November 13, 2015

Happy Paraskevidekatriaphobia Awareness Day

UPDATE: Well, crap.

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November 11, 2015

Translation Glitch?

The Daily Beast reports on a story that could be confirmation of a suspected Russian weapons system or simple disinformation. (via)

It seems that Russian TV, while reporting on a meeting between Putin and Russian defense officials, captured a good shot of a page describing a weapon designed to be fired into a harbor and inflict considerable damage and radioactivity, shutting the port down for years. The story ran on Russian TV once and rebroadcast with the 2 second "breach" excised, but an unedited version was recorded and is making the rounds on the intertubes. 

It's unclear if this was an intentional leak intended to fill us with terror or just a screw up. Even if the leak is intentional, it could be a real weapon system or it could just be them trolling the world.

In fact, the device described is tantalizingly close to a rumored Russian project called Kanyon which we blogged about some months ago.  The dimensions of the weapon are also pretty close to the T-15 torpedo concept from the late '50's and early '60s (which was supposed to carry a 100+ megaton warhead).

That's one impressive torpedo tube.

For some reason, the Daily Beast seems to think that this is a radiological weapon rather than a nuke.That is, the article is describing a conventional explosive laced with radioactives. Assuming that it is real, that seems a highly unlikely design choice. 

Dirty bomb does not only refer to conventional explosives dispersing radioactives. There is such a thing as a dirty nuke. If a thermonuclear bomb has something like enriched uranium as its secondary stage tamper, it will greatly increase the yield of the weapon because the fissioning tamper will squeeze more energy out of the fusion stage and being involved with the fusion explosion, it will itself undergo fission and add its yield to the total explosive force of the bomb. This has the potential of, in some cases, more than doubling the yield of the weapon. The trade-off is that the bomb is getting much more of its 'splody' from fission and leaves behind far more radioactive pollution. The U.S.A. deployed a 3 stage weapon, the B-41, which came in two versions, the clean version which replaced the third stage with lead or some-such was about 9 MT in yield, the dirty version which had a working 3rd stage had an estimated yield of 25 megatons. It was expected to be SO dirty that the full yield version was never tested due to environmental the 1950's. The weapon was replaced with the B-53 which, it seems, did away with the dirty version altogether. Normal fusion weapons can be made dirty (and increase their yield, but having enriched uranium in the casing makes them dangerous to handle due to radiation hazards and I think the US had gotten rid of any such weapons by the end of the '80s. 

The Russians have kept using three stage nukes such as their big 20MT  (8F675 ?) warheads that they recently removed from their SS-18 ICBMs. In that case the high yield seems to have been intended to be used in space to generate a big EMP. 

A multi megaton weapon going off in a harbor would combine the aforementioned radiological effects with the dreadful fallout of a ground burst. It would certainly be a dirty bomb by any reasonable measure.

If real, this weapon seems worrisome. The intention of destroying what they see as Atlantacist harbors for a generation or more may have ideological as well as strategic implications from a Eurasianist  perspective. It can't really act as a deterrent since deploying it would be an act of war and announcing it destroys its tactical (in this case, arguably  strategic) surprise. 

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Ignore This. It Will End...

...if it's even happening.
Which, of course, it's not.
Because, you see, this can't happen here.


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November 10, 2015

Meanwhile....On Youggoth

It appears that NASA's New Horizons probe may have photographed volcanoes on Pluto.

Well, they certainly DID photograph two mountains that each have big fumaroleesque holes in their tops. Additionally, they seem to be associated with fairly young terrain so it is quite possible that these are, in fact, multi-mile high volcanoes.

Interestingly, these two mountains don't fit into the general pattern of geek addled naming conventions for the planetoid and it's satellite, being named for aviation pioneers ( it's those Piccards, not the other one).

Of course, while volcanoes are the most likely explanation yet, they could be something else, perhaps access tunnels for the saucers of the Sinister Snake-Women of Pluto. 

Err...There's more here.

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Portents in the Shipping Industry

Maersk is the worlds biggest maritime shipping company.

It's quite common if sailing in Hampton Roads Harbor to see three or more Maersk ships.

The company, presumably knows something about the shipping industry. 

 "We believe that global growth is slowing down,” he said in a phone interview. "Trade is currently significantly weaker than it normally would be under the growth forecasts we see.”

This does not jive with other forecasts, and certainly, with regards to domestic air and ground shipping industry my completely anecdotal and unscientific observations have been of daily box tsunamis. However, the shipping company I work for seems to be benefitting considerably from the explosion in online ordering, and we are spinning up for the hell called "Christmas".  Maersk handles 15 percent of worldwide maritime trade. They have a particularly good vantage point to see things on a macro scale that includes raw materials as well as finished products. They probably should be taken seriously.

I cannot speak to their corporate culture or analytical methods, but in my experience inspecting their vessels in the Coast Guard, Maersk always ran tight ships with highly professional crews. They seemed pretty squared away.

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Possibly the Biggest Story You Haven't Heard About

One of the after-effects of the 2008-9 economic downturn was a drop in the price of aluminum. Unsurprisingly, this is having a deleterious effect on the American aluminum industry. simply a market contraction and ought to be self correcting, if highly irksome to aluminum workers on the low end of various seniority lists. 

While the price of element 13 continues to plummet, China is ramping up production in a big way.

Really Really Big

While competition driving down prices is generally a good thing, there are some problematic implications here...
Now, with prices languishing near six-year lows, it’s wiping out almost a third of domestic operating capacity, Harbor Intelligence estimates. If prices don’t recover, the researcher predicts almost all U.S. smelting plants will close by next year.

(Emphasis mine)

Some of this is simply inevitable market forces. China has lower labor costs and advantages in scale. However the surge in production during a massive Al glut is most likely a government funded endeavor to kill worldwide competition. It should be noted however, that domestic policies which cause energy prices to " necessarily skyrocket" are an insurmountable hurdle for an industry that requires a huge amount of electricity. Thus the industry is being hit from both sides. 

There are, additionally, issues beyond the strictly economic ones. 

Aluminum is a strategic material despite its abundance. If everyone has to import their Al from China it could lead to problems.
Should the supplier not be forthcoming for some reason, domestic production might take a bit of time to spin up; perhaps too long to be relevant in the context of a short, sharp war

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40 Years Ago Today

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November 08, 2015

Nukes on a Flatbed Truck

Russia has announced that they intend to begin producing a series of road mobile nuclear power plants. (via)

The project is called Pamir and the mobile plants are supposed to hiot the road sometime in 2020.

Such a short development time might be cause for considerable skepticism save for one important detail not mentioned in the article. 

The picture is of a previous project, also called "Pamir" which was a Mobile Nuclear Power Plant being developed in the 1980s. The project was suspended after only two had been produced in the aftermath of the Chernobyl unpleasantness.

The concept seems to have been twofold. The plants would power dispersed mobile radar arrays that would be moved around constantly to add uncertainty to any wild weasel operations and they could be dispersed and hidden by the dozens to provide power for rebuilding after a nuclear war.

There is info on this project as well as its antecedents herehere (in Russian) and here...which mentions that it was a gas-cooled reactor based on dinitrogen tetroxide, working on a single – cycle scheme which is quite interesting.

"Oh please...He doesn't have any idea what the hell that means."


There is also a PDF concerning the Pamir from the perspective of its dismantling under a nonproliferation program here

Given that the original design seems to have worked, it may not be a stretch to expect that they could simply spool up production again, though the loss of the original engineering cadre would certainly be a significant hurdle.

To what end they are making this non-trivial expenditure is unclear. A couple of megawats available on 2 flatbeds would certainly be useful in building infrastructure and kick-starting settlements in Siberia, though given current events, the original operational concept may well be closer to the mark.

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November 07, 2015

Well, This Explains Everything

...except how to fix the problem.

One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes contemplates this fascinating exchange between Bill Whittle and Stefan Molyneux on, biology, evolutionary strategies and the rise and fall of civilizations.

"The implications...can't unsee...can't unhear..."

Oh, yes...It involves an alarming amount of politics too, so any neurotic Eloi should probably not click on this. 

It's kind of like a secular, ninety minute Necronomicon.
Have at it in the comments...

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Just No Idea

The inscrutable conundrum of why a college student went all stabby on a U.C Merced campus has been further clouded by the discovery of a manifesto on the corpse of the perpetrator, who has been identified as Faisal Mohammed.

 A handwritten manifesto carried by a California college student whose stabbing spree Wednesday left four wounded, bore names of his targets, a vow "to cut someone’s head off” and as many as five reminders to "praise Allah,” law enforcement authorities told, while insisting that neither terrorism nor religion appear to be motives in the attack. 

Still no word on any of his affiliations, though ominously it has been suggested that he may be....a freshman.

"Be nice to the first years...or we might cut ya!"

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Exactly The Right Length

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November 04, 2015

Space Geysers

The massive south polar geysers of Enceladus from the night side. Picture taken by Cassini on approach during its historic pass through the plumes last week. 

"Because Astro Oceanographic Vulcanology is AWESOME!"

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November 03, 2015

That'll Learn I'm!

Well the penalty for the NASA official who gave a Chinese official unfettered access to the Langley Reasearch Center for just under two years has been six months probation and 250 dollars

Woodell permitted Bo Jiang "complete and unrestricted access” to the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia, according to the indictment filed October 20.  The indictment stated that he had violated NASA’s security and IT regulations over a two-year period, from Spring 2011 to January 2013.

I feel so safe that I might cry. 

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Some Shows...

...have tremendous amounts of action that doesn't advance the plot or mean anything. 

Contrasting with that sort of thing, in the latest episode of Owarimonigatari two highschool students stand and listen as a third reflects upon her middle school years for twenty two minutes. They never leave the room and nothing else happens.

This episode had me on the edge of my seat. 

Owarimonogatari is supposedly the last in this supernatural dramedy franchise, and has, aside from its first episode (and the unremarked upon mystery of what happened to a certain characters irises) not had a lot of supernatural anything in it. Despite this it has been genuinely surprising and at times rather disturbing. 

People can be the worst monsters, and perfidy is a wretched thing. 

This is a very well written show. I'm not sure where they are going with it, but I am anxious to find out.

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I'd Trade My Blackberry for a Flying Car

Tam finds the money quote in a William Gibson interview. 

"Holy crap. That's right!"

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November 02, 2015

98 Years Ago

World War One changed everything.

On this date in 1917 the Balfour Declaration was announced.

This effectively eliminated other areas from consideration for the location of a Jewish state. For several years up to this point, Kenya, Uganda and Madagascar* had been proposed as Jewish homelands by the British and French governments in cooperation with the Zionist movement (which had begun actively looking for a homeland for Jews in part as a result of the Dreyfuss Affair). However, it was always a low priority. Part of the reason for the declaration, and certainly the motivation behind sending it to lord Rotshchild, was that Balfour wanted to do something for their mutual friend Chaim Weizman, a brilliant chemist who had saved Britain from defeat early in the war by inventing a means of making artificial acetone (thereby breaking the German near monopoly on the stuff). However, the overriding motivation was the Sykes Picot treaty that resulted in the British and French** carving up Arabia. With the French getting Lebanon and Syria, the British needed some way to get non-arabs to move to the Trans-Jordan /Palestine region and so the idea of a Jewish homeland went from "nice idea, let's maybe do it sometime" to "something in the strategic interests of the Empire". 

One of the first things that was learned (to the European's surprise and dismay), was that the Ottomans had, in fact, been keeping the more egregious anti-Semitic tendencies of the Palestinians in check by threat of military force. Shortly after the British took over, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem began a series of pogroms against Jews aimed at their extermination. Of course, with the Jewish homeland now designated by the worlds largest empire, the other options fell by the wayside and Israel became the last best hope, especially after the post-Holocaust exodus and this ultimately resulted in the formation of the state of Israel in 1947. 

* Interestingly, Nazi Germany revived the Madagascar plan in 1940-42 and made it part of their program of Jewish expulsion until they decided on total extermination in 1942/43. This does add an intriguing note to certain recent assertions that have caused so much sturm and drang. 

** The Russians were promised things in Sykes Picot too, and this was affirmed after the February Revolution, but following the fall of Kerensky and the ascension of the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution, France and Britain decided it was time for some white-out. Russia had been promised Istanbul (probably to be renamed Constantinople) Turkish Armenia and control of the Sea of Marmara and Bosporus. While invoking that treaty is certainly dubious to say the least, Russia has had considered the area to be of profound importance and a high priority for bringing into its sphere of influence since Catherine the Great and their interest in the region was the main focus of the Crimean War. 

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Regrettably, We Must Interrupt Your Monday For a Moment of Whimsy

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November 01, 2015

So Her Sigil is Like a D.O.T. Placard

"By the power of Greyskull...I'm Queen of the Castle!"

This season's second episode of RWBY was happily devoid of vomit. On the other hand it was just fights: Rather silly ones at that.  Neither of the fights were as good as the one from last episode, though there was a bit of character development. We find out for instance that Jaune Arc is getting progressively better, alas the derp is still strong with him.

 Team NDGO was actually pretty awesome...

I was particularly impressed with the leader's weapon and the girl whose dress consists of pez dispensers for throwing knives

This was OK but despite much action, not much happened. 

Fortunately, there are indications that the plot resumes next week. 

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