It’s June 6, the day of the Allied invasion of France. Not the most decisive battle of World War II, but certainly one of the most complex and famous.
A Brief History (And Explanation) of Rocket Tossing
Anyone who has recently seen any footage of helicopters in Ukraine has witnessed what I call “Rocket Tossing”. The helicopter lifts its nose, fires off a ton of rockets indirectly, and then peels away. It has the impression of an improvised, ineffective tactic. But it’s not the former and is arguably not the latter.
It’s important to note that doctrine of the 198X Fuldapocalypse era, both western and eastern, details rocket tossing at length. The huge helicopter losses of Vietnam, the precedent of the Iran Iraq War (where the tactic was used constantly), and that air defense wasn’t exactly getting worse all made for sound reasons to know it. So indirect helicopter fire isn’t that surprising.
So how effective is it? Well, it’s basically a light multiple rocket launcher that can fly. Unguided multiple rocket launchers are area weapons, optimized to cover a large piece of land quickly at the expense of long-term rate of fire. (This is why rockets are considered ideal for chemical warfare). Ideal? Not really. Cost-effective? Probably not. But useless? Nah.
RIP Jim Brown
Jim Brown, former Cleveland Browns football player, activist, actor, and mixed martial arts commentator, has just passed away. RIP to a football legend. Calling him the greatest running back of all time is not particularly controversial, unlike other such claims. He rushed for more yards per game than anyone else at his position and did so in a low-offense era.
Betting on Obscure Sports
I’ve said multiple times that the depths to which sportsbooks scraped the bottom of the barrel in the spring of 2020 was darkly amusing and inspiring at the same time. The thing is, they were doing this before the crunch. And after. Maybe not to the extent of splashing Taiwanese women’s basketball on their front pages, but you still could and can find really weird sports. And the use of obscure sports is a glaring weak point for integrity.
So who actually bets on the Laotian 2nd Floorball League?
Well, from what I’ve gathered, there’s three main categories of bettors. Only one of these is beneficial to the sportsbook, and is probably the reason they keep doing it. None are what would be considered beneficial to society or even the sports betting ecosystem as a whole.
The most innocent group of people to bet on obscure markets consistently (as opposed to the occasional novelty bet that no one expects anything out of) are “degenerates”, the same gambling addicts who will just bet on whatever’s in front of their faces. If it’s the middle of the night and some soccer league halfway around the world is what’s on the screen, they’ll bet it. Everything from table tennis to bizarre half-rink hockey to totally legitimate Indian cricket. This was in fact the reason for those Eastern European ping pong leagues running around the clock and existing at all-it was to ensure that there was something on screen at all times, purely for the purposes of gambling.
Something that greases the skids for a huge and inevitable problem with gambling doesn’t seem like the best thing. But it’s sweet and virtuous compared to the other two.
Many of the sharp/plus EV [Expected value] bettors are these, pouncing on whatever mismatch they get. They have little to no handicapping or serious modeling ability (the stereotype is that they’re green lumberjacks who don’t even know the players). After all, obscure sports are the most vulnerable to bad/slow lines. Which of course leads to the cycle of them getting restricted/banned after the book finds out.
I find neither the sportsbooks themselves who blast ads about the road to riches yet restrict successful bettors nor the line munchkins (coming from a tabletop RPG term for players who crudely optimize for maximum power) who act like martyrs to genius instead of people who gamed the system to be very sympathetic. So something that amplifies this sludgy mess does not seem desirable.
The smallest, weakest, and most obscure sports are the most vulnerable to manipulation and fixes. So naturally either fixers or people aware of the fix will flock to bet on these crooked games. I don’t think I need to really explain why this is a bad thing.
On one hand, the sportsbooks can simply not list the Guinea-Bissau Ferret Legging Third Division, the regulators can forbid it, and the data providers (the biggest, most important, and least visible part of the whole ecosystem), can not provide information about them. On the other, it only takes one offshore data provider and an offshore book wanting to fill that niche to break the restrictions.
So yes, like a lot of sports betting issues, this is not completely solvable. I do think that forbidding bets on the lowest hanging fruit-minor league baseball and tennis or low-division college basketball to use an American example, would still be a wise and prudent thing to do.
I’ve used the term “Cuban T-72s” to refer to a very interesting phenomenon in fiction, especially contemporary fiction. Which is to say, something that’s technically inaccurate but makes an incredible amount of intuitive sense. And it’s technically achievable as well. What is a Cuban T-72?
Well, despite being one of the premier Soviet clients, Cuba has never operated T-72 tanks. T-72s are, of course, a common Soviet export tank. So even though Cuba historically never moved beyond the T-62 despite being actively engaged in Angola, if a thriller novel or alternate timeline had them operating that autoloaded tank, I would let it slide.
So if the rest of the work is pretty good, I can let things like wrong calibers off the hook. Especially if there’s an understandable reason why the author would think that way. Note that this only applies to small things like that-someone like Ian Slater who constantly gets the easiest-to-check facts wrong is not a “Cuban T-72.”
The Non-Russian SSRs and nuclear weapons
There is one argument, especially after the 2022 invasion, about Ukraine (and the other non-Russian ex-SSRs) and nuclear weapons. This goes: They gave up their nuclear weapons in exchange for largely meaningless and unenforceable diplomatic agreements, which was a mistake that Ukraine paid for and Kazakhstan might have.
Many informed nuclear commentators have pointed out that the launch codes/infrastructure were still in Russian hands, that Ukraine had no actual control, and that the ICBMs in particular were ill-positioned for deterring their former owners. This is all accurate, as is the staggering cost of making a usable nuclear program during a time of massive political and economic upheaval (Ukraine’s implosion in the 1990s made Russia’s look like a modest recession, and Kazakhstan had effectively no army of its own immediately after independence)
But there is another opposite fallacy, which is that the decision was more or less out of their hands. Because all the nuclear weapons were under Russian control, there was no real choice involved. This is also flawed. The nuclear weapons weren’t immediately usable, but to act like there was a Ward Of Russianism on them is wrong. Ukraine had extensive infrastructure and science on its territory (including a missile plant), while Kazakhstan’s uranium industry meant that it was already over the biggest hump for a usable bomb-the materials.
So it was not technically impossible for the non-Russian SSRs to maintain a nuclear weapons program. You can argue that it was politically and economically so, and probably correctly. But it was not a technical issue. The republics had agency, and they likely prevented a far earlier Russian invasion by relenting.
Weird Wargaming: The 185mm artillery
Using a ballistics calculator, I came up with a 185mm artillery piece with the following performance. Why that? Because few/no real guns have the caliber, and I wanted something between 152/155mm and 203mm. When not obtained via the calculator, results are extrapolated from the S-23, the closest real life equivalent, with some enhancements like faster loading and lighter weight to simulate better technology:
Maximum range: 27-41 km, depending on ammunition.
Rate of fire: 2 rounds/minute
Average shell weight: 70-75 kilograms
Approximate Mass: 13,700 kg
The artillery piece is usually self-propelled on a tracked mount, but towed variants do exist. It tends to serve as a corps/army level weapon whose primary goal (and largest shell portion) is counter-battery and other missions where range is more important than size, although it can do anything a big gun can. Advanced users have developed nuclear shells for it, and the usual conventional ammunition types (regular HE, cluster, etc…) have been made.
A bizarre archetype
I’ve been playing a lot of beat ’em up video games (ie Final Fight), and I’ve noticed (and have not been the only one who’s noticed) a recurring enemy theme. Yes, you get the normal goons, the musclemen, the femme fatales, and the final boss who has the only ranged weapon in the entire game. And the people with very few hit points who run in, attack once, and leave. And big fat enemies.
But among the last, there’s one strange consistent theme. These portly foes breathe fire. Ok. I don’t know why, but somehow game designers thought “All right, let’s keep doing this.”
How Computers Destroyed (And Could Save) Cover Art
I just found this great article called “When Movie Artwork Was Great.” Long story short, the cover was an important part of advertising, and thus was worth the expense even for otherwise low-budget productions. A combination of computer tools making it easy to do a basic cover (Ie, it’s not like “you have to hand-draw it anyway…), and lower production values as the industry got squeezed meant that generic photoshopped mush took over.
It felt very familiar to me because the exact same thing happened concerning book covers for exactly the same reasons. Weirdly enough, otherwise high-profile books tended to have minimalist covers from the get-go. But trashy pulps that couldn’t even keep the main character’s name consistent (I’m not joking) would have spectacular covers from the likes of Gil Cohen and Ken Barr.
Now it’s just-look at the book section of a grocery store and you’ll know.
I mentioned the ability to improve book covers at very little cost as one of the upsides of AI art. Now that I’ve gotten more into it, I can say even more comfortably that something quickly makeable with the least controversial models (closed source, public domain only, etc…) and only small amounts of manual tweaking could leave most contemporary covers in its dust.
So yeah, shed a tear for the running silhouettes and clunkily shopped-in muscle men. I know we’ll all miss them so much.
The term “nuclear triad” is a familiar one. It means the three main delivery systems-aircraft, land installations, and naval ones. Or rather, the three main American delivery systems. See, it’s easy to see the grouping of three when you have only deployed three types of strategic platforms: Silos, aircraft, and submarines.
From this American point of view, mobile ICBMs in use by other countries fit into the land part of the triad, and the oft-proposed surface ship bases would fit into the naval part. However, the proposed anchored capsules on the bottom of the sea have more in common with silos than mobile submarines.
So in a different world where nuclear basing was more widespread, the term “Tetrad” or “Pentad” could be used. A tetrad of silos, mobile land missiles (whether via truck, train, hovercraft, or Wienermobile), aircraft, and submarines. Or a pentad of all that plus surface ships.