Tag Archives: what we’re reading

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jan. 22, 2020)

Winter Wargaming may be slightly delayed—I have a lot of writing left to do on that front, and tonight in which to do it.

Books

  • Rainbox Six, a re-read. The last time I read it was also post-9/11, but I’m much better informed about the state of the world today than I was last time, and the starkness of the divergence between that fictional timeline and our real one is worth mentioning.
  • Castles of Steel, a re-read in progress. I’m up to just past the Dardanelles. That particular campaign (the naval side, not the ugly, unproductive land side) strikes me as one we can’t really game out. Could the Royal Navy have forced the straits alone? Maybe so. But, if so, would the Ottoman Empire have collapsed? Nobody knows for sure, and neither can we design a wargame which gives us an impartial answer.
  • The Mauritius Command, which I thought was a re-read, but now that I’m halfway through I’m not so sure. You can’t go wrong with Patrick O’Brian.

Games

  • Return of the Obra-Dinn, a rollicking good nautically-themed murder mystery. The conceit: an empty ship floats into harbor circa 1807. You, an insurance investigator, go aboard, with a watch in your possession which permits you to view the moment at which a person died, given a bit of their body (or a vision of their body in a vision of someone else’s death). Worth the price of entry.
  • A Painted Ocean. It’s not so much a game as a toy, but it’s a brilliant little toy: you’re the skipper of a full-rigged ship with detailed physics, and you sail it around. That’s the whole game. It’s delightful. The only thing that seems a bit off to me is that she has a habit of ‘sticking’ by the wind as you come out of a tack, not making enough way for the rudder to bear her up; I usually have to reef the mizzen-sails and the spanker to get her head to come away from the wind.

Defense

Guns

Science and Technology

Culture

Sport

Grab Bag


  1. I’m not much of a gambler myself, beyond the socially acceptable kind where you hold a basket of mutual funds for 40 years, but if I did want to engage in Pennsylvania’s most recently legalized vice, it would be on the back of a neural network trained to predict, say, hockey games. Sports betting is nice in the same way that poker is, in that you’re not playing against a house who is permitted by law to fleece you, but against the rest of the betters. With a little elbow grease, you can be better at it than they are. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jan. 8, 2020)

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.

Books

  • 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.

Defense

Science and Technology

Games

Grab Bag


  1. That said, I don’t find credible the claims that GPT-2 is a revolutionary advancement for a variety of reasons that I should probably explain in an article. Here’s one thought, though, from the SSC comments: “The scary version of [artificial general intelligence] is supposed to learn and improve faster and faster, but GPT-2 is the opposite, because the more things it knows in a domain, the larger the chunk of data it needs to learn the next thing. And the more complex a domain is, the worse this problem gets.” Granted, yes, but that’s also not how humans learn. We’re more like an S-curve, I would say—we start out slow as we familiarize ourselves with the vocabulary of a field, go into a zoom climb where the limit on our learning is our pace of reading, rather than our pace of deep comprehension, then level off as we near our peak achievement. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jan. 1, 2020)

Welcome to the New Year, folks!

Defense

Science and Technology

World Affairs

Sport

Grab Bag


  1. To doubly ensure that, consider chipping in a bit to our Patreon! Not that we’ve done much to earn it since we ‘launched’ it. Alternately, stop by the Discord and recommend some things for us (or more accurately, me; parvusimperator isn’t big on being told what to do) to write about. 

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

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…)

Defense

Science and Technology

Grab Bag


  1. I can’t get over how stupid an architectural choice they made here. Let’s say the average request to the Gameanalytics service in the previous bullet point takes 0.1 second to handle each request, which is likely faster than the real figure. Even then, it’s handling around 5800 requests simultaneously, more than Plaid’s 

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

Thanks to church choir obligations, Winter Wargaming will likely start in early January, or possibly late December.

Defense

Science and Technology

Grab Bag


  1. I found one source which said 425km, but that appears to be a miles/kilometers mixup. 

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

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.

Books

  • 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 take1, but the book still gets my thumbs up. (I am, after all, reading it a second time.)

Guns

Defense

Hong Kong

The Solitary Grab Bag Item


  1. In the latest edition of his Hardcore History podcast, Dan Carlin remarked that, in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War, everyone was bad but the Japanese were worse (my paraphrase). The Christians and Turks of the 16th century strike me as broadly similar. Nobody comes out smelling like roses, but it’s not wrong to identify degrees of badness. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 27, 2019)

Happy Thanksgiving! If you aren’t an American, you can overeat and nap tomorrow anyway. We’re very egalitarian that way.

Books

  • I’m going to be spending my time on When Tigers Ruled the Sky and Empires of the Sea this Thanksgiving.

Defense

History

Science and Technology

Sport

Guns

Grab Bag

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 20, 2019)

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.

Defense

Guns

Science and Technology

Grab Bag

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

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 13, 2019)

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.

Defense

Science and Technology

World Politics

Sport

Grab Bag

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 6, 2019)

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?

Defense

History

Science and Technology

Hong Kong

Grab Bag


  1. I’ve always enjoyed this bit of wordplay, which only makes sense if you expand ‘CDR’ when reading.