Tag Archives: what we’re reading

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? 

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. 

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. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jul. 31, 2019)

This is an auspicious entry in the Wednesday What We’re Reading series: #42.

Parvusimperator and I both have a few drafts for normal articles we’re working on, but summer is busy. C’est la vie.

9:38 PM edit: I just realized the title of this post said July 24 instead of July 31, and it stood for almost twelve hours. Come on, regulars! You have to dunk on us for unforced errors like that.

Defense

Science and Technology

Guns

  • Yours truly at the other local match – Well, ‘other’ means about one of five within easy driving distance, but USPSA is pretty much a morning sport, and I don’t do sports that overlap with church if I can avoid it.
  • My first attempt at some USPSA stage design – In this revision, four of the six stages are illegal for various reasons. Can you spot them? Check your answers with the spoilers at the bottom of the post. A USPSA stage repository might be a future Many Words Press project.

Games

Grab Bag

Spoiler for Stage Design Quiz Little Hint

Three of the four illegal courses are illegal for the same reason.
Spoiler for Stage Design Quiz Big Hint

The rules being violated are 1.1.5 and 2.1.4.
Spoiler for Stage Design Quiz Answers

Happy Feet, Should I Stay or Should I Go, and Criss-Cross all illegally specify mandatory reloads and shooting positions in the stage briefings. Since they require more than 20 rounds to complete, they’re long courses, and long courses must be freestyle.

Happy Feet and J-Turn are additionally illegal because you can be downrange of some of the targets and still see them.

Happy Feet is trivially fixable by adding fault lines up to the wall and moving the barrel stack to hide the left-side targets from beyond the wall.

Should I Stay or Should I Go can be fixed by adding barriers to the left and right of the start box which form a tunnel pointing at the plate rack, and removing the language in the stage briefing about shooting the plate rack from the box, or by dropping to best 2 on paper to turn into an 18-round medium course, which at Level I matches can specify shooting positions and reloads.

Criss-Cross is easiest to fix by removing four shots to convert it to a 20-round medium course. By adding some walls and converting the shooting boxes to a single fault line, it can be fixed while maintaining the shot count and remaining truer to the USPSA ‘everything is freestyle’ ethos.

J-Turn can be fixed by placing barrels to hide the right-side pair from downrange. A further suggestion was to remove a barrel stack to

I’ll redo the book to show the stages in the long course form, with some setup notes on how to convert them to the easier-to-set-up medium courses.

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jul. 24, 2019)

Parvusimperator hasn’t had much in the way of article fodder lately, but did submit quite a number of things to this week’s What We’re Reading.

Strait of Hormuz Crisis, 2019 Edition

Defense

Science and Technology

Guns

History

Grab Bag

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jul. 17, 2019)

Summer is in full swing, and speaking of things in full swing, I plan to continue my recent superhero kick by doing up a review of Spider-Man: Far From Home.

If the number of articles in this series were years of its age, we would now refer to it as over the hill.

Defense

Science and Technology

Guns

  • USPSA match video: me, last weekend – I bought a camera which clips to the brim of a baseball cap, so I don’t have to mess around with tripods or finding someone to record me2. The resolution is quite poor for an allegedly-720p video, but it does, at least, work.
  • Related to the above, Facebook reminded me of a fun CZ story. When I bought the P-09 originally, I got the night sights version, even though I was planning on taking the night sights off immediately, because it came with an extra magazine and the price delta was less than the cost of one magazine. In the manual, it said that the tritium gas, if it escapes, is mostly harmless, and “[…] in case of its inspiration it is recommended to increase the intake of liquids and eventually to take some diuretic (beer with low content of alcohol) for acceleration of the body water exchange.”
  • USPSA match video: one of the local fast shooters – Shared because he has a super-fancy Max-Michel-branded video app which analyzes your audio to find your shots, then lets you tag the intervening time with various activities, then gives you a breakdown of the result. Very handy—”I spent six seconds on transitions on that stage, but only three seconds on splits” tells you a lot about what you should be practicing. It’s the kind of thing parvusimperator and I might aim to recreate by hacking an open source video editor, so we don’t have to go out and buy an iDevice to use it.

Grab Bag


  1. Granted, the article is talking about a blockade (a piece of wartime strategy) rather than an embargo (a diplomatic lever), but the comparison’s just too juicy to pass up. 
  2. Open-source hardware idea: a cheaper version of those $800 tripods which turn to follow a radio beacon. I can’t imagine a stepper motor, a few circuit boards, and some RF voodoo cost nearly that much. 
  3. Some of the examples in the article remind me of my favorite thing about English: it’s a very easy language—not to be fluent in, but to be comprehensible in. No tones, very little formal grammar, and a long history of interaction with wild accents and local flavors make English a better lingua franca than French ever was. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jul. 10, 2019)

Since the long-form articles this week are both on the subject of a superhero roleplaying game, I’ve helpfully separated out the articles for today’s post which are thinly-disguised supervillain plots.

Defense (Other)

Defense (Supervillain Plots)

Science and Technology

  • The sinkhole that saved the Internet – A sinkhole, in this usage, is a server which sucks up traffic that would otherwise be bound for a worm’s command and control servers. In this case, the ransomware known as WannaCry had a killswitch—if it could reach a particular web address, it deactivated itself. A security researcher set up a server there, and prevented something like tens of millions of infections from going active.
  • Einstein and symmetry: the man and the idea behind modern physics – A Quanta article, so have your coffee first and block off ten minutes to read it and half an hour to think between paragraphs.
  • Raspberry Pi 4 has an incorrectly-wired USB-C port – Maybe it’s because I’m not a hardware engineer by trade, but if a datasheet gives me a reference circuit design, you can bet I’m going to copy it wholesale.

Guns

  • Ruger continues the competition push with a custom shop SR1911 – This isn’t new new, having been announced in April, but it’s the first I’m hearing of it. $2499 for a gun suited for USPSA Single Stack. Your choice of Major or Minor—it comes in 9mm or .45, with 10-round and 8-round magazines, respectively.

Grab Bag

  • China 2050: in the throes of demographic decline – The one- and two-child policies in China put its native population growth below the replacement rate. China’s closed nature and impossible language mean it doesn’t get very much immigration. In the middle of the 21st century, it could very well be looking at the same problems Japan is looking at today.
  • The oyster poachers of Connemara – Shared because I quite liked Connemara on my trip to Ireland, and because ‘oyster’ and ‘poaching’ would not have been my first guess in either case if you gave me one word and asked me to guess the other.

  1. to stan: to be an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity, or, in this case, branch of the armed services or aircraft. Evidently it comes from an Eminem song. Since I’m using Twitter lingo already here, don’t at me. 
  2. The only reason to end a headline with a question mark is because libel law requires you to answer it with ‘no’. Otherwise, you just make the headline a statement. Modern journalists ignore this rule, but modern journalists are also, in large part, comically bad at their jobs. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jul. 3, 2019)

A little patriotic overture to start the post seems fitting.

Defense

Defense: Czech IFV Requirements

A Very Special Section – Since it requires some translation, which Parvusimperator provided. (I assume he found it somewhere, since unless he’s holding out on me, he doesn’t speak Czech.)

  • Number of vehicles: 210
  • Crew: 3 + 6 soldiers + 2 specialists
  • 7 variants: IFV, command, recon, engineering, ambulance, artillery recon, recovery
  • Lifetime 30 years (min. 10 000 km to general rebuild)
  • Programmable ammo for the 30 mm canon
  • Coaxial MG 7.62 mm
  • ATGM (2 in container, 1 in the vehicle)
  • Smoke grenade launchers covering 360°
  • Sights with min. 4000/3500 m range day/night
  • Ballistic protection (base vehicle min. K2 + addon min. K5) i.e. STANAG 4569 II/V
  • APS
  • Protection against IED (jammer)
  • Surveillance systems: day CCD camera, night IR camera, laser rangefinder
  • Top speed on the road 65 km/h, in terrain 40 km/h
  • Range min. 500 km
  • Air-transportable
  • Intercom + VKV/UKV radios voice/data (GPS, TACSAT and cypher connection)

Science and Technology

Grab Bag

A little choral patriotic music to wrap up the post seems fitting.


  1. I shouldn’t complain too hard; as I understand it, American anime-watchers have had this problem forever.