All posts by Number9

Advice for a New Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Part 1

Most of the people  who Rex Tillerson is likely to hear from have tried and failed, or have not tried but have fancy credentials. If he is reading this, I offer these observations only as someone who has been observing for a long time.

Only one former secretary is  alive today whose tenure was skillful.  Secretary Tillerson should read all of Kissinger’s books, beginning with Diplomacy,  which provides the theoretical underpinnings.  The practicum consists of the three volume account of his tenure as secretary,  beginning with  White House Years.

Some secretaries may have had inherent skill, but  prevented by circumstance from blossoming. Colin Powell and John Kerry  come to mind as possibilities. Great achievement is captive to circumstance.

As a direct consequence of Dr. Kissinger’s tenure as secretary, his reputation suffered in some quarters. This is an occupational hazard that can be completely evaded by doing nothing. So that is my first piece of advice to Tillerson: Sit on your hands, and you will exit with your reputation intact. If, on the other hand, you choose involvement, the millions of people who died for one reason or another will write your epitaph.

We give generals a complete pass on this. All they have to do is follow the Laws of War, and court-martial the unseemly. If a general performs poorly, he is removed from command, but seldom is he pilloried as a person. Secretaries of State are reviled for no more than the words they speak. It is not too late! You can still resign. But I sense that you intend to stick it out. So what can I tell you?

When I was a mere grasshopper, I rode a 727 down to Florida. The next seat was occupied by a member of the U.S. whale-negotiating team, which engaged Japan on the subject of whale hunting. The muscles of her face, twisting it to give the appearance of a pickle, gave hints of her personality. She gave out a couple of paragraphs about why whales in Japan are such a complex issue. When she was done, I asked, “Isn’t really that Japan wants to eat whales, and we don’t want them to?”

She sputtered with animated irritation, like a charcoal fire stirred with with a stick, and launched into a tirade. The issue was incredibly complex, like the wisdom of the Krell, far beyond the comprehension of a mere mortal, requiring many years of study and mastery of lengthy documents of great import. it was easier to just not to talk to her. It would be interesting to check back with her and see if Japan is still eating whales.

If she is still negotiating, I would ask her what are the prospects for the next several centuries. Maybe she will say that things are looking up. But it seems to me that the number of negotiators who actually are good at negotiating is vanishingly small.

Again, Kissinger is a standout. He has the touch. Art Buchwald called him the “super negotiator.” The courts have a term for this. If someone has an acknowledged area of expertise, backed by credentials and/or practical experience, he can be qualified by the court as an expert. An expert does not have to justify his testimony entirely by facts. Once qualified as an expert, the mere fact of his assertion carries weight, which can, of course, be buttressed by corresponding examples from his experience  or public  record. The recognized “expert” came about because there are people who do something well who cannot fully explain how.

It  is likely that Dr. Kissinger cannot bottle his skill and give it to Tillerson in a way that he can apply. Sometimes a parent can pass it on; sometimes  life experience does this, but I still wonder how Kissinger picked it up? Labor negotiators, up from the rank-and-file, are naturals. They trade with management in a peculiar coin, security, pay, layoffs, working conditions which is not shared by the other side, management, who deal in dollars.

This situation, where opposing sides have different monetary conditions, is also a fact of diplomacy. When we negotiate with the Russians, we are not asking them to give up something and transfer it to us. We are losing and gaining in different coin. The huge exception is trade.

The part of Kissinger’s experience that is transferable through his books is mechanism, such as

  • Negotiation with an adversary for mutual benefit.
  • Negotiation with an untrustworthy adversary.
  • Linkage.
  • Methods by which dialog can be accomplished when personal interaction is not favorable.
  • Negotiation on behalf of third parties.
  • Prerequisites for successful negotiation.
  • Real change in the posture of an adversary versus deception. How to test.
  • Strategic priorities with limited resources.
  • Realpolitik.

The right mechanisms can serve as scaffolding for someone new to the job.

To be continued shortly.


North Korea; EMP Attack Rehearsal; Nuclear Weapons as a Political Tool

Reuters: North Korea fires missile over Japan that lands far out in the Pacific.

A Google search with “Kim threatens EMP”  retrieves many secondary news outlets, but none of the first tier. Quoting the Toronto Sun,

The North said it had tested an H-bomb that was “a multi-functional thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated at high altitudes for super-powerful EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack according to strategic goals.”

In recent threats of annihilation of the U.S. and Japan, North Korea has used extreme language. We have to look at the possibility that Kim’s logic is different from what we assume with state actors that don’t use that kind of language. With the sole exception of North Korea, the nuclear powers assume that these ideas are mutually accepted:

  • Nuclear weapons have no political purpose.
  • The consequence of use to destroy another power is self-destruction.

This is the basis of MAD, mutual assured destruction. Like  balance of power in the 19th century, MAD has been credited by many for the longest era without general war. But now a state actor has indicated by language that it does not adhere to these principles of peace. The language could be a bluff. North Korea could secretly subscribe to MAD. But there is no way to know. Let’s now consider what Kim’s alternative logic may be. Exclude unbridled madness. It’s possible, but then there’s nothing to analyze.

This alternative logic  is based on analogy with the internal loyalty ranking system, Songbun, which applies to individuals and their extended families. This system applies extreme penalties, including starvation, to the lowest ranking 30% of the population.

North Korea’s problem:

  • Diplomacy no longer offers an avenue for nuclear state acceptance.
  • The newly imposed sanctions are not tolerable in the long term.
  • North Korea must be accepted as a nuclear state. All means that do not result in destruction of the state may be considered.
  • Songbun applies extreme penalties to large segments of the population, a widespread material aggression with material substance by the state against the individual.
  • The foreign-relations analogy to Songbun material aggression is physical aggression against enemy states.
  • North Korea has accomplished many small-scale acts of aggression against South Korea, and the U.S., without retaliation.

The solution:

  • Prepare an  analog to Songbun material aggression to use against Japan and the U.S.
  • The analog must be severe, but not symmetric with the MAD scenario. It cannot have a symmetry that would cause the attacked state to invoke the MAD response.
  • The option is EMP attack. See North Korea ICBM & EMP Attack.
  • The first target of choice is Japan. This provides three layers of safety against a MAD response:  asymmetry with MAD, Japan’s lack of a nuclear deterrent, and a low angle trajectory that passes beyond Japan.
  • The attack must not, by technical error,  be symmetric with a MAD retaliation. The trajectory of the missile must guard against low or ground burst of the nuclear weapon.
  • An attack against the U.S. by a suborbital weapon has none of the three layers of safety. An orbital warhead will be used.
  • A non-attributable nuclear attack, possibly a decapitation strike via a smuggled weapon, may be acceptable.

Quoting Reuters,

North Korea fired a missile that flew over Japan’s northern Hokkaido far out into the Pacific Ocean on Friday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, further ratcheting up tensions after Pyongyang’s recent test of its most powerful nuclear bomb.

The flight path of a ballistic missile is called the “trajectory.”  When a missile or baseball is thrown by the hand, you can pitch it high, or pitch it low. It is determined at the moment of throw, or in the first few minutes of powered flight by a missile. Thereafter, and unlike a cruise missile, a ballistic missile proceeds on a fixed course. Advanced powers can maneuver the reentry vehicle, but North Korea cannot.

By tracking the missile during the phase of flight when the rocket engine is still burning, North Korea can know with high certainty how the missile will pass over enemy territory; at what height and angle. Once it is determined that the impact point would not be in the territory of the enemy, the nuclear warhead can be detonated at any time with assurance it will be at high altitude. A low-angle trajectory, passing over Japan at high altitude,  is inherently safe against ground impact.

Without detailed knowledge of the trajectory of the recent launch these are the possibilities:

  • An intermediate range missile that passed over Japan at altitude low enough for an effective EMP detonation. With the yield of the recent weapon, the altitude is not critical.
  • If the missile passed over Japan at too high an altitude for an effective EMP attack, a continuation of the ICBM test sequence.
  • Attack of the U.S., with asymmetry avoiding a MAD response, awaits the development of an orbiting nuclear weapon. A stable near-earth orbit provides a high degree of confidence against low altitude detonation.

The takeaway: A trajectory may be observed that is compatible with an EMP attack against Japan. With the possible alternative logic explored above, it may not be a continuation of missile development. It may be an attack rehearsal.

Attack rehearsals have been carried out as drills by other nuclear powers. But never have they been accompanied by language that tempts MAD. If Kim employs an alternative logic, he may think he can get away with it.






Withdrawal from Iran Nuclear; Mattis Plan; More Aggressive U.S. Strategy

CBS(7/26) Trump hints U.S. could withdraw from Iran deal, and

Reuters(9/11 ) Exclusive: Trump to weigh more aggressive U.S. strategy on Iran – sources, said to be authored by Mattis.

Iran is the latest Middle East entity with aspirations to a caliphate stretching to the shores of the Levant. We want to prevent this. The means:

  • Economic sanctions.
  • Nuclear and missile restrictions, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
  • Re legitimization of Sunni governance, and Kurd governance, in suitably defined territories. In their resistance to encroachment by Iran, they create an insuperable barrier for Iran’s land forces.
  • Support the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in Yemen. There is a note of hope, with reported cracks (Stratfor) between Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis. It’s surprising this took so long, since Saleh was originally the Houthis’ chief persecutor.

Only the last two, part of the Mattis plan, can be effective in thwarting the Iranian caliphate. The threat of revocation of sanctions and treaties would be expected to cap Iran’s confrontational behavior. It does not appear so to us, but they can undoubtedly be worse if they want to. The mullahs miss the old revolutionary fervor, and know they can get it back if Iranians are deprived of  material connection with the West. Put concretely,

  • In the Iran-Iraq War, Iran relied heavily on martyrs.
  • The ideological theme that created the martyrs is still alive, maintained in reserve by the Revolutionary Guards.
  • As with post-9/11 terrorism, Iranian martyrs came almost exclusively from lower economic strata.
  • Impoverishing Iran increases the size of this class and so, the available pool of martyrs.
  • In the warfare of this region, the pool of martyrs is far more important than disadvantaging Iran’s technical war machine by sanctions.

A couple of reasons not to withdraw from the treaty:

  • Simultaneous withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan, and implementation of the Mattis plan, do not compliment each other. It doesn’t leave Iran with anything to lose.
  • Iran’s technical resources are much greater than North Korea’s, and we’ve seen what the Koreans can do. The political climate does not exist to isolate Iran to the degree of North Korea. A noncompliance declaration converts an unsolved problem into another unsolved problem that is probably worse.

If the Mattis plan goes well, then in several years, there may be a somewhat stable territorial division of Syria. The Sunnis of Anbar may crystallize around a stable politics. The Kurds may finally have a stake in the ground. The Houthis may be pushed back into the northwest corner of Yemen. Iran’s push may stagnate.

Then, if still feeling the urge, U.S. diplomacy can toss another coin into the Iran nuclear fountain, and hope it clogs the drain.



Havana Sonic Attack Weapon — Let’s Build It! Part 6

Let’s look at the homework. Once every 15 cycles, all four crystals line up. Once every 375 microseconds, all the crystals are pushing.  So we could expect an audible tone at 2667 Hz. There is also a half-height reverse pulse in the middle of these, which combines to a second harmonic. In fact,  a variety of pulses  interact with the nonlinearities in the gadget itself to create all kinds of audible tones. Quoting CNN again,

Other attacks made a deafeningly loud sound similar to the buzzing created by insects or metal scraping across a floor, but the source of the sound could not be identified, the two US officials said.

This is about what these frequencies sound like. They are generated in the gadget itself, and by mixing of ultrasound inside the dwelling. Generation in the gadget is serious, because then we have a noisemaker in our hands, on the street, late at night.

We would like to get rid of the sounds in the gadget itself, but it is bound to be unstable, with constantly shifting frequencies and resonances, depending on internal tensions of the parts, ambient temperature, warming up, cooling down, and aging of the materials. We can put our brain fryer in a double or triple-wall case. But the radiator exposes the internal noise. Don’t underestimate Russian ingenuity. But an efficient acoustic mechanical high-pass filter may be impossible. A car muffler is a much easier low-pass filter.

Noise can be masked by spreading the spectrum. Some computer motherboards have an option to spread the clock frequency, to avoid interference with nearby devices. But since the power efficiency of this gadget derives from resonant principles, it would be complicated. If the amplifiers driving the crystals can recover reactive power, it might be possible to keep most of the power in the ultrasonic range, while spreading the audible sounds into Gaussian noise. With an operator switch to turn spread spectrum on and off, it would explain why some of the attack victims heard nothing at all.

That’s a tall order, so let’s consider if we could null out the unwanted sounds instead.  How can we do this with a gadget that is constantly changing its notes? There are several possible approaches.

  • In the coupling between the crystals and the radiator, include a 5th piezo  to serve as both the input and output ports of an active, causal  filter.  Unlike a purely mechanical filter, it doesn’t soak up a lot of power.
  • We can also do something with the other four crystals. Each crystal is driven by an individual power source. Instead of sine waves, we can use signals derived from a static model of the system, reducing output of the unwanted audible sounds.
  • But we’re going to need a microprocessor anyway, so why not try to anticipate the unwanted sounds, and be more specific about reducing them electronically?

We can do this with a predictive algorithm that adapts in real time. Since we don’t want an earsplitting racket, even for an instant, this implies, on top of our pulse scheme, a second time variation, a ramp. On the scale of seconds, we ramp it up. This solves overheating too.

  • As the gadget ramps up, starting from a whisper, the predictive algorithm takes note of audible sounds, and synthesizes an adjustment to the four crystal drive signals.
  • With time allowed for the microprocessor to think, the correction is applied on the next cycle, or the one after.
  • If the ramp up is slow enough, the error from this look-ahead is minimal.
  • At maximum intensity, the gadget heats up. The algorithm continues to compensate until a limit is reached. Then the ramp drops to zero, the device cools a little, and the ramp repeats.

Everything about this problem is a little dirty, physically as well as motive. How do we know the window glass is vibrating to the max? Or if there is no glass, how do we get an idea of what is going on inside the room? Since the gadget has some frequency agility, we can tune it to the situation. But how do we know what to tune to?

If there is glass, traveling wave vibrations can be detected with a laser microphone, using an interferometer to measure the minute changes in path length. If there isn’t, then we listen, with a microphone for audible mixing products,  which by signature are produced inside the dwelling.

This is an elegant yet simple approach. The ancestral gadget may have existed well back in the 20th century, held back by excessive audible noise. The American approach might be twice as good, and 10X the cost. My first thoughts were something akin to a traveling wave amplifier, or a photonic pumped system like a neodymium fiber amp. The pulse would be accurately synthesized, made to order with great flexibility, and amplified by a pumped system.  But how much precision do you need to fry a brain?

Since that distant time of origin, numerous developments have disseminated to second-rate technical powers and even developing countries:

This means that practically nothing electronic has to be the size of a car anymore.  Current and power densities are immensely higher than just ten years back. The limit is now heat dissipation, not size. We may want to include a Peltier cooler.

Let’s party, comrades! I will get the Order of Lenin for  this! What do you mean, “They don’t give it anymore”? Come and celebrate anyway. This evening we  get drunk on Stoli instead of hooch. I don’t see any company, so I’ll just suck my pinkie like Dr. Evil. But how can I make some dough out of this? How about  a  low-fat fryer for late night TV ?

We’re done with the technical. If the device exists, this discussion might help, along with the Havana investigations, to discourage the use of it. It will be very discouraging if the F.B.I. determines that something like this was in fact used in Havana.

If an adversary concluded that frying the brains of Havana diplomats would be a profitable thing to do, we have only ourselves to blame. In what intelligent manner, devoid of emotional considerations, beneficial to us, our values, and our allies, should this influence foreign policy?

This will come in an article of the near future.


Havana Sonic Attack Weapon — Let’s Build It! Part 5

Given Russian strengths in physics and weakness  in electronics, the Russian solution is likely to be what is called “simple and elegant”, more like the carburetor of an old-fashioned car than fancy electronic fuel injection.

Our gadget needs parts that actually make noise. Loudspeakers make sounds like human voices, music, bells, chimes, whistles, anything you want. But  every loudspeaker has a natural frequency, like the tone of a bell, that it likes to sing louder than anything else. Music players are designed to avoid this. Wasteful of energy, but more pleasingly, a speaker is made to talk like a parrot.

So the simplest approach to our nefarious gadget is to make a speaker that sings at the frequency we want, which is somewhere around 30kHz. This is how ultrasonic cleaners work, with a specialized speaker —  called a transducer, that makes that frequency and no other.

But sticking to a single frequency is very limiting and it doesn’t concentrate energy like the cymbal clash. Each Patient Zero is different. The room, windows, shape of the skull, all vary. The dimensions of the person’s head vary depending upon the angle with respect to the ultrasound beam. We want to hit all the possibilities. A single frequency won’t do.

In the last article, we worked backwards from the head to deduce a range of attack frequencies. Some  victims report audible sounds of much less than ultrasonic frequencies. These could be produced by:

  • Mixing of ultrasound of different frequencies on room surfaces.
  • Sub-harmonics created by room surfaces.
  • Sub harmonics and mixing in the gadget itself. But this would make it very noisy on the street late at night.

The design that follows attempts to account for the audible sounds.

There are two kinds of transducers. Our interest is in the “piezo”, which changes shape when energized by an electric field. Here are some you can bolt to  an ultrasound cleaner tank. Piezos are found in stove and grill igniters,  because they work both ways. If you squeeze them, they make electricity for the spark. If you excite them with electricity, they make sound. A piezo is actually a kind of capacitor, where the polarization comes with mechanical strain.

A piezo is like a bell, with a preferred tone, but since it is a capacitor, it can be connected with an inductor, which is some wire wound around a ferromagnetic core, to make a tank circuit. The combination is a bell of a different, lower frequency. A tank circuit stores energy. We can fill it up with energy, and it will “ring”, resonate, for a while. It can release energy suddenly, like the ignition circuit in a car, or gradually.

This tank circuit is a harmonic oscillator (animation). In the universe of small, the harmonic oscillator is the most fundamental block we know. Each of these has a natural resonant frequency.  Two or more  can be coupled together and trade energy. Watch these two oscillators trade energy (animation.)

Inside one of these piezos is a thin flat disk of ceramic. It looks like a little piece of pottery. For our gadget, we can make it any shape we want, although the electricity is applied across the thinner dimension. Each crystal expands and contracts.

Attach each crystal to its own inductor. This changes the above frequencies, slowing them down a bit. Each of these combinations is a tank circuit,  can be made to vibrate with an electrical signal, and can store energy for a pulse. Each can be driven by a source of electrical power with a choice of frequency. So now the frequencies can be independent, and varied within a narrow range.

Now arrange the crystals in a stack. How they touch is extremely important.  A layer in between  acts as a spring, a third element. So we have four things to play with:

  • Resonant frequency of the crystal.
  • Size of the inductor.
  • Springiness of the separator.
  • Frequencies of the electric power for each crystal.

Let’s try this with just two crystals to start. Arrange the above so that one of the crystals vibrates at 25kHz (25,000 cycles/second), and the other at 30kHz (30,000 cycles/second). So the 30kHz crystal is moving 6/5 times faster than the 25kHz crystal. If we start each crystal vibrating at the same time, the 25 kHz crystal will catch up when the 30kHz crystal has gone 6 cycles, and the 25 kHz crystal has gone 5 cycles. This repeats over and over.

By themselves, the crystals store most of this energy. To make it go out as a beam in air, we need a radiator. An old-fashioned spring-wound Victrola has a needle that follows the groove in a record. By itself, the sound of the needle is faint. It is coupled into the air by a horn. Our radiator will probably  not be a horn, but you get the idea.

When the two crystals match up, they have maximum length at the same time.  When they are opposed, their length changes cancel out. When they are pushing together, combining to maximum length, this is the time to take some energy out and send it to the radiator. This can be done by attaching the radiator to the crystal stack with an elastic material that becomes progressively more rigid under pressure.

Homework: Suppose you have a stack of 4 piezo crystals, each tuned to  different frequencies: 20, 25  30 and 40kHz. Start them off at the same time. How many cycles of the 40kHz crystal occur before they are all back in sync, pushing in the same direction? Hint: Divide them all by 5. The least common multiple of 4,5, 6, and 8 is 120.

What do the above numbers mean? We are concentrating power, getting close to a pulse.

Next:  Bells and Whistles.

To be continued shortly.











Havana Sonic Attack Weapon — Let’s Build It! Part 4

Let’s refer back to the Polish paper quoted in Havana Sonic Attacks — Addendum for techies only:

Roshchin and Dobroserdov indicated that levels of 90–110 dB within the range of lower frequencies (21kHz) and 110–115 dB within the range of higher frequencies (40kHz) constituted the limit of occurrence of functional changes [36].

Since we’re designing a weapon, let’s consider 120dB, at the head of Patient Zero, as an absolute minimum. Just inside the window, how much ultrasound intensity is required? Sengpiel Audio has a helpful page of calculators. Assume that the sound evenly spreads into one hemisphere, with Patient Zero sleeping 3 meters distant from the window,

120dB (sound pressure at head) = 137dB (sound power level 3 meters away)

Since 120dB (sound power level) = 1 watt,

137dB (sound power level) = 10^1.7 watts = 50 watts.

It turns out we need 50 watts. If only 5% makes it through the window, then we need 1000 watts hitting the window on the outside.

We chose a high ultrasound frequency to form the duct, between 140 and 400 kHz, specifically because it is rapidly absorbed in air, heating the air. But for the payload, we don’t want this to happen.

The AIRSTAR attenuation chart shows that for frequencies between 20 and 40 kHz, air absorbs hardly any of it. Most of it reaches the window. So let’s aim for those. Perhaps we need 4000 watts at the gadget to get 1000 watts on the window. It  depends upon the efficiency of the duct scheme, and distance. So pad the estimate good.

What structures in the brain correspond to wavelengths of ultrasound in water? The speed of sound in water is 1500 meters/second. Capillaries are 10 microns and smaller, corresponding to frequencies in the megahertz range. These fade quickly in air, too fast to use. With increasing feature size, nothing sticks out. But at an ultrasound frequency of 30 kHz, the wavelength is 5 cm, about the distance between the dura mater (the “brain bag”) and the cerebral ventricles (the inner fluid-filled chambers.) It also corresponds to other major anatomical structures.

This sounds like CTE, in ultra-slow motion! Beginning with “punch drunk” boxers in the 1920’s, chronic traumatic encephalopathy has progressively extended in the direction of less significant brain trauma, more frequently incurred. Boxers got knocked out; after a number of knock-outs, they weren’t the same. In 2005, it was found in football players whose trauma history was very minor compared to boxers. The Russian references imply that the lower limit is very, very low. If the brain is shaken, in a comparatively gentle manner, for a long time, symptoms overlapping CTE can occur.

The blow that knocks out a boxer causes a large impulse, a change of momentum, to the head. However the head was moving before the blow, it moves differently the instant after. The brain doesn’t follow this change in one piece. Tiny tears in the tissue occur, as different pieces move in different directions.

How much energy is in the boxer’s fist? Not much at all. It won’t heat your coffee. It’s enough to drive a few nails into wood. The energy a sumo wrestler employs to force his opponent to another position is much greater. The power levels we just discussed are continuously applied. We should change the design of our gadget to apply concentrated pulses.

The approach is so far tenable. 4000 watts for an hour is about equal to 40 battery packs for a laptop, or a typical add-on pack. So maybe the operator has to sit in a car. But if the device could deliver short, powerful pulses, it would ruin somebody’s brain much faster, like Joe Louis’s fist. For example, if the gadget delivers a 15 kilowatt pulse for 10% of the time and loafs the rest, it uses only 37% of the power, and gets the job done much faster to boot.

We want a cymbal clash!, not the soft tone of the flute. We want to be the drummer next door you’d like to brain. Well, now’s your chance. The more unevenly a given amount of energy is applied, the more damage the gadget will inflict. This also means that if the power calculations are too optimistic, we can make it up with pulses. And this is just the start. With every new and improved brain fryer, we can up the pulse and lower the total power consumption. We can make it small, even stylish. Everybody will want one.

There is a beautiful, perfect world, Math-land, where this is an easy problem. Math-land has a celestial piano that can play all the notes in the universe. By combining the notes in just the right way, as discovered  by Joe Fourier, we can make the pulse (the cymbal clash) we need. Back in the real world, it isn’t so easy. The real reason we want to make concentrated pulses is because it saves us energy. With pulses, the gadget only has to run full-tilt for short intervals. Then it rests. We call this “duty cycle.” Only very heavy machinery, like a power plant, is designed to run full power 24/7.

So the pulse idea is good, but only if it is practical, and saves energy. The Math-land scheme doesn’t work here. The idea of a celestial piano is just nonsense. As best, it serves as an inspiration. You build your gadget in Math-land first. Then you do it again, in the real world, where there is a budget for everything, including energy. Real gadgets can’t make pulses like that and work very long. For that, you need explosions.

So now we discover that back in the real world, there is no way to create the pulse we need. Life is sometimes cruel that way. There has to be an answer, so we can keep our lousy jobs. Relax, there is.

Next stop, the physics lab.

To be continued shortly.


Havana Sonic Attack Weapon — Let’s Build It! Part 3

I was going to get right to blowing up Patient Zero’s head. But then I remembered that there might be someone in the audience whose sole purpose in life is to make the presenter miserable, by asking a show-stopper question. Richard Feynman, known for his kindness in all other ways, was famous for this. Some blame him for the death of Werner Heisenberg, who made the mistake of showing up at Caltech with a half-baked theory. Shattered, Heisenberg died the following year.  So I came prepared.

Full of hubris, the troublemaker says, just loud enough to make everybody stop, “What about window glass? How are you going to make it penetrate a window? I consulted eDiplomat to see if, maybe, people in Havana sleep with the windows open. This must be the way for most people, because Cuba does not have the massive power grid required to support an air conditioned existence. But I came across this:

All leased homes are furnished with a basic set of U.S. Government furniture, draperies, and major appliances, including a washer, dryer, gas range, water cooler, freezer, refrigerator, air-conditioners, dehumidifiers, ceiling fans, and residential alarm system. All houses also have generators due to occasional power outages. USINT handles all preventive maintenance and minor repairs in leased houses. Cubalse handles major repairs.

So it may be necessary to penetrate glass. And if I say no, the troublemaker in the audience will say (loudly), “Are you trying to tell me that the Russkies have made a weapon that only works in tropical countries? Gimme a break.” If you’re a techie, please be patient as I now try to clue everybody in. The actual solution is not what you would expect.

Glass actually conducts sound very well. It is used in ultrasonic inspection systems. But recall: a wave likes to stick to whatever it’s in. To an ultrasound wave in air, this is what doesn’t happen:

  • The air wave hits the glass.
  • The wave converts to a sound wave in glass.
  • The sound exits the glass on the other side.

The above does not happen to any significant degree. The difference in springiness of air and glass is too great. The sound that would do this bounces off instead. But there are more ways to skin a cat.

Why do we hear anything at all from the outside? Much of it comes from leaks around the windows. But some sound comes through the glass itself. This is because a pane of window glass bends back and forth in response to sound pressure. Instead of having waves inside the glass, the whole pane moves. It moves because glass is slightly flexible. When you’re just missing the postman, and you bang frantically on the glass, your knock produces a faintly musical tone. Could we make a pane of glass resonate like a drum?

A pane of glass is a little similar to a drum head, but the differences are major. A drum head is made of an elastic material held under tension. When the drum is struck, the drum head vibrates with what are called standing waves. These waves have fixed frequencies that are characteristic of the drum and the tension. You could make the drum head resonate with a sound beam, but the drum would respond in its own way, which is probably not what you want.

NASA studied the resonances of residential plate glass, and found very low frequency resonances, what we would call bass notes. They are of no help in blowing up human heads. So how is glass different from a drum head?

  • Glass is not supple, and it is not held under tension. However glass vibrates, it is entirely different from a drum.
  • Glass has spring properties. It has a “bending moment”. This means that if you apply force to a pane of glass, it will deform slightly. Under pressure, the nearest side compresses slightly. The far side stretches slightly. When you release the pressure, it will spring back.
  • That glass conducts sound well tells us that a vibration based on the above will be efficient. It will not waste a lot of sound by turning it into heat.
  • In sum, glass can be made to vibrate in modes based on the bending moment.

But what good is it if we are stuck with the standing waves that vary with every pane of glass and aren’t helpful to our evil purpose? The answer is to ignore them. In return, they will ignore you.

We use (Youtube) traveling waves instead, not passing through the glass, but along the pane, from one end to the other, rippling the surface as they go. Normally, we would think of grabbing one end of the pane and shaking it somehow. Just as in the Youtube video, the shake would propagate (move) along the pane until it reaches the other side, where it would bounce back or be absorbed. This isn’t available to us.

We can do it with the ultrasound beam that is lingering outside the window, hungry for its victim. If the beam impacts the glass straight on, nothing much happens. But if the beam hits the glass at an inclined angle, much can happen. The trick is to get the angle just right.

Sound moves in air at about 1100 feet per second. Call this C_air. The bending-moment wave has a velocity also. Call it C_m. It is not a bulk property. Besides the glass itself, it depends upon the thickness. Suppose it’s 3300 feet per second. Then by inclining the beam to the glass at 19 degrees from vertical, the phases of the wave in the beam and the glass wave will match up. The formula is just:

sin( angle from perpendicular) = C_air / C_m.

Notice that it is independent of frequency. The clandestine operator may choose a position that gives access to a line of windows that are known from previous measurement. The angle can also be adjusted by elevation.

What happens at the glass edges? At ultrasound frequencies, a pane of window glass is very large. The edges are far, far away, so they don’t count much.

Now the glass has become our friend. Perhaps 10% of the ultrasound beam will make it through. But it is now a secondary radiator that can illuminate the sleeper’s head even if it’s not visible to the beam outside. If this is not beneficial to the situation, the glass can be shattered by the beam instead.

Yuck! But it’s all for the motherland.

To be continued shortly – the payload.



Havana Sonic Attack Weapon — Let’s Build It! Part 2

Let’s continue building our hypothetical device. If it’s doable, it is probably shaped by the considerations that follow.

Note: if what follows is correct, the attacks should correlate to nights of low wind velocity, with the position of the attacker  sheltered from wind by a building wall. Absolute calm is essential.

If you want to think like the Russians think, read their books. In this case, I’m referring to books by Landau/Lifshitz,  Statistical Mechanics, Course of Theoretical Physics, Volume 5.,and Fluid Mechanics, Volume 6.

There are very few physics books that are good reads. Volume 5 was my favorite. Many other books cover these subjects. But I remember being so captivated by Volume 5, it was almost like a Vulcan mind-meld. If the sonic attack weapon exists, it was probably pioneered by students of Landau and Lifshitz.

I don’t expect you to look at those books, so let’s get back to applied physics for poets. Sound is a vibration in air. Countless particles of air jiggle back and forth in unison, making waves. The more pure the tone of a musical instrument, the more concentrated the note is about one frequency of vibration. The more character the instrument has, the more tones it has combined.

The extremes are the flute, and the cymbal. The note of the flute is almost pure. The note of the cymbal is made of almost all tones in combination. The xylophone is somewhere in between.

The note of the flute is long and smooth. The clash of the cymbal is sharp and brief. The clash can be broken down into an infinite number of smooth notes, added together in just the right proportion by the physical process of banging the cymbal. This may sound strange, but it is close to the basics of all physics.

In free air, sound rapidly spreads, and is absorbed by the air itself. We can minimize the absorption by choosing the lowest frequencies (tones), suitable for our purpose. But how do we keep it from spreading?

We try to send it all in one direction in the first place. A beam of light can be shaped by baffles and reflectors. To some extent, this can be done with sound also. But because waves of sound are so much longer than waves of light, we need to exploit this “wavyness” to direct the sound. This was first done with radio, saving  power by directing the signal to the people you want to hear it. Much of this applies to sound projection. The wavelengths of radar are very similar to those of sound, even though they are different in every other way.

With radar, it was discovered that instead of using a big rotating antenna to direct the beam, it could be accomplished electronically, with an array of antennas that reinforce each other in one direction, and cancel in other directions. The same can be done with sound. It is also true that some common household containers can be used to direct microwaves, for example, a wifi Pringles can antenna. The same shape can be used with sound, although the materials of construction are much harder to devise. The sonic attack device could use a combination of active and passive beamforming.

But the sound still spreads. To get high power all the way to the victims’ heads, more tricks would be useful. Perhaps when you were a child, you experimented with the telephone made of two soup cans connected by a piece of string. If it worked for you at all, you may have thought that the sound moves inside the string. It does not. It may seem completely strange to you, but the string actually captures the wave in the air from the end of the soup can, and forces it to follow the string, in combination with air movement.

This is called wave-capture. If you’ve driven in the southwest U.S. you may have seen strange horn-like things attached to occasional power lines. It is a way of forcing a microwave to attach itself to a wire, which it follows for many miles, till it is recaptured by an identical horn at the other end. Waves like to cling to what they know.

Another example, popular in prisons, is the toilet telephone. Here the pipes form a duct. Sound waves of the speaker are captured by, and follow the duct formed by the pipes. Sound in a duct travels much further than sound in free air. While it is still absorbed, it does not spread.

I offered you the strange examples of wave capture first, so as to stretch your mind a little. Because if the sonic attack weapon exists, it uses one of the weirdest schemes imaginable. A duct does not have to be a solid surface. Here is a rule that works for both light and sound:

  • If a light or sound wave in a thin (not dense) medium scrapes against a denser medium, it will curve back to the thin medium.
  • If a light or sound wave in a thick (dense) medium scrapes against a thin (not dense) medium, it will curve back to the thick medium.

In whichever medium the wave starts, that’s where it prefers to stay. If instead of a scrape, it hits head-on, then, yes, the bumper car goes off the track and into the other medium. Our hypothetical sonic-attack weapon creates a duct in thin air! Another kind of sound, the payload, will travel confined to this duct.

Hot air is thinner (less dense) than cold air. We could create a thin-air duct by heating the air in a narrow beam to the target. We can heat it with sound. Conveniently, the frequencies that heat the best are also the most directional, because they have the shortest wavelength.

Refer to AIRSTAR‘s helpful attenuation chart, on this page. For the distances of our gadget, the range of 140 to 400 kHz is reasonable. This is between 7 and 20 times the maximum frequencies that humans can hear. Since the purpose is to heat the air in a duct that reaches the target, most of it doesn’t get there. But that’s not the purpose. By forming the duct, it greases the skids for what comes after, the “payload.”

Next, the payload. To be continued shortly.



North Korea Test H-Bomb – Andrei Sakharov’s Soviet “Layer Cake”

Edit: After further study, I have decided that the shape of the North Korea warhead does not suggest, with any strength,  “Layer Cake.” The description of the U.S. W80 has been corrected.

The shape is probably the result of a extra bulk in the primary from unsophisticated explosive lenses, and a small secondary to save material.

It is still possible that elements of “Layer Cake” are included, but the idea doesn’t satisfy Occam’s Razor.


This is republished to include the possibility of Andrei Sakharov’s design.

(Reuters)North Korea conducts sixth nuclear test, says developed H-bomb.

The possibilities:

  • The 10X tremor strength reported by Japan is easily in range of a large boosted fission weapon, such as the British Orange Herald device.
  • The North Koreans mastered radiation implosion on their first try. Since this is unlikely, it would indicate a major intelligence failure.
  • A third path of proliferation, providing a turn-key design – Andrei Sakharov’s Soviet design, known as “Layer Cake.”

Although we don’t have access to the U.S. intelligence product that could affirm thermonuclear, there is usually a parallel in open source analysis that approximates it. But it’s not out there.

The third path would be a design easy for North Korea to replicate from plans. “Layer Cake” fits this bill. Quoting Reuters,

The shape shows a marked difference from pictures of the ball-shaped device North Korea released in March last year, and appears to indicate the appearance of a two-stage thermonuclear weapon, said Lee Choon-geun, senior research fellow at state-run Science and Technology Policy Institute.

If this was Iran, we would say it was a dummy. Possibly so. But the RDS-6 device of the Soviet Joe-4 test in 1953 was a gun-type weapon, that used deuterium outside the uranium core, not a true “thermonuclear” device, but with a yield of 400kt. It also fits the general profile of the pictures. As a very old weapon, the design might have traveled on paper via aged Soviet scientists desperate for cash after the Soviet breakup.

Compare the (CNN) North Korea photo with a photo of the U.S. model W80. In the North Korea photo, the primary (in a gun-type weapon, the “target”) is on the left, indicated by the tube supplying tritium for the primary “boost” from the tank on the green table. In the U.S. photo, the primary is on the left.

( Gun-type weapons can be boosted, which the South Africans considered, by using the barrel/projectile as a piston. )

The alternative is the proliferation of a modern Teller-Ulam design, with a completely successful test on the first try. Perhaps some ex-Soviet physicists are living in luxury in North Korea. But the shape of the package adds to my skepticism.

The North Korea (photo) warhead  looks like a dumbbell connected by a narrow neck. The globe on the right side, connected by a narrow neck to the primary does not  resemble the functional shape of a Teller-Ulam secondary. The great secret of the Teller-Ulam design, that the U.S. fought so hard to keep, is that the secondary of  a hydrogen bomb is set off by radiation, what we call light, not touch. The radiation channel is just under the skin of the device, surrounding the secondary material. It needs the most direct way possible for the fission primary to illuminate the channel. And so,

  • The kink in the housing of the North Korea package doesn’t help. But the shape is fine for Sakharov’s “Layer Cake.” The smaller, near end of the dumbbell can hold the breech of the gun.
  • The U.S. warhead (photo) has no neck between the fission primary on the  left, and the fusion secondary on the right. So as much as possible, the light emitted by the fission primary has an unobstructed view of the radiation channel.

Since the North Korea pattern is to announce events that are somewhat in advance of actual progress, it is possible that the strata, the rock in which the test device was placed, was deliberately chosen to be harder than usual. This would increase the signal received by distant seismic detectors.

To take into account the photos that North Korea claims are of the actual weapon, the design estimate is changed from Orange Herald to the Soviet RDS-6.


North Korea tests H-Bomb?

(Reuters)North Korea conducts sixth nuclear test, says developed H-bomb.

The possibilities:

  • The 10X tremor strength reported by Japan is easily in range of a large boosted fission weapon, such as the British Orange Herald device.
  • The North Koreans mastered radiation implosion on their first try. Since this is unlikely, it would indicate a major intelligence failure.
  • A third path of proliferation, providing a turn-key design.

Although open-source does not give us access to the U.S. intelligence product, there is usually a parallel in open source analysis that approximates it. But it’s not out there.

Since the North Korea pattern is to announce events that are somewhat in advance of actual progress, it is possible that the strata, the rock in which the test device was placed, was deliberately chosen to be harder than usual. This would increase the signal received by distant seismic detectors.

So this estimate is that the North Korea test was of a boosted fission weapon, similar to Orange Herald.