Archive for February, 2019

Memories of my youth: Scud Hunting

February 27, 2019

It looks like the government is showing renewed interest in finding mobile missiles. I did that for a while. It’s hard. Essentially, you are looking for a bunch of truck-shaped vehicles that can be on any road or hidden under any cluster of trees next to that road.

Truck on road near NK nuclear facility. Is it a TEL? Would we have found it if it paused under the trees?

Before the INF Treaty was signed, I spent 18 moths chasing Soviet mobile IRBM’s, with essentially zero luck. For that matter, we didn’t have much luck finding US Army Pershing launch units, even when we knew there were x-number of Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) vehicles somewhere on that photo of the tops of hundreds of trees.

SS-20 Launch

By the time of Desert Storm, the first invasion of Iraq, I was a civilian contractor, working on a new mobile GIS front end to the DIA database system. We got called into the Desert Storm operations cell at DIA and the first thing the general in charge said was, “show me the Scud launch pads.” I looked up the identifier for Scud launchers and put it into the DB. Nothing. OK, how about the units themselves? Nothing.The general started ragging on us about our lousy DB, until we pointed out that the system we had build was just a window into the DIA DB.

The analyst for the Iraqi army was called over. “Oh, we don’t track those. They are a Presidential asset, not a military asset.” The general was not pleased.

Later during the war we tried feeding the launch coordinates from our launch warning systems into the DB, and doing an area search, looking for warehouses or bridges the launchers could hide in or under. Not much luck there, either.

Scud TEL with support convoy — It’s easier in the desert

In defense of all our failures, mobile missiles usually don’t need  launch pads, as such. Essentially, all they need is a stretch of flat road (or field) strong enough to hold a TEL and missile for half an hour or so. Missile accuracy is improved if you know exactly where the launcher is relative to the target, but modern systems with terminal guidance can even relax that requirement.

Iskander-K Cruise Missile

So, what DoD is asking for is almost an impossibility. It’s true that our satellite and radar and signals collection has improved immensely since I was a lad, but what they are trying to do is find a truck that could be a TEL, part of a SAM site, a coastal radar mount, or a bridgelayer, and say “yep, it’s a TEL”. Good luck with that.

Oatmeal Miso 2

February 22, 2019

I tried making a Japanese dinner the other night. Did not go well. The salt-seasoned fish (Dover sole instead of the called-for mackerel)was too salty, and the home-made miso was too…miso-y. The rice was good. So I combined the leftover fish, plus scrapings from the broiler, the leftover miso (topped up with water to a full cup), and the few remaining grains of uneaten rice, and tried it in my oatmeal for breakfast.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup augmented miso broth. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Did not require potatoes or salt.

Results: Acceptable, but I won’t hurry back. Despite the fact that oatmeal will soak up almost any amount of salt, this was slightly too salty. Which gives you an idea of what dinner was like. The fish  disappeared. The rice thickened things so that the oatmeal actually stuck to the bottom of the pot. Not burned, but heavily browned. Next time, leave out the salted fish.

Rating: ***

Nuclear Posturing

February 14, 2019

The history of mankind’s dalliance with nuclear weapons is one of fear-driven power politics and the resulting bad decisions, made with the best of intentions given the information available at the time.

The development and use of the atomic bomb was first of all driven by fear of a seemingly superhuman enemy. Between them, Germany and Japan had overrun most of Europe and Asia. A super-bomb would help tilt the scales, and in any event had to be developed ahead of known German efforts in the same area. The atomic bomb was used against Japan to shorten the war, and to limit American (and Japanese civilian) casualties. It was also a signal to the Soviet Union that the US was too powerful for them to try to dominate in the post-war period.

The immediate post-war period may have offered an opportunity for treaties limiting atomic weapons, and halting research on thermonuclear ones, but the Cold War was already starting. The Soviet Union, led by a paranoid dictator, was both afraid of another invasion by Germany and determined that the Communist System would overcome Capitalism. It might have been possible to agree to some sort of treaty, but we had no means of verification, and wouldn’t for another fifteen years.

In the 1960’s, both sides developed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, making possible the almost instant destruction of opposing capitals. Limiting the development of ICBMs would have been difficult, because both sides’ space programs (including satellite verification systems) were based on ICBM launchers.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US and USSR settled down to an uneasy truce. Most of today’s policies were developed then, as efforts to stabilize the system. If the enemy can launch an attack without warning, and have it take effect within 30 minutes, then you have to be able to respond within that 30 minute time frame. Hence, keeping weapons on fifteen minute alert and allowing the President to launch a nuclear war (OK, appropriate retaliatory response) with no checks and balances on his actions.

At the same time, the USSR deployed and maintained a large ground army in Europe. Interesting fact 1: East Germany is about 80% the size of Alabama, and roughly the same oblong shape. Interesting fact 2: The USSR maintained more first line combat divisions in East Germany than the total number of divisions in the US Army. Yes, the Germans and other NATO allies provided enough troops to make up the difference, almost, but we were so concerned about the result of a massive surprise attack by 100+ Warsaw Pact divisions that our war planning discussions included the possibility of defensive fallback positions on the Rhine and the Loire. The plans also contained theater nuclear options, and a common phrase heard around NATO was that the real job of the ground forces was to hold the line until R-hour was declared for nuclear release. Under such conditions, there was no way a responsible leader could espouse a no-first-use policy. The whole reason for being of theater level weapons was so the Soviets couldn’t be sure if or when our retreating forces might use them.

Today, of course, the world is a much safer place — Soviet Communism is gone, the Warsaw Pact is gone, and the Russian military is much reduced — and we can seriously consider some of the recommendations discussed in this article in Tom’s Dispatch. Note that the article discusses two main issues: how to keep us from becoming less safe, and how to help us become more safe.

1. The less safe issues surround the Trump administration’s push for extremely low yield tactical weapons mounted on strategic launchers — 5kt W76-2 warheads on Trident SLBMs. I can think of nothing less useful. First question, who is the target? Russia? China? Are you seriously going to launch a strategic missile at either one, feeling safe in the knowledge that when it hits they will realize that it’s only a 5kt yield? OK then, North Korea? We can’t have a stealth bomber drop a dial-a-yield bomb? We’re going to launch an intercontinental missile on a trajectory that both China and Russia will feel threatened by?

Anyone who has given any thought to the edge case uses of nuclear weapons comes to the same conclusion: a nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon, and once you have set one off, you are in a nuclear war. This applies to tactical battlefield weapons, EMP explosions, and small intercontinental attacks.

2. The more safe issues deal with rolling back policies that were important in the Cold War, but are destabilizing now. While Russia is certainly a major competitor, it lacks the ideological imperatives that the old USSR did, and it no longer has a large combat force on the borders of NATO (not even the “New NATO”). That being the case, a declared “no first use” policy would go a long way to defusing nuclear tensions, even thought such a declaration can be rescinded at any time. Similarly with China. China has no borders with countries we are bound to protect. Highest probability clashes are over the South China Sea and Taiwan, neither one of which is a nuclear level priority. As for Korea, if the North doesn’t use nukes, then the ROK army can beat them with or without our help. So there’s no reason not to have a declared no first use policy.

In the same way, there is today little reason for Russia to attempt an all out nuclear exchange and as for China, it is both less capable and has less reason to attempt one. That being the case, there is much less need for a continuing Presidential “launch on warning” or “launch under attack” policy. Requiring, for example, consultations with Congressional leadership, or mandating that a launch order be countersigned by the JCS, is not going to cripple our ability to respond. It might be prudent to rigidly enforce the “designated survivor” policy, but with the President we have today, who is to say that a rogue launch order is less likely than a decapitating strike event.

Configuring our nuclear posture has always been a strategic political act, as well as a tactical military one. Our posture sends a message. Changing the posture changes the message. Right now, our new message is that we are willing to make nuclear war easier to initiate, and that we are not interested in taking any steps to alleviate that situation.


Me and Myeloma

February 12, 2019

The January tests are in, and they all look really good. Everything is pretty much in the normal range (and those that aren’t are just on the edge), with no sign of the myeloma.

Here’s the deets:

  1. M-spike. There’s this thing called an M-protein spike, which measures certain proteins in the blood, ones that shouldn’t be there. It’s one of the prime indicators of myeloma. It’s been “not observed” now for six months.
  2. Kappa/Lambda Ratio. KLR is another protein measure. Normal range is .25-1.6. Mine was around 1.5 last time, and is now 1.4. So, in the normal range. Note: both the kappa (10.0) and the lambda (7.3) are also in their normal ranges.
  3. Immunoglobulin G (IgG). IgG measures immune response. High IgG says your body is fighting a disease, like cancer. Normal is 700 -1600. Mine started at 3000 a year ago. Then, with the chemo, it plunged to 230 and came back up to 250. This time there’s a new assay method, which says that there’s no significant difference between all those ultra-low values. Mine is currently <320. So, still low.

As I said before, I think if I hadn’t been diagnosed with MM earlier, someone looking at these results would say I was basically healthy, albeit with a suppressed immune system. We check again in July.

VRV: Aggregation vs Aggravation 3

February 10, 2019

I give up. VRV is just too clunky for general use. I found myself looking at the individual Crunchyroll and HIDIVE schedules on the PC, and then going into the next room to find the appropriate VRV episode on the TV and fighting the VRV user interface to watch what I want.

Meanwhile, CR has been adding shows from the current season that once were only available on HIDIVE (Kotobuki, Domestic Girlfriend). As a result there’s only two TV anime (Real Girl and Rocket Girls) and a movie (Girls und Panzer der Film), plus some nostalgic old programs and OVA’s (Taisho Baseball Girls, Kokoro Connect, Maid Sama) that are only presented by HIDIVE this season.

I tell you what. I’ll just treat VRV ($10/month) like it was an expensive HIDIVE ($5/month)subscription. So, $7/month for CR and $10/month for VRVHIDIVE means I’m spending $17 a month to feed my anime habit, instead of $15. Considering that I’m watching about seven shows a week (plus nostalgics), that’s not very much.

Where you stand depends on where you sit

February 9, 2019

Patrick Armstrong, long time Kremlinologist and more recent critic of US international policies, particularly those involving Russia, has an interesting essay on how retirement clears your brain, and why. His thesis is that a national leader only has so much time available, and so many claimants on that time, that they can’t stop long enough to consider what their country’s real best interests are. It’s only after retirement that reality has a chance to set in.

My take on this is a little different. When you are in a bureaucracy, you have a specific job, and your day-to-day concerns are doing that job well, as defined by the part of the bureaucracy you are in. When you change jobs, you change definitions. The classic example is Saint Thomas Becket, in the late 1100’s. He was appointed Chancellor by Henry II, responsible for (among other things) maintaining the King’s revenue flow, including from land owned by the church. After seven years as Chancellor, Henry arranged his election as Archbishop of Canterbury, the senior church official in England. Presumably, Henry thought having Becket as head of the church would make it easier to govern. That proved not to be the case. Once Becket put on the pointy hat he became a staunch defender of the church against the state, fighting Henry on issues of taxation and the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts. This led to Henry’s famous line “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”, which in turn led to Becket’s assassination. This is an early example of the working of Miles’ Law: Where you stand depends on where you sit.

When you take over an organization, you take over its culture, ethos, and goals. As the leader you can change that but the organization has to want to change (we are floundering and need some leadership), or they have to be in a crisis mode, like a war or depression, where the need for change is obvious. Otherwise, changing the direction of an organization is like trying to change the heading of a supertanker.

This is true, even of a loose cannon like Trump. Once he is gone, the legislature will be much the same, the bureaucracy of the Executive Branch will be mostly unchanged, and even the judiciary will have only a limited impact on our day-to-day lives.

Under normal circumstances, and given that this is an overly simplistic view, the ruler of a country got to the top by internalizing the goals of the government/bureaucracy, and is likely to feel that what has been described as good their whole career is obviously what is good for the country today. They are unlikely to promote drastic changes, they will find it difficult to accomplish any drastic changes, and, as Armstrong says, they are not likely to have the time.


VRV: Aggregation vs Aggravation 2

February 7, 2019

So, remember how I said that VRV had presented my watchlist as a set of cover art, with the actual title writ small? Well, today they fixed that, on the PC side. Without warning or explanation. This is a case of trying to do the right thing, in the worst way possible.

Smaller pictures, smaller font

The new list is a set of screenshots of my current episodes, instead of the series artwork. The pictures are about the same size as those on the Crunchyroll watchlist, so they can fit more on the screen. At the bottom of each frame they have a heart, so you can put some of the items on the watchlist into your favorites list, and a garbage can, so you can cast some into the outer darkness. They also have a colorful indicator if it’s a movie or a TV series, and a slightly less clear indication if it’s a sub or a dub — things you already know if you put them on the watchlist. One useful feature is a yellow box with “new” in it, in the upper left corner of the picture, indicating if the episode is the newest in the series (but not all the new episodes have that, and some episodes marked “new” are not the newest).

What’s missing? How about the anime title? Oh, there it is, beneath the picture, in a small, dark grey on darker grey font. The font appears to be slightly smaller than the font that tells me if its a sub or a dub. The season, episode number, and episode title are below the picture, in a much bigger, white on dark grey font. This is useful if you remember that Season 1, Episode 4 of Girly Air Force is titled “The World You See”

Finally, tucked into the lower right corner of the episode picture is a white on black number that tells me either how many minutes are left in that episode or how many minutes of it I’ve watched, with no indication of why they chose which number.

And finally, finally, if you click on the pic, it brings up a new page that autoruns that episode. You have to pause it, then scroll down if you want to see other episodes or series comments.

So, there are good and bad ideas in the new U/I, with the good ideas concentrated in the areas we don’t care about, and the bad ideas applied where they’ll do the most harm. In addition, this change (so far) has only been made for the PC interface. The TV/Roku interface remains unchanged, which can cause cognitive issues for users who switch back and forth.


Anime worth watching: Bloom Into You

February 4, 2019

Naname’s Back, and Koito’s Got Her

This is a straight up romance anime between two high school girls. What’s called yuri, in the trade. I should note that I am not the target demographic — I’m male and I’m old.

Q. How old are you?

A. Old. Old. I’m older than Donald Trump. I’m older than Eric Clapton. I’m older than Cher, OK?

Still, that gives me a certain distance, a certain perspective, that others might not have. Being from a time when boys tended to be oblivious to this sort of thing, and girls took a more Aoi Azusa approach, I don’t have the personal and hormonal involvements that others might.

Q. So,why did you watch it?

A. I recently traded in my Crunchyroll subscription for VRV, which opened up HIDIVE and a whole new library of anime backlist, including Bloom, which was recent, and highly regarded. I watched it on my TV using Roku, which presented some technical issues, mentioned below.

Q. What’s it about

A. Girl meets girl, girl falls for girl, other girl doesn’t fall for girl, girls continue that relationship.

Q. Could you be more specific? I don’t mind spoilers.

A. Koito Yū, our first year protagonna, meets Nanami Tōko, her second year senpai, while helping out at the Student Council. Nanami is the typical anime perfect girl — top of her class, good at sports, soon to be Student Council President, etc. Avowedly asocial when it comes to things like dating, except that 24hrs after meeting her, she decides that Koito is the one who makes her heart go doki-doki. Koito, meanwhile, is still waiting for that moment and has zero romantic inclinations. Nanami essentially forces them into a relationship, but Koito says she doesn’t mind, she just doesn’t love Nanami back. Nanami, for some anime reason, is fine with this.

The first few episodes deal with the establishment of the relationship. Nanami asks Koito to be her campaign manager for the Student Council elections, surprise kisses her at a railroad crossing (while a train passes, meaning that only half the world can see what they’re doing), later elicits a more consensual kiss in the Student Council building, and gives her a planetarium night light as a souvenir gift from a recent trip. Despite the asymmetrical kohai/senpai* power relationship, Koito appears to be more consenting than coerced. One reason for this might be that Nanami is a person who maintains one (perfect) face to all the world, letting only Koito see her insecurities and self doubt (“Don’t fall in love with me, I don’t want you to love someone I hate“).

The second half deals with Nanami‘s desire to have the Student Council put on a stage play, something that hasn’t been done these last seven years. Soon, Koito finds out that the last play was arranged by Nanami‘s older sister when she was Student Council President, but the play, and the tradition, were abandoned after the older Nanami was killed in a car crash. As an aside, Japanese must be terrible drivers, given the number of deaths reported in anime.

We can use my father’s barn!

Meanwhile, a student friend of Koito agrees to write the play script, and comes up with a story about an amnesiac student who is trying to find out what her original personality was like, but gets three different answers from three different people.

In quick succession, Koito finds out about Nanami‘s older sister, and how Nanami is devoting herself to replacing her sister in the world, while Nanami finds out that her sister was far from perfect. This causes Nanami a major identity crisis (almost like in the play, what a surprise), and it also induces Koito to ask her friend to change the ending of the play — instead of taking on the persona reported by her lover, the amnesiac will adapt her own persona, as revealed over the course of the play.

The anime ends … umm… halts, with nothing resolved. The two girls go on a date to the local aquarium and in the post-credits Nanami falls asleep on Koito on the train home, with Koito gazing at her fondly. At the very end, Koito grasps her hand and whispers “senpai…”, with a long pause, and everyone waits for her to say “I love you“, but instead she says “…we need to change trains now“, and the end card appears. The series is over, and Koito has not told Nanami about the change in the play, and has not admitted that she may be developing feelings for her senpai.

Q. And what did you think of it?

A. I liked it. I liked it a lot. It was straight up romance, not rom-com or some  flavor of harem anime. There was no spiky hair, no yelling, and no mechas. To the extent that one got to know them, the characters were all likeable. (Note that, to keep this essay short, I am leaving out a lot of characters, including Nanami‘s childhood friend Saeki Sayaka, who makes for a low-key love triangle, the two adult women in a lesbian relationship that is probably unique in anime, all Koito‘s other friends and the rest of the Student Council).  Their conversations were (mostly) lifelike, and their actions were (mostly) understandable, if we excuse Nanami falling in love with Koito eighteen minutes into Episode 1 as anime artist’s license. There were parents who did parenting, and teachers who taught and advised. None was a caricature.

One of the things I liked was how Bloom tells its story in small gestures. For example, there’s a trope in anime of the indirect kiss — where you drink from a container that the other person just drank from. Very often this is a big deal, sometimes with panicky voices and waving of hands. At one point in Bloom, however, Nanami opens a bottle of soda and hands it to Koito, who takes a drink and hands it back. Koito is oblivious, but Nanami stares at it for a long moment, before drinking from it herself, and the scene moves on.


None of the plot turns were based on standard shonen anime misunderstandings-of-the-obvious, and none of the characters were as dense as the average shonen protagonist, but then that just might be girls being smarter than boys. The physical side of the romance was very muted (despite her feelings, Nanami didn’t get beyond first base), she and the girls are proportioned like humans, and the fanservice was limited to a shot of her in her underwear, and her and Koito (et al.) up to their armpits in the bath.

Visually, Bloom is very soft. The art is very clean, and the colors are mostly pastels. Many of the scenes are bathed in the orange glow of sunset, what the Japanese call tasogare, the yellow dark.

The golden days of youth

One glaring note is not the fault of the anime. The presentation I am watching is from HIDIVE via VRV over Roku on my TV, and VRV on Roku uses black bands with white lettering for the subtitles, instead of the preferred yellow-on-picture that VRV on the PC uses. That’s not too bad, except VRV/Roku likes to put the sub in the middle of the screen, and sometimes it will double up the subtitle, which is irritating and can obscure most of the picture.

The music is provided by a subdued, unobtrusive piano.

The ending is very European.** We can see the form of the resolution, but they don’t feel the need to spell it out.  Of course, the fact that the anime used up all the available source material may have had something to do with it. Volume 5 of the manga (the aquarium trip) was published in Japan in January of 2018, and Volume 6 (the play) didn’t come out until 27 September, eight days before the anime aired in Japan. If the publishing cycle holds true, we won’t get a sequel until Fall of 2021. To my mind, if they waited a year, or even a season, and then used the play as a wrap-up, they’d have had a much stronger story.

I’m not a manga person, but I bought Volume 1 on Amazon just to see, and the anime tracks it very closely. There’s a suspicious-looking (“English language not guaranteed”) third-party blue-ray on Amazon for the low, low price of $144. You might want to wait on that.


*Junior/Senior status, for those not used to anime

**It reminds me of the British detective shows we watched when we were living there in the 1970’s. They had the same sort of ambiguous endings, instead of the US style full closure arrest and sentencing. Foreigners seem to be more comfortable with ambiguity than we are.