Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."

20.7.09

Moon + 40

40 years ago today, I was a toddler living in southwest Michigan with a second birthday coming up. My first recollection of our nation's space program was watching the APOLLO-SOYUZ linkup as an almost-seven-year-old waiting in a hospital lobby in Jacksonville, Florida for my 2nd major ear surgery.

The APOLLO 11 landing was the culmination of an ambitious vision laid out by President Kennedy some seven years prior -- a speech asking imponderable questions like "Why climb the highest mountain?" and "Why does Rice play Texas?"

While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin deserve all of the accolades of being the first humans to walk on another celestial body, my personal hero is Michael Collins: the pilot of the Command Module COLUMBIA and designer of the mission patch who could only watch from above as his two colleagues' names became forever etched in the nation's memory.

And why was he stuck in the Command Module? One reason: to perform unscheduled maintenance. That, and his personal disdain for geology.

Congratulations to the entire crew of APOLLO 11 for inspiring our world, and making the Universe seem just a little bit smaller!

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11.9.08

LHC: Game On!

The most powerful particle accelerator in the world, CERN's Large Hadron Collider, was turned on yesterday. And we're still around to talk about it! (So no, the fabric of the spacetime continuum was not breeched by the power of the beam -- though the marketing spin citing the 'power of the Big Bang' is a bit over the top...)

Hadrons are particles comprised of bound quarks, such as the protons and neutrons that make up all of the elements on the Periodic Table (as compared to "leptons", or "light particles", with no quarks -- such as electrons). At full power, this 27-km diameter synchrotron will accelerate protons in opposite directions to 99.9% the speed of light -- then shunt them into a collision chamber to see the results. Some are expecting to see the "Higg's Boson", the last of the "Standard Model's" predicted particles yet to be observed. The Higg's Boson would help explain why some massless particles (like photons) can cause other particles to have mass -- which can in turn help us understand "mass" far beyond Einstein's famous relativistic formula "E=mc^2".

I strongly recommend you check out Jorge Cham's brilliant comic strip "Piled Higher and Deeper", in particular his most recent three strips describing his "Tales from the Road":

Tales from the Road: CERN Pt 1
Tales from the Road: CERN Pt 2
Tales from the Road: CERN Pt 3

Stay tuned to this journey of discovery into the very essence of matter!


UPDATE: For an even more humorous spin (pun intended :-), check out Randall Munroe's strip "xkcd" from yesterday on the same topic. Bonus points for those who can find the six quark names hidden in the strip!

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28.8.08

Sensor Fusion in Baton Rouge


The Melton Valley-SensorNet project has come to Baton Rouge, Louisiana - home to the greatest concentration of chemical refineries, barge traffic and storage facilities in the United States. We showcased our project in conjunction with the Baton Rouge Area Mutual Aid System (BRAMAS) conference to the HazMat chief from Baton Rouge Fire Department, as well as representatives from Army Research Office's Chemical Sciences Division, regional FBI and other first-responder representatives.


Oak Ridge National Lab has developed an ingenious sensor mash-up that integrates real-time sensor data with response plans/policies, meteorological data, and predictive models in order to inform First Responders and other decision makers. The sensor package shown above is a chemical sensor developed by SeaCoast Science, Inc. of Carlsbad, Calif.



In this video, Magnus Oding of Scan Pacific Northwest, LLC of Mukilteo, Wash. launches the sensor via a pneumatic line thrower along the levee in downtown Baton Rouge. These sensors, when integrated with the communications architecture developed by Oak Ridge National Lab (that correlates space-time information with real-time sensor readings and predictive dispersion models), will provide enhanced situational awareness to any decision maker who has to make high-consequence, time-sensitive decisions to protect people and property.


Web 2.0 capabilities merged with sensing capabilities and predictive models create a next-generation "toolbox" for emergency management and disaster response.

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18.8.08

New Oak Ridge High School



Five years of community planning and fundraising, eighteen months of construction, over $60 million dollars and the newly renovated Oak Ridge High School is open for business.

I have never seen a community come together in such a moving and powerful fashion as Oak Ridge. With the leadership of UT-Battelle (manager of Oak Ridge National Lab) and their $2 million donation, the Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation (of which I am honored
to be a part) and the community (through donations, sales tax increases & QZAB bonds), this school of 1,400 is now home to:

  • A science curriculum second to none
  • Five Career Academies integrating communications, math & science
  • A Center for the Arts
  • Technology labs for every department
  • State-of-the-art instructional facilities and libraries


In a very moving dedication ceremony, Principal Chuck Carringer "presented" the school to a panel of students drawn from across all Oak Ridge schools -- one student from each grade, pre-K through 12th grade:


This is a great day for Oak Ridge, and for excellence in science education among any school - public or private. And it is our biggest regret in our upcoming move to Colorado: that my kids will not get to be students in this extraordinary place.


(Donor Wall with Astrolabe)


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14.8.08

Reorienting "Effects" Focus

General Jim Mattis, USMC, Commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, is continuing to demonstrate his leadership at the command who once claimed its Area of Responsibility was "the future". His latest salvo is at one of the "sacred cows" of the defense transformation movement: Effects Based Operations.

"EBO" in the modern sense was derived from the work done by CHECKMATE on the Air Staff (the targeteers who selected critical "nodes" for precision strikes nearly 20 years ago) and by then-Lt Col Dave Deptula, USAF (principal attack planner for the Operation DESERT STORM coalition air campaign in 1991). The evolution of various technologies (GPS, precision-guided munitions, integrated command architectures, over-the-horizon communications) ushered in many new warfighting concepts like EBO.

Despite much fanfare from USJFCOM J9 over the past decade, where EBO became the cornerstone of the "Rapid Decision Operations" overarching concept (and a constant source of chagrin for LtGen(ret) Paul Van Riper), earlier today General Mattis closed the door on EBO in favor of "time honored principles and terminology that our forces have tested in the crucible of battle and are well grounded in the theory and nature of war." His official guidance can be downloaded here.

This is an appropriate (albeit belated) adjustment by CDR USJFCOM to distinguish between "potentially good ideas" and "doctrine". Not just for EBO (an idea that suffered from vagueness and service parochialism since its inception) but also for "Operational Net Assessment" (ONA) and "System of Systems Analysis" (SoSA).

EBO never got over the "persistence" question (e.g., how long would "effects" endure), just as ONA never solved the "adaptability" question (i.e., how would enemy adaptations be accounted for in the model). Gen Mattis's assertion of JPs 3-0 and 5-0 is the proper thing for a Combatant Commander to do -- doctrine, not concept, drives operations. And just as doctrine itself is a reflection of shared values that have stood the test of time and culture, he correctly identifies USJFCOM's role in "help[ing] joint doctrine evolve as our views on effects and related concepts evolve."

However, one concern I do have is that this correction may stymie some of the forward-thinking elements of USJFCOM. J9 has suffered pretty severe budget cuts since my departure two years ago; this could indicate even more to come -- and a command orientation away from "Futures" to "Training" (J7) and "Systems Integration" (J8).

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26.7.08

Guest Post @ MountainRunner

Matt Armstrong, Sage of Public Diplomacy and administrator of the popular 'blog MountainRunner, has indulged me with a guest post. Check it out.

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19.7.08

Secrecy & Adaptation

As we near the 40th anniversary of mankind's first steps on the moon, it is worth remembering the people who supported the recovery of astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins -- and who helped avoid the tropical storm that could have killed them.

Captain Hank Brandli, a U.S. Air Force meteorologist at Hickam Air Force Base on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu, had irrefutable information that the designated landing site for APOLLO XI's splashdown was in the middle of a forming tropical storm.

However, since his information came from a highly classified weather satellite (at the time code-named 417, since redesignated as the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program [DMSP]) that was part of the even more highly classified CORONA reconnaissance program, he could not freely share this information.

In a December 2004 interview with Aviation Week & Space Technology, Brandli said:

“With just 72 hours to go, I had all these classified photos of a deadly ‘Screaming Eagle’ thunderstorm, with tops at 50,000 feet, forming over exactly where I knew the Apollo 11 astronauts were going to come down. The [storm] would have ripped their parachutes to shreds. Without parachutes, they’d have crashed into the ocean with a force that would have killed them instantly. I was the only person who knew this and, because the [DMSP] program and its technology were strictly classified, I couldn’t warn NASA.”

Fortunately for Capt. Brandli, the Pentagon's chief weather officer at the Fleet Weather Center in Pearl Harbor (CAPT Willard "Sam" Houston, Jr.) was cleared for information on the 417 satellite. Capt. Brandli brought him into the vault to show him the photos, and convinced him that the USS HORNET carrier task force and the returning Command Module would have to all be moved 250 miles to the northwest. CAPT Houston was then able to persuade RADM Donald Davis (Commander of Task Force 30) -- but without being able to divulge "how" or "why" -- that the aircraft carrier that would be carrying President Nixon had to be relocated.

Only after President Clinton declassified the CORONA program (in 1995) could Capt. Brandli and CAPT Houston talk about their role in saving the APOLLO XI mission.

I was born almost exactly two years before the return of APOLLO XI. In my lifetime, technology has far outpaced our policies for sharing information. Realtime satellite imagery (of far higher quality than the vintage 417 image at left) is taken for granted, with handheld devices (like my bride's new iPhone3G) that have broadband networking capability, multiband communication radios, integrated Global Positioning System and billions of bytes of flash memory storage.

If it weren't for Capt. Brandli's perseverance, and the fortuitous fact that he was cleared for the program that could give him a glimpse into the weather five days hence, APOLLO XI would have been a devastating failure -- a national embarrassment as we would have mourned the death of three of our finest astronauts.

How many failures can be attributed to the absence of a Capt. Brandli? How many more will we endure due to anachronistic policies and the cultural reticence to sharing information across departmental and agency boundaries?

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10.7.08

Nuclear Blogtank

Cheryl at Whirled View has asked:
"What strategies are available to a country with fissionable material sufficient for 1-5 nuclear weapons, some of which may be assembled? Take into account probable responses, and assume some sort of rationality on the holders of these weapons and material. You may specifically refer to Iran and North Korea, or any other nation, or make the scenario(s) more general. Flesh out the scenario with some support."
Since it has become known to The Great and Wonderful Wizard that nefarious forces in the lands of ZenPundit are "contemplating how to leverage the possession of a small number of nuclear weapons to best advantage," we will develop our own strategy in the interest of global peace and tranquility.

Our resources being small, and our arsenal limited, we can not come anywhere close to the Kahnesque scenarios of On Thermonuclear War. And with a severely constrained national ability to reconstitute, our primary objective is the security and preservation of our fissile material.

Therefore, we will pursue a four-fold strategy we call "Deterrence Light":

1. INTERNAL SECURITY: Ensure the secrecy of our fissile material. Maximize employment of decoys and spoofs so as to preserve this material should it ever be needed. In addition, ensure that only the most loyal forces of Oz are entrusted with this powerful knowledge. Should we fail in this most important endeavor, our national investment in this capability will be for naught.

2. EXTERNAL AWARENESS: Inform the world of our technological accomplishment -- and embed in our announcements disinformation regarding the exact disposition of our research establishment and weapons complexes. Deterrence fails when your potential adversaries don't realize the extent of your capabilities.

3. MAXIMIZED ARSENAL: Given that our arsenal has, at most, five weapons, we will seek to maximize our arsenal by producing the smallest practicable weapons -- weapons still with significant destructive power in order to support our strategy of 'Deterrence Light'. To reinforce our standing in the world, we will stage one underground test (in full compliance with international protocols, short of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which we see as the foil of established powers seeking to preserve their exclusivity).

4. DELIVERY OPTIONS: Develop multiple methods to deliver weapons systems unto our adversaries, should the deterrence strategies of 1. and 2. above fail: via land, sea and air/space -- but emphasizing surface routes due to the high assurance (good) despite the lengthy response time (bad). While Oz may not be able to respond immediately to a clear and present danger, we must preserve the ability to respond at a time and place of our choosing -- akin to the Fedayeen Saddam in Iraq following the fall of the Iraqi government in 2003. Moreover, our declared philosophy will be peaceful coexistence with our neighbors and the world -- but a clear warning to our adversaries that their economic and population centers will suffer should they cause our own government or our people harm.

The Kind and Benevolent Wizard is content that the world will see us for our goodness, and not think ill that we should use this technological capability for the assured preservation of Oz and its ideals.

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9.7.08

DNI Open Source Conference


The Director of National Intelligence is hosting an "Open Source Conference" at the Reagan Building in Washington, DC on Sept. 11th and 12th, 2008. The conference is free and open to the public -- but attendees must register online before July 31st.

I've been told that the sponsors of this conference are some of the most forward-thinking people in the intel community. Should be a great conference!

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8.7.08

House of Representatives v. Web 2.0

(image c/o Eric Drooker)

A recent tweet from @Fantomplanet and subsequent post by ZenPundit describe an effort underway in our nation's lower legislative house to restrict Members' rights to use Web 2.0 technologies to communicate with their constituents.

At first glance, the letter from Congressman Capuano [D-MA 8th] to Congressman Brady [D-PA 1st] sounds benign: "... existing tools available within the House ... are not user-friendly or efficient" and "... server storage space within the House is currently insufficient to meet the growing demand for video."

However, the 'desired solution' smacks of totalitarianism: the establishment of "official" external channels (Cong. Capuano's quotes, not mine) that "... would allow a Member to post video material on a qualifying external website and then embed the video on his or her Member site from this external site."

Qualifying external website?!?

Congressman Capuano makes a precarious leap of logic by asserting these practices "... ha[ve] been adopted by other government agencies ...", as if Members -- elected BY THE PEOPLE -- are akin to federal employees working in the service of a single executive. As a constituent, I would be appalled if my Representative were to take his position so lightly (thankfully, Cong. Zach Wamp [R-TN 3rd] has a far greater appreciation of a Member's role than the distinguished gentleman from Massachusetts).

If Congressman Capuano (who also happens to Chair Speaker Pelosi's "Task Force on Ethics Enforcement") is concerned about the "dignity, propriety and decorum of the House," perhaps he should re-read the Declaration of Independence:
... That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed...
... and NOT the "Governing". Taking artistic license from Mr. Jefferson, perhaps the latter portion of our 232-year-old Declaration could be amended to read:

The History of the present Chairman of the Speaker's Task Force on Ethics Enforcement is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these Networks. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World.

HE has refused his Assent to Blogging, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

HE has forbidden his Members to post Tweets of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

HE has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large video files on YouTube, unless those Servers would relinquish the Right of Data Management, a Right inestimable to them, and formidable to Tyrants only.

To arms! To arms! The Censors are coming!

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3.7.08

Decisionmaking

("On They Came" by Mort Kunstler, c/o The Framery)

There has been much dialogue in the 'blogosphere lately regarding information, from Andrew Exum's recent critique of JP 3-13: Information Operations at Small Wars Journal (h/t MountainRunner) to Chet Richards on "Orientation" (the central concept to Boyd's OODA loop) and "Virtual Water Coolers". Earlier posts by ZenPundit, John Robb, Shlõk, Don Vandergriff, Kotare and Coming Anarchy's brilliant series on the Principles of War are excellent contributions to the topic of "decisionmaking", which I believe is the cornerstone of command and leadership.

What makes good leaders? Is it success? Luck? Perseverance? Or is the "harmonious association of powers" that Carl von Clausewitz described in On War (Book I, Chapter III: "The Genius for War")?

Consider the image above. On the afternoon of July 3rd, 1863, Maj. Gen. George Pickett and his division of 5,500 Confederate soldiers formed the right flank of a three-division assault across the gently rising slope from Seminary Ridge toward Cemetary Ridge in the fields south of the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. His shout, "Up, Men, and to your posts! Don't forget today that you are from Old Virginia," is inscribed on a monument at Gettysburg National Military Park. By the time Pickett's men had crossed Emmitsburg Pike and neared the Copse of Trees by the "Bloody Angle", more than half of his division would fall: 3,000 casualties in a matter of minutes, including 15 regimental commanders, six colonels and two brigadier generals.

What prompted a gifted leader like General Robert E. Lee to risk such a venture? Did the loss of Stonewall Jackson to friendly fire two months earlier at Chancellorsville neuter Lee's maneuverist spirit (a spirit that was alive and well with Hood's Texans, who defied direct orders and seized Devil's Den and Big Round Top on the Union left on July 2nd)?

Or did Bobby Lee see something his subordinates didn't? Did his rational calculus consider (a) Ewell's inability to take Culp's Hill on the Union right, (b) Longstreet's misinterpretation of his orders, thinking Lee only wanted him to turn the Union left rather than assaulting it to build on Hood's success the previous day, (c) the lack of coordination across a 3-mile-wide battlefront amongst his artillery, cavalry and infantry that dashed his hopes for a three-pronged assault, and (d) the near-breakthrough in the Union center (at the Copse of Trees) by Anderson the previous day?

The point is, complex adaptive environments have no unique solutions. Martin van Crevald, in Command in War, described two options for organizations needing to act with imperfect information: either increase its information processing capability (the choice of our modern U.S. military) or redesign the organization to allow it to operate effectively with less information (the essence of Boyd's Discourse and his "Organic Design for Command and Control" and the German concept of Auftragstaktik).

Based on the advice available to him on the scene, and his perception of the unfolding battle, Lee made the best choice he could at Gettysburg for the strategic interests of the Confederacy. Similarly, General George Meade (Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac) made great use of his subordinates (particularly Reynolds and Hancock) and -- knowing the Confederate States Army had moved into Pennsylvania -- chose the best line of defense with the Pipe Creek Line in northern Maryland.

Our challenge today is managing an ever-growing bitstream of data, and balancing our own cognitive load so that we are able to make effective decisions in high-stress, high-consequence, time-constrained environments. Some tools are useful in the context of social relationships and temporal "snapshots" (e.g., Twitter) while others give spatial correlation of resources ("Common Relevant Operational Pictures"). But none are adequate for all requirements.

The basic question we need to ask ourselves is: How much control do we really need? The most effective leaders are able to inspire their subordinates to strive for a common goal, then get out of their way. While information technology is beguiling in giving managers the chimera of perfect awareness, that awareness is a mirage on an ever-changing landscape of perception. Instead of focusing on what our subordinates are doing, or who should NOT see what we know through anachronistic classification practices, we should rather be managing our OWN cognitive load in order to anticipate emergent opportunities. MountainRunner sums up the debate nicely in his review of Exum's IO piece:
Understanding the value of shaping and managing perceptions is critical today just as it was critical throughout history. The difference is today fewer people are needed to mobilize for strategic effects, arguably making the precision and result of influence activities that much more important. We can’t afford to ignore this or get it wrong, but then we don’t have to get it absolutely right on the first cut. We must move ahead and realize that everyone is a strategic corporal and everything we do has information effects, some more than others.
Hear, hear!

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27.6.08

[Moblog] Desert Foursome

After wrapping up the TapRooT® Summit earlier this afternoon, we've headed south into the canyons of south Vegas for 18 holes on The Revere Golf Club's "Concord Course".

With a total distance of more than 7,000 yards, and temps around 104° F., I expect to be a raisin by the time we're done....


Update: We ended up scoring a 68 (thanks to the "Captain's Choice" best-ball scramble format). Thankfully, Richard (a Navy civilian from Bethesda Naval Hospital -- far right in the top photo) has a single-digit handicap and a monster drive. Suzie (also a Navy civilian from Bethesda) made some clutch shots, which really helped when the silver (women's) tees were sometimes 100 yards ahead of the black (championship) tees we were using. And Dan (far left in the photo), Software Program Manager for System Improvements -- the makers of TapRooT -- was on with his short-range game. Alas, the Canucks stole the Cup for the third consecutive year with a score of 61....

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24.6.08

On Information

A Twitter "tweet" from @Selil earlier this evening roused a long-dormant post idea. Since Twitter is a "micro-blog", its constraint of just 140 characters limits its utility to low-bandwidth, big-idea (or mundane-activity) broadcasting. Prof. Liles's "big-idea" (in response to @mtanji of Haft of the Spear and CTLab fame) was:
"C4isr as the battle space. More than the Arquilla network centric warfare concept. Beyond hacking. Sun Tzu and Clausewitz"
I certainly agree with Prof. Liles that there is more to the information domain than John Arquilla and net-centric warfare (which always struck me as an attempt to create a self-fulfilling prophesy -- despite the fact that network superiority has no deterrent value). Where I differ is in the proposition that C4ISR is a "battle space".

C4ISR, or (as ADM Giambastiani liked to refer to it during his tour as my boss at U.S. Joint Forces Command, "C2 + C2ISR"), is simply a tool. The technology only provides a medium by which information can be shared, the same way that Roman signal towers allowed information to be conveyed rapidly across great distances millennia ago.

Part of the Tanji-Liles dialog emphasized the lack of any truly "revolutionary" capabilities in recent decades. I'm inclined to agree -- from a purely technological perspective. Our modern technology -- though impressive -- has not ushered in a unique "Information Age". In fact, today's technologies have not created wholly new capabilities; they have simply enriched capabilities that have existed for centuries. Rather than living in "The Information Age", I believe we are actually living in the fifth "information age":
1st: Verbal exchange of information (oral communication)
2nd: Physical representation of information (Sumerian writing)
3rd: Portability of information (papyrus)
4th: Mass-production of information (Gutenberg's movable type press)
5th: Information freed from physical form (telegraph, telephone, Internet)
The most significant effect of proliferating information technology and communications capabilities has been to neuter the initiative and empowerment of subordinates -- stunting the audacity that makes (or breaks) battles. Rigid hierarchies coupled with pervasive communications grids -- with "Net-Centricity" -- are demonstrably less effective than ones with "weak" links (q.v. Linked by Albert-László Barabási).

Consider the "Operational Level of War" -- the level between "Tactics" and "Strategy". Many organizations of the U.S. Department of Defense invest inordinate numbers of labor hours in developing an idea that peaked in Napoleon's time (when it was called "Grand Tactics").

Napoleon's logic was simple: he commanded an army so vast that its interior lines could exceed the distance of daily information propagation. (Information in the late 18th/early 19th century could propagate at approximately 100 miles per day.) But when technology increased the bandwidth of information transfer (as well as the speed, thanks to decoupling it from physical form and allowing velocity=c), the intermediate layer that once served as a proxy for the Imperial edict (i.e., empowerment of the on-scene commander to act on behalf of the Emperor) has remain entrenched.

Modern C4ISR tools have served to perpetuate this folly, giving today's commanders a beguiling sense of "Situational Awareness". MIL STD 2525, the military standard for unit symbology merged with theater-scale maps, can give a commander a "realtime snapshot" of the entire physical battlespace. But as the scale increases (since warfare is not scale invariant), the trade off between "relevance" and "intelligibility" becomes akin to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: as one becomes more precise, the other becomes dangerously less so.

The temptation to treat warfare like a game of chess (with its ordinal moves and perfect battlefield intelligence) is fallacious. ARHerring, a co-contributor at Dreaming5GW, recently opined about the nature of chess on multiple boards -- a closer approximation to the adaptive and complex nature of war. Clausewitz's description of "Genius" in battle is the antithesis of a reductionist thinker who seeks the unique solution to a given problem. Complex adaptive environments can have multiple solutions -- but an even larger number of incorrect options.

Therefore, a better description of an effective military leader is not simply "charisma", but "network fitness": per Barabási, the ability to "attract" links in order to influence their perceptions. This applies not only to COIN, but also to Information Warfare (h/t mtanji) and the renascent field of Public Diplomacy championed by Mountainrunner.

Update: Michael Tanji and Tyler Boudreau (h/t John Robb) sound off.

[Crossposted at Dreaming5GW]

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27.5.08

Tsushima Day

One of the most significant naval battles of the modern era took place this day, May 27th, in 1905, in the Straits of Tsushima between Japan and the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula.

Russia's expansion in northeast Asia in previous years collided with Japanese Realpolitik. Tsar Nicholas II refused to negotiate with Japan, seeing them as an inferior nation lacking the stature to be treated as a peer to Russia. So when Japanese forces seized Port Arthur (modern ShenYung) in the summer of 1904, the Tsar dispatched his Baltic Fleet of 45 ships to "teach" the Japanese a lesson.

Admiral Rozhestvensky and his fleet sailed for more than seven months, around Europe and Asia, approaching the Japanese mainland in late May 1905. At dawn on the 27th, Admiral Togo Heihachiro (aboard his flagship MIKASA) departed the port at Chinhae in Korea -- intercepting the Russian fleet just north of Okinoshima at 14:24 local time.

By sunset (19:30 local time, about five hours later), more than 4,000 Russian sailors were dead and another 7,300 were Prisoners of War. Admiral Rozhestvensky's flagship OSLYBAYA was sunk, along with dozens of other Russian ships. Japanese losses were minimal: three (3) small boats and just 116 killed in action.

Two lessons can be drawn from this encounter. First, the fact that the Russian fleet even made it to Japan is significant -- it was the largest, most complex endeavor by a fleet of that size, compounded by the increased logistics demand of modern ships.

Second, the logistics success was trumped by the monumental failure of Russia's strategic intelligence. Rozhestvensky's total surrender the following morning near Takeshima (Liancourt Rocks) underscored the tactical and technological success of the nimble, cohesive Japanese forces that swarmed around the hapless and confused Russian fleet.

The moral of this story is: never rest comfortably on your laurels -- especially when you're convinced that you have technical and numerical superiority. Tsushima represented a seismic shift in the balance of power in the world, and was the first time that a nation perceived by the "Concert of Europe" as a subject of colonization stood up and resoundingly defeated one of the great powers of the world.

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23.5.08

WIRED: Survival Gear

While John Robb pens his next book on Resilient Communities, and Mother Penguin & my fellow Eagles at the National Institute of Urban Search and Rescue plan for GOLDEN PHOENIX this summer in the Southwest, WIRED magazine offers a dozen pieces of survival gear "just crazy enough to work".

As expected, WIRED's piece is two parts serious, one part sarcastic. The most uniquely inventive item on the list? The "HYDRA Collapsible Micro-Wind Turbine System" that uses electricity (converted from wind) to thaw snow, creating 750ml of water per hour:



As I prepare for a weekend camp-out with rising 2nd grade Cub Scouts (who recently received their Tiger Badges and are now "Wolf Cubs"), some of these items look particularly useful... :-)

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17.5.08

Thermodynamics & Resilience

Author and blogfriend John Robb (of Global Guerillas) has done some fascinating "horizontal thinking" lately, tying the concept of "resilience" to thermodynamics. Yesterday's 'blogpost (entitled "Dissipative Structures") combines entropy and complexity -- with special attnention given to the concept of "scale" in complex systems.

John has raised an important point -- one that I echoed in his comments section at GG. If we presume that organizational and political structures exist because they make it more efficient (i.e., less entropic) to live, then we can also presume they will gradually become extinct when people have better options to pursue. "Resilient Communities" may just be one method by which we are able to satisfy Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. From John's comment section:

On the topic of thermodynamics, remember that entropy can be controlled -- but it takes work to do so (otherwise it would be impossible to make ice, an organized lattice of hydrogen-bonded water molecules, from a disorganized liquid).

Organizations are formed in order to accomplish tasks more efficiently. While it is a staple of GG and your own JR blogs (and BNW) to note the declining role of the nation-state, it is worthwhile to remember WHY our nomadic species settled into agrarian communes: because it was more efficient. Therefore, urban centers arose because that was the BEST way to accomplish the tasks required in a civilization dependent on industrialization. Similarly, nation-states were the most efficient mechanism for providing for common defense while creating -- and regulating -- markets in the post-Renaissance era. The former political structures based on the church and the "Divine Right of Kings" were discarded, and we adapted to the new norms.

Have nation-states recently exceeded some threshold of efficiency? Or are there better examples for how we can organize to live, work and play without further disruptions to our environment?

RCs may just be one case -- and I hope you will more fully develop this theory in your forthcoming RC book. It probably deserves and entire section, rather than just a lone chapter.

The premise should be how can we best abide by the 1st Law of Thermodynamics (Energy is always conserved) while also allowing the core social structures to thrive within our environment.


Zenpundit has provided a handy reference of John's work toward his second book (on "Resilient Communities"). Check it out and join the fray.

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13.5.08

Worldhall Launch

The team at NECSI has formally launched "WorldHall" -- one part Wiki, one part 'Blog, one part Voting Booth, all bound together to spur ideas to actions.

Dr. Naomi Bar-Yam, Executive Director of Mothers' Milk Bank of New England, has provided the follow introductory note for WorldHall's inaugural initiative: ideas and actions in support of the nursing mothers. With a baby on the way, this is an issue that is of significant interest to our family -- and a great demonstration of WorldHall's capabilities for advising decisionmakers and influencing policy.


Dear Colleagues,

I want to tell you about a new web resource that can be of real service to the breastfeeding community and beyond. World Hall enables us to discuss policy issues, identify who can do something about them, propose actions and vote ---- to have our voices heard by those in positions to implement change.

This is a unique opportunity: World Hall is being launched in the breastfeeding community. Actions regarding ban the bags, breastfeeding in public, breastfeeding in the workplace, insurance coverage for lactation services and others are already posted on World Hall.

World Hall is different than a breastfeeding listserv or blog. We will be joined in the conversation by activists in other areas allowing for cross conversation and voting, enriching all involved. Our active engagement in World Hall will raise the visibility of breastfeeding to all who are listening to and conversing on World Hall. World Hall is free and non-commercial. It was developed by students at the New England Complex Systems Institute (necsi.edu) with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC is a great example of a major player that is watching the system and paying attention to the actions proposed and discussed.

Your active engagement in World Hall will help to raise the visibility of the issues we all work on every day. Please vote, add new actions, comments, and identify new issues and players. Share World Hall with others.

The site is at:

I look forward to meeting you there.

------------------------------------------
Naomi Bar-Yam Ph.D.
Executive Director
Mothers' Milk Bank of New England

Naomi@milkbankne.org
617-964-6676
www.milkbankne.org


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6.4.08

Complexity and Scale

A post on KurzweilAI.net last week caught my eye. It excerpted a recent article in NewScientist entitled "Why the demise of civilisation may be inevitable", which declares that society's increasing complexity also increases its fragility -- and the energy needed to sustain it. What the gang at KurzweilAI.net missed is the nature of scale in complex systems dynamics.

In fact, this is the second time in a month that KurzweilAI.net has come up short. The other time was a report on a pandemic influenza detecting chip -- conveniently appearing just prior to a Pandemic Influenza Tabletop Exercise I recently participated in. But their report was wrong about current capabilities: first responders can identify various strains via an emergency polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test in 2-3 hours, not "days or weeks" as reported on their 'blog.

KurzweilAI's alarmist reporting on social complexity -- and the concomitant "solution" of "reducing" society's complexity by reengineering our institutions at a smaller scale -- shows scant attention to the essential role scale plays in complexity. To wit, if a phenomenon appears random or unpredictable at a fine scale (e.g., turbulent flow), it can be predicted at a large scale. Conversely, phenomena that are unpredictable at a large scale (e.g., ethnic violence) can be predicted at a fine scale. [The link is to the Ethnic Violence page at the New England Complex Systems Institute, and to a paper published in the journal Science last September presenting their models. These models showed a 90% correlation between single-parameter predictions (after wavelet filtering) and reported incidents in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and even higher correlations in India.]

The underlying assumption of KurzweilAI (and Ms. MacKenzie at NewScientist) is that complexity is directly proportional to scale: the larger the scale, the greater the complexity. Similarly, the smaller the scale, the less the complexity.

However, when you decouple scale from complexity, you begin to see a better fit with our observed reality. Conventional military operations (à la Schlieffen Plan, the Fulda Gap, and OPLAN 1002, to name a few) entail massive amalgamations of forces for the express purpose of simplifying the commander's perspective. Rather than drowning in the minutiae of individual soldier movements (or even platoon or company-level engagements), theater commanders -- with the helpful MIL-STD-2525 symbology, similar to NATO APP-6A -- are able to think in terms of Corps and Division elements (and, lately, Brigades -- the primary warfighting organizational element of the U.S. Army). Therefore, large scale -- but low aggregate complexity.

When the battlefield loses its conformity, though, the scale decreases -- while the complexity increases! Consider which of these two scenarios are more "complex":

1) U.S. Army V Corps blocking the Soviet 8th Guards Army in the Fulda Gap, or ...
2) U.S. Army V Corps serving under the Coalition Ground Forces Commander in post-OIF Iraq.

Many have described the inherent complexity of loosely-coordinated small forces combating a monolithic adversary, most notably the contributors to the Small Wars Journal, John Robb, and the gang at Defense & the National Interest. Perhaps the Kurzweil crew would benefit from paying more attention to these "ideas at the intersection".

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30.3.08

San Francisco Travelog

We're spending the weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area. Posterity of Oz (who too-quickly adapted to Pacific Daylight Time, which will make returning to school on Tuesday morning quite problematic) enjoyed visiting the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39. The photo above is in one of the "tubes" beneath a school of anchovies, and at right they are petting a skate.

We also paid a visit to the USS HORNET (CV-12) Museum at Alameda Point (the former Naval Air Station), but were deterred by their preparations for a conference of more than 3,000 machinists in the hangar deck. On our way off post, we saw the French maxi-catamaran GITANA 13 -- the sailboat that is shattering records around the globe. The crew of 11 had just set a new record for the Route de l'Or (New York to San Francisco via Cape Horn), breaking the old record by more than 14 days. (Yes, *days*.) They should embark for Japan later this week, where they hope to add the trans-Pacific sailing record to their growing list of accolades.

No visit to the Bay Area is complete without a stop by the alma mater -- and, this time, a trek up Strawberry Canyon to the Lawrence Hall of Science. Their special exhibit this month is "SPEED", with throttle-driven drag racers that risk stalling due to slipping wheels, a side-by-side ski slalom simulator, and a build-it-yourself Lego derby track.

But the main purpose of this weekend was to honor (and thoroughly roast) my mom, who retired last Friday after more than 32 years of service to the Alameda County Health Services Agency. More than 140 colleagues, friends and family came to honor her, while I had the privilege of co-MC'ing -- and laying the blame for the soon-to-be-bankrupt Social Security Trust Fund squarely on her shoulders for leaving the workforce. Truly an enjoyable trip.



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19.3.08

Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

Science fiction author, pundit, pioneer and visionary Sir Arthur C. Clarke passed away this morning in his adopted home of Sri Lanka. His short story The Sentinel (1948), which inspired his 1968 novel (and later one of my all-time favorite films) 2001: A Space Odyssey, demonstrated his keen insight into the perils of "artificial intelligence" and technological advancement.

Most notable was Clarke's professed skepticism of humanity and our inclination for self-destruction. A persistent theme in his Odyssey series (both the Space Odyssey as well as his later Time Odyssey trilogy) was the essential role "godlike" aliens played in creating -- and regulating -- sentient life in the Universe. His application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (that entropy increases over time) and the implicit justification of his aliens' "regulation of life" to postpone the ultimate heat death of the Universe is a compelling syllogism.

Sir Arthur's creativity gave us a glimpse into our own souls, and the cosmic implications of our folly. For that we owe him our gratitude, and our well wishes as he today embarks on his own Rendezvous with Rama.


Update: Other tributes from Sharon @ Danger Room, Kingdaddy, Jason S., Jay M., Soob and Cheryl R.

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9.3.08

Battle of the Ironclads

In early March 1862, the fledgling navy of the Confederate States of America attempted to break the U.S. Navy's blockade in the Hampton Roads of Virginia, at the confluence of the James, York, Elizabeth and Nansemond Rivers. The Commonwealth of Virginia had seceded from the Union less than a year prior (on April 17, 1861), though parts of the Commonwealth remained in Union control (e.g., the western counties -- soon to become the state of West Virginia -- and Fortress Monroe, at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula).

The U.S. Navy retained command of the seas, and imposed a naval blockade on the CSA to restrict their trade -- and their ability to generate revenues to sustain their secession. While northern states were the most populous (shown by Lincoln's victory in the 1860 presidential election -- despite winning zero electors from Southern states or from New Jersey) and most heavily industrialized (with 80% of total U.S. manufacturing capacity and 67% of U.S. rail lines), nearly 50% of America's GDP in the mid-19th century came from cotton. In fact, southern output of cotton was more than 80% of the entire world's production.

When the Commonwealth of Virginia seceded, the U.S. Navy vacated the oldest shipyard in the nation (Gosport Shipyard in Portsmouth, VA, on the Elizabeth River) and scuttled the steam frigate "USS MERRIMACK" in place. The Confederacy raised her and rebuilt her as an ironclad ram, rechristening her as "CSS VIRGINIA".

On the morning of March 8th, 1862, the VIRGINIA steamed into the Hampton Roads with the intention of breaking the Union blockade. Ramming USS CUMBERLAND below the waterline and then forcing the surrender of USS CONGRESS, VIRGINIA returned to port after darkness for repairs. The next morning, she returned to finish off the Union fleet -- but encountered a new arrival to the scene: USS MONITOR, the first true "ironclad" commissioned by the U.S. Navy.

Though the ensuing battle ended in a standoff, the event proved decisive for the Union -- which preserved the blockade's stranglehold on CSA trade.

Our home in Virginia was just a few miles south of the waters where the Battle of the Hampton Roads took place. As proof that to the victor goes the spoils, even south of the Mason-Dixon Line, U.S. Interstate 664 (the western edge of the Hampton Roads' "beltway") crosses the battle site via the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel (changing VIRGINIA back to its original U.S. Navy name -- albeit without the "k").

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5.2.08

Osinga Roundtable: Boyd's Evolution

In an October 1939 radio broadcast, Winston Churchill described the Soviet Union as “… a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” The same can be said of the late Colonel John Boyd, whose prowess as a fighter pilot and whose lectures on the relationship between energy and maneuverability revolutionized the U.S. Air Force – but who published no books. Rather, his legacy was left in a stack of acetate vu-graphs (thankfully digitized by Chet Richards) and reams of personal papers. For his studious review of the latter, distilling the mind of Boyd into book form, Col/Dr Frans P.B. Osinga deserves our gratitude. He has played Clausewitz to Boyd’s Napoleon.

In Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd, Osinga presents us with a fascinating “deep dive” into the evolution of a brilliant thinker – a thinker who devoted his life to applied learning and teaching. Though it is unfortunate that Boyd did not see fit to publish his theories in book form (unsurprising given his professional environment far from the Ivory Towers of academe), it is evident from his 1,500+ presentations that he rigorously developed and willingly shared his ideas. Boyd’s stamina (both mental and physical) to lecture for more than a dozen hours at a time is testament to his devotion and his determination to succeed.

Osinga nicely complements the work of Boyd biographers (most notably Coram, Hammond and Richards) by dedicating the preponderance of his 300+ pages to how Boyd’s thinking evolved – describing his intellectual influences from the expected (Sun Tzu, Clausewitz) to the unexpected (Popper, Kuhn, Polanyi). Particular attention is given to the influence of classical physicists (Newton) as well as quantum theorists and mathematicians (Heisenberg, Gödel).

Boyd embodied the now-popular notion of the “Medici Effect”, a horizontal thinker who integrated perspectives across multiple, seemingly-divergent disciplines into a cohesive whole. His insights have proven applicable to a wide array of topics, and foretold of the emerging science of complexity theory (though I dislike Osinga’s use of the composite term “chaoplexity”, which undermines the distinction between “chaotic” – i.e., non-linear and seemingly random – and “complex” – i.e., a large number of interrelated properties or parameters). Given the swagger of the fighter pilot who bested the “best” in air-to-air combat in forty seconds or less, there is no doubt that Boyd – were he alive today – would be a prolific ‘blogger, and a Chicago Boyz contributor whose inputs would outweigh all of our Roundtable writings combined.

While many associate Boyd solely with the “OODA Loop”, he has given us far more than just a lexicon – just as Tom Barnett’s work is far more than simply “Core - Gap” and “Leviathan - SysAdmin”. Regardless of one’s willingness to accept his ideas, the sheer effort Boyd invested in his research – and Osinga’s effort in compiling the salient points for us – is an invaluable tool in anyone’s intellectual toolbox.

The motto of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration is Litera Scripta Manet: “The written word endures.” It is ironic that intellectuals tend to revere the commentator more so than the subject on whom they write: Herodotus over Leonidas, Thucydides over Pericles, Clausewitz over Napoleon. If history is consistent, then in a hundred years the name Osinga may be equally associated with the name of Boyd.


Update: Crossposted at Chicago Boyz.

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Super Fat Tuesday

Thanks to the early Easter this year (due to the close proximity of the full moon to the vernal equinox), we get to celebrate (quite appropriately, IMHO) "Super Tuesday" simultaneously with "Fat Tuesday / Mardi Gras". So tomorrow morning, as ashes from the palm fronds from last year's Palm Sunday are imposed on the foreheads of the Christian faithful, will we also have a definitive presidential candidate from each party?

Having just left the polling place, I can say unequivocally that "electronic ballots" remain trapped in the Luddite past of paper-driven industrial age process. After arriving at the polling place at 8:30am EST, I discovered that our local polling places did not actually open until 9:00am. After the polls officially opened (at 8:00am one county to the west of us, in the Central Time Zone), I had to:
  1. Complete a "Voting Application Card" in red ink. (I told the pollsters that it was considered bad luck in China to inscribe a name in red; they didn't seem to care.) Note that though the line of waiting voters was now more than 30 people, there was only one (1) small table for completing this "Voting Application Card" -- rather than distributing them (with red pens) to the waiting voters.
  2. Present the "Voting Application Card" along with a photo ID to the kind lady with the "A-D" catalog of registered voters in that precinct.
  3. Let said lady compare the signatures between my digitized Voter Registration and the "Voting Application Card", then check some boxes and sign where indicated.
  4. Present my "Voting Application Card" to a third polling place worker, who wrote my name (in longhand) on a roster.
  5. Go to a fourth worker, who took my "Voting Application Card" and provided me with a four-digit "PIN" to activate the voting machine.
  6. Proceed to vote for one (1) candidate for President of the United States, as well as twelve (12) "Delegates-at-Large" and three (3) District delegates. Since my candidate of choice had only two "Delegates-at-Large" who had professed fealty to him, I decided to vote for all eight "uncommitted delegates". This meant I had to spin my "selection wheel" no fewer than fifteen times for each delegate, since the cursor reset to the top-left corner after each selection and the "uncommitted delegates" were at the bottom-right. (My attempts to outsmart the machine by rotating my selection wheel counter-clockwise sent me to the previous section of the ballot.)
BTW, the image at the top of this is provided courtesy of al Jazeera (found via a Google Image search for "Super Tuesday").

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28.12.07

[Moblog] Coffee with Kao

CINCHOUSE and I crossed the Bay this morning to meet up with innovation guru and author Dr. John Kao. John is the author of jamming and, most recently, Innovation Nation (which I reviewed back in October). A great morning with great Cuban coffee and excellent conversation!

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22.12.07

Bloggers for Nuclear Policy

Überblogger ZenPundit has vectored me to a "group blog request" by Cheryl at WhirledView on nuclear weapons policy. This topic was an early passion of mine, while an undergrad physics major at Berkeley in the closing days of the Cold War, so I am happy to participate.

However, I disagree with Cheryl's premise that current U.S. policy is "stuck in the Cold War"; the National Nuclear Security Administration's just-released "Complex Transformation" plan seems like the right plan for continuing to convert our nuclear stockpile to one that is relevant and sustainable for the 21st century.

Three topics I'll cover in this post:
  • Great Power War
  • Stockpile Management
  • Future Challenges
Living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (a city founded solely because of the Manhattan Project in World War II), there are daily reminders of the role this city played in bringing a terrible war to an end. The old guard posts still stand on the Oak Ridge Turnpike and Scarboro Road, and the three facilities with cryptic alphanumeric names (X-10, K-25, Y-12) still adorn signs and maps.

One thing that becomes clear, touring the various historic sites around Oak Ridge, is the magnitude of effort needed to manufacture nuclear weapons. This is not something where a couple centrifuges can be turned on in a basement and voilà! you have material to build a bomb. The undertaking is complicated, laborious and time-consuming -- and this is a good thing. The skill sets needed to preserve and maintain a credible stockpile are scarce -- and this is not so good of a thing (I'll cover this in "stockpile management" below).

This creates a taxonomy of "Nuclear Powers":
  1. Those that have it
  2. Those that want to have it
  3. Those that don't want it
  4. Those who can never make it
Obviously, those in the first category want to preserve their "exclusivity" -- because after all, the logic of nuclear warfare is that you can never logically use them. This led to policies like the Baruch Plan after World War II (which the Soviets rejected because, in their opinion, it would have preserved the U.S. nuclear monopoly) and today's proper emphasis on nuclear non-proliferation (a great success to date, in my opinion).

Since "great power war" has faded in likelihood, some nations have active nuclear research programs -- ostensibly so they can join the "great power club" and garner increased international standing. This demonstrates the continued effectiveness of deterrence within the nation-state system (where even the most despotic rulers are still governed by some semblance of rational self-interest).

The fourth category ("those who can never make it"), therefore, is the most worthy of attention. A transnational terror organization lacks the resources to develop their own program, so they would have to resort to theft in order to obtain a weapon. (Note that I am deliberately focusing on nuclear weapons, not the other varieties of "Weapons of Mass Destruction" like chemical or biological.) Therefore, in order to minimize the likelihood of an al-Qa'eda-like organization obtaining a nuclear weapon, we should focus our attention on stockpile management.

Since the end of the Cold War, many old weapon systems have been dismantled in order to diminish the U.S. arsenal -- both to abide by international treaty obligations, and to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. This requires a labor force with the same skill sets necessary to manufacture weapons: not just physicists and engineers, but master machinists, pipe fitters and other skill trades. This is an area where international cooperation should continue to increase -- especially between Russia (which has the largest cache of weapons in the world) and the United States.

Therefore, the three "core values" of a relevant nuclear policy for the 21st century are:
  1. Maintain a credible deterrent (because it's the dominant "control mechanism" in international politics)
  2. Preserve the industrial base (both for demobilization of existing stock as well as for continued research and development)
  3. Continue emphasizing non-proliferation
We can never put the nuclear djinni "back in the bottle". So long as we live in a world ruled by conflicting interests, total disarmament will never be a practical solution.

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17.12.07

First Flight

Wilbur and Orville Wright, the youngest of a Bishop's four sons, grew up in Dayton, Ohio. Gifted engineers and inventors, they (like most of their contemporaries) were fascinated by the idea of "heavier than air" powered flight. However, while their peers built increasingly powerful motors (figuring that the "flight problem" could be overcome by brute force), the Wright Brothers focused on the challenge of control in three polar dimensions: yaw, pitch and roll.

Their engineering acumen came from years of working in their shop with printing presses, motors and bicycles -- the Gary Fishers of the 19th-century. Mechanical skill, coupled with a penchant for data collection (e.g., numerous wind tunnel tests to build better propellers and wings) led to U.S. Patent #821,393: the control surfaces that would later be called ailerons.

Needing a remote place with strong winds, they discovered the Outer Banks of North Carolina. [Ed. note: As one who has experienced the headwinds of Kill Devil Hills, Jockey's Ridge and Kitty Hawk firsthand (on a bicycle during the 2005 "Tour de Cure"), I can testify that Wilbur did good -- OBX is renowned today for it's Kite Boarding!]

On this day, 104 years ago (December 17th, 1903), Orville Wright (below) piloted their plane for a 12-second, 120-foot journey. The brothers made three more flights that day, the final flight (by Wilbur) more than 850 feet in 59 seconds.


Happy flying!

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7.12.07

A Date Which Lives in Infamy

Flags across the United States are at half-mast today in recognition of "a date which shall live in infamy". At 7:52 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, the first wave of Japanese bombers reached the western shore of O'ahu (near today's Lualualei Naval Weapons Station), crested the Waianae Ridge at Kolekole Pass (which connects Lualualei to Schofield Barracks), attacking military airfields as well as the fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor to the south. More than two thousand sailors, Marines and soldiers were killed -- along with 68 civilians -- compared to just 65 Japanese airmen killed.

The photo above has been a staple of my briefings on defense transformation for years. When I show the photo cropped to show only the lower-right quadrant, nearly everyone correctly observes "Battleship Row" at Pearl Harbor. Showing the full photo (from a scale model in wartime Japan) demonstrates the challenge we in a open society face when battling adversaries who don't share our values -- nor our freedoms.

John Robb has aptly noted our vulnerability to "open source warfare" -- a challenge that is exacerbated by the openness of our society. But the solution is not to trade our freedoms for the "warm blanket of security". Rather, we should remember that it is those freedoms -- the freedom to live, to love, to pursue happiness and prosperity -- that make us strong.

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19.11.07

"The Play" + 25

One of the greatest comebacks in the history of college football took place 25 years ago, on November 20th 1982, at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. While Trinity's recent 15-lateral, 62-second play in the final seconds to defeat Millsaps was impressive, as was Boise State's improbable comeback against powerhouse Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, neither can compare with the magnitude of The Play.

Rivalries like the one between the Golden Bears of the University of California and the "cardinal" (like the, uh, color) of leland stanfurd junior university are rare. Add in the irony of a future NFL Hall of Famer (John Elway) being denied his last shot at a college bowl game (and perhaps the Heisman Trophy), the always-entertaining antics of the stanfurd band, and the drama of stanfurd's "devastated program", and you have a recipe for a legend.

For an in-depth review of The Play -- as well as John Elway's impressive drive in the final minute to temporarily take the lead, and Joe Starkey's emotional play-calling from KGO 810AM's live broadcast, check out this seven-minute clip at YouTube:





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2.11.07

In Memoriam: Paul Tibbets

Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., USAF (ret), pilot of the ENOLA GAY (the B-29, named after his mother, that dropped the LITTLE BOY bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945) died yesterday. He was 92 years old.

The U.S. Air Force news release is here, the Associated Press report here, and additional photos and information on the man who -- to his dying day -- defended the mission that helped bring World War II to an end is here.

Rest in peace, sir.

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30.10.07

The King of Bombs

Approximately four years after launching the first satellite into orbit, the Soviet Union conducted the largest nuclear detonation in history. "Tsar Bomba" (nicknamed "Big Ivan" by its designers) had an estimated yield of 50 Megatons -- nearly triple the yield of CASTLE BRAVO (the U.S.'s 1954 dry-fuel [Teller-Ulam design] thermonuclear device tested at Bikini Atoll). The test over Novaya Zemlya just before noon (Moscow time) on Oct. 30th, 1961, nearly knocked out of the sky the modified Tu-95 BEAR bomber that carried it. Its blast plume measured more than 40 miles (65km) high.

A two-minute video from Discovery Channel:






An eight-minute video on YouTube:






What's ironic is that a last-minute switch (replacing the Uranium tamper with one made of lead) was done to reduce its yield and subsequent fallout. If this change had not been made, the yield could have exceeded 100 Megatons.

Increased awareness of military facility locations, coupled with improved accuracy of missile delivery systems, made massive weapons like Tsar Bomba thankfully irrelevant.

More info:

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21.10.07

Trafalgar Day

One of history's most significant naval battles took place on this day, October 21st, in the year 1805. After years of chasing Admiral Villenueve and Napoleon's "combined fleet" through the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson and his fleet of 32 ships (including 25 ships of the line) attacked a numerically superior foe off the Costa de la Luz in southwestern Spain. The battle, named for the nearby Cape of Trafalgar, established the Royal Navy as the dominant naval power in the world for more than a century to come. It also ensured the legacy of Admiral Lord Viscount Horatio Nelson as one of the most capable and inspiring commanders in history. His death on the day of his greatest triumph only served to heighten this legacy.

Though the Battle of the Nile (Nelson's resounding victory in 1798, fought almost entirely at night) is a more impressive tactical victory, Trafalgar merits special consideration because of the decisive strategic effect it had on Napoleon's campaigns in Europe -- and the world. While Napoleon and his foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand harbored secret plans for a "North American Empire", their eviction from Haiti (thanks to the extraordinary leadership of Toussaint L'Overture, the most important historical figure you've never heard of) and eventual sale of the Louisiana Territory to the U.S. forced Napoleon's attention east: to Moscow, and ultimately to defeat. Nelson's victory at Trafalgar dashed any hopes Napoleon had of ever attacking Great Britain.

Here's to The Immortal Memory of Nelson!

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