Tuesday, August 29, 2023

"Ignorance is bliss"

After prayer meeting this morning I brought up the question about why would God need to test us. Doesn't He already know what's in our hearts? Is it because I have to know it? Maybe because testing makes it real, not just potential.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Drone wars

Why Drones Have Not Revolutionized War is a useful read. The authors conclude that drones don't "level the field" that much--the already powerful have the technology and training to leverage the tools better in attack and defense.

On the other hand... Some of the drone attacks on Russia have seemed to push the limits of how far drones can travel, and I've read speculation that some of the drones are launched and controlled from inside Russia. I'm not sure active drone control is a safe thing to do inside Russia, but fire and forget might work.

Damage to factories in the homeland, power lines, fuel depots, bridges--they can be as useful to your adversary as damage to your tanks, though the effect takes a little longer to percolate to the battlefield. They need to be able to supply their infiltrators, and provide training and up-to-date ways to counter your countermeasures.

Some countries would seem more vulnerable to this sort of attack than others: most obviously those with open borders and large foreign populations. Dispersed production is more resilient and harder to defend while centralized production, though you can concentrate your defenses, has more catastrophic consequences when attacks get through (as they will). I don't see how just-in-time systems could stand up to damage well.


I never quite figured out what he thought he was doing, or what would lead him to trust Putin. None of the scenarios people were tossing about seemed to make sense. If it was he aboard the plane, I thought he was supposed to stay in Belarus? It's probably safest to assume that nothing he or Putin said was true.

It would make things nice and lively if the air defense system was supposed to let the plane go through, but somebody had, in the drone vs countermeasures race, figured out how to spoof the system to make it think the plane was a drone. (fast drone, if so) I doubt that many Ukrainians are crying about the results. I'd read that Ukraine had figured out how to make an empty field seem like a drone-controlling station, inducing the Russians to waste a few missiles. Sort of like the doorless microwave in a field the Serbians used against us to the same end.

“There’s a Bene Gesserit saying,” she said. “You have sayings for everything!” he protested. “You’ll like this one,” she said. “It goes: ‘Do not count a human dead until you’ve seen his body. And even then you can make a mistake.”

Whether ghost or in the flesh, he's unlikely to show up on my doorstep, so my confusion doesn't seem to matter much. I'm fortunate to be far enough away.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

War Crimes Court

"First time voters overwhelming back a war crimes court" in Liberia.
Advocates of a court have long argued that justice for war crimes is essential if Liberians are to regain trust in government.

“If a war crimes court comes to Liberia, nobody will steal our country money,” said Amie Y. Wilson, 20, in Joe Bar, Paynesville.


“Justice is good for Liberia’s future because, during the war, some people just decided to hold guns to be firing people. They were killing innocent people so I believe that when they bring the court in this country it will be better for us,” said Oretha Kangomah, 18

My take on it from 13 years ago is that this is eye-wateringly naive.

For many years opponents of a court argued that a court would reignite fighting. That fear was cited by some older generations of Liberians interviewed by FPA/NN over the years. But many first-time voters surveyed said a court was needed to deter future warlords.

The warlords are still there. So are the weapons. Their command infrastructure will have deteriorated over the years, but I'll bet the warlords are making sure their loyal retainers stay bought. Sure, you can offload the actual trial somewhere else, as was done with Charles Taylor, but the US isn't going to send troops to arrest warlords. Actually, I can think of some people in DC stupid enough to try...

Human justice isn't going to prevail here. Maybe in another dozen years you could get away with something like a war crimes court, when it is largely moot. Right now I don't sense that they're as stable as they think they are.

Sunday, August 20, 2023


AVI’s post touching on how much early and middle life matters compared to the end got me wondering about hope.

National Geographic, writing about an Inuit group, described a young man who had killed a polar bear by himself. This is a great accomplishment, one of the greatest available in the culture. Shortly thereafter he killed himself. The journal suggested, based on I know not what personal evidence, that this was in part because he had nothing more to look forward to, that everything in life after this was going to be anticlimax.

It seems a waste of time to try to define hope in some non-circular way–I’ll take it as understood. The object and ground of hope vary.

If your hope is in personal accomplishment, as defined in your culture, what remains for you if your pinnacle is in your youth? You can rest on your laurels, but not hope. Or suppose some impediment prevents accomplishment forever. You need a different target of hope–easy to say, not easy to manage.

My career in physics is over, as far as I can foresee. I cannot hope that what I have helped do will endure, for in large part the results we found are already superseded by more complete studies. I’m hardly alone in this–the same is true for police or soldiers or doctors. Whatever you have done, there will be new crimes, reenergized enemies, fresh diseases. Somebody else has to deal with those. You can hope that they will cope, but that depends on them. You can hope you’ve prepared your children for what lies ahead, but that too depends on them.

There’s hope that depends on my accomplishments, and hope that depends on others’.

There seems also to be another hope–a hope in the graces for the next day. “Graces” because I don’t, or only partly, earn them. It’s a more humble hope–that even if there is nothing I can do or say, I can still enjoy a new day. It’s a humble trust that what I do and trust in will be met with grace. Both my parents died of dementia, which doesn’t augur well for my future, but both seemed to rejoice as best they could in each new day they had, whatever the pains that came with it might be.

We don’t do much without hope. Discouraging reasonable hope in children is a crime. Some hopes are unreasonable–the third son of the peasant is not going to marry a princess–but we tell stories about them anyway, maybe because sometimes their hope shouldn’t be unreasonable. (I don’t remember nearly as many stories about the simpleton marrying the princess, but they’re there too. Wicked hopes are to be defeated, of course.)

unexpected effect

I've had general anesthesia surgery twice before. All I remember of tonsilectomy is a sore throat so bad I did not even want any of the promised ice cream. The shoulder surgery was merely and clearly painful and awkward.

But the torso has many active parts. Is the discomfort from the sutures, from bruising from the inflation they used, from muscle complaining about the alien mesh it has to meld with, or something significant in one of the other organs?

I didn't expect the confusion.

Saturday, August 19, 2023


A federal judge on Friday upheld a finding from the U.S. Copyright Office that a piece of art created by AI is not open to protection. My first reaction was "Good!"

On reflection, there are some complexities here. If you are trying to do your own book covers, you might find these web posts useful. Cover art and More midjourney

Are you back from the rabbit hole yet? Two things stood out:

  • It generally takes some skill and practice to make the AI do something actually useful. That is human ingenuity at work. The AI itself doesn't actually do work in any deep sense: the programmers and the program's users do. Who gets the copyright for this effort? Nobody. (Assuming there is some significant effort. Maybe a generic landscape is all you need.)
  • As illustrated in this link, "None of the images are perfect. They need work before being used." The initial image is not copyrightable, per the copyright office and now the judge, but when you maniplate it with GIMP in some non-trivial ways to make it suit your purpose, you possibly do have something copyrightable. But how much effort is required to make it yours, and how do you then distinguish yours from someone else's who used the same base image?

I think there are still some worms left in the can.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Studies in Words

I referenced this book by C.S. Lewis in the previous post. He meant it as a textbook for literature students. It has moments of his trademark insights and wit. Examples of his broad and detailed reading appear in almost every paragraph.

The book is about the development of the meanings of several words, some of which were used radically differently in other eras, e.g. nature, sad, wit, free. He ends with a chapter on criticism that's worth reading by itself.

I had just enough curiosity about the words and the examples to make it through. I wasn't cut out to be a linguist. If you are, read it. Otherwise just read the last chapter.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

To Lose a Battle

France 1940 by Alistair Horne (orig 1969, updated 1990 with Ultra material).

Why did France collapse so quickly when Germany attacked?

He describes lots of reasons, including bad luck and bad weather, but the critical parts were

  • Lack of preparation:
    • Communists: generically against capitalists at first, then once the USSR allied or close enough to it with Germany, actively sabotaging things
    • Politicians who hated each other more than outsiders were unable to cooperate on programs with no instant political reward
    • Political military leaders. One unexpcted side effect was multiple lines of authority. Another was lies about the true situation, and pretending you knew something when you did not.
    • Trust in their Maginot shield
    • Nowhere nearly enough R&D in aviation, nor capacity to build their own
  • The lowland nations were terrified of seeming non-neutral, which meant they didn't fortify adequately against the Germans, which required battle plans that stationed lots of Allied troops ready to move into an unfortified northwest
  • Lousy communications, with apparently little thought for resilience. During the battles, army groups couldn't communicate with their constituents nor with commanders at critical times
  • Trench-warfare mentality. In a critical moment, when faced with Panzer attack, a French armored division had its tanks split up to cover a front rather than concentrated to counterattack. This seems to have been the default attitude for strategy as well as tactics--with some exceptions.
  • Deception: The German attack through the Ardennes was covered by a "feint" in the northwest. The "feint" was a major attack in its own right, and successfully drew the reserves that way. The Germans broke through in the battle there as well. They feinted at the Maginot Line, and German propaganda threatened to come through Switzerland as well. The French left divisions guarding these that could have been better used elsewhere, though admittedly they weren't the best.
  • Lousy morale.
  • Few people had any clear idea about what tanks and dive bombers could do, especially together.
  • Lack of practice with maneuver, making new air fields, and other such exercises

The German attack through the Ardennes was audacious and risky, and the drive west even more so. Near the end of his life Manstein, the inventor of the Sicelschnitt plan, said "The hopeless French reconaissance won us the Battle of France; just that."

Could be. The Germans had a better organized system, with coordinated air strikes and local air superiority. They might have won in the end anyway.

And Ultra didn't help. The Germans had changed codes, and at the start of the Ardennes strike were using land lines to keep anybody from eavedropping, so there was no way to warn of the start of the invasion, and by the time Ultra messages were getting decoded they were generally not timely, and communications were so poor that sometimes they never got through at all.

In short, the book explains what you probably learned in school, though in school we didn't learn about the mistresses. For a day by day coverage, with background, it's worth reading. Some of the points of failure have parallels today (e.g. political military leaders); some not so much.

It's useful to remember that however powerful you think your army is, somebody has a plan to bring it down--that might actually work. And that your leaders--civilian and military--are just men too, and therefore idiots. And that sometimes a genius one day is a fool the next.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

WW-2 drones and a rabbit hole

We all know about the V1's. Youtube's algorithm threw a peice about WW-2 pilotless planes at me: mostly the TDR-1. It was slow and guided by a "mother ship" flying out of sight behind it. The mother plane monitored where the drone went using a TV camera in the drone's nose.

It wasn't on anybody's short list--cranking out lots of ordinary planes came first, and when we had enough spare capacity it wasn't so vital anymore. And the things were pretty slow and vulnerable to flak. But in their final mission, 31 of 50 drones hit their targets--often by being crashed into them.

The rest of the air force wasn't that accurate, was it? 60% is pretty good! UPDATEOr 46 and 21=45%?

The United States Strategic Bombing Surveys say no, they weren't that good.

Conventionally the air forces designated as "the target area" a circle having a radius of 1000 feet around the aiming point of attack . While accuracy improved during the war, Survey studies show that, in the over-all, only about 20% of the bombs aimed at precision targets fell within this target area. A peak accuracy of 70% was reached for the month of February 1945.

That's hitting within 1000 feet. I don't know if the "hit their targets" metric for the drones was that loose, but the video suggests it was at least sometimes much better

I should not indulge this sort of research when I have to get up early. A few quotes from the report:

Germany was scoured for its war records, which were found sometimes, but rarely, in places where they ought to have been ; sometimes in safe-deposit vaults, often in private houses, in barns, in caves ; on one occasion, in a hen house and, on two occasions, in coffins.

and a note about industrial capacity

Because the German economy through most of the war was substantially undermobilized, it was resilient under air attack.

wrt steel: Germany didn't have to build up as much as fast as the US did, so steel shouldn't have been a bottleneck, but

Although steel was considered a bottleneck by the Germans, a detailed examination of the control machinery together with interrogation of officials in the Speer ministry and its predecessor organizations, reveals that the trouble was partly an inefficient allocation system and partly, in the early years of the war especially, an unwillingness to cut out nonessential construction and civilian consumption . German industrialists were also found to have had a marked propensity to hoard steel.


German steel producers were required by the government to keep records of production losses and their causes. These records show that air raid alerts in 1943 were a more serious cause of the lost production than the actual damage from the raids.

Another oddity: Japan lost 50,000 planes, 60% of them to "training, ferrying, and other noncombat losses". The USA lost 27,000, of which we lost 70% to non-combat losses.

Kamikaze missions had an 18.6% hit rate--we got better at stopping them. Probably the Japanese would have gotten better at stopping drones too.

10.1 millon tons of Japanese shipping was reduced by 8.9 million tons by our actions; about 55% due to subs, 30% to planes, 9% to mines and less than 1% to surface gunfire--the rest to accidents.

And I had not heard before that thanks to disruption of the nitrogen fixing plants, Germany was so low on explosives that they were adding rock salt to shells.

Monday, August 14, 2023


Room temperature superconductivity sounded great. I read the paper, and decided I couldn't comment. Some of their measurements sounded interesting, but the critical bit was a plot of voltage and current--and it didn't look flat in the central region. Almost. Was that because bits of the sample had gone superconductive and other bits in between hadn't? That demanded some experimental work, and I have neither the domain knowledge nor the facilities.

As you all probably know by now, the answer is that nobody's been able to verify it. Too bad.

The high pressure superconductivity looks interesting, though not yet very useful. The pressures required are comparable to those at the Earth's core. I wonder, might the core of some cold moon superconduct as it cooled down? If it had a magnetic field, and if the outer part of the core cooled below the critical temperature while the inner core retained its magnetic field, the Meissner effect would try to expel the field from the outer shell (probably in patches at first)--what would that do to the currents in the inner non-superconducting part of the core?

Sunday, August 13, 2023


There are some popular "documentaries" which mix interviews with paleontologists with "live action" dinosaurs interacting with people and things like automatic doors in the modern world. In one I was shown today, my "people wouldn't act like that" alarm rang. e.g. They'd devise improvised weapons to protect the kids while staging their retreat.

Which, of course, had me wondering: if you took a dozen young adults with pocketknives and tossed them back into the Cretaceous, how many generations would it take before they decided they'd reduced the risks enough (and could build sturdy enough pens) that they could start trying to domesticate some of the dinos? So far, at least, reptiles in general have been at best tamed a little, but only as pets and not for food or for assistance. But dinos weren't exactly reptiles--maybe it would work.

It might help if you started with a pack-animal type (wolf to dog)--footprints tell us some of the dinos moved or hunted in packs. Most modern reptiles don't seem to--though some move in family groups and some crocs seem to coordinate hunting.

Trying to picture the result gets biased by what happens when we domesticate mammals (rounder muzzle, floppy ears). There were already relatively small dinos about. Breed herbivores to not freak out around omnivores and be small enough for a human to conveniently slaughter. Breed some velociraptor to accept humans as alphas and help herd herbivores.

DALL-E-2 gave me this in response to "Herd of domesticated albertadromeus with big eyes and rounded muzzle kept in line with two domesticated velociraptors with giant cycads in the background." A bit more colorful than clear... I think there's some Dall-E fu I haven't mastered.

Saturday, August 12, 2023


I've always liked meteors. Tonight as we lay out on a baseball field in the shadow of the light pole, one came so straight at us that it just looked like a star that brightened and then vanished. I've written about the one that I "heard"--it was almost straight at me too. From little squibs that you aren't sure you saw to bright green slashes across the sky--it's fun to watch. Standing leads to a crick in the neck, though--lie back.

I think my favorite was when we were camping at Governor Dodge park, talking to a couple and their daughter about meteors. The daughter had never seen one and didn't know what they were, and the parents weren't quite sure either--and just as we spoke one lit up the sky in front of the daughter and me. She was so excited: "Was that a meteor!?" Perfect timing. It was behind the parents' heads--they missed it.

Friday, August 11, 2023

work in progress

I originally wrote the story from a girl's POV, for historical reasons.

It was pointed out by a reviewer that I didn't describe the girls' reactions to a stressful moment very convincingly, and another who didn't read it noted that the market for girl's adventures was currently weak.

OK, happy to fix things up. And without permission to use one character, a revamp was needed anyhow. I stared at the result a while, and wondered--what if I do the switch to a boy's POV? I've been a boy, and helped raise a couple--which should help keep it fresh in the mind.

Of course it isn't a simple global "she" → "he" and "her" → "his"/"him". The whole initial setting changed, the first chapter was replaced, the last chapter revamped, and I'm having to make dozens of verb changes throughout, dropping at least one sub-theme entirely--I'll have to replace it. It's a useful exercise, and forces me to try to think harder about action descriptions. Scenes just don't look the same through different eyes. Well, some do.

I was about 3/4 through the sequel--I figured practice was the best way to start editing--so I now have 2 WIPs. It would be even more confusing if I hadn't gotten wedged on the next section of the second book. (You can't travel fast in trackless lands when you have to spend time looking for food. And you can't carry as much food as you hope.)

Will the book end up being worth the effort? Maybe not, but I'll have given it a good try, and I haven't had any Direction to quit wasting time on it. Doug wanted to try to pilot every kind of vehicle; I can try to write all kinds of different things.

Thursday, August 10, 2023


I don't know why I feel fine in the morning, and am hairballing my lungs in the afternoon. The anesthesiologist postponed once already.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

No protection?

Groups of gangsters looting stores is a problem all over the place now, and mob violence seems more in the news too--though more so in select places, such as cities which refuse to call it mob action.

It used to be you could rent protection in Chicago or New York. Probably that only works where there are just a few gangs.

Monday, August 07, 2023

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Too much water

I remember reading about the "Aquatic Ape Hypothesis" many decades ago and thinking it was clever but I'd like to wait and see about it. Researching WW-I diseases brought it back to mind--if we adapted so well to water, why is prolonged soaking so bad for the skin?


No predictions are certain. He was outgoing, active, "picked his ancestors carefully", and had lots of friends and family. I, the same age, am rather introverted, a desk jockey, and with a family history of several unwanted conditions--some of which I continue. A surprise heart attack and ER, and then another one a couple days later before the hospital could get him studied.

He touched a lot of lives--hundreds came to visitation. Luckily he and his wife had had a reunion with their large extended family a few weeks before, so everybody got to see him hale and happy one more time.