Halloween: Mop and Broom Night out

Mop and Broom Night out

Once a year, on Halloween eve,  Mop and Broom, who live in a janitorial closet, escape for a glorious night out under the stars on a Manhattan rooftop. Both have preened themselves –  Mop has adorned with fresh Brillo pads, while Broom has combed out his straw.

At the stroke of midnight, under the spell of their lowly lives, they return to their closet to live in darkness another year. This time may be different. They are plotting their escape.  (Read down.)

(Click to enlarge.)

Will they succeed? Check back in the wee hours of this night. Hint: When  they flee, the moon must be at apex.

(CNN) Senior US general warns China’s military progress is ‘stunning’ as US is hampered by ‘brutal’ bureaucracy; China’s Hypersonic Test; Your Chance to Win $1,000,000

(CNN) Senior US general warns China’s military progress is ‘stunning’ as US is hampered by ‘brutal’ bureaucracy. Several considerations:

  • Bureaucracy
  • Artisanal space hardware
  • Secret Equations

Yes, it is brutal.  In one small company, there were four workers,two principals, and one person whose specialty, with arduous academic training, was “managing” a DoD project. That’s 43% overhead. Yet they couldn’t figure out how to buy a $30 book I needed, so I bought it myself.

DoD is hard on big companies too.  In the same epoch, salaried management at Lockheed-Martin were required to attend interminable after-hours meetings with the brass. At these meetings it was understood that even if their presence wasn’t topical, they had to show face — at the cost of a decent life, family, and sleep.

(CNN)Member of CIA chief’s team reported Havana syndrome symptoms on recent trip to India describes a  $5 instrument that, had it been deployed, would have made a big contribution to solving the riddle. Someone close to the problem may have thought of it, deterred by the project overhead of something so  intrinsically cheap.

Some programs under DoD management nevertheless get away with murder. The Littoral combat ship program is marked by instances of what some might call fraud, such as fixes to the propulsion systems without telling the Navy what those fixes were. DoD management requirements drowned management in paper, inviting fraud instead of preventing it. Six ships, with an average age of only 8 years, LCS-1, LCS-2, LCS-3, LCS-4, LCS-7, and LCS-9  have been or will be decommissioned as unserviceable. This is not William Proxmire’s $600 toilet seat. What did all that onerous bureaucracy buy the taxpayer?

So DoD bureaucracy cuts both ways. To address General Hyten’s concern, we need a compact goal. So here’s a proposition:

  • Establish a class of project that can be managed by a competent manager who has not received a special education in DoD projects.
  • Insulate the class from  DoD intrusion of the onerous kind. Replace short review intervals with longer ones, and trust (see below.)
  • It will probably involve research and prototyping, not large scale production.
  • Depending upon the outcome, that manager receives a “trust rating” that facilitates further management opportunities.
  • Skunk Works may provide some inspiration.
Artisanal Space Hardware

Quoting  CNN,

Hyten pointed to the development of hypersonic weapons to highlight the stark difference in approaches by the US and China. He said the US has carried out nine hypersonic tests in around the last five years while the “Chinese have done hundreds.”

It is concerning, though the blow softens when we consider that the U.S. approach to hardware has always been artisanal, relying on finely crafted rockets, sparse, slow rate test shots, and detailed telemetry to get as much data as possible from those shots. In contrast, at least some of the numerous China shots appeared to have very primitive telemetry.

If hundreds of tests are the way to go, a cheap, non-artisanal booster is needed. U.S. rockets are artisanal for a reason: to get the biggest boost with reliability appropriate to the payload, in a process of extremely violent, yet controlled combustion. Though printed parts present new possibilities, a  non-artisanal booster that is safe to be around is not a small job.

Secret Equations

Although secret equations are usually found in grade B movies, they may actually exist. The public version has a big name,  Navier-Stokes.  And they have a big problem. Other than a few special cases, nobody knows if they have solutions. And they are critical to design of hypersonic bodies. The Clay Institute offers a $1M prize if you can prove they do or they don’t.

Paradox: Even though nobody knows if they have solutions, they are used in computer simulation of hypersonic flight. The sims give solutions, the equations do not, so what gives? It turns out that the sims blow up, go to infinity,  unless the numbers are massaged. This is quicksand.

A while back,  a Chinese graduate student in Beijing managed to simulate Navier-Stokes on a primitive  AMD parallel processing platform called Close to Metal. This was very impressive, since successful use of CTM, which had no debugging facilities, was very rare.

Navier-Stokes brings the most powerful supercomputers to their knees, so slow they seem like last year’s smartphone. This is why test shots are so important. There has been some progress; some people in the Netherlands figured out how to make the sims more efficient.

What if the Chinese have solved the Clay Institute Millennium Challenge? The solution could enable simulations that run more efficiently and accurately. As with the U.S. nuclear capability, it could eventually result in the ability to design a hypersonic body with minimal testing.

Good hunting, gentlemen.




COVID Winter Predictions; Delta+/AY.4.2; Prediction Follies, Part 1

We’re going to undermine. Grab your shovel so we can dig under the modeling establishment.

(NPR 10/21) People wonder if they should keep calm and carry on in the face of delta plus variant,  and

(NPR 9/21) Is The Worst Over? Models Predict A Steady Decline In COVID Cases Through March. This is the product of the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, who apply techniques of data fusion to provide hopefully better predictions than any one study. As of 11/23/21,  their predictions of cases/week for 3/05/21 are:

  • Childhood Vaccination, No Variant: 63,383.61,  approx 9000/day
  • No Childhood Vaccination, No Variant: 87,682.39, approx 12500/day
  • Childhood Vaccination, New Variant: 329,215.58, approx 40,000/day
  • No Childhood Vaccination, New Variant: 467,507.85, approx 67,000 day.

Numbers like 63,383.61, implying accuracy in great excess of actual, would dock a student points in a physics exam.  These are not real numbers; two digits of precision are more than enough. Let’s call it a culture clash.

This is one of those occasions where it is constructive to undermine. To allow the predictions to remain unchallenged invites possible public health whiplash, as happened with (CNN, 2021/05/14) The CDC says masks are no longer needed inside or out if you’re fully vaccinated. By now, we should realize that COVID has more fake-out moves than the Harlem Globetrotters.

The predictive techniques of epidemiology were developed, tested, and refined on familiar diseases:

  • Formerly endemic diseases of childhood: measles, mumps, chickenpox,  pertussis, diphtheria, polio.
  • Epidemic/endemic respiratory infections, primarily influenza, which has  known rhythms spanning decades.
  • Tuberculosis, which remains a slow moving, almost silent, almost indolent scourge of mankind, with prediction  horizons of years, not weeks or months.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases, formerly called “social diseases”: syphilis, chlamydia, HIV/AIDS.
  • Endemic common cold, caused by multiple  virus families, 200 viruses in total.

The prediction problem for each of the above has a defining feature:

  • Childhood diseases. Before COVID, throughout the U.S., the environment of elementary public school education  changed little year-on-year. U.S. children experienced an environment homogeneous compared to adults. Hence measles R_o is a stable number.
  • Influenza is far more livable than COVID. Except for 1918, epidemics and pandemics have not caused large scale behavior modification.  The defining feature is resemblance of prevailing strains to previous ones.  This single feature is enough to make prediction accuracy poor.
  • New tuberculosis infections occur in about 1% of the world population/year. This means that, except for clusters with special features, such as prisons, prediction can be as simple as extrapolation.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases, in the U.S. with  a few exceptions, have a single voluntary factor. This makes them amenable to sociological study.
  • The endemic common cold, predictably present, is the future of COVID. The arrival of that future cannot be predicted.

Chaos. These simplicities are missing with COVID, which modifies individual behavior unpredictably; people wear masks or don’t, go to parties and bars, or don’t; take off their masks to chat, or don’t; hide in their abodes or eat out. They adhere, scoff, and change their minds. They respond to the weather, the season, holiday, or what their guru or political god, or media told them to do. They veer between fear,  confidence, and affront.  With this variation, the Black Swan event is the norm. Steady-as-you go is rare.

Before COVID, how close did you stand while conversing? From Culture Crossing Guide, Israel:

Israelis usually stand close to one another while talking. One to two feet is normal. It can be considered rude to back up or away from someone while they are speaking. People speak at closer than an arms distance. They may touch while speaking,

Personal space by country: (WAPO) What ‘personal space’ looks like around the world.  Culture counts.

If a vaccine is, say, 95% effective in a culture with one assumption of personal space, can it be assumed to be as effective with a smaller space? Quoting from (CNN) Boo-Boo: How safe is it for vaccinated people to return to in-person work? An expert weighs in,

  • Type A: 8 college students jammed into a payphone booth. Everybody in every group gets Delta.
  • Type B: 8 employees doing phone sales out of a 10×10 room in a converted residence. 9 out of 10 Type B groups (small room)  get 6 or more Delta cases.
  • Type C:  Skeleton crew of 8 in a large ventilated newsroom with forced air HEPA filtration. 3 out of 10 Type C groups (newsroom) get 3 or more Delta cases.

Personal space equates to proximity, which relates to exposure threshold in a way not known with any precision. Now suppose, unknown to  disease modelers, our personal space has expanded with social distancing. Since this opposes cultural tradition, it will reverse, around Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, and whenever the present looks bright. Israelis, with their close conviviality, may have given us a glimpse: (CNBC) Israel doubles down on booster shots as daily Covid cases set new record.

Waning immunity may not be the whole story; it may combine with dynamically changing, culturally mediated exposure to cause vaccine failure.

Takeaway: COVID-19 is a unique combination of airborne transmission and social factors that have resulted in:

  • Modeling errors, due to complex social factors, that are impossible to rectify.
  • Chaos, where the Black Swan drives the epidemic, yet defies statistics.
  • Models which have no track records beyond very short time horizons.
  • Delta+/AY.4.2 left as a question, which should tell you something: We have to see what it does before we can tell you what it will do.

Next, a little napkin calculation.


















Colin Powell; What Makes America Great?

(CNN) Colin Powell, first Black US secretary of state, dies of Covid-19 complications amid cancer battle.

America’s greatness is measured in great individuals. When they are occasionally in possession of the public trust, together we touch greatness. Colin Powell was one of them. At times, greatness is embodied in the unshakable resolve of a Washington or Lincoln. Colin Powell’s greatness was of another, more subtle kind.

Powell considered himself a principled custodian of the public trust. When he realized he had betrayed that trust, he owned up to it, which resulted in his dismissal as Secretary of State. But the bar to great leadership  is higher than simple sacrifice. It requires effectiveness. Powell realized that consensus is crucial to democracy, and compromise is crucial to consensus.

If he had been asked, “Who owns the dream?” I think he would have replied, “No one. And everyone.”   To those who think they own the dream of America, look to Colin Powell.

Lead on, Colin Powell.




(CNN) Prince William slams space tourism and says billionaires should focus on saving Earth

(CNN) Prince William slams space tourism and says billionaires should focus on saving Earth.

Bravo, Prince William! Space tourism is an ego trip; a hyper-expensive view out a window, well mimicked in virtual reality – except for the chance of an exotic death.

Carbon based life is unsuited for space exploration. Androids, resistant to radiation, who will not require air-water-food life support systems, will take our places.  Androids will have the ability to experience, and relate experience, which is the only thing robots currently cannot provide. And they are expendable.

Until this rapidly approaching future, the extreme cost of manned space flight should be reserved for more than flights of fancy. The Tsiolkovsky/Goddard rocket equation enforces a huge carbon cost, with no solution on the technological horizon. This severely circumscribes the economic exploitation of space.

Freed by androids of the huge incremental carbon-cost burden of life support, some small subset of hopes for economic exploitation may be viable.

Or maybe not. The odds favor Prince William.

US intelligence community UFO report; Steam Powered UFOs; Getting Metaphysical, Part 3

We continue from

In Part 2, which advances the Chinese drone hypothesis, I cautioned, “Whether or not this explanation approaches correctness, it has an important purpose. It must be thoroughly disposed of before moving against Occam’s Razor, further down the list.” Perhaps I should have explicitly addressed sightings of something resembling a submarine at  periscope depth. An entity which can field UFOs of such amazing ability would hardly need submarines, nor enjoy the corrosion of salt water.  Which is easier to envision:

  • An intelligence failure relating to submarines and drones circa 2003?
  • Physics so far out of the box, we haven’t a clue?

Let’s assume that the Chinese drone hypothesis has been hammered on and deprecated. We would want to pipe-dream some ideas and make a category list:

  • Within the state of the art.
  • Impractical.
  • Not within the state of the art, but someone is  spending money on it.
  • Has been observed at large scale in the universe, but not on the scale of human engineering.
  • Allowed by theory, or thought to be. This is frequently a mistake of naive interpretation.
  • Metaphysical, informed speculations on aspects of the universe not accessible to us.

All of these, except for the last, involve energy. The concept of energy as a thing dates to 1740 due to a brilliant French woman, Émilie du Châtelet, doubtless inspired by Isaac Newton and  the 1712 steam engine of Thomas Newcomen. Development of James Watt’s improved engine began in 1763, so du Châtelet was a true visionary.

Steam engines were used to do work, the expression referring to the replacement of human bucket brigades to bail water out of mines.  For a given amount of fuel, how much work could a steam engine perform? In 1824, Sadi Carnot determined the best we can do. A steam engine requires a source of heat, and a source of cold. The greater the difference between hot and cold, the more work for a given amount of fuel energy.

What is surprising is that Carnot’s limit is a hard limit for every heat engine, steam, diesel, gas, jet, rocket. Each of these has its own limit, which is always less than Carnot’s limit. The limit says nothing about nuclear energy, but when a reactor makes steam to power a turbine which powers a generator, Carnot’s limit is in force.

In 1776, Watt’s engine was about 2% efficient. By 1900, it was 17%. Currently, the largest, most modern stationary gas turbines/combined cycle break 60%.  Improvement of 1/4% per year in 245 years. This is endgame for heat engines.

At best, 40% is waste heat, what you feel when you touch the tailpipe of a car. With jets and rockets, the waste is much larger because without a shaft to turn, expanding hot gas does the work. (NASA) Newton’s Third Law: The exhaust goes in one direction; the plane or missile goes in the opposite direction.  Action, reaction. Planes and rockets, except for gliders, have reaction engines.

All hot objects radiate infrared light. Reaction engines glow brightly in infrared. The Navy UFOs had no glow. Now refer to the category list, within the state of the art. At first glance, electric propulsion, a motor which turns a propeller or turbine, defies the limits of heat engines. This is an illusion; the bill is paid in waste heat at the generating plant.

But If a battery and motor have sufficiently low electrical resistance, a propeller or turbine can turn without a blazing heat/IR signature.  The waste heat is magically left back at the generating plant. Efficiency in the drone itself of 80% is possible. A submarine can unnoticeably discharge massive waste heat from  onboard generators into the ocean.

This is the motivation behind Part 2:

  • Propulsion is provided by cold-air turbines spun by massive neodymium rare-earth permanent field motors.

An electric turbine would have much lower performance than rockets and jets. No known form of propulsion can explain the alleged performance characteristics of a Tic-Tac.

So we’ll next continue with the impractical and speculative.




The wish that Facebook did not exist may have achieved some level of popularity among social thinkers, who associate it with the recrudescence of hate and mental health disorders of adolescents  In his 1922 book  (Wikipedia) Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann anticipated some of this, by description of how public opinion is formed. Read the Wiki; I vouch for the accuracy.

Lippmann’s description is intricate. Since you’re going to read the Wiki, and hopefully the book, what follows is guiltless simplification. Each of us understands a tiny bit of the world. To form our opinions about the greater world, we rely on a hierarchic structure of increasing expertise. Your opinions, and mine, are to a greater or lesser extent reliant on a chain of trust relationships.

At some point, perhaps in the lead-up to World War I, Lippmann divested the idea of pure democracy, replacing it with “engineered” public opinion. It was his solution, which he saw as extant practice,  to what he described as the inability of the voter to understand more than a small piece of the world, and therefore a good thing.

It is surprising that Lippmann’s reputation could survive repudiation of the myth of democracy. But in 1922, censorship and segregation were institutions even in D.C. Free speech had been abridged for two years by the Sedition Act of 1918.  J. Edgar Hoover was just beginning his assault on freedom. Perhaps Lippmann’s rep survived because he never attacked the institution of democracy, but only the way it works.

A century later, we might take a fresh look at Public Opinion. We might consider validity of the myth of how democracy works less important than preservation of the institution. We are preceded by Winston Churchill, who said,  “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

We begin with reality of the group mind, not as  the helpful superintelligence of (Wikipedia) collective consciousness, but of the atavistic human, the crowd run amok, the groupthink of hatred, of awakening the Beast in Five Million Years to Earth.

Unless you have the gift of natural nobility, it takes conscious effort to free yourself from the Beast, while developing the capacity to interact in a positive way. Some people finish thoroughly socialized, while other acquire just the veneer. Though teens are in delicate flux,  many adults come undone. The evil peer, and groups of such, are just a click away. There have always been group minds; Facebook is the first  network cyborg, melding millions of minds by digital agency.

In 1942, Isaac Asimov anticipated a related trouble with the Three Laws of Robotics. But this was not anticipated: a cyborg of which we are the atomic parts. We had in mind Richard Brautigan’s 1967 poem All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, which could be retitled, “Hey Alexa!” Our predictions missed because in the old days, a computer was completely passive until you toggled a program, and hit the run button. Today, Facebook pushes your buttons, as you unknowingly contribute your synapses to the group mind.

All this came about with abandonment of Lippmann’s hierarchy of influencers. Now the world is full of lateral connections. Instead of asking someone who you think knows more than you, you ask someone who thinks like you. And he asks you; you ask”them”, they say to him…ad infinitum.

Facebook is a distributed computing entity with biologic and nonbiologic elements. If it were my machine, I’d pull the plug, wipe the disks, and take care there isn’t a hidden virus to resuscitate the monster on the next power-up. The murderous computer:  Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey – Deactivation of Hal 9000.

Not likely; the mighty cyborg that is Facebook will break Asimov’s Laws to prevent it. So what else can we do? The amplification algorithm can be changed:

  • Amplification can be reduced by negative feedback.
  • The product of amplification can be softened by substituting from increasingly distant friends.
  • The output of the amplification algorithm can have random substitutions.
  • AI can drastically tighten content filters. The cost: false positives for objectionable material. It’s worth that cost.

In combination, this is a less user focused approach, which favors diversity.  Legal scholars should also consider the liability angle.

The stakes are so high. We’ve already seen a bit on January 6:

Five Million Years to Earth







China’s Taiwan Strategy: Beagle-Rabbit Hypnosis

(CNN) China could be ready to mount a ‘full-scale’ invasion of Taiwan by 2025, island’s defense minister says.

When I was a child, I had a dog, a collie-terrier mix.  Her sprint resembled a greyhound’s, a talent she used with ferocious terminal strategy to depopulate the local rodents.  She never caught a rabbit. Although she was faster, the combination of speed and awareness of the lagomorph could not be contested by her instinctual abilities.

The neighbors had a slow moving, short legged beagle, who consistently caught rabbits. Although the way a dog approaches prey is largely instinctual, her skill resembled a thoughtful strategy. To the human observer, she would simply walk slowly up to a rabbit that appeared paralyzed. She had some instinctual knowledge of how slowly she must move in order not to excite the flight instinct of the rabbit, a form of hypnosis.

Fables are fictitious. The above is true. It is instructive on how China might gain Taiwan without invasion.  Though China may exercise the rat-catcher option, destroying Taiwan to remove the threat of an adjacent, culturally compatible democracy, other options exist.

Beagle-rabbit-hypnosis  is made feasible by geographic proximity. In this scheme,

  • Military display has primarily psychological purpose, as misdirection, and to weaken the will.
  • Force is applied in measures below the threshold that would provoke a significant retaliation.
  • Repetition habituates the adversary, raising the response threshold.
  • The object is military investment of Taiwan, from which digestion can be completed by economic coercion.

In the military tactic of investment, an adversary position is surrounded, cut off, often left in the rear as the front line advances. The naval form of this, conceived in the  1921 war plan of Earl Hancock Ellis, was key to  U.S. strategy in the World War II Pacific theater, where it was called leapfrogging. A century later, military strategists on both sides are preoccupied with use of this strategy, and defense from it.

If there were another island beyond Taiwan that China could leapfrog to, the danger of investment would be obvious. With China’s proximity, a virtual form is possible, a zone surrounding Taiwan in which commercial  shipping is subject to coercion:

  • A few ships are damaged or sunk by deniable methods more sophisticated than Iranian attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.
  • Insurance becomes unaffordable, which U.S. naval escort cannot remedy.
  • China offers  “escort” in return for  hefty payments, which are not covered by insurance.  Shipping resumes.
  • In the next phase, China requires all shipping to and from Taiwan to transship through China. Initially, this is by reflagging vessels.
  • Tariffs, origin and material restrictions follow, accompanied with continuing military displays. Death by a thousand cuts is a Chinese invention.
  • In the darkest hour, China offers inducements.
  • Taiwan’s weary electorate concedes; absorption proceeds.
  • This is the theater of carrot and stick, which you are encouraged to embellish freely.

(Jamestown Foundation, 2020) Taiwan Opinion Polling on Unification with China, Figure 3, explains why this is possible. In Taiwan, unification is not a treasonous idea. Though unification has become a minority opinion,  it is a significant minority:

  • 32.04% under “ideal conditions”
  • 20.53% if “under attack.”

As long as unification remains part of Taiwan’s schizoid political dialog , Beagle-rabbit-hypnosis is viable for China. It hampers Taiwan’s attempt to show a deterrent face. The legacy of past Kuomintang repression shows in broad detestation of the self-defense forces. Unhappy conscripts train like boy scouts, with little or no weapons training. The idea that the youth of Taiwan will pick up the gun for national survival is somewhat speculative.

Schizoid sentiment has severely impacted U.S. arms sales. Security for advanced technology is considered impossible. Multiple pilots have defected with their planes. (Militarywatchmagazine) How Taiwanese Veteran Pilots Defected to China With Their American Jets. In 1992, the U.S. declined to sell the F-15, then the world best, but was willing to risk the F-16. (USC U.S. China Institute, 1992) Bush Announces Sale of F-16 Aircraft to Taiwan.

In 2018, Taiwan requested the F-35, which was denied, so Taiwan settled for 66 more F-16s, which rank much lower in relative capability than they did 30 years ago. The F-16 may be a viable option for Pakistan fighting India. It is not viable in a conflict with China, in which the kill ratio would approach zero.

The pattern repeats: inferior soldiers, airplanes, submarines. New projects to produce indigenous fighters and submarines will result in a tier of inferior weapons. Reasonable milestones of maturation to reliable mediocrity cannot be met by 2025;  it takes a decade or so. Yet this cannot be remedied by arms sales. The risk of transfer of U.S. weapons technology to China  via Taiwan is real.

The leverage of Beagle-rabbit-hypnosis  is additive to considerable interdependence:

If you want to replace the Taiwan electorate’s fatalism with optimism, it’s up to us to improve these figures.

This is an unpleasant sketch. Some part of Taiwan’s  culture is aligned with the Western democracies, while putting bread on the table is aligned with China. Which comes first, empty bellies or empty heads?

Whether China can be deterred is an open question. In any case, U.S. strategy, focusing on military defense of Taiwan while neglecting soft power, is misaligned to the threat of the sketch. Von Clausewitz wrote, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” In recent years, the multifarious reciprocal has been observed of Russia and China:

Politics  is the continuation of war by other means.