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PSA: Gorgon Stare

You can stop emailing me about it now. Please. It was old news back when The Register covered it back in January 2010; The Washington Post are very late to the buffet today, but the damn thing's been showing up in news articles for nearly two years now, and every time one of you sees it for the first time I get an email, typically titled "CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN".

Does anyone have any really obscure, weird, and batshit insane military projects to announce? Preferably ones that haven't been doing the rounds via the New York Times for eighteen months? Chinese atomic-powered supercavitating torpedoes and Russian new-build Ekranoplans particularly welcome.



Strange, I just don't see the connection between the airship surveillance system and Case Nightmare Green, except someone called it "Gorgon Stare".

No insane military project to report, the only interesting news is Chinese 4th generation fighter jet in taxing test, the shape is pretty similar to F-22.


The shock of the old, huh?

How about: "it is a swarm of warcraft" ?? ( Excession IIRC )
A semi-conventional aircraft-carrier, with no (or almost none) manned planes, but hundreds of drones.
Even the new supposed chinese ballistic shipkiller might have great difficulty getting through such a swarm.

As the "Register" says, a really high-floating aerostat carrying really good survellance equipment would be good - provided, of course, that you are not up against even modern Britain, whose few remaining planes and missiles could/can reach 20 000 metres.

How about coanda-effect small craft, or others with MHD drives - true "flying suacers".
We already know that there are true "death rays" - didn't Raytheon demonstrate one last year?

I suppose truly off-the-wall would be the proposed QM "hydraulic-jack" resonating-cavity lift craft, supposedly being investiaged by the Chinese, after Brti guvmint money dried up ....


The most amusing military equipment videos I know are kitty corner shot ( and the chinese military entrenchment tool demo ( - watch the whole thing, it's awesome). Both via a friend of mine who was working in the Austrian military's acquisitions office during his mandatory military service year. I hear they get some weird trade magazines.

Nothing really insane, though, I'm afraid.


I'm not sure, but I think Warren Ellis has dibs on the Russian new-build Ekranoplans, followed by William Gibson. Though I'm sure you could take Gibson in a fight, Ellis has some crazy stuff going on that you probably don't want to mess with.


If the quality is anything like the Chinese Ugg knock-off boots my mother in law got for Christmas, I fear for whatever poor pilot they strap in that thing. :)


No secret military projects that I know of, but the improvements coming to 3D printers and the like could have military or terrorist implications for any fiction set a few decades from now.


I already have that covered in "Rule 34".


I saw that, and figured you had, too. Must be some Stross fans in the Air Force.


Weapons-grade sarcasm? Impressive :)


Surely the microwave-pulse vaporization of inner-ear fluid modulated to carry sound is old news, but DARPA is funding ultrasonic phased arrays for deep neural stimulation. The nuclear tunnel melting/boring machines are old hat, but the x-ray lasers running on nuclear isomers are a bit fresher (even better if they actually worked, but hey). Totally metal-free fiber-optic audio bugs have been around forever but decoding keystrokes from the sound is a bit newer. Conformal optical phased arrays don't actually work yet, but one of these days we'll have invisible omnidirectional telescopes. In the meantime flexible and conformal color displays both active and e-paper-like are being developed for camouflage, and of course metamaterials are the latest thing in stealth design. Acoustic phased array concepts are being combined with time-on-target bombardment to create distributed shaped charges. The oceanwide listening systems are being extended, piggybacking on the backhauls to the undersea fiber cable taps, (or maybe it's the other way around) and "acoustic daylight" processing is now in production mode. I hear the telepathic rabbits thing actually worked, but got canceled anyway. That's a little crazy even for me, but crazy can be a good cover, too.

Other stuff is pretty boring - the usual powered exoskeletons, orbitally scanning superconducting gravitic gradiometers, pain rays, and stuff like that.


I don't know about terrorism and 3D printers but these food printers terrify me.

I hear the Americans are working on a biological weapon that makes people fat, having tested it on their own population for years. It will be used to kill Afghans by heart attacks when they try running up and down mountains.


When talking about batshit insane military projects it's hard to resist mentioning the bat bomb. Unfortunately it is not just old news. It is WWII-old news.


I tend to assume someone like you is better informed than me (All it takes nowadays is a well tuned stumbleupon and well chosen RSS feeds) so the motivation to send you stuff is nonexistent, but, if we're doing this, I have noticed a few astrophysics items lately that are eyebrow raising:

The one about possible previous universes leaving marks in the background radiation.

The discovery of a hella more yellow dwarf stars than expected (hella as in the proposed SI prefix).

and that bit about seasonal variations in isotope decay correlating with solar flares.

All of which I assume you'd already heard of.


Actually, the most interesting thing I've found in the last few years is the Defender self defense tool line (as seen on The Men Who Stare At Goats. The amazing thing is that these little tools appear to work precisely as advertised (haven't fought off a mugger yet, just practiced) and are available to civilians. If you know anything about the self-defense products industry, you'll realize how unusual this is.


Yup, I'd seen all of those.

(My regular morning RSS trawl covers about 70 subscriptions, many of them to news aggregators ...)


I'm an aerospace person, so that's where I'm focused.

You've already surely heard about Project Pluto, the nuclear powered jet engines, and also about the Airforce's spaceplane.

What you may not have heard is the solid-state airplane. (Ok, somewhat of an exaggeration, but close)
Since it made Ars Technica, I assume you did see it, but you might have missed it.

Also, Lockheed Martin is in the front of the pack of teams developing very small, precision rockets. They're using helicopter launched, 2.75" rockets that have been modified to follow a laser, Hellfire style. Lockheed is even working on smaller versions. They're so that it's possible to kill bad guys that are in closer proximity to civilians.


re "swarm of warcraft"

Excession indeed
The no-quite-so-eccentric-after-all GSV Sleeper Service
My favourite Culture book


The most exciting military (DARPA in this case) funded research projects I've seen are the electrodynamic tether based spacecraft being designed and tested by Star-Tech Inc ( ) and Tethers Unlimited ( ). There was a good introductory presentation shown at the SSI space manufacturing conference this year:

The ability to move objects around in LEO on whim with no propellent expenditure is a game changing technology.


That Chinese military entrenchment tool looks like a combination of all the ideas of the past century, though I'm sure some would call the combination a little too complicated. I doubt, for instance, that those sharpened edges would stay sharp when you were digging, and it rather doesn't mention the military uses of a short-handled spade with sharp edges that were being discovered over 90 years ago. And there's a long history of agricultural tools being turned into weapons.


Another reason to look forward to reading it. :)


Oldies, but I nominate:

1. DARPA's "self-healing, self-hopping, inter-communicating minefield" project from 2002-3. Considering that the advantage of a minefield, for one side, lies in knowing where they are... it's a teeny, weeny, little SW/HW kink away from providing years of fun for friend and foe alike.

2. Mid-80s, USAF atomic bomber coffee-machine which would continue to brew joe at radiation levels lethal to the Joes on board. Tres Kubrick.

3. MKULTRA/Subproject 112: Vocational Studies in Children. For managing to sound both highly mundane and ominous, when viewed in the context of the other projects (and the records of the really hairy ones were likely destroyed). It's perhaps worth noting that both the CIA and NSA maintain kids' pages on their public websites.

Btw, does anyone know if DARPA or someone ever funded video game research before America's Army and the surge in demand for spotty-kid-controlled drones?


It looks like they have been testing the real Gorgon Stare in Arkansas over the last few days.


My favorite US research is being done at the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT. They've got a bunch of projects all working on nanotechnology-based equipment for infantry soldiers: armor against explosive, ballistic, and energy weapons, nano-medical equipment both for diagnosis and treatment, sensors and communication equipment, CBRN protection, etc. And all of it, as far as I can tell, is aimed at being built into the BDU and helmet. They may not be able to turn the average grunt into a tank, but they might settle for the equivalent of an armored car.


For futility, what about the fairly widely distributed one where they're trying to build a close human-equivalent AI and smorg it with a 5th-generation air defence fighter, the replacement for the RAPTOR and Litening III recce pods, and a shitload of other kit, give the whole lot similar cruise performance to a B-1B as well as hopping about like a late model Flanker....

....and they expect it to be CHEAP.

(Actually, I recently read that the USAF people whose job it is to think about this think that the 6th gen UCAV would be about 3% cheaper than a manned fighter, including the personnel costs. Does that include the bandwidth bill? Dunno.)

The mad military thinking at the moment is, I think, the belief that U*Vs bring ponies.

The real strategic trend, I think, is that the good electronics get cheap and everyone has guidance on their projectiles, or at the very least, a ballistic calculator for their RPGs on their smartphones.


3d printers? Terrorist implications?
What, are they going to print explosives?

Synthesize chemicals? That wouldn't be a 3d printer now, would it?

And that certainly wouldn't be anything EU or US gov'ts would let people buy without onerous licensing requirements.

Just like you can't get useful amounts of nitric acid or nitrates easily anymore. (at least in this corner of EU)

Afaik, that's one of the main thing the muslim terrorist clowns can't get right.

About the acoustic kitty tale:
The whole thing sounds like a hoax. CIA putting some hundred gramms of electronics and lots of wire(antenna in tail?) into a cat? No problems with infections, battery charging, cat body being shocked by lots of foreign stuff in it?


>a ballistic calculator for their RPGs on their smartphones.

I wonder if anyone is thinking about this in the context of augmented reality; an AR sight for RPGs using an iPhone would be not too difficult; a parallax or mil-dot style range-finder to estimate range and bearing to target, then use the iPhone that you've mounted co-axially to your RPG as a sight.

And Charlie; I assume that you're aware of the chap making pulsejets in his back shed in NZ suitable for homemade cruise missiles.


Laser guided rockets? Pssst.

Laser guided bullets have been floating around for ages now, with One Shot atmosphere measurement tech being added to the mix.

Just imaging what you could do with face detection sensors, laser guided bullets and a Tec-9. Drive by shootings where EVERYONE gets shot in the face.

Unfortunately for Charlie, Vernor got there back in 1984.


Open-source 3-d printers might one day challenge factories and thus corporations, but I wouldn't bet on the economics for a long time. Comparatively speaking they aren't really likely to become all that useful for making weapons, either, and even if they do, the military logistics people are likely to have more printers with greater capacity and better designs.

Printers and auto-fabs will be a sideshow for at least another decade or two. OTOH there is lots of stuff easily available today that could be repurposed for very effective guerrilla warfare, including drones, cruise missiles and what amount to off-the shelf explosives factories with 100-1000 ton/year output for less $ than a handful of those "cheap" laser guided missiles mentioned earlier - maybe less with some sheet steel, surplus pumps and a good welding torch. No ITAR restrictions, either. I'm not going to specify further on that point except to say that fuel, oxidizer, detonator, delivery and guidance/comm. elements are not even close to military monopolies, and so long as the public can buy fuel and a few general-purpose materials it is mostly good will and common ethics that limits the use of heavy weapons to sovereign states.


It's not exactly a 3D printer, but I've heard that cheap CNC machine tools make it easy to build the parts that can convert semiautomatic firearms to fully automatic (machine guns). A trained gun smith could always do it, but now anyone with an affordable tool and the relevant input data can. Not so relevant in parts of the world where even semiautomatic firearms are tightly controlled, I admit.

How about using your 3D printer to make the liners (or templates for them) for shaped charges and explosively formed penetrators? You still need to get or make explosives, but can do a lot more damage per kilo of explosive, depending on the target.

As for making explosives or poisons, almost any nefarious substance can be made starting with grocery store ingredients and electricity if you have the right equipment. For example, it's possible (albeit inefficient) to make nitric acid by discharging electricity through air and running the nitrogen oxides into water. This is how synthetic nitrates were made in the early 20th century before Haber's ammonia synthesis. 3D printers and CNC machine tools may make it easier for less-skilled persons to assemble a mini chemical plant that can run inside an apartment. But I'd expect computer-fabbed chemical equipment to show up in drug labs before terror labs, as the former are more numerous and technically advanced.


You have got to be pulling my leg with that list. If you're not, could you steer me to where you got it?


Searching on "Vocational Studies in Children" leads to some seriously crazy stuff. This link lists over 160 MKULTRA and related subprojects plus several boxes of additional material from the National Security Archive.

Here's a sampling of titles that leapt out at me (most others just as wild):

Subproject 19: MKULTRA: Magic Manual
Subproject 34: MKULTRA: More Support to Magic
Subproject 62: MKULTRA: Consulting Work in Isolation/Electric Shock/CNS Drugs
Subproject 65: MKULTRA: Hungarian Refugees
Subproject 79: MKULTRA: Cutout for Funding Research of a "sensible nature"
Subproject 82: MKULTRA: Hungarian Refugees
Subproject 93: MKULTRA: Toxin Study--Cuba Chapter
Subproject 102: MKULTRA: Adolescent Gangs
Subproject 103: MKULTRA: Children's Summer Camps
Subproject 106: MKULTRA: Electrodes, Russian Study
Subproject 119: MKULTRA: Telecontrol--Texas Christian
Subproject 121: MKULTRA: Witch Doctor study-Dr. Raymond Prince-- McGill University
Subproject 128: MKULTRA: Rapid Hypnotic Induction
Subproject 132: MKULTRA: Safe House -- Not San Francisco
Subproject 133: MKULTRA: Safe House -- Not San Francisco

Subproject 107: MKULTRA: American Psychological Association: Army Testing: Assassination: Raymond A. Bauer: Berlin Poison Case: Biometric Lab: Biophysical Measurements: Beecher (Henry K.): Brainwashing
ARTICHOKE Docs 59-155: Bordentown New Jersey Reformatory: Boston Psychopathic (Hyde-Massachusetts Mental Hospital): Brain Studies: Brainwashing (1): Brainwashing (2): Project Calling Card: John Marks Chapter 6 Conclusions: Chadwell, W.H.: CBW Work File: Dr. Wallace Chan: Cold War Late 1953-1955 (1): Cold War Late 1953-1955 (2): Communist Control Techniques VII: Cold War Docs (1) (Project Artichoke, Bluebird): Cold War Docs (2): Control of Behavior --General: Cybernetics: Defectors: University of Denver: Destruction of Files: Diseases: Drug Research and Operations Diseases: Drug Research and Operations: Drugs: Documents ARTICHOKE: Drugs: ARTICHOKE: Drugs: ARTICHOKE (2): Drugs: Subprojects

...Chapter 14: Oatis Case: Often/Chickwit: Ohio State University: Operation Paperclip: Organizational Structure: ORD: World War II: Martin Orne: Parapsychology (Limited discussion on EMR research also): The Application of Tesla's Technology in Today's World


Old news--there were the SNAP-7 strontium-powered RTGs that were used on marine buoys, back in the sixties. Somewhere I have an original advertisement for those things. (I also had no idea that the Apollo missions had quite that much Pu-238 with them.)

Modern slightly whacked item: DARPA is researching field cryohibernation. Not freezing: the plan is to suck the blood out of a casualty, chill it, and pump it back in, dropping body temperature and slowing everything down. The idea is to keep expensive soldiers alive until they can be evacuated to a full-bore trauma surgery. The company I was working for at the time was looking at building a teeny little pressure/temperature sensor that could fit into a 12ga needle, suitable for ramming into an aorta.


The EMP trestle:

Quick read, with images.


What, no mention of the UWB (Ultra Wide Band)Through-the-wall Radar Imaging Systems that are so secret and so incredibly efficient that they're not using them much for fear that the bad guys will get a hold of the technology?


>Old news--there were the SNAP-7 strontium-powered RTGs that were used on marine buoys, back in the sixties.

Since the recession, and two layoffs, I find myself working as the sole electronics technician at a university's nuclear research facility. I suppose I should scan and put online the raft of ancient AEC publications that I have access to. Today the NRC gave us a phone call asking if we had sustained any damage to our facility from the recent spate of tornados in the area on New Year's Eve...Other than my coworker getting one of his barn's trashed, nothing really new to report in the field of nuclear engineering (most of the hard science was done years ago) and graduate students aren't doing anything more exciting than irradiating everyday items. (Yawn...I have suggested that in order to make some money for the university we do some soft error testing for the electronics industry on a small scale, but that idea didn't catch on.) If anyone wants to read this AEC stuff, I'll see about scanning it and putting it onto a web-site.


3D printers won't help you print explosives. They may help you print solid-state chemical plants that, supplied with heat, electricity, solvents and basic feedstocks, emit explosives at the other end.

As for Acoustic Kitty, it might be a hoax, but it's documented in various places including John Ranelagh's semi-official history of the CIA. And it's not as crazy as some of the other stuff they definitely got up to. (Injecting an elephant with 10,000 micrograms of LSD to see if they could induce musth? Check. Exploding cigars for assassinating Fidel Castro? Check.)


This is not particularly new, but the best I've found in recent years.
(WARNING: Conspiracy theories ahead!)

I'm amused at this popularly-neglected possibility;

Especially if you combine it with Intels new "AntiTheft" backdoor. Google it; it's a real mans denial-of-service attack.

I'll let you design your own conspiracy theories here, but I'm betting on the next big virus outbreak.


DARPA plans to send a probe to the Sun. At night.


@ 38
"Kill Switches"
Didn't David Brin use that in, erm, "Uplift War"?


Totally metal-free fiber-optic audio bugs have been around forever but decoding keystrokes from the sound is a bit newer.

It's still not very new. ISTR (vaguely) it was mentioned in "Spycatcher" (acoustic penetration of the cipher room in the Soviet embassy in London?) and therefore dates from the 1960s or thereabouts.

Surely the microwave-pulse vaporization of inner-ear fluid modulated to carry sound is old news

Link needed on this one. It'd be impressive if
a) you could put enough microwave energy into the side of someone's head to do this without leaving a trail of parboiled tissue on the way in
b) you could survive having your inner-ear fluid boiled to vapour without your cochlea exploding.


You won't print explosives, but you might well print delivery systems for your explosives. It seems to be rare that guerrillas/insurgents/freedom fighters/terrorists are constrained by a lack of explosives rather than a lack of ways to deliver them effectively.


One of the old ones is the army trying to use air as an ammo on weapons, second is using blocks of metal. One of the interesting developments that I have heard is using graphene as a masking unit for radio signals. In essence you send lot of noice and message and nanoscale graphite antennas automatically clears the signal up at certain frequensies. Masking like in binary language. No need to build a computer to clear signal, antenna will do it for you. :) Now, that I think of , we really are in the future (2011). Most of those things that were mentioned here, were science fiction about 6 to 7 years ago. :)


3D printers won't help you print explosives. They may help you print solid-state chemical plants that, supplied with heat, electricity, solvents and basic feedstocks, emit explosives at the other end.

... maybe. It seems that it'll be possible to print glassware. Given a complicated enough plant, maybe reliable explosives could be made from feedstocks that are not that controlled ..
Ii checked... and it appears it wasn't a hoax. Unsurprisingly, they also did have problems with training the cats, as 'proving they can be trained to move short distances' was viewed as success..

It seems to be rare that guerrillas/insurgents/freedom fighters/terrorists are constrained by a lack of explosives

Those who operate in developed countries often don't have access to safe and reliable explosives. Recently, some swedish wannabe blew himself up. The last genuine US terrorist couldn't make his bomb blow up:


The reason we use glassware in chemistry labs is that glass is (a) fairly non-reactive and heat tolerant, and (b) is transparent to light -- which our eyeballs are sensitive to. In other words, we can monitor reactions occurring in glassware using Mark One eyeballs. And we can reconfigure bits of glass with appropriate ground glass joints fairly easily.

It's noteworthy that large scale industrial processes usually use stainless steel or other metals for reactor vessels and are very much not monitored by eyeball -- they are instrumented (even if only at the level of temperature and pressure sensors). Once designed, built and debugged a chemical plant isn't usually reconfigured on the fly; its job is to process inputs and emit a single output as efficiently as possible.

If you can print 3D metal structures, especially with embedded electronics, you can build a small scale synthesis kit in a brick. It'll be useless for any other purpose, but it doesn't need to be transparent or made out of glass -- it's essentially a miniature industrial scale process.

I'm thinking in terms of one "brick" that, given water, air, and electricity can synthesize nitric acid. A supply of sulfuric acid is available from car batteries, or else we'll need another "brick" to generate H2SO4. And a third "brick" takes in celulose (possibly in the form of cotton wool) plus nitric and sulfuric acid plus water and power and emits nitrocellulose. Finally a fourth "brick" given nitrocellulose, wood pulp, water, power and sodium nitrate emits gelignite. (Need some sodium nitrate? Haber process is your friend: that's another "brick". If you've got easy access to sulfuric acid, it's also an option for producing nitric acid.) Gelignite is cheap, easily storable, moldable, doesn't sweat, requires a detonator.

The point is, a suitable range of chemosynthetic "integrated circuit" components, available as designs to instantiate via a 3D printer, should make kitchen sink level synthesis of some quite nasty stuff fairly do-able -- certainly for levels of any idiot who's able to cook up meth without blowing themselves up. Of whom there are many, and this is actually a major security issue for the not too distant future ...


I would argue that any idiot who can cook meth can already do what is necessary to make some rather nasty stuff. But it is just a bit harder and more time consuming to get the required bits together.
A disgruntled chemistry department employee would find it even easier. Fortunately many of the terrorists so far seem to have been engineering students, and thus often less familiar with what works and why.
The various hurdles include tracking down chemicals and appropriate reaction vessels. Lab and chemical supplies now are concentrated in big corporations, with some smaller ones fishing round the edge. They won't sell to anyone except an actual company, or at least not in my experience so far, therefore you have to fake yourself a company or insert yourself into a supply chain somewhere or steal stuff.

So I suppose the main thing will be to control the supply of the 'bricks'. Which of course will ultimately be very hard, but at the same time the harder you make it, the longer and more circuitous the route for getting them, which raises the bar for potential terrorists and increases the opportunity for someone to notice what is going on.


It seems to be rare that guerrillas/insurgents/freedom fighters/terrorists are constrained by a lack of explosives rather than a lack of ways to deliver them effectively.

I disagree: recent attacks in the UK used improvised explosives, which either didn't work at all (21/7, 2006 London/Glasgow Airport, and many others) or didn't work as well as the same mass of properly-made high explosive. The IRA used ANFO while it had to, but if they'd had enough Semtex they'd have used that instead.

It's true that the Iraqi insurgents weren't constrained by lack of explosive, but that's a bit of an exception.

So I suppose the main thing will be to control the supply of the 'bricks'.

I suspect that the main thing will be to control and record who's got access to the 3D printers - which will, at least initially, be large, expensive pieces of kit - and what they use them to print, and/or watermarking the printed product so that, when the police find something naughty, they can trace it back to the machine that printed it.
This works if 3D printers are the size of ISO containers and cost £1 million. It doesn't if they're the size of fridges and cost £5,000.


What about delivery systems for these explosives? If you have a 3D printer capable of manufacturing a small chemical factory brick it could probably make an improvised rocket and tube to hold it. RPG printer seems a terrorist dream...


The IRA used Semtex and other commercial high explosives mainly to initiate larger ANFO bombs and devices, not often on their own even in what we now call IEDs -- the IRA's version of an IED was a roadside bomb, usually a 38kg Calor Gas cylinder filled with ANFO plus detonating system and a hundred grammes of Semtex to get the thing oxidising in a hurry. Shaped-charge devices really need RDX or similar high-brisance compounds to work properly and ANFO is just one step up from low explosives such as gunpowder.


VERY OLD News...The London and Edinburgh Vacuum Tunnel Company.


I've heard from a reasonably reliable source (one of the managers of the FBI RP lab) that if you try to print C4 explosive in an SLS machine it doesn't work - and catches fire. Given my experience with this technology (eight years at a UK service bureau) I can believe it.

I don't think 3D printing generally is as advanced as some of the suggestions above - most current processes are very fussy as to what materials will work well, and also have finite resolution - either small and detailed or larger and coarser parts. Give it 5-10 years however and much more will be possible


@ 45:

I'm thinking in terms of one "brick" that, given water, air, and electricity can synthesize nitric acid. A supply of sulfuric acid is available from car batteries, or else we'll need another "brick" to generate H2SO4. And a third "brick" takes in celulose (possibly in the form of cotton wool) plus nitric and sulfuric acid plus water and power and emits nitrocellulose. Finally a fourth "brick" given nitrocellulose, wood pulp, water, power and sodium nitrate emits gelignite.

Hmmm . . . you don't seem like you're that far away from a brick that makes oil :-) Or at least, some sort of combustible energy-dense liquid.


I have bad news for you: the entry price for a basic commercial 3D printer today is around £2500 and dropping, and if you're willing to build from kit parts, a RepRap will set you back around £500.

They're nothing like as sophisticated as the stuff we're talking about here, but then, an Apple I kit bears virtually no resemblance to an iPad except at the most abstract theoretical level (both emulatable by a UTM, that kind of thing).


38% nitric acid reagent-grade is available by the litre over the counter.

Saltpetre is not being sold any more by the herbalists who used to sell it only a few years ago, though you can still get sulphur.


Depends where you are, doesn't it? I'm in the UK, as is Charlie. One of the reasons I have had trouble getting hold of it is because it can be used for explosives, hence companies don't just sell it to anyone who walks into their office.

Saltpetre and sulphur can be purchased both from the more lax chemcial suppliers and from certain re-enactment suppliers, since neither on their own seem to be viewed as important. The issue with home made gunpowder is grinding it safely for a number of hours. You can make a quick flash powder in a minutes work, but something which really goes back takes a lot longer and is hardly worth the effort.


the real guys use an infinite number of multiple approaches and layers , for as to confuse the of course the average brain dead human, of course if its beyond your comprehension, then theres no point in even ........

hey man were really diggin this laundry series


In the UK, it can bought with no questions asked. £10 per litre. By mail order as well, would you believe. You just have to know what sort of shop. It is not from a chemical supply company.


Add a "be" in the appropriate place, please.


I dunno; the hankering of the Burmese military junta for nuclear weapons certainly qualifies as bat-shit crazy even if it isn't obscure.


@ 54
Saltpetre IS available, even in the UK, PROVIDED you leave name and address, and emphasise that you want it for food-preservation. ( Essential ingreediment (Sp delibt.) in salt-beef making) - helps if you have done this in the past, as well...

What annoys me (and a perfect example of why I now hate the EU) is that you can't get Copper Sulphate or Sodium Chlorate any more. As weedkiller and fungicide, respectively.
Why? Not because they are "unsafe", oh no. The bog agri-pharma combines lobbied the EU, so they've been banned - so we now have to buy their expensive, braded products.


Safe? Tell that to the toilets at my school. Chlorate/sugar bombs were a bit of a fad for a while.

I think copper sulphate is the fungicide and chlorate the weedkiller. I, too, am annoyed though you still find Bordeaux mixture offered in nurseries and by mail order.


The hankering of the Burmese junta for nukes is absolutely not batshit crazy, given the difference between the praxis of American foreign policy wrt. nuclear vs. non-nuclear foes.

Having nukes is the best insurance policy you can get, short of having nukes and having the American public think you're batshit crazy (although it's permissable to let the State Department know that you've read your Kahn).


Indeed, and of Course, and ... there may just be one or two generations of sneaky persons behind mine and yours, Charlie, who don't appreciate that, well,for example .... I once picked up a from the Local Branch Public Library ... wish that I'd stolen it now .. a late Victorian Fat Book /Almanac that was titled , something like " 10! things for a precocious LAD to do When He is Terminally Bored " and therein discovered not only the, once standard, formulas for Black Powder ..granular structure V important, mix wet and then Grind to desired Use/burn rate .. but also the Method of mixing Nitric and Sulfuric Acids in the correct proportion to ' Household Glycerin ' - all readily available in the 1960s - so as to to achieve an interestingly Explosive result.

Happily my family could not afford a refrigerator ..rare in working class homes in the '60s .. and I had better sense than to try it at room temperature ... in principle it really was VERY easy given the right Glass Ware. Poot!! The Terrorists of Today ..dunno they are Born! In MY day ..and so forth.

A couple of years ago, whilst I was browsing the Internet I did come upon a site that gave various interesting formulations for producing homemade ... oh what the Hell ...I've just found This whilst looking for the French spelling for plastic, explosives of that ilk ...

Ho, Hum earlier research turned up a plastic explosive formulation, based on Bubble Gum, that my nephew The Chemistry DR did say was workable but SILLY. Whats Silly about LOUD Bangs ?

I'm just glad that I didn't have access to a refrigerator way back when when I was a teenager.

Ever Seen " A Fist full Of Dynamite " ? ...otherwise known as " Duck You Sucker " ...


That's funny, I've got a tub of sodium chlorate weedkiller in the garage I bought a couple of years ago...
As for copper sulphate, there is a place I got some from a few years ago.

Pat, I'd like to know that shop. I could do with a litre for my alchemical demonstrations. Any chance of you telling me what it is?


dont use explosives.. what about scary chemicals? how tricky is Dimethyl Mercury?


you can make sodium chorate I think.. electrolysis of salt water-
was good weedkiller though.


scary idea for you.homing autonomous homebrew UAVs.
use the camera etc off a playstation2 for guidance.. how goos are they at image recocognition?


The average country and Garden Terrorists chief problem with weed killer based bombs is not so much knowledge but quantity. Any garden supplier in the UK could sell a customer a modest quantity of, bomb grade, weed killer ..that would also, of course, kill nearby flowers and vegetables if used too enthusiastically. The terrorists problem is that even an assortment of local stores wouldn't have enough of the stuff to be at all useful in sufficient quantity and in the UK agricultural quantities of the Stuff and the suppliers of the same are monitored, I suppose must similar suppliers in the US of A be since the Oklahoma bombing ...

"On April 17–18, 1995, McVeigh and Nichols removed their supplies from their storage unit in Herington, Kansas, where Nichols lived. They loaded 108 bags of high-grade ammonium nitrate fertilizer weighing 50 pounds (23 kg) each, three 55-U.S.-gallon (46 imp gal; 210 l) drums of liquid nitromethane, several crates of explosive Tovex, seventeen bags of ANFO, and spools of shock tube and cannon fuse into a Ryder rental truck.[51] The two then drove to Geary County State Lake, where they nailed boards onto the floor of the truck to hold the thirteen barrels in place and mixed the chemicals using plastic buckets and a bathroom scale.[52] Each filled barrel weighed nearly 500 pounds (230 kg).[53] McVeigh added more explosives to the driver's side of the cargo bay, which he could ignite (killing himself in the process) at close range with his Glock 21 pistol in case the primary fuses failed.[54] During McVeigh's trial, Lori Fortier (the wife of Michael Fortier) stated that McVeigh claimed to have arranged the barrels in order to form a shaped charge.[41] "

The sad truth is that future, Star Trek type " replicators " - amusing how posters are avoiding the Trekiness of it all by discussing 3d printers and such like stuff - would only be a get around, to avoid security agents, of an effect that has been all too commonplace in recent decades.

In the Mean Time ... " Duck You Sucker " ...


Don't even THINK about going there.

Anything that can kill you slowly and painfully through gloves is ... not your friend.


Charlie, I know people who ... uh ... let me rephrase that.

The materials cost of building a chemical plant similar to your hypothesized bricks is not very high.

Which means I'm confused about their significance.


Gelignite actually contains nitroglycerine with nitrocellulose, sawdust and sodium nitrate to absorb/desensitise it.

There are probably other high explosive compounds that would be simpler/less hazardous to manufacture given a home fabricator. (The current propensity for the lunatic fringe to blow themselves up by attempting to make decidedly unstable compounds is probably a Good Thing - unless they live locally, of course.)


There is quite a bit of lore in older books about gunpowder (now online free thanks to large-scale scanning projects) describing optimal environments for bacteria to convert urine, ammonium salts, or other nitrogen sources into nitrates. This was how saltpeter was "farmed" before Chilean nitrates and, later, synthetic nitrates rendered the process obsolete. The process is low-tech, low-energy, and silent. The key materials are far more abundant and cheaper today than they were in the 19th century, and they are impossible to control. Yields from a single barrel of primed and properly fed earth could be a few pounds per day -- no chance of commercial competition with fertilizer plants, but plenty of oxidizer to build monthly car bombs or daily pipe bombs. The nitrates can also be converted to nitric acid by various means if you wish to make high explosives.

Likewise, the even more energetic chlorates (or even perchlorates, with the right anode material and some more work) are available starting from salt water and electricity, no fancy equipment necessary. The process is described in detail on dozens if not hundreds of web pages catering to pyrotechnic and rocket hobbyists.

If you need an energy-dense fuel to pair with your oxidizers, aluminum fits the bill nicely. Household foil is converted to fine powder by shredding it in a blender then tumbling it with steel ball bearings. The aluminum powder can be mixed with your oxidizer to make pyrotechnic-type low explosives (that are still quite deadly -- recall the Bali bombing) or combined with more conventional high explosives to increase their energy output.

Fortunately, the set of industrious autodidacts shows little overlap with the set of terrorist attackers.


Not to mention "Co-Op Mix", a combination of sodium chlorate weedkiller (acquired from farms) and nitrobenzene - quite where they got the latter in any quantity I shudder to think, it's strong smelling, toxic by inhalation and skin contact, and generally a Bad Idea.


Noel, their significance can be summed up in two words: script kiddies.

Today, it takes a modicum of nous to prepare bang-juice at home without losing a couple of fingers and the odd eyeball. Most would-be terrorists are bloodthirsty idiots; unless you've got an actual organization handling the logistics and supply chain and building the bombs, they're more likely to blow themselves up than harm anyone else. (Example.)

If in future designs for using 3D printers to build idiot-proof chemosynthesis plants become available, then it may be a whole lot harder to stop such idiots from assembling relatively powerful explosive devices.

It's like the difference between an old-school hacker (like Kevin Mitnick, perhaps) who at least understood what he was doing, and these guys.


Or potentially just as bad as terrorists downloading bomb schematics and cooking them up like printing a PDF, terrorists sending a virus to as many homes as possible whose printers then make a bomb and immediately detonate it.


They're something that works in a predictable way. It's why there's a difference between Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. On the crude level, the process of nitrating glycerin is chemically simple, but the engineering of doing it without killing yourself is non-trivial.


From vague recollection nitrobenzene is a fuel additive, an octane booster so it probably came out of the petrochemical industry "one piece at a time" in pint flasks walked past the dozy guard on the security gates.

As for the fear of repraps churning out bricks that extrude C4 or equivalent I'd say that is fantasy. High-energy chemical synthesis requires quite finicky control of temperatures and pressures to produce a good product as well as fanatical quality control over inputs -- there are all sorts of parts per million contaminants in feedstocks that have interesting catalytic effects as accelerators and deflagrators at various points in the synthesis process. This is why the best bathtub bomb-chemists are prized by their employers as they can produce a decent-quality product from crap raw materials and not blow themselves up in the process -- see the 7/7 bombers who used quality home-rolled TATP versus the 21/7 wannabees with their chapati-flour fizzers. As for the Good Guys they like to nobble the top-rank chemists; you may recall the Hezbollah bomb-maker a few years back who picked up the wrong mobile phone one day to answer a call from Israeli Intelligence?



To bring the subject back to quirky defense related technology, how about programmable matter? I'm sure you've heard about it, but in the small chance you haven't it's a DARPA program combining a lot of disciplines such as chemistry, biology, computing and materials science to get discrete chunks of matter that can be told to form tools, spare parts and such.

Here's a link to an article I wrote about it:

ps: forgive the mess, I'm a bit inept at formatting.


"You have got to be pulling my leg with that list. If you're not, could you steer me to where you got it?"

I don't want to make this a link farm, so I'll just give tested search terms and Wikipedia article titles ordered according to my original post (#10). I apologize for the long post - for those who don't like reading footnotes and bibliographies, this is a good post to skip.

This came from various scattered sources. A couple are a bit speculative (conformal optical phased array applications and distributed shaped charges are obvious ideas, but I haven't come across exact references). There is an ocean-wide listening system and the US does tap undersea fiber-optic cables, and one would think they both need backhaul bandwidth but I have no indication that the two programs are linked.

WP article: "Microwave auditory effect" / ear-fluid vaporization maybe overstates the case - it's really more transitory thermal expansion
Google: "ultrasonic neuromodulation"
Nuclear tunnel boring: US Patent 3693731

WP article: "Nuclear isomer" - these are potentially triggerable (although this is still controversial) and they emit gammas at very specific wavelengths so would obviously be a potential gamma laser power source. Wired also had some articles on this.

Google: "fiber optic microphone",
Google: "Acoustic Snooping on Typed Information"

WP articles: "Active camouflage", "Printed electronics", "Electronic paper"

WP article: "Integrated Undersea Surveillance System" / this is declassified, but there is almost certainly at least one major black program with a similar function
Google "undersea cable tap", cryptome material is good
Google: "acoustic daylight imaging"

Telepathic rabbits: this one is really old and not well attested, see: "Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain" (1970). It supposedly worked using implanted brain electrodes in a mother rabbit in a lab. In a distant submarine, the mother rabbit's offspring were killed and the times noted. The mother rabbit's cranial electrode readings supposedly jumped at the times the baby rabbits were killed. (Though it is interesting to note that fetal cells migrate to mothers' brains and develop into neurons, (see "Fetal Microchimerism in the Maternal Mouse Brain") thus providing a potential communication path if quantum entanglement is important in neural functioning.)

Google: "powered exoskeleton" and "pain ray".
Google: "gravitational gradiometry" (with "satellite" for the space-based ones). The low-altitude airborne ones have better sensitivity and resolution for finding subsurface features such as minerals or underground bases. Superconducting ones aren't cutting edge, the latest ones use Rubidium atom interferometry.


Telepathic rabbits sounds a lot like the sympathetic magic experiments that the Royal Navy was trying out in the 18th century as a means of determining time at sea. It didn't work very well then either.


I think your numbers for the nitrate farms are a bit high, and considering the nitrate wars of the 19th century, it's an interesting issue. BTW, if we do truly go post-oil, global nitrate production will fall precipitously, and that will endanger the food supply of ~30% of the world human population.

As for 3-D printers making explosive chemicals, I'm not worried about that--yet. Printing out a high pressure, airtight vessel is a bit beyond 3-d printer tech, at least until some really cool sintering technology comes online, or they figure out how to make it in a low-pressure microfluidic lab.

It's well within autolathe technology, however.


Try Google Shopping.

I think your numbers for the nitrate farms are a bit high, and considering the nitrate wars of the 19th century, it's an interesting issue. BTW, if we do truly go post-oil, global nitrate production will fall precipitously, and that will endanger the food supply of ~30% of the world human population.

If you read French, this research from 1905 claims that a cubic meter of peat containing the right bacteria can produce 6.5 kilograms per day of nitrate (probably calcium nitrate, from context) when supplied with dilute ammonium sulfate solution. That's about 3 pounds per day if you scale down to a 55 gallon drum.

This is of course only useful for producing nitrates from other fixed forms of ammonia, for chemical/military purposes. It is not a technique for fixing atmospheric nitrogen. At the time nitrates were comparatively dearer than ammonia, since the latter was a byproduct of coal coking and efficient artificial catalysts for ammonia oxidation to nitrogen oxides were not yet known.

As for fossil fuel shortages endangering the artificial fertilizer supply, I'm less sure. Prices will rise for sure, but the key role of fossil fuels is to supply hydrogen gas to combine with nitrogen. That's achievable via electrolysis powered by any electrical source.

If you take the output of the most efficient silicon solar cells, run them in a sunny region, and use their output to run a water electrolyzer and Haber-Bosch plant*, you can produce 270 grams ammonium nitrate per day from one square meter of cells, water, and air. That's a pale shadow of the fixation-density you can get from a natural gas based plant, but orders of magnitude denser than purely biological solutions. If solid state ammonia synthesis is commercialized the productivity could be 60% higher yet. A single large wind turbine could fix enough nitrogen for square kilometers of crops, even assuming no further efficiency advances.

*Assuming cell insolation of about 5.8 kilowatt hours per day, 24.2% conversion efficiency. The 5.8 number requires a very sunny region if cells are fixed, but is reachable over large swaths of the Earth with sun-tracking. The 24.2% figure is the highest efficiency I have found for a commercial-size cell that's based on silicon rather than rare/exotic elements. If you want to use the most affordable cells currently in production (First Solar thin film), halve the productivity per square meter. It's still far beyond what legumes can do and doesn't require arable land.


Greg: "A semi-conventional aircraft-carrier, with no (or almost none) manned planes, but hundreds of drones.
Even the new supposed chinese ballistic shipkiller might have great difficulty getting through such a swarm."

Well, how well would drones do against something coming in at a mile/sec. or higher? How about against a dozen or more such items?


Alright, let me see if I've got the argument.

The bricks wouldn't be appreciably cheaper than rigging up a chem lab in the basement in terms of materials, and they'd be only marginally less expensive in terms of labor cost.

But they would require next-to-no human capital to construct. I'm imagining the equivalent of an off-the-shelf lab, except that instead of needing to lug around the lab, you zap it off your 3-D printer at home.

Put that way, if I'm understanding it, it sounds like a problem but rather far from a phase change in the security environment. Would that be your assessment, or am I still missing something?


Actually, programmable matter is a wild-ass SF idea that Will McCarthy (who invented it) is trying to commercialize. It's an interesting prospect, but a long way out at this point ...


You're on target. What it represents is the commoditization of the expertise required to overcome one of the chokepoints in the logistics pipeline for would-be bombers. Which in turn lowers the threshold for that kind of activity.

What it means depends on whether removing obstacles will result in an upturn in the rate of successful attacks. Least-bad case: some ineffectual would-be terror attacks are more effective (cf. the recent suicide bombing in Stockholm where the bomber only managed to kill himself). Next worst case: it lowers the bar, and we see an order of magnitude more bombings carried out by isolated angry young men.

Worst case scenario: (generally available cheap modular chemical factories tunable for any arbitrary desired output): the war on drugs is lost. The war on illegal handguns (UK-specific) is lost. The war on terror is lost as rare organized groups are replaced by common solitary nutcases. The pharmaceutical industry as we know it is [eventually] toast.


i Like science fiction&philosophy very much; because, i strongly Believe,our Rebirth is also on other planets,as Aliens; Because There is 9 planets,100moons in our solar system; There is 10,000crores above solar systems in our Galaxy,There is above10,000crores Galaxies in our Universe,There is Lot of Universes in space; in That planets,Aliens Life span is 1,000years,or 10,000years,or100,000years; in that planets,Aliens Live without polution(they use solar energy,not use petrol,Diesel Like us); They are Looking so Beautiful compare to us(not Like as Hollywood film Aliens);God created Not only our Dirty planet,He also created good world's,for who people Did good things,in Their past Life; if God is not here,Then all planets,stars(suns),Asteroids,Black Holes are collapsed(crushed by Accident);please send your Response to me;THANK u!


Neat. I wonder how I missed that one.

Utility fog would have most of the functionality of programmable matter, and perhaps a slightly nearer timescale. I helped a couple of ten year-olds a few years ago with a ten-page submission to a major (~20,000 submission) national invention competition. They wanted something with essentially magic capabilities, so I told them about utility fog.

The design proposed was more detailed than any before, including hair-like broadband optical antennas on the 12 arms (for broadcast communications and holographic projection), liquid oxygen, hydrogen and water connections in the arm links (excess hydrogen for cooling), point-to-point optical communications down the mirrored hydrogen pipes, optical routers and electronic CPUs in the foglet bodies, and detailed schematics of the linkages. Most of the paper was about the potential application to education of networked holodeck-like simulations, but attention was also given to applications in transportation and communication and the required manufacturing and programming needed. It was a bit of a job to fit in 10 pages, especially with pictures. (They did a great mock-up with a painted Styrofoam ball, paperclip arms encased in colored bugle-beads to show the light-emitters in action, all in a mirrored box to make an infinite array.)

While too many of the details may have come from me, the actual words came from the boys, and they had a good time overall, I think. They were the only ones in the state to win honors that year, too.


The worst case could be much worse.

The year after the utility fog submission, I worked with one of the boys from the preceding year who had an idea for a networked global immune system. It used microfluidic technologies to identify new pathogens and distribute plans for and synthesize antigens. I contributed very little to the project; it was all the 11 year-old boy's idea.

Imagine such technology applied to biological warfare - tailored, long-latency triggerable plagues created with open source, automatically built, book-size apparatus.


I was using "worst case" on the understanding that we're talking about stuff that's basically productization and commercialization of existing technologies, i.e. 3D sintered-metal and plastic-deposition printers -- stuff that's 3-10 years out, max. Utility fog is a long way out, in any meaningful sense of the term; it's probably not practical at all if Drexlerian diamond/vacuum biphase nanoassembly turns out to be impossible.

(We have an existence proof for water/lipid biphase nanoassembly; it's called a ribosome, and there's a bunch of them in every cell in your body. But the thermal and mechanical properties of the stuff they can assemble -- polypeptides -- are pretty limited, and the control mechanism is the nightmare genetic algorithm from hell deep time. My current betting is that we'll see the first practical, useful nanoassemblers developed by hacking on existing peptide chemistry and using repurposed ribosomes to assemble peptides that serve as a scaffold for more useful molecular machinery. The Drexlerian stuff is probably much harder. And utility fog is even further out.)


The microfluidic networked-immune system project was separate from the utility fog project. It used no technology that wasn't already being implemented five years ago. The application isn't trivial, but the manufacturing processes and components are all in place.


I agree with you that the most likely route to molecular nanotech runs through peptide/DNA/repurposing bio bits such as ribosomes. I can't see any likely way of implementing that route except with microfluidics, though. That will involve electronic and optical components, too, of course for sensing control, electrophoresis, optical tweezers and so forth. All that technology has already been through a couple of cycles. There is still a ways to go in applying it, then another few cycles to apply the nano-products it will produce to in turn assembling new, perhaps diamondoid materials.


To be clear, I argue that most terrorist/guerrilla/whatever organisations worth worrying about aren't constrained by explosives supply. Being able to either source real HE or brew your own or both is pretty much constitutive of being worth worrying about, as among other things it involves internal specialisation, effective operational security, and usually hooks into the legitimate economy and into the criminal economy.


@ 84
So? It's moving at close to re-entry speeds, and it HITS A DRONE - delberately maenuvered into the path of the missile. Yu are going to get something of a splash, and almost certainly deflect the missile, even if the impact doesn't either total it, or cause it to explode prematurely.

@ 88
I think we've already got someone who has been ingesting the products of a pharmaceutical "brick" on-line!


Why do your new-build ekranoplans have to be Russian? There are still engineers at Boeing trying to put the "Pelican" into full production. Admittedly, it doesn't have the huge nose jetpod thingies or the gun turrets, but it's still nifty.


the entry price for a basic commercial 3D printer today is around £2500 and dropping, and if you're willing to build from kit parts, a RepRap will set you back around £500.

Oh, sure, but good luck trying to print a desktop chemical plant with that... I'm imagining (probably optimistically) that something that can lay down stainless steel reaction vessels, wires, pressure/temp sensors and so on will probably be a lot bigger, more complicated and more expensive.
And, incidentally, if it can print a desktop chemical plant, it can probably print another 3D printer in kit form. Which makes life a lot more interesting still.


You don't need stainless steel; you just need something sufficiently inert that it doesn't react with whatever reagents it's designed to contain. Ditto for temperature; if the synthesis reaction involves heating to 200 celsius, it doesn't have to be able to survive heating to 300 celsius -- it just has to be stable at 200 without deformation. I'm thinking along the lines of laser-sintered metal powder (available today) in a hard plastic matrix with pre-moulded channels (for water cooling or heating. Sensors -- or channels for them -- to be laid down during the deposition process, and control via an external Arduino board or equivalent.

IIRC nitration of toluene can be done at 80 celsius if you've got access to concentrated nitric and sulphuric acids. Really high temperatures may not be necessary in order to make something thoroughly unpleasant.

As for printing another 3D printer in kit form, that's the whole point of the RepRap project!


If memory serves the USMC commissioned a custom build of "DOOM" for training purposes, likely no demons or BFG 9000, pity.


I wonder if that's not an interesting paradigm for product design? instead of designing the printer to make the product, design the product to be made by a printer.

Once 3d printers move further along the smaller, better, faster, cheaper path perhaps this will become a commonplace practice. Either that or using a printer to build a printer capable of what you want


Have you read 'Missile Gap'? Because that's where Charlie features a nuclear powered ekranoplan.

Conceded, it might be the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who seem to be the current users of ekranoplans, but single seater puddle jumpers just don't have the gravitas of the Caspain Sea Monster and its ilk.


Fine, but only if you can get the drone in the way first. There's going to be an awful lot of space between those drones, and pretty much no time for them to manoeuvre into the way.

The current Phalanx system relies on firing a thousand rounds in the right area, at roughly Mach 3, in order to get a sufficiently thick swarm to have a decent chance of the missile being hit.

The downside is that those rounds have to be fired from the ship, so it's a close-in defence. Your drone swarm might be useful if you can guarantee having a decent number between the ship and the missile, and they are able to make their own clouds of metal in the way, but I'm dubious as to whether they could carry enough ammo for the purpose.

(And as for the alien poster ... wha?!)


I am fairly sure that the limiting factor on "things going boom in cities" is "number of available whackjobs" rather than explosive supply - for one thing, you dont really need explosives to commit indiscriminate mass murder in the first place, gasoline, insanity and matches suffices. So the explosive making brick wont see that much use.
The chemical synthesis processes that will really attract a heck of a lot of effort is mindaltering substances.
Not nessesarily that bad an outcome either, as this would fragment supply so badly that I think it would actually become impossible to control even for organized crime, as every addict with a modicum of clue left starts brewing their own supply, which would mean an end to crackwhoring and addicts fencing anything they could steal to support their habit..

Eh.. probably a /serious/ enviormental problem, tough, as J. "my brain is full of holes" Addict will probably dispose of any and all waste products down the toilet. Which will not amuse the people at the waste treatment plant at all.


This isn't precisely military, but it is somewhat crazy, and there's an off-chance you haven't heard about it: Bigelow Aerospace (the aerospace corporation launched with the money from a discount hotel chain, which the US Air Force now has handling all its UFO sighting reports) is working on inflatable space stations due to the success of its inflatable satellites.


Gentle readers, and author ...
How long do you think it will be before the RepRap people (who, I note are already well into their own technical jargon) are really able to start making ... not necessarily explosives, but chemicals and other materials and machines using sintered kit? Exspecially since it seems that the surface structures are a little crude at present?
Does Moore's law apply here? They seem really keen, and the idea of "overthrowing capitalism" is interesting, but CAN it ever be bigger than a very interesting hobby, or will a series of breakthroughs be made? They need to be, that is certain.

To take a classic techno-history analogy.
We are at proof-of concept - we are past "Penydarren" (1802). But, we need lots of other tweaks and improvements, to make up an integrated system-machine, with internal control feedbacks that is truly general-purpose (1829)


#62: Let me rephrase that. The Burmese military junta is bat-shit crazy; that a nuke represents the ultimate insurance policy I well appreciate. The other crazy part is what the hell they would use for infrastructure, unless Pyongyang really is willing to do a turn-key deal of warheads and rockets. Otherwise it starts reminding me of the plot from Jerry Pournelle's "King David's Spaceship."


I really like the philosophy of "make one for yourself then make one for a friend!". 3D printers do seem to be getting better and cheaper. RepRap is getting funding outside of hobbyists, it is in the interest of a business to develop such technology, rapid prototyping and desktop manufacturing will really speed up R&D. Not to mention how much faster, cheaper and more convenient scientific research could be if non-expert proof bricks could be printed to make specific molecules (e.g. rather than sending off for antibodies that cost a lot and take a specialised lab to make an advanced printer could print of a brick capable of synthesising them internally with importantly, little input from people)


You might want to reread that paper. If I understood it right, by feeding an ammonium solution into peat, they got out nitrates. That's nitrogen in, nitrogen out. It looks like they were using prepared peat to make saltpeter from a preparation of crushed black beans, as a way of making gunpowder.

Checking more modern figures, Peat is 200-600 kg/cubic meter, and the N content is 1 to 3 percent. Therefore, each cubic meter holds 2 to 18 kg of nitrogen. That's not an efficient source of nitrogen at all, and given that peat holds a huge amount of trapped carbon (most of the rest of the cubic meter), I'd rather keep peat in the ground as long as possible.

There are much better sources of nitrogen. For example, the non-water portion of urine is ~70% nitrogen, and we would be wiser anyway to recycle that nitrogen than dump it in an ocean. However, sanitation and convenience currently trump recycling, which is why we have sewers that people throw all manner of crap in the toilet or storm drain, thereby making sewer outflow toxic waste rather than potential fertilizer. All it takes is a few batteries or a failed chemistry experiment down the drain to poison the whole load.


@ 107
Granted - I'll take all that.
The question is how long?
If we are equivalently between 1802 & 1829 (27 years) are we at 1805 or 1819 - it makes a huge difference....


I don't think that that is something we can know in advance! Technology development isnt linear in the way the certain crazies *cough kurzweil cough* seem to wish it to be. Printers may improve incrementally other time until they are as sophisticated as Charlie suggested or they could get so far and stall or they could go a little of the way then jump to unimaginable heights due to a combination of overlapping fields maturing.

The futures always an interesting place to visit though! and there doesnt seem to be any show stoppers at the moment that i can think of. Never been good at being patient though...


@ 108:

There are much better sources of nitrogen. For example, the non-water portion of urine is ~70% nitrogen, and we would be wiser anyway to recycle that nitrogen than dump it in an ocean. However, sanitation and convenience currently trump recycling, which is why we have sewers that people throw all manner of crap in the toilet or storm drain, thereby making sewer outflow toxic waste rather than potential fertilizer. All it takes is a few batteries or a failed chemistry experiment down the drain to poison the whole load.

Yes!!! There's a thousand and one ways the dearth of Cheap Oil will affect the economy, some less immediately obvious than others. I may be prejudiced - I come from a farm background and us rural types know all about composting - but I'm guessing you'll see a lot of this type of thinking in future urban planning. The benefits of various recovery programs such as scavenging for urea are just too obvious to ignore, though given the infrastructure requirements, hard to back-implement.[1]

Another problem - containerization. As the black fluid becomes more precious, making throwaway packaging out of the stuff will come to seem ridiculous. Do we really need four layers of bubble-wrap, packing foam, and plastic bags for our consumer electronics? I don't follow it very closely, but I'm wondering how much paper technology can take up the slack. Instead of being made out of old dinosaurs, maybe shopping bags and packing peanuts will be made out of bamboo and hemp. Which, btw, don't need much in the way of high-powered fertilizers for fast, healthy growth.

[1]The panopticon strikes again - in the future, every toilet will come with built-in monitors to sample the outflow. Along with telemetry which reports any offensive additions to Central Sewage and a legal apparatus which levies stiff penalties for violations.


"If we are equivalently between 1802 & 1829 (27 years) are we at 1805 or 1819"

Its an interesting idea but i have real trouble with how to we define the notion of progress? Its easy to attribute semi-exponential progress to R&D by looking at how long it would take someone with Date X technology/techniques to do a given task compared to people with Date X+5, Date X+10, Date X+50 etc. But not all fields follow the same progression and its not guaranteed that they will.

Its possible that you could map out the development of a hypothetical technology based on the ratio of its cost vs output and realise that in the year 2000 the ratio was 100:1, in 2020 it was 10:10 and in 2030 it was 1:100. but in many cases its not going to be so simple, progress in terms of cost:output could stall, leap forward or crawl. That doesnt mean that less work is being done on it, merely that what is being discovered isnt translating to output.

I guess what im trying to say is that 2003 might be halfway between 2000-2010 in terms of cost/output change in one field but 2008 might be halfway in another. Unless we can measure pretty much everything (cost/output and somehow knowledge gained vs manhours with funding thrown in as well) we cant get a real measure of progress


No need for peat. Coir would be equally good as a high surface area bacterial support medium for nitrification of ammonia or urea.


@ 105:

Gentle readers, and author ... How long do you think it will be before the RepRap people (who, I note are already well into their own technical jargon) are really able to start making ... not necessarily explosives, but chemicals and other materials and machines using sintered kit? Exspecially since it seems that the surface structures are a little crude at present?

Well, if you look up to Robert Sneddon's comment @ 77:

As for the fear of repraps churning out bricks that extrude C4 or equivalent I'd say that is fantasy. High-energy chemical synthesis requires quite finicky control of temperatures and pressures to produce a good product as well as fanatical quality control over inputs -- there are all sorts of parts per million contaminants in feedstocks that have interesting catalytic effects as accelerators and deflagrators at various points in the synthesis process.

The premise has been done before, btw, and right here. This sort of thing keeps coming up time and again: People who don't have a lot of experience with manufacturing or who don't have a hobby that requires a lot of finicky detail work with materials that aren't the most tractable tend to vastly overestimate how hard Making Stuff really is. Iow, similar to a certain engineering mindset that dismisses closed-loop life support as just so much "shrimp and algae". I blame computer programming and digital files :-)


All this talk of explosives and firepower reminds me what's said to be the mark of an incompetent revolutionary: They prioritize firepower before communications.

Any good stuff coming out of that low-powered ultra-wide-band communications technology that's reputedly very hard to jam?

I keep coming back to this Doctorow-inspired fantasy where the biggest, most utilized and most reliable communications channel is a network of repeaters and other people's phones.

You might want to reread that paper. If I understood it right, by feeding an ammonium solution into peat, they got out nitrates. That's nitrogen in, nitrogen out.

Right, that's what I said. It is why I mentioned it as a way to make explosive components, given access to other forms of fixed nitrogen, rather than as a solution to the problem of nitrogen fixation.


Setting aside 'Fog' as being too far out of our time frame,and with the thought that within the next couple of decades only ..well I'd call them experimental and Toy Structures .. will be Formed/fabricated for kids of all ages, and thus not expected to last long after they emerge from the Fabrication Chamber what will be the equivalent of a microwave oven in the Fabricator Home Light Machine/ Design marketplace?Terrorists are unlikely to be technological pioneers but will rather corrupt existing technologies,given that this is likely to be the case then what will they corrupt? What will already be there in common use that can be warped to produce weapons of some sort.
Modern PCs had to exist before computer viruses and criminal hacking became a significant problem and so what do we need to have in everyday use before similar corruption becomes both possible and desirable in household Replicator /Fabricator technology? In the first instance what will we Need to use the damn things for ?

'To whose benefit?'

I'd guess that the corruptible technology is likely to appear in University research facilities ... accessible by students .. or light engineering research facilities of some sort.

I remember how, several years ago, the Safety Officer of a major UK university told me of how, after he had given a talk about Risk Management and the Law in the UK, he had been called to advise a University research team about ..a pre production design model I think that it was called -basically it produced Cyanide gas under pressure in a ..well you know how Hut like buildings do spring up around Universities?

Well this facility was one street width away from ordinary housing of the Victorian terraced kind and, apart from the research team and now/then the Safety Officer no-one knew it was there ..caretakers/securtity staff? NO, Cleaning staff their own Cleaning ? Oh come now they were scientists ! ..Police Fire and it went and the answer was NO..what it amounted to was that they had constructed a weapon of mass destruction in the center of a major city and they were puzzled by why my colleague should consider this to be a problem ... constantly supervised ? Er, no, couldn't' afford that.

And who would want to give up their week-end breaks?

Apparently they were quite upset when the project was closed down rather hastily ...such an unnecessary FUSS!

And my colleague was congratulated and rewarded for his efficiency and professionalism? Dream On ! the powers that be were furious!

My colleague was nudged into moving on in his career path to another institution and his entire post and department was then absorbed into the H.R.M. department. Problem Solved.

Policing this New Tech is going to be a real problem even at research level.


Well, from watching Brainiac, I would assume that a microwave oven could be a very useful timed detonator.

I'll never forget cutting my finger during Chemistry practical at Uni and having to fill out an accident report form. The first question was:

Was there a release of gas?
Was the release of gas:
a) Less than 1 litre?
b) Between 1 litre and 100 litres?
c) Between 100 litres and 10,000 litres?
d) More than 10,000 litres?

I looked in vain for another question that ran:

Was the city:
a) disturbed
b) decimated
c) devastated
d) destroyed


Some retailers over here already use popcorn as packing peanuts. As long as the produce is watertight it's just as light as polystyrene foam, plus biodegradable and probably a bit less energy-intensive to manufacture. The drawback is water -- it's hygroscopic and rots -- but you can always reserve the expensive hydrocarbons for a hydrophobic outer membrane (like Cling Film, aka Saran Wrap™) and use maize for the bulky stuff.

We're also seeing pressure on retailers and manufacturers to cut down on excess packaging. Which is no bad thing for any number of reasons even before you get into environmental improvements.


Here's an idea I've been toying with (for a work of fiction) ... If I was in charge of organizing communications within a mass insurgency today, I would have an iron rule for comsec:

With the exception of tools for real-time communication in the field during tactical engagements, no communication technology invented after 1945 may be used.

Yes, microdots. Yes, dead letter drops. Yes, invisible ink made at the kitchen sink out of household ingredients. Yes, human couriers. Make the fuckers work to intercept our communications and hunt us down, rather than letting them automate the process of hunting us by deploying deep packet inspection at ISPs or using BGP spoofing to divert all our encrypted tunnels through their hosts.


Here's a potentially important bit of weird research:
Electrostatic Tractor for Near Earth Object Deflection

This paper presents the Electrostatic Tractor (ET) as a new concept for asteroid deflection. The ET exploits the mutual electrostatic interaction between a charged asteroid and a charged spacecraft to slowly accelerate the asteroid. It is found that the artificial gravity effect produced by the electrostatic interaction can enhance the capabilities of gravity tractors and help to alleviate existing limitations of the GT concept.


Certainly one way to do it. However, ELINT is unlikely to be obsessively checking every single byte of public traffic for security significance. So, unless you're already being intensively monitored for some reason (in which case going old-school may or may not save your bacon), avoiding suspicion isn't likely to be quite that hard.
Short conversations on single-use mobile phones. Prearranged single-use phrases in innocuous messages. Truecrypted, compressed files embedded in images, going from one single-use email account to another.
Isolating your orders and field reports would be an absolutely monumental task.


ELINT is unlikely to be obsessively checking every single byte of public traffic for security significance.

Wanna bet?

(In its original as-drafted-by-new-Labour form, the IMP was exactly that -- a national-scale database of all communications traffic that ISPs would be compelled to forward traffic to and which would store everything. With back doors mandated for things like MMOs with in-game chat to allow them to be monitored. The new version is somewhat watered-down right now, but I suspect that's partly due to the current budget squeeze; as/when the economy picks up or there's a major internet/terror scare or a new Labour government, the Big Brother version of IMP will be back on the table.)


It's a good idea in principle, but I'd relax the rule for certain new technologies. Properly implemented one-time pads are the gold standard, but they are extremely cumbersome without automation. The real risk of most recent communications types is that one can never really tell what a modern computer is doing. A potential solution is to use single-purpose devices that can be verified. An FPGA implementation with a cryptographic hash for verification that the design hasn't been tampered with would allow the device to be transitory, appearing as something else when a cover design was loaded.

Messages could be transmitted steganographically in Flickr photos, YouTube videos or other channels such as couriers and remain undetectable, having already been one-time pad encrypted. The pads themselves would be further encrypted, and additional secutity measures could be taken to limit damage such as write-once-read-once, complex non-serial pad use, time/date etc. variable challenge-response authentication; transmit-only, receive only and other special-purpose pads, covert indicators of compromise, auto-HW design or pad delete/rewrite on authentication failures, etc.

Ultimately the problem is nearly always people. One can set up a communication system and cell system to reduce the effects of sloppiness, surveillance and infiltration, but there are always vulnerabilities, security costs, special situations and reliance on key people that can sometimes defeat any organization.


Im reminded by the absolutely brilliant Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Trying to organise a non government communications network leads to having to get more and more complicated using different encryptions and attract more and more attention.

It's a rock and a hard place, using modern communications will ramp up your ability to organise and coordinate but more likely to get caught. Using microdots and dead letter drops is less likely to get discovered but limits the level of organisation you can do. Perhaps a suitably savy terrorist in the printing age (or one with the ability to download) could begin printing off independent comms equipment and weapons.


The Saudis have just arrested a vulture on suspicion of spying:


Several spy scandals have been broken this decade due to incompetent use of IT tools by spooks. There was the MI5/Russian scandal in the early noughties -- MI5 agents using a bluetooth-enabled fake rock in Red Square as a dead letter drop for their PDAs -- and then Anna Chapman's ring in NYC which was nailed partly because they weren't spoofing the MAC address of the netbook they used (concealed in a shoulder bag) to set up an ad-hoc network for exchanging files in a coffee shop. (So the FBI could watch everyone who came in and out, track the MAC addresses of devices joining the spy network, and later confirm that the folks they'd tracked possessed gizmos with that particular wifi ethernet address burned into the hardware.)

This is amateur hour clown-car stuff in IT security terms; half the sysadmins I know are groaning and clutching their heads while asking "who let these idiots loose in public?" (Clue: any competent Linux sysadmin knows how to spoof the MAC address of a suitable 802.11 device. And adding MAC address randomization to the mix would have made the FBI's chain of evidence far harder to build.)

The logical solution is to only send out spies once you've (a) taught them the language and culture of the society they're going to infiltrate, (b) taught them the basics of tradecraft, and (c) given them an Old Skool qualification in computer science and a postgraduate course in INFOSEC taught by Bruce Scheneier. By which time they'll be about ready to claim their KGB pensions ...

Alternatively, you can short-circuit the need for (c) and make life harder for the oppo by simply not using the shiny hardware. Except that spook agencies seem to be obsessed with the Bond gizmos -- probably because, in the absence of gadgets, so much of the work is mind-numbingly boring.


I personally know that deep packet inspection (and some data payload modification) was being applied to every byte of ADSL traffic in the SE US over six years ago. What I don't know for sure is what the search criteria were or what was done with the data. I'd be surprised if they didn't permanently store everything that met many of those search criteria.

A principal object of these intelligence efforts is traffic analysis and connecting that traffic to people across different sessions, computers, and other modes such as phones. This is actually pretty trivial given the uniqueness of cookie sets, browsers plug-in patterns and surfing habits. Then, from the history of visits and lengths of page views together with automatic content analysis of those pages and the profiles of the other people who read those pages, they get a very good idea of personality, interests, beliefs, cultural affiliations and so forth. Then they do network analysis to determine contacts, then keyword and tone classification of the content of those communications.

All this is stored, together with all the data they buy (or occasionally steal) from the ad people and every other major organization that handles personal data. Later, if they want, they can work back from some suspicious event or communication to trace who might have been associated with it. Efforts to avoid surveillance usually are ineffective and even make one more conspicuous.


. . . I have no words.
Realizing you're nowhere near paranoid enough is not a happy feeling.


There's already plenty of traffic on the internet that is encrypted. Even if you assume that three letter agencies have a basement full of quantum computers (or rendition teams and friendly torturers) to decrypt selected messages, how do they choose which encrypted communications to put under the microscope? Until you peel away the first envelope you don't even know if that VPN packet conceals mundane corporate email or another layer of secrecy.

If messages can be forwarded across multiple geographic/legal frontiers before reaching their end destination, the TLAs may not even have enough data to correlate groups via traffic analysis. If I were a terrorist I'd assume that the whole western world freely shares comms snooping whatever public laws may say, but what if I also route the messages through Venezuela, China, and Iran?


Is now the time to mention the rumour about the keylogger that someone sneaked onto the backbone routers at MAE-East circa 2000-2001? And that was forwarding all the passwords it found to somewhere on the far side of the Pacific?

However paranoid you are, you're not paranoid enough, even taking this rule into account.


There are two problems with microdots and similar mechanisms:

1. The microdots are hard for agents to find (typically three would be sent per letter, to give the agent a chance of finding one), it's easy to lose the reading lenses, and being caught with the means to make or read microdots will tip off the authorities.
2. Physically getting the microdots readers or other communications gear to people requires either a dead drop or physical contact. These in turn require messaging to set up. An agency trying to hack a microdot-organized movement would probably focus on social network analysis, rather than on the microdots themselves.

Although the information density is low, I'd suggest quipus or similar devices. After all, they've got the features that suggest they were equivalent to a written language, yet no one's managed to decode one for 500 years. With the right coding, you can make knots on strings (or any similar work of art or protolanguage) mean just about anything you want, and without the key, they are indecipherable. I had a lot of fun using quipus as a low-tech, secure communications system in a novel I wrote. All the characters had to have was some string, and they could make a message that was very difficult for outsiders to decode.


Ooh, Chinese Stealth Fighter. Nastier than the F-22 even.

Wonder if it's an equivalently sized boondoggle, or whether the Chinese are actually planning to use the thing in combat?


Yeah, maybe you're right. I'm not totally convinced that old-school tradecraft is really easier to do right than a properly paranoid modern setup, but the old stuff is potentially invisible (well, actually just obscure) to the modern counterintelligence kids.

OTOH the Russian usb-rock dead-drop essentially depended on old-school methods whose weaknesses could potentially have been circumvented with steganography, encryption and email. This would have created different weaknesses, but with Linux live CDs, deniable multi-level volume encryption, varied open access points, good covers for the email destinations (and probably a few things I didn't think of), it could be possible to make the modern system more secure.

Or you could just snail mail from a public post box the deniable hidden-volume encrypted data on CD (perhaps steganographically encoded or with some window dressing in the outer volume layer of encryption) to various limited duration mail box destinations. (But the old-school part of this has potential modern holes - licking an envelope could be worse than signing and thumb-printing the mail.)

Other than innocence, there really isn't any substitute for intelligent paranoia ... and I'm a bit suspicious of innocence. %)


Why not also use more modern technology to give them misinformation?


Not technically advanced but a cute execution of drone tech, here are snowball cam, blizzard-cam and iceberg-cam.


being caught with the means to make or read microdots will tip off the authorities.

This is a big one. There's not really many innocent reasons to have this sort of kit. You want your communications system to look as mundane as possible when your house gets searched: which is why things like, say, book codes or Solitaire were so terrific, because everybody has books and packs of cards.


being caught with the means to make or read microdots will tip off the authorities.

Even if you were how would the authorities find the microdots? with a cell structured organisation where noone knows about the others you cant reveal much. If you find somebody with some encryption software it might not be that hard to detect someone else using it. Searching the world for microdots though! It could be embedded in any household item


It's bigger than the F-22, which suggests that it's more of a strike fighter than a dogfighter. Or it could just be less efficient. Even if it's up to snuff one still has to wonder whether the PLA has the doctrine and training to make good use of it.


Well, first of all, finding microdot kit in your house will give the authorities proof that you're part of a conspiracy. If you're using a system that needs only innocent equipment (like a pack of cards and some scratch paper) plus what's in your head, then you have a good chance of persuading them that you're an innocent citizen.
And while the microdots themselves are very difficult to find, the camera, etc needed to manufacture them are not.

I still think there's a lot to be said for snail mail - you can keyword-search every email and flag up every encrypted email, but you can't search every letter without opening them all and having a human read the contents.


@ 103 & 115
And their quite frankly STUPID choice of targets.
Horrible though the 7/7 Tube-bombings were, they were SMALL.
If the nutty-extreme believers in Dark-Ages camelherders' myths had the resources of the IRA, we'd be in trouble.
Though, even there, the worst they could manage were the Docklands and Bishopsgate bombs (and murdering tourists in Omagh) - if you have not one, but 20 lorry-bombs, it is trivially easy to cripple the whole of London for weeks - think crossing/ring-roads/railways ....
Then there's the PETROL station built over an abandoned tube station (No, I didn't make that up.... )


I seems easier to hide a message or activity in chaff than try to make it invisible. For example if you had a microdot maker and lots of books/collectables, folders of old microdots etc you might be able to convince that you are a hobbyist. You can make hundreds of microdots a year of all sorts of ordinary stuff (shopping lists, stories, diaries) and once in a while make one that is secret. Trying to hide what your doing in amongst bunk would be a lot harder to find than you having a random microdot maker that makes one dot suspiciously every now and then.


Chinas development of ballistic missiles to strike marine targets is clearly part of an ill advised plan to violate the benthic treaty, and nothing to do with the americans at all.


pIRA were operating as part of a broadly supportive community. The current crop of wackjobs are nearly always people who've dropped out of their own communities. This means that they can't rely on any existing contacts to build up networks or expertise, which slows them down massively. Long may this situation reign.


What if you had a printer that could make PCB's? A rapid prototyping machine for circuit boards.

In this talk I will present my progress towards an inexpensive PCB printer by reverse engineering Epson inkjet technology. And I'm not talking about the crappy print-and-bake method you might have seen on the internet. Come and learn about the miracle of microfluidics within the modern consumer inkjet printer, and how to push it to do new, exciting things.

From here


@ 144
Like the previously mentioned Omagh bombing?

And what percentage of young male followers-of-camelherders' myths are in support of action to "defend" (By killing) their delusions?
Something like 30-40% wasn't it?


Er, Greg, the point about the Provos was that they had institutions.

I'm a little wary of arguing with your Islamophobic blind-spot, but I'll give it a go. I wonder what percentage of white British 15-25 year old males tell pollsters that they are in favour of defensive violence if 'their' values are threatened? Perhaps it's about the same?

pIRA bombers were often supported by their extended families and their neighbourhoods, if only tactitly. The current crop of Islamist dickheads mainly seem to have rebelled twice: once against their traditionalist parents, and one more time against the drucg/crime culture which was their second port of call. The net outcome is stituations like after 21/7, when one of the failbombers was shopped by _his own father_. This kind of thing rarely happened in NI.


For example if you had a microdot maker and lots of books/collectables, folders of old microdots etc you might be able to convince that you are a hobbyist

Er, right. Good luck trying that line on the secret police. Probably about as much chance as explaining all that ANFO in your basement by saying "I'm planning to open a quarry!"


lol yeah I don't imagine that excuse working with the Gestapo but I'm fairly confident that if I was struggling to get a large microdot machine from my car to my house I could quickly ask a passing officer and he would lend a hand to get it to my front door. Or he could tell me to fuck off but he probably wouldn't arrest me for it

Actually, programmable matter is a wild-ass SF idea that Will McCarthy (who invented it) is trying to commercialize.

One hopes that McCarthy is better at designing safety systems than his characters are.

(They have a regrettable tendency to build single points of failure and fail-deadly into everything).


@ 146
Excuse me, but I am not "islamophobic".
I am a card-carrying atheist, and regard all religions as dangerous delusion, desreving ridicule at every possible opportunity. However, there is a (small in percentage of total numbers) section, that is usually labelled "political islam" which is both vocal and extremely dangerous.
To be phobic about them is not an irrational stance to take, given the way they go around killing large numbers of people - in fact the greatest number of people they kill are OTHER muslims - which should tell you something.


They are pretty hopeless at killing compared to Americans, English, Rwandans, Cambodians, Germans, car drivers, autism/vaccine researchers, gun owners, knife owners, people who have relatives, etc. Or should I say a small sub-section of each of the above categories.


Pat @ 152
I think you should change your ingestible recreational chemicals, ludging by that outburst!


microdots, organisations, cells... bah. You do no need those anymore. Those were built that you could get a right man for the right job. Nowadays... You need to get bank down, start a rumour ( it does not have money anymore). Need a bomber, just spam on crasies with different messages and off they go. Just put several targets too, you only need one that succeeds. Those organisations are gone and buried. So you spam a police or informant, does not matter, 10 000 spams on different crazys will do :(... welcome to information age...




LOL Probably not fair to comment on his spelling, every comment of his has some mispelling.

Today some government offices in Maryland have had small smokey packages -- no explosives -- and Dulles Airport has had to close down two carousels, no reason given yet.




When I'm typing in a hurry I do make typos ....
I even correct some of them!

Nonetheless, your imputations about who kills whom is wrong.
I suggest you start with the death of the Pakistan-Punjab chief minister, and think about that?


Greg, you have a blind spot. As a famous God-botherer once put it "Consider, in the bowells of Christ, that you may be mistake."


n - that typo was an homage to Greg and Pat, no really.


Greg, this is your yellow card.

The only reason you're getting a second chance is that you're a long-term regular around these parts. I trust you can take a hint?

(Winding up the visitors is rude and it'd be a good idea to dial back on the personal comments for a bit, unless you can think of something nice to say.)


Bridges, at least, are more resistant to blast than one might think. But there'll certainly be delays while engineers check them, and the forensics are done.

The Police investigation can easily be more disruptive of traffic than the actual incident. We're in a time that seems plagued by the social equivalent of allergic reactions.


Ooh, neat...

One thing: what do you do about telephones? I think pulse dialing is dead, and telephone boxes are thin on the ground. Somebody might argue, but they aren't pre-1945 tech any more.

This would be an interesting concept to work into the Laundry universe: something apparently nasty which is avoiding the dangerous computational tech. You might even end up with an Enchanted Duplicator.


Charlie @ 161

However, I would be interested in the numbers.
I know there are NO reliable statistics for the ongoing train-wreck that is Iraq, but, approximately how many people have been killed, since, say 1990 (fall of Communism) by the various factions?
Especially since the religious nutters seem quite as intent on doing in "the wrong sort of [insert name of deluded belief-system here]" as they are on killing "foreigners".


Is now the time to mention the rumour about the keylogger that someone sneaked onto the backbone routers at MAE-East circa 2000-2001?
First seen at a west coast network point 9 years earlier. Nothing new there. Sigh.


One example of tech changes comes to mind. I used to wargame with model soldiers, and in the 1970s there were relatively few manufacturers. There were ranges of mass-market plastic figures produced by companies such as Airfix, and a few companies such as Minifigs and Hinchliffe producing lead-based figures. (There was also an essentially arts and craft market for larger-scale figures.)

In the 1980s something happened to change the economics of making lead figures. The hardware needed to make the moulds, and the machines needed for casting the figures, became affordable at the serious hobbyist level. We're not talking computer tech here, but the hardware costs were similar.

This is partly what led to the modern Games Workshop, changing from a distributor of role-playing games to a company driven by the manufacture and sale of lead figures, with a relatively short run of any particular design.

Many of the first-generation companies are still around, or at least their designs of figures. Making the original figure is still a skilled craft. But the increase in the number of manufacturers meant an increase in potential advertisers, and so the appearance of specialised magazines. Miniature Wargames and Wargames Illustrated are still around. The earlier generation of magazines didn't last long enough to pick up that advertising benefit from the shift in technology.

Oh, and computers did affect the production costs of magazines.

I don't know why the casting tech developed in the way it did. While the alloys were lead-based in the past, that's changed. I don't know where this sort of small-object casting gets used enough to warrant developing the sort of machinery which appeared. And that sort of hints at the possibility that we're all missing something.

But I can see how 3D printing can feed into that short-run casting process, if the products are tough enough for the mould-making process, and the surface quality is good enough. An easy to work material for making the master figure doesn't survive the making of the mould. A 3D printer makes it easy to turn out a new master figure when the mould wears out.

I see Games Workshop shares have dropped: their shops aren't doing so well. I wonder if they're watching the 3D printer angle: they can afford the still-expensive hardware, if it's good enough, but making those data files may be a whole different set of skills. The computers, and the people using them, are going to be the big cost.


ELINT is unlikely to be obsessively checking every single byte of public traffic for security significance.
Wanna bet?

For example -

Try transmitting any detailed pit dimensions for nuclear weapons by email, and then tell us again that nobody's looking...


And that's a silly example.

The actual difficulty of building a basic atom bomb -- which is not a trivial process if you want it to go "bang" properly the first time -- is dwarfed by the difficulty of getting hold of a critical mass of Pu239 or HEU. That stuff doesn't grow on trees and most of the people who own it keep it in locked thick-walled buildings with guards.

Nor is it particularly inconspicuous and easy to ship around; lots of ports, airports, and frontier posts have neutron detectors precisely to stop amateurs doing that kind of thing.

I don't consider "terrorist nukes" to be a very realistic threat. (Terrorist dirty bombs are another matter.) So this is at best a half-assed counter-espionage move aimed at preventing over-enthusiastic wannabe members of the international nuclear club from shorting the join-up process. (And it's a damned silly one, seeing all you need to do is make that nice Mr A. Q. Kahn an offer.)


You don't need stainless steel; you just need something sufficiently inert that it doesn't react with whatever reagents it's designed to contain. Ditto for temperature; if the synthesis reaction involves heating to 200 celsius, it doesn't have to be able to survive heating to 300 celsius -- it just has to be stable at 200 without deformation. I'm thinking along the lines of laser-sintered metal powder (available today) in a hard plastic matrix with pre-moulded channels (for water cooling or heating. Sensors -- or channels for them -- to be laid down during the deposition process, and control via an external Arduino board or equivalent.
IIRC nitration of toluene can be done at 80 celsius if you've got access to concentrated nitric and sulphuric acids. Really high temperatures may not be necessary in order to make something thoroughly unpleasant.
As for printing another 3D printer in kit form, that's the whole point of the RepRap project!

You can do stainless, inconel, aluminum and others in DMLS already. Paul Breed (Unreasonable Rocket) is already doing single piece integral cooling channel liquid propellant rocket motor chambers that way as an experiment.

I like the Brick idea, but this is amateur hour on explosives materials here on-thread. Professionals, pushed into a corner, will use materials combinations that nobody is ever going to guess will become explosive if they don't know already. Not going to go into details in a public blog. Many of them don't even come close to tripping any existing explosives sensors or detectors, even the thermal neutron ones (what, you thought all good explosives contain nitrogen? bwhahah...). My favorite explosives brick's inputs are air, electricity, and a pair of pants, and someone could build one today.

DMLS is probably good enough now to produce semiautomatic pistols straight off the fab; considerably more expensive than machined, but the possibility of fabbing something inside a security zone one couldn't easily smuggle one is nontrivial. As pointed out by others, the firing mechanism kits to convert semi-automatic weapons to machineguns is a trivial fab effort.

Little IMU / gyro kits with cheap cellphone camera sensors and embedded microcontrollers (and, possibly, GPS) would let you fit a precision guidance mechanism into a model rocket now. Even without an explosive warhead, just with a steel weight, a big model rocket precision guided to a point target would do a heck of a lot of damage... And could be fired around corners, from the other side of buildings, blind in the dark, etc.


Perhaps, but if I've got the infrastructure to transport and machine (machine!) c.20 kg of stolen Pu, plus assorted bits of beryllium, uranium, polonium, and a couple of grades of high explosive, then I also have the infrastructure to transport that data on a USB stick, and it's a little less totally incriminating than the rest of the kit. So frankly, why bother looking - unless of course it's the drunk looking for his keys under the lampost, because that's where he can.

By the way, I am largely a hard-headed lefty on most criminal justice issues, and usually not one to take the side of the repressive state, but I'd support an international convention for the death penalty for trafficking plutonium or U238, and life without parole for knowing about it and not calling the cops. All this muddying the waters about what is an what is not a weapon of mass destruction is not good.

Sorry, this thread was supposed to be about nice things. Here's one: it looks like the Deepwater Horizon methane plume was eaten by an algae bloom before it got to the atmosphere. If that's the case, this gives us a few more years to get the climate right. We might even make it. And we beat the Aussies.


And that's a silly example.
More annoying than silly - it makes independent analysts jobs harder, mostly, and is leading to a falsified sense of mystery and difficulty about the underlying information.

The actual difficulty of building a basic atom bomb -- which is not a trivial process if you want it to go "bang" properly the first time -- is dwarfed by the difficulty of getting hold of a critical mass of Pu239 or HEU. That stuff doesn't grow on trees and most of the people who own it keep it in locked thick-walled buildings with guards.
It's actually fairly trivial if you get 50 kilos of HEU, though not quite as easy as some half-assed amateurs have suggested.

My actual sci-fi materials horror scenario is some sort of magic uranium extraction and enrichment mechanism. There's enough uranium in the dirt under your average US suburban home to build a gun-type bomb, if you dig it out down to bedrock. Given magic extraction and enrichment, *everyone* could go nuclear, easily...

Nor is it particularly inconspicuous and easy to ship around; lots of ports, airports, and frontier posts have neutron detectors precisely to stop amateurs doing that kind of thing.
Shhh. I think the TSA will arrest you for mentioning that.


Now there's an idea - desperately looking for a Games Workshop to print out your key parts before The Tyrant closes in. Other places to look for 3D printers: art school (or architecture). Hipsters vs. nerds with home-made RPGs, oh my.


Perhaps, but if I've got the infrastructure to transport and machine (machine!) c.20 kg of stolen Pu, plus assorted bits of beryllium, uranium, polonium, and a couple of grades of high explosive

20? 20???

It's not hugely widely known, but an official US government report finally confirmed that, as experts have known quietly for two decades now, the average fissile pit mass of modern US bombs is around 4.5 kilograms. 20 kilos is enough for 3.3 Fat Man type weapons or 4-5 modern ones.

You don't need U in addition to Pu. No modern weapon uses Po (neutron generation by Be-Alpha is so 1940s...). And using two types of high explosives in the same bomb went out of style in the 50s. There are much better ways to shape the implosion.


Alex, January 4, 2011 10:57

It seems to be rare that guerrillas/insurgents/freedom fighters/terrorists are constrained by a lack of explosives

When you let Al-Qaida steal 145 tons of pure RDX and PETN and 200 tons of HMX...


I'm not a physicist, I'm a historian. I tend towards technological conservatism in my bomb designs.


I think you mean the death penalty for trafficking in Pu239 or U235. U238 is depleted uranium, and used as ballast in Boeing 747s and counterweights on exotic audiophile turntables: it only goes "bang" if you ignite it with a carefully-tuned fission bomb and a large quantity of lithium deuteride.

As for specifying Pu239, that's the one used in most bombs -- but it has other uses as well, and if fusion turns out to be as much of a bust as I currently suspect it will be, then we're going to need to start shipping it around and burning it in breeder reactors as part of our regular fuel cycle.

(Finally: be careful what you ask for. After all, what better way to dispose of an unwanted opposition politician legally than to plant a baggie on them? It beats sodomy charges any day of the week ...)


Clarification: when I say "shipping it around ... regular fuel cycle", what I have in mind is: on existing nuclear reactor sites, build additional reactors and reprocessing plants. Keep it all within a single fortified installation patrolled by armed guards, and ship the electrons. Grid losses are the price of being able to run a plutonium-cycle power system without the risks involved in shipping Pu between sites. The target should be to consume all the Pu manufactured on the same site with none of it leaving.

I'm not a big fan of the plutonium economy, but if it's necessary to go that way, then this seems to me right now to be the best way to minimize the risks.


238, 235 - what's a massive budget-busting centrifuge cascade between friends? Like I said, I'm a historian...

The future: I can see DU getting a progressively worse press, especially if it's ever used en masse against people who are not 'lesser breeds, without the law'. The latest reports from Falluja confirm that it is bad stuff to deflagrate in a populated area: AP mines for the 21st century - the gift that keeps on killing. Perhaps Princess Kate will campaign against it? Perhaps not.

I can see that there are problems with the death penalty idea: but it's also about pointing out the difference between VX an an a-bomb.

My next step would be to legalise offhand murder with any amount of collateral damage as the socially acceptable response to against _anyone_ designing, building, or handling fusion bombe. I can cope with living on a planet on which a few governments have a-bombs, but h-bombs keep me awake at nights, unfashionable though this attitude now is.


The problem with DU in weapons is that it's a heavy metal (like lead), and thereby toxic -- depleted uranium will poison you and wreck your kidneys long before the low-level radiation has any effect. Worse: unlike lead, it's pyrogenic: burns like magnesium, giving off smoke and particulates that are inhalable. The attraction of a metal roughly as hard as steel, twice as dense as lead, and with the pyrogenic properties of magnesium should be fairly obvious, but even the US Army has begun to have second thoughts about using it in penetrator rounds after Falujah; IIRC it's being phased out in favour of tungsten.

Meanwhile, I seem to recall a 1970s study suggesting that a bombing raid on a city like Birmingham that disperses 200 tons of VX would cause about the same level of fatalities as a 5Mt H-Bomb. Nerve agents are really nasty. Tokyo dodged a bullet with the Aum subway attack because the Aum idiots didn't pay sufficient attention to weaponizing their poison; the amount of Sarin they used should have killed hundreds if not thousands.

As for H-bombs, I have two points (beside the meta-point that to get an H-bomb you first have to master the A-bomb, grasshopper): (a) blast effects scale with an inverse cube law, so that a 20Mt H-bomb is not a thousand times as destructive as a 20Kt A-bomb -- it's more like a factor of 30-50 -- and (b) A-bombs scale up; the highest yield A-bombs I know of, the British Violet Club weapon and the American Super Oralloy test, were mistaken for H-bombs because of their 500-600Kt yield, which overlaps with the upper yield of currently deployed western strategic weapons because nobody needs more than 0.5Mt/city.


(This isn't to invalidate the basic point that -- at least since 1945 -- using nuclear weapons against any urban area should be classed as a crime against humanity, a war crime, or both.)


I'm sure that given an artillery regiment or a bomber squadron and a few months to practice it's possible to kill lots of people with VX. But that requires time and space - the same regiment could make a pretty horrible mess of Birmingham (no jokes please) with multiple rockets. Given a confined space like a metro system you can 9/11 amounts of people, but for mass destruction you need a military not a terrorist delivery system. Nuclear weapons can't be manufactured by any kind of terrorists whom I have heard of (now the LTTE has been turned over), but they can be used by them.

Fair points re the a vs h distinction.


@ 178
- oh dear, not AGAIN
"lesser breeds, without the law"

Kaiser Wilhelm died IIRC in 1941

The Kipling phrase, persistently and deliberately misquoted used actually referred to a speech by Willie during the "Boxer" rebellion.
Where he (Willie) made statements saying that international law was to be ignored when dealing with said Boxers, as there was a "higher law" of being able to treat the Chinese as one liked.
An uncanny pre-echo of the Shrub adminstrations' stance, statements and behaviour after 11/9, especially as regards the treatment of prisoners.


The minimum-size pits used in modern 1st-world nukes are highly optimised and made from very highly-enriched materials -- the HEU purity level for a 5kg pit will be 90% plus, a VERY difficult level to achieve and impossible for a terrorist to chaieve unless the US or Russia gives them one. Supersizing a lower-purity pit makes things easier but it still requires about 50% HEU to get a yield over a few kilotonnes out of a single device and it becomes very bulky and massive at that point, not suitable for deployment on a MIRV missile bus or underwing lob/free-fall form (see WE177) on a strike fighter.


Actually uranium, depleted or otherwise is chemically and biologically more inert than lead by quite a margin. There are biological effects (scarring of the kidneys, usually) if enough gets into the bloodstream but there are no good transport mechanisms to get it there from ingestion or inhalation. DU's very long half-life (4 milion years) means it is a lot less radioactive than its go-faster cousin U235 (250,000 years) but neither of them are retained in the body long enough for it to be a serious problem. It doesn't have the accumulative CNS problems associated with lead, certainly. As for it being a "heavy metal", well yes but so is gold which is notoriously biologically intert. On the other hand beryllium is an impressively light metal and incredibly toxic, ditto arsenic, lithium, selenium...

The DU/Fallujah myth has grown legs for some reason, I don't know why. It might just be the oddball anti-DU bunch who wave the ketchup-covered bloody flag at any opportunity, but just what would the US forces be using DU munitions for during the Pacification of Fallujah? DU is an armour-cracker used on heavy and medium armour in open-field engagements. It's less effective than explosive shells on other targets -- fire it at a house and it goes straight through leaving two neat holes in the walls (and then it probably carries on to do the same to the next three houses in the line of sight). It doesn't burn leaving a residue of UO2 because there isn't enough friction to start the process. Smashing fortifications is done with high-explosive devices -- for some as-yet unexplained reason the US also fired some WP shells as well but I'm pretty sure they used very few DU rounds in this particular urban combat (if any).

The freedom-fighters/residents of Fallujah didn't have any armour; that had all been confiscated after they were liberated by the US-led Coalition (Masters of Empire are always looking over their shoulders at the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny in India and are very careful not to allow conquered native levy troops access to artillery and mortars). Reducing Fallujah to rubble was done with regular ballistic artillery, mortars, air strikes and Marines.


"but just what would the US forces be using DU munitions for during the Pacification of Fallujah"


" fire it at a house and it goes straight through leaving two neat holes in the walls (and then it probably carries on to do the same to the next three houses in the line of sight)."

There's yr motivation right there. Sounds like the sort of stuff I'd rather be shooting at the people who are trying to kill me. Of course, when the gloves are on, this might be a problem, but they were off at that point.

As for the friction needed to deflagrate it, that's not what I've heard - and I got my info from a guy who'd spent 1991 cleaning up Kuwait for the US Army, in which he was Major at the time. No sure he's still alive, though, what with the cancer that nabbed half his team.

I'm entirely happy with large lumps of the stuff- it's the sub-micron particles I have a problem with. Alpha emitters.


Probably because the rounds used in the 30mm Viking gun on the AH64 and A-10A aircraft are DU.


the British Violet Club weapon

Annals of the Laundryesque: this bomb was so sensitive and such a hangar queen that AWRE Aldermaston never let the RAF armourers handle it. Instead it had to be permanently watched and loved by a team of AWRE Scientific Officers. Also, its design only just provided one-point safety so the maximum road haul permitted with an assembled Violet Club was a couple of miles, and don't even think about flying it if you're not actually off to kill two million people today.

As a result, V-bombers tasked to deliver one of those little beauties were unable to disperse on Alert Condition Two/MICKEY FINN like the rest of the V-Force because they had to stay near the bombs. This had the obvious consequence that in any crisis there would be some urgency in launching the Violet Clubs on the main base QRA aircraft, a first strike weapon and then some. Obviously, the biggest bang was reserved for the biggest strategic targets, so the damn thing committed the RAF operationally to going from warning to the Moscow Criterion, do pass go, do not collect $200, do collect every IRBM in the Soviet inventory about five minutes later, and probably kick off the full grand tour in the process.

The Air Staff was not pleased with the Club - it was the "Interim Megaton Weapon" but it would do 500-600KT at best, as well as being a total pain in the arse to manage and a menace to national strategy - and I think they only built about a dozen before delightedly receiving Yellow Sun and then WE177.

Supposedly the real purpose of Violet Club was to get the Americans to resume nuclear cooperation.


" fire it at a house and it goes straight through leaving two neat holes in the walls"

"There's yr motivation right there. Sounds like the sort of stuff I'd rather be shooting at the people who are trying to kill me."

Given the choice I'd use a high-explosive shell rather than a DU round, more bang and destruction of the Other Guys cover for the buck, more shrapnel and blast effects on the swarthy-skinned meatbags who are cheating by shooting back and I'm pretty sure the tankies involved in the Fallujah affair would agree with me there.

Are there any sorts of real figures for the number of DU munitions expended in Falllujah or is it just an endlessly-repeated urban legend that DU was used in large quantities because well it's DU and tanks always fire DU rounds? In reality tank ammo loadouts are treated like a bag of golf-clubs -- if they expect to face armour they will carry a lot of DU rounds but for an urban situation where the Other Guys don't have armour their loadouts would be high-explosive charges plus some other types such as smoke, incendiary (including WP) and maybe beehive AP rounds if the opportunity to supersize the casualty list arises. Urban combat means buildings which requires HE to damage rendering DU weapons pointless.

As for the particulate nature of UO residues, how does that cause cancer? Radiation is not a problem, not given the small amount of time the dust stays in the body (expectoration of 90% plus inhaled particles within 24 hours, total excretion of ingested particles in 24-48 hours). Biologically speaking uranium and its oxides are pretty inert. It's been studied to death, so to speak after the events of 1945 when it suddenly became a strategically important metal and people were working intimately with it more and more. The results were that it was reasonably safe to be around, safer than lead for sure. There are some questions about uranyl compounds being more of a biochemical problem but there's no clear path between weaponised DU use and uranyl formation, and certainly not anything that can create mass quantities of the stuff sufficient to make large areas hazardous to long-term health.

Your acquaintance in Kuwait in 1991 and his team was in the middle of the plume from the Mother of All Oilfield Fires set by Saddam's forces as they left in a hurry. I'd suggest breathing that pollution day-in day-out for months is a much better explanation for any health problems deriving from being in-country during that period.


The AH-64 and the A-10 can carry DU rounds but they don't always carry them. They would only be loaded if their mission expected to encounter heavy armour as on the West German plains. A typical urban/AP wog-stopper loadout would be 1-in-4 or 1-in-5 tracer with the rest being regular impact-fused explosive cannonshell rounds. I think there's a mix which also includes some DU "just in case" for engaging lightly-armoured vehicles (BMPs for example) but again the Bad Guys in Fallujah had, at best, hillbilly-armoured technicals and 30mm cannonshells would deal with them just as well as DU rounds would.

Were there many AH-64 and A-10 attacks during Fallujah? From what I recall air support was mostly air-to-ground Hellfire missiles and free-fall bombs, JDAM-enhanced here and there and no DU involved. The major killing was done, as always, by Ubique and they don't use DU as a rule except in direct-fire anti-tank mode.


Violet Club was just plain nasty -- it was a honking great big hollow sphere of plutonium that considerably exceeded the critical mass, and allegedly there were failure modes involving partial detonation of only some of the explosive lenses that would result in an extremely dirty fizzle with a multi-kiloton yield. If a carrier plane crash-landed it was quite possible that an aircraft fire could cause such a fizzle.

But it wasn't as batshit crazy as Blue Peacock ...


And don't forget the ball bearings. VC's chief safing mechanism was that the centre of the weapon was kept filled with ball bearings (454 kilos of 'em) to absorb the fast neutrons. They were retained by a plug. A serious concern was what happened if the ball bearings fell out, as they did on one occasion. The wonderful British Nuclear Weapons site has details - the RAF wanted to store it upside down so that could never happen again.

I can't imagine it ever going to sea, although the bottom of the Marianas Trench sounds like a great place for it.


I'd be a little surprised if they did direct 3D printing at point of sale. That's a late stage development. But they could pretty easily be using 3D printing in the factory, before anybody could get a book written and through production, and the idea of a games geek getting a job at Games Workshop's manufacturing plant to get access to a 3D printer, as well as staff discounts for feeding his Warhammer habit, is definitely a possible.



You've got your numbers off by three orders of magnitude. U-238 has a half-life of 4.5 *billion* years and U-235 has about 700 million years. Otherwise, none of the stuff would be left by now.


I'm not sure that Uranium is just a toxic metal. Alpha-Emitters are seriously nasty stuff, once they are in your body. Not only do they typically have decay energies that are between 10 and 1000 times higher than Beta-Emitters, but also do about 20 times more damage with that energy (the more massive alpha particle can not just ionize, but physically shoot atoms out of their place, which is a different quality of damage done).

And that's just pure U-238, but U-238 is never pure, there are decay products and of course U-235 to deal with, which increase radioactivity further.

Or maybe I'm mixing this up with a statement I said the same about Plutonium - which is 100.000 times as radioactive ...

Has anybody done a study on that without "knowing" the result before doing it?


@ 173:

It's not hugely widely known, but an official US government report finally confirmed that, as experts have known quietly for two decades now, the average fissile pit mass of modern US bombs is around 4.5 kilograms. 20 kilos is enough for 3.3 Fat Man type weapons or 4-5 modern ones.

Surely you don't mean to suggest that this is all a homemade bomb would need? IIRC, gun-type constructions need considerably more fissile material. Plus, a big operation like the U.S. probably has all sorts of optimization tricks that wouldn't be available to an organization operating on a shoestring budget on the order of millions.


The standard explosive rounds for tanks are HEAT (still antitank) and HEP/HESH which is very good at blowing big holes through walls.

This doesn't mean they won't carry some AP shot of some sort. There's a danger-space from the sabot flying free, but a large solid shot punching a hole through a wall will make the people on the other side duck rather than trying to shoot the approaching infantry. It's something that's in the training manuals.

So I wouldn't rule out some DU ammunition being used. But there's enough history, enough doubt about the health risks, that an Army would use an alternative, if available.


@ 184:

Actually uranium, depleted or otherwise is chemically and biologically more inert than lead by quite a margin . . . As for it being a "heavy metal", well yes but so is gold which is notoriously biologically intert. On the other hand beryllium is an impressively light metal and incredibly toxic, ditto arsenic, lithium, selenium...

You both seem like pretty knowledgeable guys on this sort of stuff and detailed predictions of bulk properties from first principles can be very unreliable. But - looking at the periodic table, it looks like U isn't a type IA or IIA metal, which suggests that it doesn't share their reactivity.

Now, I still don't know for sure (particularly since I don't know what else goes into a depleted uranium round besides the uranium), but this is something I've wondered about myself: I've also heard those Fallujah stories. Is this factoid something to be filed under propaganda?


No one did code names like the British military in the High Cold War.


About 3D printers. You are comparing at what it can do that we can do without it. Like model soldiers and such... But what should be considered is, what it can really do that you cannot do by other means. Like semifractal miniaturised cooling array or chemical microtubes or even miniplasma-accelerators. Making these by conventional means is a pain, but using computer generated templates, it's a breeze. Put a program in and have coffee while it does it thing :). And I bet you could get more ideas from nature and art. Things that are unlinear or too complex :)


The Marianas Trench would be a bad plan for the likes of Violet Club. Taking any weapon with a uranium core over the sea is a pretty bad idea.

Enriched U235 + Water = criticality accident waiting to happen.

Yeah I know hydrogen absorbs neutrons, but it is a good enough of a moderator to get things rolling.


The DU ammunition for the 25mm chain gun on the Bradley and LAV is the M919 APDS-T and might have been used at Fallujah.

Tactically, the danger space of the sabot discarding, and the risks to armoured vehicles in the urban environment, make me wonder just how much shooting they would have done with the 25mm. It's supposed to be used at longer ranges.


The minimum-size pits used in modern 1st-world nukes are highly optimised and made from very highly-enriched materials -- the HEU purity level for a 5kg pit will be 90% plus, a VERY difficult level to achieve and impossible for a terrorist to chaieve unless the US or Russia gives them one. Supersizing a lower-purity pit makes things easier but it still requires about 50% HEU to get a yield over a few kilotonnes out of a single device and it becomes very bulky and massive at that point, not suitable for deployment on a MIRV missile bus or underwing lob/free-fall form (see WE177) on a strike fighter.

The approximately 4.5 kg average is for Pu pits; very roughly, HEU weapons need 3.5 times more material (15ish vs 4ish).

The Little Boy weapon used 80% average enrichment; gun bombs are harder the lower the enrichment level, as the fissile mass goes up and the required velocity goes up a lot (predetonation risk depends on U-238 fraction; 94% has less than 1/3 the U-238 than 80%... so it has to be 3x faster insertion for the same risk).

No terrorist is likely to be able to enrich uranium in any manner; it's the type of activity you need a nation-state or a large multinational corporation to achieve. Stealing some pre-enriched HEU, now, that's a real worry, because an idiot with two 30 kilo chunks of HEU could cause a noticable explosion merely by dropping one onto the other from a couple of stories height, and any sort of explosive or gun driven insertion mechanism with some tamping and reflection (even plain steel) is likely to be able to generate very large yields in the many kilotons ranges. Losing a large quantity of HEU (say, the reactor fuel out of one of the HEU fueled research reactors around) would be a disaster.


I'd be very surprised that a mature 3D printer technology was confined to factories. That would be a bit like inventing the modern (2D paper) printer and keeping it only in print factories. 3D printers and their related machines will probably have a place in factories but why go to the bother of paying for the raw materials for hundreds/thousands of your product, paying a factory to build your product, paying a warehouse to store your product, paying a company to distribute your product etc etc etc.

Much easier to design your product using CADlike software, selling the template online and emailing it to the buyer. That way you cut costs down on all costs not related to R&D and advertising


Yep, you're right about the half-lives, don't know why I thought it was those numbers... The major source of radioactivity from uranium is actually the decay daughter products, not the uranium itself. If you have a large enough lump of it with a small enough surface area you're going to get fission products too with their own daughters. However since DU is purified uranium metal with most of the fissionable U235 removed (although not all of it) most of the daughters are present only in parts per million levels. This means small particles of DU in oxide form with a correspondingly large surface area to mass ratio are not particularly radioactive, even as an alpha emitter. Having it in your lungs for a time does not cause an elevated risk of cancer and numerous health studies have shown its biochemical effects on the body are limited even when it gets into the bloodstream, and it doesn't do that very well as cell wall proteins don't pass the big uranium ion easily.

From what I understand Pu is biochemically toxic in a way uranium isn't which means it is not good news twice over.


I know the Indians are offering thorium reactor designs for the third world which use HEU at about 20% as a source of neutron flux to burn the thorium and there may be some Pu in the mix too. That's still well under bomb-grade though. The Iranians haven't managed (or haven't tried - yet) to go beyond about 6% in their centrifugal cascades according to the sampling reports from the IAEA but that's a decent level for fuel rod manufacture.

As for using fuel-rod HEU to make a big bang using a rented office block, they could fill the office block with a couple hundred tonnes of ANFO or RDX and fire that off instead with a lot less fuss and muss than stealing HEU and reforming it into something that would not squib. My own favourite along that line of thought would be multiple fuel-air explosive devices in the city sewers, a much more distributed destructive effort.


Re, the comment about the lead figure boom in the 1980's, I think it was more the mass market popularity of D&D; I too was a miniature wargamer in the 1970's, the simplest explanation I have found is that I was painting miniatures before D&D; But suddenly in the 1980's there was a group of nerds at every High School willing to spend their pocket money on stuff.

So there was a Market. And then Magic: the Gathering killed at least two companies (Grenadier and Ral Partha) when the market shifted.

I think the spin casting equipment was always relatively modest; In the US they are still a specialist jewelry production item or a home built item. But there were adds for them in the UK mass market wargaming pubs in the late 90's.

And Lead/Tin is still the prefered alloy; The anti lead ban is a collateral (Propaganda) attack on firearms here in the US. A bill to ban lead ammunition for all hunting purposes almost passed in California last year.


The Iranians haven't managed (or haven't tried - yet) to go beyond about 6% in their centrifugal cascades according to the sampling reports from the IAEA but that's a decent level for fuel rod manufacture.

They're producing limited amounts of 20% HEU (borderline of HEU defintion) as required for their isotope production reactor.

It's not a question of "managed" - the same centrifuge array that can take a feedstock of natural U from natural to reactor grade LEU can take reactor grade LEU to 20% and can take 20% to 90%; it's just a question of dwell time and feed rates, and what you start with. A whole bunch of cascades doing natural to RG, a handful doing RG to 20%, and one doing 20% to 90%. It's an exponential pyramid, less material flowing through the later enrichment runs.


Does anyone have any really obscure, weird, and batshit insane military projects to announce?

The WOW signal came from the teapot constellation? And we've been preparing since?

That said, I'd really like to see what you'd do with Colossus, the Forbin Project:

Seemed more, ah, realistic than SkyNet & Terminators, to me at least.


That sounds about right - AFAIR the big expansion in Games Workshop shops and the loss of all non-Warhammer content from White Dwarf coincided with their introduction of plastic figures, rather than any change in lead-figure casting technology.

(Didn't serious wargamers always cast their own armies anyway?)

You may be a bit off in assuming an anti-gun motive in anti-Pb campaigners - more likely they want to prevent ingestion by vulnerable parties (whether small siblings of D&D players or unshot wildlife).


I was very surprised when the elder Bush actually used the Tomahawk cruise missiles I worked on. They were just supposed to be a bargaining point at START, not real weapons. He never had the nuclear ones launched, but the entire idea of sending them to a country like Iraq astonished me.


It appears that the Falluja birth defect epidemic is not a myth. Here is the lede from: New study: Fallujah birth defects reach epidemic levels (Digital Journal Jan 2, 2011 by Lynn Herrmann)

New research set to be published this week shows birth defects of newborn babies in the Iraqi city of Fallujah have reached epidemic proportions since the city was annihilated six years ago by the US military.
The research, to be published this week in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, examined an alarming increase of birth defects in Fallujah and concluded for the first time that the unprecedented levels of newborns with cancers, tumors, skeletal, cardiac and neural-tube defects could be linked to US military assaults on the Iraqi city.
Authors of the study, which focused on the genetic health of Fallujah, found deformities in the babies are almost 11 times higher than average rates. Those deformities spiked in the first half of 2010, the Guardian notes.
Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist, said: “We suspect that the population is chronically exposed to an environmental agent. We don’t know what that environmental factor is, but we are doing more tests to find out,” according to the Guardian.


Didn't serious wargamers always cast their own armies anyway?

Indeed. (I've watched this happen on my dining room table.) If you think 3D printing is going to be something, don't think about how little is needed to do metal casting at home. On the other hand, what you gain in low capital investment you have to make up for in knowing what you're doing. It's a fun hobby, but not one for idiots.


I am intrigued as to why my comments were deleted when Greg's snide insults were not. To suggest that my comment was an "outburst" and due to my recreational chemical use is an insult in my circles. Such comments would expect to be met with withering sarcasm if unfounded. Especially if the actual points made were not addressed.

Greg's response that I should think about today's news rather than look at the actual statistics just made me laugh. Surely the entire character of "Greg.Tingey" must be a satire?


@ 211
So, youre saying (effectively) that *all* that is needed is a fusion of slightly more advance RepRap + wargamers' casting techniques + a hardening of the metals used ...
And bingo!
Mass-produced handheld weapons ???


(a) You seem to have missed Greg's sarcasm.

(b) Greg is a real person; I've met him. As such, he gets a little bit more leeway than regular posters I haven't met. Who in turn get a bit more than random drive-bys.


Yes, there are reports about exaggerated levels of birth deformities etc. in Fallujah after the assault. The reaction to connect them to exposure to DU residues seems reflexive in many people's minds, regardless of whether DU was actually used in any quantity during the fighting.

If DU is causing these birth defects then it should be present in path tissue samples, both post-mortem and biopsy of survivors. It was a stumbling block to attributing Gulf War Syndrome (that's the 1991 Gulf War) to the effects of DU exposure that hardly any uranium contamination was found in post-mortem tissue sampling of those afflicted. The levels found were about the same as anyone else on the planet who was born after above-ground nuclear testing started in 1945.

On the other hand lots of women of child-bearing age have worked in uranium processing plants and lived in areas where uranium is mined and they would have been exposed to greater amounts of uranium over a much longer period of time than anyone living in Fallujah after the fighting stopped. I would expect to have seen much greater evidence of uranium causing birth defects generally from those situations before the Fallujah birth defect reports appeared.

Has anyone actaully tried sampling the Fallujah area to find evidence of DU residues in the soil and water?


I'd say that 3D printing tech has an obvious use which can feed into older production processes, and wargaming figure production is something I know enough about to see how that could happen.

Yes, there are some similarities with 2D printing. Even with modern laser printing, cheap to put on the desk, if you want a physical book, you go to a POD supplier, or a conventional printworks.

I wouldn't push the 2D/3D comparisons much further than that. We're past the necessity to send a text to a printer or publisher on paper, but we don't even need paper to be able to read a book. I don't think that's going to happen for 3D, and there are a far wider range of critical physical qualities in 3D.


@ 212 & 214
Thank-you, Charlie.

As I said in an earlier post: "oops".
To repeat, for Pat, and anyone else's benefit: I do tend to get a bit exited about religion - having been exposed to fairly fundamentalist xtianity early on (the local Anglican vicar was off his head), and recent, multi-times-a-week exposure to a USian fundie sect, who've taken over a building on our street-corner ... it really, really doesn't help.
Science and (revealed) religion are fundamentally (ahem) incompatible. [Note] Those scientists who claim to be believers are compartmentalising their minds.

Courtesy of the NSS, I came across This Article which explains the problem, very well.
It concetrates on islam, but, especially in the USA, the problem is almost identical, with the fundie xtians doing their best to destroy education, and rationality, because "the bible" says something different to what our observations and deductions and experiments tell us about the world we live on.

Hence my contempt for these deluded persons. Ridicule and sarcasm are the weapons of choice, in my case.
I know, "You can't reason someone out of a position that they didn't arrive at by reason" but sufficient artistic prodding will, suprisingly often, produce a thinking reaction, as opposed to: "Jesus is LORD!" or "Allu-ah ahkbar!"
The unreason of religion produces messes like the recent murders and bombings in Pakistan.
Deeply scary.

[Note: I might make an exception for certain aspects of Bhuddism - since the Guatama's message was: "Here is A way - it worked for me - you might like to try it." ]


About birth defects on fallujah ( I hope I typed it right ). If you assume it's DU, you may blind yourself from the real reason. It could be some ingredient on explosives, or building materials of the local buildings. ( they turned to dust by bombing and people breathed the dust) or it could have something in the water or a fertilizer and so forth... It could be something that everybody think is safe. Like motor oil or washing agent. Like people used to think that asbestos was safe, or smoking, or some plastics...


@217: "recent, multi-times-a-week exposure to a USian fundie sect"

My ex-father-in-law who was frequently hassled by Mormons who were based nearby found out that telling them he was a Communist (he wasn't) made them back off like he was some ghastly cross between a blood drenched psychopathic axe murderer and a plague carrier. Might be worth a try.


You know youre losing a war when the answer to a 500$ IED is a $20 million piece of equipment flying through the air, constantly burning fuel and crowding the airspace with other $20 million toys


Heh, I like that, and not nearly so gauche as offering them a copy of "A Study in Scarlet". Another angle would be this:
A "Chick tract" treatment of Cthulhu, should print some out and leave them alongside other god-bothering rubbish.


That's awesome, although I fear it won't work much in Europe :(
Hopefully, it'll help Greg with his neighbour troubles.

And thanks Tim H for the Cthulhu Chick tract :)


219, 221, 222.
Thank you peoples.
That made me laugh.
No go though ... I've told'em I'm a card-carrying atheist, and they just start on about how I need to find jesus ......

Google "Potters House" if you want the full horror story.


The US army actually called an rather abrupt halt to the programme to replace DU with tungsten because research indicated that tungsten ammo was, in fact, a wastly more powerful carciogen than DU is. Oops, I guess?
General point to make here: There are a /heck/ of a lot of things other than radiation that cause cancer.

Fun things under development: There are several research programmes into small scale fusion power setups- some of which are potentially going to be really quite radically disruptive if they succeed. The most extreme example is probably which is promising an extremely compact/cheap powersource, with viability to be proven or not this year.

The economic effects of electricity suddenly dropping in price by a factor of ten should be. Amusing.

In the department of "things we know will work because they already do" I am quite fond of both leadcooled fast designs and the various molten salt reactors, but if I am going to guess at the *really big* game changer for the next decade? Id say these guys:
Or, rather, the game changer is going to be the people of north africa and the middle east ripping off* their basic IP on a massive scale.
hmm.... Assuming the a lot of the additional world caloric demand from rising global prosperity is met via this method, this could have rather brute force effects on the local climate patterns in NA and ME - for one thing, these greenhouses are going to put a heck of a lot of waterwapor into the air, and it is going to come down again somewhere.

*Well,if they price licenses low enough, perhaps they will actually get paid.


I found the best way to get rid of street prosely-tesers is to agree with them to a large degree but simply point out ones own allegience is to whatever their enemy God in question is. And then ask them if they'd like to come home to discuss the matter further. In Victoria Street (London) hard by McDonnalds & the Catholic Cathedral this once got one arrested for a public order offence.

How I laughed.


But then " Guatama's message " ? has, Itself, rather tended toward Distortion hasn't it?

Just as has the Message of Islam, as it was expressed to me once upon a time by a Turk who was a devote Muslim and who asked me, Quietly, and ..taking me to one side .. if there was somewhere where he could Pray ? ... he got my office/control room for severally CCTV monitored Classroom's that were my then Working Space, this together with a rough compass bearing on Mecca ..and a large Sign that was pinned to my door and which said " Keep Out for the next half hour OR Else! "... not very Religiously Peaceful in a Non Violently Buddhist Way ... amazing how many people think that all Buddhism is Non Violent, eh? ..but what the non-Buddhist Non -Violent, with Daemons, HELL of your Choice.

Amazing how many Buddhist Temples feature extremes of violence isn't it ? I expect that I haven't being paying attention to the non -Violence of it all ?? Eh Wot? Oh Grasshopper?

Anyway, on Christianity ? I was once told that my Soul ..such as it was ..would be Dissolved upon my DEATH !!!!! .. this by a colleague who was well disposed toward me -to whom I had been of Help when he sorely needed Help - who felt obliged to tell me that, since I was not a member of his particular Local Sect of the Christian faith I was Doomed And Damned. This belief was not just applied to Non Christians you see .. I did ask ... and the fact that they were GOOD People who were of other - non Christian - Faiths Beyond his own was irrelevant for they were not of the one TRUE faith!!! This belief hadn't emerged in conversation ..Thus I hadn't realized that I Was, And AM ....DOOMED !!!!! Doomed I Tell You !!! and SO are YOU!!

And all that sort of thing.

Honestly ... I am not the most inarticulate of creatures ..But I just couldn't think of anything to say in response.

In the aftermath, I DO hope that this harmless and amiable creature did gain great comfort from his Faith since a couple of years ago I was told that he had died,all too young, of a nasty variant of Brain Tumor. My Colleague was much prone to lurking in a Chemically Infested .. of the 'gods cant wait, deep breaths and RUN ' workshop which my department had equipped to produce scale models of various kinds of Industrially/Educational, Curricular Saw and solvent paint, and wooden model making stuff of the, from Me ... " can I put an End to this on Grounds of Safety " type stuff.. maybe I should have tried harder.


@ 224:

The US army actually called an rather abrupt halt to the programme to replace DU with tungsten because research indicated that tungsten ammo was, in fact, a wastly more powerful carciogen than DU is. Oops, I guess? General point to make here: There are a /heck/ of a lot of things other than radiation that cause cancer.

Going back to a previously covered topic, imagine being generation 3 of the crew on a ship that's going to take 20 generations to reach its destination and having a third of all the children born afflicted with massive developmental defects. Turns out that the molysteel carbide pipes used in the plumbing is the culprit . . .

Going back to a previously covered topic, imagine being generation 3 of the crew on a ship that's going to take 20 generations to reach its destination and having a third of all the children born afflicted with massive developmental defects. Turns out that the molysteel carbide pipes used in the plumbing is the culprit . . .

It occurs to me that if you're designing a generation ship, there's a very simple (albeit expensive and slow!) precaution you can take to prevent this kind of thing; run an engineless prototype as a space colony for a century or two -- I'm thinking the Earth/Sun L2 point would make sense, because it's 1.5M km out from Earth, and in Earth's shadow, hence dark and cold. There will be teething problems, some of which will be fatal if unfixed -- which is why it needs to be trialled close enough to home to get help, but far enough out to be a realistic experiment and to force the residents to fix their own problems except in dire extremis.

I reckon if it can run as a closed-circuit biosphere for 100-200 years, with colonists aboard, then it's about ready to have an engine module bolted to its arse. Until then? It's unproven.


Yes indeed .. its the un-proven element that is the killer, and this not just of the individual work-place pollution /chimney sweeper /welder ..whatever kind but also the the Your Fathers Father will be afflicted with, to the third generation of ..Once Upon a Time ... Syphilis ? But there are things that we can barely deduce might just exist in a Human Population if it is Isolated and subjected to things that are new. We didn't know about Prions ..

" This altered structure is extremely stable and accumulates in infected tissue, causing tissue damage and cell death.[7] This structural stability means that prions are resistant to denaturation by chemical and physical agents, making disposal and containment of these particles difficult. Prions come in different strains, each with a slightly different structure, and most of the time, strains breed true. Prion replication is nevertheless subject to occasional epimutation and then natural selection just like other forms of replication.[8] However, the number of possible distinct prion strains is likely far smaller than the number of possible DNA sequences, so evolution takes place within a limited space."

Before we discovered prions.

But ..who is going to volunteer for a Medical Trial In Spacccccce on the basis that they will be Serving Person-kind, before, a ...' Mission to Go Where No Person Has Been Before ' takes place? And this Guinea pig Colony is to be established for 200 years before Countdown to Launch to Man-kinds Destiny / Where No Person has gone Before ?

I submit that the Pioneer Quasi Religious -Person-kinds Destiny ! - psychology is much more likely to be willing to go on .. The Mission ! .. rather than go on a precursor to that mission that will also last a long LONG time.

Its the Sheer Nobility of the TO THE STARS !!!! concept as opposed to the ' to the experiment ' concept that will appeal to the Pioneers.

Not very rational I will admit, but, I suspect that, people who go on this sort of mission wont be very rational. We don't like to think of ourselves as being a species of rodent even when we are being guinea pigs and so medical experiment NO ..To the Stars ..Yes.

That being said ..I'm not about to volunteer.


Oh, real fundamentalists would just give Communists over to McCarthy. Or his spawn.


SoV, in case you don't check the older thread again, I responded to your request for history/culture books:

My actual sci-fi materials horror scenario is some sort of magic uranium extraction and enrichment mechanism.

How about one where Drexlerian nanotech allows fission-free D/D fusion bombs? An ideally shaped imploding deuterium pellet only needs about a megajoule to ignite - and the 10^15 Watts/cubic meter power densities that nanotech should allow would permit shaping the velocity profile of the collapsing deuterium given a cubic meter of hardware or so. The first pellet then yields enough energy to ignite a larger second stage, then a larger third stage etc. - all with no radioisotopes to start, and with nothing rarer than heavy water in the ingredients?

it was a honking great big hollow sphere of plutonium that considerably exceeded the critical mass
Holy shit, hadn't those guys ever heard of Louis Slotin? That's nearly as batshit as the frisbee grenade that some bozo invented (and according to rumor, actually tested) during the Vietnam War.

I finally got rid of some Jehovah's Witnesses by telling them I was a Satanist.


This very idea and why it would be a nightmare, is explored in one of the short stories in "Engineering Infinity" which also includes Charlie's most recent short story "Bit Rot". I enjoyed Charlie's story and the book is well worth purchasing.

By the way Charlie, is it likely that at least some of the main characters in you short story will also be in "Neptune's Brood"?



Heads up for those in the UK.

Sunday night.

BBC2, 10pm

The Men Who Stare At Goats

While looking at the Beeb's web page, I also noticed that "Lark Rise to Candleford" is back, and I recalled that the contact point for the WW2 Auxiliary Units HQ was a village Post Office.

(Auxiliary Units were the pre-positioned "resistance" force hastily established in 1940 under the threat of a German invasion. They'd be called a "stay-behind" force now.)

I mean, I know there have been "witches and magic save England" stories ever since Denis Wheatley, but why does it have to be limited to WW2?

(looks suspiciously at the coffee mug...)


Bruce, around 1943-45, the USA abruptly stopped cooperating on atomic R&D with foreign powers, even their closest allies; some coordination activities continued, but information sharing was clamped down on. The exposure of Klaus Fuchs as a spy didn't help (he was seconded to Los Alamos from the Tube Alloys program.

The Daghlian accident took place in 1945, and the Slotin incident in 1946; the latter was so heavily classified at first that even scientists working within Los Alamos on related projects weren't told about it. So it's possible that the British bomb developers didn't recognize its full significance.

The British decided to go it alone in developing an H-bomb, but found it rather difficult. So they essentially tricked the US government into sharing their H-bomb secret cookie recipe by detonating an 0.5Mt A-bomb, publicly declaring "we've got the H-Bomb!" and then doing an I'll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours tap-dance. But to back the tap-dance up they had to actually deploy the fucker. It was a bluff, aimed at the USA as much as the USSR.

Nobody really expected Violet Club to stay in service for a split second after Aldermaston delivered a real H-Bomb, and indeed, it didn't. Today, there's a surviving Violet Club casing on display in the RAF Museum at Hendon; the thing's so big you could build an apartment in it.

Incidentally, VC did have one safety mechanism: the hollow Pu core was full of steel ball bearings, held in by a screw plug on the underside of the device. When the Valiant bomber was ready to scramble, the plug would be unscrewed, the ball bearings would fall out, and then there'd be nothing to impede a successful implosion. (The idea was that the ball bearings would prevent the assembly of a full critical mass if a premature detonation occurred.)


No; "Neptune's Brood" is going to be set 4500 years later!

(When your fastest starship can make 1% of c, your space opera universe gets too big for fancy-meeting-you-here coincidences.)


We loved the first two series of Lark Rise (disclaimer - aged 7, I moved from a village 5 miles to the west of the real Lark Rise to one half way between LR and the real Candleford, so it's really the place I grew up, a few generations earlier).

The third series?

They broke it badly, and we stopped watching after two episodes.

The Men Who Stare At Goats is just insane, a film (and a book) worth attending to.


There is a wonderful record/CD of "Lark Rise" ...
Which ends with ... something like ...
"Laura always remembered the smiths at Lark Rise, beating out the hot metal" - cue up some WONDERFUL English folk music. But then, IIRC Shirley Collins was involved somewhere in the production.

Sad news. The Pub at "Lark Rise" - in which I have drunk - is now a private house.
Actual location
SP 579 324 (approx)

Further information HERE



Many Thanks!


men who stare at goats is awesome.
especially the ending.
when I get god-naggers of any flavour at the door I just argue with em.
we had mormons a few months back. I asked about golden plates, were they in a similar sized font to the book he was carrying etc, and mentioned that the pages would have to be thinker so they wouldnt be stuck together electrostatically- so the book weighted about 100kg- and jo smith ran back 5 miles with it under his arm fighting off assailants..
big lad was he?
never seen them again, I wonder if they have a 'do not go there list'?


and as for beating carrier defences..- how about replacing the warhead on at least a few of you ASMs with rocket pods.
each rocket having a radar reflector in its warhead space to give an identical signature to the genuine missiles.
say 19 FFar per missile.


That's going back to Cold War force levels, the equivalent of a regiment of bombers to trade for a carrier, and it would need rather more complicated than a radar reflector for a decoy. But you can't take chances on a "maybe", so maybe the complexity wouldn't be a big factor. It would need something better than an unguided rocket too...

I'd expect the designers of the defensive systems to be thinking about decoys, but I'm not sure that it would be worth the effort for an attacker.


The real Lark Rise, I'd be passing within half a mile of it every year in the early Eighties, going along the A43 to Oxford for a Tolkien Society event. I think they might have bypassed Brackley and got the M40 open by the last time I went.


Previous posting (was no. 247) by Shailesh is spam.


There is no point, in any case - All heavy conventional forces are relics of a world order that has been ashes since hiroshima. The great powers cannot ever fight each other, and thus their armies can only serve two purposes one being the bullying of third world hell holes, the other being to act as very heavily armed police for deployment into those places that fail to even reach the level of "third world hellhole"..
For this second purpose, which is by my reckoning is the only justifiable use and purpose the armed forces have, I think we are probably training and equipping our forces.. Badly.
Shiny, shiny aircraft carriers are not a practical answer to pirates in speedboats of the coast of africa, nor to tribesmen with worldviews stuck in the wrong milennia. The military breakthrough we really need right now is weaponized antropology - the means and methods of replacing dysfunctional social and govermental patterns with more functional forms and norms instead of just smashing existing structures into anarchy and seeing what rises on its own.


This is a great article by George Dyson about Ted Taylor, nuclear weapon designer par excellence who was evidently troubled by his talents

“I had a dream last night, about a new form of
nuclear weapon, and I’m not telling anybody what
this is, because I’m really scared of it,”
Taylor told
me in 1999. “I have tried, I thought successfully, to
hold on to a vow of just not thinking about new types
of nuclear weapons any more. And what’s happened,
to put it simply, is that it has gone from my conscious
to my unconscious, and it’s emerging as a dream; I
cannot shut it off. I woke up at 2 a.m. and went back
to bed at about 6 o’clock, and wound up filling up a
page with notes. It makes me think of the prototypical
example of what directed energy can do, making
the transition from a pile of high explosive to a gun,
as the Chinese did, after they invented it. What I am
afraid is in the offing is people figuring out how to
make a transition that’s as spectacular as trying to
kill a deer at 200 yards with a pile of high explosive,
or by shooting at it.”"


Shiny, shiny aircraft carriers are not a practical answer to pirates in speedboats of the coast of africa

And the scarier thing is that neither are over-sized speedboats (aka LCS). It's also horrifying that the US Army procurement system for all its faults (e.g. FCS)is better than the US Navy's (everything except the Virgina subs) and USAF's (tanker). Of course the JSF was doomed from the start.


@ 248
"Weaponised Anthropology"
Sometimes called: Atheism.
Oh, and it isn't just "...tribesmen with worldviews stuck in the wrong millennia" either.
Remember that something like 45% of the US population are such devout followers of Bronze-Age goatherders' myths that thay refuse to accept Evolution.
I believe the phrase is: Tu quoque ??

@ 248 & 9 ...
On the specific issue of Piracy, I would have thought some already-tried-&-tested methods would do, so in no particular order:
Arm (GMPG) all merchant vessels in area
Sinking any pirate ships, if possible, and DON'T pick up any survivors ( I believe the Indian Navy already did this one ...)
And, of course - Hanging from the Yard-Arm - it's TRADITIONAL!


Thanks Charlie.


The most politically practical of the methods listed is convoys. These are some mixture of more expensive than current mitigation methods, and unworkable due to lack of numbers of escorts. There is no sign of procuring adequate of the latter - not helped by buying ships that are put together incorrectly, or specifying expensive oversized speedboats.


It's not a project I ever heard anybody proposing, but the other day I was thinking about it, and even if I did not take it seriously enough to sit down and do the math, it sounds vaguely possible, and for sure hugely weird.

Right now, fusion energy production seems to be awfully hard to obtain, even if we managed to obtain plenty of energy from fusion bombs.
So, I was thinking: what if we built some enormous underground plant with a big cavern inside it, detonated fusion bombs inside it, and used the resulting energy to power a big bunch of good old steam turbines to generate energy?
As the actual world energy consumption is about 4x10^20 J, and a "standard" 1,5 Mt fusion bomb deliver about 6x10^15 J, with about 3 bombs detonated each hour you could satisfy the entire world energy needs (if you do 6/hour, you should be able to compensate for losses and inefficiencies...).

It would be the Orion drive equivalent for generating energy!

I can also think about some ways to build such a place... identify a spot where there's a huge naturally solid ground, dig a many-miles deep vertical shaft, start dropping on the bottom of it atomic bombs of the desired yeld until you've a nice underground bubble of the desired size, send down remotely controlled robots to consolidate it and build the cooling plants all around it, and you've essentially a fusion-enhanced giant geothermal power plant!

(My tongue is obviously firmly planted in my cheek... the amount of things that could go wrong even if we managed to build such a things are so many that I can't even start to count them)


For one, your robots may have to be hydraulically controlled - I'm not sure anyone has electronics capable of operating in an environment as radioactively hot as the one you suggest.


An explosion driven fusion plant is obviously theoretically workable, the problem is that the economics and politics make no sense at all. For starters, the minimum size would be ridiculusly large in terms of megawatts - this is a "and then we dont need any more power plants for.. eh, asia." idea, not to mention what are you going to use for a heat sink? The construction needed to dump the waste heat from such a monster responsibly (IE; not cause massive fish death by boiling a coastline) into the ocean would be a heroic engineering project in its own right.
Secondly, if your general public is sufficiently comfortable with nuclear technologies that this idea doesnt spawn lynch mobs it would be more practical, cheaper and faster to simply build conventional or more or less exotic fission reactors all over the place.


Well, our host asked for obscure, weird and batshit insane military projects... this is not a real one, only a fruit of my diseased imagination, but you've to admit that in terms of batshit insanity is quite good...
It also does put in perspective the consumption of energy we have: the fact that a tsar bomba (50 Mt), the most destructive device ever built, produce as much energy as the world consume in only about 10 hours, it's honestly mind boggling.

Slightly more seriously, even if power-plant sized fusion power will always remains in the undoable realm, if we'll ever manage to built some kind of space civilization (jokes apart, building such a device on an inhabitated planes *is* crazy), there will always be the option to scale really up the fusion plant and obtain reasonable energy densities with this kind of solutions. After all, according to wikipedia, it does take only 1 tsar bomba every 2,3 seconds to reach a Kardashev scale type I civilization energy production...


The appropriate place for a fusion-bomb energy generator is in space.

Take a very large rubber balloon; fill it with water. Detonate fusion bomb near center. Release pressurized steam through valves leading to turbines. Collect cooled water for re-use.

Now, getting the size and elasticity of the balloon and the size of the energy source just right... that's, ahem, critical.


That reminds me of the most interesting use of magic and water I've come across, in Rick Cook's book The Wizardry Cursed.


ISTR someone suggesting exploding small nuclear bombs in large salt strata. Some large amount of salt would be made molten (and the salt that was vaporized would eventually liquify by heating up more salt). If the salt were enclosed in hard rock the heat could be contained and released as slowly as needed to generate reasonable amounts of power.


There are so many engineering problems involved with the "exploding nukes for geothermal power" concept that they completely overshadow the disastrous economic factors.

We already know how to create a controllable fusion plasma, for example. Anyone with enough off-the-shelf engineering knowledge and money could start designing and building a power-generating fusion reactor today based on the tokamak system. It would generate more electricity than it consumed in operation and deliver that power to a grid. But... it would almost certainly run a deuterium/tritium cycle and tritium fuel is rare and expensive. It would stop working after a short while and be difficult and expensive to repair, assuming it was possible to do repair it at all. It would be horrendously inefficient for the short time it actually ran.

A fusion power generator needs to be reliable, maintainable and cheap to run per GWHr produced. That's what the ITER project is all about, figuring out materials and techniques to run a commercial fusion reactor and how to take it apart and rebuild it when necessary. The project operators also hope to develop a D/D fuel cycle which will make fuelling a fleet of power reactors possible at all. Magical benchtop fusion devices like Polywell (just another few million dollars, honest, and we can demonstrate fusion for real!) have still to get over the hurdle of generating any fusion events at all never mind show how they would turn those events into usable power in quantity.


Coming back to tech developments and piracy ...
One does wonder about the US' "Littoral Vessels" - they are VERY flashy trimarans, but, one wonders if something like the Sea Fighter concept would nit be much better.
Not nearly so sexy, of course - and "not invented here", either.


fizz, I have actually heard of this concept before, but I can't find a reference. As far as I remember it included lining the cavern with sodium salts, which when molten would act as the primary heat exchange medium for the turbines.
It seems insane even by the standards of 1950s nuclear engineering, which is a high bar to set. (Given that concepts coming out of Los Alamos included Feynman's patent on a nuclear submarine, powered with, basically, an underwater PLUTO ramjet. Sea water comes in the front, runs through the reactor, comes out the back hot.)


One does indeed. Sea Fighter is a nice tidy high-speed patrol vessel -1600 tonnes, crew of about 30, helipad. LCS is what happens when you take that spec and you give it Requirement Bloat.
It's got a helipad; well, it needs a hangar as well. Big enough for two large helicopters. So it'll need avgas tanks and maintenance equipment.
And it needs a gun turret, because it's a warship dammit. So it'll need a magazine as well.
It's got a stern ramp for small boats; well, it needs space on board for armoured vehicles as well, and a ramp to offload them, because we want it to be able to act as an assault ship.
Now we've loaded all that other stuff on, it'll need bigger engines if we still want it to go at 50 knots. And it needs a CIWS to protect itself, because it's now a major investment.
And we want it to be able to go 10,000 nm without refuelling, not 4,000 nm, because we apparently want to be able to send it halfway round the world on its own. So more bunker space.

And that's how you take a small, cheap, expendable fighting ship and turn it into a 2,800t, $450 million, fifty-man warship. This "littoral warship" - theoretically meant for inshore work, policing and low-intensity warfare - is now bigger than a Tribal class destroyer, and in their day the Tribals were regarded as almost too big to be counted as destroyers. Most WW2 destroyers were half that size.


I get the feeling that you're not a fan of warships with "several inch" calibre main guns?

The Mk 8 4.5inch radar directed auto-turret that the UK has been using since the 1970s can engage 2 targets within 90 degrees of arc of each other, over about +/- 135deg of the bow, and has sufficient accuracy to engage and kill a sub-sonic sea-skimming missile if it's got a lock, using a lump of metal that costs about 1% of what a missile capable of the same mission costs. What's not to like?


And so we see Requirement Bloat creeping in ...


What's not to like about the Mk8 gun? Uh, hull penetration and armouring of the magazine spaces, the power traverse system etc. that adds nearly a hundred tonnes of weight to the ship for one thing. The gun is unable to engage a threat approaching from behind the ship without requiring some rapid manoeuvering, and the gun's traverse doesn't work too well when the hull is heeled over in a tight turn. It is also inaccurate in rough weather, not suprisingly whereas a missile is self-aiming to target in any weather state.

A gun has advantages in some situations but it takes up space and mass that could be more usefully allocated to VLS cells with a multispectral offence/defence capability, filled with everything from Tomahawks to ASROCs.


I won't say too much else, but have a look at where the T42's Sea Dart launcher is, and do a web search for Aster 30.


Err, if I'm really bored or suicidally inclined, I explain to the clerk what one could do with the household chemicals I just bought to do some cleaning, note that I'm of the 'chemicals that will clean organic slug from metal, porcelain or like have to be able to clean organic slug from my bones at least'(and often the bones in question, too) school and it's many derivatives, though there are still things I wouldn't touch, after reading off the ingredients of some rust cleaner, my old chemistry reflexes kicked in and I did some obsessive handwashing, you don't read 'hydrofluoric acid' that often. Concerning nitrit(ates|ites) and like, what about fertilizers and curing agents?

concerning the 3D printer part, how small are the structure you can create this way? Ther might be some nice ways of creating special needs catalysts this way...


In terms of intelligent computers and extraterrestrial communication, you might want to take a look at "A for Andromeda," parts of which are available on Youtube.

(which probably 'inspired' later movies like "Species" in the same way that Forbin influenced Terminator)

But there's also a funny throwaway mention of ETI by the artificial intelligence in the campy film "Demon Seed." The AI says that it had begun to partake in the "galactic dialog." It implies that other, extraterrestrial civilizations had built AIs, which possibly came to dominate them and acheive interstellar communication.

I agree that this could be Charlie's territory. Imagine if the answer to the Fermi Paradox is that organic civlizations naturally create AIs who come to govern them (either openly or secretly), and have discovered means of interstellar communications that are only decipherable to the AIs.

The idea of the "galactic dialog" was taken from an earlier SCI-FI novel, although I cannot remember the book at the moment.

Charlie's take on the Forbin project might have resembled Ellison's "I have no mouth" novel and video game. I can see some overlapping themes.


* Rolls eyes *

Haven't heard of the original author by any chance, have you?


AFAIK it's already a nightmare, ven if you don't
buy the insurance claims of some law enforcement
agents, some of the reductive amination routes and like in question use sodium amalgam and like, leading to a nice mercury spill.

IMHO, the drugs angle will be of relatively minor concern, since by the time 3D printers can achieve this, there is also some garage biotech going to be around. Besides splicing some genes from Ephedra spec. into Japanese knotweed and adding some enzyme to reduce the hydroxy group to create every meth tweekers wet dream, anybody willfully injecting untested cathinone derivatives will also use experimental gene therapy to knock out ones DAT or go for HGH or...


Yes, rust remover with HF is a bad idea, and if sold to the public should probably come with free HF proof gloves and a tube of calcium gluconate cream. Scrubbing your hands is a bit late, it'll already be in your bloodstream eating away at the bone.

My understanding is that the over the counter simple fertiolisers have fire suppresant type stuff in them, I havn't bothered confirming that, since I'm not actually interested in using it for explosions. The authorities are paranoid enough however to take out adverts in farming magazines saying "Do you know where your fertiliser is?" and other helpful admonitions.


Both " A For Andromeda " and its sequel "The Andromeda Breakthrough "are available on DVD at modest cost ...

Both serials were childhood favorites when I viewed them on a tiny Black and White cathode ray TV in a friends house when I was about 12 , though, as I recall, neither series had the sheer impact that "Quatermass and the Pit" had a few years earlier. The Future was strangely Innocent way back then and I blame the collapse of The British Empires Space program on Professor Quatermass not being allowed to complete his work ..

" .. is trying to perfect a dangerously unstable nuclear-powered rocket engine. After a disastrous test firing in Australia, his future son-in-law, Captain John Dillon, draws the Professor's attention to a strange hollow meteorite which interrupted an Army Training exercise. "

Such a waste .. The Empire could have had bases on Mars by now !


My favorite of the 'Original Authors ' work was, and remains, " The Black Cloud " which I first read around about 1960.

Its remarkable how well the premise of the Novel has held up since way back then in 1957 ...

" Using a computer model of molecular dynamics, an international team has discovered that, under the right conditions, particles of inorganic dust can become organized into helical structures. These structures can interact with one another in ways that are usually associated with organic compounds and with life. Not only do these helical strands interact in a counter-intuitive way in which like can attract like, but they also undergo changes that are normally associated with biological molecules, such as DNA and proteins, say the researchers. For example, they can divide to form two copies of the original structure. These new structures can also interact to induce changes in their neighbors. And they can even evolve into yet more structures as less stable ones break down, leaving behind only the fittest structures in the plasma. 'These complex, self-organized plasma structures exhibit all the necessary properties to qualify them as candidates for inorganic living matter,' said the lead researcher. 'They are autonomous, they reproduce and they evolve.'" The research, published in the New Journal of Physics 2007, was carried out using a computer model of molecular dynamics. [1] "


I'm aware of Hoyle's authorship of "A for Andromeda," and plot elements concerning the building of an AI and the transmission of interstellar signals. Are you suggesting that he is also the originator of the idea of a "galactic dialog" between indigenous AIs as well?

I have been holding back on 'spoiling' the "A for Andromeda" series for myself since I have only seen parts of it so far, so if that series originated the idea of scattered organic civilizations independently developing their own AI masters, I regret that I was not aware of it.

I have only read the "Black Cloud" by Hoyle, over a decade ago. I recall that it focused on spaceborne lifeforms. If I missed Hoyle's connection to an idea I discussed, I apologize, as I am only (vaguely) familiar with two of his works.

I was reading up on "Demon Seed" and I recall one article discussing the inspiration for the interstellar-AI-conversation as coming from a novel source more obscure than "A for Andromeda" or Hoyle's writings in general, which is why I have trouble remembering that particular source.


Well, with the scrubbing part, I did say it was obsessive, not that is was reasonable.

Concerning HF, the main discussion when having to work with it in the glasses part of the local analytical course was if you should go directly to hospital or bother to do a little trip to the railway station first to get some opioids, one syringe of calcium gluconate per square millimetre of skin being not that much fun, and of course no pain meds allowed, you have to be able to tell the docs if it hurts bad or really bad. Arrgh, no wonder chemists were a crazy bunch...

Concerning the prefab angle of chemical synthesis, there's nothing like a continous flow hydrogenation device...

Oh, and since we're at chemistry, drugs and like, any problems with me mentioning 'Breaking Bad' to emphazise the fun[1] involved?

[1] For strange values of fun.


The NoVA area had an apartment building in flames a couple weeks ago because someone tried to mix cleaning chemicals.

And today, some car blew up because three guys were keeping explosives in it and they triggered themselves. The police let the guys back out, so the explosives couldn't be too bad.


Err, I was not involved, I wasn't even not in the vicinity of the NoVA. I just like to add this.
Luckily, most of the stuff you can get this way is to unstable to be of much use, but then, some desinfectants have an uncanny resemblance to RDX and like...

Oh, and I'm a (not whale) biologist and have been interested in chemistry since high school (ok, that's usually the worst type of pyrotechnic ilk you can get), so at least in part I know what I'm doing. Personally, the main danger I'm aware of when working with cleaners is not so much with organic solvents and oxidising agents, but with oxidising agents and certain acids; hydrogen peroxide (some drain cleaners) and hydrochloric acid (some chalk cleaners) make for a nice binary WWI chemical weapon[1]...

[1] One fond memory from my stint into a 'real' chemistry course were some guys/girls using said mixture as a slightly less dangerous substitute for aqua regia, since their substance refused to go into solution; turns out they had barium sulfate[2]... *g*
[2] I'm not that sure if that qualifies for 'whoever says something is idiot proof underestimates the common idiot'.


@ 275 & previous
Terry Pratchett's early novel: "The Dark Side of the Sun" ... where there are intelligent being in all four states of matter (Earth, Water, Air, Fire).

@ 279
Do you want it to go bang, or do you want it to get hot?
At one time Magnesium powder and Sulphur were readily available, as was Potassium Permanganate. You can still get Hydrogrn Peroxide and Hydrochloric Acid, of course. Pure Ammonium Nitrate is now almost impossible, but, if you have the time, I suppose you could buy the fertiliser, and water-extract the Nitrate from the mix.
Please don't ask how I know about these things.


#279 Note 1

This reminds me of going back to secondary school, to visit my chemistry teacher. I entered the corridor his class was in, and was met by a smell of toluene. I went to his class quickly, and said "Excuse me sir; I think you should check what the 6th years are doing, now"! The smell reached him and he replied "You're right Ken.
(to class) You lot read your notes until I get back." and departed fast.

Long story short, 2 guys who were doing a Higher repeat rather than CSYS were attempting to precipitate a solvate from a solution in toluene over a Bunsen burner, and not even using a fume hood.


I get the feeling that you're not a fan of warships with "several inch" calibre main guns?

No, you misunderstand me - I'm not opposed to cruisers or destroyers or anything like that. I'm just opposed to people who take a fast inshore patrol sloop and try to turn it into something that can run halfway round the world and act as a one-hull amphibious battle group. If you want to build a destroyer, build a destroyer.


There's an Italian-designed 3-inch gun that the US Navy has used on some warships. Latest versions have a startling rate of fire. The same company also does a version of the 40mm Bofors which might be a useful multi-purpose gun, and has some involvement with the Oerlikon 35mm family of weapons.

Ammunition storage would still be the problem, but missiles need storing too.

And, for a lot of purposes short of all-out hot war, a gun in that rough size range is a good choice. There's maybe a bit too much fascination with the size of shell for long-range shooting which is a little pointless in the modern missile era.

Though I doubt Marines, of any country, would be happy about losing the option of naval gunfire.

The LCS, in its original concept, is closer to the corvettes and large patrol boats that currently use these smaller guns. But how long will such small warships last in a "real" war?


Okay mate. I agree with your point then.


Ignoring platform survivability issues, the answer to "shore bombardment" is still an olde school battleship; a delivery of something like 13.5 cars travelling at M2 and stuffed with HE every minute for several hours is a well proven "shock and awe" tool.


First destroyer - ~380 tons.

Currently planned destroyers - ~14,500 tons.

That's what happens when you take an uprated inshore warship designed to hunt down and kill torpedo boats and keep upping the ante.

Compare that displacement with the 14,000 tons that you might find for a WWII era heavy cruiser. That fast little shrew-like animal has evolved into a rhino.


They get even bigger: here's the Japanese Navy's Hy%C5%ABga class helicopter destroyer.

It's a "destroyer" that displaces, when fully loaded, about 10% less than an Invincible class Carrier. Hell, it's nearly as big as the original Dreadnought. (Did I say it has a flight deck and carries choppers? Because the Japanese Navy does not operate Aircraft Carriers, no sirree! So it must be a destroyer.)


As they stand, those are helcopter carriers, but yes they're threateningly close to an Invincible-style "thro-deck cruiser".

Of course, the USN's Aegis class "cruisers" are actually overloaded (by the Aegis radar) destroyer hulls.


Well, anything called a "destroyer" nowadays is the same size as, and designed for the same job as, and should really have the same name as, a WW2 anti-aircraft cruiser. They've kept the destroyer name through historical accident, and they also generally have a secondary anti-ship capability through anti-ship missiles.

Destroyers used in WW2 and before were mainly designed to kill other destroyers and launch torpedo attacks against surface ships; they were sometimes retrofitted with anti-submarine kit for escort duties.


There are modern ships that do roughly the same job as WW2 destroyers; we call them "corvettes".


@ 232:

SoV, in case you don't check the older thread again, I responded to your request for history/culture books:

Sorry for not replying sooner. I've already read those, but thanks for your suggestions. I've never understood the appeal of Naomi Klein's book. I mean yes, she's correct, obviously . . . but isn't that, um, obvious? And isn't this going to be the case for any socio/political/economic setup where there is a lack of accountability? For example, turn it around, make China and the former S.U. the dominant dispensers of aid; don't you think someone would sooner or later write a book about "Disaster Communism" (or Disaster Socialism?)

Let me in turn recommend "John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Economics, His Politics" by Richard Parker. It's a bit long, but quite good for setting the record straight on any of a number of incidents. The elder Galbraith, for example, was very much a fan of big business and big organizations. And for the very obvious reason that anyone could give after a little thought: without big business and big organizations, you're not going to have most of the technological marvels that make the middle class possible, everything from affordable cars to affordable computers.

It also cites any of a number of Galbraith's Cassandra moments, predictions and interpretations of events which we think of as obviously true in hindsight (and actually obviously true at the time as well) but which were nevertheless vigorously resisted and downplayed by all the usual suspects with a bit a power and determined to keep it whatever the cost to the general welfare.


@ 275:

My favorite of the 'Original Authors ' work was, and remains, " The Black Cloud " which I first read around about 1960.

Hoyle was prescient in any of a number of ways. One of my personal favorites is on the difficulty of space travel from Fifth Planet. After talking about the necessity of staging (which as far as we know today is the only way to beat the rocket equation), the protagonists go on with:

As regards the inert fuel, what they wanted was a low molecular weight, not too low a boiling point, and a high density. Unfortunately the spending of hundreds of thousands of millions of pounds over the years had not succeeded in changing the laws of chemistry, whatever the priorities the committees put on their projects. So the best inert fuels were exactly those that could have been deduced from chemical handbooks a century earlier. Ordinary ammonia was as good as anything, with it's three atoms of hydrogen to one of nitrogen. After ionization, it gave a molecular weight only a little above two. Hydrogen itself would have given a much better molecular weight, but the density was hopelessly low, and it was also difficult to keep vast quantities of hydrogen in a liquid state.

Good man, Fred. That he could write so well and so relevantly half a century ago (the book was published in 1963) just goes to show how well the science of rocketry was understood by then. And why any new pron exposition on the subject tends to be of the engineering sort, rather than the science behind it per se.

Oh, and as a bit of sociology, he also noted that a) of course there was going to be a manned landing on the new planet, but b) it would be hideously expensive, not really give any new information over and above an unmanned lander, and attempted solely as a bit of national - or rather international - circus.


As long as you ignore survivability and are willing accept the loss of major warships with crews of expensively-trained sailors in quantity eight hundred at a time from minefields or brown-water diesel subs[0] and as long as the targets you want to bombard are within 20 km or so of a coast with deep enough mineswept channels to take the hull displacement then a battleship can deliver with piss-poor accuracy a couple of hundred heavy-calibre shells each with less explosive power than a 2000lb free-fall JDAM bomb. After that the rifling of its guns will be close to being shot out and its magazines empty and they cannot be RASSed meaning it will have to return to a friendly or even a home port to restock, possibly several thousand kilometres away.

Contrast and compare with an aircraft carrier, or even better for the Marines an LHD like the new America class currently being built (about 2/3 the size of the new QE British fleet carriers). It can stand a hundred clicks off a hostile shore, well clear of shore-based antiship missiles or counter-battery fire from howitzers and deliver round after round of ground-attack weaponry from its F35 complement several hundred clicks inland with pinpoint accuracy unlike the blunderbuss battleship rounds. Aircraft can be rotated in from other carriers or local friendly airfields to cover losses and all of its expendable munitions can be RASSed.

[0] The last time a big-gun ship came out to play was during the Falklands War. Admittedly it was a nuke boat that sank the Belgrano with the loss of over five hundred sailors, not a diesel boat but it was in blue water, not brown. From the reports the sub driver in charge of the Conqueror didn't consider it much of a challenge, having a shooting solution on the WWII dinosaur for many hours before the order came from the top to put a couple of Mk48 heavies into her.


In an artillery battle between a ship and the land, the land can always carry a bigger gun. The ship's advantage is its guns are by definition portable.


I'm not sure what the biggest-ever land-based artillery pieces were. Ship-borne topped out at the Japanese 46cm guns on the Yamato and Musashi which never engaged another naval asset with them and which were sunk themselves by dive-bombers and submarines.

Battleships and other big-gun ships tried very hard not to come into range of known coastal defence guns (and nowadays they avoid land-based AS missile systems like Exocet and Moskit like the plague). Coastal bombardment by BB was historically quite rare even in support of landings and invasions. The US Navy with comprehensive control of the skies from its carriers was able to do this a number of times during the Pacific campaign in WWII but the reports indicate BB fire was not very effective compared to close-in air support and smaller ships delivering a higher rate of fire of smaller-calibre shells. The raison d'etre of the big-gun battleship is really to pound on other capital ships and by the time the island-hopping had begun in earnest the Japanese had few large ships left thanks to the growing American expertise with aerial attacks from its carrier force. Leyte Gulf hosted the final rather one-sided fight between the dinosaurs as a sideshow, with an older Japanese battleship running into a fleet of six American battleships which were themselves classified as a reserve force, not engaged in the real shooting war between the carriers going on nearby.


Schwerer Gustav was pretty large. The barrel was over 30 metres long, the calibre was 80 cm, and the shell was 7 tonnes in weight. Not an easy gun to ship mount, being as it weighed well over a thousand tonnes.


Hi Charles.
If you think of your brick idea, you can go seriously evil.
as in Juniors home made high kid (MDMA, methamphetamine and diamorphine when you want them!), and worse, Junior's home DNA mod kit (retroviruses included).

Ringo had aliens killing off all people with medical conditions and making blondes hyperfertile in his Troy series. We don't need aliens, We have enough chip designers out there who make the lads in the Big Brain Theory look ethical.


as long as the targets you want to bombard are within 20 km or so of a coast with deep enough mineswept channels to take the hull displacement then a battleship can deliver with piss-poor accuracy a couple of hundred heavy-calibre shells each with less explosive power than a 2000lb free-fall JDAM bomb. After that the rifling of its guns will be close to being shot out and its magazines empty and they cannot be RASSed meaning it will have to return to a friendly or even a home port to restock, possibly several thousand kilometres away.

A few points:
precision guided LRAGM 155mm shells are under development that would have roughly equivalent accuracy to a JDAM;

they have range of 100 km, not 20 km;

There is no reason I can think of why you can't replen with 155mm shells at sea;

you are dramatically underestimating barrel life - naval gun barrels last for about 8,000 rounds, so a six-gun warship would be able to put 48,000 rounds on target before its rifling was shot out, not 200;

a monitor with six 6" guns (since that's what we're talking about) would not need a crew of 800. HMS Belfast had twelve 6" guns, plus lots of AA and even an onboard aircraft, and a crew of only 750, and modern warships are highly automated. (For a start, they don't have turret crews.) As for hull draught, Belfast is smaller and shallower-draught than a modern destroyer.


I thought we were talking battleships, not arsenal ships -- 12" plus calibre guns with shells weighing over a tonne each. The BB boosters claim there are hardened targets that need that sort of pounding except they can't actually point to one when pushed, at least not one that can be reached by a weapon with a reach of only 20-30km and which requires a massive hull and hundreds of crew to operate. Those guns start to lose their limited accuracy after about 50-80 rounds per barrel and are effectively shot out after a hundred with a doubling of the CEP radius.

There are all sorts of whizzo wog-shattering weapon systems in development -- the USN's recently demo'ed bombardment railgun system for example but they are mostly a solution looking for a problem to solve. Right now bombs are being dropped with mostly-pinpoint accuracy in Afghanistan which is hundreds of miles from anywhere a naval bombardment system can be deployed and that assumes clean water right up to the shoreline. Aircraft and drones do the job right now with very adequate weapons and the giant assets with hundreds (or in their case thousands) of crew are already built and deployed.

Ship crewing levels are set not by the operational manning requirements but the necessity for firefighting and damage control in a shooting situation. With the exception of submarines, warships are heavily overmanned to absorb losses and keep fighting.

As for bombardment range, MLRS already covers the sort of distance the projected base-bleed ammunition systems are intended for, and again they're already in service and actually work when called upon. There are also cruise missiles available to cover greater distance to individual targets if required.


OK, you're absolutely right: warships built in the 1940s are inferior to warships built in the 1990s.


#298 - Seconded, and wrt #299, these munitions overcome your objections about "rifling wear" by having in-flight guidance, so dumb shell increased CEP objections simply don't apply.

Also, MLRS doesn't achieve that much greater weight of fire than 155mm SPGs, because once you've shot your 12 rounds, you have a fairly protracted reloading time, and you need roughly one ammo truck for each salvo the MLRS fires, where the same one truck can deliver a platoon resupply of shells for SPGs.

In her "as commissioned" fit, HMS Belfast carried 12 x 6", 12 x 4.5" dual purpose, IIRC 4 x 6 barrel 2lb "pom-pom" AA mounts, an assortment of 20mm Oerlikons, 2 x 3 tube torpedo mounts, and 2 Supermarine Walrus flying boats, served by the crew of 800. A fair chink of that lot has been stripped out in her "as decommissioned" fit now seen in the Pool of London.


What you need is the Monitor, in it's later configuration.
Something like a Roberts-class
This vessel was retrofitted with 15" guns.
Even then, you could hit a target over 25 miles away with such - at least one Italian cruiser ( Bartolemeo Colleone ? ) was got that way during WWII.

However, I suspect what you really need are mini-carriers, smaller than "Invincible" class, with say 50 drones packed below deacks, and several thousand missiles.


That's what appeals about the concept; with the sort of range extension we're talking about on a 6" novel munition, a 15" or 16" (forget the Yamatos' guns; the 18" were so big they compromised the design of the secondary and AA fits, which doesn't apply to the Iowas, German Bismark class, British PoW and Rodney classes...) shell should be going out to the point of engaging targets in low Earth orbits.


Well, it doesn't actually extend the range over what would be possible with a dumb shell, it just extends effective range. No anti-satellite guns for you, sorry...


On the battleship, cruiser and shore bombardment thing, I think its taken a rather US- centric turn.
By contrast, one of the things that meant the Salerno (IIRC) landings succeeded was the use of naval bombardment to draw an artillery curtain around the site. Heavy use of naval bombardment was also important in the early stages of the Normandy landings, although I think they weren't quite as effective as they wanted them to be, it was nevertheless very useful, until the troops inland got too far from the shore.

Essentially it sounds to me like anyone concentrating on having lots of big guns is fighting the last war. On the other hand a medium sized ship mounted gun would be much cheaper and easier when engaging smaller units like, hmmm, coastal patrol boats belonging to a medium sized country which is militarily weaker than yourself. Why fire off an expensive missile when a few seconds fire of cheap shells can do the job fine?


Ah, I assume you're talking about the effect of Base Bleed? (It can be a little difficult to tell when you neither quote, nor link to, the post in question.)

If so, surely extending the range is what it does do. I'm not sure quite what the distinction you're trying to make actually is.

However, given a rough guess that vertical range is probably about a third of horizontal range, you'd need a 300 mile range shell to reach the bottom edge of LEO. And then you'd want to be able to hit something going at right angles, at the equivalent of Mach 20 or so.


Though if it were to blow a cloud of chaff or debris into the satellite's path, then the result should be fairly effective.


I think the LRLAP's big advantage is that it's got pop-out fins and guidance - you could no doubt fire a dumb base bleed or rocket-assisted shell that far without them, but it'd be so inaccurate when it got there that there wouldn't be much point. (LRLAP is rocket-assisted, not base bleed.)

...Is it really so difficult to work out that comment 304 might be answering comment 303?


I'm working on the same assumption. I wasn't just talking about base bleed rounds, but there are now some that use a rocket sustainer (they're still an order of magnitude cheaper than a missile) in development.


#307 Para2 - No, but it's definitely harder than pressing the "Reply" control instead of clicking into the "Comments" field, and you're presuming that there isn't anyone else writing a comment and posting it whilst you're writing yours.


Regarding linking/quoting, this is somewhat meta so I'll make just this one comment - my rule of thumb is that it is better for the writer to spend a few seconds making something explicit than for numbers of readers to have to spend a moment extra each on deciphering it.

Yes, in this case it was only a moment extra, and yes, this far into the thread the number of readers is probably getting quite low, and yes, I've now invested more time in this comment than would have been saved.


Ajay: moderation may delete or insert comments between your response and whatever you're responding to. So please use the "reply" link when replying to someone -- that preserves the link. OK?


The Yamato and Musashi were launched with a pair of triple 6" turrets midships as well as identical turrets superpositioned above the forward and rear main turrets. After the events of 1942 they were hastily recalled, the midships triple turrets were removed and a shitload of antiaircraft guns added in their place -- I think the total AA fitout eventually reached 200 barrels, a mix of triple-25mm and dual 125mm guns. The damn things looked like porcupines by the time they were sunk.

Here's a link to one of the many pics I took of the tenth-scale model of the Yamato in Kure, Japan which shows the late-war AA fit:

As an added extra the main 46cm guns also had anti-aircraft shells available to them -- they were apparently made by one of the famous Japanese fireworks family companies.


Single and triple 25mm actually (at least on one of the pair completed as battlewagons*, although your photo suggests that would have been Musashi); Also note just how much of the AA fit is turretted (I think everything except the 25mms, and certainly all of the original guns). That's what I was referring to about the fit being compromised by the blast from the main battery.

*The 3rd keel laid down, Shimano, was part-converted into an aircraft carrier, but sunk before fitting out was complete and the airwing boarded.


@ 314
SPAM alert!
( I think )


Nuked within 60 seconds of it being posted, Greg.


Nothing military or hidden; but the current Tunisian events feel to me like something that would occur in a Stross-created world; the first Wiki-revolution indeed.


Just came across this study on the cost of piracy - they estimate only USD7-12B per year.


@ 317 Piracy costs.
So piracy COSTS 7-10 $billion, and they're spending 2.
So - double the spending, and make that spending EFFECTIVE - like weapons sytems that work, and make sure lots of pirates get to walk home from the middle of the ocean.
Should solve the problem.
ALong with a little (ahem) colonialsim, a.k.a. a UN mandate for Somalia. Who gets the poisoned chalice?


"Team America; World Police"? ;-)


Hmmm...Obscure. I'll give one, and compared to the USN LCS project, it is downright weird-- it's fairly inexpensive, does the job and doesn't show an unhealthy love for technology-- the Absalon class:

No, it doesn't move at 40knots (as if an LCS is ever going to have to dodge gunfire, or for that matter, if 40 knots is any better than 14 if you're dealing with high speed missiles), nor does it have gee whiz equipment-- but it is a well designed ship for low intensity operations, with an ability to be configured for anything from troop support to disaster relief. In other words, a project that came in pretty much on time and on budget and does what it promised to do-- which is pretty weird all by itself :)


Given what this thread is about, here's something which is actually on topic. It comes from the ever-reliable D-Day, another ex-USENET face.

"In spring and early summer 1963 CIA reconnaissance specialists proposed two alternatives to the M-2. One was a covert vehicle “that could be represented to be something other than a reconnaissance vehicle,” in the words of historian Robert Perry. The idea was a rather bizarre one: disguise a reconnaissance satellite as a prototype orbiting nuclear weapon. To date this proposal is only sketchily described in declassified histories, but it is beyond head-scratching. After all, many of the people who were involved in developing reconnaissance satellites were very concerned that the Soviet Union might start to shoot them down and wanted the Soviet Union to ignore them. Painting a big fat radiation sign on the side of one was not exactly a way of de-escalating the situation.

The second concept “was even more controversial,” according to Perry. Unfortunately, what exactly this was has not been declassified. The idea was passed on to the Purcell Panel, which determined that it “would not be a wise investment of resources.”


OK - it's _even more destabilising_ than pretending, just after the Cuba crisis, that you've got orbital nuclear weapons...


Look up Squishbot, I've seen the protoype and it gives me the willies.

Also look at PETMAN from the same company. I've seen it with the skin on and off. Nothing screams Terminator more than this. The skin is warm to the touch and it sweats.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on January 3, 2011 8:33 AM.

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