We need to adjust to the technology that puts our intimate world and our remote world on the same screen

Tuesday, October 19th, 2021

Before the Internet and smart phones, there was a clear difference between what Arnold Kling calls the intimate world and the remote world:

The intimate world included the people with whom you interacted regularly — family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, the bowling team. The remote world was the world of celebrities, sports stars, politicians, criminals (am I repeating myself?). You followed them on television and in magazines.

On our smart phone, these two realms are indistinguishable. Your friends show up like celebrities, as they show off on social media. Swipe or scroll down, and now someone in the remote world is sharing a tweet with you.

Somehow, we need to adjust to the technology that puts our intimate world and our remote world on the same screen. Either we have to develop the instinct to keep these worlds separate from one another or else we have to adopt a set of cultural norms that allows us to live comfortably in a world in which the intimate world and the remote world are blended.

Aviation mines use an acoustic-infrared sensor to identify the noise of an aircraft up to 3.2 km away and then launch a projectile when it’s within 150 meters

Friday, October 15th, 2021

Russia designed aviation mines in the late 1990s:

“Aviation mines reportedly function by using an acoustic-infrared sensor to first identify the noise of an aircraft at up to 3.2 kilometers and then launch a projectile at the identified aircraft when it is within 150 meters,” according to the U.S. Army’s OE Watch magazine, which monitors foreign military developments. “Although currently fielded Russian aviation mines can only hit low flying targets at a very short distance, their employment could greatly complicate Russia’s adversaries’ efforts to protect airfields, drop zones, and any other place where aircraft may fly low.”

The mines can be emplaced by ground troops or even air-dropped from helicopters using “a special ‘aviation’ version of the Bumerang anti-helicopter mine, with six (instead of four in the ‘ground’ version) stabilizing slings, which ensures the accuracy of the installation of anti-helicopter mines in the vertical plane,” according to an April 2021 article in Russian defense magazine Military Industrial Courier (Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer, or VPK). “These mines take stable vertical positions while still in flight, and the NVU [mine] is activated when coming into contact with the ground surface.”

The mines can be laid quickly, including a three-kilometer (1.9 mile)-long minefield emplaced in one hour by Russian sappers during an exercise in March 2018, VPK said. And they can remain functional for at least three months after placement. “The key factors influencing the duration of combat operation are primarily the temperature of the surrounding air and the number of the mine target guidance system activations,” said VPK. “Nevertheless, the minimum guaranteed time for its power source autonomous operation is 90 days.”

More than anyone else, John von Neumann created the future

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021

More than anyone else, John von Neumann created the future:

He came up with a blueprint of the modern computer and sparked the beginnings of artificial intelligence. He worked on the atom bomb and led the team that produced the first computerised weather forecast. In the mid-1950s, he proposed the idea that the Earth was warming as a consequence of humans burning coal and oil, and warned that ‘extensive human intervention’ could wreak havoc with the world’s climate. Colleagues who knew both von Neumann and his colleague Albert Einstein said that von Neumann had by far the sharper mind, and yet it’s astonishing, and sad, how few people have heard of him.

Just like Einstein, von Neumann was a child prodigy. Einstein taught himself algebra at 12, but when he was just six von Neumann could multiply two eight-digit numbers in his head and converse in Ancient Greek. He devoured a 45-volume history of the world and was able to recite whole chapters verbatim decades later. ‘What are you calculating?’ he once asked his mother when he noticed her staring blankly into space. By eight he was familiar with calculus, and his oldest friend, Eugene Wigner, recalls the 11-year-old Johnny tutoring him on the finer points of set theory during Sunday walks. Wigner, who later won a share of the Nobel prize in physics, maintained that von Neumann taught him more about maths than anyone else.

Johnny’s plans (and by extension, the modern world) were nearly derailed by his father, Max, a doctor of law turned investment banker. ‘Mathematics,’ he maintained, ‘does not make money.’ The chemical industry was in its heyday so a compromise was reached that would mark the beginning of von Neumann’s peripatetic lifestyle: the boy would bone up on chemistry at the University of Berlin and meanwhile would also pursue a doctorate in mathematics at the University of Budapest.

The lithium-metal battery with this architecture had an energy density of 560 Wh/kg

Monday, October 4th, 2021

One of the more promising possibilities for improving lithium-ion batteries involves swapping out the graphite used in one of the battery’s electrodes for pure lithium metal, a material that can hold as much as 10 times the energy:

The researchers started off with what’s described as a cobalt-poor, nickel-rich layered cathode (NCM88) and a commercially available organic electrolyte called LP30. While the cathode reached high energy density, instability soon took hold and storage capacity decreased as the battery was cycled.

“In the electrolyte LP30, particles crack on the cathode,” explains Professor Stefano Passerini, Director of HIU. “Inside these cracks, the electrolyte reacts and damages the structure. In addition, a thick mossy lithium-containing layer forms on the anode.”

So the team swapped out the LP30 electrolyte for an alternative, and one that brought about profound gains in performance. Described as a non-volatile, poorly-flammable, dual-anion ionic liquid electrolyte (ILE), this ingredient proved to largely avoid the structural defects on the cathode and saved the battery from the fatal electrochemical reactions.

[…]

The lithium-metal battery with this architecture had an energy density of 560 Wh/kg. For context, there are research consortiums dedicated to breaking through the 500-Wh/kg density threshold in order to power next-generation electric vehicles, while today’s best-in-class lithium-ion batteries have energy densities of 250 to 300 Wh/kg.

A sea blockade can be implemented using satellite imaging and missiles

Monday, July 19th, 2021

ICEYE‘s network of synthetic aperture radar satellites promises information about every square meter on earth, updated every single hour, which leads Steve Hsu to mock aircraft carriers:

Duh… Let’s spend ~$10B each for new aircraft carriers that can be easily monitored from space and attacked using hypersonic missiles.

He has pointed out before that aircraft carriers will have to operate 1,000 miles offshore in a peer-to-peer conflict — because that’s the range of China’s PRC DF21 anti-ship ballistic missile — and that will require a new class of (perhaps unmanned) aircraft with greater range.

Chinese Missile Ranges

In this era a sea blockade can be implemented using satellite imaging and missiles or drones:

Japan imports ~60% of its food calories and essentially all of its oil. The situation is similar for S. Korea and Taiwan. It is important to note that blocking sea transport to Taiwan and Japan does not require PLAN blue water dominance. ASBM and cruise missiles which threaten aircraft carriers can also hold oil tankers and global shipping at risk from launch sites which are on or near the Asian mainland. Missile + drone + AI/ML technology completely alters the nature of sea blockade, but most strategic planners do not yet realize this.

The concept reduces drag by an enormous 69 percent

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

British company White Motorcycle Concepts (WMC) says its WMC250EV should be capable of more than 250 mph (402 km/h) thanks to a massive 69 percent reduction in drag — from being designed around a giant hole:

Going super fast ends up being much more about aerodynamics than horsepower; the air becomes a ferocious adversary as you move past two or three times highway speed. Motorcycles are aerodynamically ugly without big, streamlined fairings, chiefly because of the big, funny-shaped human on the back.

[…]

WMC has tested this bike, Rob included, at the Horiba MIRA facility near Hinckley, and says the concept reduces drag by an enormous 69 percent compared against “the world leading motorcycle,” with a drag coefficient of just 0.118. That’s absolutely nuts. Even the mighty SSC Tuatara, currently the world’s fastest production car at 282.9 mph (455.3 km/h), can only manage a drag coefficient of 0.279.

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In order to run that big hole through the middle, WMC has had to jam all the guts of the bike into the space under the tunnel. That’s not just the electric drivetrain and battery packs, either; the tunnel cuts right through where your steering head and forks would normally be.

So the design uses a double-swingarm suspension system. The rear wheel is chain-driven by a pair of 30 kW electric motors integrated into the swingarm, according to Top Gear.

The front wheel is hub-steered using a hydraulic system that completely replaces the mechanical linkages you’ll normally find between the handlebars and front axle on a hub-steered bike.

They both fly low and move fast

Friday, July 9th, 2021

Sea-skimming anti-ship missiles — such as the Exocet of Falklands War fame — have worried navies since the 1970s:

What’s changed is the speed of anti-ship missiles. Older weapons such as the Soviet Styx and America’s Harpoon were subsonic, which meant they were slow enough to be jammed or shot down by shipboard anti-missile systems such as the U.S. Navy’s Phalanx multi-barreled cannon. Newer weapons, such as Russia’s P-270 Moskit and Kh-31, could achieve supersonic speeds of Mach 3 or 4 that taxed anti-missile defenses.

But a new generation of Russian and Chinese hypersonic anti-ship missiles — like Russia’s Zircon, with an estimated speed of Mach 6 to 9 – are a different matter. They both fly low and move fast.

[…]

“As opposed to ballistic missile trajectories where Navy guided missile destroyers and cruisers have on the order of several minutes to detect, track, lock onto, and then launch interceptors against a hypersonic reentry vehicle, low flying missiles provide as little as 10 seconds of flight time above the ship’s radar horizon before missile impact,” the Navy explains.

[…]

Drones are a prime candidate for hosting an airborne missile detection radar. “The most obvious candidate aircraft to host the radar system would be on high altitude long-endurance (HALE) and medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft,” according to the Navy.

But even with better radar detection, the physics of hypersonic weapons will still vex the defenders. The high speeds of hypersonic missiles flying through the atmosphere generate plasma clouds that absorb radar waves. “Even when a threat vector is identified so as to constrain the radar surveillance volume, the detection and tracking timeline for single or multiple inbound missiles whose radar return may be buried within a plasma envelope is extremely challenging,” the Navy notes.

Some information sticks around when it shouldn’t, while other information vanishes when it should remain

Tuesday, July 6th, 2021

The Internet is rotting, Jonathan Zittrain notes:

The first study, with Kendra Albert and Larry Lessig, focused on documents meant to endure indefinitely: links within scholarly papers, as found in the Harvard Law Review, and judicial opinions of the Supreme Court. We found that 50 percent of the links embedded in Court opinions since 1996, when the first hyperlink was used, no longer worked. And 75 percent of the links in the Harvard Law Review no longer worked.

People tend to overlook the decay of the modern web, when in fact these numbers are extraordinary — they represent a comprehensive breakdown in the chain of custody for facts. Libraries exist, and they still have books in them, but they aren’t stewarding a huge percentage of the information that people are linking to, including within formal, legal documents. No one is. The flexibility of the web — the very feature that makes it work, that had it eclipse CompuServe and other centrally organized networks — diffuses responsibility for this core societal function.

The problem isn’t just for academic articles and judicial opinions. With John Bowers and Clare Stanton, and the kind cooperation of The New York Times, I was able to analyze approximately 2 million externally facing links found in articles at nytimes.com since its inception in 1996. We found that 25 percent of deep links have rotted. (Deep links are links to specific content — think theatlantic.com/article, as opposed to just theatlantic.com.) The older the article, the less likely it is that the links work. If you go back to 1998, 72 percent of the links are dead. Overall, more than half of all articles in The New York Times that contain deep links have at least one rotted link.

[…]

Of course, there’s a keenly related problem of permanency for much of what’s online. People communicate in ways that feel ephemeral and let their guard down commensurately, only to find that a Facebook comment can stick around forever. The upshot is the worst of both worlds: Some information sticks around when it shouldn’t, while other information vanishes when it should remain.

The almost utter uselessness of the present kind of torpedo boat has been conclusively demonstrated in the recent war

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

When I read Tesla: Man Out of Time years ago, back before Elon Musk’s electric car company made the mad scientist famous with a modern audience, I was struck by Tesla’s 1898 proposal to use radio-controlled torpedoes — referred to as submarine destroyers in this Sunday Journal piece — to sink enemy fleets:

“I am now prepared to announce through the Journal my invention of a submarine torpedo boat that I am confident will be the greatest weapon of the navy from this time on.

“The almost utter uselessness of the present kind of torpedo boat has been conclusively demonstrated in the recent war. Neither the courage and skill of the Americans nor the desperate extremities of the Spaniards were able to bring the torpedo boats into successful action. These frail craft, of which so much was expected, simply made an easy target for land batteries and rapid-fire guns of opposing war ships.

“The submarine boats, on the other hand, which have up to this time been built to carry torpedoes have proved death traps for men and were consequently ineffective. The submarine boat, or, more properly speaking, the submarine destroyer, which I have invented is as compact as the torpedo itself. In fact, it is simply an enlarged torpedo shell, thirty-six and a half feet long, loaded with other torpedoes to discharge. Like a torpedo, also, it has its own propelling device. But here the likeness stops. The ordinary torpedo, once launched, plunges head on blindly and no known power can turn it one way or another. It hits or misses, according to the trueness with which it is aimed at its launching.

“But my submarine boat, loaded with its torpedoes, can start out from a protected bay or be dropped over a ship’s side, make its devious way below the surface, through dangerous channels of mine beds, into protected harbors and attack a fleet at anchor, or go out to sea and circle about, watching for its prey, then dart upon it at a favorable moment, rush up to within a hundred feet if need be, discharge its deadly weapon and return to the hand that sent it. Yet through all these wonderful evolutions it will be under the absolute and instant control of a distant human hand on a far-off headland, or on a war ship whose hull is below the.horizon and invisible to the enemy.

“I am aware that this sounds almost incredible and I have refrained from making this invention public till I had worked out every practical detail of it. In my laboratory I now have such a model, and my plans and description at the Patent Office at Washington show the full specifications of it.

“As to the mechanism which is to be stored in this submarine shell: The first and most essential thing is a motor, with storage battery to drive the propeller. Then there are smaller motors and batteries to operate the steering gear, on the same principle that an ordinary vessel is now steered by steam or electricity. Besides these there are still other storage batteries and motors to feed electric signal lights. But in order that the weight of the machinery shall not be too great to destroy the buoyancy or make the boat go too deep in the water compressed air motors will also be used to perform certain functions, such as to fill and empty the water tanks which raise the boat to the surface or sink it to any required depth. Pneumatic air or motors will also fire the torpedoes and pump out the water that may leak in at any time.

“This submarine destroyer will be equipped with six 14-foot Whitehead torpedoes. These will be arranged vertically in two rows in the bow. As one torpedo falls into position and is discharged by pneumatic force, another torpedo, by the force of gravity, falls into the position of the first one, the others above being held up by automatic arms. They can be fired as rapidly as a self-cocking revolver is emptied or at intervals of minutes or hours. The discharge takes place through a single tube, projecting straight ahead in the bow. The small amount of water which leaks through each time is caught by drain pipes and a compressed air pump instantly expels it. As each torpedo is expelled a buoyancy regulator will open the sea cocks and let enough water in the ballast tanks to make the buoyancy uniform and keep the boat at the same distance beneath the surface.

“This submarine destroyer will carry a charge of torpedoes greater than that of the largest destroyers now in use. Those vessels of five hundred tons each which cost the Government $500,000, carry but three or four torpedoes, while this simple submarine destroyer, which can be built for $448,000 to $50,000 or less, will carry six torpedoes. It will have, also, the incalculable advantage of being absolutely invisible to an enemy, and have no human lives to risk or steam boilers to blow up and destroy itself.

“All that is necessary to make this submarine boat subject to perfect control at any distance is to properly wire it, just like a modern house is wired so that a button here rings a bell, a lever there turns on the lights, a hidden wire somewhere else sets off a burglar alarm and a thermal device give a fire alarm.

“The only difference in the case of the submarine boat is in the delicacy of the instruments employed. To the propelling device, the steering gear, the signal apparatus and the mechanism for firing the torpedoes are attached little instruments which are attuned to a certain electro-magnetic synchronism.

“Then there is a similar set of synchronistic instruments all connected to the little switchboard, and placed either on shore or on an ordinary war ship. By moving the lever on the switchboard I can give the proper impulse to the submarine boat to go ahead, to reverse, throw the helm to port or starboard, rise, sink, discharge her torpedoes or return.

“It might be thought that some great power would be necessary to be projected across miles of distance and operate on the far-off boat. The power is all stored in the submarine boat itself — in its storage batteries and compressed air. All that is needed to affect the synchronistic instruments is a set of high alternating currents, which can be produced by my oscillator attached to any ordinary dynamo situated on shore or on a war ship.

“How such an apparently complicated mechanism can be operated and controlled at a distance of miles is no mystery. It is as simple as the messenger call to be found in almost any office. This is a little metal box with a lever on the outside. By moving the crank to a certain point it gives vibrating sounds and springs back, into position, and its momentary buzzing calls a messenger. But move this same crank a third further around the dial and it buzzes still longer, and pretty soon a policeman appears, summoned by its mysterious call. Again, move the crank this time to the farthest limit of the circle and scarcely has its more prolonged hum of recoil sounded when the city fire apparatus dashes up to your place at its call.

“Now, my device for controlling the motion of a distant submarine boat is exactly similar. Only I need no connecting wires between my switchboard and the distant submarine boat, for I make use of the now well-known principle of wireless telegraphy. As I move this little lever to points which I have marked on a circular dial I cause a different number of vibrations each time. In this case two waves go forth at each half turn of the lever and affect different parts of the distant destroyer’s machinery.

“How such submarine destroyers should actually be used in war I leave for naval tacticians to determine. But it seems to me that they could best be operated by taking a number on board a large fast auxiliary cruiser like the St. Louis or St. Paul, launch them, several at a time, like life boats, and direct their movements from a switch board placed in the forward fighting top.

“In order that the director of the submarine destroyer may know its exact position at every movement, two masts, at bow and stern, will project up just above the water, too minute to be seen or hit by an enemy’s guns by day, and by night they will carry hooded lights.

“The lookout placed in the fighting top could detect a hostile ship off on the horizon while the auxiliary cruiser’s big hull is still invisible to the enemy. Starting these little destroyers out under direction of a man with a telescope, they could attack and destroy a whole armada — destroy it utterly — in an hour, and the enemy never have a sight of their antagonists or know what power destroyed them. A big auxiliary cruiser, used to carry these submarine destroyers, could also carry a cargo of torpedoes sufficient to conduct a long campaign and go half way around the world.

“She could carry the gun cotton and other explosives needed to load the torpedoes in safe magazines below the water line, and do away with much of the danger of transporting loaded torpedoes. When necessary for use the war heads could be loaded, fitted to the torpedoes, and the submarine destroyers fully equipped.

“A high, projecting headland overlooking a harbor and the sea would also be a good point on which to establish a station and have the destroyers laid up at docks below ready to start.

“That is the whole story of my latest invention. It is simple enough, you say. Of course it is, because I have worked all my life to make each one of the details so simple that it will work as easily as the electric ticker in a stock broker’s office.”

A second laser pulse generates a supersonic shockwave within the plasma

Monday, June 28th, 2021

I was listening to the audiobook version of Daniel Suarez’s Influx, when the high-tech antagonists used dynamic pulse detonation (DPD) to take out attacking missiles, so I read up on the idea:

A short but intense laser pulse creates a ball of plasma, and a second laser pulse generates a supersonic shockwave within the plasma to generate a bright flash and a loud bang.

The Plasma Acoustic Shield System will eventually combine a dynamic pulse detonation laser with a high power speaker for hailing or warning, and a dazzler light source. PASS has already been demonstrated by the system’s makers, Stellar Photonics.

“It uses a programmed pattern of rapid plasma events to create a sort of wall of bright lights and reports (bangs) over the coverage area,” says Keith Braun of the US Army’s Advanced Energy Armaments Systems Division at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, US, where the system is being tested.

Overseas is not an issue for this technique

Wednesday, June 16th, 2021

The Wall Street Journal explains how the FBI got Colonial Pipeline’s ransom money back:

Colonial Pipeline provided investigators with the bitcoin address where it paid hackers on May 8, launching them on the trail, according to court records filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The hackers moved the funds through at least six more addresses by the following day, the records show.

On May 13, DarkSide told affiliates that its servers and other infrastructure had been seized, but didn’t specify where or how. On May 27, court records show, a sum including 63.7 bitcoins traced to the Colonial ransom landed at a final address, where the FBI this week seized that portion of the funds.

The FBI said in its request for a warrant Monday that its investigators had in their possession the private key for that address. Officials didn’t elaborate on how it obtained the information, and a spokesman didn’t offer further comment.

The sum recovered by the FBI likely represents a cut of the ransom shared with DarkSide’s affiliates, said Pamela Clegg, director of financial investigations and education at blockchain analytics firm CipherTrace. On May 13, the same day DarkSide claimed its servers had been seized, the remaining funds from Colonial that haven’t been recovered by the FBI were consolidated with other crypto tied to ransom payments in a wallet that now holds about 108 bitcoins, she added.

“Everyone has their eyes on it to see if those funds are transferred,” Ms. Clegg said of the wallet.

FBI officials say the techniques they used to recover some of Colonial’s funds can be used in future cases, including when hackers attempt to transfer cryptocurrency through unfriendly overseas jurisdictions.

“Overseas is not an issue for this technique,” said Mr. Chan of the FBI’s San Francisco field office.

The seeds of the sting were sown when law enforcement agencies took down a company called Phantom Secure

Wednesday, June 9th, 2021

The recent global sting is impressive:

More than 800 suspects were arrested and more than 32 tons of drugs seized, including cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and methamphetamines. Police also seized 250 guns, 55 luxury cars and more than $148 million in cash and cryptocurrencies. An indictment unsealed Tuesday in San Diego named 17 foreign distributors charged with racketeering conspiracy.

The seeds of the sting were sown when law enforcement agencies took down a company called Phantom Secure that provided customized end-to-end encrypted devices to criminals, according to court papers.

Unlike typical cellphones, the devices do not make phone calls or browse the internet — but allow for secure messaging. As an outgrowth of the operation, the FBI recruited a collaborator who was developing a next-generation secure-messaging platform for the criminal underworld called ANOM. The collaborator engineered the system to give the agency access to any messages being sent.

ANOM didn’t take off immediately. But then other secure platforms used by criminals to organize drug-trafficking hits and money laundering were taken down by police, chiefly EncroChat and Sky ECC. That put gangs in the market for a new app, and the FBI’s platform was ready. Over the past 18 months, the agency provided phones via unsuspecting middlemen to gangs in more than 100 countries.

The flow of intelligence “enabled us to prevent murders. It led to the seizure of drugs that led to the seizure of weapons. And it helped prevent a number of crimes,” Calvin Shivers, assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, told a news conference in The Hague, Netherlands.

The standard-bearer of the latest armed-drone revolution emerged last year on the battlefields around Turkey

Monday, June 7th, 2021

On the first day of the Nagorno-Karabakh War, Azerbaijani drone strikes focused heavily on Armenian short-range air-defense vehicles, and now, the Wall Street Journal reports, armed low-cost drones made by Turkey are reshaping geopolitics:

The standard-bearer of the latest armed-drone revolution emerged last year on the battlefields around Turkey, the Bayraktar TB2.

Compared with the American MQ-9, the TB2 is lightly armed, with four laser-guided missiles. Its radio-controlled apparatus limits its basic range to around 200 miles, roughly a fifth of the ground the MQ-9 can cover.

Yet it is utilitarian, and reliable — qualities reminiscent of the Soviet Kalashnikov AK-47 rifle that changed warfare in the 20th century. A set of six Bayraktar TB2 drones, ground units, and other essential operations equipment costs tens of millions of dollars, rather than hundreds of millions for the MQ-9.

The drone’s Turkish producer, Baykar, which started in 1984 making auto parts, boasts of more bang for the buck. Qatar and Ukraine are customers. Poland, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member, said last month it would buy 24 TB2 drones. Several other NATO allies are interested, as well as countries in Africa and Asia, Turkish government and company officials said.

The TB2 drone gained international notice in the skies over Syria in early 2020.

[...]

Last spring, the TB2s helped turn the tide in the Libyan civil war for the Tripoli-based government, which is backed by the United Nations.

Turkey had sent arms in 2019 to stem an assault on the capital by militia leader Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by Russia and others. In 2020, Turkey increased military support. Improved drone tactics honed in Syria provided the upper hand against Russian-made surface-to-air missile systems known as Pantsir, handing the Tripoli government aerial supremacy. By June, Mr. Haftar’s forces retreated from Tripoli.

I was amused to see “honed in” used correctly there.

Ukraine signed a deal in January 2019 to buy TB2 drones from Turkey, receiving at least six so far, and Kyiv is in talks for joint production. A Ukrainian company is manufacturing engines for the latest Baykar drone, a larger model with a heavier payload than the TB2.

The country hopes the drones will discourage a repeat of the Kremlin’s 2014 invasions.

The TB2 was born of Turkey’s dissatisfaction with available models from the U.S. and Israel and its desire for systems under its control to fight the PKK:

Baykar emerged as a leader among several Turkish drone producers after spotting a niche in the early 2000s, said Mr. Bayraktar, the company’s chief executive. His brother Selcuk Bayraktar, who took advanced studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, came up with flight-control software and guidance systems while using off-the-shelf components.

During development, company officials set up a workshop at a military base to get a firsthand understanding, including from a colonel who took them to a patch of bloodied ground where, they said, Turkish soldiers were killed by the PKK.

In 2007, Turkey launched a national competition to supply mini drones, which yielded an order of 76 from Baykar. At the time, the U.S. wouldn’t sell armed drones to Turkey. Baykar developed the TB2 and gradually replaced foreign components with locally produced ones. In 2015, the company successfully test-fired a precision-guided munition.

The first two works that Tom Clancy published were a letter to the editor of Proceedings and this plan

Thursday, May 27th, 2021

The first two works that Tom Clancy published were a letter to the editor of Proceedings and this plan for using hovercraft to deploy MX missiles:

A successful MX deployment system must meet a number of tests:

  • Insensitivity to first strike: The deployment scheme must allow a large proportion of its missiles to survive a strike and retaliate in force. The MX is more likely to deter a war rather than fight one if this criterion is met.
  • Reconstitution of forces: The insensitivity to attack must continue for an indefinite period of time. This will allow NCA to determine how many missiles have survived, choose an appropriate response, and to redirect the missiles to still-valuable targets.
  • Continuous launch capability: The system should be able to launch under the widest range of circumstances, including disablement of the missile carrier itself.
  • Separate vulnerabilities: The distinct nature of this leg of the strategic Triad should be retained, forcing an opponent to contemplate the most difficult range of tasks.
  • Communications security: The most attractive aspect of the land leg of the Triad is the availability of secure two-way communications at all times.
  • Environmental impact: As was demonstrated by the MPS deployment mode; any system which has a negative impact on local populations or environments will generate significant legal and political resistance.
  • Operational safety: Since any deployment system will touch upon civilian areas, its routine operation must not be perceived as a possible danger by the populace.
  • Cost: Ideally, the system should be as inexpensive as possible to initiate, operate, and maintain. To this end, a system that does not operate continuously has long-term advantages.

A number of deployment systems have been examined, and each fails on one or more of these criteria. The MX has been described as “a Rolls Royce without a garage.” But a vehicle exists to deploy the MX that meets the above preconditions: the U. S. Navy’s air cushion landing craft (LCAC).

LCAC with MX Missile

The LCAC has a standard payload capacity of 60 tons, and an overload capacity of 75 tons. This is less than the weight of the MX (85 tons) , but well in excess of that for any other American strategic system except the obsolete Titan II. The LCAC has a speed of 50 knots, and a range of 200 nautical miles. It can cross land or water, and does minimal damage to the terrain.

Were the MX missiles to be deployed on vehicles of similar performance, they would represent exceptionally elusive targets. Once deployed, the LCAC(M)s would scatter like quail before am incoming strike

I’m not sure I’d consider a hovercraft the most stable platform for a 72-foot missile. Clancy’s concept bears little resemblance to the G.E.V.s of Steve Jackson’s futuristic wargame;

GEV Cover

Tom Clancy’s third published work, by the way, was The Hunt for Red October, which I enjoyed in audiobook format not too long ago.

Administrative assistants did not do management, but managers did do administration

Thursday, April 15th, 2021

Has the economic clock started to run backwards?, Tim Harford asks:

As Philip Coggan writes in his epic history, More: The 10,000 Year Rise of the World Economy, Smith’s 1776 book was not the first to note the productivity gains that resulted from specialisation. Xenophon was making similar remarks in 370 BCE.

But why does the division of labour improve productivity? Smith pointed to three advantages: workers perfected specific skills; they avoided the delay and distraction of switching from one task to another; and they would use or even invent specialised equipment.

The modern knowledge worker fits uneasily into this picture. Most of us don’t use specialised equipment: we use computers capable of doing anything from accountancy and instant messaging to filming and editing video. And while some office jobs have a clear production flow, many do not: they are a watercolour blur of one activity bleeding into another.

[...]

In 1992 the economist Peter Sassone published a study of workflow in large US corporate offices. He found that the more senior a person was, the more likely they were to do a bit of everything. Administrative assistants did not do management, but managers did do administration. Sassone called this “the law of diminishing specialisation”.

This law of diminishing specialisation is surely stronger today. Computers have made it easier to create and circulate written messages, to book travel, to design web pages. Instead of increasing productivity, these tools tempt highly skilled, highly paid people to noodle around making bad slides.

[...]

Cal Newport’s new book, A World Without Email, is searing on this point. Examining scientific management studies from the early 20th century, Newport makes the case that manufacturers analysed and fixed their aimless processes a century ago. The gains were dramatic. For example: at the Pullman factory complex near Chicago, people from various departments would wander into the brass works and pester the metalworkers until they got what they needed. After a systematic overhaul, many clerks were hired as gatekeepers and to plan and schedule work. Productivity soared.

Newport argues that knowledge work is long overdue a similar rethink. How often is office work assigned and prioritised by random pestering? Certain disciplines, including producing a daily newspaper, have developed a clear workflow that doesn’t depend on long email chains. A lot of knowledge work, however, is still in the “wander in and pester” stage.