Archive for March, 2013

Iraq – The Real Failure of Intelligence

March 19, 2013

On this, the tenth anniversary of the disastrous invasion of Iraq, the BBC has a retrospective on a small part of the Intelligence picture that was available prior to the war. In a nicely balanced report — balanced from a literary standpoint at least — they discuss two low-level defectors who fabricated stories, and the two high-level sources who reported accurately on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction. The US, with the UK in tow, accepted the fabricators and ignored the truth-tellers, and so went to war. At the end of the BBC-USA clip on the report (but not in the on-line version), they ask the rhetorical question “If more people had listened to these two, would the US and UK have still gone to war?

The answer is, yes, of course we would have.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

March 18, 2013

Garden Report for 130318

The weather this week was threatening rain and unseasonably warm (50s), what the local weather mavens call a pineapple express, followed by very windy and cold. I broadcast many of last year’s seeds into an area of ground cover that I dug over. We’ll see what grows.

Midweek the soil temperatures were in the 40’s. The one KHG section that had clear plastic over it was up to 47. I have found that a 10ft length of thin walled PVC tubing will arc nicely from one side of the KHG to the other. The problem is, I need to have a ridgepole for it, because I need to drape things. Tried cutting the tubing in half and sticking in a + shaped connecter. Glued it good, let it dry overnight. Did four of them. Three of them broke when I tried to curve them. I guess the problem is that the connecter is sitting at the point of max curvature. Another problem was that the base of the PVC wants to push the cinder block out from the wall. I am rethinking my approach.

Currently, I’m favoring a simple set of T posts with a ridgepole across them. The chicken wire/plastic sheet would be tacked to two boards and simply draped over the ridgepole. Like a pup-tent. Still thinking about it.

How to Defeat the F-35

March 15, 2013

The US military seems to be afflicted with simultaneous cases of nostalgia and amnesia. We forget the lessons of history, and keep doing what we’ve been doing, historically. Part of it is institutional/organizational. A lifetime ago, the entire inventory of weapons could turn over in a decade. Today, it takes more than a decade to get a new weapon approved for production. That means we are stuck with a military infrastructure and inventory designed for the world as it was, not the world as it is, or might be.

Case in point was last week’s discussion of low-speed turn performance of the F-22. This week it’s the F-35’s turn, no pun intended. Both the F-22 and the F-35 were designed to solve last century’s problems of penetrating dense patterns of advanced SAM systems, the kind of thing you’d have to do when fighting WWIII. For both those fighters, a great deal of traditional fighter wisdom was sacrificed on the altar of the stealth gods. As a result, the F-35 has out-of-the-cockpit visibilty problems. Interestingly, the old Soviet fighters tended to have the same problem.

from wikipedia

F-35 pilot drops bomb, wonders if he should do a “Crazy Ivan” maneuver to clear his six, given that the external Sidewider has destroyed his stealth characteristics

You see, the Russian approach was to build the smallest airframe possible that would still hold the engine and cockpit. That’s why the triangular wingspan on the MiG-21 Fishbed was almost exactly the same size as the triangular horizontal stabilizer on the F-111. As they modified their aircraft they had to add bumps and lumps and cableways on the outside of the fuselage, to hold the new equipment. For example, the Fishbed D and later versions had additional fuel and electronics in a large bulge along the spine, one that ran right up to the back of the cockpit, and totally blocked rearward vision. How did they solve the problem? With the addition of a periscope/rear-view mirror.

CAF Fishbed J. The mirror is in the little dark bump on top of the canopy

CAF Fishbed J. The mirror is in the little dark bump on top of the canopy

It’s better than nothing, but I’ve sat in a Fishbed cockpit, and I can tell you that the mirror is not very useful. And the “Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear” doesn’t help at all.

The solution for the F-35, the article says, is to have the 21st Century equivalent to that rear-view mirror — a 360° multi-screen networked camera system, projected into the pilot’s helmet. If it works (and it hasn’t yet), and if it doesn’t increase the pilot workload (how do you switch between/among views?), it would still seem to require extensive training if it’s to become a natural part of the pilot’s task flow.

Lost in the Food Desert 2

March 14, 2013

USDA has updated their food desert map, the one that shows where people live who don’t have access to transport yet don’t have nearby supermarkets. It’s a much finer grain than the first one, and it fixes most of the errors I found two years ago— US military bases are no longer automatically deserts.

With all the changes, you can get a much clearer picture of how poverty is concentrated in pockets in this country. Washington, DC, is infamous for the fact that you only have to travel a few blocks from Capitol Hill to be in what looks like a third world country, to be where it’s possible to get mugged while trying to hold up a liquor store. The map there no longer shows all of NE as a food desert, just the patches there, and in the areas of MD between NE and the Beltway.

Let me speculate and say I think one reason we don’t provide more social services in this country is that poverty is pushed aside, into little refugia, as if protecting the last of the Neanderthals. You don’t see it, so you don’t think about it, except on an intellectual basis, and most Americans are very stingy when it comes to supporting intellectual causes.

The data itself looks better, but the user interface is a little ugly. You can’t doubleclick to zoom in, you have to drag the map center to where you want to be, and then click on the zoom tool. Unfortunately, the map wants to drift along with your pointer as to move towards the tool. In addition, while it’s nice that clicking on a tract brings up a data window, clicking on the (x) for that data window doesn’t make it go away, at least not in Firefox or Opera.

They say you shouldn’t buy a software product with a version number lower than 3.0, and it looks like that’s the case here.

Deviled Oatmeal

March 14, 2013

My rule of thumb for these recipes is that there shouldn’t be any cooking in the preparation other than the cooking of the oatmeal. Of course, if you’ve cooked something earlier, for a different purpose, that’s leftovers, that’s OK.

A friend of ours gave us a large tupperware box of deviled eggs – boiled eggs cut in half, with the yolk mixed with mustard and mayo and returned to the yolkhole. What could be better for your morning oatmeal? I mean, the mustard will make up for the oatmeal’s lack of flavor, and the yolk and mayo will make up for the oatmeal’s lack of cholesterol.

I scooped the filling from one half a deviled egg into the oatmeal and stirred until it mixed. Then I chopped up the egg. Or tried to. Cold boiled half-eggs are slippery and rubbery and don’t like being poked at with sharp objects. Our banana slicer was in the wash, so I just chunked it up as best I could.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of broth (I used a mix of mostly chicken with a splash of beef and a dash of shoyu), one half of a deviled egg.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the potato when you take it off the stove..

Results: Not bad. Not great. The mustard flavor was barely detectable. Most of the counter-bland effects came from the beef and shoyu. The eggchunks were there, but were not really noticable, either in feel or flavor — they could be left out for no loss. We have a lot of these things, so I may get to do some more experimenting. Or, I might just mix up some mustard and mayo and use that.

Rating: *****

That DHS Ammo Buy

March 12, 2013

I’m no great fan of the Dienst Heimat Sicherheits, but this latest kerfluffle over their RFQ for 1.6 billion-with-a-B rounds of small arms ammunition is overblown. But not a lot.

The original report was Denver Post quoting AP. Then Forbes picked it up in an opinion piece that talked about DHS arming up for a twenty year war against America, using a Belfast Telegraph item on US ammunition expenditures in Iraq as a basis, and getting some of their numbers wrong (Army expenditures during Iraq were closer to 125 million/month; there’s no information on expenditures in Iraq).

As far as I can tell, the fact is that DHS wants to buy 1.6 billion rounds of small arms ammunition over a four-year period. That’s about 400 million per year. I tried looking for details in FedBizOps, the new 21st century name for the Commerce Business Daily, but that only shows postings over 30 days old unless you register with them.

How do those numbers compare historically? Well, according to a student paper (1.2MB .pdf) at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the Army bought about 1.5 billion rounds per year during the height of the Iraq war, and about 400 million per year during the interregnum between the end of the Cold War and the start of the GWOT. The latter figure therefore represents the training requirements of the peacetime Army, while the former includes more active training and actual combat usage.

So no, DHS isn’t preparing for a twenty year war. They are just preparing to burn ammunition at a rate comparable to the peacetime Army. You know, the entire forty-five combat brigade, machine gun and automatic-rifle-equipped peacetime Army. That’s bad enough.

The Forbes article is a little overwrought, but its conclusion still stands — we need to have a national conversation about the militarization of the police.

How to Defeat the F-22

March 8, 2013

Turns out, the much vaunted USAF F-22 fighter has a weak spot. A Wired article talks about how the F-22 is great at Beyond Visual Range (BVR) fighting, but is too heavy to do well in a close-in turning fight. While things have changed a lot, this reminds me of a bit of Viet-Nam era history.

F-22 kicks out a flare, knowing that he can’t out-turn the Luftwaffe fighter.

You see, back in the day, the USN bought the F-4B (this one, not that one) as a fleet defense interceptor, meaning that it was designed to keep Soviet bombers away from the task force while the carrier launched a nuclear strike. That being the case, the best armament was a heavy, long-range air-to-air missiles (AAM), like the Sparrow. It also meant that guns would be of little use. The USAF, enamoured of the AAM idea, bought the gunless aircraft as its primary fighter. Along came the Viet-Nam war, and we found that AAMs were not as reliable as we thought, and that a supersonic fight soon degenerated into a low-subsonic furball. Two years into the conflict, the USAF F-4Cs were equipped with 20mm gun pods — high drag, low accuracy, insecurely mounted weapons.


12th TFW F-4 over VietNam with centerline gunpod

They were novel enough that the 366th TFW at Da Nang (where I was, with the 20th TASS) took their new squadron patch and logo from them.

Even the patch shakes

It wasn’t until two years after that that the F-4E appeared, carrying an internal centerline gun. Only about 15% of the air-to-air kills in VN involved guns, but who knows how much higher that number would have been if the F4-E had been available four years earlier.

The current situation is not exactly like Viet Nam, because the F-22 does have an internal 20mm gatling. On the other hand, its relativly high wing loading — understandable tradeoffs for stealth, supersonic cruise, and internal carriage — makes it not nearly as nimble in a low-speed turning fight. “But”, you say, “we don’t do that any more, because, you know, technology. We’ll kill them BVR, just like the…” See?

The problem isn’t just technology, either. It’s politics, and Rules of Engagement, and quite rightly. I’m not sure we’ve ever fought full weapons-free BVR, because we’ve never been really sure that we knew who that blip was. It’s embarrassing to shoot down an airliner. If the USSR was still around, and NATO was going toe to toe against clouds of Warsaw Pact fighters in Central Europe, yeah, I can see it. If it’s us involved in some kind of altercation between China and the other China over the Formosa Straits, with Dreamliners full of tourists headed from Japan to Singapore passing through, maybe not.

Ah, Students

March 6, 2013

The students in my classes are, by and large, very good. The tests I give them are all open book, and if we’re in a computer lab, open Internet. This works for me, because if you have to look things up on one of my tests, you’ll flunk anyway, because you won’t finish. Now and then I’ll see one of them copy/pasting one of the questions into Google. Now and then I’ll get what’s obviously an Internet answer. Obviously, because (a) we never covered that answer in class, and (b) they didn’t change the font. UPDATE: Welcome students who are just starting on this homework. This post has been up a while (more…)

Happy 4th on the 5th of the 3rd

March 5, 2013

I almost forgot. Today is the 4th anniversary of the start of this blog — 05 March, 2009.  Since then I’ve published 480 posts (ten per month), and had just over 10,000 visitors — about seven per day. I probably wouldn’t have had that many if it weren’t for my two entries on Highschool of the Dead.

I think I’ve lived up to the goals I’ve set for myself: Write more. Write more interesting. When I have time, I express my strong opinions on geopolitical affairs. When I don’t have time, I write about oatmeal.

Bottom line: I am having fun, my ego is having fun, and I’d like to thank my loyal reader, who makes all this worth while.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

March 4, 2013

Garden Report for 130304

Spring, such as it is, has come to the NENW. The weather was in the 50’s this weekend, and the last most of last Thanksgiving’s snow has melted. The ground has thawed to a depth of perhaps two inches (at least, that’s how far the pick goes in before it bounces). Still not transplant conditions.

Using my Gantt chart as a guide, I started my early brassicae indoors a couple weeks ago. The seedlings are approaching 2″ now.  If I can find time, I’ll start some more seeds on the warm tray this evening.

I’ve started the spring cleanup around the garden. It’s amazing how much trash the snow hides. Also started repairs on my compost cage. Plastic cable ties are not quite the thing for making it through a cold winter, so it’s trying to disassemble itself.  As I roll it over I’m replacing the plastic with steel hose clamps. The ends are also coming out, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do about those. One lesson I’ve learned is that you don’t want to fill a 6x4x4 container full. I can roll it over, but I feel it the next day.

I’m working on a cold-frame/mini-greenhouse for the KHG. A ten foot length of 3/4″ thin walled PVC will nicely arc from one side to the other, with length to spare for stuffing into the cinderblock. I plan to drape chickenwire over the top, and then plastic sheeting on top of that. Or something.

Monogatari Music

March 3, 2013

This is a two-CD import from Japan, with music from Bakemonogatari, arguably the best of the two seasons released so far. It has 56 tracks, and runs just over two hours. You can listen to samples about halfway down the page at this Japanese site. The best part about it is that it has all of the OP/ED songs: Staple Stable, Wonderful Day, Maoi Snail, Surugu Mokey, etc. Usually, you don’t get this music on a sound track CD because of licensing issues, so I’m glad they were able to get those sorted out. These tracks all run around four minutes, and if you liked them in the series you’ll like them here.

A second category are the tracks that form something of a leitmotif for the various characters. Most memorable, of course, are the various guitar / piano / harmonica blues backgrounds to Arararage’s encounters with Oshino Meme.

Third, we have a few additional renditions of the OP/ED music, but on different instruments. If you’ve ever wondered how Nadeko Snake would sound on a music box, here’s your chance. Also in this category is the unforgettable piano rendition of Staple Stable that always seems to make its way softly into the more romantic moments. This alone makes the album purchase worth it.

The final category is what I’d call incidental music: simple tunes that form an aural backdrop to one scene or another, and useful most for recalling those scenes. The music isn’t designed to stand on its own. Most run about a minute and half, are childishly simple, and repetitive. The last track on the second disk, for example could be mapped as something like:

accordian: ____BBBBBBbbbbbbB’B’B’B’B’B’
marimba: __________CCCCCCcccccc

with each letter representing an identical six-second/ 12-note sequence.

If you then replace those instruments with various combinations of tubular bells, marimbas, autoharps, pianos, drums, or their electronic equivalents, you get the pattern for about two thirds of the music on the discs. Nice tracks to build ringtones and time alarms with on your cell phone. Nice background to other things. No thought required.

Conclusion: I like it. I’m glad I bought it. I’m not sure it’s worth buying if you’re not a Monogatari fan. Even the Staple Stable piano cover gains most of its value through its romantic associations.