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Everything must be perfect. That is all I ask.
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“Class is intrinsically used in the service of sexism,” says Sontag; however, it is this very concept of "service" that makes possible subversive semiotic connotations aimed at challenging conventional predialectic narratives of class and sex. In Ratt's Round and Round traditionalist intersectionality is inverted, and themes of radical class warfare are explored in a superficially commercial, desituationalized paradigm.

Hierarchical constructs are deconstructed through prepositional visualism. The "upper class" is seen to eat in the dining room immediately below the attic, where the supposedly "lower class" band members play, above them! These sorts of transconscious subversions are consistent throughout the neodeconstructionist interval. Women, the "fairer sex" are in fact far less pretty than the members of Ratt. Establishment patriarchialism is thus rendered invalid and revolutionary interpretations are made possible in a manner reminiscent of Burroughs.
6th-Jul-2014 02:54 pm - The View from 1936
I found this interesting column called Front and Center about military history. I think it will be interesting to my regular readers (who, I am firmly convinced, do exist). My favorite so far is the three part article (1,2,3) on the Italy-Ethiopia war of 1936. The author's thesis is that this war is unfairly overlooked and seen as the incompetent fighting the uncivilized when, a) this was not how it was seen at the time and b) this was not the case.

By the sound of it the Italians had a similar problem to the Japanese. Their armies were, in several respects, very forward-looking with regards to new technology and tactics. They were able to arm themselves effectively in the 1930s with very modern weapons and perform credibly and quickly against second-tier opponents.

However, technology moved very quickly in the 1930s and 1940s. That light tank that was great for flushing out Chinese troops or that open-cockpit, fixed landing gear fighter that was perfect for strafing Ethiopians in 1936 was a death trap against real opponents by 1940. Anything that was hot stuff in 1940 was probably a death trap by 1943.

Neither the Italians nor the Japanese had anything like the industrial capacity needed to keep up with this pace of development. Even the Germans had trouble; the majority of their tanks and aircraft produced throughout the war were updated versions of designs from the 1930s. Their clean sheet designs, which were at least as good and sometimes better than the Allies' were produced in relatively small quantities.

The only countries that could keep up were the United States or countries substantially supplied by the United States.

Or, in other words, in a war of materiel and materiel attrition, you probably don't want to get into a fight with the nation that has the majority of the world's manufacturing capacity that also happens to be protected by two oceans.
23rd-Jun-2014 05:09 pm - Slogging Along and Tab Culling
It is possible that I have fallen out of love with writing. There used to be a wonderful frenzy whenever I had some notion or phrase I thought worthy. There was a naive, complete conviction that my talent at writing was something very special indeed that would elevate and enrich me.

And I suppose that all was so. Was. But writing is like a worn-out marriage now; something I avoid, and approach with trepidation and reluctant obligation.

Oh well.

For share and tell today I have first a pair of links from the wonderful Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week. We have a mounted skeleton of emeus crassus and a somewhat old, but still interesting post on unidirectional airflow in the lungs of monitor lizards.

While New Zealand's moa are fairly well-known, it is usually not appreciated how diverse they were. I'm not sure what the current systematics of the group are, but there were a dozen or so forms varying between about turkey sized about lesser rhea-sized to about double the mass of an ostrich. Naturally, the really enormous kinds get all the attention, but the majority of moa species were comparable in size to living flightless birds like emus and ostriches.

It's also interesting to note that the very largest moa genus, dinornis, was very close to the same mass and size as Madagasgar's elephant bird aepyornis, and both of those were close in size and mass to miocene Australia's dromornis, which unlike the other two isn't even a ratite! It's a (highly) aberrant stem-galloanseriforme or something. Is there some fundamental limit on the upper mass and size of modern flightless birds? 'Cause theropod dinosaurs obviously got much bigger.

I am curious what Mike Dickison's reasons for thinking dromornithids were predatory are. It contradicts what I had read on the matter.

As for the monitor lizard lung function thing, wow. There's still so much to learn about how animals work.

Vice Magazine has an article about the evolution of Vladimir Nabokov's screenplay for Lolita into the version that Kubrick shot. This explains a lot; I had always known that Nabokov was credited as the writer for Kubrick's version of the film, but the film never seemed particularly Nabokov-y to me (or particularly Kubrick-y for that matter). In any case, it was probably wise to keep the colorful, infinitely allusive genius of Nabokov carefully separate from Kubrick's moody, obsessive cinematic vision. They might have mutually annihilated in a burst of gamma rays.

This picture of a mosquito emerging from the larval stage is beautiful and alien. The story on how the shot was set up is worth a look too.

Weaponsman has continuing coverage of the VA scandal. I honestly hope that it's all some sort of mistake, and that nothing this despicable is going on in the USA. But I know it's not, and it is.

A fruitful email conversation with the Querencia crowd resulted in this cryptic post, which I hope will prove a precursor to the large and lively subject of laniidae in historical falconry.

Music for today is The Libertines Music When the Lights go Out:

6th-Jun-2014 10:57 am - Three Score and Ten Years Ago Today
Everyone here is doubtless already familiar with Patton's D-Day speech (at least, Patton's D-Day speech as performed by George C. Scott), so instead

FDR's "Poignant Hour" speech:

This speech is, ideologically, much that I despise. It follows in the old Yankee tradition of sacralizing a particular conflict, and by extension elevates one side to the avenging sword of God. Hear "Battle Hymn of the Republic" for a far less subtle, older example of the same. See George W. Bush for a more recent one. This is truculent arrogance, of course; I would love to be able to hear what the Church Fathers, or H.L. Mencken for that matter, would have to say about it.

The US-led, post-war structure that was to scaffold the lasting peace, the one "invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men," was a horrible shambles; responsible for death and mayhem of such barbarous character that W.B. Yeats, were he alive to see it, would jump up and down shouting "I told you so!"

What is left then, is a good speech given by a very good orator. I had not previously realized how skilled a speaker FDR was. It is a speech given to a people cautiously convinced of victory, but without our benefit of hindsight. It is a speech to people convinced that theirs were fighting evil, and they did not yet know how true that was. It is a moment of tenderness from a nation that had made itself a hard, metal titan. It is a short moment of petition to God on account of fragile, mortal men in a war that would be won by oil, steel, factories and uranium.

I hope for the sake of those who died that day, and for the sake of those who have died since that a life lived well, but in the service of an unworthy cause is a worthy life. I also hope for my own sake. For, while there is much I despise in this speech, there is more in it that I admire than in any speech of the last ten years.
4th-Jun-2014 01:34 am - What Might Have Been
One of the benefits of being a major industrial power is having redundant military/industrial organs. In theory, the military never becomes beholden to a single company. Also, everything can be done in duplicate.

A smaller nation with limited ability to construct its own military hardware simply import their toys. Provided that they don't alienate themselves too far from every major power, they should have plenty of options. The larger, and more industrialized a nation becomes, however, the more pressure there will be to buy local.

The really dangerous position to be in is a sort of mid-sized, but not enormous industrial power. Germany is a good example. Germany can manufacture, say, their own tanks and rifles no sweat. However, there's really only one company in Germany that habitually makes first-class combat rifles (Heckler and Koch). Germany can manufacture first-class tanks too; but again, only one company has the know-how.

This is a dangerous position to be in because Germany is essentially obligated to buy their weapons from these vendors. They are so politically entrenched that major effort is needed to even consider buying from anyone else. There have been a few deviations; the West German Border Guards were armed with uzis; although at least one source alleges that this was not because the uzi was a better weapon than the HK offering, but because the Israelis allowed the cost of the uzis to be debited against Holocaust reparations.

(I suspect that the uzi was cheaper even without any pricing shenanigans. The MP5 is much more complex than the uzi.)

In general, this sort of monopolistic arrangement has not been broken by competitive pressure. Indeed, R. Blake Stevens mentions that for a short while, German G3 rifles were made by both Rheinmetall AG and Heckler und Koch. Heckler und Koch announced that they were going to begin producing MG3 machine guns; at the time only produced by Rheinmetall. Eventually, the heads of the two firms met and hammered out a gentleman's agreement (or indulged in anti-competitive collusion, depending on your point of view) that H&K would stick to rifles, and Rheinmetall would stick to machine guns, and neither would threaten the other's ability to charge monopoly prices.

The very worst position to be in is to have just enough technical know-how to produce part of a system, and so get roped into a multi-national joint program. Fighter aircraft have become so expensive (or the system for designing and procuring them so bloated and unwieldy) that most nations can't afford to develop them on their own. In the early 1980s, no less than five nations; Germany, The UK, France, Spain and Italy agreed to defray the costs of next-generation fighter development among themselves. Shortly thereafter the French left the project and went their own way, leaving the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain still in the project. The French design had its first flight eight years earlier than the multi-national one, to which it is broadly comparable. The economy of multi-national programs is undeniable. Read the section on responsibilities for Eurofighter part production; it's hilarious. Apparently the Germans build the back of the plane, the British build the front, the Spanish build the right wing (surely a risky decision in the post-Franco era) and the Italians make the left wing. No, I'm not making this up.

Fortunately, the United States does not have these problems. Well, except maybe in Naval shipbuilding, which I know nothing about. Or Defense Industry computer technology, which I know nothing about. Or possibly lots of other things that I know nothing about. There are probably monopolies galore, now that I think about it, quietly extracting money, tick-like, at the margins of my ignorance.

Point is, fighter and tank and rifle designs can all be competitively bid. As a young, hardware-oriented heterosexual male, I feel this is important because it provides more models of tanks, fighters and rifles too coo over. Also, it prevents the abusive monopolistic practices described previously.

Very occasionally this competitive process will produce some butthurt over whether the best design was actually chosen for production. Very occasionally; most mil-tech geeks can't even name or describe the also-rans in most of these things. Only ur-geeks could even tell you which companies ran in the FX competition that eventually produced the F-15.

The singular exception is the ATF competition which eventually produced the F-22 raptor. Twenty three years after the fly-off wherein the YF-22 was declared winner, there is a substantial base of... fans, for lack of a better term, who think the YF-23 was the better aircraft.

This is their shrine. is a terribly interesting website. Be sure to look at the RFIs for the ATF program. The author's commentary on the various design proposals is spot-on; I can't think of anything to add to it. The galleries are also interesting, and include several high-resolution pictures of the prototypes. The inlet and nozzle designs are particularly interesting.

There's even continued controversy over which engine was the better design. Yes; in the USA, decadent capitalism allows even subcomponents of fighter aircraft designs to be designed in parallel. There were two engine prototype designs, and one YF-22 and one YF-23 were flown with each type of engine. The conventional wisdom is that the Pratt and Whitney YF119 engine, which was chosen for further development to become the F119 used in the current F-22 raptor, had the more conservative design than the General Electric YF120. This is due to the YF120's variable bypass ratio, which in theory would have permitted it to operate more efficiently over a wide range of speeds. On the other hand, Bill Gunston's rather hefty book on jet turbines states that the F119 has a very unconventional, stator-less compressor section, and that after several long discussions with the heads of development of both engines he was unable to say which was better.

I remain agnostic over which aircraft was better, for many reasons. Not the least of these is that many of the relevant details are classified, but also because the more I read about the topic, the more I realize how complicated fighter aircraft design is.
A very pretty shot of the Chengdu J-20:

I'm unsure of the provenance of this picture, since I have not seen any of the J-20 prototypes in this paint scheme before. However, the salient features of the design all match other, confirmed pictures.

The first thing to look at are all the saw-tooth shapes on the access panels, weapons bay and landing gear doors. These saw-tooth shapes are a common feature of low-observability aircraft designs. The reason for these saw-toothed edges is because the designers of low-observability aircraft want to avoid ninety degree angles. Ninety degree angles are an excellent way to bounce radar signals directly back at the radar that emitted them:

This can force some uncomfortable aerodynamic compromises. Take a look at the Eurofighter Typhoon:

The Eurofighter Typhoon has a large, single vertical stabilizer (rudder). This is a more efficient configuration than having two vertical stabilizers in subsonic flight regimes because double vertical stabilizers tend to interfere with each other, and so must be larger. This leads to extra weight and extra drag.

But look at the vertical stabilizer with respect to the wings. The wings stick out straight to the sides, and the vertical stabilizer sticks straight up. That forms a ninety degree angle.

So, the J-20 has two vertical stabilizers that are slanted from the vertical:

It's probably not as aerodynamically efficient, but if one wants their aircraft not to show up on radar, compromises must be made. This is not a new discovery; the F-35 and F-117 both have outwardly canted vertical stabilizers. Most tellingly, the F-15SE Silent Eagle, which Boeing advertises as an F-15 with low-observability features, has outwardly canted stabilizers while the original F-15 models had the stabilizers vertical and at a ninety degree angle to the wings.

Now, look at the foreplanes of the J-20. Note that, near as it is possible to tell from the picture, the leading edge of the foreplanes of the J-20 are roughly parallel with the leading edge of the wing on the same side of the fuselage. Note that the trailing edge of each foreplane is roughly parallel with the trailing edge of the wing on the opposite side of the fuselage.

This is also intentional. It's called "planform alignment." The F-22 does this as well:

This helps reflect the incoming radar energy in discrete directions, instead of diffusely spreading it over a wider range of angles, which would guarantee that a radar would get some returns. The generally angular cross section of the J-20 performs a similar function. Again, these design features usually force some compromises vis a vis aerodynamic efficiency, but the tactical advantages of showing up on radar at drastically shorter ranges are generally considered worth it.

The difficulty of designing aerodynamically effective foreplanes that are also planform aligned has been cited as one of the reasons that US designers have avoided this configuration, although Lockheed Martin did perform full-scale testing on a JAST/JSF design concept with foreplanes:

Actually, this looks pretty similar to the J-20. This could be another example of the PRC's formidable industrial espionage apparatus at work, although Bill Sweetman (in an article now sadly unavailable) speculates that it's a case of form following function. The JAST/JSF design needed a large bay in the forward fuselage to house a lift fan for vertical takeoff and landing. The J-20 needs a large bay in the forward fuselage to house the weapons; both to improve streamlining and to keep radar signals from bouncing off externally hung ordnance. The aerodynamic considerations are similar in both cases.

There is considerable debate over the stealth characteristics of the other new fifth generation fighter, the Russian T-50 PAK-FA:

The wings and tail surfaces are clearly planform aligned, and the weapons are carried internally, but there are no sawteeth on the panels and doors. Why this would be is unclear.

Also noteworthy is that the engine compressor blades can be seen through the air intakes from the front of the PAK-FA:

This is generally considered a big no-no in low-observables design. Compressor blades are excellent radar energy reflectors, and frontal aspect stealth is generally considered the most important. Compare this with an F-22:

Where the air ducts leading to the engines are curved to hide the compressor faces. Note the planform alignment of the vertical stabilizers and the inlets.

The PAK-FA may incorporate a fan-shaped duct insert made of a radar-absorbing material, similar to the one used in the super hornet, or the compressor blades themselves may be made of something less radar reflective in future models. It seems unlikely, however, that the inlets will be redesigned to incorporate a bend in the air ducts like the F-22 has. Inlet design is extremely complicated and involved, and it would be illogical to have such an important part of the design differ greatly between the prototype and production aircraft.

What is clear is that, at least in terms of airframe design, the Russians and Chinese can produce prototype aircraft that clearly display many low-observable design characteristics. In this respect they are ahead of the European aircraft manufacturers, whose designs clearly make far fewer concessions to reduced radar signature.

However, neither the PAK-FA nor the J-20 prototypes are quite as fastidiously designed with regards to low observability as the F-22 is. This is more obvious in the PAK-FA, which (at this stage) lacks such basics as sawtooth surfaces and hidden compressor blades. However, both the J-20 and PAK-FA also lack one-piece canopies with reflective lining and use conventional annular variable geometry nozzles. Some of this lack of polish could be because they are prototypes; neither the YF-22 nor the YF-23 had all the low-observability features of the production aircraft. However, both the YF-23 and YF-22 were flown with novel nozzle designs, and the YF-22 was flown with a one-piece canopy.

So, it is fair to say at this point that low-observability is a design priority of the J-20 and of the PAK-FA; far more so than any other non-US design. It is too early to say how the definitive aircraft will stack up with the JSF and F-22 in terms of low observables design, however.
5th-May-2014 06:31 pm - Mere Miscellany
Here is an interesting comparison of the US M1 Abrams (left of picture) and the South Korean K1 (right):

Wikipedia would have us believe that the K1 is based on the M1 Abrams. However, a number of details, such as the unusual design of the suspension, number and spacing of road wheels, and driver's location lead me to suspect that the K1 is in fact a development of the the General Motors XM1, which was the losing competitor in the US M1 competition. The production M1 Abrams is based on the Chrysler entry.

If this is true, it wouldn't be the first time that the losing competitor in a US military procurement rodeo managed to repackage and sell their ware. The Taiwanese Sky Sword II air to air missile, for instance, was originally an also-ran in the AMRAAM competition. The Northrop YF-17 was successfully recycled into the F/A-18.

Apparently Baltimore has so offended God that He has elected to swallow it beneath the earth. Having visited Baltimore, I find myself in agreement with God.

Max Popenker has an article on an early submachine gun with a helical magazine. If anyone ever gives you crap about having a livejournal account, politely point out that Max Popenker still has a livejournal account.

Some jazz cat I've never heard of named Dave Stryker has an interesting Floyd cover that I heard on the radio.

Reid Farmer, at Stephen Bodio's blog, writes to inform that the Ivanpah solar-thermal plant is actually a death ray that vaporizes passing wildlife.

I am impressed. I have a friend who is buying up equipment from a local, bankrupt solar company, who mentioned that the auction proceeds were not enough to clean up the plant's cadmium chloride contamination. Wind farms obviously kill birds and bats through more direct means. I had thought that solar-thermal plants were perhaps more environmentally friendly, although silly since they hardly make any electricity, but it appears that they are quite effective at killing animals as well.

As an aspiring supervillain, I am gratified to see how thoroughly the "environmental" movement has been about destroying the environment, all the while loudly insisting that the preservation of the same is their highest calling. Their persistence, and the sheer audacity of their subterfuge, is worthy of note and emulation by all members of the supervillain community. Get inspired! This is some seriously dastardly stuff! Let's get people out of their volcano lairs so we can see more A-grade evil like this!

Speaking of which, you should read Worm if you haven't already. It's an inspiring story about talented young people who become the change they want to see in their community.
25th-Apr-2014 04:06 pm - It's happened
I've grown old. Whatever youthful font of inspiration I drew upon earlier has shriveled. The sun has passed its zenith, nightfall cannot be too far off now.

Well, not exactly. I am terrified of aging. Aging is bullshit.

When some bacteria divide, all the worn-out, damaged pieces of molecular machinery, along with the waste products that the metabolism can't handle, get shuffled off into one cell, and the other cell gets all the shiny new bits and clean bill of health. A bacterial cell that's unlucky enough to be the product of several successive cells that got the hand-me-downs during mitosis won't be particularly effective. The other half, however, is perfectly functional.

It would have to be; bacteria have been around quite some time. Half of bacteria that reproduce in this manner are, therefore, effectively immortal.

(This is also why bacterial growth rate calculators that assume that the population derived from a single cell will be 2 ^ X where X is the mean time between mitosis are wrong; the coefficient is somewhat smaller than 2, although the growth is still exponential)

Alas, I was born a mammal. Only a single mammal shows negligible senescence, and naked mole rats have bizarre biology in general. Everything about mammals is tilted towards short lifespans. Why do we only get two sets of teeth? Because we usually don't live long enough that it's a problem. Why do our females start life with a fixed number of gametes? Again, we don't usually live long enough that running out of gametes is a problem.

Complete bullshit. Someone needs to fix this.

Speaking of aging, I for one, continue to be amused by Gavin Mcinnes' transformation into a grumpy, conservative old person. This is the same person who made a video on how to piss in public. Read the article and watch the video, if you haven't before. They're both good, albeit in different ways.

Weaponsman has a short meditation on the news that three doctors in Afghanistan were killed by a security guard. It's one of the most succinctly frightening pieces I've read in some while.

This new axe design is pretty clever. A lot of thought goes into simple tools.

I'm not sure what I think of this delta-v chart. I feel it sacrifices readability for cutesy graphics. But maybe not; if it were just a flow chart, it might look like a cluster. At any rate, it's fun to look at and think about.

Music for today is the Ditty Bops cover of Bye Bye Love. That ain't no Hank Williams song!
24th-Mar-2014 06:50 am - Linkage from Around the Web
March 24th appears to be an unremarkable day, from a historical perspective. James I was an OK king, I suppose, and Timur Lenk sacked Damascus. But Timur sacked lots of places; that was sort of his thing. Well, that and stacking the skulls of the former property owners of said places into pyramids.

Sadly, the body of critical scholarship surrounding this singular form of sculpture has been lost to time.

It's a further tragedy that Timur never got to travel to ancient Mexico. He'd have gotten on there famously, I imagine.

Depleted Cranium has an article about the National Ignition Facility. It's well worth a read, even though it will make exasperated about the state of science journalism today.

Scott Locklin also has an article about NIF. It's well worth a read, even though it will make you despair for Western civilization and all things you hold dear.

In the comments, Stanislav Datskovskiy points something out that I'd long suspected, but lacked the physics chops to be really sure of. Nuclear arms control is only practical because uranium enrichment is the only way to boot-strap a nuclear weapons program, and uranium enrichment is conspicuous, expensive, and time-consuming. Teller-Ulam weapons get most of their punch from fusion, but require a fission primary to start them going. Therefore, they are no easier to acquire than fission weapons.

Right up until someone figures out how to start a fusion reaction going with a laser or magnets or whatever, that is.

If the same logic that is routinely applied to uranium enrichment research were applied to fusion research, it would be considered world-ending.

Lithium and deuterium ain't exactly hard to come by.

Speaking of nuclear war, Electric Six frontman Dick Valentine has an interview out.

Music for today is Ramsey Lewis' take of The In Crowd:

'Cause it's all about the lyrics.
17th-Mar-2014 12:06 am - Excessive Black Bile
I am mostly un-sick. The process has been long, but this did not stop me from going to a concert a week ago. Was I still infected? Perhaps. I could have gone up to another attendee and coughed in their face. Infected the whole human race.

I am exhausted and uninspired, but moving forward. There is no other option.
28th-Feb-2014 09:22 am(no subject)
I am in the process of recovering from a profound tonsil infection. By "in the process of recovering" I mean "am carpet-bombing my microbiome with antibiotics like it's Dresden."

I have not eaten in 72 hours. I can stand to put what I approximate to be enough water to not die down my throat. Food is out of the question. I can't sleep for very long either; every time I swallow involuntarily it is so painful that I wake up.

It's comforting to recognize how tough the human body is, but I must find a more practical means of coming to this knowledge.

Oh well. These things happen. I am thankful to Science that it provides me the tools to indiscriminately sterilize my body of bacteria. I have no idea how people managed before we had this stuff.
This summer it will be the 100th anniversary of the suicide of Western Civilization. I have yet to absorb a comprehensive history of this remarkable calamity. The conventional explanation for it is that everyone in positions of power was, well, rather dim. This would appear on the face of it a monstrous coincidence, but I have yet to read anything which contradicts this position.

Indeed, everything I've read suggests that the upper classes of 1914 were remarkably dim. The anecdote that, after the Boer War and all the horrors of concentration camps, long-range rifle fire, and the first taste the British got of what happens to masses of infantry when they charge machine guns, the first thing the cavalry demanded was new pattern of sword is certainly congruent with the officer corps of the day not being on its "A" game. Being that social class and officership were, in those days, more or less the same thing, I can see a general case being made for widespread upper class twit syndrome at that time.

What makes it all the more tragic is that the very top of the aristocratic totem pole, the royalty of the respective nations, were all cousins. If the love of family is not strong enough to prevent bloodshed, what indeed is? Let this be a reminder to whatever aristocratic class arises when some civilization or other rises from the ash of the present one that inbreeding is bad. Caesar had his Cleopatra*, Alexander his Roxana, and Temujin, the half of Asia that he left alive. Mix it up people! Heterosis is your friend!

More seriously, I am looking for the cream of the ephemera of the turn of the century. Because my parents were insufficiently vigilant against the forces of Evil, I grew up with quite a bit of Rudyard Kipling, which they lovingly read to me before bed, even explaining, albeit in a somewhat embarrassed fashion which I was too young to comprehend but nonetheless noticed, the somewhat racist parts.

Even children's literature from after the Great War is a damn sight better than what we have now. "Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers, won't drown." Ha! What better summary of the attitudes of an era when contraceptives were illegal and children were considered expendable? Or something. Actually, I don't understand Europeans from the early Twentieth Century at all, because I live in the Future, and there's been far too much Progress for me to make sense of their beliefs and priorities. Whatever; the vigor and earnesty of the writing is unmistakable.

So, what are the highlights of the bygone era?

*Greek, I'm aware, and if any bloodline was in need of some outcrossing it was the Ptolemies'. Alas, historical accuracy is helpless before metonymy.
7th-Feb-2014 09:58 am - Rising from the Deep
I have done something to deeply offend my muse, but we are in counseling now and hopefully everything will be back to normal.

By "normal," I of course mean "perpendicular," in the sense of uprightness.

But now it is 2014, and I must regale you, my reader(s) with stories of things I have done.

As 2013 breathed its last I spent about a month working as a temp for FedEx to help with the holiday rush. Never before in my life have I worked so hard, and never again do I plan to. Although I managed to deceive my co-workers into believing I am industrious and committed to the task at hand, this was all a facade. The true me, the immaculate, innermost and purest expression of my being is lazy and spiteful.

So, after screaming for about a month about being dragged on twelve-hour shifts in the cold and snow, my inner child was relieved to take some time off and revel in some time-wasting indolence once again.

Among other dissipations, I took a look at Dr. Clyde S. Tamaru's aquaponics research.

Aquaponics is a type of hydroponics. In hydroponics, plants are grown in a soil-less medium with nutrients supplied via aqueous solution. The medium can be anything from coconut husk to pebbles to plastic spheres. Aquaponics takes this a step further by making the aqueous nutrient solution the wastewater from a fish tank. Food goes to the fish, the fish convert the fish food into delicious fish flesh and nitrogen-rich water which the plants can grow on.

Here you can see the blue plastic tubs that the fish (tilapia) live in. The water from the tilapia is pumped into the black plastic trays containing a volcanic rock medium. The plants in the above picture are quite small, possibly weeds, but the system is capable of much more robust growth:

These are peppers, of the nuclear Thai variety. One of the advantages of aquaponic plant growth is that the nutrient balance being fed to the plants can be balanced fairly precisely by changing the balance of nutrients in the fish food. After a bit of trial and error, Dr. Tamaru says, the plants will be getting exactly what they crave. This means that certain interesting compounds in the plants, which are often metabolically expensive for the plant to produce become more plentiful. I was assured that those peppers, eyebrow-raising under normal conditions, to be sure, are extra piquant when grown in aquaponics.

This is Tephrosia piscattoria. It's a member of the pea family. In addition to aquaponics research, Dr. Tamaru's facility is used for research on Polynesian ethnobotany. This plant was used, back in the good old days, to stun fish so that they could be more easily harvested. The ketones that give the plant its kick may prove useful as a natural insecticide, or as some other means of pest control.

This is taro. Taro is delicious and wonderful.


Farming is manipulating the local ecology to produce more biomass that is useful to human needs. There are many ways to go about doing this, from selective breeding to weed removal to fertilizer use. Farming can be destructive and short lived, but to be beautiful and long-lasting the farmer must have profound understanding of complicated, interwoven cycles.

Aquaponics is a further extension of that manipulation, built on a particular scaffolding. The tilapia/plant cycle is a tiny slice of an ecosystem. I am reminded of the dreams of science-fiction authors of interstellar ships filled with engineered ecosystems to keep their generations of occupants fed and occupied for the lonely centuries between suns.
25th-Dec-2013 03:19 am - Comrade Kalashnikov, RIP
Naturally, the news coverage is atrocious and only conveys the fact that the man has died and that journalists do not know what they are talking about.

The period of mandatory mourning is five days from the announcement of the death. Buy some vodka and pour out a libation. Please report any comrades who do not comply with this period of mandatory mourning to the Department of Intelligence and Loyalty Assurance.

Mikhail Kalashnikov was many things, and I coveted deeply to meet him. By all accounts he was approachable and amiable, as well as a bit of a wry wit. The story goes that when shown the British SA-80 infantry rifle (by all serious accounts a turkey) and asked his opinion, he simply responded "you must have very clever soldiers."

Comrades, here are some lies that you may be exposed to about Mikhail Kalashnikov's inventions in the coming days:

1) The AK-47 Yeah. It's a lie. There was an AK-47, but it's a comparatively rare weapon that was made maybe in the hundreds of thousands. The AKM, a variant which was streamlined for more efficient mass production, was made in the tens of millions. Now, mind, not all of that was Soviet production. Other Communist countries made licensed and unlicensed copies, most notably China, Yugoslavia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania.

2) The AK was Kalashnikov's most Notable Creation Lies! The AK is a good assault rifle, but it is not peerless. The PKM general purpose machine gun is.

3) The AK was based on the German STG-44 Fascist lies! The overall parameters of the AK may be influenced by the STG-44, but they are mechanically and structurally dissimilar. The STG-44 is a Bren gun that's been flipped upside-down, given a smaller cartridge and somewhat streamlined for mass production. Mechanically, the AK is much closer to the M1 garand, and shares with it the open-topped receiver (albeit covered with a piece of sheet metal in the AK), and rotating two-lug bolt. The STG-44 lacks both of those things. You want to see a design that was clearly based on the STG-44? Look no further than the decadent capitalist Fusil Automatique Léger, which shares with the STG-44 the tilting bolt lockup, return spring located in the stock, upper and lower receivers hinged for disassembly, and left side charging handle.
18th-Dec-2013 08:17 pm - Work is a Gas
Work is a gas, which expands to fill the available free time.

OK, I admit it. I'm a sissy. I'm working ten, eleven and twelve hour shifts every night, and I feel awful. I realize that men my age should be tromping around night and day, cold and hot conquering distant lands for our elders and betters while we drag off their cattle and women, building aqueducts and roads, raising Cain in the bars at night, and doing it all again the next day on six hours of sleep.

Well, I think that riding around in a truck for up to twelve hours a day, six days a week, pretended to be Santa Claus sucks. I'm a sissy. Sue me.

Cat Urbigkit brings up a point that ought not require defense over at Querencia. Apparently some thrice-damned hippies think that wolves and bears and cougars will leave sheep alone because they've been unnaturally selectively bred and are therefore icky.

Ahura Fucking Mazda people, we breed livestock to be even tastier and dumber and easier to kill! Of course wolves and bears and tyrannosaurs and god knows what else will hunt them. Once they figure out that a cow is just like an aurochs, only more marbled and slower, or that a domestic sheep is like a wild one, only slower, meatier and dumber, do you think they'll stick with mule deer because they prefer the flavor?

So you need to shoot predators. I'm sympathetic to the view that you want professionals culling predators for two reasons. Reason the first is that a centralized agency will be able to coordinate efforts over a wide area better than any informal collection of ranchers is likely to. Reason the second is that I know country boys; given their druthers they will shoot absolutely everything that moves, and they're too damn good at that. That's part of what makes them such effective soldiers. Chuck Yeager said it, so it's true.

This isn't to say ranchers shouldn't be allowed to cull predators. Predator numbers isn't just about ecology and big-game hunting revenues. The ranchers' livelihood and even personal safety is on the line too. There needs to be leeway and understanding that sometimes ranchers will, and will have to address matters on their own.

I realize that everything I just wrote is obvious common sense, but this concerns hippies, so it helps to point out that the sky is blue.

Music for today is an old-fashioned Calypso tune about some much-needed reforms to the criminal justice system by the great Lord Invader:


This is a crystal of elemental bismuth. The chemical structure is very simple. The emergent physical structure is anything but. That's actually the color they are too; surface oxidation on a number of metals causes them to become multi-hued like that.

It's an impressive and convoluted construction for something that isn't biological or artificial. It's like minimalist M.C. Escher on acid.

When I was a child I would scribble pictures of fighter aircraft. From the age of about ten on I had a pretty hefty book by the late Bill Gunston on combat aircraft, and it had a good deal of his highly opinionated commentary on how these things ought to be designed. Much of that has stuck with me, and the majority of my understanding of fighter aircraft design is basically what he wrote in that book. Delta=bad, harrier/viggen=the only land-based fixed-wing planes you'll have left to fight with after the Soviets launch their nukes, F-16=impressive and efficient design, but useless because not harrier/viggen, F-15=impressive and powerful design, but useless because not harrier/viggen, and so on, F-14=Only sensibly designed air to air platform in the entire world because it can smite enemies before they even have radar lock.

So, I concluded from a fairly early age that a tactical air force ought to consist of viggens, harriers and F-14s. Some sort of multi-role aircraft combining the advantages of all three would of course also be acceptable.

I have since found an online version of a (doubtless illegally republished) book on the aerodynamics of fighter aircraft. This is some heady stuff; the bit on modifying forebody geometry to affect spin tendencies is mind-boggling to me. My favorite anecdote in the thing is the story of an F-14 crew that entered an unrecoverable spin, and so ejected. The F-14 immediately stopped spinning. It would appear that the removal of the canopy changed the airflow enough that the plane would no longer spin.

I often casually refer to fluid dynamics as black magic, but of all the scientific disciplines with which I have any passing familiarity, aerodynamics truly seems the most magical. Why is it that adding a little notch in the front of the wing of the F-4 phantom made it less prone to stalling? Why is it that giving the F-102 delta dagger an alluringly feminine wasp waisted fuselage made it fly faster, when doing so added wetted surface area? There are actual answers to these questions, and there are actual predictive formulae for coming up with them. However, these formulae and a rigorous understanding of the subject matter are so far removed from my intuitive grasp of them, that it basically looks like magic. Many aircraft have notches in the wings that make them more maneuverable. However, if you asked me to design an aircraft wing notch to similarly improve performance the only way it could possibly work would be sheer dumb luck. I do not have the power of that magic.

Speaking of black magic and the art of aircraft design, the way the F-16 flies is very interesting. Basically, it shouldn't. The center of aerodynamic pressure in an F-16 is in front of the center of mass relative to the direction of flight. Imagine throwing a dart backwards. That's an F-16. The only way this contraption manages to fly is that a computer connected to sensitive accelerometers makes lots of little micro-adjustments every second. It's like a seal balancing a ball on its nose. The configuration is inherently unstable, but with frequent and small corrections, you can make it almost look static.

Naturally, this was all done with computers that were very impressive in the 1970s, and would embarrass a wristwatch today.

What all of this computer witchery buys the designers is the ability to contour the aircraft much more carefully. The control surfaces can be smaller; they're no longer necessary to provide static stability to the aircraft, they just have to be big enough to have sufficient control authority. The location of the engine relative to the wings can be tweaked, since there is no longer a delicate balance between the locations of the center of mass and the center of lift to preserve. The plane can be more streamlined, stronger, and generally more optimized because there's one less rule to follow.

In other news, the rest of Deinocheirus has apparently been found.

Ars Anatomica has a mesmerizing .gif of cat lungs inflating and deflating. Trigger warning: disembodied cat organs don't click if you're a goddamn sissy.

Darren Naish has a post up on what woolly rhinos looked like. Have you ever wondered why woolly mammoths are always illustrated as being a sort of reddish color and having a great big hump over the withers that elephants don't have, and that would never be preserved because it would be soft tissue? It turns out that cave art from ancient humans consistently shows them that way, and mummified remains concur.

Alas, contemporary artists have been less rigorous in their depictions of the woolly rhino Coelodonta (IMO Elasmotherium is the far cooler of the two well-known Pleistocene rhino genera, but I don't have a direct line to badger Darren Naish about this.) According to the Tetrapodcats show, Darren is planning on doing an entire series on what ice-age mammals looked like, based on the evidence of cave paintings. I am looking eagerly forward to this series; especially when it is completed in circa 2017.

I kid.

Not really.

Also from ScienceBlogs is this scanning-electron-micrograph of a tardigrade. For a more artistic interpretation, see here.
1st-Dec-2013 07:16 am - Linkage and Angry Ranting
Still trying to woo the muse back. Where normally there is the inspiration to share and ruminate, there is instead searing hatred and grimmest anger. I attribute this to it being near Thanksgiving which is, after all, a holiday about Puritans.

First link for today is the Doyle Rotary Engine. I have a soft spot for weird internal combustion engines, and the Doyle certainly delivers. The bit about the compression and combustion taking place in different cylinders seems clever. Gasoline engines can only have so much compression before the fuel/air charge ignites. Getting more compression requires higher and higher octane fuel.

By splitting up the compression and expansion stages into two separate piston cylinders, the compression ratio can be different than expansion ratio. This could allow excellent expansion ratios, and so excellent fuel economy, in a spark-ignition engine.

Second link is a characteristically interesting, and depressing essay from Theodore Dalrymple. Money quote:

"In the Anglo-Saxon world at least, there seems to be a law of the conservation of prudery: If we are not prudish about one thing, we are prudish about another, the total amount of prudery remaining constant."

Darren Naish reports that Sukhoi's multiple-control-surface fighter designs were pre-empted by one hundred and twenty million years by microraptor gui way back in the Aptian of China. Living birds are a sliver of mesozooic bird diversity. Some groups of fossil birds; the enantiornithines spring to mind, had their flight muscles arranged completely differently than modern flying birds. So, it's not too terribly surprising that some extinct bird groups flew very differently than living ones. Induced drag must have been horrible with five lifting surfaces with enormous chord length.
17th-Nov-2013 02:29 am - Not Dead, but Dreaming
I haven't posted in forever, but feel little different. It's almost as if inspiration to write springs from some exogenous source. I understand belief in the Muses now.
19th-Oct-2013 12:38 am - (Some) Military Technology Does Work
I'm reading a piece on fighter procurement in the US Navy. It's a quasi Military Reform piece, but interesting nonetheless.

One of the anecdotes mentioned is Larry Welch's projection of kill ratios for the then-new F-15. He predicted that, if armed with the (ultimately abortive) AIM-82, the F-15 could achieve a 995-to-1 kill ratio over a MiG-21 type threat armed with AIM-9 analogue missiles.

This was generally considered the height of hubris and absurdity.

Thirty seven years later, the F-15 is batting 104-0 in air to air combat. I don't know that there have even been 995 instances of air to air combat kills in all of the combat that has taken place on this planet since then. So, within the margin of error, Welch's prediction seems more or less spot on.

The problem is not that the military procurement system is incapable of making anything that works. At the same time, there were some incredible development program failures from that period such as the DIVAD (M247 Sargent York), MBT-70, and A-12 Avenger II with millions spent and nothing to show. However, much of the hardware from that era works very well. The M1 Abrams, F-15 Eagle and Nimitz class carrier all have enviable records of smiting the wicked. All three are expensive and complex relative to other machines in their class.

The problem isn't that sophisticated weapons don't work, or that all military contracting firms are criminal enterprises, or that the people in the Pentagon want to advance their careers and don't care if anything works or not. To be sure, there are cases where these things are true. To state them categorically, however, simplifies the problem to meaninglessness.

Also interesting is the tendency to assume that the United States military procurement system is uniquely flawed. Western analysts routinely credited the Soviet military with far more rational development and procurement than they actually had.

The MiG-25 "Foxbat" was generally assumed to be a mass-produced, highly maneuverable fighter with primarily titanium construction and cutting-edge electronics. When defector Viktor Belenko stole one and flew it to Japan, Western technical analysts were shocked to find that the radar worked on vacuum tubes rather than solid-state electronics. The airframe was also found to be made mostly of steel, not titanium. The enormous weight of this steel necessitated the large wings, which had hitherto been assumed to be a means to reduce wing loading and so improve the plane's agility. In short, the Foxbat was a pure interceptor that was good at flying high and fast in straight lines.

Soviet tanks of the Cold War period all more or less look like an upside down frying pan on top of a slanted prism on top of tracks, with the exception of the T-10, which looks like an upside down frying pan on top of some sort of wood planing tool on top of tracks. Prior to the Soviet collapse, it was typically assumed in the West that all Soviet tanks were related development, with each successive model being an incremental and logical improvement on the last.

In fact, Soviet tanks were designed by different design bureaus that often had bitter, contentious rivalries. The T-64 and T-72 were not related designs; they were redundant vehicles that both made it into service as the result of a procurement process that was as political and contentious as any in the West.

The interesting question is why this misjudgement was consistently made. Were Soviet systems estimated generously so that the West wouldn't be taken by surprise during a conflict? Or was it that the Soviet systems were hyped to justify lavish defense spending on expensive Western systems?

Or was it simply that the grass appears greener in communist dictatorships? The idea that free markets will handily out-compete command economies is a fairly recent one. In the USA during the Cold War, there was far less faith that their system was morally and economically sounder than there is generally today. Indeed, it was only under Reagan and Thatcher that radically revised estimates of Soviet economics; estimates of a weak core under the glittering exterior, became officially favored. The details are of course problematic, but that view was essentially correct. It is, however, wrong to think that people in the West knew this all along.
4th-Oct-2013 08:17 am - Fred Reed on Military Technology
One of my favorite writers on the military industrial complex is Fred Reed. This piece on the USAF's expensive toys is one of the funniest things I've read in ages.

Thing is though, Fred actually knows shit about how military hardware works. He has informed, nuanced views that lesser minds see as contradictory. Also, he's a curmudgeonly bastard who sees no need to slow down and explain every little facet to people who can't keep up. I suspect that he's a blast to drink with.

The problem is, and Mr. Reed alludes to this, most people are un-freaking-believably-stupid. Specifically, they lack the ability to parse complicated, nuanced information on subjects with which they are unfamiliar. Most people are cognitive misers who prefer to simplify information into the sort of bite-sized chunks that allow them to make emotional snap decisions.

Armored vehicles don't work on emotional snap decisions. Is a T-90 or an abrams more agile? Which model T-90 are we talking? What engine is it equipped with, and which model of tracks does it have? Which model abrams? What are the mean maximum ground pressures and the specific sprocket horsepower of the tanks being compared? Has the T-90 been retrofitted with a different gearbox to give it continuously variable, regenerative steering? Can it neutral steer? Will it self-steer? What are the comparative track contact area length ratios for each tank? What are the suspension travel limits and frequencies for each tank? What sorts of surfaces are they operating on?

And yet there are plenty of people on the internet, as well as plenty of journalists who will glibly tell you that the T-90 is clearly more agile than the M1 abrams, despite the question being so complicated that any simple answer is meaningless.

So, because the citizens of this good republic are incapable of discussing military procurement in any serious way, a giant military-industrial complex devoted to wasting money sprung up. Fred's first article is right too; it's not that all is well in Pentagon-ville. Far from it. It's just that most of the people who have proposed to fix it have been idiots, charlatans, or just hostile to the idea of the military existing at all. Eventually they get tired or distracted, and billion dollar contracts end up going to Boeing just the same as they did before.

The problems of Pentagon-ville aren't problems that can be solved with wishful, simplistic thinking, or with more graft. Unfortunately, contemporary US politics can accomplish exactly two things. Those are graft and wishful thinking in any amount and ratio of your desire.
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