,000 words long. Maybe this was a reasonable length in the past, but now there are too many other distractions in the world, too much TV and film and social media, and few of us have the Sitzfleisch anymore for that kind of long book.

Carl Bernstein spent six months looking at the CIA and the Media

Thursday, December 28th, 2023

After leaving The Washington Post in 1977, Carl Bernstein spent six months looking at the CIA and the Media:

The tasks they performed sometimes consisted of little more than serving as “eyes and ears” for the CIA; reporting on what they had seen or overheard in an Eastern European factory, at a diplomatic reception in Bonn, on the perimeter of a military base in Portugal. On other occasions, their assignments were more complex: planting subtly concocted pieces of misinformation; hosting parties or receptions designed to bring together American agents and foreign spies; serving up “black” propaganda to leading foreign journalists at lunch or dinner; providing their hotel rooms or bureau offices as “drops” for highly sensitive information moving to and from foreign agents; conveying instructions and dollars to CIA controlled members of foreign governments.

Often the CIA’s relationship with a journalist might begin informally with a lunch, a drink, a casual exchange of information. An Agency official might then offer a favor—for example, a trip to a country difficult to reach; in return, he would seek nothing more than the opportunity to debrief the reporter afterward. A few more lunches, a few more favors, and only then might there be a mention of a formal arrangement — “That came later,” said a CIA official, “after you had the journalist on a string.”

Another official described a typical example of the way accredited journalists (either paid or unpaid by the CIA) might be used by the Agency: “In return for our giving them information, we’d ask them to do things that fit their roles as journalists but that they wouldn’t have thought of unless we put it in their minds. For instance, a reporter in Vienna would say to our man, ‘I met an interesting second secretary at the Czech Embassy.’ We’d say, ‘Can you get to know him? And after you get to know him, can you assess him? And then, can you put him in touch with us—would you mind us using your apartment?”‘

The pot is correct when it calls the kettle black

Wednesday, December 27th, 2023

Matt Bateman recently quipped that “the pot is correct when it calls the kettle black,” and someone replied that it’s not:

The saying originates from a time when kettles were polished metal, and pots were cast iron. The pot, seeing its own reflection in the shiny tin kettle, calls the kettle black.

Naturally, I had to look this up:

The earliest appearance of the idiom is in Thomas Shelton’s 1620 translation of the Spanish novel Don Quixote. The protagonist is growing increasingly restive under the criticisms of his servant Sancho Panza, one of which is that “You are like what is said that the frying-pan said to the kettle, ‘Avant, black-browes’.”


It is identified as a proverb (refrán) in the text, functioning as a retort to the person who criticises another of the same defect that he plainly has.


An alternative modern interpretation,[8] far removed from the original intention, argues that while the pot is sooty (from being placed on a fire), the kettle is polished and shiny; hence, when the pot accuses the kettle of being black, it is the pot’s own sooty reflection that it sees: the pot accuses the kettle of a fault that only the pot has, rather than one that they share.

Contested Logistics System, 300 Nautical Miles

Tuesday, December 26th, 2023

Silent Arrow has been selected by the USAF’s accelerator, AFWERX, for an SBIR contract focused on its CLS-300 (“Contested Logistics System, 300 Nautical Miles”) long-range attritable cargo drone — which sounds suspiciously like it’s not for cargo:

The CLS-300 is based on the commercially successful Silent Arrow GD-2000, which according to the company, is the world’s first heavy payload, autonomous and attritable cargo delivery aircraft designed to carry 1,500 lbs. of cargo over 35 nautical miles when deployed from cargo aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin C-130, Boeing C-17, and Airbus A400M.

Whereas the GD-2000 is a glider, the new CLS-300 can travel nearly 10 times as far by utilizing an innovative propulsion unit and propeller system that are inexpensive enough to allow the entire cargo drone to be attritable. In addition to being air droppable, it will also be capable of taking off from the ground including from unimproved surfaces, naval vessels and other launch points.

Ukraine’s criminal underworld once played a key role in distribution

Tuesday, December 26th, 2023

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in the overhaul of major narcotics routes:

Before the war, Russia served as a hub for cross-border flows of all types of illicit products, such as money, guns, drugs, and people throughout Europe and beyond. Ukraine’s criminal underworld once played a key role in distribution, Galeotti said during a presentation on his report on Monday.

But since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Galeotti said, Ukrainian gangsters had suddenly “rediscovered their patriotism” and were refusing to cooperate with the Russians. Ukraine’s cold shoulder, coupled with the closing of land routes in countries such as Finland, has forced Russian gangsters to find alternative drug routes.

The report found that in order to get products out of Russia and into other parts of Europe, traffickers were increasingly turning to Belarus as a new crucial transit hub.

Despite border controls set up throughout Europe, heroin, cocaine, and other narcotics were being smuggled out of Russia via Belarus, Galeotti said, while sanctioned items such as microchips and luxury goods were being smuggled in.

Galeotti said the larger criminal networks in Russia had suffered under the new dynamics, but smaller gangs once relegated to the backwaters of the Belarus border were suddenly reaping the rewards.

The war also appears to have impacted the demand for narcotics within Russia itself.

The report found that while some international drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, were still finding their way into the country from countries in Latin America, economic pressure on ordinary Russians’ pocketbooks due to wartime sanctions had changed the game.

Even before the war, cocaine was too expensive for most of Russian society, and the report said the use of heroin was on the decline throughout the country.

The report found that a lack of affordable drugs coupled with unreliable trafficking routes had led to a spike in synthetic drugs throughout Russia.

Galeotti said synthetic opioids were cheaper to manufacture and more accessible for ordinary Russians.

The report found the war had also sped up the use of synthetic amphetamines such as mephedrone — known as “salt” in Russian slang — because of increased consumption in cities such as Donetsk, where many soldiers were either based or taking leave.

A Royal United Service Institute report from May found that some Russian soldiers were being given amphetamines to lower their inhibitions while in combat. Meanwhile, a Russian news outlet in October reported soldiers were getting hard drugs delivered to their trenches to stave off boredom.

It maintained height and stayed in the jet stream for the three-day journey across the Pacific

Monday, December 25th, 2023

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingIn December 1944, David Hambling explains (in Swarm Troopers), US military observers on the West Coast reported a wave of unidentified flying objects:

On investigation, these were found to be paper balloons thirty feet across.


The balloons were filled with hydrogen and had a complex mechanical gondola. At first, they were thought to be weather balloons, but after reports of unexplained explosions, one was captured intact and found to be carrying incendiary bombs. This was the Japanese Fu-Go or “windship weapon.”


It was months before intelligence revealed they had flown all the way from Japan. The Japanese were taking advantage of a newly discovered natural phenomenon, the jet stream, a narrow ribbon of fast-moving air at high altitudes.


A clockwork mechanism controlled the release of a set of small sandbags around the rim of the gondola. Whenever the balloon fell too low, it dropped another sandbag. If it rose too high, which might cause it to burst, a valve vented a small amount of hydrogen. This control system meant it maintained height and stayed in the jet stream for the three-day journey across the Pacific.


The aim was to start forest fires in the heavily wooded regions of the Pacific Northwest. This would spread panic and divert resources from the war effort. The target was big enough that even this rough method of aiming had a chance of success.


US analysts estimated the Fu-Go cost $ 200 each, at a time when a P-51 Mustang was $ 50,000. The little balloons were hard to intercept. There was not enough metal on them to show up on radar, and they were surprisingly fast at high altitude, making them difficult to catch. Only around twenty were shot down.


At least four hundred Fu-Go made it to America, scattered from Mexico to Canada. The number would have been greater but for a problem with antifreeze in the altitude control system. This was too weak and the altitude controls were apt to freeze up, leaving Fu-Go to slowly descend into the waters of the Pacific.

After the war, the US considered balloons:

The E77 balloon bomb was similar to the Fu-Go, but delivered an anti-crop agent in the form of feathers dipped in a bacterial or fungal culture. Like the Fu-Go it was an imprecise way of hitting a large target, but 1954 tests suggested that balloon bombs would be effective.


The US also tested long-distance balloons for photographing enemy territory, but again balloons were edged out by manned aircraft. As always, the US military took more interest in high-performance manned aircraft than small, unmanned alternatives.

Musk prowled the office each day

Sunday, December 24th, 2023

Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson>One of Elon Musk’s management tactics at, Walter Isaacson explains (in his biography of Elon), was to set an insane deadline and drive colleagues to meet it:

He did that in the fall of 1999 by announcing, in what one engineer called “a dick move,” that would launch to the public on Thanksgiving weekend. In the weeks leading up to that, Musk prowled the office each day, including Thanksgiving, in a nervous and nervous-making frenzy, and slept under his desk most nights. One of the engineers who went home at 2 a.m. Thanksgiving morning got a call from Musk at 11 a.m. asking him to come back in because another engineer had worked all night and was “not running on full thrusters anymore.” Such behavior produced drama and resentments, but also success. When the product went live that weekend, all the employees marched to a nearby ATM, where Musk inserted an debit card. Cash whirred out and the team celebrated.

Population centers were once built with defense as a top priority

Friday, December 22nd, 2023

As part of Kyiv’s reconstruction effort, city administrators and government officials should consider modifications to bolster the city’s defenses:

Had the Ukrainian government constructed the dam in a way that would have allowed it to control the flooding, the Ukrainian military could have accomplished the same objective — impede the Russian advance —without destroying the dam and causing as much collateral damage to the surrounding communities. By contrast, when the Ukrainian government flooded the Teterev and Zdvyzh rivers, they controlled the flooding without damaging the dams. When the Ukrainian government rebuilds the Kozarovychi dam, it would be prudent to do so in a way that allows it to flood the Irpin without damaging the dam.

Likewise, many of the bridges that the Ukrainians destroyed will have to be completely rebuilt because the structural integrity of the remaining portions is compromised. However, it is possible to construct bridges in a way that makes it easy to destroy a portion without damaging the columns or piers. Bridges built in such a manner would be cheaper and faster to repair, thus allowing commerce and livelihoods to return to normal more quickly.

City planners should also consider building a system of modern moats, giant cement irrigation ditches that serve two purposes: giant cement irrigation ditches that could also serve as obstacles in times of war. These manmade riverways also serve the valuable purpose of helping to prevent flooding during times of heavy rain, which only seem to be becoming more common with climate change. Some cities already have these, but they are not designed with defense in mind, so vehicles can easily cross them. If, however, they were built with a nearly vertical angle, vehicles would be unable to cross, and these ditches would become “urban moats” or, in military parlance, tank ditches.


An apartment building along a key avenue of approach in the city’s periphery could be built in such a way that it could serve as a strongpoint. Take, for example, Jerusalem, where Israel built dual-purpose apartment buildings that not only were homes but also served as strongpoints at the dividing line with East Jerusalem. The apartment buildings were built with reinforced concrete and had walls around their exteriors with few openings and narrow slit windows with special drainage features to facilitate rifle, machine gun, and sniper firing positions. The reserve forces of the city were assigned buildings and even specific floors to man if conflict erupted.


While officials in Kyiv mapped the available bunkers after the full-scale invasion, many were deemed unusable or unsatisfactory. As a result, many residents were forced to find impromptu underground shelters during Russian air raids. With sufficient planning, however, Kyiv could have developed, and can now develop, infrastructure to shield its civilian population beyond existing subway tunnels. They could produce dedicated air raid shelters, something that Sweden did from 1938 until 2002. It is important to remember that any physical structure — be it an air raid shelter or a concrete riverbed — must be maintained. Reports show that thousands of Sweden’s 65,000 air raid shelters are not serviceable, and the status of tens of thousands more is unknown because they have not been inspected in over a decade.


Population centers were once built with defense as a top priority. Recent history has shown that leaving a city’s defense to its nation’s borders is a dangerous proposition. It is time that Kyiv, and other cities in nations that border expansionist neighbors, once again make the defense part of city planning.

The cuprates got really weird when they stopped superconducting and started resisting

Thursday, December 21st, 2023

Liyang Chen and his collaborators at Rice University measured the current flowing through an atoms-thin strand of “strange” metal and found that it flowed smoothly and evenly:

Familiar metals like tin and mercury become superconductors only when chilled to within a few degrees of absolute zero. Bednorz and Müller measured the electrical resistance in a copper-based (“cuprate”) material and saw that it vanished at a relatively balmy 35 kelvins. (For their breakthrough discovery, Bednorz and Müller pocketed a Nobel Prize just a year later.)


The cuprates got really weird when they stopped superconducting and started resisting. As all metals warm, resistance increases. Warmer temperatures mean atoms and electrons jiggle more, creating more resistance-inducing collisions as electrons shuttle current through a material. In normal metals, such as nickel, resistance rises quadratically at low temperatures — slowly at first and then faster and faster. But in the cuprates, it rose linearly: Each degree of warming brought the same increase in resistance — a bizarre pattern that continued over hundreds of degrees and, in terms of strangeness, overshadowed the material’s superconducting ability. The cuprates were the strangest metals researchers had ever seen.


The current in the gold wire crackled in the familiar way that currents made of charged quasiparticles do — like fat raindrops splattering on the car roof. But in the strange metal, current slipped quietly through the nanowire, an effect akin to the nearly silent hiss of mist. The most straightforward interpretation of the experiment is that charge in this strange metal does not flow in electron-size chunks.

The remains were put on display, but there was no media interest

Monday, December 18th, 2023

Swarm Troopers by David HamblingIf the Pentagon hates drones, David Hambling notes (in Swarm Troopers), the CIA seems to love them:

Drones have a unique capability to carry out deniable operations, which are important to the CIA. The Agency learned the hard way just how disastrous it can be when a spy plane mission goes wrong.


Four years after the U-2 incident, the Chinese shot down a number of Fire Fly drones in their airspace. The remains were put on display and, like the Russians before them, the Chinese denounced American imperialist aggression. But there was no media interest. The Chinese might well claim that the peculiar wreckage was from American unmanned spy planes, but where was the proof? There was none of the international outcry that had accompanied the Gary Powers incident and no embarrassment for the politicians or the CIA. Equally, there was no risk that the pilot would be interrogated and give away information. (The main long-term consequence was that the Chinese reverse-engineered the drones. They ended up with a clone called WuZhen, which kick-started their own unmanned aircraft effort).

When drones did eventually find a place in the US military, thanks to the success of the Predator, it was only with considerable assistance from the CIA.

It would be a one-stop everything-store for all financial needs

Sunday, December 17th, 2023

Elon Musk by Walter IsaacsonElon Musk’s experience at Scotiabank had convinced him that the industry was ripe for disruption, Walter Isaacson explains (in his biography of Elon), so in March 1999, he founded with a friend from the bank, Harris Fricker:

The balance he struck was to invest $12 million in, leaving about $4 million after taxes to spend on himself.

His concept for was grand. It would be a one-stop everything-store for all financial needs: banking, digital purchases, checking, credit cards, investments, and loans. Transactions would be handled instantly, with no waiting for payments to clear. His insight was that money is simply an entry into a database, and he wanted to devise a way that all transactions were securely recorded in real time. “If you fix all the reasons why a consumer would take money out of the system,” he says, “then it will be the place where all the money is, and that would make it a multitrillion-dollar company.”


“X” would become his go-to letter for naming things, from companies to kids.

Three men more than any others determined the outcome of the American Civil War

Saturday, December 16th, 2023

After I finished Bevin Alexander’s How Hitler Could Have Won World War II, I naturally moved on to How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat:

Given that the Confederacy had a third of the population and an eleventh of the industry of the North, the South’s defeat was, according to this view, unavoidable.

But that view is wrong. This book contends that the South most definitely could have won the war, and shows in a number of cases how a Confederate victory could have come about.

Beyond the actual opportunities presented to the Confederacy, we should remember a broader fact — there is nothing inevitable about military victory, even for a state with apparently overwhelming strength. The Greeks beat the Persians at Marathon, Alexander destroyed the Persian Empire, the Americans defeated the British in the Revolution, Napoléon Bonaparte hobbled huge alliances in his early wars. In all of these cases the victor was puny and weak by comparison with his opponent.


Three men more than any others determined the outcome of the American Civil War — the Confederacy’s president, Jefferson Davis, and two generals, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Jackson figured out almost from the outset how to win the war, but neither Davis nor Lee was willing to follow his recommendations.


Davis was opposed to offensive action against the North. He wanted to remain on the defensive in the belief that the major European powers would intervene on the Confederacy’s side to guarantee cotton for their mills, or that the North would tire of the war and give up.


Lee, on the other hand, was focused on conducting an offensive war against the armies of the North. He did not see the war as a collision between the Northern people and the Southern people. He saw it as a struggle between the governments and the official armies of the two regions.


Recognizing the need to adapt to the new kind of war in which they were immersed, Jackson developed a polar opposite approach. He proposed moving against the Northern people’s industries and other means of livelihood. He wanted to avoid Northern strength, its field armies, and strike at Northern weakness, its undefended factories, farms, and railroads. His strategy, in short, was to bypass the Union armies and to win indirectly by assaulting the Northern people’s will to pursue the war. He proposed making “unrelenting war” amid the homes of the Northern people in the conviction that this would force them “to understand what it will cost them to hold the South in the Union at the bayonet’s point.”


Significantly, William Tecumseh Sherman won the war for the North by employing precisely the strategy that Stonewall Jackson had tried but failed to get the South to follow: he conducted “unrelenting war” on the people and the property of Georgia in his march from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and from Atlanta to the sea, in 1864. This campaign broke the back of Southern resistance.


But wars are not won by heavy losses heroically sustained. Wars are won by ingenious plans correctly implemented.


Three decades before the Civil War, the great Prussian strategist Karl von Clausewitz (1780–1831) argued that in a country involved in an insurrection or torn by internal dissension, the capital, the chief leader, and public opinion constitute the Schwerpunkt, or center of gravity, where collapse has the greatest chance of occurring.

Following this theory, the Confederacy’s most glittering opportunity lay not in defeating the Northern field army in Virginia but in isolating or capturing Washington, evicting Lincoln and his government, and damaging Northern industry and railroads in order to turn public opinion against the war.

British Colonel G. F. R. Henderson, the famed biographer of Jackson, made this point graphically in 1898: “A nation endures with comparative equanimity defeat beyond its own borders. Pride and prestige may suffer, but a high-spirited people will seldom be brought to the point of making terms unless its army is annihilated in the heart of its own country, unless the capital is occupied and the hideous sufferings of war are brought directly home to the mass of the population. A single victory on Northern soil, within easy reach of Washington, was far more likely to bring about the independence of the South than even a succession of victories in Virginia.”


Lee, who was named commander of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862, after Johnston was wounded, sought from first to last to fight an offensive war—that is, a war of battles and marches against the armies of the North. After Davis’s rejection of invasion, Jackson turned to a new approach to warfare. Lee resisted this approach, which called for luring the Union army to attack against a strong Confederate defensive position, repelling that attack and thereby weakening enemy strength, morale, and resolve, and then going on the offensive by swinging around the flank or rear to destroy the Union army. Lee expressed his fundamental attitude about battle most cogently to his corps commander Longstreet on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, on July 1, 1863. When Longstreet implored Lee not to assault the Union army forming up in great strength on Cemetery Ridge directly in front of him, Lee replied, “No, the enemy is there, and I am going to attack him there.”


Stonewall Jackson urged Lee to move the Confederate army north of Washington, where it would threaten Baltimore, Philadelphia, and the capital’s food supply and communications. If the Confederate army held such a dangerous position, Jackson said, the enemy would have no other option except to assault it. Lee rejected Jackson’s advice once again, deciding to move west into the Cumberland Valley, far away from the center of Northern power. There he expected to fall on the Union army, not wait for it to fall on his army.


Although Jackson’s death handed the South a devastating blow, the Confederacy could still have won if Lee had accepted Jackson’s defend-then-attack plan when he invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania a month later. James Longstreet believed he had extracted a promise from Lee to do just that. But at the very first challenge Lee faced in Pennsylvania, he reverted to direct confrontation. This led to head-on attacks on all three days of Gettysburg, July 1–3, 1863, ending with General George Pickett’s disastrous charge on the third day, which wiped out the last offensive power of the Confederacy.


My purpose is to show that, despite the odds, wars are won by human beings. When superior military leaders come along and political leaders pay attention to them, they can overcome great power and great strength. That is a lesson we need to remember today.

This will be the first time that the U.S. military has launched a nuclear reactor into space since 1965

Friday, December 15th, 2023

Lockheed Martin has been designing a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) engine for cislunar operations for DARPA’s DRACO program:

But fission can do much more than simple propulsion, and that’s why the U.S. military is forking over $33.7 million for Lockheed Martin—along with Space Nuclear Power Corp (SpaceNukes) and BWX Technologies, Inc. (BWXT)—to start designing a nuclear spacecraft as part of the Joint Emergent Technology Supplying On-Orbit Nuclear (JETSON) project.

This technology demonstrator will use nuclear fission to power Stirling engines that produce between 6 kWe and 20 kWe of electricity—Lockheed Martin claims that this provides four times the power of conventional solar arrays without the need for constant sunlight. This technique comes directly from lessons learned with NASA’s Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment, which investigated how to provide electricity via nuclear power for future outposts on the Moon and, eventually, Mars.


The fission engine is inert at launch and won’t turn on until the JETSON spacecraft is in a safe, non-decaying Earth orbit. Once the fission reactor creates this energy, the electricity will power Hall-effect thrusters (a kind of ion thruster that is electrified to create acceleration) that are already used on the company’s LM2100 satellites.


This will be the first time that the U.S. military has launched a nuclear reactor into space since 1965, when the U.S. launched the SNAP-10A experimental nuclear-powered satellite (which was also the first ion thruster ever in space).

It’s about time we got some real-life atomic rockets.

Modern dogs have a bigger neocortex

Wednesday, December 13th, 2023

Because domestication was relatively recent, modern dog breeds live alongside ancient breeds, making comparison possible:

“About 80 percent of the dogs living on the planet today are what’s known as village dogs. These are free-ranging animals that live as human commensals. So they’re living within human society, but they’re not pets,” Hecht said.

Some initial findings from the lab include the discovery of neurological differences in dog breeds, including that premodern dogs on a whole have larger amygdala — the part of the brain that controls emotional processing and memory. Such heightened environmental-monitoring skills would come in handy for dogs deciding which humans to steal scraps from and which to avoid.

Modern dogs have a bigger neocortex — the part of the brain that controls motor function, perception, and reasoning. It may play a part in modern dogs’ increased behavioral flexibility, or ability to adapt to new environments.

Hecht’s lab connects personality and skill differences in dogs to six different parts of the brain: the regions controlling drive and reward; olfaction and taste; spatial navigation; social communication and coordination; fight or flight; and olfaction and vision


More than breed itself, pathways are impacted by a dog’s head shape and size. For example, Hecht’s lab has found that bigger dogs have larger neocortices than their smaller counterparts, and therefore generally are more trainable and less anxious. Dogs bred for their narrow skulls may see that impact their behavior.

“It stands to reason that if you’re manipulating the shape of a skull, you’re going to be manipulating the shape of the brain,” Hecht said.