The environmental scars of war

As well as the immediate death and destruction, armed conflicts have a long term effect on the places they’re fought in. Left over munitions and mines are an obvious problem- I knew they still dig up shells from World War 1, but hadn’t realised it was so bad there are still effective no-go zones- but knock on effects are also an issue. The focus of resources on the military lets other systes break down, and natural disasters are more devastating in war zones and their surroundings.

I addressed similar issues in Sounds of Soldiers, but didn’t imagine how much larger they truly are.


Prepare the Grand Panjandrum!

I had another old ashtray that made a perfect diorama base, so I built a companion to the Smith Gun diorama.

The Grand Panjandrum is an even more obscure Allied weapon from WW2- only making it to prototype stage and possibly being a bluff. I found a 3D printable Panjandrum on Booth and once I sat down and started the diorama, it went together over a weekend.

Recent Research Reading

A few articles that have been sitting in open tabs for too long, that I’ve finally got round to reading-

During the 2008 financial crisis the theory emerged that certain companies, particularly financial institutions, were “too big to fail.” These firms were considered to be so large and entwined with other companies that their closure would be catastrophic to the entire economy. In today’s Navy, the aircraft carrier has become “too big to sink.” When it functions as designed, it is an extremely powerful platform that has remarkable economies of scale. But carriers are crucial to so many of the fleet’s missions that if the enemy can defeat them, the results would be catastrophic for both the Navy and the nation. The loss of a $12 billion capital ship, more than 5,000 American lives, and a powerful symbol of U.S. military superiority would send shock waves around the world.

Too Big to Sink – Proceedings Magazine – May 2017

Perepilichnyy, who faced repeated threats after fleeing to Britain, was found dead outside his home in Surrey after returning from a mysterious trip to Paris in 2012. Despite an expert detecting signs of a fatal plant poison in his stomach, the British police have insisted there was no evidence of foul play, and Theresa May’s government has invoked national security powers to withhold evidence from the inquest into his cause of death – which is ongoing.

Poison in the System – Buzzfeed (Part 1 of 5)

Lavish London mansions. A hand-painted Rolls-Royce. And eight dead friends. For the British fixer Scot Young, working for Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic meant stunning perks – but also constant danger. His gruesome death is one of 14 that US spy agencies have linked to Russia – but the UK police shut down every last case. A bombshell cache of documents today reveals the full story of a ring of death on British soil that the government has ignored.

From Russia With Blood – Buzzfeed (Part 2 of 5)

His nuclear research helped a judge determine that former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko had been assassinated – likely on Putin’s orders. Just months after the verdict, the scientist himself was found stabbed to death with two knives. Police deemed it a suicide, but US intelligence officials suspect it was murder.

The Man Who Knew Too Much- Buzzfeed (Part 3 of 5)

After the dead body of an MI6 spy was found locked in a sports bag in London, police said the death was “probably an accident” – but British and American spy agencies have secret intelligence suggesting Gareth Williams may have been assassinated over highly sensitive work on Russia.

The Secrets Of The Spy In The Bag- Buzzfeed (Part 4 of 5)

Vladimir Putin’s former media czar was murdered in Washington, DC, on the eve of a planned meeting with the US Justice Department, according to two FBI agents whose assertions cast new doubts on the US government’s official explanation of his death.

“Everyone thinks he was whacked”- Buzzfeed (Part 5 of 5)

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainians have long struggled with fake news from Russia, but last week, they discovered something even more insidious: a fake journalist.

Masquerading as Reporter, Assassin Hunted Putin Foes in Ukraine- New York Times

Reports of satellite navigation problems in the Black Sea suggest that Russia may be testing a new system for spoofing GPS, New Scientist has learned. This could be the first hint of a new form of electronic warfare available to everyone from rogue nation states to petty criminals.

Ships fooled in GPS spoofing attack suggest Russian cyberweapon- New Scientist

Oh, look, Trident hunting drones

Last week, the Shadow defence secretary, Emily Thornberry, was criticised- some would say mocked- by the pro-apocalypse wing of the Labour Party after she said that there could soon be sea going drones capable of tracking nuclear submarines. The Trident supporters lined up to smugly report that such devices were impossible.

So imagine my surprise when I read this morning that DARPA has a drone submarine hunter built and ready to undergo sea trials. It’s shocking that the Armageddon apologists could be wrong. I guess they’ve put so much faith in the incredible powers of Trident, that they can’t conceive any of the ways in which the system is flawed or could be compromised.

Drone sub hunter versus not-quite-stealthy-enough sub, the future of the world at stake. I think I have to store that one away as a potential story.

I hope the security services aren’t recording my YouTube history

So, I’m working on the next book to be published under the Garth Owen pen name. The working title is Pickers and the high concept pitch is “Mad Max goes green.” Having broken it down into chapters and major scenes, then looked at my current writing pace, it’s not going to be ready by the middle of next month to tie in to the release of Fury Road.

A slightly longer synopsis- Pickers* wander through the (mostly) abandoned badlands after a climate change driven collapse, finding old equipment and technology that they can rescue, repurpose or recycle, selling it on to settlements. The story is about a family of pickers- father, two daughters and the husband of one of the daughters- who have been chasing a particularly precious treasure trove, and the journey they take once they find directions to its location. The treasure isn’t oil, or even water, and the action takes place in Spain and France, rather than unspecified desert.

I’m setting it up such that guns and ammunition aren’t yet vanishingly rare, but other, older weapon technologies are more likely to be used first. So I’ve been watching quite a few YouTube videos about bows and catapults. Which is how I found my new hero Joerg Sprave.

Joerg’s a jolly bald fellow with a crazy imagination, lots of skills, and one of the scariest laughs ever**. He builds things like pump action pencil launchers.

Or, at the other end of the spectrum, a machete launching “crossbow”.

It was an aside in one of his Slingshot Channel videos that inspired me to arm a secondary character with a catapult that she uses to launch darts fashioned from nails. I’m not sure how many of his other creations I could realistically use in the story, but you never know.

I’ve also been researching stuff such as thermite and napalm, but those probably aren’t things I should mention on an open channel.

*I admit it, the title’s inspired by the TV show American Pickers.

** It’s not the laugh itself that’s scary. The laugh is rather jovial, and occasionally gleeful. It’s just the way that he lets it out just after demonstrating another piece of destructive hardware.

Machined bullets for 3D-printed guns could make them practical weapons

3D printed guns have had one major drawback- the materials they’re made from don’t hold up well to the stresses created by an exploding bullet. The plastic cracks and the barrel or receiver becomes useless quickly. One developer has found a way around this by machining thick walled shells with the bullet an inch or so inside them, which act as little barrels to contain the explosive force. They have to be machined individually, but the raw material is cheap and they can be reloaded after use.

Bullet could make 3D-printed guns practical deadly weapons (Wired UK).

Make an assault rifle on your desk

Or workbench. Maybe that would be more sensible, because there’s going to be swarf everywhere.

The guy who made a big noise with his 3D printed gun parts is back, with a, relatively, cheap home milling machine designed specifically to make lower receivers for home assembled AR-15 assault rifles. The process is made easier by American companies which will sell you an 80% complete lower receiver, so that the machine only has to do the last drilling and cutting. The serial number free result is known as a “Ghost gun”. It’s all some sort of libertarian exercise, the designer claims.

From a technological and DIY point of view, this is fascinating, but what is it with American libertarians and guns? Why not create something that isn’t destructive?

Sniping for Dummies

A company called TrackingPoint have a range of targetting scopes which will do most of the calculations needed for long-range shooting, so you don’t have to. They calculate for range and target tracking, but not wind- which, I guess, is something you can’t work out with an optical system- and should greatly improve the accuracy of shooters with little or no training. Something like this is going in a story, I just haven’t decided which one.

Update This documentary suggests that the sights can take wind into account. It also gives some more information on the weapon system and shows it being used to hunt.

The evolution of 3D guns

3D printed weapons are a scary prospect, and their development from idea to prototype to ever better versions has been typically fast. I was a relatively early advocate of the power of 3D printing, but even I wouldn’t have predicted practical firearms becoming a possibility so quickly.

How 3-D Printed Guns Evolved Into Serious Weapons in Just One Year | Threat Level | WIRED.

Unleash the incendiary cats!

A recently scanned book on artillery from the Middle Ages provided some bizarre images which appeared to show cats and pigeons with black powder rockets strapped to their backs. The truth is a little more mundane, if still quite, quite mad.

According to Fraas’s translation, Helm explained how animals could be used to deliver incendiary devices: “Create a small sack like a fire-arrow. If you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited.”

The article says there is no evidence of feline fire bombs ever being deployed, but the idea of flaming animals as weapons has been raised in other eras. The Romans thought of doing a similar trick with tar-coated pigs. In the Second World War, the US considered dropping thousands of bats, each with a little firebomb strapped to it, over Japan. The intention was for them to rest in the eaves of the wooden houses and start lots of small fires. In a variation on the burning cat routine, the Soviets trained ‘dog mines‘ which were supposed to dive under advancing German tanks and destroy them, though the program was mostly a failure, with dogs diving under familiar Russian tanks and running back to their masters to explode.

via Fur flies over 16th century 'rocket cats' warfare manual | World news | theguardian.com.

A few pointers to future weapons tech 1

Just a few things I spotted this morning which could be coming to a battlefield, or thriller, near you one day.

Mind controlled quad-copters.  These are being developed to give the wheelchair bound a new view on the world, and maybe provide other tools to make their lives easier, but mind interfacing weapons have long been a sci-fi staple, so you know someone out there’s developing this technology with entirelyy different types pf blades attached.

Using Android phones to call in airstrikes.  Okay, the article rubbishes the idea, so it’s unlikely to be used practically.  But as a plot device it is quite cool.

BAE’s Striker helmet gives fighter pilots ‘X-ray vision’.  Just the latest iteration of the move to a completely UAV air force?