Reactor Grade Plutonium

Reactor-grade (as opposed to weapons-grade) plutonium has been hotly (no pun intended) argued over as to its suitability for nuclear warheads. From the open-source claims I’ve been reading, there are arguments that I’m not qualified to address the technical side of, but a couple of common themes have emerged:

  • Every extant nuclear power has chosen to go ahead with the additional expense of weapons-grade plutonium rather than trying to make something out of reactor-grade material. There have been tests and rumors, but that’s it.
  • Reactor-grade plutonium is hotter, more dangerous when exposed [making design and handling more difficult], requires more material for less explosive power, and is far more likely to fizzle (detonate instantly with a much lower yield).
  • However, even the low yield (less than a kiloton) is still a radioactive Beirut explosion, raising fears of nuclear terrorism with stolen reactor-grade materials.
  • Improved design can remove many of the shortcomings of reactor-grade plutonium.
  • The increased yield uncertainty makes it less attractive for tactical operations.

Still, the technically “easiest” way just to make a nuclear explosion with national-level resources would be to use civilian reactor-grade plutonium to put together an atomic charge. The list of countries that could do such a thing is much longer than the conventional nuclear states. Granted, they’d be facing a large backlash to make an explosive charge that’s 1940s-level at best and has little practical military utility, but it’s what’s the most possible in spherical cow terms.

The Super-Mansion

The conclusion of The Sure Bet King took place at a Los Angeles super-mansion. My current WIP is also focused around a super-mansion. The super-mansion is one of those setting places that I just love. They’re (impractically) big, they can have a lot of stuff, and they can have very different themes.

The closest thing to an official definition of a “mansion” is “a luxury home at least 5,000 square feet in size”. Super-mansions are even more nebulous, with their only real distinguishing feature being their bulk. My own definition is “it’s a super-mansion if any one room in it is bigger than an entire normal mansion”.

The Poker Boom

As someone very young during the online poker boom of the mid-2000s, I knew it existed but wasn’t anywhere near aware of how insane it got. Looking back and doing research, I can say that for about three years, robbery became legal, as long as you were a good poker player. The excesses of it were sometimes just big, like how pros “multi-table” at several sessions at once, playing thousands upon thousands of hands a day, all while staring at the computer for many hours.

But the most interesting part is the zero-sum nature of poker and how that doomed the bubble to pop as much as anything the government did (after all, laws and court cases didn’t stop offshore sports betting at all). The boom featured sharp sharks dropping the equivalent of nuclear depth charges on poor square fish who’d seen Rounders and Chris Moneymaker living up to his namesake and thought “why not me?”

The problem came when liquidity dried up. Without a stream of new fish to get skewered, many former pros learned that they became the lower ones on the food chain. Many moved on to the similarly zero-sum daily fantasy sports, which popped just in time for sports betting to get legalized and crypto speculation to take off. And if the people complaining about restrictions because they tried to arbitrage off of William Hill got their wish and forced the sportsbooks to sharpen, the same feeding frenzy/market bubble that benefited only a few ultra-sharps would happen. In fact, I’m half-convinced it’s happening already, sportsbook restrictions or not.

The reason being that neither sports betting nor poker are actually that profitable for the house, especially after promotions, but that’s another story for another time. As is the story of poker-the book takes place roughly at the same time as the historical poker boom and one of my Sure Bet King ideas envisioned main character Eddie Ross being a moderately skilled poker who crushed weaker ones during the boom (with obvious effects on his ego), but a combination of the path the novel took and me thinking I didn’t know enough about poker nixed it.

While I don’t regret it, I think the right terms to use is that there was an opportunity that I did not follow. After all, the climax of The Sure Bet King is of a-based-on-a-true-story boxing event where sharps took advantage of squares in massive force. The poker boom was like that, only for years instead of one day.

The Journeyman

In sports, “journeyman” often just means a lower-tier player. This is certainly the case in the individual sport of boxing, where “journeyman” is often a polite way of saying “tomato can”. But in team sports, “journeyman” often means a peculiar kind of athlete.

The two most stereotypical journeymen in baseball were pitchers Bobo Newsom and Mike Morgan.

From their Baseball Reference pages, I can say that that’s a lot of uniform numbers. The baseball player who currently holds the “record” for most teams played with is Edwin Jackson. So this kind of super-journeyman has to have a certain quality. They must not be bad enough that they simply drop out of the big leagues altogether after a comparably short and disappointing career, but they also can’t be good enough to have one team try and hold onto them. On that point, while free agency has allowed journeymen to move elsewhere on their own terms, the shuffled-around player definitely existed long before that-just ask Bobo Newsom himself, or all the other pre-1976 (when free agency began) baseball journeymen.

Some journeymen have unique skill sets. Jesse Orosco is perhaps the best example. With a pitch that was close to unhittable by left-handed batters, he became a “LOOGY” (Left Handed One Out Guy) who pitched into his mid forties as someone who showed up, threw to one or two batters, and then left the game.

To me, the journeyman offers a unique literary opportunity. The character can thrive at their sport and play for champion teams. But they aren’t a dominating superstar and live life on the edge in a way that said dominating superstar doesn’t. And they could go from a winner one day to a loser the next. The possibilities are massive.

Inputs

The analysts who swung and missed regarding the (initial phase of the) Ukraine War and the Russian performance in it still made reasonable assumptions.

  • It was reasonable to assume that Russia’s modernization was deep and genuine.
  • It was reasonable to assume that, having spent a year moving the forces, that Russia would also spend a year planning.
  • It was reasonable to assume that modern weapons on the Ukrainian side (like the few Georgia had in 2008) and/or any degree of qualitative superiority would just increase Russian casualties slightly without changing the outcome.
  • Finally, it was reasonable to assume that Russia would follow its paper doctrine, like it did in Chechnya, Georgia, and in 2014.

Of course, it was also reasonable to assume that even a smashed-by-the-fire-strike Ukraine would still fight ferociously, and that a conventional “victory” would just mean occupying a large country that loathed them. Yet few expected something that would have a Voroshilov instructor saying this:

Yet the most baffling part is how the Russians struggled with the very areas where they had a reputation for being good: Operational planning, concentration of force, and air defense. It would be like the U.S. going to war, and not just struggling, but struggling with logistics and air power. Goes to show that even the best model or most well-thought out analysis is only as good as its inputs.

And one of those inputs, and one of the hardest to actually measure, is personnel quality. It came to me as an armchair theory that “professionalizing” the military without creating more incentives for the middle class to join meant that its recruit base, centered around the rural poor, would actually be of lower quality. Then I saw a piece from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project that seemed to reinforce this, containing the explicit quote “‘Contract soldiers are getting worse and worse‘” amidst describing training woes. This would seemingly lead to the worst of both worlds-personnel who are more expensive but not more capable than the previous mass-mobilization system.

Weird Wargaming: The Abrams-SPH

The year is 1995. Faced with either leaping into the unknown with a clean-sheet system or plugging along with legacy platforms, several contributors to Armor Magazine decided to pursue a middle ground. In the November-December edition, they unveiled their contraption: An Abrams-chassis 52-caliber (same as the PzH2000 and Archer) self propelled howitzer with an autoloader and a whopping 80 rounds inside.

The M1-Arty, or AFAS/M1. Of note is the Archer-esque “backwards” layout of the main gun.

AFAS/M1 would fire 4 to 8 rounds in a Simultaneous Impact Mission (SIM) between 6-40 km. All rounds will impact within 4 seconds (first-to-last round). This requirement can be attained with an effective combination of a battle management system, fire control system, global positioning system (GPS) and an autoloader.-claim for its power from the article.

A resupply vehicle on the same chassis would also be designed. The AFAS/M1 had a target weight of 55 tons.

For all the unusual elements about its design, in practice this beast would have been deployed conventionally. In action, it would have served with heavy divisions/brigades in the usual format. It could be simmed by using the offensive stats of the PzH-2000. Yet it still stands out, in appearance if nothing else.

Wither The Sharp

In The Sure Bet King, one of the few areas of sports betting that I didn’t cover was genuine sharps, or profitable bettors. Part of it was me not really knowing the most about they operated at the time (after all, those with a sincere edge aren’t keen on advertising it…). Another part was that they wouldn’t really fit the theme of the book. After all, this was far more about the system beating people than it was about people beating the system. The only “sharps” are the people who applied not-so-common sense to the boxing match at the climax of the novel.

In any case, like with almost everything else involved with sports betting, the more I learn of sharps, the less respect I have for most of them. First, there’s the very small number of very secretive modelers who actually can beat the sharpest sources (exchanges and “sharp books” like Pinnacle and Circa Sports) at their own game, costing them a little to shape a better line. These might as well be memetic Area 51 as far as secrecy’s concerned. These sharps are called “originators”, because the proper lines originate with them.

More common are what I like to call the “line vultures”. These don’t model or handicap, they just hit off, slow, or mismatched lines.

This video is one of the best examples of showing how a line vulture works.

I call them “line vultures” because they’re reactive and not proactive. Does it take effort and skill and talent? Yes. Is it exactly “sports betting” and does it involve the modeling acumen people think? Not in my opinion. Are sportsbooks justified in going after the line vultures? Yes. Are more innocent bettors frequently collateral damage in this banning? You bet they are.

Then there are the ones I have (even) less respect for. First are the outright manipulators, the people who don’t just pounce on line moves but (for example) cause them by betting at a sharp “market maker” knowing it’ll move and everyone else will follow. This sort of thing would probably be illegal in financial markets, and is definitely shady. Second are the bonus abusers, the people who take advantage of generous sportsbook promotions for financial gain.

Now that I know more about sharps and “sharps” and have already covered more of the gambling business, I might just include one in my giant brainstorms…

WMMA5 Style Archetypes

One of the best things about WMMA5 is that you can credibly make people from many different styles. True, you can make balanced “mixed martial artists” or “freestyle” fighters, but where’s the fun in that? Meanwhile, those with a background in traditional or kick boxing, to say nothing of grapplers/wrestlers, are pretty self-explanatory. And combat sambo, which is very close to MMA already, just means a balanced fighter. But there are some more exotics that I’ve found fun to use.

  • Sumo wrestling. Not just for male heavyweights, the pushing nature of sumo means MMA fighters with a background in it trend towards what’s derogatorily called “wall and stall”, where they try to win decisions by pushing and trapping their opponent against the cage/ropes.
  • Shootfighting/pro wrestling. These I move up the “creative attacks” (punches/kicks, submissions) up a lot, to symbolize their stylistic, showy background. Otherwise they’re grapplers.
  • “Practical Fighters”. A catch-all term for those who’ve trained in legit military/law enforcement unarmed fighting. The opposite of the shoot wrestlers, these have very low “creative attacks” ratings, to symbolize their focus on boring but practical solutions.
  • Brawlers. Untrained goons, I’ve frequently given them “arm choke” ratings slightly higher than ‘normal’, because basic choke submissions are the most intuitive. Their strength often exceeds their skill.
  • Points fighters. Both people from combat disciplines that punish you for hitting too hard and other ones who just go for the “striking decisions”. Usually highly mobile, points fighters have high skill but (comparably) little strength.
  • Hillbilly fighters. I have one creation whose stated style is “Hillbilly Fighting”. The attributes have him being a balanced fighter with a penchant for kicking his opponents in the head.

Airfield Construction

Notional airfield construction times from the 1987 Staff Officer’s Handbook

Although obviously outside the scope of this simple spherical cow chart, I do wonder when the point would come when more engineer battalions would pass the point of diminishing returns. Nine women can’t make a baby in a month, after all.

A Heavy OPFOR army/corps has an organic engineer brigade with heavy equipment that would presumably halve the time required. Fronts will also include at least one engineer brigade. The construction of airfields and other base areas is a stated mission of those high-level assets. (If only the Russians had spent 2021 building and refurbishing better depots right on the borders instead of just piling up the rusty AFVs…)