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Night Flight

Friday evening I flew an hour of goggle time. I was at day 57 of the 60-day period, after which my currency would have expired. The next evening, I got an hour unaided in a Cessna.

NVGs are useful. I wouldn’t dream of attempting terrain flight, or landing in any but a perfectly clear well-marked area, without them. At the same time, they are an uncomfortable combination of unpleasantly heavy and way too small. After a very short while, wearing them becomes a literal pain in the neck: even with a counterweight bag to keep your head’s CG roughly where it should be, they push the moment of inertia out several inches. Combined with the tiny viewing area of the goggles, which forces you to be constantly moving your entire head around to maintain situational awareness, simple fatigue sets in very quickly.

Flying unaided is much more physically comfortable, and much prettier. Cities are a soft sodium yellow, highways are ribbons of red and white, and manmade landmarks are always strikingly lit. At the same time, navigation is significantly more challenging. For example, you wouldn’t think that a runway would be hard to find, particularly at night: it’s a perfectly straight line miles long with distinctive lighting along both edges. You’d be wrong: runways are tricky, and prone to sneaking up on you. It’s actually usually easier to find the airport from the taxiway lighting and then infer the position of the runway until you can see it directly, which usually happens on short final, about 30 seconds before landing.

The ideal, if I could invent any hypothetical technology for flying at night, would be a projected head-up display on every window showing the outside world as seen through a system of night vision sensors mounted on the aircraft’s body. I hear the Apache people actually have something like a primitive version of this, though I’ve never had a chance to play with one. I suspect that I’ll have to either wait quite a long time before such a system becomes commercially available, or invent it myself. It’s one idea for what to do with myself after the Army, at least.

Hacker’s Delight

x + y = (x XOR y) + (x & y)<<1

It's longhand addition: the sum with carries ignored, plus the carries. Why not just use a normal adder? This equation still has an addition operation. However, this reduces the probability of a carry operation by about half (assuming binary numbers with each bit independently equally likely to be either 0 or 1).

It's not useful, but it's cool. This whole book is 300 pages of such tricks, few of which I expect ever to use, but all of which trigger little explosions of happiness when I figure out how they work. If you've ever considered bit-twiddling without immediately assuming it's a euphemism, you'll like this book.

Hacker’s Delight, Henry S. Warren, Jr. (Amazon)

The Grand Plan for the Weekend

Last year for the fourth of July I sat in the apartment most of the weekend, emerging briefly to see the on-base fireworks display. This year I plan to top that: I’ve got a four-day weekend, an off-base pass, and a well-stocked debit card: I am travelling.

Right now I’ll sleep a few hours, then get online with my friends from college. After a few hours of that, I’ll drive to Osan Airbase, where I’ll fly a Cessna down to Kunsan (weather permitting) and back. Then I’ll link up with my buddy who lives down there and hang out all evening, possibly drinking. Sometime in there I expect a Skype call from my sister.

Sunday morning, I start on my way to Jeju-do: Korea’s Hawaii. It is the farthest place I can go from here without needing a passport. Astonishingly, a round-trip plane ticket costs only about $75. Hopefully I’ll be able to walk into the airport and buy one, because the Korean websites are giving me trouble.

The plan is to spend 48 hours in Jeju-do, then return to base by Tuesday evening in time to get back to work on Wednesday morning. Once there, I’ll figure out lodging and entertainment somewhere; I am certain that I can find both on this island of tourism. Everything I’m bringing fits into a backpack.

They don’t believe at work that I am a spontaneous person.

Thought Experiment

Assume superstring theory is correct, and the universe is 11-dimensional. 7 of those are so tiny and curled in on themselves that in human terms they are entirely extraneous; still, they exist.

You invent the world’s tiniest (and most sideways) centrifuge, and accelerate someone to near lightspeed along one of these dimensions. Does this brave experimentee experience relativistic weirdness?

My prediction: yes, but not in the traditional sense. The necessary caveat here is that I do not have the necessary math to back any of this up; this is just intuition based on my understanding of physics.

Let’s list the traditional effects of near-lightspeed travel. There’s an increase in mass, compression along the direction of travel, a reduction of rate of perceived time. These effects can only be perceived by an observer whose velocity relative to the experimentee is large.

The salient feature of the seven bonus dimensions is that they are very, very tiny and extremely tightly curled: any motion along any of them will quickly return an object to the starting point. (This is both why the experiment features a centrifuge instead of a traditional accelerator and why they play a negligible role in human-scale life.) Also, they are orthogonal to each other and to the traditional four dimensions of everyday life.

The centrifuge’s overall effect, then, will be to vibrate the experimentee; whether it’s a sine wave or a sawtooth depends on details of the wrapping that I don’t know, but that ultimately don’t matter. Either way, vibration can be averaged out to a single position.

We wouldn’t notice the spatial compression: that only applies in the direction of travel, and in this case that direction is orthogonal to any direction humans can sense. However, we would notice the other two effects: time dilation and mass increase. Even though the experimentee is at rest in the primary three dimensions and is effectively only vibrating in the fourth, that vibration is still at near-lightspeed. I can’t come up with any reason why those effects should be masked.

Holy crap. I think I just simultaneously invented both stasis fields and gravity generators.

BOOM

There’s a small howitzer, almost a mortar, on the helipad at Camp Casey. I’ve seen it a bunch of times, but never at 1700.

At 1700, it seems, it gets set off with a blank charge daily.

When this happens, there are a few consequences. A 20-foot fireball shoots briefly out the muzzle. A shower of tiny unburnt gunpowder particles clatters onto the helicopter. And the sheer noise of it punches you in the chest loud enough to make you step back.

Next time I’m at Cp. Casey at 1700, I’m wearing ear protection.

Level Up!

The paradox of excellence is that for doing good work, your reward is more work to do. Actually, it’s not much of a paradox unless you assume that a fundamental goal at work is to earn the most pay for the least amount of trouble, which seems a very reasonable goal. It’s not quite the same as least effort: something fun can be quite challenging, but no trouble at all. Still, even given that goal, the pattern at work is something like this: dive into the fun stuff with gusto. Do a good if uninspired job on the troublesome stuff. Then get given more responsibilities.

That’s what happens to me at least. I got a call from the CO CDR last night saying that the BN CDR wanted to meet both of us this morning to talk about additional duties. At the meeting, he told me that based on the recommendations of the senior warrants in the battalion, he was tasking me to be the BN Flight Operations officer.

BN Flight Operations is a full-time job. To accomplish this, I’m being pulled out of Charlie Company and moved into HHC: I’m a staff aviator now. I get my own office, immunity from most random details, and I drop every additional duty except my other BN one: Flight Records. Keeping even one is unusual, and that particular one more so: for years, those jobs have been split to keep the workload manageable. I get to buck that trend. This doesn’t exactly help me build up my flight hours or earn my PC orders, but it can’t hurt my career to have on my OER that I was picked by name to do both these critical BN jobs while still junior.

The job itself is a bit of a cipher to me: I’ve never yet touched the Operations side of things. Scuttlebutt has it as complex, data-heavy, and requiring flexible work hours: perfect, in other words, for me. Hopefully the match works as well in reality as it does on paper.

I’m not completely unambivalent about this: it means even more delay until I get my PC orders, a lightened flight schedule even once I have them, and a lot of work in the meantime. It means that even when I earn my callsign, it won’t start with Comanche, but Wild Card. I regret both of those things. Still, the regret is minor compared to the excitement. This seems like it could be a lot of fun.

The Myth of Sisyphus

Reading Albert Camus’s book. So far, I can’t say I’m impressed.

He’s got a big vocabulary. So do I. I’ve experienced often enough the fact that people assume that this implies intelligence far beyond what actually exists. Now I have evidence: this book, which I’m reading because of a recommendation saying it was quite profound, so far is nothing much except him long-windedly laying out postulates and concluding that as there are no moral absolutes which can be derived from scratch, everything is terrible.

Again: I’m currently only partway into the book. Still, unless he comes out with something astonishing before the conclusion, I’ll be vindicated in my prediction that this book is little more than overrated crap.

What to do about the North

I’ve been reading books about North Korea since I got here to the South. I think that by this point I’ve got a fair sense of what the nation is, and what it might do. Given that, I think that the US, S. Korea, and as many of the UN as we can convince should enforce a simple, three point plan with regard to the North:

  • Deny aid.
  • Cease trade.
  • Enforce a blockade.

Is it harsh? Perhaps. Still, it can’t be called unjustified, and it makes perfect sense to let them steep in their own juche.

Every attempt at negotiating with the North has failed. Their internal propaganda brags about reneging on the various nuclear treaties, and claims all aid as tribute. It’s not as though there is any pretense at being anything other than evil. Simply cutting them off from all contact is simultaneously the most effective way to destabilize them and to return to them the contempt in which they hold the rest of the world. So what if they retaliate by banning atomic inspectors? We already know they’ve got the bomb; past that point, the quantity doesn’t matter.

They’d have only three possible developments: thrive, or stagnate, or collapse. I don’t think the first is likely at all. They’d maintain their big option: go to war, or not. I do not think they would go to war. Most likely they’d try to wait it out, wait for the inevitable change in world opinion to get back to a policy of appeasement. By the time they were desperate enough to choose war, their straits should be dire enough that starting one would be obviously suicidal.

If they did start a war, it’d be terrible. They’ll inflict tremendous civilian casualties even if they choose not to use atomic weaponry. Then they would lose.

I’m ok with that, though. It’d be a chance for someone else to be the bad guys for once.

Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac was the first rapper.

What?

Most rap is the singer bragging about their accomplishments. The most frequently bragged about accomplishments:

  • The ability to compose verse on the fly.
  • The ability to seduce women with the aid of said verse
  • Proficiency with a weapon

Cyrano was accomplished in all of this, before the year 1900.

It is a very fun book, though not one it’s really possible to take seriously. The Brian Hooker translation wonderfully captures the spirit of the verse; I recommend it.

Blue House

Last Friday I took a tour of the Blue House: Korea’s executive mansion and offices.

Blue House Front View

It was a nice enough tour, though we were only allowed to take pictures from three designated locations. For the most part, the landscapes were beautiful and the architecture stately. There were two exceptions: two carefully manicured lawns which had obviously been artificially flattened for use as helicopter landing pads. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much information from the tour guides; they spoke only in Korean, and deputized an astonished KATUSA on the fly to translate for them. The one they chose tended to summarize, for example, a ten minute speech into “See that tree? It’s famous for being 160 years old.”

Palace Guard (in Traditional Garb)

I cannot overemphasize how ornate and elaborate the changing of the guard ceremony was. It involved a marching band, two parades of guards, a prerecorded speech (with translations following each line into Japanese, English, and Chinese), and much pomp and circumstance. This picture shows just one of the parades of guards, minutes before they marched up to relieve the parade comprised of the previous shift. It was a nice show, but I can’t help but assume that the majority of the guards change shift in a much more relaxed manner, and that this was just an additional duty that some of them picked up somehow.

War Memorial

This particular war memorial was much more inspirational than most I’ve seen in Korea. Then again, its symbolism with a phoenix rising over a smiling family seems less like it’s commemorating less the war of the 1950s than the upcoming one which will unite the peninsula. An interesting message for the memorial in front of the house of the President, but a powerful one.