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    The last conventional war the US fought was the opening round of Operation Iraqi Freedom (the “shock-and-awe” phase of the current Iraq war). But that almost doesn’t count, because it was the US fighting at the near peak of its power against an Iraqi army that had never fully recovered from the massive defeat inflicted upon it by the Gulf War.

    The last war the US fought against a functional military was the Gulf War, in 1993. While today, we look upon the US victory in the Gulf War as an inevitability, we must remember that it was a huge surprise when Saddam’s army and air force crumpled after just over two weeks of sustained combat operations. Saddam’s military, at the time, was the fourth largest in the world, and was combat hardened after the almost decade-long Iran/Iraq war of the ’80s. It was also far better equipped, relative to the US, than the North Vietnamese military had been in the ’60s. As a result, there were many who feared that the US was getting into another quagmire by attempting to liberate Kuwait in 1993. Instead, the world was treated to the largest military surprise since the German invasion of France in 1941. Never before had a military that large been destroyed so thoroughly in so short a time.

    However, 1993, at this point, is 15 years in the past. While the US military has been distracted by the twin insurgencies of Iraq and Afghanistan, other militaries (notably China and Russia) have been studying the conditions behind US military’s victory in the Gulf War and have been coming up with ways to counter the advantages that the US displayed in that conflict. A distributed system like passive radar is one such way. Other ways include the usage of so-called “hybrid war” tactics displayed by the Russian military in Crimea, Donbass, and, lately Syria. China has been developing a system of tactics and technologies that fall under the umbrella of “anti-access/area-denial” (A2AD), which focus on keeping the US Navy at a distance, in order to secure Chinese control over the South China Sea and potentially keep the US from coming to Taiwan’s aid if China should choose to invade Taiwan.

    The US military, in my estimation, is much like the British army prior to World War 1. The British military, riding high after its victories in the Napoleonic wars and the Crimean War, was confident in its own abilities and sanguine about the perceived weakness of its adversaries (rising Germany and the fading empires of Austria-Hungary and the Ottomans). As a result, the British military focused on fighting “brushfire wars” against native rebellions in Africa, India and Afghanistan (lol). Because of this, the British army found itself ill-prepared and under-equipped to fight a “high-intensity conflict against near-peer adversaries” (to use the words of modern military analysts).

    There is a school of thought that says that conventional war against near-peer adversaries is impossible, because any such war would inevitably escalate to nuclear weapons. I actually wish this argument was true. It would simplify our threat assessments greatly. However, whenever I hear this argument, I am reminded of all the arguments prior to World War 1 or World War 2 that suggested that a major war was impossible because of the unprecedented destructive capabilities of modern weapons.

    Do I think a war is likely? At this moment, I do not. Can I tell when the next war is going to occur? If I could, I would be working for the CIA, NSA or DoD, with a top-secret clearance. What I do have is a vague sense of unease. This sense of unease comes from the fact that the world today is multi-polar and unstable. The US military no longer enjoys the unchallenged hyperpower hegemony that it had at the end of the cold war. Yet, it still acts and fights as if it does. I also remember that wars, when they do occur, can stem from causes that are extremely surprising at the time. Who would have thought that the assassination of the crown prince of Austria-Hungary by a Serbian nationalist would lead to a war that resulted in the deaths of millions?

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      … the next time the US has to fight a conventional war

      Is that considered likely anytime soon? When was the last conventional war? What will the next one be?

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        I haven’t always agreed with Lanier, but he’s spot-on in pretty much everything he says in this piece.

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          Bret Victor here discusses his notion that the primary challenge in building modern ‘Maker’ projects usually has less to do with putting the thing together and more to do with understanding behavior. For example, a robot that avoids light might not be technically complex to build so much as technically complex to design and optimize its behavior. As such he recommends makerspaces move away from a ‘machine tool club’ model and more towards a workshop for providing tools to analyze and predict behavior in the physical world.

          I don’t know how much I agree with him on that particular point, but I did find the design ideas interesting.

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            I found this document interesting for its captivating description of the mystic vein of Hinduism. More relevant perhaps to us, this take has a transcendent quality that borders on being kin to the implicit doctrines taught by singularitans:

            “Is man a tiny boat in a tempest, raised one moment on the foamy crest of a billow and dashed down into a yawning chasm the next, rolling to and fro at the mercy of good and bad actions–a powerless, helpless wreck in an ever-raging, ever-rushing, uncompromising current of cause and effect; a little moth placed under the wheel of causation which rolls on crushing everything in its way and waits not for the widow’s tears or the orphan’s cry? The heart sinks at the idea, yet this is the law of Nature. Is there no hope? Is there no escape?–was the cry that went up from the bottom of the heart of despair. It reached the throne of mercy, and words of hope and consolation came down and inspired a Vedic sage, and he stood up before the world and in trumpet voice proclaimed the glad tidings: “Hear, ye children of immortal bliss! even ye that reside in higher spheres! I have found the Ancient One who is beyond all darkness, all delusion: knowing Him alone you shall be saved from death over again.” “Children of immortal bliss” –what a sweet, what a hopeful name! Allow me to call you, brethren, by that sweet name–heirs of immortal bliss–yea, the Hindu refuses to call you sinners. Ye are the Children of God, the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings. Ye divinities on earth–sinners! It is a sin to call a man so; it is a standing libel on human nature. Come up, O lions, and shake off the delusion that you are sheep; you are souls immortal, spirits free, blest and eternal; ye are not matter, ye are not bodies; matter is your servant, not you the servant of matter. Thus it is that the Vedas proclaim not a dreadful combination of unforgiving laws, not an endless prison of cause and effect, but that at the head of all these laws, in and through every particle of matter and force, stands One “by whose command the wind blows, the fire burns, the clouds rain, and death stalks upon the earth.””

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              I really wanted to like this. But unfortunately, it appears to be written in Elvish. Why does Gil-Galad need to know algebraic topology?

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                From that post:

                Some Righties talk about the idea of a post-political world — the idea that a system with less citizen input, on the continuum from Singapore to monarchy or neocameralism — would be more stable. But in a world without elections, there would still be shifts in power. It’s just that the mechanisms by which power shifts wouldn’t have occasional moments of relative transparency.

                So, reflecting on that, I agree with his premises – that mechanisms by which power shifts happen would have less transparency. But I disagree with his conclusion. It’s not clear to me that autocratic states are inherently less stable than democracies. Yes, autocratic states crumble (as we saw in the Arab Spring revolutions). But democracies crumble and collapse as well. Russia was fairly democratic in the ’90s before collapsing into Putinist autocracy. Thailand had a fairly robust democracy before it was locked down by a military junta. Turkey and Pakistan have flipped between military rule and democratic governance multiple times.

                And on the flip side, dictatorial China, despite all its internal problems, actually appears to be a more responsive state to its citizens than democratic India. While Delhi still has the worst air pollution in the world, the Communist Party has quietly cleaned up Beijing, in response to citizen unrest.

                I think, up until a certain point, competence matters more than representation. As it turns out, people don’t really care by what mechanism the government listens to their needs, as long as it implements policies that improve their daily lives. The hypothesis is that once an economy has fully industrialized, it’s impossible for government to be appropriately responsive to all the diverse interests of the country without democratizing. But the continued existence of autocratic China makes me doubt that theory more and more with each passing day.

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                  So, the most relevant bit is this and I think it’s key that the average LWer comes to understand it:

                  “The first thing I noticed was that every once in a while the classifier would spit something out as ‘I don’t know what category this is’ and you’d look at it and it would be what we’re calling this fringe stuff. That quite surprised me. How can this classifier that was tuned to figure out category be seemingly detecting quality? “[Outliers] also show up in the stop word distribution, even if the stop words are just catching the style and not the content! They’re writing in a style which is deviating, in a way. […] “What it’s saying is that people who go through a certain training and who read these articles and who write these articles learn to write in a very specific language. This language, this mode of writing and the frequency with which they use terms and in conjunctions and all of the rest is very characteristic to people who have a certain training. The people from outside that community are just not emulating that. They don’t come from the same training and so this thing shows up in ways you wouldn’t necessarily guess. They’re combining two willy-nilly subjects from different fields and so that gets spit out.”

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                    “During the winter of 1901, the brothers began to question the aerodynamic data on which they were basing their designs. They decided to start over and develop their own data base with which they would design their aircraft. They built a wind tunnel and began to test their own models. They developed an ingenious balance system to compare the performance of different models. They tested over two hundred different wings and airfoil sections in different combinations to improve the performance of their gliders The data they obtained more correctly described the flight characteristics which they observed with their gliders. By early 1902 the Wrights had developed the most accurate and complete set of aerodynamic data in the world. “

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                      Oh, is that why high-level life players tend to keep diaries?

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                        “Bronze players know neither themselves nor their enemies. They are therefore incapable of winning except against someone equally ill-informed, that is, other bronzies. The biggest issue bronzies have is that they just don’t know how to play. It’s not specific things that they need to learn. They don’t need to learn timings or build orders. They don’t need to know how to shift queue commands or how to hotkey armies. They just need to, in the broadest possible of terms, know what to do. They need a goal, a direction, a game plan, some idea, however vague, of where they want the game to progress and what results they want their actions to produce. They feel like they’re just going along for the ride, that the things happening in the game are totally beyond their control.” What I perceive to be bronze players’ largest problem is that they act without introspection. Or any sort of thinking at all, really. They appear to be simply doing things just for the sake of doing them. One of the most aggravating things when trying to teach someone is asking them the question, “why did you do that?” and having them respond, “I don’t know.” If decisions are made without reasons behind them, improvement will never happen; it cannot happen. So not only do they not know why they are doing what they are doing, they are also not considering why it’s not working. What they gain from their mistakes is not the question “How could I have foreseen that the enemies would be there?” but instead the statement “Oh, I guess the enemies were there.” There is no consideration beyond acknowledging that the event happened. It is perceived as mere happenstance, some sort of random occurrence from which no meaning could be derived. There is no self-reflection, and so no attempt to fix the error. It seems to me, from my noobish standpoint, that the biggest skill to be gained is having an idea of what you can do, what your enemies can do, and with that information deciding what is the correct course of action to take.”

                        Emphasis mine.

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                            Well, it’s kind of hard to explain Dennou Coil in a few lines I think. Trying to compress it down to a sentence: Dennou Coil is an anime that presents a plausible subculture that could develop with unobtrusive Alternate Reality glasses. And it’s very much presenting the concept, worldview and all from a childs perspective. I think this is actually a sort of hidden genius because in modern media it’s very fashionable to focus on the dangers and the deviants, you know what if someone uses Google Glass to record you at the beach. And while that kind of issue gets touched on in Dennou Coil, it’s an adult sort of concern that’s relegated to the background.

                            What results is this sort of interesting mesh between superstition and science fiction that treads a very fine line between possibility and outright fabrication. The aesthetic theme of Dennou Coil is basically the Missingno glitch in the original pokemon games, dangerous behavior of a complicated technology that the agents experiencing it simply aren’t in a real position to understand. So instead they understand it through the traditional ways of human understanding, stories and rumors and myths. In that sense, it’s a deeper meditation on HCI than say just thinking about the raw mechanics of how something should work to be ergonomic. Perhaps it’s best summed up as being Human(s) with Computers Interaction rather than a focus on the individual ‘user’.

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                              Excerpt from Jason Scott’s excellent BBS: The Documentary that outlines the recruitment process old phreaker bulletin boards would use. Along with a lot about their culture and why people would get together and make these things. I found it tied very well into my research with FortForecast, since it is an example of a bunch of people over a computer network accomplishing productive tasks. (Though interestingly enough, a lot of these interviews feature multiple friends together, implying a sort of hybrid dynamic like we have with WL where some people know each other offline but others don’t.)

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                                exploring HCI concepts

                                Dennou Coil

                                Tell us more about it does this!

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                                  Those early memories of being selfish, that I had – they had never been properly integrated with later memories of doing unselfish things. I had desperately tried to do all kinds of stuff to prove to myself that I wasn’t an entirely worthless person, but no matter how many positive examples I accumulated, it didn’t entirely solve the problem. As long as the negative memories were split off into their own unit, my attention might always swing to them, even if I had a lot of positive memories on the other side.

                                  So I took those negative memories and integrated them together with the positive ones.

                                  One thing I wonder about this is if it’s something that’s variant across people who are Episodic or Diachronic. Because if you don’t have the default notion that things current-you does are intrinsically an update on things past-you did, then I could see how you might get disjoint sets of feelings about yourself like this.

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                                    My natural response here is to compare this to my job, and to the description rsaarelm linked of a food plant. We don’t have the rapid-fire series of deadlines that the dabbawalas do – our shift has one deadline per day; other shifts have a few more, but that doesn’t make much of a difference – but unlike the food plant, we do have extensive cross-training: everyone is expected to learn all the basic job functions. There’s specialization in practice, but if the system goes down for three hours and everyone needs to be thrown at making up for lost time so we don’t miss the deadline, everyone can be thrown at that with no problem.

                                    And I mean everyone. The highest-level manager in the entire building has come out to do the same stuff we make barely over minimum wage for, because the deadline necessitated the addition of a few more labor-hours.

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                                      So the first time I read this post, what struck me was that I think what would be really interesting is genuine works of computer science fiction. For example, there is a dearth of Science Fiction exploring HCI concepts. Probably the most interesting I can think of off the top of my head is Dennou Coil, which is in fact excellent.

                                      We need more science fiction stories that seriously take into account different ways of using computers, where that isn’t incidental to the main plot.

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                                        The lord of men has two difficulties to face: If he appoints only worthy men to office, ministers will on the pretence of worthiness attempt to deceive their ruler; if he makes arbitrary promotions of officials, the state affairs will always be menaced. Similarly, if the lord of men loves worthiness, ministers will gloss over their defects in order to meet the ruler’s need. In consequence, no minister will show his true heart. If no minister shows his true heart, the lord of men will find no way to tell the worthy from the unworthy.

                                        For instance, because the King of Yue liked brave men, the people made light of death; because King Ling of Chu liked slender waists, the country became full of starvelings; because Duke Huan of Qi was by nature jealous and fond of women, Shu Diao castrated himself in order to administer the harem; because Duke Huan liked different tastes, Yiya steamed the head of his son and served Duke Huan with the rare taste; because Zikuai of Yan liked worthies, Zizhi pretended that he would not accept the state.

                                        Therefore, if the ruler reveals his hate, ministers will conceal their motives; if the ruler reveals his likes, ministers will pretend to talent; and if the ruler reveals his wants, ministers will have the opportunity to disguise their feelings and attitudes.

                                        That was the reason why Zizhi, by pretending to worthiness, usurped the ruler’s throne; and why Shu Diao and Yiya, by complying with their ruler’s wants, molested their ruler. Thus Zikuai died in consequence of a civil war and Duke Huan was left unburied until worms from his corpse crawled outdoors. What was the cause of these incidents? It was nothing but the calamity of the rulers’ revelation of true hearts to ministers. Every minister in his heart of hearts does not necessarily love the ruler. If he does, it is for the sake of his own great advantage.

                                        In these days, if the lord of men neither covers his feelings nor conceals his motives, and if he lets ministers have a chance to molest their master, the ministers will have no difficulty in following the examples of Zizhi and Tianchang. Hence the saying: “If the ruler’s likes and hate be concealed, the ministers’ true hearts will be revealed. If the ministers reveal their true hearts, the ruler never will be deluded.”

                                        – Han Feizi, Ch. Vii, “The Two Handles”, tr. W. K. Liao (with, of course, the Wade-Giles converted to Pinyin)

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                                          Thinking more on this, it seems like this is the takeaway:

                                          Goodhart’s Law is not so easy to outsmart. There are no silver bullets. As usual, there are only a whole lot of lead bullets, and those bullets look like this:

                                          1. Be really clear on what you are actually trying to maximize.

                                          2. Find a good and non-obvious measure of that thing.

                                          3. Keep that measure secret.

                                          4. Even as you use that measure, never forget what actual thing you’re after.

                                          5. Keep looking for new, non-obvious measures of that thing.

                                          6. Abandon the old measure and switch to a new and different one as soon as you detect even a hint of gaming.

                                          7. Repeat steps 2–5 indefinitely, forever.

                                          This is hard. It is not a one-stop solution. You can’t ever stop working on this. It requires continuous effort, possibly even continuously increasing effort (as new measures are probably going to be harder and harder to find).

                                          But I don’t know that there is any alternative.

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