Winter Wargaming tomorrow. Don’t forget to check back and vote on the direction for our fictional France—I typically play over the weekend.
I have to write the 2019 audience report at some point. The very short version is: slightly reduced traffic over 2019, but counting Discord, massively increased audience engagement. To our regulars, both the commentariat and the lurkers, we’re happy to have you around.
- Me: Castles of Steel, by Robert Massie. I’m reminded of an era when the government owned the design of its warships.
- Parvusimperator: Samurai!, by Saburo Sakai.
- Soleimani bites it thanks to good old American Hellfire, Iran retaliates, US perhaps to retaliate back? – I don’t really need to link anything for this, do I?
- Navy Act restricts LCS fleet to 35 hulls
- 8 F-15EXes for the USAF in 2020 – That’s 176 AMRAAMs, or 29⅓ F-35A/Cs, or 44 F-35Bs.
- The Diplomat on the Chinese influence campaign in the US – I still belong to the ‘Overheard at ‘ Facebook group, and it’s been utterly fascinating watching the pro-China Chinese students square off against the anti-China Westerners. For one thing, the Chinese are using the language of the social justice movement, which is a masterstroke—very few of the Western students have any idea how to argue if that rug is pulled out from beneath them.
- Iran has better missiles than it used to – In particular, these ones can actually hit point targets.
- Coast Guard to face narco-sub epidemic in 2020? – Granted that most of them are semi-submersibles rather than full-on submarines, but still. In related news, have you heard about the transatlantic narco-submarine trade? I hadn’t.
- On the next world war – The article misses the fact that latent industrial capacity is not really enough to make modern military equipment. You could convert a 1943 Ford factory to make B-24s. It would be much, much harder to convert a 2020 Ford factory to make F-35s.
- Back to H. I. Sutton: how will the balance of power in world submarine fleets change in the 2020s?
Science and Technology
Welcome to the New Year, folks!
- Ospreys land at the US Embassy in Baghdad – In video! Great way to land your reinforcements.
- LRASM now on Super Hornets – Finally, the US Navy enters the 21st century, with a proper air-launched anti-ship cruise missile.
- HMS QE launches an F-35 while moored – One advantage to the STOVL carrier: you don’t need to worry about wind as much, and you can park your carriers two in a row without impairing landing operations on either one.
- In news related to the prior bullet, HMS Prince of Wales, moored behind QE, was commissioned on December 10, and I don’t think we reported that. The UK moves into a multi-way tie for second place on the carrier leaderboards, at least until China and India commission the ones they have under construction.
- Reported on Christmas Eve: Pentagon proposes cuts to destroyer construction – And right after I visited Bath Iron Works, too.
- Also on the cut list: one FFG(X), one Virginia
- ProPublica with a deep dive into the VMFA-242 Hornet/tanker collision
- Correcting the legacy of the Los Angeles boats – They’re typically seen as Cold War warriors. A submariner who served on three says some of their most distinguished service came in the 90s and beyond.
- China is mapping the sea floor in the Straits of Malacca and the Andaman Sea – Wonder why they might be doing that.
Science and Technology
- The New York Times with a two-part story on cell phone location data tracking for advertising purposes – I feel less good about carrying a smartphone around.
- Mathematician achieves an important result on the Collatz conjecture – That is, the 3n+1 n/2 jobber. The short version is that the result shows that the conjecture is almost true for almost all numbers. The long version is, it’s a Quanta Magazine article, so you can probably follow the argument there better than I could reproduce it here.
- Is Betelgeuse going to explode? – If it does, I hope it does in the winter, because I’d trade a dozen eclipses for a supernova brighter than the full moon.
- A brief history of AT&T’s microwave relay towers – Came across it when reading a search and rescue story at the excellent Otherhand.org, discovered that I drive past an old microwave relay tower every day on my way to work. After the microwave relay system was decommissioned, ours was sold off and is now a telecom tower of some other kind.
- Drones are scouting rural Colorado – Isn’t that where Red Dawn started?
- The Internet used to be a lot more anarchic – (I put it that way because I’m playing Shadowrun: Dragonfall right now, and anarchic Flux State Berlin is a fun setting.) Walled gardens (i.e., Medium for blogs) have largely taken over, but fear not! Our little kiez here isn’t going anywhere.
It’s an even more eclectic week here at Soapbox World HQ than usual.
Lead Story: Magnetized Target Fusion is awesome
- Fusion with pistons: General Fusion gets Bezos backing – If I were a billionaire, I’d definitely fund cool Future Technology projects, too.
- Here’s the 2007 paper describing General Fusion’s concept – Start with a steel sphere two meters across, studded with steam-powered pistons. Fill it with a liquid lead-lithium alloy. Use equatorial pumps to turn it into a vortex, and polar pumps to pull it out the top and bottom, so you get a vertical cavity. Inject plasma into that cavity. Fire the pistons, which all impact the steel sphere at the same time and make a compression wave in the lead-lithium. That compression wave ignites the plasma, heating the lead-lithium. Run the hot lead-lithium from the polar pumps through a heat exchanger, which generates steam for turbines and the pistons. Repeat once per second. Neutron activation turns the lithium into tritium, and the use of liquid lead as a working fluid means you don’t need to worry about neutron bombardment turning your steel sphere into Swiss cheese.
- Here’s a video, if my description isn’t clear – Obviously, General Fusion is invested in saying it’ll work, but the math seems to check out, and this particular approach to fusion seems to have a number of advantages over pure magnetic confinement and pure inertial confinement. The biggest one, as I see it, is that it operates on principles broadly familiar to today’s industrial equipment: it has some pumps, and it has some steam-powered pistons (with some electronics to control impact timing), neither of which is all that complicated. The devices to generate the plasma are a bit more esoteric, but well-understood.
All told, a nifty system, and one with a number of seeming practical advantages. Also, I love the idea of a fusion power plant being bulky, spiky, and loud. (All those pistons hitting a steel sphere…)
Science and Technology
- Gameanalytics: increasing the efficiency of your web API the good way – “For each byte we save on this endpoint’s response which gets five billion hits per day, we save $7.50 per month.” They manage to cut nearly three kilobytes.
- Plaid: increasing the efficiency of your web API the bad, wrong way – “So, we run 4,000 Node.js workers, each of which only processes a single [web] request at a time…” Not only do they lose points for having an awful, awful, awful pre-existing system, they lose points for their solution being, “Well, we can bandage this up!” rather than “Kill it with fire!”. Also, they lose points for the silly Silicon Valley affectation of using ’30x’ (pronounced thirty-ex) as a verb. It boggles the mind that they posted this look at their architecture on their own website as a way to brag. The only thing it’s done for me is ensure that I recommend nobody ever use Plaid under any circumstances.
- QuadrigaCX investors/currency-holders demanding exhumation of definitely-for-sure-dead-in-India-of-a-typically-non-fatal-disease CEO Gerry Cotten – Fun fact: Cotten, in high school, was active in online Ponzi scheme communities. Also, Simpsons quote!
- Google debated leaving the cloud computing realm altogether, but instead decided to try to become a top-two player by 2023 – …and if they aren’t? Will they abandon the market then?
- From the Slashdot comment thread above, a telling description from an insider: “A perfect example is Google’s HQ in Mountain View. While the grounds are maintained, all the lawn art and furniture, all outside decorations are decaying and rotting away. All the Android statues except the latest one are tilted, broken and missing chunks. And each new version of Android has a smaller statue that the previous one. And of course, the official Google Visitor Center is permanently closed and the Google Gift Shop is open only 10-6 on work days – dealing with customers was never Google’s strong point.”
Thanks to church choir obligations, Winter Wargaming will likely start in early January, or possibly late December.
- Will plasma thrusters help next-gen satellites dodge attacks? – Probably, but I still lean toward large arrays of cheap satellites, thanks to the American cheap-launch strategic advantage.
- Related: the SpaceX Starlink satellites generate about as much power (3kW) as the old Soviet RORSATs, orbit only 90km higher (350km vs 260km), and can be launched 60 at a go.
- Chinese defector speaks out on China’s strategy – He’s currently in Australia.
- China bans US military vessels from Hong Kong – parvusimperator wondered when the last visit was. The BBC says April.
- RC-135 Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft spotted with a strange new antenna – For those, like me, who weren’t in the know, the RC-135 does all kinds of signals intelligence.
- How good is the Visby’s stealth? This good – A merchant watchstander caught one visually, then followed it on radar up to 15 miles away. The results are pretty spectacular.
- The Great Game in the 21st Century: the scramble for Africa – Three poles instead of two this time around, though—Russia, China, and, broadly, The West.
- PMCs and private security companies in modern warfare
- Some modern Polish tank destroyers – Content warning: Polish text.
- Slides from a PLAAF presentation following some J-11 vs. Gripen training – The Gripen fared poorly in dogfights and well outside of dogfights, which isn’t too terribly surprising.
Science and Technology
Given that last week was Thanksgiving, you might have expected last week to be the short edition. That’s where you’d be wrong! We were both on the road, and neither of us did much of the linkable sort of reading.
- When Tigers Ruled the Sky mini-review: starts slow, especially coming from an uber-detailed Massie book. Mr. Yenne tried to do the same biographies-of-everyone-involved thing, but didn’t have the page count to do it justice. It picked up dramatically after two or three chapters, when he got into the actual Flying Tigers action, and that part did not disappoint. It gets the Fishbreath Recommends stamp of approval.
- Empires of the Sea mini-review: this is a reread, so no revelations here. It’s an extremely readable account of the sieges of Rhodes (briefly), Malta (extensively), and Nicosia and Famagusta (briefly), plus the Battle of Lepanto (extensively). The author has a good sense for characters, but spends a suspicious amount of time on drawing equivalences between Christendom and the Turks in re the brutality and slavetaking common at the time. I’d have to dig up some better sources before I say I trust that take, but the book still gets my thumbs up. (I am, after all, reading it a second time.)
The Solitary Grab Bag Item
Happy Thanksgiving! If you aren’t an American, you can overeat and nap tomorrow anyway. We’re very egalitarian that way.
- I’m going to be spending my time on When Tigers Ruled the Sky and Empires of the Sea this Thanksgiving.
Science and Technology
So, Winter Wargaming is Rule the Waves 2. For those outside of the know, it covers naval architecture and battles at sea between 1900 and 1955. I’m thinking France for this game, given that it has a clear route to dominating the Mediterranean, and that’s always a fun place to play.
Science and Technology
- New York City has a bustling black market for food cart permits – Also, they permit food vending and food carts differently.
- Californians surprised at backlash when they start ruining other states
- Related: $800 a month to rent a coffin-size pod in LA
- Ford and GM abandon all cars smaller than SUVs, immediately run into trouble – I was kind of considering a Ford Focus someday, after the Mini bites the dust, but that’s not going to happen anymore.
- A 55-foot mega-truck, built to explore Antarctica, was a failure, but a cool failure – 16-minute video.
- Conspiracy theory Twitter thread of the week, Deep State edition – Why are diplomats so big on canning Trump? Because they’re probably embezzling from foreign aid funds.
- Democrats candidates’ tax plans include uncapping Social Security taxes – Makes perfect sense to me, if they want the rich to pay their fair share, but the howling from the Bay Area and New York City will probably kill any chance of it actually happening.
- The leisure class is now the luxury-belief class – That is, the social status that once affixed to good manners and attending formal parties nonstop now affixes to having fashionable beliefs.
Protests, Rebellions, Etc.
- Bolivia protests inspire Chilean protests? – I didn’t actually read this one. It just indicates that there are protests going on in Chile.
- Hong Kong protesters not driven by hope – “They talked about Xinjiang, and what China had done to the Uighur minority. I’ve heard about the fate of the Uighurs from so many protesters over the months. China may have wanted to make an example out of the region, but the lesson Hong Kongers took was in the other direction—resist with all your might, because if you lose once, there will be a catastrophe for your people, and the world will ignore it.”
- Scenes from Hong Kong, again
No votes were forthcoming on the Winter Wargaming topic, so I’ve unilaterally decided it’ll be Rule the Waves 2. I think I’ll probably post it over at Many Words Main, so as to avoid leaving it so barren.
Science and Technology
- Dysfunctional corporate culture a contributing factor in the self-driving Uber pedestrian death case – Shower thought: I bet there’s money to be made in being ‘startup X, except with morals’. The product isn’t (say) ride-sharing, but rather a warm fuzzy feeling in the hearts of riders.
- “We made a profit last quarter if you ignore all the things we lost money on,” Uber says
- Galileo, the EU GNSS system, had a long outage this summer – And this guy, a GNSS monitoring hobbyist, now knows why. In short: since Galileo is supposed to be very high-accuracy, it needs to do frequent ephemeris and clock updates, and if you fall behind on those, you can find yourself in a case where the issue might be either an ephemeris or a clock problem, and you can’t tell which. A full reboot takes a long time.
- Computer people: why is AI so focused on race and gender?
- People people: stereotypes are usually accurate
- AIs which do unguided, random exploring can solve certain problems better – They don’t get trapped in local maxima, because they don’t have a conception of ‘maxima’ until the researchers decide to stop the random learning.
- Wafer contamination at a Samsung fab loses it half a billion dollars – America got the happypunk dystopia, with friendly-faced private panopticons; East Asia got a more classic cyberpunk dystopia, with huge megacorporations with fingers in every pie. As such, Samsung is expected to shrug, clean out the bad wafers, and start again, and the only effect on the world market is a pause in the drop in DRAM prices.
- Is Google’s quantum supremacy claim, which we reported last wekk, actually valid? – The thrust of this ZDNet article seems to be, “Mathematically, it might not be!” Which, to me, sounds like the answer is, “Today, practically, yes.”
- Intel vulnerable to yet more timing-based data-leakage flaws – And this one has been around for a year. The consensus, as far as I’m aware, is not only that Intel is vulnerable to these kinds of issues (widely reported), but also that AMD, owing to some architectural decisions they made, is less so (not widely reported). As a longtime Team Whatever Color AMD Is Now booster, I’m maybe not the most trustworthy source, though.
With the Armored Brigade review now posted, I can ask a question I’ve been waiting to ask: for Winter Wargaming this year, what’s the commentariat’s feeling on Armored Brigade vs. Rule the Waves 2?
- Russian schoolchildren taught how to assemble AKs in class – I guess it’s a sort of shop class, and also makes it really easy to change the placard from ‘Primary School 3357’ to ‘Small Arms Factory 3357’ in case of war.
- Correction alert: last week’s Challenger 2 photo did actually have a Brimstone launcher on the turret – A two-missile box on top of the turret. We aren’t sure if it has any capacity for reloads, but it’s quite a large missile and not likely to be easily manhandled within the confines of a tank. We did a little further digging, and could find no information whatsoever on ground-launch range, and only turned up the very vaguest information on penetration, but it’s definitely better than the gun.
- What happens if China gets old before it gets rich? – CDR Salamander ponders.
- USAF ponders arsenal plane options – A B-52 for the modern age?
- A puff piece on the Navy’s next-generation jammer – Still, it points out how it’s better than the old one, which is better than nothing.
- A bog-standard concerned-about-A2AD-missiles article with an interesting metaphor at its heart – Namely, that such weapons systems take us back to the Age of Sail relationship between ship and fort.
- Navy cuts next batch of Virginias from 11 to 9
- Laser-guided Carl Gustaf munition gets a test – Coool.
- Small fleets of aircraft have a big impact on USAF budgets – There are high fixed costs to operating a type of aircraft, of course, and the Air Force operates a lot of types.
- How can we build force structures to be resilient in the face of battlefield surprise?
- LockMart cuts F-35 prices
- Deploy the Ford, shock test a later ship – No reason to delay it any further, and shock testing the first ship in the class has been the exception rather than the norm ever since the requirement went into place.
Science and Technology
- New York City homeless services are too expensive, so NYC rents apartments for its homeless population in different cities – … without telling the different cities.
- Whatever happened to Internet atheism? – Not the quiet sort where atheists use the Internet like the rest of us, but the loud, argumentative sort prone to blaming organized religion for all the evils of the age. Scott Alexander at SSC speculates that, ironically, it was a competitor to become the civic religion of left-leaning culture, and lost to the social justice movement.
- Why is California on fire? – Well, power lines, primarily. Witness these aerial photographs from similar altitudes, one over our native Western Pennsylvania and one in California. Here, we clearcut around power lines. There, they do not. (Granted, in California there’s typically a lot of dry brush on the ground, and here there isn’t, but still.)
- Taran Tactical range burns down – Speaking of.
- Whose fault is Eastern European nationalism? – I don’t think I quite agree with the premise of this article, but I share it nevertheless.
- What happened to Toys R Us? – The ‘leveraged buyout’ answer is accurate but, evidently, incomplete.
Busy morning at the office. Commentary status: limited.