Doomsday approaches, and it isn’t the Great Spiral Nebula in Andromeda

Here’s a fun way to start your weekend: Play with the new Google Translate app on Android or iOS.  I mean “fun” in the sense of “How much longer is your white collar career going to last?” You may be wondering about the connection.

If you’re in a traditional blue collar job, like manufacturing, the writing’s been on the wall for a long time. For example, “Industrial robots will replace manufacturing jobs — and that’s a good thing

There is no denying that the U.S. and Canada have been losing jobs to offshore competition for almost half a century. From 2000 to 2010 alone, 5.6 million jobs disappeared.

Interestingly, though, only 13 percent of those jobs were lost due to international trade. The vast remainder, 85 percent of job losses, stemmed from “productivity growth” — another way of saying machines replacing human workers.

All this suggests that many of those jobs that do come back from overseas will go to robots, and it doesn’t take a lot of searching on the Internet to see that this is the latest big meme.  Continue reading

The missing piece of the “hi/lo” mix debate

Editor’s note: Guest contributor Ed Beakley is a retired Naval aviator who flew the A-7 on 170 combat missions in Vietnam. He has extensive experience as a test pilot and R&D manager and is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. He is also the founder and project leader at Project White Horse.

War on the Rocks has been posting for some time now articles on air supremacy, close air support (CAS), future of airpower, etc. I continue to follow, given that they’re well thought out and written mostly by operators. But they remain consistently flawed for one significant reason: They equate “Air Force” and “Air Power,” never addressing the role that Navy and Marine air have and so will continue to be part of the airpower equation.

One case in point, as the authors of “Rethinking the Hi-Lo Mix, Part I: Origin Story” note, expense began to diminish number of aircraft and thus gaps in ability to “cover” the world. Really? So exactly who fought the air war in the Pacific that allowed the B-29s to launch in range for the Army Air Corps war-winning strikes (fire bombing and nukes) to Japan? Leaving Navy/Marine air out of the design and operations discussion is fatally flawed. But moving to another point… Continue reading

Clearing the fog from your orientation

George Weber developed an interesting talent:

“No one noticed. I’d go into a meeting with nothing prepared, no list of points in my head. I’d just sit there and wait to see what came up. And what came up when I opened my mouth were solutions to problems smarter, and more elegant than any I could have developed on my own.” Jeff Warren, The neuroscience of spiritual awakening.

In other words, actions flowing directly from orientation via the IG&C link. Fingerspitzengefühl. But he didn’t develop it in the usual way, via long hours of practice. Or perhaps I should say “just in the usual way” because he did have a Ph.D. and spent years working his way up the corporate ladder ending as head of R&D for a major manufacturing operation.

Weber combined that experience with an intense meditation practice that he began even before he got his Ph.D. Although he had no previous experience in meditation, an incident triggered a first awakening, a kensho, that was so wonderful that he spent the next 25 years trying to get the state to last. This experience is not uncommon and occasionally ends up in literature. Fans of Trevanian may recall his particularly vivid descriptions of Nicholai Hel’s mystical experiences in Shibumi.

Then one day, the chatter in his mind stopped, and he achieved what you saw in the opening quote. Continue reading

Why can’t one aircraft do it all?

Years ago, there was a concept floating around the Pentagon called the “hi / lo mix.”  The idea was that you couldn’t afford the thousands of expensive but highly capable fighters the Air Force and Navy wanted, so you bought a reasonable block of them and filled the fleet out with a large number of less capable but cheaper “lo” fighters.

This concept reached concrete form with the F-15 as “hi” and the F-16 as “lo.”  Logical, but as Scott Bledsoe & Mike Benitez show in their paper on War in the Rocks, “Rethinking the Hi-Lo Mix, Part I: Origin Story,” this is not exactly how it happened.   Continue reading

A Pig Inside my OODA Loop

Gully Dirtgullydirt
Robert Coram
Five Bridges Press, Atlanta
January 2017

Way off in the southwest corner of Georgia, where that state, Alabama, and Florida come together, there’s a constellation of small towns that exist only to serve the farms that surround them. Peanut country. Edison is one of them. There were no Interstate highways when Robert Coram was growing up in Edison, and when they were built, the closest was 60 miles away. Television did arrive before the big highways, and on a good day, and with a tall antenna, you could pick up two stations.

In most of the rural South, life went on as it had for millennia. Outside of the towns themselves, most people did not have what we call “indoor plumbing.” If you’ve never had the pleasure of using the outdoor variety — yes, they did use the Sears Roebuck catalogue for toilet paper — Coram will fill in this gap in your experience. Continue reading

When orientation locks

Here’s what it might feel like:

It wasn’t that what first came to mind was always wrong; it was that its existence in your mind led you to feel more certain than you should be that it was correct.

From “Michael Lewis’ The Undoing Project: How do ER surgeons avoid dumb, deadly mistakes? Ask their doctor.”  In other words, you go with what feels right, and that guides the data you find and how you interpret it.

When your orientation locks, you don’t stop thinking. Rather, you fall into a pattern of thinking that you can’t break out of because it feels right. At least two things can make this worse. One is the phenomenon of “incestuous amplification,” where you ignore or explain away anything that appears to conflict with the pattern, and another involves deliberate actions by your opponents — deception.

Breaking out can be extremely difficult. Incestuous amplification, well, amplifies the effect. And egos get involved. The only device that pretty much always works is to get outside the system, as the Toronto hospital in the article did.  But this involves both training — so that everybody is aware of the problem (such mutual awareness is an aspect of Einheit, of course) — and an organizational climate that reinforces the humility to admit that you’re wrong, even among friends, colleagues, and enemies.

Creating such a climate, and I think you’ll find Boyd’s EBFAS climate will work well for this, is a primary task of leadership.

Note on dis-orientation

The main role of orientation, as least as far as winning and losing goes, is to predict the consequences of our actions more accurately than our opponents can predict the consequences of theirs.  The question of how we do this opens “Destruction and Creation,” and all the rest of Boyd’s works illustrate his answer.

There are many subtleties.  For example:

  1. Nobody’s orientation is perfect, so how can we tell if we’re the one making the more accurate predictions?  This is anything but a straightforward issue, even if we could ameliorate all the problems of making inferences from limited samples (because that’s what our observations are) of the situation. For example, are we being deceived? Are we deceiving ourselves (e.g., confirmation bias/ incestuous amplification)? In both of these cases, we believe that our orientation is making suitably accurate predictions, and what’s worse, we often have the data to prove it.
  2. Once we realize that we have a problem, what do we do about it?
  3. Boyd suggested that the consequences of not maintaining as accurate an orientation as our opponents include panic, disorientation, confusion, chaos. Is this true? Always? Why?
  4. Does time matter? That is, if we make more accurate predictions, but it takes us longer to make them, do we still have an advantage? [Hint: What’s the opponent doing during these time gaps?]
  5. Does orientation include being able to predict consequences of opponents’ actions?
  6. How much more accurate do our predictions have to be in order to offset an opponent’s other advantages, in size and technology, for example?
  7. How does all this apply to groups of people, where intragroup dynamics govern the group’s actions?

Larry Dunbar sent an interesting comment to the last post, and my reply is what got me going on this one. With these subtleties (and other you think of) in mind, you might read over the quote that opened the last post and add your comments to this one.

The magic of the OODA loop

Observe, orient, decide, act: words to live or die by. Right now, Persephone is disoriented — on the run, cut off. It’s time to go on the offensive, work out where she is and what’s going on, then get the hell out of this trap.

I found myself reading this on page 160 of Charles Stross’s sci-fi novel, The Apocalypse Codex. Stross had mentioned the OODA loop in an earlier book in this series, so I wasn’t exactly shocked when I read it. But it was such a graphic illustration of how Boyd actually used the loop, as opposed to the usual “she observed, then oriented …” that I just had to send it to Chuck Spinney.

He reminded me that Boyd used to say that we had succeeded when the OODA loop began appearing — without attribution — in Superman comics. This being 30 years later, and the Man of Steel not perhaps enjoying the popularity he once did, I’m going to declare victory.

One nitpick: Boyd would have preferred “seize the initiative” to “go on the offensive,” but I think Stross’s formulation works better rhetorically and in this case means about the same thing. Thus, “go on the offensive” would be another way of saying “get inside their OODA loops,” and, as Persephone understands, the key is orientation.*

I ran across Stross’s work in a tweet by Paul Krugman announcing the seventh book in the Laundry Files series (The Apocalypse Codex is the fourth). The premise is that we live in a multiverse, and the creatures known as demons, devils, and spirits are actually inhabitants of other universes. What gives them entree to our space is mathematics, particularly complex and clever proofs. In other words, real magic, as contrasted with stage illusions, is applied mathematics. As computer science has evolved, more people are creating more intricate codings, which can be considered types of proofs, and so are opening up more gateways for these entities to move across.

As a reformed mathematician (Ph.D. 1971), I recall many times when, working alone late at night on some complex and convoluted proof, the appearance of a demon would not have been at all surprising. So his novels do have a nice basis in reality, and like all good storytellers, he just carries it that one little extra step. With OODA loops.


*Generally “go on the offensive” would not be synonymous with “get inside their OODA loops.” More on this and other OODA loop lore in my paper, “Boyd’s real OODA loop,” available along with all of Boyd’s works on our Articles page.

High water line

We’re about 13 feet above sea level and around 15 miles from the nearest beach.  This is the “Lowcountry,” though, and there’s a tidal estuary about 3 miles from us and a flood plain with a small river less than a half mile west.  The NOAA flood maps suggested that a category 2 storm could under the worst conditions push a 3-6 foot storm surge up that river and towards us.

I was up early Saturday morning and glued to Weather Underground as the north side of Matthew’s eyewall brushed past Calibogue Sound, one of the primary avenues for drainage in our area, right at high tide.

We certainly weren’t anywhere nearly as badly hit as Hilton Head Island, where the county is just now beginning to let people back in, but we were only maybe 18″ of water level away from water coming into the houses here.

Storm surge or rain? The bag marks the high water line (click for gallery view).  The

flood plain with its small river — generally a small creek — is less than .5 miles to the right. It turns out from examining debris lines around the pond between us and the river that the flooding was from the community drainage system, which got overwhelmed by 11.5 inches of rain. I don’t know whether the surge also came up into the flood plain or how high it might have reached.  Fortunately, not to us.

[Note: The ponds, or “lagoons” as the real estate people call them, is part of our drainage system. Water from the streets and yards drains into the ponds, which then overflow into the flood plain.  There’s a grating at the bottom of the small pool that is supposed to feel runoff into the pond. As  you can see, it’s having a few problems. In a storm surge, water would be coming up the other way, from the flood plain and then over the banks of the pond and towards us.]

Safe and sound

Back home after a 4 1/2 hour drive from Athens.

Whoever is managing the clean-up effort here in South Carolina knows what they’re doing. We came down the back way through Augusta, Allendale, Fairfax, and Hardeeville.

Work crew on US 321 between Estill and Hardeville, SC

Work crew on US 321 between Estill and Hardeville, SC Many thanks for their heroic efforts!

Although we saw dozens of trees that had blocked the roads only 48 hours ago, we had no delays.  We’re talking 2-lane secondary highways for the most part.  The SCDOT web site was pretty accurate, and we augmented the traditional way with intel we picked up from locals at our frequent refueling stops.

Still have some more work to do.

Still have some more work to do.

Unfortunately, my poor little golf cart wasn’t so lucky on our cut-through trails.