Monthly Archives: February 2015

Snow Day

This morning, the Tennessee Valley was hit by the Great Blizzard of 2015! Which is basically what we call it when we get a quarter inch of snow.

Picture taken by Vaughn Bocchino of Bocchino Custom Framing.
Picture taken by Vaughn Bocchino of Bocchino Custom Framing.

Of course, here in the south a millimeter of snow and ice shuts down everything, so SNOW DAY!

One of the nicest things about my day job (software engineer) is the ability to telecommute from time to time. Today I have had the very distinct pleasure of working while sitting on my couch in my slippers in front of a roaring fire.

Yeah, I can live with that.

One Bright Star to Guide Them

One Bright Star to Guide Them
One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C Wright

Larry Correia is dropping another book bomb today. Of the three novellas being bombed today, there are two that I haven’t read. Then there’s a third that I already own and have already read: “John C. Wright’s” One Bright Star to Guide Them. Since I already own it, I am contributing to the book bomb by writing this review – which I will also repost on

John C. Wright is one of – if not the – best voices of our generation in science fiction and fantasy. And last year was a banner year for him – a quick search on Amazon reveals seven works he published in 2014:

One Bright Star to Guide Them is an homage and love letter to the works of CS Lewis. Bittersweet – but, importantly, never cynical – it shows the child heroes after they’ve won, returned home, and “grown up” – only to find that the evil they fought as children has returned, to the “real world” this time, and they must fight it again.

It’s a strong story, with a lot to say about the modern world. Yet it never becomes preachy or lets the message get in the way of an enjoyable story. John C. Wright has a wondrously insane (in the best possible way) imagination, and one of the most enjoyable things about reading any of his stories is just seeing where that imagination will take you next.

If you enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia, then One Bright Star to Guide Them is a must read story.

Update: And a very special thank you to Mr. Wright himself for linking back to this review!

Rational Actors

This passage from a recent article on CNN got me thinking:

The mistake some make when viewing ISIS is to see it as a rational actor. Instead, as the magazine documents, its ideology is that of an apocalyptic cult that believes that we are living in the end times and that ISIS’ actions are hastening the moment when this will happen.

This isn’t the mistake that most of us make at all. Our problem is that we want to pigeon hole anybody who doesn’t think like a liberal westerner as “irrational.” Modern liberal or classical liberal? it doesn’t matter, take your pick. As is so often the case, both the left and the right sides of American political thought are completely guilty of this mistake.

I want to make it clear what I don’t mean: I’m not talking about individuals. Individuals act irrationally all the time, in any society. Depending upon the kind of irrationality and its effects, most societies end up pushing these people to the fringe.

No, I’m talking about the generally accepted behavior of any given culture [and in this case, we have to take the people who make up ISIS as a specific cultural group]. Viewed from the outside, culturally accepted behavior often seems flat out crazy. But viewed from inside the group it usually makes perfect sense.

This is true when it’s Republicans looking askew at those crazy Democrats, northerners making fun of those hick southerners, Europeans thinking all Americans are slightly crazy, or CNN journalists claiming that ISIS members are not rational actors.

From within their own culture, there are perfectly good reasons why they behave the way they do. They simply aren’t the same reasons why Peter Bergen behaves the way he does. Calling it irrational is simply a cop-out. What it really means is that Peter Bergen is trying to slap the label “crazy” on ISIS.

OK, fine. We can call them crazy. From our perspective it might even be an accurate word. But if we’re trying to fight them or stop them it’s useless. It’s not a model that actually helps us in the real world.

We must first understand why their actions are rational from their point of view. Only then will we be able to devise a strategy to actually defeat them.


At least one man is dead and three police officers are wounded after a terror attack in Europe – this time in Denmark. Violent Islamic attacks in the west are increasing, and the time between them is shortening. We are dealing with an acceleration. Things are going to get “interesting” soon – in a Chinese curse kind of way.

In the meantime, my thoughts and prayers go out today to the victims and their families.

Apache Beats Dragon

The Smithsonian Channel recently published a video purporting to describe what would happen in a confrontation between a dragon and an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter. They are dead wrong. Here’s what would actually happen.

A couple of caveats first:

  1. I am assuming the conditions of the dragon as specified by the video. Change the conditions of the dragon and the outcome changes, naturally. But…
  2. I am leaving magic aside and assuming an organic beast. Look, if you add magic into the system then the winner of the fight is whomever the author in question wants to win and the rules of the magical system can be jiggered to be whatever they need to be to assure that outcome.

Despite caveat #1, the case I outline below effectively applies to any conceivable organic creature that is recognizable as what we would call a dragon.

Despite caveat #2, the dragon as posited in this video is not actually possible without magic. It’s capabilities as an animal defy known limits of both biology and physics. For the sake of argument, and for a fun blog post, we will ignore this. The video itself, although it doesn’t explicitly state it, implicitly clearly assumes no magic and is trying to posit a, “what if this creature existed in the real world” scenario. We will take it on its own terms.

More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine

apacheThe primary problem with claims such as those made in this video is that they are made by people who do not understand the raw destructive power of the weapons they describe. More fundamentally, they lack an understanding of the relevant biology and physics.

This is pretty easy to sympathize with. Most of us are not biologists, physicists or weapons designers. Our military represents a very small portion of our population, and most of us have never served in it and directly experienced these weapons. On the other hand, most of us have at least a little bit of experience reading or watching fantasy stories that involve magic and dragons. Hollywood – the prime source of most people’s knowledge of the military – doesn’t understand the military weapons any better than the average civilian. So we have an opinion that is a bit skewed toward these things.

There’s another issue. Past a certain point, unless we can put direct metrics on it and quantify it, the human brain starts lumping all massively destructive things together into one category: really destructive things. So fighter jets and tanks and attack helicopters and dragons all kind of get stuck together in our heads. Unless we quantify it.

And once we quantify it, a different story altogether emerges. The reality is that modern weaponry has far surpassed just about anything you’ll ever see in any fantasy story ever written. The frightening magical weapons of yore just aren’t all that impressive compared to modern military capabilities. But most of us don’t realize it.

On to the details.

As the video states, the Apache carries two primary weapon systems: an M230 chain gun and the AGM-114 Hellfire missile. Either one of these systems is sufficient not just to defeat the dragon but to turn it into a pool of goo. Here’s why.

The M230 Chain Gun

The M230 chain gun fires 30x113mm rounds at a rate of 625 rounds per minute. The Apache carries 1200 rounds for this weapon. Just so that you can get a visual, here’s what a 30mm round looks like.


(Note – I am unclear on the exact round here. It is a 30mm round, but it might not be a 30×113 as fired by the M230. It is very similarly sized, though, and serves as a good visual reference.)

In case you weren’t clear on it, that thing is huge. When fired by the M230 that massive round leaves the barrel at 2,641 feet per second. That’s right – half a mile every second, or more than twice the speed of sound. Now, the kinetic energy on that round is crazy. One or two rounds would liquify a human being on impact on that basis alone.

But the kinetic energy is only part of the fun here, because the Apache is likely to be firing the M789 HEDP (High Explosive Dual Purpose) round. Yup – high explosive. That round is specifically designed to explode inside its target (via a delayed impact fuse).

Oh, and the effective firing range on this weapon is 1,640 yards – or 0.93 miles. The Apache is shooting one thousand, two hundred of these things at our dragon from nearly a mile away.

This chain gun is designed to be an anti-armor weapon. In other words, it’s designed to take out heavily armored tanks. That dragon isn’t merely Swiss cheese. It’s a puddle of glop.

The AGM-114 Hellfire Missile

The video is joking, right?

The Hellfire missile has been known to successfully disable an M1 Abrams main battle tank (friendly fire incident in the first Gulf War in 1991). Now, for those who are uninitiated…

The M1 Abrams features reactive armor made from depleted uranium – one of the densest elements known to man. Sixty tons of it. Remember that number because we’re going to come back to it when we talk dragon flight characteristics later on. The M1 Abarms is pretty much the most heavily armored beast ever to hit a battlefield. And Hellfire took it down.

The final scene in our video shows the Apache firing all sixteen of its Hellfires at the dragon. Good luck finding any parts of the dragon after that.

Oh, and you think the 1,640 yard standoff range of the chain gun gave the Apache an advantage? The Hellfire’s effective range is five miles, which it will be covering at a speed of 995 miles per hour. In other words, it will close that entire distance in less than 20 seconds. That poor dragon doesn’t even know what vaporized it.

Demonstration Video

Here is a video that shows, as the title says, an absolutely typical Apache attack with Hellfire and 30mm gun. Pay particularly close attention to what happens to the pickup truck.

Dragon Flight Characteristics

The final consideration: if the dragon is capable of flight, that puts some serious constraints on it. Specifically, it must maintain a given lift-to-weight ratio or it will never, ever get of the ground. Given the basic configuration of a dragon, it’s primary lift source is its wings. And from the size of the wings, we can put an upper end limit on the amount of lift generated. And it’s not pretty.

We have a lot of physical examples of this in the real world. In order to fly, birds have various weight-saving features: hollow bones, hollow feathers. Most of their size is actually feather mass, which is seriously light.

red_dragon_by_caiommNow, hollow bones are pound for pound stronger than non-hollow bones. But nevertheless, by making them hollow, strength is sacrificed in order to make them far lighter. That’s why the story of nursing a bird with a broken wing back to health is a common one that many of us have heard. Those hollow bones break easily.

Remember that depleted uranium armor we mentioned up above? Seriously tough stuff, right? The drawback is that it’s heavy. The C-17 Globemaster is one of the largest cargo planes ever built. It was specifically designed to airlift the M1 Abrams. It generates a lot of lift, largely due to it’s colossal size and gargantuan wingspan. It’s 174 feet long and 170 feet in wingspan. If you’ve ever seen one in person (I have) it’s truly awe inspiring for its size.

It can carry one M1 Abrams. Because the tank is so stupidly heavy.

If our dragon is going to fly, it has to have weight limits. Now, as I mentioned way back at the beginning of this post… people with far superior aeronautical knowledge to my own have already analyzed the traditional European dragon design and concluded that it could never fly anyway. The wings don’t generate enough lift to get the body off the ground. But as I noted above, we’re hand-waving that away for the sake of taking this scenario on its own merits.

If you up-armor the thing to a point where it’s even close to withstanding the weapons noted above then you lose even the benefit of the doubt that we gave it. Our dragon never gets off the ground.

Nevermind the fact that there is nothing known in the organic world that can withstand the weaponry that I described above. Even in the engineered world, there’s not really a lot that can stand up to it. Those things are brutal.

The dragon loses. Period. Full stop. End of story. Any other outcome is, well, fantasy.

Don’t Pass the AUMF

President Obama has requested that Congress authorize the use of military force against ISIS. There’s a lot of argument going on right now about the specific language of the AUMF. It’s an irrelevant side show. Congress shouldn’t pass it, no matter the language.

Both the left and the right in American politics fundamentally misunderstand ISIS but for completely different reasons. The left believes that ISIS poses us no threat. They are blinded by ideology that simply doesn’t match up with the real world. ISIS most definitely poses a threat to the western world. The right understands that ISIS is a threat but wants to face it with the same “strategies” – or lack thereof – that have already failed us in the middle east.

First and foremost, we have no defined objective in our fight against ISIS. What are we actually trying to accomplish with military strikes? “Stop ISIS” is all I ever hear. OK, fine. But what does that actually mean? How are we going to do stop them? What does “stopping ISIS” even mean? Containment? Eliminate their fledgling empire?

Forget trying to figure out how – we don’t even know what we want to accomplish.

And that leads to the second point. Are we prepared to invade the middle east again, spend another decade or more with boots on the ground, and completely overthrow what looks to be a de facto empire forming (whether we admit it or not)? No, the American people aren’t ready to commit to this.

The closest thing to a strategy that I’ve heard is “fight them over there so that we don’t have to fight them here.” This is wrong for two reasons. First, it’s a tactic – not a strategy. I say again – how are we going to actually stop them? Second, it’s not what will actually happen in reality. Without a defined objective and a plan to accomplish it, we will get sucked into a war of attrition that will only benefit ISIS and its recruiting while depleting our own capability to fight them when we’re actually ready to fight.

Preserve our energy, preserve our resources and most importantly, preserve the lives of the young men who always pay the ultimate price. Let ISIS exhaust itself, let it show itself for the true threat that it is, and we’ll face it with allies behind us – and, more importantly, with the American people fully behind it.

Don’t pass the AUMF.

[And don’t for a minute pretend that this post changes anything. We all know that it will pass anyway.]

I am not George R. R. Martin’s Bitch

Way back in 2009, an eternity ago in Internet Time, Neil Gaiman left a blog post that set fans of George R. R. Martin on fire:

Look, this may not be palatable, Gareth, and I keep trying to come up with a better way to put it, but the simplicity of things, at least from my perspective is this:

George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

This is a useful thing to know, perhaps a useful thing to point out when you find yourself thinking that possibly George is, indeed, your bitch, and should be out there typing what you want to read right now.

People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines.

You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.

No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.

Fair enough, as far as it goes. However, this came out the other day:

Another year of waiting for The Winds of Winter to blow is in store for fans ofGeorge RR Martin, as his publisher confirmed there are no plans for the much-anticipated latest volume from his A Song of Ice and Fire series to appear in 2015. Instead, readers will have to comfort themselves with an illustrated edition of three previously anthologised novellas set in the world of Westeros.

A couple of points that are worth noting:

  • Gaiman posted his rant in 2009 – almost six years ago.
  • At that point, it had already been almost four years since the previous book in A Song of Ice and Fire had been published.
  • In all of that time, almost ten years, there has been exactly one new book in the series.
  • That one book has been widely regarded by the fans as not up to snuff with the previous entries in the series – as was the book immediately preceding it.

Here’s the thing: I picked up my copy of Game of Thrones almost nineteen years ago. More than half my life has passed since I first read it. I’ve graduated from college, gotten a job, gotten married, had three kids, been laid off, gotten a new job, started a few businesses that failed, started (or helped start) a few others that have succeeded, and converted to a new religion.

I’m not in the same place anymore as I was when I first read that first novel – and the general quality of the series has greatly declined.

Don’t get me wrong, when the next book comes out I will probably read it. But as of right now, I’m two seasons behind on the TV adaptation and I don’t miss it. And I really didn’t even much mind when I heard the next book wasn’t coming out this year. I expected it. And if the next book isn’t a return to form I might not be picking up the final installment.

George R. R. Martin may not be our bitch, but neither are we his.

From Their Cold, Dead Hands

It doesn’t matter how much of it they have, what pretext they originally gave for taking it, or where it finally came from. Once the government gets your money, the only way you’ll ever get them to give it up is to pry it out of their cold, dead hands.

Republicans and Democrats say there’s no good reason to put pot taxes back into people’s pockets, and state officials are scrambling to figure out how to avoid doling out the money. It may have to be settled by asking Colorado voters, for a third time, to cast a ballot on the issue and exempt pot taxes from the refund requirement.

Remember, to these people a constitutional amendment is – literally and in their own words – “no good reason.”