Category Archives: English

Unmanned Aggressor Drones Could Simulate 5th Generation Fighter Jets

Blue Force Technologies

North Carolina-based Blue Force Technologies, a composite aerostructures maker and Boeing supplier, is proposing UAVs which can mimic “the electronic signature, performance and tactics of Chinese or Russian 5th generation J-20 or Su-50 fighters”, according to a recent article in Forbes.com.

Named “Fury”, the purpose of the firm’s design study is to provide a much cheaper training aid for aircrews practicing intercept maneuvers against the latest generation of Russian and Chinese fighter jets. To accomplish this, the Fury UAV will “look, act and smell” like the real thing – at least beyond visual range. The advantage, compared to conventional training against manned aircraft representing the enemy is much lower cost. Many of the Fury parts, including the jet engine, can be sourced from existing, commercial production lines and off-the-shelf parts.

Blue Force Technologies

While the advantages for training purposes are obvious, I believe this technology can easily be adapted for another purpose. If drones can be built to simulate enemy fighters to on-board radars, and ground or air based early warning systems, then such drones can also be configured to mimic an F-16, F-15, F-22 or F-35, for example. And this would make it possible to use these UAVs as decoys. They could be sent into contested airspace for the purpose of triggering the enemy’s air defense systems.

Once these UAVs are “lit up” by enemy radar and the adversary launches surface-to-air missiles, the locations of mobile radars and mobile missile launchers are much easier to detect. They can be immediately targeted before the enemy can reposition them. Even if such a counterattack is not successful, the enemy will at least have used up some of his surface-to-air missiles to shoot down relatively low-cost drones.

If the technology works and large-scale production can bring down the cost, the introduction of large numbers of such decoy drones into a contested airspace could thoroughly confuse and disrupt hostile air defenses. Concealed among many decoy drones, the “real items” would be ready to strike the enemy’s air defenses while they are distracted and triggered by the decoys.

This is an emerging defense technology worth keeping an eye on.

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What’s a Molotov Cocktail?

The term “Molotov cocktail” came from the Russian invasion of Finland in 1939. Finnish soldiers and civilians resisted the numerically far bigger, communist Red Army with home made fire grenades named after Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, Molotovin koktaili.

The term’s origin was a response to Russian propaganda. Molotov was claiming on Soviet state radio that bombing missions over Finland were actually airborne humanitarian food deliveries for their starving neighbors. This was, of course, a blatant lie.

Vyacheslav Molotov, 1945

The outraged Finnish population sarcastically dubbed the Soviet cluster bombs “Molotov bread baskets” in reference to Molotov’s propaganda broadcasts. And when they began using hand-held bottle firebombs to destroy Soviet tanks, they called them “a drink to go with his food parcels”.

When skillfully thrown against vulnerable points on vehicles (such as trucks, armored personnel carriers or tanks), the little fire grenades were surprisingly successful at the time. So successful indeed that the Finns commissioned the distillery company Oy Alkoholiliike Ab to manufacture Molotov cocktails industrially. It is said that the company made 450,000 of them.

A Finnish soldier with a Molotov cocktail in the 1939–1940 Winter War

Finland’s fierce resistance and the fighting spirit of its population succeeded in preserving the country’s independence. But it came at a cost of at least 70,000 Finnish lives and large territories, which were ceded to the Soviet Union during the peace negotiations.

Since then, the Molotov cocktail has been a weapon of choice in many conflicts involving civilians against an overwhelming force. For instance, during the Hungarian uprising against Soviet control in 1956, Molotov cocktails thrown by Hungarian street fighters destroyed as many as 400 tanks before the Soviet military crushed the rebellion. Similar fighting occurred in 1968, during the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning Soviet tank in Prague, 1968.

In essence, a Molotov cocktail is a primitive incendiary weapon. It consists of a breakable glass bottle filled with a flammable liquid. A fuse of some sort is attached to the outside and lit before throwing the bottle, which shatters upon impact and spreads the flammable liquid. Various kinds of liquids, fuses and added chemicals have been used, and there are some versions that produce the ignition by a chemical reaction rather than by manually lighting a fuse.

How effective these devices still are against modern military vehicles is highly questionable. Over time, military vehicles have been hardened against this sort of attack. Vulnerable points (such as tires, the cogs on which tank tracks run, air intakes and radiators) have been improved, and there are often fire suppression systems on board. And an effective counter tactic is for convoys to move very rapidly. At the same time, the delivery of a Molotov cocktail (usually by direct throwing from very close range, or by dropping from buildings, bridges or other structures) subjects the combatant to great risk. As in any form of combat, the risk-benefit assessment is very tricky and comes down to probabilities.

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Who Discovered Jupiter’s Moons?

Usually, Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei [1564 to 1642] gets the credit for discovering the largest four moons of Jupiter – a most controversial scientific sensation at the time.

But not so fast! As usual, the truth is a little more nuanced.

Today happens to be the birthday of the German astronomer Simon Mayr [1573 to 1624 or 1625], better known under his Latin name, Simon Marius. In Mundus lovialis, his book from 1614, Marius describes Jupiter and claims that he discovered four moons in 1611. According to his claims, he would have made his discovery about a month earlier than Galileo Galilei.

Of course, Galileo was a famous celebrity and well known among Europe’s intellectuals and clergy. He appears to have been unimpressed by Marius and swiftly accused him of plagiarism, causing Marius’ reputation to suffer greatly.

It took 289 years to exonerate Marius. In 1903, a scientific jury in the Netherlands examined the evidence extensively. Its findings, published in 1907 were: Marius discovered the moons independently, but he did not start keeping notes until 29 December, 29, 1609 on the Julian calendar. This date corresponds to January 8, 1610 on the Gregorian calendar used by Galileo and falls on the day after the famous letter in which Galileo first described the moons. Moreover, Marius’ description of the moons’ orbits is superior to Gelileo’s.

So who was really first? We’ll never know for sure, simply because there is no record of the date on which Marius made his initial observation. We only know when he recorded it, and when Galileo recorded his own observation.

It may seem ironic that the names under which the “Galilean” moons are known today are those given to them by Marius: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. (Galileo had named them after one of Europes most powerful and wealthiest families at the time, “the Medici Stars”).

So what can we learn from this story?

  1. Keep good notes.
  2. Know what calendar to use.
  3. It helps to be famous.
Engraving in Mundus Iovialis anno MDCIX Detectus Ope Perspicilli Belgici, 1614. Image: Houghton Library, Harvard University

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Letter From John Steinbeck To Marilyn Monroe

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Physical Exercise Reducing Inflammation

Highly interesting articles in the journal Science. Last week it reported on how exercise destroys senescent cells in mature adults. This week it reports how this process prolongs youthful health. (Science 16 July, 2021, pg. 281 ff).

Cellular senescence is a phenomenon characterized by the cessation of cell division. In experiments conducted during the early 1960s, Leonard Hayflick and Paul Moorhead observed that normal human fetal fibroblasts in culture reach a maximum of approximately 50 cell population doublings before becoming senescent.

Cell senescence has been attributed to prevention of carcinogenesis, and more recently, aging, development, and tissue repair. Such cells play a role in the aging phenotype, in aging-associated diseases, and in frailty and sarcopenia. In addition, senescent astrocytes and microglia contribute to neurodegeneration.

Senescent cell load and the secretome increase as we age. This drives inflammation, tissue damage, further infection, inflammation-related pathology, and death.

The removal of senescent cells through physical activity such as physical work and exercise appears to reduce inflammation to below the “young” threshold, allowing disease resolution and survival.

So there’s much truth to what Helen Hayes reportedly said: “If you rest, you rust”.

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Letter From Governor Ronald Reagan to Charles M. Schulz, Dated July 30, 1970

The strip Reagan was commenting on. (It was published on July 20, 1970).

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How To Celebrate Each Christmas Multiple Times

by Reinhard Kargl

Commerce has tricked many people into believing that Christmas begins with Black Friday sales.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The four weeks before Christmas are called “Advent”. Thereafter, Christmas begins with Holy Night (the night from December 24th to December 25th). Or does it?

Well, if you really love Christmas, you may actually enjoy it three (or even four) times. How come?

First of all, there are no historical records of the birth date of Jesus of Nazareth. So the chosen date for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ was picked rather arbitrarily. However, it stands to reason that the date was chosen to coincide (roughly) with winter solstice. This natural event had been a sacred day ever since human civilization grasped the rudimentary fundamentals of celestial cycles. The Romans (as well as many other literate cultures) had of course more than just a basic understanding of this.

By the way, contrary to popular belief, Christmas is not the most important holiday in Christianity, nor was it even celebrated in the early beginnings. 

In 330 AD, the Roman Empire split into two parts: the western half centered in Rome, and the eastern half centered in Constantinople. The churches of the Western Roman Empire continued to celebrate Christmas as a minor holiday on December 25.

Mosaic of Jesus as Christus Sol (Christ the Sun) in Mausoleum M in the pre-fourth-century necropolis under St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

But in the East, the birth of Jesus began to be celebrated in connection with the Epiphany, on January 6. This holiday was not primarily about the the birth of Jesus, but rather his baptism. The feast was introduced in Constantinople in 379, in Antioch towards the end of the fourth century ( probably in 388) and in Alexandria in the following century.

When it comes to marking days, all conventional, numerical calendar systems suffer from an astronomical problem: During the time it takes for the Earth to complete one full orbit around the Sun, our planet rotates 365.256 times around its own axis. What this means is that the day isn’t really 24 hours long. Earth spins once in about 24 hours with respect to the Sun, but once every 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds with respect to other, distant, stars.

So one Earth year isn’t 365 days long, but precisely 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds. How does one put that into a calendar when we define each 24-hour period as a “day”? And when we divide the year into 12 months – which, by the way, are all arbitrary, man-made definitions? There really are are only four natural demarkations in the year that play a major role in our lives: the two equinoxes and the two solstices, which mark the beginnings of each season.

For completeness, because Earth’s orbit isn’t a circle but an ellipsis, there are the two apsides, the two extreme points of Earth distance to the Sun: Aphelion (apoapsis) and perihelion (periapsis). But these two would have little to no practical effect except for those studying such things.

The Julian Calendar, was proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC and enacted by edict on January 1, 45 BC. No, Julius did’t invent it. It was a reform of an earlier Roman calendar and probably designed by Greek mathematicians and Greek astronomers such as Sosigenes of Alexandria.

Whoever did it, the Julian Calendar was undoubtedly one of mankind’s most remarkable intellectual accomplishments. But as all human explanations of natural phenomena, it is rather imperfect in that although its synchronization with the solar year is better than most other calendars, the deviations get bigger and bigger as time goes on. Eventually, the year’s four seasons and the calendar will become way off.

One can correct these deviations from the natural world by throwing in “leap time” – a strange concept in which we are basically making up days, months or even years. (In other words, we are violating the rules of science by purposely making our interpretation of the reality fit the observation).

In order to reduce the need for such calendar doctoring, Pope Gregory XIII in October 1582 introduced the Gregorian calendar as a correction of the Julian calendar.

Lunario Novo, Secondo la Nuova Riforma della Correttione del l’Anno Riformato da N.S. Gregorio XIII, printed in Rome by Vincenzo Accolti in 1582, one of the first printed editions of the new calendar.

This has liturgical significance since calculation of the date of Easter assumes that spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere occurs on March. To correct the accumulated error, Pope Gregory ordained the date be advanced by ten days. (One can do that is one is pope).

Pope Gregory XIII, portrait by Lavinia Fontana, 16th Century.

Most Roman Catholic lands adopted the new calendar immediately. (Not that they had much of a choice). The clerical leaders of Protestant lands who did not recognize the pope’s authority of course protested. But eventually, they too ended up following suit over the following 200 years. (Not because Protestants admitted the pope’s new calendar was a good innovation, but because having two different calendars caused quite a bit of confusion. Let’s just say it wasn’t popular with the masses).

The British Empire (including the American colonies) adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752 with the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750. At that time, the divergence between the two systems had grown to eleven days.

This meant that Christmas Day on December 25 (“New Style”) was eleven days earlier than it would have been but for the Act, making “Old Christmas” (“Old Style”) on December 25 happen on January 5 (“New Style”).

In February 1800, the Julian calendar had yet another leap year but the Gregorian calendar did not. This moved Old Christmas to 6 January (“New Style”), which coincided with the Feast of the Epiphany.

For this reason, in some parts of the world, the Feast of the Epiphany, which is traditionally observed on 6 January, is sometimes referred to as “Old Christmas” or “Old Christmas Day”.

So where do we stand today? According to the Gregorian calendar, Western Christianity and part of the Eastern churches celebrate Christmas on December 25.

The Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Evangelical Church, and some Anabaptists (such as the Amish people) still celebrate “Old Christmas Day” on January 6.

Meanwhile, most Oriental Orthodox and part of the Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate on January 7 (which corresponds to “Old Style” December 25).

Lastly, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem maintains the traditional Armenian custom of celebrating the birth of Christ on the same day as Theophany (January 6), but it uses the Julian calendar for the determination of that date. As a result, this church celebrates “Christmas” (actually, Theophany) on what the majority of the world now considers to be January 19 on its Gregorian calendar.

Russian icon of the Theophany (the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist) (6 January), the highest-ranked feast which occurs on the fixed cycle of the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar.

So there you have it! The dates of Christmas are neither prescribed by God nor nature, but by man. They are nothing but human convention, and they differ because of the problems inherent in making a calendar that accurately reflects nature, along with some religious differences. Celebrate as you wish!

Merry Christmas.

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Halloween 2020

This will be the second full moon in October 2020, making it a so-called rare “Blue Moon”. Not only has there not been a full moon on All Hallow’s Eve since 2001, there won’t be another one until 2039. And for the first time tonight’s Blue Moon will be visible to most of the world in 75 years.

You will also see a red object near the moon tonight: that’s Mars. Also happening on Saturday night: Asteroid 2020 UX3 will be whizzing by Earth at a speed of 36,000 miles per hour. But don’t worry – experts who track this sort of stuff say it won’t hit us. But there’s another asteroid (2018VP1) making a close pass by Earth on Election Day.

Spooked yet?

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