Wednesday What We’re Reading (Sep. 18, 2019)

Cor, it’s Wednesday already?

I spent my morning coffee time working on learning one of the simple alphabetic shorthands, so this one’s a bit later than they’ve been.

Defense

Science and Technology

Sport

Grab Bag


  1. Another municipality in the vicinity of Pittsburgh 

LAND 400 Downselect

Australia has announced the downselect results for the LAND 400 IFV competition. They chose Rheinmetall’s KF41 Lynx and Hanwha’s AS21 Redback to proceed to the next phase of competition. This means of course that the General Dynamics ASCOD 2/Ajax derivative and BAE’s CV90 are out.

This means that the two proposals derived from vehicles that are in service somewhere are out. While the LAND 400 requirements wanted something relatively ‘low risk’ it seems that new designs that share components with in service vehicles suffices. It also helps that the Lynx and the Redback were both designed with what the Australian army actually wanted in mind. Funny how that works. I’m glad they prioritized capabilities.

I’m not surprised the CV90 didn’t make the cut, since that’s an older design and it wasn’t very cutting edge when new. The ASCOD 2/Ajax proposal rejection was a little more surprising, as the Australians tend to have a lot of commonality with the UK. Anyway, it should be good to see how the two newer designs shake out.

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Sep. 11, 2019)

18 years on, the world is very different than it was on September 10, 2001. I don’t have a memorial to link; contemplate quietly in your own way.

Defense

Space

Other Science and Technology Stories

  • Are insect populations actually declining? – A followup to a previously-shared story. In Puerto Rico, the answer appears to be ‘no, and if they were, it wouldn’t be because of temperature change, because there hasn’t actually been any’.
  • Bad ideas in computing: PingFS – It stores your files in the contents of ping packets to a remote server of your choice. It doesn’t work on LANs because the latency is too low.
  • Aluminum hydride, known primarily as a rocket fuel additive, makes a superb fuel cell fuel – At the top end, the aluminum hydride fuel cell system has better energy density than JP8 and a power unit, both by mass and volume. Being a solid powder, it also doesn’t take any compressive storage. Also, it contains 148 grams of hydrogen per liter of volume, twice the density of liquid hydrogen, to say nothing of compressed hydrogen gas. The only obstacle to widespread adoption is scale of production. A Bay Area company called Ardica Technologies is working on that, but they’re at kilogram-scale right now, and DoD is putting out feelers for more than 40,000 metric tons per year3.

Global Politics

  • One mechanism by which the Chinese economy might collapse – “It is needed to build more steel mills so as to build more shipyards, ports, railways and bridges so that more ships can be built to carry more iron ore to more ports and thence along more rails and bridges to more steel mills so as to build more shipyards, ports, railways …”
  • UK Parliament denies Boris Johnson’s second bid for an election – How it sounds to an outsider: “The Brexit fight is absolutely crucial to Britain’s survival as a democracy, which is why we mustn’t under any circumstances permit the people to weigh in.” I’m nearing the end of Massey’s Dreadnought, which covers a tumultuous time in British history during which political figures used snap election after snap election as referenda on the issues of the moment. Apparently that changed not merely this century, but also this decade.

Grab Bag


  1. This is sarcasm, although granted, I don’t recall offhand what kind of parachute schemes the US has used. Weigh in in the comments. 
  2. And sometimes even used to mean a successful landing rather than a crash, to my surprise. The Pathfinder and Mars Exploration Rover (that is, Spirit and Opportunity) both used airbag-assisted lithobraking. 
  3. Things I’m always saying: if you’re pro-renewable-energy-economy, you need to find a way to turn electricity into high-density fuel for applications where batteries aren’t gonna cut it. Maybe this one? 

Parvusimperator Reviews: Resident Evil 2 (Remake)

Remaking movies is a terrible, terrible idea. Remaking video games can be a great idea, and Resident Evil 2 is a good example of a remake done right. The original was made in 1998 on the original playstation, featuring PSX graphics, fixed perspective cameras, and the sort of “tank controls”1 that only die hard purists and masochists enjoy.

Modernizing the game was done with the help of the engine from Resident Evil 7, giving modern controls and excellent modern graphics. Interestingly, and unlike Resident Evil 7, the remake of Resident Evil 2 has a third-person perspective. It’s a well done third person, and I’m ok with that.

Some of the structure of Resident Evil 2 remains intact. You can choose between one of two characters, Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield for your playthrough of the story, and then you can opt to play as the other character for a complimentary story. Leon and Claire have some different boss fights, different weapons, different collectibles, go through different areas, and even work with different NPC helpers. There’s plenty of replay value to be had here.

There’s more fun to be had in the extra modes. There’s The 4th Survivor, which changes the formula by giving you an inventory full of weapons and healing items, but has nothing for you to pick up to restock with. Then there are some DLC scenarios which add some new zombie types, lootable backpacks, explosive backpacks, and vending machines. The vending machines are a neat twist, with each one featuring three items, but you can only pick one of them.

If you’re a fan of survival horror, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.


  1. Amusingly, while I love tanks almost as much as the Stavka, I do not enjoy classic Resident Evil “tank controls” at all. 

MGL Thinking

Let’s spend a little bit of time thinking about multishot grenade launchers (MGLs) Specifically, I’m thinking about the Milkor M32A1 that SOCOM and the USMC bought recently. I’m on record as liking them, and I stand by that, but I haven’t been able to slot them in anywhere. Let’s fix that.

It’s pretty typical for a fire team to have one grenadier and squads to have one or two. These grenadiers have an M320 or M203 or similar launcher, which may be attached to their carbine or carried in a standalone configuration. I prefer the standalone configuration, since it generally gives a more effective grenade launcher, and reinforces the concept that the grenade launcher should be the primary weapon for the grenadier. It’s also easier to get good sights on the grenade launcher. So let’s try the simple thing. What if we replace the standalone one-shot grenade launcher with the M32A1?

There are some obvious gains we can see immediately. We gain up to five follow-up shots, which make it a lot easier to quickly correct for aim or put more fire on the target. There’s also a well-designed stock, a launcher design that can comfortably handle medium velocity (40x53mm) grenades, a spin drift compensating optical sight, and plenty of picatinny rails for night-fighting accessories and the like. The obvious downside is, of course, weight. The M32A1, equipped with M2A1 sight, weighs 15.8 lbs.

Let’s start playing with some weight numbers. First, we need some sort of benchmark. We’ll look at a current squad member with another weighty weapon: the SAW gunner. An M249 SAW weighs 17 lbs unloaded. The gunner’s basic load of ammo is 1,000 rounds, carried in five 200-round belts. For simplicity, I’ll assume these are all carried in the standard plastic boxes. Each boxed belt weighs about 7 lbs, so the basic load is 35 lbs. Add in the usual sight, the much-maligned Elcan M1451 (1.5 lbs) and we get an all-up weight of 53.5 lbs. That’s pretty heavy, and we almost certainly shouldn’t go heavier than that for our grenadier load.

Some digging around the internet puts the grenadier’s basic load of grenades at 36. Low velocity grenades weigh about half a pound a piece, so that’s 18 lbs of grenade ammo. If we want to carry all medium velocity grenades, which weigh about three quarters of a pound, our ammo load goes up to 27 lbs. Medium velocity grenades have a number of advantages over low velocity grenades. The higher velocity doubles the maximum range from 400 meters to 800 meters. Medium velocity grenades also have a significantly larger maximum point-blank range (i.e. the largest range at which you don’t need to adjust your aim to account for grenade drop). Furthermore, medium velocity grenades have a noticeably larger warhead.

We’re not done though. While the grenadier’s primary weapon is (now) his trusty M32A1 multishot grenade launcher, he needs a secondary weapon. Something for close encounters.2 The old-school traditionalists might call out a pistol, and pistols are pretty compact and lightweight. But they’re also generally not very effective in combat. They’re harder to score hits with and they don’t have as much terminal effect as a carbine. Plus, few soldiers have the practice on one to make it work for them. Can we make the loadout work with a carbine as secondary?

While a basic load for a rifleman is seven magazines, we can reduce this to, say, three or four magazines because the carbine is a backup weapon for the grenadier. An M4A1, Aimpoint Comp M5 red dot sight, and ATPIAL for night fighting comes out to about 7.2 lbs. Three mags come out to 3.2 lbs, four come to 4.3 lbs. So total weight for the carbine secondary is 10.4 lbs with three mags, and 11.5 lbs with four mags.

Just for the record, a Glock 19 Gen5 MOS with Deltapoint Pro and four mags comes to 3.3 lbs or so.

If I go with three mags for the carbine, I can squeeze in under my SAW Gunner weight threshold, even with 36 medium velocity grenades. I’m a bit over with four carbine magazines, and of course going with the pistol option leaves me a reasonable margin. I still prefer the carbine as a secondary weapon because of its greater utility, and because carbine marksmanship is a lot less perishable than pistol marksmanship. Overall though, this seems like a plausible grenadier loadout, and I like it much better than the alternative.


  1. This is very much NOT the sight I would put on my squad LMGs, but this is a standard choice for US Army MG sights, so it’s what we’ll go with here. Remember, we’re only trying to get a ballpark heavy load. 
  2. Read that in a Michael Biehn voice. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Sep. 4, 2019)

We’re both back from vacation, and here’s some of what we read along the way. Mostly what I read; parvusimperator unplugs more fully than I do.

Vacation Fun

  • My wife and I visited Portland (the slightly less socialist Maine version), with a brief pilgrimage up to Bath to see the Maine Maritime Museum (and thence, the only non-NO PHOTOGRAPHY view of Bath Iron Works). Strong thumbs up from me. Maine was delightfully low-key. When we vacationed to New Orleans, we didn’t want to miss anything, because it’s all steeped in a New Orleans-specific flavor1 that you can’t find anywhere else. The parts of Maine we visited were simply coastal New England in pure form. We saw lighthouses, ate a bunch of lobster, and enjoyed the pleasant seaside weather. We didn’t see all there was to see, but we don’t feel like we missed out, either.

Books

  • Nonfiction: I’m nearly done with Massey’s Dreadnought, which is good, but also not quite what I expected (an in-depth technical look at the battleship race). Rather, it’s almost a collection of biographies of interesting figures from the late 1800s through the start of the Great War.
  • Nonfiction: Next on the list is When Tigers Ruled the Sky, a brilliantly-titled volume on the Flying Tigers.
  • Fiction: Phobos, the debut novel from author Ty Drago (what a name!). A tense, tightly-paced moderately-hard-sci-fi thriller, framed like a classic mystery. There’s even a scene when the main character brings all the suspects together in one room and sums up the facts to date.

Defense

Science and Technology

Games

  • Kerbal Space Program 2! – I’m a big Kerbal Space Program the Original booster, so I’m glad to see this. I have a big KSP mission planned; maybe I’ll take screenshots and write that up.

Hong Kong

Grab Bag

Economics

Long Reads

  • On working homelessness – Not as common a condition as some would have you believe if you look at homelessness as ‘living on the streets’. Somewhat more common if you look at it as ‘would be living on the streets but for the charity of family’. Not that family charity is a bad thing, but The New Republic (yes, a dirty pinko rag generally) paints some interesting pictures here.
  • Why hasn’t Brexit happened yet? – Because the British civil service, and European bureaucrats generally, look at Yes, Minister and see an instruction manual rather than a farce.

  1. Now I’m hungry. 

Parvusimperator Reviews: Ace Combat 7

My first flight gaming love was, like that of many youngsters, something very arcade-y. Namely: Rogue Squadron. Recently, I decided to return to my arcadey roots and pick up Ace Combat 7, the latest entry in a series that I had last played on the Playstation 2.

To repeat, this is an Arcade Flight Game (TM). Your plane carries over one hundred missiles, and you’ll have targets for all of them. If you’re expecting realism, go look up some DCS reviews.

Ace Combat 7 is set in the fun Namco-created world called “Strangereal” which was probably made by someone cutting an existing world map into pieces and then playing around with them. All the country names are fake and any resemblance to actual countries is purely coincidental by design. So we don’t have to argue about how many planes some country really has. Oh, and everybody gets to mix types, because engaging a flight of Tu-160s escorted by Mirage 2000-5s is awesome. You also have a big tree of unlockable aircraft and parts to buy with points earned from missions. Those missions are graded, of course.

The missions themselves are a pretty solid grab bag of types, though the escort ones are a hot mess. Par for the course, really: escort missions are always made of suck. Missions where you have lots of targets to destroy are a good time, as expected. There are also a few missions where you have to work on your target identification. You won’t know whether a target is hostile or not until you get close enough for positive identification. Shades of Vietnam there. And of course, there are ‘boss fights’ with either giant enemies with lots of sub-components or fancy plot armor. Again, nothing too fancy or out of the ordinary.

Overall, Ace Combat 7 is an excellent entry in a field that doesn’t have a lot of recent games. If you like lobbing lots of missiles at things, give this one a try. It’s loads of fun.

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Aug. 21, 2019)

Parvusimperator is on vacation this week, and I’m on vacation next week, so expect a lighter WWWR than usual.

The promised USPSA match video isn’t done yet. I only recorded three of the six stages, so I have some further prep work to do for the ones missing video.

Defense

Science and Technology

  • Amazon’s facial recognition technology can smell your fear – Or at least recognize it to a high degree of confidence in a picture of your face.
  • The universal law that aims time’s arrow – Quanta Magazine story. Have your coffee first.
  • Astronomers observe a pair-instability supernova – Super-massive stars explode with enough energy to make gamma rays which in turn make particle-antiparticle pairs which annihilate the entire star.
  • Random space fun fact: if you packed them as tightly as possible, you could fit every star in the Milky Way inside the orbit of Neptune with room to spare1.
  • Deep reinforcement learning is not an AI panacea – You heard it here before you heard it at Wired, although I phrase it in terms of when self-driving cars in their final form will be a reality. (Refresher: at least a few decades and one major AI paradigm shift away.)
  • Usable renewable energy means hydroelectric or nuclear – Right now, nuclear power costs as much as solar or wind… ignoring storage for solar/wind demand shifting. See also: heat waves in Texas with minimal wind causing power shortages exactly when you’d want more power.
  • Homeostasis, parasites, and antidepressants – Of course it’s a Slate Star Codex article.
  • Europa Clipper is a go – That’s the Wikipedia page on the mission, but it was approved this week and is now on the way into detailed design. The ‘clipper’ name comes from how it’ll orbit Jupiter, making Europa flybys, both to reduce its exposure to the near-Jupiter high-radiation bands, and to give it more time to transmit data back to Earth in between flybys.
  • The beginning of the end for Nest – Convert your account to a Google account, and lose all your Nest home automation hub features! A friendly reminder from your Soapbox contributors: don’t buy any home automation thing you can’t self-host.
  • Supply chain attacks on open-source projects continue – It’s hard to sneak a backdoor into a popular open-source project. It’s easy to slip a backdoor into a tiny, unnoticed dependency of many open-source projects.

Grab Bag

Hong Kong Protests


  1. Assumptions: average solar radius 0.6, stars occupy a cubic volume whose dimension is the star’s diameter, no more than 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, ‘inside the orbit of Neptune’ means a sphere whose radius is Neptune’s average orbital radius. However big you think astronomical distances are, they’re bigger than that. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Aug. 14, 2019)

Still just me, keeping the lights on. (Parvusimperator contributes stories here, too, of course.)

I’m trying something new and writing the post on Tuesday night rather than Wednesday morning. Less hurried. [Update from Tuesday night: actually, I wrote the post on Monday night because I got confused.]

In next week’s roundup, I should have another USPSA match video. As an added bonus, I should be running a few stages which I designed.

Defense

History

Science and Technology

Sport

Guns

Grab Bag

Hong Kong Protests

Book Review Review: Secular Cycles

SlateStarCodex reviewed Secular Cycles. Best quote: “I wish I could find commentary by other academics and historians on Secular Cycles, or on Turchin’s work more generally. I feel like somebody should either be angrily debunking this, or else throwing the authors a ticker-tape parade for having solved history.”

As is ever the case for SSC reviews, it goes into great depth and does some analysis of the key claim: that human history follows tide-like cycles. Calamity kills a lot of people, the survivors rebuild and grow rich, the rich society stagnates, stagnation leads to calamity. This seems reasonable to me. Certainly, it looks like it applies to Europe up until the postwar years. Belle Epoque, war then war again, recovery. (Or possibly continued inter-cycle stagnation?)

There’s some question over whether it applies today. A later book by the same author(s?) says yes, but I say you need some qualifiers. First, the calamity cycle only works for a society without outside inputs, as Mr. Alexander notes, and there are very few of those nowadays. None, if you’re asking about those of interest on the world stage. Second, the nation-state is no longer the unit of interest. We operate on the scale of civilizations now: the West and so forth. Third, the calamities aren’t as bad. The potential calamities are a lot worse, but the ones that actually happened are milder. The World Wars killed 15% of Germans, maybe. As a percentage of Europeans, the Black Plague killed a lot more. Fourth, we’re no longer operating in a Malthusian frame. We can skim along the top of the cycle for a lot longer before things fall apart, and they’re more likely to fall apart for ideological reasons than they are because of lack of food.

Anyway, SSC is going to review the author’s (s’?) next book, which makes the pro-cycle argument for the modern age. Maybe I’ll read both myself, rather than relying on someone else to read them for me.

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Aug. 7, 2019)

Another Wednesday, another What We’re Reading post.

Come October or November, once the season for outdoor tasks and hobbies is closed, I’m going to run a wintertime Rule the Waves 2 AAR here, with some room for decision points guided by reader voting. I would start sooner, but I’m not optimistic about my ability to maintain a regular schedule for anything more than this post until I have less on my plate.

Hong Kong Protests

Defense

Science and Technology

  • Stupid ways to implement malloc and free in C++ – Some of which, toward the bottom of the post, get into the territory bounded by the saying, “If it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid.”
  • This Medium post covers some of the same ground – As it turns out, custom memory allocators which reserve a large block of memory up front, getting all the system call overhead out of the way, then parcel it out within the confines of the program in which they run are not uncommon in the game development space, where efficiency is king.
  • Happy Friendly Dystopia Watch: Ring Doorbells edition – Ring (a fully-owned subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc.) coaches cops on how to ask homeowners with Ring doorbells to voluntarily hand over surveillance footage.
  • Serious flaw in KDE’s file explorer – View a directory containing a .desktop file and you’re hosed.
  • What does it take to get a Twitter ban? – Direct calls to violence targeting specific people? That’s apparently within Twitter’s rules, as long as you’re targeting conservatives. Call reporter/snowflake Jim Acosta an asshole, however, and that’s a 24-hour ban.

Guns

  • Secret Service adopts Glock 19 Gen5 – A bit downmarket for the Secret Service1, you say? I agreed. Parvusimperator says it makes sense, though: “On USSS (or any other agency) piggybacking on a contract, remember that: If they wanted to do something else, they’d have to hold an RFP, accept bids, conduct testing & evaluation, etc. It would cost millions of dollars. If there’s a preexisting procurement program/contract that they can piggyback on (such as the ICE, CBP, or FBI contracts), then they can just pick it and go.”
  • The history of mass murder in the US – Not as gun-heavy as the media would have you believe. It’s more prevalent now, though, because today’s mass murderers are constructing warrior myths in their heads, and plowing a truck into a crowd or burning down an animation studio don’t fit the stories they tell themselves.
  • Analyzing NYC’s brief in NYSRPA v. City of New York – The Truth About Guns is, granted, a source likely to find that the case is looking rosy for the natural-rights side, but NYC, having changed the law following a writ of certiorari, is not on particularly solid ground here. If a child steals a toy from his brother, then guiltily gives it back when his mother notices, he’s still going to get in trouble.

Grab Bag

  • The Moka pot is brilliant – The Moka pot, a stovetop steam pressure coffee maker, does indeed make a brilliant cuppa. It’s my coffee maker of choice for backpacking, given that a three-cup model2 is compact and lightweight. Bialetti, the inventor and main manufacturer of such pots, is in financial trouble, though, so you might want to get one while you can. I’ve owned a few knockoffs over the years, none of which are as good as the genuine article.
  • The Kure Maritime Museum has the most impressive entrance of any I’ve seen – The Central Naval Museum in St. Petersburg remains the most impressive I’ve personally been to.
  • The slow death of Hollywood, and the rise of streaming providers – With a bonus note on why Netflix cancels shows early: the best Netflix subscriber from the perspective of Netflix’s financials is one who doesn’t watch anything. So, it’s in their best interests to make a bunch of interesting television, then cancel it after a season or two before the cast starts to demand raises. Of course, this business model requires consumers to have zero memory, and given how mad I still am at Google for killing about 60% of the Google products I use, I don’t think that’s likely.
  • Of course, the slow death of Netflix is also maybe already in progress? – I expect that the Fishbreath household will subscribe to two streaming providers: Netflix and Disney+. We’ll, uh, creatively obtain everything else. I bought into the cord-cutting thing because streaming was convenient as much as it was cheap. A bunch of walled gardens, each with their own apps, quirks, and costs? I’m out, thanks.
  • WW2 movies are played out, so why not a WW1 movie? – Decent preview.
  • Between 1924 and 1976, you had to renew your copyright after 28 years, or it would expire – So, 80% of books published between those two dates are in the public domain. Unfortunately, I expect all the famous ones are not.

  1. On our internal chat, I abbreviated Secret Service ‘SS’ before I realized that typically refers to a different organization. 
  2. That’s espresso cups. You can water the output down to make Americano-style coffee.