Friday, January 31, 2014

Will technology finally trump camouflage?

Some years ago I wrote a Weekend Wings article about stealth and camouflage technology, and how it's evolved over the years.  A recent article in Gizmodo covered the field of personal camouflage technology, and gave several examples of the latest developments in the field.

However, I've been following with great interest the development of hyperspectral imaging and its application to military reconnaissance and sensors.  It's almost ready to hit prime time, although the initial sensors using it will be big, very expensive, and a bit too sensitive for most battlefield conditions.  (We've discussed one of them in these pages before.)  I'd give it a few years at most before they develop into something small and portable enough to be mounted on most combat vehicles, and incorporated into night-vision goggles and weapon sights.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Hyperspectral imaging uses spectroscopy technology to identify the actual materials it sees, not just what they look like.  An artificial intelligence computer system could scan a hillside using such a sensor and decide, "That looks like rock, and according to its spectral radiation, it's granite; . . . that looks like a tree, and according to its spectral radiation, it's wood; . . . that looks like a bush, but according to its spectral radiation, it's cloth.  Shoot it!"

This technology would mean that visual or infra-red spectrum camouflage would become largely irrelevant on a high-technology battlefield (although, of course, it would remain very useful when not confronted with such sensors).  We've already seen that smartphones and even eyeglasses can be converted into night vision devices.  How long will it be before hyperspectral imaging technology devolves to common electronic appliances in the same way?


Big Brother wants to shut down your vehicle on command

Earlier this month I wrote about so-called V2V technology, which would allow (mandate?) your car to broadcast a complete record of your driving habits, routes, destinations, etc.  In due course it's likely to make possible completely automated journeys from start to finish, where your car is controlled by a traffic system and you're merely a passenger along for the ride.

Now it looks like the European Union has ideas of its own.

The European Union is secretly developing a "remote stopping" device to be fitted to all cars that would allow the police to disable vehicles at the flick of a switch from a control room.

Confidential documents from a committee of senior EU police officers, who hold their meetings in secret, have set out a plan entitled "remote stopping vehicles" as part of wider law enforcement surveillance and tracking measures.

"The project will work on a technological solution that can be a 'build in standard' for all cars that enter the European market," said a restricted document.

The devices, which could be in all new cars by the end of the decade, would be activated by a police officer working from a computer screen in a central headquarters.

Once enabled the engine of a car used by a fugitive or other suspect would stop, the supply of fuel would be cut and the ignition switched off.

The technology, scheduled for a six-year development timetable, is aimed at bringing dangerous high-speed car chases to an end and to make redundant current stopping techniques such as spiking a vehicle's tyres.

The proposal was outlined as part of the "key objectives" for the "European Network of Law Enforcement Technologies", or Enlets, a secretive off-shoot of a European "working party" aimed at enhancing police cooperation across the EU.

Statewatch, a watchdog monitoring police powers, state surveillance and civil liberties in the EU, have leaked the documents amid concerns the technology poses a serious threat to civil liberties.

"We all know about the problems surrounding police stop and searches, so why will be these cars stopped in the first place," said Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch.

"We also need to know if there is any evidence that this is a widespread problem. Let's have some evidence that this is a problem, and then let's have some guidelines on how this would be used."

. . .

The introduction of stopping devices has raised questions of road safety. David Davis, the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden, warned that the technology could pose a danger to all road users.

"I would be fascinated to know what the state's liability will be if they put these devices in all vehicles and one went off by accident whilst a car was doing 70mph on a motorway with a truck behind it resulting in loss of life," he said.

"It is time legislators stopped believing technology is a form of magic and realised that is fallible, and those failures do real harm."

There's more at the link.

The Nanny State will stop at nothing to exercise greater and greater control over its citizens subjects.  Expect this project to be enthusiastically welcomed by our bureaucratic wannabe overlords on this side of the Atlantic, too.

I predict a roaring trade in rebuilt older-model engines fitted with carburetors, and no computer control whatsoever.  In response, look for the authorities to tighten emission control standards, so that no car not fitted with a 'black box' can pass them . . .


Facebook gets even more intrusive

Thanks to a link at Karl Denninger's place, we learn that Facebook is trying to not only invade your privacy, but exercise control over it!

That's right.  The latest version of Facebook's Android app now wants to:

  • Read your text messages;
  • Control your smartphone's other apps;
  • Control your smartphone's audio and video settings, including recording (which would enable it to take snapshots of your surroundings, for example, and upload them for analysis);
  • Send e-mail (in other words, spam) to those using your calendar and other shared facilities.

I've said before that Facebook is a clear and present danger to the privacy and online security of its users.  This latest development merely makes that more obvious than ever.  As Karl Denninger puts it, as far as Facebook is concerned, you are the product.

Anyone voluntarily allowing Facebook this sort of control over their smartphones and personal information deserves all they get, IMHO . . .


The next book is almost ready

With a huge sigh of relief, this morning I finished the major revisions to the third volume of the Maxwell Saga, 'Adapt And Overcome'.  I've got a few days of final checking ahead, to make sure that I've tied all the elements together, dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's;  but I think I'm well on track to publish the book next week.  It'll come out first in a Kindle e-book edition, followed within a week or so by a print edition.

Thank you all very much for your patience in waiting longer than expected for this book. I'm glad I took the time to put in more work on character development.  I'm not saying it's perfect, but I think it's a lot better than it was when I sent it out to beta readers last year. I'm going to draw on the lessons learned to make Maxwell Volume 4 even better than Volume 3, and hopefully onward and upward in the same way throughout the series.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Can one 'hack' true love?

I must confess to irrepressible glee when I read about Ravijour's 'True Love Tester' bra.

The “True Love Tester” bra can’t be masterfully unhooked by some skeevy player who hit on the wearer at a club. No, this bra only comes undone when sensors embedded inside it that are connected wirelessly to a smartphone app detect a particular heart rate.

According to the Victoria’s Secret-like company that made the bra, Ravijour, a particular heart rate over time indicates “love.” And what do you know, they even have a graph comparing the effects of jogging, shopping, eating spicy food and watching a horror movie with “flirting” and “surprise gift” on a lady’s heart. What better way to acknowledge being “in love” than having your glittery bra fly open?

There's more at the link.

Here's a video of how the 'True Love Tester' bra will work.

Am I the only one who can foresee every teenage computer geek becoming instant computer hackers, trying to get that smartphone app to pop open the bra on every conceivable occasion?  (You should pardon the expression.)


Have we reached the tipping point?

Folks, I've been warning for years now that our economy can't continue on its present path.  Government over-spending (at an insane level), the Fed printing money like there's no tomorrow (with nothing whatsoever backing it up), and a bunch of other factors have been piling up trouble for all of us.  The response of the authorities has been to 'kick the can down the road' at every opportunity, borrowing and/or printing more money to take care of short-term problems while ignoring (not to mention exacerbating) the long-term issues that have caused, are causing and will continue to cause the real problems.

I begin to think that the economic chickens may finally be coming home to roost.  Consider these developments:

  1. The Fed has begin to wind down, or 'taper', it's long-running Quantitative Easing program.  It's just taken the second step in doing so - and the stock market, which has been boosted to insane levels on the back of the flood of QE funds, immediately fell in reaction to the news.
  2. International markets are cratering as the Fed 'tapers', and the IMF and the World Bank are warning of severe consequences if the process continues.
  3. Many emerging market currencies are taking a pounding as the Fed tapers QE and the world economy staggers.  Nations such as Turkey, India and South Africa have had to sharply increase their central bank interest rates to stem the fall in the value of their currencies.  This means real problems for borrowers in those nations - problems that must inevitably affect First World economies in due course.
  4. As if US quantitative easing weren't bad enough, it now appears that China is riding for a fall too.  It's QE program is four times larger than ours, having pumped about $12 trillion into its economy since 2006.  China is the world's largest manufacturing economy.  If the First World markets for its products contract due to financial recession, and simultaneously its internal market contracts due to predicted banking and liquidity crises . . . guess what that combination might do to world stability?  I'm not just talking economic stability, either.  China's leaders are notorious for using external crises to distract attention from internal problems and policy failures.  How about a war over the Senkaku Islands?
  5. Corporate profits are tumbling, and appear to be set for ongoing decline.
  6. It wasn't just retailers on Main Street who had a ghastly Christmas shopping season.  Even's turnover stumbled, and it looks like durable goods orders fell sharply too.
  7. The US housing market (about which we've spoken before) continues to slide.
  8. US vehicle manufacturers have been disguising the parlous state of the new vehicle market by booking a vehicle as 'sold' the instant they move it out to a dealer's lot.  However, that doesn't necessarily mean it's been sold to a consumer.  Those questionable accounting practices are now coming home to roost, because dealer inventory for Ford, GM and Chrysler is now claimed to be equal to more than 100 days' sales.  Just think of what that means long-term.  When next year's models are introduced, dealers will be stuck with almost a third of a year's inventory of the older models.  Many customers won't want them.  They'll want the newer versions.  What happens to that older inventory?  Will the manufacturers subsidize it at fire-sale prices to get rid of it?  Guess what that will do to their profits?  (Not to mention what it'll do to the sales of the newer models, as customers seize the chance to buy an older model at a steep discount.)
  9. One economist has gone so far as to withdraw over $1 million from Bank of America, because "even an infinitesimal chance Bank of America will not repay me in full, whenever I ask, switches the cost-benefit conclusion from stay to flee".  The prospect of bank runs is growing (and has already occurred in some countries).  Last week this led a major UK bank to try to limit large cash withdrawals (a policy since amended due to furious customer protests).  What makes you think that same problem won't occur here?  As PBS put it, 'Is your money safe at the bank?'  (I think you can guess my answer.)

My friends, put all of the above together.  By all means follow the links I've provided and make up your own mind . . . but I see so much smoke that there's got to be, not just a fire, but a bloody great conflagration brewing beneath it all.  I'm seriously, seriously worried about the state of the US and world economies right now.  If these problems continue and get worse (as I believe they will), I think the problems that so many have forecast for so long may be almost upon us.  Decide for yourselves whether I'm being unduly alarmist.

Personally, I'm going to batten down my economic hatches as best I can . . .


MSgt. B. needs our help

He's asked me to share a link to this post on his blog.  Briefly, the son of one of his dearest friends was murdered early this month, but no suspects have yet been identified.  Police and the family are appealing for anyone with any information to come forward.

The family has donated their son's insurance money to the college he was attending, and have appealed for donations to support the same cause.  More details at MSgt. B.'s place.  Please click over there, read his article, and consider whether you'd like to help a worthy cause.

Thanks, y'all.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Writing about military service, war, and killing

I have a question (or a series of questions) for my readers, particularly those interested in military science fiction and other military fiction, but also to everyone interested in this topic in general.

Recently I wrote about the problems of character development, etc. in a guest post over at Sarah Hoyt's place.  In that article, I mentioned in passing:

I’ve been annoyed by a great many military SF books that are quite obviously written by people who have no military background themselves (or, if they have some military background, don’t have combat experience). It shows very clearly.

In a comment to that article, reader Smithgift asked:

Speaking as a civilian planning to write a book containing lots of WAR and VIOLENCE, what is the most important thing to do to avoid this? What is the most important thing NOT to do?

I've been thinking about this subject ever since, and I think it's best addressed by writing a few articles dealing with the difference between a military and a civilian mindset.  Much that seems instinctive or axiomatic to a military veteran is strange to a civilian, and needs to be explained in terms of the different way of life that military service involves.  In particular, I find that those who haven't seen combat - in particular, those who haven't killed or wounded an enemy 'up close and personal' - truly don't understand the reactions of the human psyche to the act of killing.  I've seen altogether too much of it for my peace of mind.  I'm well aware that individual reactions vary, depending on a whole host of factors.  It's a complex subject, but one that hasn't been well addressed in the context of writing fiction.

There are several books out there analyzing and embodying the military environment and mind-set, and the issue of killing, from micro- to macro levels.  They include (but are not limited to):

None of these ten books get it all right, but they all get some of it right - at least, in terms of my experience.  I think they're all worth reading.  Recommended.

I'd like to avoid duplicating the work done by those authors - there's no sense in reinventing the wheel.  I think I can provide some useful input in terms of my own background and life experiences, and in terms of the literally hundreds of other servicemen in several different countries and armed forces with whom I've spoken about these issues.  I can also bring an 'up close and personal' experience of violence and death to bear on the subject.  I really don't want to go into detail about that, for obvious reasons, but nevertheless, those who've 'been there and done that' will understand me when I say it's a bit like sex.  You can read about sex all you like;  you can go through all the theoretical sex education in the world;  but only when you've actually experienced it will you truly understand it, grasp it, feel it as part of you.  Killing is very similar in that sense.  It changes you.  Forever.  That's one reason why those who've done so very seldom write about it in any detail.  It feels almost obscene to do so.

What I'd like to ask is this.  Will it serve a useful purpose to try to go into the experience of violence and death - the experience of killing - in greater depth?  I don't want to go into voyeuristic levels of detail.  I simply want to help aspiring writers to be more realistic in their work, and not to spout reams of pablum about something they don't fully understand.

Let me give a concrete example.  Readers may recall my review of 'Act Of Valor' in 2012, which I watched with my wife.  In it, I commented that one of the scenes of death in combat brought tears to my eyes because it reminded me so powerfully of the death of one of my own comrades in arms, about which I'd written a couple of years earlier.  The fictional film brought that reality back to life for me, far more powerfully and immediately than any 'ordinary' Hollywood production could have done.  Some time later I had the opportunity to discuss the movie with some active-duty Navy SEAL team members, who confirmed to me that the incident in question was based on the death in combat of Michael A. Monsoor.  I think all of us had a tear or two in our eyes as we discussed lost comrades in arms . . .  I'd like to be able to make that same level of reality more accessible to prospective writers of military fiction.  That's why I'm considering writing this series of articles.

So, what do you think?  Would such a series of articles be useful to current and prospective writers?  Of equal importance, should they be written, or would it be best not to have overly realistic detail - to the point of possible voyeurism - splashed all over the pages of more fiction?

Over to you, readers.  Please let us know your thoughts in Comments.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Life as a non-violent psychopath"

That's the title of a truly fascinating article in The Atlantic.  A neuroscientist, James Fallon, discovered that his brain patterns matched those of a psychopath - and learned that during his youth, some had considered him to be one.  The article is an extended interview about his book on the subject and what he's learned.  Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite.

While I was writing this book, my mother started to tell me more things about myself. She said she had never told me or my father how weird I was at certain points in my youth, even though I was a happy-go-lucky kind of kid. And as I was growing up, people all throughout my life said I could be some kind of gang leader or Mafioso don because of certain behavior. Some parents forbade their children from hanging out with me. They'd wonder how I turned out so well—a family guy, successful, professional, never been to jail and all that.

I asked everybody that I knew, including psychiatrists and geneticists that have known me for a long time, and knew my bad behavior, what they thought. They went through very specific things that I had done over the years and said, "That’s psychopathic." I asked them why they didn’t tell me and they said, "We did tell you. We've all been telling you." I argued that they had called me "crazy," and they all said, "No. We said you're psychopathic."

I found out that I happened to have a series of genetic alleles, "warrior genes," that had to do with serotonin and were thought to be at risk for aggression, violence, and low emotional and interpersonal empathy—if you're raised in an abusive environment. But if you're raised in a very positive environment, that can have the effect of offsetting the negative effects of some of the other genes.

I had some geneticists and psychiatrists who didn't know me examine me independently, and look at the whole series of disorders I've had throughout my life. None of them have been severe; I’ve had the mild form of things like anxiety disorder and OCD, but it lined up with my genetics.

The scientists said, "For one, you might never have been born." My mother had miscarried several times and there probably were some genetic errors. They also said that if I hadn’t been treated so well, I probably wouldn’t have made it out of being a teenager. I would have committed suicide or have gotten killed, because I would have been a violent guy.

There's more at the link.

I find this particularly interesting because, during my many years serving as a part-time and then full-time prison chaplain, I had a great deal of contact with psychopathic personalities - some borderline, some all the way off the charts into bugnuts psychotic.  I've described some of them in my memoir of prison chaplaincy.  Here's an extract describing a clinically diagnosed psychopath, from the chapter titled 'Convicts', in which I describe some of the prison inmates I've encountered.

Finally, let’s take Howard. He got drunk one night and began to smash the furniture and fittings in his uncle’s home. His uncle tried to stop him… a fatal mistake. Howard beat him until he collapsed, then for two days and nights drank himself into a stupor, periodically getting up to kick and stomp his uncle as he lay moaning on the floor. Howard eventually passed out. He was found next morning, unconscious at the table, with his uncle dead on the floor beside him. He’d been in enough trouble with the law on previous occasions that this crime earned him a life sentence without parole. He’s still a relatively young man, and still just as violent. He’s been known to get bombed out of his skull on prison hooch (of which more later). When he gets that way, everyone steers clear of him, even the prison ‘hard men’ — all except the reaction squad, who have to subdue him and put him in the Hole to sober up. He’s quite capable of killing anyone who crosses him.

Howard’s eyes scare me. They’re pitch-black and utterly lifeless. When one looks into them, one strives to detect a spark of life, of humanity, of the person inside the body… but it’s not there. I’ve never looked into the bottomless pits of Hell, but I’ve got a good idea what they must be like after working with Howard. He’s one of the few convicts who genuinely frightens me. I take care not to show it, but I also try to have support available if I’ve got to see him about something. He could snap at any moment (and has in the past). I want to make sure that if he does so while I’m around, I have the best possible chance of coming out of it relatively unscathed.

I've met far too many people like Howard for my peace of mind.  He's by no means typical of all psychopaths, either.  They can be found in many shapes, sizes and forms - but they're all equally dangerous once they've 'gone off the deep end', psychologically speaking.

I highly recommend the Atlantic's article.  If you've ever wondered what makes a psychopath tick, it'll give you some very useful answers.


The funniest table-tennis match ever?

Apparently this was a real table-tennis tournament, where the two players just got into the spirit of the thing and egged each other on to new heights of ridiculousness.  Funniest game I've ever seen!

I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.  I apologize for the banner links that appear on the video playback almost at once, but if you hover your mouse cursor over them, you'll spot the little 'X' that lets you shut them down.


Marko's second book is out today

Many of you know of Marko Kloos, fellow blogger and long-time acquaintance, who self-published his first book last year.  It was a smashing success, so much so that 49North, Amazon's SF imprint, signed him to a two-book deal.

In the intervening months, he finished the manuscript for the second book in the series, and also re-worked his first book with the help of one of 49North's editors.  It's been republished along with his second book, both still very reasonably priced.  Click on the images below to go to their book pages on

His first book's cover now looks like this:

His latest book, and sequel to 'Terms Of Enlistment', is 'Lines Of Departure'.

I've already bought my copy.

Marko, like me, is a veteran of military service, and his background shows in his writing.  He does a great job, IMHO.  There'll be a third book in this series, and he's hinted that more may follow the initial trilogy if the inspiration is there and reader demand justifies it.

Congratulations, Marko!  I hope I can emulate your success when my next book comes out (which, all being well, will happen next week.)


Monday, January 27, 2014

'How our world would look if you were a bird'

That's the title of a photo essay at  The introduction notes:

Famous landmarks like the Arc Du Triumph, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Sagrada Familia have been photographed countless times by photographers from around the world, and they are recognizable to most, if not all, of us. But this collection of stunning aerial photographs gives us a bird’s-eye-view of these places, casting them in a totally new light.

Most of the pictures are of places or things that most of us could easily identify right away. The images illustrate just how much a change in perspective can alter. It’s also worth noting that a few of these sites, like the Pyramids of Giza and the hotels in Dubai, were designed with an aerial perspective in mind. The designs of certain Dubai hotels can only be appreciated fully from above, and some theorize that the Pyramids of Giza were meant to be aligned with the stars in Orion’s Belt.

There's more at the link.

Here are just three of the pictures to whet your appetite, greatly reduced in size to fit this blog.

Niagara Falls, US/Canada border

Bern, Switzerland

Bac Son Valley, Vietnam

The small size of the images reproduced here can't possibly do them justice.  Click over to the article to see much larger versions.


Can community intervention really solve the crime problem?

There's a very interesting article at the Huffington Post claiming that increased profiling of the places where violent crime is most likely to occur, and the individuals and groups most likely to commit it, is having a dramatic effect on serious crime in US cities.  Here's an excerpt.

A growing body of criminological evidence shows that serious violence (and much other crime) is concentrated among remarkably small numbers of "hot" people and places. We now know that homicide and gun violence are overwhelmingly concentrated among serious offenders operating in groups: gangs, drug crews, and the like representing under half of one percent of a city's population commit half to three-quarters of all murders. We also know some reliable predictors of risk: individuals who have a history of violence or a close connection with prior victims are far more likely to be involved in violence themselves. Hot groups and people are so hot that when their offending is statistically abstracted, their neighborhoods cease to be dangerous. Their communities aren't dangerous; they are.

Hot places are likewise very few and account for a startling proportion of a community's crime. Research on hot spots shows violence to be concentrated in "micro" places, rather than in "dangerous neighborhoods," as the popular idea goes. Blocks, corners, and buildings representing just five or six percent of an entire city will drive half of its serious crime.

The good news is that these concentrations create high-payoff opportunities to intervene. The cities that recognize this fact are creating community-based interventions with a laser-like focus on the people and places driving violence.

In Chicago, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Philadelphia, Oakland, and Stockton -- all cities where homicide, not homicide reduction, has made headlines for years -- a community, social service, and law enforcement partnership identifies group members with extensive criminal histories and engages them in meetings -- "call-ins" -- to demand an end to violence, explain the legal risks they face, and offer them help.

. . .

The approach can transform what are often broken relationships between police and historically troubled, oppressed, and deeply angry minority communities. By making it clear that law enforcement can tell the difference between the very few even potentially violent and everybody else, and leading with intervention rather than arrest and incarceration, law enforcement wins the trust of communities and strengthens their ability to act on their own behalf and police themselves.

This is not simply an aspiration; more and more, it is a proven approach.

There's more at the link.

I'm not qualified to assess the value of the approaches this article discusses.  I fear many of them may be 'feel-good' panaceas instead of the strict policing that's often conspicuous by its absence.  (The perspectives of 'street cops' on the subject are often vitriolic - see, for example, the views on crime, criminals and law enforcement of the authors of Second City Cop, a blog by and about Chicago police.)  I'm not sure whether a hard-line approach to crime hasn't worked, or whether it's not been sufficiently hard-line to have the desired effect.  On the other hand, we've got to do something to reclaim the crime- and violence-ridden urban ghettoes in our major cities.  If this approach can, indeed, produce the desired effect - perhaps allied with a hard-line approach to those who won't 'play the game by the rules' - then I'm all for it.

What say you, readers?  Have any of you noticed this sort of program in action in your area, and seen any improvement in local crime rates?


Obamacare - the musical!

I think this is priceless.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Around The Blogs 2014-01-26

Here goes with another blast from the blogosphere.

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Murphy's Law has a great video of Jimmy Stewart looking over a venerable DC-3.  I've flown uncounted thousands of miles in those planes across Africa . . . many, many memories.

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Matthew over at Straight Forward In A Crooked World has some excellent advice for teachers (and students, for that matter) over how to cope with a threat in the school environment.  Excellent stuff, and well worth reading - particularly if you, or any of your family, works or studies in that environment.  This man knows whereof he speaks.

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The Miller brings us this spectacular adaptation of an RV into a Zombie Apocalypse bug-out vehicle.

I like it . . . but I'm sure I couldn't afford the fuel bills.

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Karl Denninger goes off at the influential folks gathering for the World Economic Forum at Davos.  Here's a sample.

Amazing crap coming out this morning from Davos on bubblevision.

I didn't catch the jackass's name but I did catch the comments -- that we (the US) need immigration reform because we don't have the people here that we need for economic progress.

That's utter and complete crap, but what's worse is that to the extent the claim is true it's self-inflicted injury and all of these jackwads over there that are making the claim are part and parcel of the reason that the condition exists.

First, let's have some facts, shall we?  There are 12,385,000 more people of working age (16-64, inclusive) today than there were in September of 2008.  America is not suffering from a contracting workforce.


There's more at the link.  It's good stuff.  Go read.

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Glenn Reynolds brings us some time-honored time management advice.  I've seen it many times before, but it's always good to be reminded of basic reality like that.  Very useful.

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Speaking of Glenn Reynolds, Francis Porretto cites him in a very insightful article dealing with 'Propaganda and Education'.  For example:

A great deal of the criticism of American education stems from the weak correlation between one's acquisition of a college degree and one's subsequent occupational attainment. There appears to be a widely held assumption, explicit more often than not, that a college education's primary purpose is to ready those who pass through it to perform economically.

In historical terms, that's a very recent emphasis. And there's a very good chance that it's at the heart of what's "wrong" with American higher education.


On the same subject, Matt Walsh thanks God he wasn't college material.

Something has to change. Listen to me on this one. Something HAS to change. This can’t continue. It is not a sustainable model. There are millions of kids with no assets, no plans, and no purpose, taking out enormous loans to purchase a piece of paper they’ll likely never use. It can’t go on this way.

. . .

This is madness. And there’s only one way to stop it: don’t go to college.

Don’t send your kids to college.

If they aren’t actively pursuing a career that fundamentally requires a college degree, don’t encourage them to go.

More wisdom.

Finally, Daniel Greenberg slips the knife between the ribs of the educational elite with his usual inimitable style in an article titled 'Academics In Wonderland'.

Academia is a magical world where nothing is truly fixed and everything exists on belief. Change the belief and you change the reality. It's a meta-world that has a certain fanciful appeal for intellectuals, but little relevance to the real world where things do not change because the theory does and where outcomes are hard and real and the consequences of a bad theory can mean lives lost.

Ouch!  Go read all three articles.  They're worth your time.

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Dr. Grumpy has a series of tips for drunk drivers - one driver in particular.

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Captain Capitalism notes that in terms of socialist attempts to 'transform' Western capitalism, 'the parasite will never be bigger than the host'.  True, that - or, as Margaret Thatcher famously observed, "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other peoples' money".

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Ace Of Spades has an excellent analysis and rebuttal of the arguments of a self-styled 'expert', pointing out that "experts themselves do not recognize the limitations of expertise, and need to be reminded of them".  So true!  Highly recommended reading.

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Old Retired Petty Officer asks, "What do you call a psychic dwarf on the run?"

Not to be outdone on the comedy front, Old NFO brings us a selection of classic Rodney Dangerfield one-liners.

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That's all for this week.  More soon.


"Bling" bullets - don't believe the hype!!!

Yet another crop of supposedly high-tech, über-deadly bullets is appearing on the market, claiming to offer revolutionary results (usually at extraordinarily high prices).  They include:

As far as I'm concerned, Shakespeare's famous quotation about being "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" describes them all perfectly.  I don't need to test them or see anyone else's tests of them.  We've been here before in oh, so many different incarnations . . .  Remember the hype about the so-called 'blended metal technology' used by RBCD Performance Plus ammunition?  That was a charade from beginning to end, and was ruthlessly (and brilliantly) exposed some time ago. has an excellent primer exposing most of the exotic ammo brands that have popped up, making extravagant claims, and then subsided into obscurity after being debunked.  Go read it for yourself.  I'm willing to bet that the products named above will prove no more substantial in their assertions.

The reason is very simple.  All the major ammunition firms - Federal, Hornady, Speer, Winchester and the like - and, for that matter, the best smaller firms - Barnes, Black Hills, Buffalo Bore, Corbon, etc. - spend millions of dollars every year between them on ammunition research, development and testing.  Their products are used by professionals such as law enforcement personnel, game rangers, etc., as well as private citizens who hunt, defend themselves and train with it.  They sell literally billions of rounds every year.  With that sort of market dominance, and that kind of revenue at stake, do you really think they aren't constantly looking for any technological edge they can get?  If any one of them comes up with a world-beating product, it'll have a clear run at the market while everyone else races to catch up.  Any one of the top companies in the field would give their left . . . well, you know what I mean . . . to be able to do that.  The reason they can't is that all their competitors are trying to do the same.  They're all improving their offerings incrementally, all the time, and 'keeping up with the Joneses' in the process.

These small, come-out-of-nowhere companies arrive with a big splash, putting out videos with dramatic footage and (usually) hard rock or heavy metal soundtracks portraying their allegedly 'world-beating' products . . . yet every one of them fades away after a while, leaving nothing behind.  Why?  Because it's nothing but hype from beginning to end.  They're trying to sell snake oil.  The fundamentals of good ammo performance are well-known - there's nothing secret or esoteric about them.  All the major manufacturers adhere to those fundamentals in order to produce good ammunition.  It's used by all major law enforcement agencies and top military outfits.  What makes you think some upstart company that's come out of nowhere can suddenly overturn all that established science, technology and engineering, and do substantially better?

If products like these were so great, you can bet your boots that police forces, Special Forces units and others who bet their lives on their bullets every day would be beating a path to their manufacturers' doors.  Indeed, many of these over-hyped products are alleged (by their makers) to be in service with such forces . . . but when it comes to actually identifying them and verifying their claims, they tend to clam up.  They plead the excuse of 'non-disclosure agreements' or 'confidentiality clauses'.  Uh-huh.  If you believe that, there's a bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I'd like to sell you.  Cash only, please, and in small bills.

Don't believe the hype.  Find out what the major law enforcement agencies are betting their lives on every day, and use that ammunition to defend your own life.  You won't find anything much better than that.  Believe it.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

It's not just Big Brother - it's big business

This morning I wrote about how Big Brother is getting more intrusive than ever, referring to organs of the state and their deliberate flouting of our constitutional rights.

Some recent e-mails have pointed out that this invasion of our privacy is going on among private companies, too.  There are companies out there which aggregate information about you from many sources, and will sell it to anyone with the money to pay their fees.  We all know about credit bureaux, of course, but there are some organizations that go even further.  Two that were mentioned in the e-mails are Instant Checkmate and Spokeo.  The former says of itself:

Our goal is to provide you with the most useful, detailed and important information on just about anyone. We're continually listening to your feedback and working tirelessly each day to improve our data, technology, and website and services in general.

Whether researching arrest Records, phone numbers, addresses, demographic data, census data, or a wide variety of other information, we help thousands of Americans find what they're looking for each and every day.

I haven't bothered to pay their fees to find out how much they know about me . . . but it's disturbing to me that such services are offered at all.  I have no way of knowing how much they know about me, or whether their information is correct, or why someone would want to pay them to obtain that information about me.

Do such businesses make it easier to steal others' identities?  I'm willing to bet they do . . . and I'd love to know how many identity thieves subscribe to such services.  Whoever said "Crime doesn't pay" clearly didn't have companies like that in mind!


The complications of using sperm donors

There's been a lot of news of late about the girl who discovered that she was fathered by a worker at an infertility clinic, who seems to have substituted his own semen for that of her mother's husband during the treatment process.  It now appears that the worker may have fathered hundreds of children in that way, although the true number may never be known.

In this case, the sperm donor did so without authorization - but even when a legitimate sperm donor is used, there can be complications.  Witness the scandal in Scandinavian countries when a Danish sperm donor was proved to carry a genetic disease.  By the time this was discovered, his sperm had been used to father dozens of children, of whom some have since been found to have inherited the disease.  Another example is that of the sperm donor who fathered about 150 children, none of whose parents are aware of the others.  As the New York Times pointed out:

... there is growing concern among parents, donors and medical experts about potential negative consequences of having so many children fathered by the same donors, including the possibility that genes for rare diseases could be spread more widely through the population. Some experts are even calling attention to the increased odds of accidental incest between half sisters and half brothers, who often live close to one another.

There's more at the link.

Now CNN reports on another case.

What are the chances that two California teens would meet online in a roommate hunt, cross the country to attend Louisiana's Tulane University and learn a semester later they were half-sisters, the daughters of the same Colombian sperm donor?

Emily Nappi, 18, of San Francisco, and Mikayla Stern-Ellis, 19, of San Diego, learned exactly that January 7, when, acting on a suspicion they'd joked about since Father's Day, the women asked their mothers to hunt down their sperm donor numbers from the Los Angeles-based Calfornia Cryobank.

Stern-Ellis was in a doctor's office. She had asked her mother to send her the number. Nappi had done the same.

"They both text me at the same time, and it was the same number," Stern-Ellis said. "I was just staring at my phone. I didn't know what to do. I think the only way to describe it is mind-blowing."

Now that they know they're sisters, it all makes sense. They have the same build and are able to share clothes -- but, sadly, not shoes -- and they're science majors, with Stern-Ellis focusing on animals, Nappi on psychology.

They both sleep-talk and sleepwalk, reported The Advocate in Baton Rouge, and during a Black Friday shopping trip over Thanksgiving break, they independently purchased the same sweater.

Again, more at the link.

I know there have been several cases (click these four links for examples) where engaged or married couples have found that they're half- or full brother and sister.  The trauma of discovering that their marriage is illegitimate in the eyes of the state and (usually) their church is heart-breaking.  Precisely the same thing may happen when the children of the same sperm donor get married.  I'd say it's only a matter of time . . .


Workin', like a workin' man do . . .

So I keep on workin'
Like a workin' man do
I need to buy my baby shoes
I keep on workin'
Oh, it's the only thing to do
I make my livin' by the sweat of my brow
Oh, workin' just like you

Those lyrics from Lynyrd Skynyrd's song (aptly titled " Workin' ") just about describe my writing life over the past couple of months.  In November I mentioned that I'd delayed the release of my next novel in order to improve its characterization and other aspects.  I've been hard at it, and I'm beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.

To give my readers some idea of what I've been doing, I wrote a guest article for Sarah Hoyt.  She published it on her blog this morning.  Nip over there and read it for an 'inside' look at the trials and tribulations of many newbie authors who (like me) have to learn the trade as they go along.  (We can't all be Hemingways or Grishams or Micheners from birth, you know!)

I hope to have Maxwell Volume 3 ready by the end of the first week in February, all other things being equal.  Keep your fingers crossed!


Big Brother is getting more intrusive than ever

Two articles this week highlighted how ridiculously intrusive Big Brother is getting.

First, readers probably are aware of the incident where a Florida man, who holds a concealed carry permit in that state but was not armed while traveling, was stopped and subjected to oppressive, possibly illegal search of his person and vehicle in Maryland.  The question was, how did the Maryland officer know about his Florida CCW permit?  Now we know.

Obviously for the driver, John Filippidis, and his family, this was alarming.   What would prompt the Maryland Transportation Authority Police (MTAP) to randomly select their vehicle?

Because the first question to Mr. Filippidis was about his gun ownership, and the police search for the gun was based on his gun ownership, the Florida CCW permit that Filippidis holds was identified as the most likely impetus for the stop, questioning and search.

. . .

Maryland State has invested heavily in Homeland Security technical capabilities, and they have structured their law enforcement community to engage in very specific activity surrounding their investment.

Maryland State has a network of technical security databases which access the databases of all other states who comply and coordinate with them.   For states who do not willfully comply, or those who are not set up to align technically, Maryland mines data from various LEO systems.

Maryland has a rather innocuous sounding name for the intelligence hub which contains this data, it’s called Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center. 

The intelligence analysis hub has access to, and contains, Florida’s CCW list (among other identification systems) and mines the state’s database systems for vehicle plate numbers of the holders.    These license plate numbers are then stored in a cross referencing database within the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center.

The database is directly connected to another Maryland technological system – Their ALPR (Automatic License Plate Reader) system is synergized with the MCAC Hub.

Every time one of the flagged license plates are detected by the ALPR an alert is generated.

Mr.  Filippidis license plate was picked up at the Fort McHenry Tunnel on I-95 as he noted within the article.    The Maryland Authority Police pursuit car was probably positioned a couple miles from the ALPR camera.

. . .

Once the pursuit car was alerted by the ALPR system the simple chase was on.  As the Tampa Tribune indicated in the article, the patrol car came abreast of Filippidi;  this was to allow the MTAP officer to visually confirm the driver ID from the high resolution photo from  Filippidis driver’s license which was automatically on the officers on board computer screen.

Mr. Filippidis was identified by the database, his license plate cross referenced to his Florida CCW permit, an alert transmitted to the patrolling Maryland officer, and the rest is outlined in the article.

There's more at the link.

Note that Mr. Filippidis was stopped without any probable cause whatsoever.  The fact that he holds a Florida CCW permit does not mean that he may or may not be carrying a gun at any particular time.  It's illegal in terms of the Fourth Amendment for an officer to assume that someone's acting illegally in the absence of any evidence to suggest that he is - but that's what the Maryland officer did.

Maryland has subsequently apologized for the incident, but to my mind that's not enough.  I can only suggest that legal, law-abiding firearms owners should consider Maryland 'enemy territory' from now on.  We can't assume our constitutional rights will be observed there - in fact, this incident demonstrates that they're more likely than not to be violated.  I've enjoyed previous visits to that state:  but from now on, Maryland can do without my tourist dollars, and I won't be buying from Maryland-based businesses if I have any choice in the matter.

The second article discusses the TSA's behavior monitoring program at US airports.

The Transportation Security Administration has about 3,000 officers trained to detect behavioral clues of "mal-intent." They eye travelers at checkpoints and throughout the airport for signs of above-normal stress, fear and deception, and sometimes engage in casual conversation to measure reactions. After the fatal shooting of a TSA officer in Los Angeles in November, the Behavior Detection Officers, or BDOs, have increased roaming in public areas of airports.

The Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, concluded in a recent report there is no credible evidence that TSA's behavior-detection program, which costs about $200 million a year, is effective.

. . .

TSA Administrator John Pistole, a former FBI official, likens the BDOs in 176 U.S. airports to cops on a beat ... "A lot of it is common sense," Mr. Pistole said in an interview last month in Houston. Effectiveness can be seen in arrests, he said. "We've found hundreds of people who had false IDs, who had drugs or cash or warrants or were in this country illegally. They demonstrated suspicious behavior and any one of them could have been a terrorist."

. . .

The program, which started at airports in 2007, has been criticized for snaring people who pose no threat to aviation. Most arrests are for fake IDs and drug possession.

TSA has also faced complaints of racial profiling, or simply being too subjective with its referrals. Anecdotal evidence in the GAO report seemed to back this up. The GAO said 21 of the 25 BDOs it interviewed said some behavioral indicators are subjective. Five of the 25 said they believed some profiling was occurring.

Again, more at the link.

The obvious problem with Mr. Pistole's perspective is very simple.  The TSA is not a law enforcement agency.  Therefore, if its agents are not law enforcement officers, why are they behaving like them?  Why are they using police tactics and techniques which are not legitimate to their proper role and function?

That goes double for the arrests of which Mr. Pistole is so proud.  The TSA's statutory function is transportation security.  Why, therefore, is it referring people to law enforcement agencies for arrest over matters that are not threats to transportation security?

I'm beginning to think that, since our legislators have failed so miserably to rein in the apparatus of the Security State, the only recourse open to us as citizens will be to ostracize all those involved in its operation and administration.  We'll have to shun those who perpetrate such abuses, and all who support them.  Shut them out of everyday discourse.  Refuse to have any contact with them, except that which can't be helped, such as when traveling.  Treat them with the icy disdain they deserve - not to mention contempt, scorn and derision.

These bureaucratic goons aren't keeping us safe at all.  They're merely playing bit parts in security theater - and very badly, at that.  We should treat them as precisely that - bad actors, unworthy of respect.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Anyone looking for a spiffy .44 Special revolver?

Following on from my earlier article about firearms for disabled and handicapped shooters, I'm trying to raise funds for training them (ammo isn't cheap these days - nor are range fees).  To that end, I'm going to sell one of the spiffier firearms in my collection.  It's a Smith & Wesson Model 396 Mountain Lite revolver, caliber .44 Special, identical to the one shown below.

You can read more about the Model 396 here.  Mine's in minty condition (I'd rate it as almost new), and has been fired very little indeed.  It's compact enough to fit into an overcoat pocket and extremely light (only 18 oz. empty), which is why John Taffin describes this model as "the easiest packin’ double action .44 Special ever offered".

Checking online gun sales and auctions (for example, here, here and here), used examples seem to sell for anywhere between the high $600's and the low $800's.  (There are a couple of auctions - see, for example, here and here - where over $1,000 was demanded, but I don't know if those guns sold at those prices.  I wouldn't pay that much for a 396.)  I'm therefore going to set my asking price in the lower end of the going rate range, at $725.  Cash deals are preferred, but trades may be considered.  If you want to make a lower offer, feel free to do so, on the understanding that a higher offer may take it.  I'll split the shipping costs (if any) with the buyer.

Needless to say, all legal requirements will be observed.  If the gun's sold out-of-state, I'll need a copy of your dealer's FFL before I ship it to him, and you'll have to fill out paperwork and undergo a background check before taking delivery.  (Face-to-face transfers between Tennessee residents are, of course, legal without that formality.)

If you're interested, please e-mail me (my address is in my blog profile).  Thanks!  If this goes well, I may sell a couple more guns from my collection for the same purpose.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Polish spectators seem to have learned . . .

. . . to stand further away from rally courses than their counterparts in other nations.  Given that their drivers seem to crash just as often, and just as hard, that's probably not a bad idea - as this Polish TV footage illustrates.

Oops . . .


Low information voters

The People's Cube has two hilarious articles on so-called 'low information voters' or LIV's - those who cast an uninformed, generally ignorant vote for people, policies and political parties about which they know and/or understand little or nothing.

The first article, 'A Low Information Voter's Guide to Politics', defines numerous common terms in LIV parlance.  A few examples:

BIASED: If you have a weird friend who goes to church and her parents are still married, that's what they are.

ECONOMIC STIMULUS: It's like Whitney Houston upping her dosage to get the same high, always needing to use more and more to "chase the dragon."

FOREIGN POLICY: Think Lady Gaga's world tour: it's totally awesome but can also get weird - like, she's hot in places like Europe and Japan, but gets booed and canceled in places like Indonesia.

PUBLIC EDUCATION: Think Memento. Remember how the guy in the movie learned to go through life and fight enemies by relying on snapshots, notes, and tattoos? Public education does that on a national level as a free service.

QUAN-TI-TA-TIVE EASING: Remember Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, and how he printed his own checks? Well, that's what the Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, does. It's really cool.

TRILLION DOLLARS: This is a silly number. If someone says: "The U.S. national debt has topped 16 trillion," take it easy. Remember how Jeffrey Dahmer was sentenced to fifteen life terms while having only one life? Once you owe more than you can pay, numbers stop making sense. Anything above that is free money; spend it fast so you can get more.

There's more at the link.

The second article, 'Low Information Voters:  Adding Faces to the Voices', takes things (allegedly) said by LIV's and puts them in pictorial form.  Here are a couple of examples.

Again, more at the link.

(If you don't already know it, The People's Cube is a great satirical Web site.  It's worth revisiting frequently for a good laugh!)


Fifty years of Britain's greatest war movie

The Battle of Rorke's Drift was fought on January 22nd/23rd, 1879, immediately following the Battle of Isandlwana, Britain's worst-ever colonial defeat against a Black tribe in Africa.  The disaster of Isandlwana rocked the Empire, and the British authorities grasped at the relatively minor fight at Rorke's Drift and the furious fight put up by its defenders as a countervailing episode of heroism.  Eleven Victoria Cross medals (Britain's highest award for gallantry in action) were awarded for the encounter there, the most ever awarded for a single battle in British history.

Fifty years ago, a film was made about the battle.  'Zulu' was an instant hit all over the world, and has achieved cinematic immortality among war movie buffs.  Some say it's Britain's greatest war film.  As the Telegraph points out:

Zulu is very much of its time. Thematically, you could say it’s roughly a Western, only with British soldiers for cowboys and Zulus for Indians. Baker and Endfield acknowledged as much: because many of the 700 Zulus hired as extras for the film had never been to a cinema before, the two men set up a projector in order for them to watch a Western starring Gene Autry. After that, the Zulus understood their precise role – to make lots of noise and fall over when shot. (They were reportedly paid for their work in cattle.)

Baker and Endfield could just as easily have put on 55 Days at Peking, which was released in 1963 and dramatises the siege of the foreign legations’ compounds in Peking during the Boxer Rebellion. Or The Alamo (1960), with its siege and gripping finale. Khartoum, another imperial era epic, was released a couple of years later in 1966.

Zulu, however, is a superior film to them all – which is why so many of us watch it every Christmas at home. Indeed, its extraordinary impact was highlighted this week by a museum curator, Bill Cainan, in Brecon. There, at the regimental museum of the Royal Welsh, the mementos of the battle are on display, including 10 of the 11 Victoria Crosses won at Rorke’s Drift. Mr Cainan is trying to prevent the museum’s closure.

He says: “Zulu is both a blessing and a curse. If it wasn’t for the film, it would be another forgotten foreign war.” But, he admits: “It’s a curse because most people seem to think it’s a documentary, which of course it isn’t.”

Thank goodness for that. Zulu is a story of real-life heroism seen through the lenses of Victorian propaganda and Hollywood epic cinema. It may not be truthful – but, my God, the result is thrilling.

There's more at the link.

If you're one of the few who hasn't seen the film, it's available in its entirety on YouTube (thanks to a copyright slip-up in the 1990's, when certain editions were published free of restrictions).  Even if you have seen it, you may not know much about how it was made:  so I'll embed this vignette here.

The film wasn't shot on location at Rorke's Drift, but about 90 miles away, because permission couldn't be obtained to mess up the battlefield - an historic monument - in order to film there.  I've visited the actual battlefield several times, and also that of Isandlwana, a few miles away.  They're peaceful now, with nothing much to disturb the silence . . . but there's a lot of blood in that soil.  The Zulus (who lost many more warriors killed in both fights than they slew English soldiers) regard both places as haunted.  Their sangomas say that the ghosts of the slain can still be seen there on the anniversaries of the battles, and that 'those with ears to hear' can still hear battle cries and the screams of the wounded and dying.  I wouldn't be at all surprised.

In closing, I'll just note that the Zulu's expertise with assegai (stabbing spear) and shield has remained as strong as ever - at least, among the rural tribes.  During South Africa's long internecine conflict that led to the end of apartheid and the advent of democracy in 1994, I had occasion to observe Zulus carving up their opponents on several occasions.  The only way to stop them, today as in 1879, is fast, accurate shooting with an effective firearm before they get within stabbing range.  Once they're 'up close and personal', your chances of survival are . . . shall we say, less than optimal.  The sibilant, hissing shout of "N'gidla!" ("I eat!" or "I have eaten!") as the Zulu warrior twists his assegai blade in the stomach of his victim (a favorite target) and pulls it out, bringing the intestines with it with a sickening, sucking, slurping noise . . . I'm here to tell you, it's a ghastly, fearsome sight and sound.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A battleship-size cannon - on a tank???

Through a series of unrelated searches today, I came across a 1950's Soviet self-propelled cannon that dwarfs anything of its kind I've ever seen before.  It's the 2B1 Oka cannon, with a bore of no less than 420mm. - 16½ inches!!!  Even the legendary Iowa class battleships had only 16" guns (406mm)!

This behemoth's barrel was 20 meters in length, meaning that it was 47.6 calibers long (i.e. the length of the barrel divided by the bore diameter;  this is similar to the main battery of the Iowa class battleships, which had 16" guns with 50 caliber barrels).  It fired a projectile (shown below) weighing 750kg (1,650 pounds) over a distance of up to 45 kilometers (just over 28 miles).

The Oka was basically just a cannon on a chassis.  It had no turret or other protection for its crew when in action, and carried no ammunition itself - it would be loaded from a support vehicle.  It had mammoth hydraulic suspension and support systems to cater for the immense weight of its gun, as can be seen by closer examination of the breech area (visible below) and the suspension (see bottom picture).

Firing the colossal cannon produced enormous stresses on the vehicle, which proved very unreliable as a result.  Wikipedia reports:

Due to its complexity of loading it had a relatively low rate of fire - 1 round every 5 minutes. Field tests showed various drawbacks of the entire design (the recoil was too strong for many components - it damaged drive sprockets, tore the gear-box away from its mountings, etc.) and the sheer length rendered it incredibly difficult to transport.

I'll bet!

Further development was halted in 1960, by which time tactical ballistic missiles had been developed that had a longer range, delivered a more deadly payload, and were far more reliable than this lumbering monster.  Only about 20 had been built.  At least one is displayed today in a Russian museum, with its enormous shell on cradles in front of it.  (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

It amazes me to see a battleship-size cannon on a tank chassis.  I don't see how it could ever have been made to work . . . but the very fact that someone not only conceived of it, but actually built it, is astonishing in itself!  You can read more about it here, if you're interested.