mm157: I have no opinions today

September 30, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s that pesky personal life thing, folks.

Routine is shot to hell, as She Who Maintains is in L.A. where MUDGElet No. 1 has been hospitalized for over a week.

So today, tied up with hosting a committee meeting arranged when I was certain I would merely be co-piloting the hosting piece, I managed to evade the daily infusion of caffeine. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As a former computer programmer (dates me; today my successors in the business are developers, don’t ya know), my world runs on caffeine. Miss it, everything is very wrong.

So, while the world keeps turning, and there are new wonders to wonder at, and new outrages to be outraged at, I’m content to veg’ out in front of the NFL games.

Back tomorrow, I’m sure.

Oh, and our daughter? Talked for over half an hour with her tonight — she’ll be going home in a couple of days, and is feeling much better, thanks. And She Who Maintains will be home the next evening.

Whew.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm156: There’s a war on, folks, and this must be a military weekend…

September 29, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

So, yesterday’s post on Predator (not the Governator’s flick, the UCAV, silly!) was not impelled by news, but rather by the (semi-) creative gestation process.

Then, today, while strolling through Digg (which this MUDGE must admit has somehow elevated itself over what was happening a few weeks ago — could it be that school is back in session and people are a bit more serious-minded?) found a couple of Navy related stories.

Now, MUDGE and the U.S. Navy go way back. No, never served. Yes, as one interested in the history of technology, and therefore military history, and technology in general, and the Navy has long embodied applied technology at its most dramatic.

This interest apparently was infectious, and this draft evader (in thought if not in deed) was bemused to have spawned MUDGElet No. 2, mentioned before in this space, a proud graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and distinguished former lieutenant in the Navy’s surface warfare community.

Parents: be careful what you read, and what books and magazines you leave around for your kids to find!

Just kidding. I couldn’t be prouder of our children, and their spouses, and No. 2’s spouse happens to be proud graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (tough as it is for men, extraordinarily so for women), and distinguished former lieutenant in the Navy’s surface warfare community.

So, two stories. One odd in and of itself; one an intriguing window into the state of the generation of young women and men just a year or so younger than MUDGElet No. 3.

Odd:

navyswas

CORONADO, Calif. – The Navy will spend as much as $600,000 to modify a 40-year-old barracks complex that resembles a swastika from the air, a gaffe that went largely unnoticed before satellite images became easily accessible on the Internet.

The Navy said officials noted the buildings’ shape after the groundbreaking in 1967 but decided against changing it at the time because it wasn’t obvious from the ground. Aerial photos made available on such services as Windows Live and Google Earth in recent years have since revealed the buildings’ shape to a wide audience.

Typical government decision-making: no one can see our error, so let’s ignore it.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Navy to alter swastika-shaped barracks – Peculiar Postings – MSNBC.com

Don’t get MUDGE started about swastikas. I don’t hold Indians responsible for an ancient religious symbol.

As a boomer, born three years after the full panoply of horror was daylighted in a way that the world could not longer ignore, I manifestly do hold Nazi Germany responsible for every murderous, dreadful and inhuman act performed under that forever tainted symbol, and the successor generations of Germans get less benefit of the doubt from this curmudgeon than from many.

Not the Navy’s best building. If there wasn’t a war on, I’d vote for demolishing the place, just because.

Intriguing:

Military recruiting in this age of volunteer soldiering, rather than my generation’s drafted, has not previously been a problem for the Pentagon. Oh, they keep needing to seed the ground, with education benefits, and with retention bonuses (MUDGElet No. 2 reported that he passed on a $50,000 re-up bribe to resign to go onto grad school).

But, now there’s a war on. And, while the Navy isn’t on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and taking the casualties that the Army and Marines (yes, a branch of the Navy) are taking, recruiting today’s 17-24 year-olds is a challenge.

This story comes, quite indirectly, courtesy of Salon.com’s excellent technology blogger known as The Machinist.

Noah Shachtman, the master of Wired’s Danger Room blog, and Entropic Memes both have cool posts about a presentation put together by some Navy experts regarding the difficulty of recruiting “millennials,” Americans aged 17 to 24, to the armed forces. In the words of the presentation, the kids are not alright: They’re “coddled,” “narcissistic praise junkies” who “demand respect” though they lack experience, and who are so comfortable with technology that talking to them is like “dealing with a somewhat alien life force.”

navyrecruit

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Machinist: Tech Blog, Tech News, Technology Articles – Salon

Navy recruiters! Of course you’re having trouble recruiting, and it has nothing to do with the fact that the generation you are focusing on doesn’t speak your language.

Of course “the millennials” speak your language. If all else were equal, the signing bonuses, and education rewards should work for that generation as well as it has for its predecessor’s.

The problem is, Navy, that there’s a war on. Soldiers are dying, or are taking combat injuries that the hospitals aren’t dealing with effectively.

Is there any wonder that the volunteers aren’t breaking down the doors of the Navy recruiters’ offices?

Even “millennials” watch the news.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm155: Go to war — Play videogames

September 28, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of military aviation

First of an occasional series

With no greater expertise than that of one fascinated with technology, its history, and its future, we embark on an exploration of the future of military aviation, as exemplified by the increasing numbers of remotely piloted aircraft, UAVs (Unmanned aerial vehicles) and UCAVs (… Combat … …).

The impetus was this recent posting about the creative use of the Predator UAV by an enterprising officer, Greg Harbin, who has been lobbying the Pentagon for increased use of a tool that brings the output of surveillance performed by Predator directly to the front line without delay.

I’d been aware of the growing use of robot aircraft for some years. Not because I encounter them in my daily life! Because I have long had an “armchair” interest in aviation. Long years ago, I frequently read Flying magazine, dreaming of one day taking lessons and taking to the air.

Never happened, although my late brother-in-law apparently long harbored a similar dream, which in the years before cancer took him he was finally able to realize, together with his young son, who now is in his senior year in the Air Force ROTC program at a major university, having earned his pilot’s license, and qualified for combat training upon his graduation next spring.

But MUDGE has confined his interest to the armchair, telling himself that real life has superceded idle imagination.

I no longer read Flying, haven’t for decades, since its audience are the doctors and captains of industry who actually do fly themselves around. MUDGE is neither doctor nor captain, and just can’t relate.

Instead many years ago I found an intriguing publication out of England (home of the Economist, best magazine on the planet — what is it about the British?) called Air International.

AI covers the global aviation field, both military and civil, manufacturers and their air force and airline customers, and is sometimes complete to the point of obsession. Some fun, huh? Well MUDGE thinks so.

They’ve had some features through the years about the UAV/UCAV phenomenon, but, I’m thinking, as flyers themselves, the editors must share an ambivalence about the entire topic of robot flying with professional pilots, military especially, who may well believe that they represent the last generation of their kind.

So, I did some independent research, with the assistant of the globe’s favorite research assistant, Google.com.

So, let’s get started. Here’s the first Predator, Predator A:

predatora

In Jan 1994 an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) programme to develop a Tier II Medium Altitude Endurance UAV was awarded to General Atomics. General Atomics already had the GNAT-750 series of UAVs flying, and this version was developed to eventually become the Predator A. The Predator A has the same low-wing monoplane design, consisting of a high aspect ratio wing attached to a fairly narrow fuselage and a fully articulated inverted V tail – the vehicle is constructed from carbon-epoxy / Kevlar composites. The fuselage houses both the payload and all the fuel for the vehicle. At the rear of the fuselage is an 80hp four-cylinder Rotax 912UL fuel injected four-stroke engine, driving a 4ft 11in variable pitch pusher propeller. Subsequently, the 912UL engine was replaced by a 113hp Rotax 914 four cylinder four-stroke turbocharged engine. A fixed nose mounted colour TV camera is used for remote piloting and a GPS internal navigation system is also installed. The mission equipment consists of a Northrop Grumman AN/ZPQ-1 Tactical Endurance Synthetic Aperture Radar (TESAR), developed from a system planned for the cancelled A-12 strike aircraft and a Wescam Versatron 14TS Infra Red / Electro-Optical (IR/EO) sensor turret. Line of sight control and transfer of data is accomplished by C and Ku band datalinks. However, the biggest difference in the Predator from the GNAT-750 is the addition of a Ku-band SATCOM link, with the antenna housed in a bulge above the nose.

From the same article, here’s a view of the controllers’ module (one to fly, one to control the payload);

predatorcontrol

Predator B is the much more capable current model, the subject of the Greg Harbin story. Here’s some of what spyflight.co.uk, the source for this section, has to say about Predator B.

The next stage in the Predator development is the Predator B, a much larger and more capable machine. … The biggest difference, apart from the more conventional ‘upward’ V tail, that Predator B has over the Predator A is the increased payload from 450lbs to 475lbs and the ability to take this payload up to 50,000ft for 25hrs if necessary.

predatorb

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

General Atomics Predator

Think about it. Human pilots have life support requirements. An aircraft built to accommodate a pilot and weapons controller: with sufficient stores of oxygen, hydration and nutrition; built strong enough to handle 50,000ft altitude with the necessary pressurization equipment and protection; space to take a break (25-hour flights!) — more likely a second crew with space and stores for them; fuel to carry it all… now you’re talking a pretty big aircraft.

Take the mammals out of the equation, or at least out of the air, and the problem of extended flight at extended altitudes becomes resolvable with a much smaller (read: harder to see/kill) aircraft.

Have to wonder what happens to all the fighter jocks? Maybe they’ll find work, sooner than they thought, flying for the airlines

Pilots of remotely directed aircraft like Predator sit in comfortable chairs, flicking buttons, handling joysticks, watching screens, very much like those heroes of yesterday, and yes, today; those guys with the right stuff.

Except these new age pilots are ON THE GROUND. Often, thousands of miles away from their aircraft, insulated from all danger more immediate than carpal tunnel syndrome.

Anyone remember the movie, The Last Starfighter? Its kookie premise: alien military recruiters find likely candidates among expert shoot ’em up videogame (or the ’80s equivalent) players.

Wonder how the Air Force found the guys who fly Predators out of Nevada?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm154: Burma: The saffron revolution

September 27, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Our British cousins take Burma more seriously than most, befitting its status as a former colony, I guess. Kind of the way the U.S. feels about Cuba?

At any rate, the Economist, the best magazine on the planet, has these observations on what they hopefully describe as a revolution there.

Sep 27th 2007
From The Economist print edition

If the world acts in concert, the violence should be the last spasm of a vicious regime in its death throes

Reuters

“FEAR”, the lady used to say, “is a habit.” This week, inspired in part by the lady herself, Aung San Suu Kyi, partly by the heroic example set by Buddhist monks, Myanmar’s people kicked the addiction.

Defying the corrupt, inept, brutal generals who rule them, they took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to demand democracy. They knew they were risking a bloody crackdown, like the one that put down a huge popular revolt in 1988, killing 3,000 people or more. In 1988 Burma’s people were betrayed not just by the ruthlessness of their rulers, but also by the squabbling and opportunism of the outside world, which failed to produce a co-ordinated response and let the murderous regime get away with it. This time, soldiers are once again shooting and killing unarmed protesters (see article). Can the world avoid making the same mistake twice?

MUDGE confesses that, not being in any way shape or form British, he’s paid only fitful attention to Burma through the years. So, I didn’t know that,

it was an economic grievance—a big, abrupt rise in fuel prices—that sparked the present unrest.

Now it’s up to the rest of the world to “persuade” Burma’s military dictatorship to do the right thing.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

economist

Revolution in Myanmar | The saffron revolution | Economist.com

The crux, according to the editors of the Economist, and not a great surprise at that, is China. Just as China has supported its client, North Korea, which support has aided and abetted its insane leadership, so has China more than tolerated the Burmese junta’s iron fisted, ham handed control and leadership.

And, like North Korea, it turns out that such undemocratic leadership is really, really bad for the economic well being of a country and its citizens.

So, the U.S., distracted by its own attempts to suppress “terrorists” and insurgents 6,000 miles away, not to speak of suppressing the Constitution and its amendments closer to home, can’t be bothered to do more than posture at the U.N. and let China veto any even symbolic movement to support the unarmed monks and the afflicted Burmese they are fighting for.

And China, in its cynical way, dare not publicly criticize its client by supporting its suppressed citizenry for fear, I’m thinking, of the message it might send to its own awakening underclass.

And, just so you know where I’m coming from, I read, in the ‘Sphere this week, I believe, a writer deciding that since”M—–r” is an artifact of the current corrupt regime, using the old name of Burma is perfectly appropriate and indeed shows support for the time, hopefully very soon, when the generals fade away.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm153: Buy a Laptop for a Child, Get Another Laptop Free

September 26, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

This week seems to be developing a theme: technology of the developed world reaching out to the developing world, with some intriguing results.

Any member of the ‘Sphere recognizes that the PC is the instrument of tremendous potential for creating change, especially the access to the Internet (and the universe beyond the dusty village) that it can provide,

The One Laptop Per Child project has been carefully followed in this space, and the original story has been subsequently augmented and commented on, most recently this week.

Here’s an update on OLPC, published this week in the NYTimes.

By STEVE LOHR Published: September 24, 2007

One Laptop Per Child, an ambitious project to bring computing to the developing world’s children, has considerable momentum. Years of work by engineers and scientists have paid off in a pioneering low-cost machine that is light, rugged and surprisingly versatile. The early reviews have been glowing, and mass production is set to start next month.

olpc7926

Orders, however, are slow. “I have to some degree underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a check written,” said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the nonprofit project. “And yes, it has been a disappointment.”

But Mr. Negroponte, the founding director of the M.I.T. Media Laboratory, views the problem as a temporary one in the long-term pursuit of using technology as a new channel of learning and self-expression for children worldwide.

And he is reaching out to the public to try to give the laptop campaign a boost. The marketing program, to be announced today, is called “Give 1 Get 1,” in which Americans and Canadians can buy two laptops for $399.

Putting aside the question about how a $100 laptop has inflated to two for $399, the OLPC continues to break new ground even in marketing.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Buy a Laptop for a Child, Get Another Laptop Free – New York Times

This is a wonderful cause, and I would think that people who would find a $399 purchase with a 50% charitable component affordable might also wish, as the story suggests, to donate the PC they’re entitled to a (not third world, but certainly third rate) school in this country.

God knows that there are pockets of the third world within these preciously regarded borders of ours, many within our biggest cities. Then it becomes a $399 charitable contribution, serving to further education among the deserving needy in our own country as well as beyond.

If this promotion serves to prime the production pump, so as to assure economic deliveries to the nations like Peru and Mexico and Italy (for Ethiopia — now that’s fitting!) that have committed to the project, then it’s absolutely worthwhile.

As the giving season looms (the pumpkins are out, after all!), why not add OLPC’s “Give 1, Get 1” to your planning (orders to be taken Nov. 12–26); and as MUDGE recommends, just make that slight adjustment and you can call it “Give 1 (there), Give 1 (here).”

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm152: Study Finds Evidence of Genetic Response to Diet

September 25, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

This is a story from several weeks ago, “banked” in Windows Live Writer’s Drafts section waiting for an appropriate day.

This is that day, starting hours later than usual because MUDGE‘s pesky personal life keeps intruding into blogging time. The nerve!

As mentioned before, this writer is what a politically correct person might call “pleasingly plump,” or perhaps “horizontally challenged.” As you might have figured out by now, faithful reader, MUDGE does not have a politically correct bone in his body (as if he or anyone else could see any bones inside all the blubber), so he just calls himself fat.

It’s a lifelong problem, and has predictably led to the usual middle aged complications.

Having tried countless diets; having lost countless pounds, we fight this battle every frigging day.

Maybe there’s a magic bullet after all…

nytimes

by NICHOLAS WADE

Published: September 10, 2007

Could people one day evolve to eat rich food while remaining perfectly slim and svelte?

This may not be so wild a fantasy. It is becoming clear that the human genome does respond to changes in diet, even though it takes many generations to do so.

Researchers studying the enzyme that converts starch to simple sugars like glucose have found that people living in countries with a high-starch diet produce considerably more of the enzyme than people who eat a low-starch diet.

The reason is an evolutionary one. People in high-starch countries have many extra copies of the amylase gene which makes the starch-converting enzyme, a group led by George H. Perry of Arizona State University and Nathaniel J. Dominy of the University of California, Santa Cruz, reported yesterday in the journal Nature Genetics.

The production of the extra copies seems to have been favored by natural selection, according to a genetic test, the authors say. If so, the selective pressure could have occurred when people first started to grow cereals like wheat and barley at the beginning of the Neolithic revolution some 10,000 years ago, or even much earlier.

… if not for MUDGE himself, perhaps for his great grandchildren, anyway.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Study Finds Evidence of Genetic Response to Diet – New York Times

Sorry to burden some of you with the concept of evolution, also considered in this space previously.

That’s not just a theory, guys, that’s the law!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm151: Monks’ Protest Is Challenging Burmese Junta

September 24, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

As we’ve noted lately (here and indirectly, here), fewer and fewer corners of the planet are immune from that pesky virus: information.

Even North Korea has been .0015% more reasonable of late, and the bright lights of media exposure can claim at least a bit of credit (a persistently starving population gets a lot more, of course).

So, Myanmar, as repressive a tyranny as can be found (sorry guys, we’re not going to forget about you just because you changed your name; a Burma by any other name…) is once again experiencing civil unrest, and due to the pervasiveness of both MSM and alternative media, this time they can’t hide it or minimize it or freely crush it.

The photo that accompanied the NYTimes story is ample evidence of this, in and of itself.

myanmar

By SETH MYDANS

BANGKOK, Monday, Sept. 24 — The largest street protests in two decades against Myanmar’s military rulers gained momentum Sunday as thousands of onlookers cheered huge columns of Buddhist monks and shouted support for the detained pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Winding for a sixth day through rainy streets, the protest swelled to 10,000 monks in the main city of Yangon, formerly Rangoon, according to witnesses and other accounts relayed from the closed country, including some clandestinely shot videos.

It came one day after a group of several hundred monks paid respects to Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi at the gate of her home, the first time she has been seen in public in more than four years.

And here’s the nub of the argument:

Myanmar’s military government has sealed off the country to foreign journalists but information about the protests has been increasingly flowing out through wire service reports, exile groups in Thailand with contacts inside Myanmar, and through the photographs, videos and audio files, carried rapidly by technologies, including the Internet, that the government has failed to squelch.

“… photographs, videos and audio files, carried rapidly by technologies, including the Internet…”

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Monks’ Protest Is Challenging Burmese Junta – New York Times

There’s that pesky Internet again, screwing up the generals’ private party.

Our best, maybe only, hope for an end to tyranny:

  • the retro Myanmar variety (and our Chinese, North Korean (and Cuban) friends would fit in this bucket);
  • the more au courant Middle Eastern style as found in places like Syria and Iran;
  • and even such New Age (and retro) tyrannies as practiced by Putin and his ex(?)-KGB brethren throughout Russia and its former empire;

… is the pervasiveness of information, as exemplified by the liberator of Eastern Europe, CNN, and maybe the liberator of the rest of the shackled world, the Internet.

And, let’s give credit: perhaps the (admittedly looking more spurious) Congressional revolution of 2006 wouldn’t have happened at all without the blogosphere.

Not the infinitesimal nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© that we ruefully acknowledge as this weblog’s permanent fate, but certainly the heavy hitters like Daily Kos blogroll2 that help keep the kettle aboil, always a good state for the democratic process.

Small “d” democracy at work around the globe, powered by electrons.

Ben Franklin, Alessandro Volta, Nikola Tesla and all: the free (and hopefully soon to be freer) world owes you a monumental debt.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE