Quotulatiousness

December 16, 2014

Anton Howes on what caused the industrial revolution

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

In the first post at his new blog, Anton Howes lays out one of the biggest questions about the 19th century:

What caused the Industrial Revolution?

By the term “Industrial Revolution”, the broadly accepted meaning is of (1) innovation-led, (2) sustained and (3) replicable economic growth.

Each of those adjectives are the source of some of the other important questions in the social sciences. Here are some brief summaries of the issues at hand, which I’ll maybe expand upon separately.

(1) Innovation-led

Innovation-led growth distinguishes itself hugely from what we might call ‘Ricardian’ or ‘Malthusian’ economic growth (it’s usually called ‘Smithian’, but that’s a topic for another time). Capital accumulation, population growth, conquest, and education, can all result in initial surges of economic growth. But this is soon brought to a standstill by the brutal reality of diminishing marginal returns, depreciation, and food shortages.

[…]

(2) Sustained

Innovation existed before the Industrial Revolution. Of course it did – you need look no further than the invention of agriculture, writing, bronze, crop rotations, horse collars, windmills, gunpowder, printing presses, paper, and bills of exchange to know that innovations have occurred throughout history before the IR.

The difference is that these were few and far between. Some of them, often grouped together, resulted in Golden Ages, or “Efflorescences” as Jack Goldstone likes to call them. The 1st Century early Roman Empire; the 8th Century Arab World; 12th Century Sung Dynasty China; the 15th Century northern Italian city-states; and 17th Century Dutch Republic are all good examples.

[…]

(3) Replicable

Perhaps most importantly, this miracle quickly spread. First to Belgium, across the Atlantic to the new-born USA, and then to the Dutch Republic still winding down from its own Golden Age, France, Northern Italy, and the multitude of German principalities.

In the last Century it spread to Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and Eastern European countries escaping the shadow of Communism.

In this Century it appears to finally be taking root in various African countries. Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda in particular seem to be leading the way.

The more recent recipients of the IR are experiencing an unprecedented rate of growth, which in itself provides a further miracle in economic history. Britain’s sustained growth only initially manifested itself at less than 1% per year. It took about 100 years for Britain’s first doubling in GDP to occur.

More recent recipients can expect to grow at 7-10% every year, and sometimes even higher. To put that in perspective, growth at 7% per year would result in a doubling of the size of the economy in only 10 years. 10% a year in only 7 years.

December 10, 2014

QotD: Quality, innovation, and progress

Filed under: Economics, Liberty, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Measured by practically any physical metric, from the quality of the food we eat to the health care we receive to the cars we drive and the houses we live in, Americans are not only wildly rich, but radically richer than we were 30 years ago, to say nothing of 50 or 75 years ago. And so is much of the rest of the world. That such progress is largely invisible to us is part of the genius of capitalism — and it is intricately bound up with why, under the system based on selfishness, avarice, and greed, we do such a remarkably good job taking care of one another, while systems based on sharing and common property turn into miserable, hungry prison camps.

We treat the physical results of capitalism as though they were an inevitability. In 1955, no captain of industry, prince, or potentate could buy a car as good as a Toyota Camry, to say nothing of a 2014 Mustang, the quintessential American Everyman’s car. But who notices the marvel that is a Toyota Camry? In the 1980s, no chairman of the board, president, or prime minister could buy a computer as good as the cheapest one for sale today at Best Buy. In the 1950s, American millionaires did not have access to the quality and variety of food consumed by Americans of relatively modest means today, and the average middle-class household spent a much larger share of its income buying far inferior groceries. Between 1973 and 2008, the average size of an American house increased by more than 50 percent, even as the average number of people living in it declined. Things like swimming pools and air conditioning went from being extravagances for tycoons and movie stars to being common or near-universal. In his heyday, Howard Hughes didn’t have as good a television as you do, and the children of millionaires for generations died from diseases that for your children are at most an inconvenience. As the first 199,746 or so years of human history show, there is no force of nature ensuring that radical material progress happens as it has for the past 250 years. Technological progress does not drive capitalism; capitalism drives technological progress — and most other kinds of progress, too.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Welcome to the Paradise of the Real: How to refute progressive fantasies — or, a red-pill economics”, National Review, 2014-04-24

December 7, 2014

Another (mechanical) step closer to true battlefield armoured suits

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

In Popular Mechanics, Erik Schechter talks about the most recent DARPA work on power-assisted suits for soldiers in the field:

The Army doesn’t have an Iron Man suit. Yet. But the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Warrior Web program is a step closer to developing a soft, low-powered exosuit that will augment the physical capabilities of soldiers. Worn under the uniform, the proposed suit will allow troops to carry 100-plus pounds of equipment without risking the joint and back injuries that typically accumulate in the field.

The Warrior Web program, which is also supported by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), just wrapped up its first phase in which it tested exosuit components in the lab and the outdoors, says Mike LaFiandra, Dismounted Warrior Branch chief at ARL’s Human Research Engineering Directorate. In their next step, engineers will test how various pieces developed by different program participants perform when integrated into one suit. Basically, DARPA is “looking for performers to pair up and say, ‘We’re going to pair up this ankle with this knee’ and come up with a system that they bring here to evaluate,” LaFiandra says. That will take 18 to 24 months.

That first phase involved nine prototypes. By Phase II, the program was down to six, including entries from the Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, Ekso Bionics (now a subsidiary of Google), and Arizona State University’s Human Machine Integration Laboratory.

November 25, 2014

When was it exactly that “progress stopped”?

Filed under: Environment, Health, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:05

Scott Alexander wrote this back in July. I think it’s still relevant as a useful perspective-enhancer:

The year 1969 comes up to you and asks what sort of marvels you’ve got all the way in 2014.

You explain that cameras, which 1969 knows as bulky boxes full of film that takes several days to get developed in dark rooms, are now instant affairs of point-click-send-to-friend that are also much higher quality. Also they can take video.

Music used to be big expensive records, and now you can fit 3,000 songs on an iPod and get them all for free if you know how to pirate or scrape the audio off of YouTube.

Television not only has gone HDTV and plasma-screen, but your choices have gone from “whatever’s on now” and “whatever is in theaters” all the way to “nearly every show or movie that has ever been filmed, whenever you want it”.

Computers have gone from structures filling entire rooms with a few Kb memory and a punchcard-based interface, to small enough to carry in one hand with a few Tb memory and a touchscreen-based interface. And they now have peripherals like printers, mice, scanners, and flash drives.

Lasers have gone from only working in special cryogenic chambers to working at room temperature to fitting in your pocket to being ubiquitious in things as basic as supermarket checkout counters.

Telephones have gone from rotary-dial wire-connected phones that still sometimes connected to switchboards, to cell phones that fit in a pocket. But even better is bypassing them entirely and making video calls with anyone anywhere in the world for free.

Robots now vacuum houses, mow lawns, clean office buildings, perform surgery, participate in disaster relief efforts, and drive cars better than humans. Occasionally if you are a bad person a robot will swoop down out of the sky and kill you.

For better or worse, video games now exist.

Medicine has gained CAT scans, PET scans, MRIs, lithotripsy, liposuction, laser surgery, robot surgery, and telesurgery. Vaccines for pneumonia, meningitis, hepatitis, HPV, and chickenpox. Ceftriaxone, furosemide, clozapine, risperidone, fluoxetine, ondansetron, omeprazole, naloxone, suboxone, mefloquine, – and for that matter Viagra. Artificial hearts, artificial livers, artificial cochleae, and artificial legs so good that their users can compete in the Olympics. People with artificial eyes can only identify vague shapes at best, but they’re getting better every year.

World population has tripled, in large part due to new agricultural advantages. Catastrophic disasters have become much rarer, in large part due to architectural advances and satellites that can watch the weather from space.

We have a box which you can type something into and it will tell you everything anyone has ever written relevant to your query.

We have a place where you can log into from anywhere in the world and get access to approximately all human knowledge, from the scores of every game in the 1956 Roller Hockey World Cup to 85 different side effects of an obsolete antipsychotic medication. It is all searchable instantaneously. Its main problem is that people try to add so much information to it that its (volunteer) staff are constantly busy deleting information that might be extraneous.

We have the ability to translate nearly major human language to any other major human language instantaneously at no cost with relatively high accuracy.

We have navigation technology that over fifty years has gone from “map and compass” to “you can say the name of your destination and a small box will tell you step by step which way you should be going”.

We have the aforementioned camera, TV, music, videophone, video games, search engine, encyclopedia, universal translator, and navigation system all bundled together into a small black rectangle that fits in your pockets, responds to your spoken natural-language commands, and costs so little that Ethiopian subsistence farmers routinely use them to sell their cows.

But, you tell 1969, we have something more astonishing still. Something even more unimaginable.

“We have,” you say, “people who believe technology has stalled over the past forty-five years.”

1969’s head explodes.

November 10, 2014

A critical view of the Zumwalt class of destroyers

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

James R. Holmes makes the case that the latest class of US Navy destroyers are already obsolete:

BATH, Maine (Oct. 28, 2013) The Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer DDG 1000 is floated out of dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. The ship, the first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers, will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. The lead ship and class are named in honor of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. "Bud" Zumwalt Jr., who served as chief of naval operations from 1970-1974. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics/Released)

BATH, Maine (Oct. 28, 2013) The Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer DDG 1000 is floated out of dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. The ship, the first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers, will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. The lead ship and class are named in honor of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. “Bud” Zumwalt Jr., who served as chief of naval operations from 1970-1974. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics/Released)

Hie thee hence, sea fighters, to peruse Information Dissemination‘s take on the U.S. Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyer. Pseudo-pseudonymous pundit “Lazarus” gives a nifty profile of the newfangled vessel. That’s worth your time in itself. Though not in so many words, moreover, he depicts the attention-grabbing DDG-1000 stories of recent weeks and months as a red herring. Sure, Zumwalt features a “tumblehome” hull that makes the ship look like the second coming of USS Monitor. (This is not a compliment.) The hull tapers where it should flare and flares where it should taper. Zounds!

Yet more than cosmetics occasions commentary. Some navy-watchers voice concern about tumblehome hulls’ seakeeping ability in rough waters. Others question their ability to remain buoyant and stable after suffering mishaps or battle damage. That’s a worry in a “minimum manned” ship that relies on automated damage control. (The very idea of automated firefighting and flooding control, and sparsely populated fire parties, sits poorly with this former fire marshal.) In any event, time will tell whether the naval architects got it right.

Even if problems do come to light, Zumwalt would be far from the first fighting ship to undergo modifications to remedy problems baked into her design. The flattop USS Midway, for example, underwent repeated change over her long life — including to correct such maladies. Plus ça change.

Zumwalt‘s secondary armament has made headlines as well. The navy recently opted to substitute lesser-caliber 30-mm guns for the 57-mm guns originally envisioned to empower the ship to duel small boats and light surface combatants. The smaller mount evidently meets performance parameters for close-in engagements that its bigger counterpart misses. This too is a controversy that, in all likelihood, will be settled once sea trials put the ship through her paces. Tempest, meet teapot.

November 1, 2014

3D printing today is at the same stage as photography before Kodak

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:17

Virginia Postrel looks at the current state of adoption for 3D printing:

Contrary to what the names suggest, a desktop 3-D printer today isn’t analogous to a 2-D desktop printer in the 1980s. When computer printers spread, after all, they didn’t replace printing plants. They replaced typewriters. As costs dropped and graphics software became easy to use, people found all sorts of new uses for desktop printing. But the technology originally caught on by offering a better way to do something familiar.

Instead of thinking of 3-D printers as printers, it makes more sense to think of them as cameras: a way for non-artists to create images. Before it went digital, photography too required a whole ecosystem, with cameras, film, developing and so on. George Eastman created a vast amateur market by making the part of photography people cared about — capturing pictures — easy, while hiding the technically demanding steps. Kodak handled the film and development, proclaiming, “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest.”

The critical insight is that the image is what’s exciting, not the machine that generates it.

“What 3-D printers are really producing, is demand for design. These machines, this industry, signal a huge, growing appetite for access to 3-D design,” said Cosmo Wenman, who’s been creating 3-D scans of classical sculptures and releasing the files on sites like Makerbot’s Thingiverse. (Wenman, whose early efforts I wrote about here in 2011, has received backing from Autodesk.) Thanks to his scans, you can now make your own “Venus de Milo” or “Winged Victory.”

October 28, 2014

Self-driving trucks may be more significant (in the short term) than self-driving cars

Filed under: Business, Economics, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:25

At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait looks at the likely short-term impact of driverless vehicles:

Robot passenger cars will eventually bring huge benefits. They will be epoch making, when the robot car epoch does finally arrive. I truly believe this. But in the shorter run, the problems of robot cars strike me as bigger than all the car and hi-tech companies are implying, and the benefits less immediate. Robot cars will presumably be good at finding their own parking spaces, and at making themselves useful to others if you aren’t using yours. Robot cars will presumably be less prone to error than humans, except when that turns out not to be the case. But what of those potholes?

In the meantime, making lorry (as we Brits call “trucks”) transport only somewhat more efficient will yield huge, very quantifiable, and fairly immediate benefits. Even if all they do to start with is robotise lorries on motorways, that would surely make a huge difference.

The motorway is the natural habitat of the big lorry, and is a place of far greater predictability than roads in general and hence more congenial for robots, especially robots in their early stages. Motorways are already highly controlled places, and are surely the right part of the road system to start introducing robots, not country lanes or city streets filled with complicated and unpredictable hazards.

Human lorry-drivers get tired, but robots don’t. A robot lorry could cross a continent with all the dogged, error-free serenity of a jumbo jet on autopilot crossing the same continent in the air.

At first, humans would need to sit in the lorries to check on their progress all the time, but pretty soon the human could be taking a nap and it wouldn’t matter. Not long after that, once everything has been shown to work, humans would not be needed to sit in lorries on motorways at all. Soon, all that the humans would need to do is collect the lorries (perhaps just the load bit) from their local off-motorway lorry parks, to which the robot lorries had driven themselves. Upon that solid technological foundation, lorries further into the future could then start travelling much faster. (I seem to recall a plan to concrete over railways and turn them into roads. Maybe that notion will be revived.) They could also make their way into the road system generally. The economic impact will surely be colossal, and more immediate than is the case for robot cars.

October 9, 2014

“Political barriers make it harder to innovate with atoms than with bits”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:30

Virginia Postrel on the barriers that slow down — or completely stop — innovation in far too many non-digital fields:

… I sympathize with science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson and venture-capitalist Peter Thiel, whose new books lament the demise of grand 20th-century dreams and the optimistic culture they expressed. “I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done,” writes Stephenson in the preface to Hieroglyph, a science-fiction anthology hoping “to rekindle grand technological ambitions through the power of storytelling.” In Zero to One, a book mostly about startups, Thiel makes the argument that “we have to find our way back to a definite future, and the Western world needs nothing short of a cultural revolution to do it.”

Their concerns about technological malaise are reasonable. As I’ve written here before, “political barriers have in fact made it harder to innovate with atoms than with bits.” It’s depressing to see just about any positive development — a dramatic decline in the need for blood transfusions, for instance — greeted with gloom. (“The trend is wreaking havoc in the blood bank business, forcing a wave of mergers and job cutbacks.”)

When a report about how ground-penetrating radar has mapped huge undiscovered areas of Stonehenge immediately provokes a comment wondering whether the radar endangers the landscape, something has gone seriously wrong with our sense of wonder. “There’s an automatic perception … that everything’s dangerous,” Stephenson mused at a recent event in Los Angeles, citing the Stonehenge example, “and that there’s some cosmic balance at work — that if there’s an advance somewhere it must have a terrible cost. That’s a hard thing to fix, but I think that if we had some more interesting Apollo-like projects or big successes we could point to it might lift that burden that is on people’s minds.”

Postrel argues that Stephenson’s fix would not work, and that our nostalgia for the early days of the Space Age blind us to the reality that most Americans in that era did not believe that the money for the Apollo missions was well spent (with the brief exception of July, 1969). She makes the point that our culture has changed significantly and those attitudinal changes are much more of the reason for today’s hesitancy and doubt about progress:

We already have plenty of critics telling us that our creativity and effort are for naught, our pleasures and desires absurd, our civilization wicked and destructive. We live in a culture where condemnatory phrases like “the ecosystems we’ve broken” are throwaway lines, and the top-grossing movie of all time is a heavy-handed science-fiction parable about the evils of technology and exploration. We don’t need Neal Stephenson piling on.

The reason mid-20th-century Americans were optimistic about the future wasn’t that science-fiction writers told cool stories about space travel. Science-fiction glamour in fact worked on only a small slice of the public. (Nobody else in my kindergarten was grabbing for You Will Go to the Moon.) People believed the future would be better than the present because they believed the present was better than the past. They constantly heard stories — not speculative, futuristic stories but news stories, fashion stories, real-estate stories, medical stories — that reinforced this belief. They remembered epidemics and rejoiced in vaccines and wonder drugs. They looked back on crowded urban walk-ups and appreciated neat suburban homes. They recalled ironing on sweaty summer days and celebrated air conditioning and wash-and-wear fabrics. They marveled at tiny transistor radios and dreamed of going on airplane trips.

Then the stories changed. For good reasons and bad, more and more Americans stopped believing in what they had once viewed as progress. Plastics became a punch line, convenience foods ridiculous, nature the standard of all things right and good. Freeways destroyed neighborhoods. Urban renewal replaced them with forbidding Brutalist plazas. New subdivisions represented a threat to the landscape rather than the promise of the good life. Too-fast airplanes produced window-rattling sonic booms. Insecticides harmed eagles’ eggs. Exploration meant conquest and brutal exploitation. Little by little, the number of modern offenses grew until we found ourselves in a 21st century where some of the most educated, affluent and cultural influentially people in the country are terrified of vaccinating their children. Nothing good, they’ve come to think, comes from disturbing nature.

Emphasis mine.

October 2, 2014

QotD: How not to educate the young

Filed under: Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

I’m on the road this week, giving talks on my new book about learning to fail better: that is, first, to give ourselves the permission to take on challenges where we might very well fail; second, to pick ourselves up as quickly as possible and move on when things don’t work out. This is, I argue, vital on a personal level, as well as vital for the economy, because that’s where innovation and growth come from.

The other day, after one of my talks, a 10th-grade girl came up and shyly asked if I had a minute. I always have a minute to talk to shy high school sophomores, having been one myself.

And this is what she asked me:

“I understand what you’re saying about trying new things, and hard things, but I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?”

I was floored. All I could think as I talked to this poor girl is “America, you’re doing it wrong.”

I was 15 in 10th grade. If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you? If you can’t afford to risk anything less than perfection at the age of 15, then for heaven’s sake, when is going to be the right time? When you’re ready to splash out on an edgy assisted-living facility?

Now is when this kid should be learning to dream big dreams and dare greatly. Now is when she should be making mistakes and figuring out how to recover from them. Instead, we’re telling one of our best and brightest to focus all her talent on coloring within the lines. This is not the first time I’ve heard this from kids and teachers and parents. But I’ve never heard it phrased quite so starkly.

Megan McArdle, “Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail”, Bloomberg View, 2014-02-20.

September 19, 2014

QotD: Faster computers, and why we “need” ‘em

Filed under: Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

I recall, in the very early days of the personal computer, articles, in magazines like Personal Computer World, which expressed downright opposition to the idea of technological progress in general, and progress in personal computers in particular. There was apparently a market for such notions, in the very magazines that you would think would be most gung-ho about new technology and new computers. Maybe the general atmosphere of gung-ho-ness created a significant enough minority of malcontents that the editors felt they needed to nod regularly towards it. I guess it does make sense that the biggest grumbles about the hectic pace of technological progress would be heard right next to the places where it is happening most visibly.

Whatever the reasons were for such articles being in computer magazines, I distinctly remember their tone. I have recently, finally, got around to reading Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies, and she clearly identifies the syndrome. The writers of these articles were scared of the future and wanted that future prevented, perhaps by law but mostly just by a sort of universal popular rejection of it, a universal desire to stop the world and to get off it. “Do we really need” (the words “we” and “need” cropped up in these PCW pieces again and again), faster central processors, more RAM, quicker printers, snazzier and bigger and sharper and more colourful screens, greater “user friendlinesss”, …? “Do we really need” this or that new programme that had been reported in the previous month’s issue? What significant and “real” (as opposed to frivolous and game-related) problems could there possibly be that demanded such super-powerful, super-fast, super-memorising and of course, at that time, super-expensive machines for their solution? Do we “really need” personal computers to develop, in short, in the way that they have developed, since these grumpy anti-computer-progress articles first started being published in computer progress magazines?

The usual arguments in favour of fast and powerful, and now mercifully far cheaper, computers concern the immensity of the gobs of information that can now be handled, quickly and powerfully, by machines like the ones that we have now, as opposed to what could be handled by the first wave of personal computers, which could manage a small spreadsheet or a short text file or a very primitive computer game, but very little else. And of course that is true. I can now shovel vast quantities of photographs (a particular enthusiasm of mine) hither and thither, processing the ones I feel inclined to process in ways that only Hollywood studios used to be able to do. I can make and view videos (although I mostly stick to viewing). And I can access and even myself add to that mighty cornucopia that is the internet. And so on. All true. I can remember when even the most primitive of photos would only appear on my screen after several minutes of patient or not-so-patient waiting. Videos? Dream on. Now, what a world of wonders we can all inhabit. In another quarter of a century, what wonders will there then be, all magicked in a flash into our brains and onto our desks, if we still have desks. The point is, better computers don’t just mean doing the same old things a bit faster; they mean being able to do entirely new things as well, really well.

Brian Micklethwait, “Why fast and powerful computers are especially good if you are getting old”, Samizdata, 2014-09-17.

September 11, 2014

Evolution versus revolution in the design of HMS Queen Elizabeth

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Peter Roberts analyzes the design trade-offs of the Queen Elizabeth class for the Royal United Services Institute:

Queen Elizabeth class side and overhead views

Queen Elizabeth class side and overhead views

The most important change in the Queen Elizabeth class is the open acknowledgement of the primacy of running costs at the heart of the project – manifest in crew numbers, unmanned monitoring and power generation. The UK carriers are platforms designed by economists, not warriors.

The largest costs for running maritime platforms are manpower and fuel. In terms of manpower, the Queen Elizabeth will have a crew of 650 with an additional thousand berths available for the air group. By comparison, the American Nimitz class and new Gerald Ford class, which displace around 40,000 tonnes more, are crewed by 6,000 and 4,500 personnel respectively. The French Charles de Gaulle, which in terms of tonnage is about a third smaller its British counterpart, carries a crew of around 2,500. The UK figures were driven by the necessity to avoid increasing the manpower bill of the Royal Navy. As such, the 650 figure is exactly the same as the preceding Invincible class. Allowing the same complement to effectively operate a vessel three times the size of her predecessor has forced some innovative thinking.

The use of automation and remote monitoring has been essential to meet the manpower restrictions. Cameras and monitoring equipment have been built into almost every system in the new ships. From machinery spaces to bilge areas, remote performance monitoring has allowed a marked reduction in the manpower requirements of the ships. Whilst this makes good sense in financial terms, it does not in terms of pure war-fighting capability. Naval vessels differ significantly from their commercial counterparts in terms of damage control and fire-fighting. These roles are remarkably manpower intensive. The experiences of major damage in the Falklands conflict have been reinforced at intervals by peacetime incidents on HMS Nottingham (2002) and Endurance (2008), which required the efforts of the full ship’s complement to remain afloat. The damage-control capabilities of the UK carrier platforms should, therefore, be a primary concern.

[…]

There is one further element that has not been well considered in the Carrier-Enabled Power Projection doctrine of the Royal Navy and the MoD. Protection of these assets from threats has effectively been taken ‘on-risk’, and against all operational analysis. The self defence capabilities of these ships are extremely limited. The provision of close-in weapon systems and automatic small-calibre guns does not guarantee adequate protection against a small scale naval threat, let alone a shore-based one. Naval doctrine instead requires protection of the carriers by destroyers and frigates. This is a cost-effective solution provided that the task group has the necessary units to provide such protection. But there is no evidence that the projected Royal Navy combined frigate/destroyer force could do so.

The Queen Elizabeth class is therefore an interesting example of innovation: rather than in the sense of equipment and capability, it might be more relevant to think about how risk to the platforms is being dealt with in an ‘innovative’ manner.

The second ship in the class, HMS Prince of Wales just reached a major milestone in construction:

HMS Prince of Wales hull sections

Construction of HMS Prince of Wales, the second of two new aircraft carriers for the UK Royal Navy, has moved forward with the docking of two of the ship’s largest hull sections – Lower Block 02 and Lower Block 03.

The movement of the blocks into the dock at Rosyth marks the beginning of the ship’s assembly phase and comes only days after Prime Minister David Cameron announced that HMS Prince of Wales will enter into service, ensuring that the UK will always have one aircraft carrier available.

Ian Booth, Managing Director at the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, said: “Every milestone in the carrier programme is hugely significant and the recent announcement that HMS Prince of Wales will enter service means there is a real sense of excitement as we start to bring the second ship together. Everyone working across the Alliance is incredibly proud of the work undertaken so far, in what is currently one of the biggest engineering projects in the country, and we remain focused on delivering both ships to the highest standards.”

August 25, 2014

Want the coolest thing to hit the waves recently? $10 million will be the starting price

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 14:52

Slashgear‘s Chris Davies says this is just the ticket for up-and-coming Bond villains:

It looks like a half-submerged X-Wing, or maybe a Star Trek Shuttle, but it’s actually Ghost, one American start-up’s vision for what an attack helicopter designed for the navy might look like. Mustering 4,000 HP from two engines on the end of powered legs, Ghost promises to whip across the ocean in a supercavitation bubble, avoiding radar and with a silky smooth ride for the crew inside.

What makes the boat special is how it improves on hydroplane technology, more commonly used in racing boats. Hydroplanes increase their top speed by skimming across the top of the water, rather than burying their hulls in it, reducing drag in the process.

However, that also makes them relatively unstable and prone to flipping — so, Ghost’s manufacturer Juliet Marine Systems turned to supercavitation, which creates a bubble of gas around each of the legs and cuts drag by a factor of 900. Air is pulled down through the struts, while the propellers are at the front of the 62 foot long tubes, effectively pulling the vessel along.

June 2, 2014

The naval revolution and HMS Dreadnought

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:42

BBC News Magazine looks back on the launch of the first modern all-big-gun battleship, HMS Dreadnought, in 1906.

HMS Dreadnought underway, circa 1906-07

HMS Dreadnought underway, circa 1906-07

HMS Dreadnought “really transformed naval warfare rather like the tank did on land warfare. In fact Dreadnought was described at the time as ‘the most deadly fighting machine ever launched in the history of the world'”.

Dreadnought brought together for the first time a series of technologies which had been developing over several years. Most important was her firepower. She was the first all big-gun battleship — with ten 12-inch guns. Each gun fired half-ton shells over 4ft tall and packed with high explosive. They weighed as much as a small car. Standing next to one today, it is easy to see how a single broadside could destroy an opponent — and do so at 10 miles’ distance.

These great distances caused problems of their own — in controlling and directing the fire — and Dreadnought was one of the first ships fitted with new equipment to electrically transmit information to the gun turrets.

For potential enemies on the receiving end this was a terrifying prospect. Admiral Lord West, a former head of the Royal Navy, calls Dreadnought “a most devastating weapon of war, the most powerful thing in the world”.

Potential adversaries would also have trouble outrunning her. New steam turbine engines gave her a maximum speed of about 25mph. They made her more reliable than previous ships, and able to sustain a higher speed for much longer.

But there was something else, too. Dreadnought had been built in just one year — a demonstration of British military-industrial might at a time when major battleships generally took several years to build. This, says Roberts, was an “enormous achievement which made the Germans sit up because their shipbuilding capability just could not match that”.

HMS Dreadnought (1906) diagram

Despite the Royal Navy’s reputation for being tradition-bound and stodgy, they had quite an interesting history of experimentation and innovation in ship design. The launch of HMS Dreadnought was a good example of the navy being willing to take risks — specifically the risk of making the rest of the battlefleet obsolete overnight.

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Random Penguin and other publishing Monopoly players

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:32

A quite contrarian take on the upheavals in the publishing world by Hugh Howey:

A similar game is being played in the book industry today, as it has been played in many other industries. Here at BEA, I’m hearing a lot about monopolies. (And monopsonies, for those who prefer to quibble semantically rather than understand what is meant and forge ahead in productive conversation.) Practically everyone here at the book expo believes that Amazon has gotten too big, that they wield a disproportionate amount of power, and that they must be reigned in or defeated.

I am told, without exaggeration and in all seriousness, that Amazon wants to “crush their competition.” I hear that they want to “put everyone else out of business.” Two things are true, both of which make these statements ridiculous: The first is that Amazon most certainly doesn’t want all of their competitors to go out of business, because then they’d be the only game in town and the government would have no choice but to break them up. The second is that of course they are acting as if they want to put their competitors out of business. That’s how you improve your business practices. You try to out-do your competition.

Unless … you don’t understand at all what it means to compete. Which I think explains the righteous indignation. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

[…]

Ironically, the biggest losers in this shift have been yesterday’s villains. The massive brick and mortar discounters — who once were blamed for literature’s downfall, who sold “loss leaders,” who roughed up publishers in negotiations — have become the bulwark behind which all legacy hopes now hunker. Little explored is the possibility that Amazon is helping independent bookstores by clearing out these former predators.

When it comes to discounting and selection, B&N can’t compete with Amazon. When it comes to book browsing, Amazon can’t compete with curated independent bookstores. If you line the three sales models up from small indie stores to big discounters to Amazon, you’ll see that neighbors compete with and harm one another. Concurrent with the shuttering of Borders and the shrinking of B&N, we are also seeing a rise of indie shops. Coincidence? Or are we heading toward a future where Amazon and indie bookstores coexist because they provide two very different shopping experiences and fulfill quite separate needs?

Best estimates give Amazon roughly half of the book market. With the shutter of Borders, B&N now has a more disproportionate control of brick and mortar shelfspace than Amazon does of online book sales. This is especially powerful as the rest of the smaller bookstores have less leverage for bargaining with publishers. Who is the monopoly?

May 13, 2014

Coravin – a new technique for sampling wine in the bottle

Filed under: Business, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 06:59

Brendan linked to this article about an innovative wine sampling device:

Five years later and news of another device with even more exciting ramifications for the wine trade began to ripple across from the US. Nuclear engineer and, crucially, wine lover Greg Lambrecht turned his mind to exploring whether it might be possible to sample the contents of a cellar without having to pull the cork.

Fourteen years and 23 prototypes later, Coravin was born. The portable apparatus allows a needle to be inserted through the foil capsule and cork; it then extracts the wine, fills in the gap with inert argon and withdraws, leaving the flexible cork to reseal itself.

Having initially launched in the US, Coravin is now available to be shipped to 22 countries and made its first UK appearance last October, priced at £300.

Although vice-president for marketing Howard Leyda says “the primary target market for Coravin is wine enthusiasts first for personal use”, it is the UK restaurant scene that has been generating the biggest buzz around what many believe is a real game changer.

[…]

Until Coravin becomes more easily available, a number of restaurants that have managed to get their hands on one can be seen drumming up excitement among their clientele by promoting this gadget’s most obvious application: the chance to taste some serious old wines.

At one early adopter, D&D London restaurant Avenue, the French- and American-focused wine list now reaches its apogee in the form of vertical flights of Mouton Rothschild and the first growth’s Californian sister venture Opus One.

Other options include Cheval Blanc 1999 at £91 for a 125ml glass or, for those looking to treat themselves on a tighter budget, a 75ml sample of Clerc Milon 2004 for £13.

“It’s really interesting for us to be able to offer these wine flights,” enthuses Avenue restaurant manager Robert Kihlstrom.

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