Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Retrotopia: Neglected Technologies

This is the twelfth installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator attends the Lakeland Republic's annual drone shoot, and finds out that not all technological innovations start out from the current state of the art...  

A rooster yelling at the top of its lungs woke me before dawn the next morning. It didn’t seem likely to shut up any time soon, and I doubted the New Shakers would be happy if I threw things at their livestock, so I got up instead. I rang the bell as I’d been told, and a couple of minutes later, a quiet knock on the door announced the arrival of a middle-aged woman with two pitchers and a bowl. I took them and thanked her; she smiled and curtseyed, and headed off to somewhere else.

I started washing up, and only then realized two things. The first was that there weren’t any outlets for electricity in the room; the second was that the only thing I had to shave with was an electric shaver. I finished washing and got dressed, hoping a day’s growth of beard wouldn’t be a faux pas by Lakeland standards. Maybe half an hour later, I was sitting behind Colonel Pappas in the jeep as it rattled over a dirt road on its way to the Lakeland Republic’s annual drone shoot.

“How much do you know about modern drones?” Pappas had asked me the night before; when I admitted my ignorance, he laughed. “Fair enough. You start talking about drones, a lot of people think of the old first and second generation machines, the ones that used to launch rockets from a mile or so in the air. Those haven’t been in frontline service since the ‘thirties—ever hear of the battle of Mosul?”

I tried to remember. “That was in the second Kurdistan war, wasn’t it?”

“Bingo. Both sides had drones, but the Kurds figured out that you can target them with old-fashioned antiaircraft guns, got a bunch of those in place without anybody being the wiser, and took out most of the Turkish drone force in an afternoon. After that, you had militaries all over the place figuring out ways to target drones, and that’s when the sort of drones you see these days started popping up on the drawing boards—observation drones way up where artillery can’t hit them, and attack drones flying at treetop level where they can hide from radar. Of course then they’ve got other vulnerabilities.”

“Can’t they simply reprogram their attack drones to fly high if they’re going to attack you?”

“Sure.” He grinned. “We’ve got plenty of old-fashioned antiaircraft guns, too.”

So there I was, jolting along a rough road with brown fields of stubble to the left and a line of trees to the right, and a moving dot up above the trees caught my eye. I turned to look; Pappas saw me move, turned in his seat, and handed me a pair of binoculars. Despite the joggling of the jeep, I managed to get the thing in focus: a lean angular shape with broad straight wings, flying low and fast.

As I watched, shards suddenly flew up from the middle of one wing. A moment later the outer half of the wing tumbled one way and the rest of the drone tumbled the other. I managed to follow it most of the way to the trees, then handed the binoculars back to Pappas.

“Wing hit?” he asked, pitching his voice to be heard above the jeep’s engine. I nodded. “That’s the easy one,” he went on. “Good shots aim for the engine or the fuel tank.”

A quarter mile or so on, as another drone came into sight, the road veered suddenly to the right, ducked through the trees, and stopped in an impromptu parking lot where jeeps were more or less lined up. Just past the parking lots was a cluster of olive-drab tents, and past those a fair-sized crowd. Off to the left, though, a bunch of horses were munching grass in a fenced-off field, and as I watched, a dozen or so people in Lakeland Army uniforms rode up on horses, dismounted, and led the animals into the field.

The jeep rolled to a halt. “What’s with that?” I asked Pappas. “Cavalry in this day and age?”

“Nah, dragoons.” He figured out from my face that I didn’t know the word, and went on: “Mounted infantry—they ride to the battlefield and then dismount to fight. Most countries had ‘em until the end of the nineteenth century, and we tried ‘em out in the war of ‘49 with good results. Transport’s a lot less difficult on the logistical end of things if the only fuel you need is hay.”

I got out of the jeep. Pappas hauled himself into his wheelchair, then handed me a pair of earplugs. “You’ll need these,” he said. “Drone rifles use .50 caliber ammo, and that isn’t easy on the ears.”

We wove our way through the tents, through the crowd, and out to the places where the guns were firing. There were maybe two dozen of them in a big arc, each with twenty or so stations for shooters, though things were just getting under way and most of the stations didn’t have anyone at them yet. “Those are first timers doing their qualifying rounds,” Pappas said, pointing to one set of stations filling up quicker than the others; the earplugs muffled his voice but I could still hear him. “Over here, the expert marksmen—you’ll see some of the best shots in the Republic here today. Check this one out.”

“This one” was a short middle-aged woman in jeans and a buffalo plaid wool shirt, cradling a rifle that must have been as long as she was tall. Past her, I could see a dot against the morning sky. She lined up the shot with practiced ease. Even through the earplugs, the crack of the rifle was loud enough to sting.

A moment later, off in the distance, the dot vanished in a little red-orange flash.

“Sweet,” Pappas said. “Right in the fuel tank. That’s Maude Duesenberg—I honestly don’t remember how many drone shoot trophies she’s got on her mantle, but it’s got to be getting crowded.”

“Where do you get all the drones?” I asked him.

“Oh, most of ‘em we make ourselves. Expert class and proof-of-concept shooters get real drones—we buy them through traders in Chicago. You probably don’t want to know how many officers in how many countries sell us a drone or two every year, list ‘em as crashed, and pocket the proceeds.”

I knew enough about the military back home to guess that the Atlantic Republic was on that list. Still, something else had sparked my curiosity. “What’s proof of concept shooting?”

“New or revived technologies. They’re over on this side—let’s check ‘em out.”

Instead of the shooter’s stations elsewhere on the arc, the place for proof-of-concept shooters was an open patch of mostly flattened grass with a long straight view ahead of it. There wasn’t much of a crowd there, just a couple of officers in the ubiquitous Lakeland trench coats, and several dozen kids watching with hopeful looks on their faces. Out on the grass were maybe twenty soldiers who looked even scruffier than I felt, manhandling what looked like a cannon on an oddly shaped mount.

“Oh my God,” Pappas said. “I know these guys—the 34th Infantry from Covington. I wonder what they’re up to; that can’t be an ordinary howitzer.”

I gave him a startled look. One of the officers standing there laughed, and said, “Good morning, sir. Yeah, Carlos and I have been wondering about that since they started setting the thing up.”

Introductions followed; Michael Berconi and Carlos Lopez Ruiz were captains in the Lakeland Army, down from Toledo to watch the proof-of-concept tests. “You probably don’t know about the 34th,” Lopez said to me. “They’re a bunch of maniacs. Every year they come up with some new stunt.”

“That’s for sure,” said Berconi. “You should have been here last year. We were standing here, and all of a sudden a bright red triplane—you know, like the Red Baron’s plane—comes over the trees there and starts jumping drones from above. I heard later they spent two years building the damn thing.”

“I’m surprised the drones didn’t dodge it,” I said.

“They couldn’t see it,” Pappas told me. “Military frequency radar won’t see wood and fabric, and military drones only have video looking forward and down—though I understand that’s being changed. You’re not the only visitor from outside at these events.” He grinned, though there was an edge to it. “Though most of the others don’t announce themselves.”

The soldiers out on the open grass had finished setting up their cannon, and one of them spread his arms in what was pretty obviously a signal. “Here goes,” Pappas said. “You may want to put your hands over your ears; a 75-mm howitzer makes more noise than your earplugs’ll handle.”

I covered my ears. Off in the distance, a dot rose up into the air and came toward us in a zigzag pattern. About the time it got close enough that I could see more of it than a dot, the cannon went off, and Pappas wasn’t kidding; even with my hands over my ears, it packed a wallop. Something blurred the air downrange from where we stood; an instant passed, and then the drone shattered as though it had slammed into an unseen wall. The watching kids whooped; so did the soldiers, and then reloaded.

“What the ringtailed rambling—” Pappas began to say, then covered his ears; he’d spotted the next drone a moment after I had. The same process repeated, except that the second drone only lost half of one wing; that was enough to send it tumbling down onto the range, but the chief of the gun crew regaled the others with a string of profanity that would have gotten a standing ovation from Marines. Then it was hands-over-ears time; they let the final drone get good and close before firing, and so I got a fine view as something slammed into it and sent the fragments  tumbling down to the grass below.

Before the soldiers had finished whooping Pappas wheeled out toward them, shouting, “What the hell are you maniacs putting in that thing?” He was apparently no stranger to the 34th Infantry; they greeted him with sloppy salutes and big grins, and the crew chief and one of the others stood talking with him while the others started breaking the cannon down for transport.

A woman’s voice sounded behind me:  “Excuse me, is this the place for proof-of-concept tests?”

I turned around. She was a twenty-something blonde in a big brown barn coat. “Yes,” I said. “They’re just packing up from the last test.”

“Oh, good.” She turned and waved, and someone hauling a cart with two bicycle wheels came out of the crowd. He turned out to be a young man of about the same age, in a fedora and trench coat that had seen quite a bit of hard wear; one of his shoulders was noticeably higher than the other.

“Are you with the soldiers?” she asked me.

“No, just visiting. I’m Peter Carr.”

“I’m Emily Franken, and this is my husband Jim.” Hands got shaken all around. The cart was full of what looked like antique radio gear—a couple of big metal boxes with dials, switches, and gauges all over the front, and something that I swear looked like a death-ray gun from some old skiffy vid. The kids craned their necks to look at it all, but had the common sense not to touch anything.

“Should I ask about that?” I motioned to the contents of the cart.

“Sure,” she replied. “It’s a maser—a microwave laser. It’s old tech—they made them in the 1950s, but nobody could figure out how to get real power out of them.” In response to my look of surprise:  “There’s a lot of things like that—interesting bits of technology nobody followed up on.”

“What Emily’s not saying,” Jim interjected, “is that she spent two years studying quantum mechanics to find something that would mase steadily at room temperature, and published a couple of papers that are  going to turn three or four branches of physics on their heads.”

“Oh, stop it,” she said, blushing.

“Not a chance. When we were in engineering school, Mr. Carr, Emily was the only person in class who came up with anything really interesting for me to build.”

“And Jim was the only one in the class who could build the things I needed for my projects—so of course we got married right after graduation.” Laughing: “When he proposed, he said I had to marry him so I’d almost have the right last name to be a mad scientist, and a hunchbacked lab assistant too.”

He grinned, pushed his raised shoulder up further, and gave me a bug-eyed look. I laughed.

Out on the grass, the soldiers had the cannon and mount set up for transport, and hauled it back toward the parking lot and the jeeps. I wished the Frankens good luck, and they hauled the cart of electronic gear out onto the field. They passed Pappas as he came wheeling back, shaking his head.

“Even for the 34th, that’s pretty good,” he said when he reached me and the two captains. “You know what they were shooting?  Canister shot.”

Lopez and I looked blank, but Berconi let out a startled laugh. “Seriously?”

“God’s honest truth.” To the rest of us:  “It’s something artillery used to use back in the Civil War and before—basically, the world’s biggest shotgun shell, with pellets half an inch across.” With a motion of his head in the direction of the Frankens, who were busy setting up their gear: “What’s that all about?”

“Some kind of twentieth century microwave laser,” I said.

Pappas gave me a startled look, then turned to Berconi. “What’s on their schedule?”

“Standard three trials—well, but they’ve requested one with live ordnance.”

Pappas let out a long whistle. “This could get colorful.”

Out on the grass, the two had finished setting up their gear: a row of batteries, the two boxes, the death-ray-thing on a tripod, and cables connecting them. Emily Franken signaled that they were ready, and then got behind the ray-thing and aimed it downrange while her husband hunched over the two boxes and fiddled with the dials. The first drone appeared in the distance. I’m not sure what I was expecting—flashes and bangs, a beam of light, or what have you—but all that happened was that the drone suddenly dropped out of the air as though the Frankens had flipped the off switch at a distance.

A second drone met the same fate a few minutes later. “The third—” Pappas said.

“That’ll be the one with heat on board,” Berconi told him.

By the time the third drone went up people were beginning to drift over to the proof-of-concept range, wondering what was going on. As it came close enough to be more than a distant dot, I could see two missiles under each wing. Emily Franken crouched behind the device she was aiming, Jim twisted dials and fiddled with switches, and all of a sudden the drone vanished in a flash and a bubble of red fire. The sharp crack of the explosion, muffled by the earplugs I was wearing, arrived an instant later. The watching kids whooped in delight.

Berconi and Lopez hurried across the grass to the Frankens the moment the flaming wreckage of the drone was on the ground. “What do you think?” Pappas asked me.

“I have no idea,” I admitted.  “What did they do, microwave the inside of the drones?”

“Good question. If I had to guess—well, you know how a radio antenna works? Radio waves hit a piece of metal the right length and set up a current in it? I wonder if they’ve tuned the thing so that it sets up electrical surges in the onboard computer chips and the fuses for the missiles.”

I gave him a horrified look. “You could fry anything electronic with that.”

“Not our gear. All our electronics use vacuum tubes—you hit those with a surge, they just shrug—but outside electronics? Pretty much, yeah.”

I considered him for a long moment, and then wondered whether this whole business had been staged for my benefit. “You get a lot of mad scientists here in the Lakeland Republic?”

“You’d be surprised,” he said with a grin. “Lots of technologies that got invented in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were just plain abandoned even though they worked fine—there wasn’t a market yet, or something else got there first, or somebody bribed the right officials so government policy favored some other technology instead. A lot of engineers here spend their time going through old technical journals and what have you, looking for things that the Republic can use.”

“Like canister shot,” I said.

“Bingo. Or masers, or dragoons—or for that matter canals and canal boats.”

The Frankens had their maser broken down and loaded on the cart, and they were hauling it away, still deep in conversation with Berconi. Lopez headed back our way, while a bunch of soldiers hauled something that looked like a hand-cranked Gatling gun out onto the grass. “Come on,” Pappas said then. “Unless you want to see more here, of course. The expert competition ought to start pretty soon.”


Daniel Najib said...
Mr. Greer,

Especially enjoyed this segment of the narrative, since I always enjoyed military history and technology. I have to admit though, my hopes were raised ever so slightly when you said Jim Franken had "one of his shoulders was noticeably higher than the other." I immediately thought of longbow archers/warbow re-enactors, and thought that they would be shooting down drones with longbow arrows! One can dream, right!? A few of the archers I shoot with, myself included, have shoulder issues due to the heavy draw weight of medieval longbows.

Happy New Year to all as well.

12/30/15, 4:20 PM

SLClaire said...
Hooray for the maser, and for LR's scientists and engineers! I remember learning about the maser years ago and how when the laser was developed, the maser was dropped. It seems reasonable to me that the maser could have been developed into some sweet applications if it received anything close to the attention lasers got. I suppose the thing to do now is to preserve the old journals, so that the dropped leads could be picked up when the time is right for them. Do you think that the folks in LR read paper versions or microfilmed ones? I doubt the versions saved on the Internet will be accessible, but at least as recently as the early 1980s when I was in grad school, all the journals I read were on paper or on microfilm. Microfilm readers should be well within the ability of the LR to support. That would be a lot of old technology to choose from.

12/30/15, 4:22 PM

Avery said...
Off topic, but it's time for a mea culpa. In January, I was hearing from several sources -- renegade economists, professional news watchers, and so on -- that 2015, either spring or autumn, would be a year of devastation for the stock market in particular if not financial infrastructure at large. So, I posted such a warning in the comments, and I divested from what investments I had. Since it's now December 31 in my time zone, it's become apparent that this prognostication was simply another case of what JMG detailed in his 2011 book "Apocalypse Not."

2015 was an insane year where the official indicators of economic progress diverged from the actual life stories of millions around the world in new, unexpected, and surprisingly revolting ways. If in 2014 you had put money on the GOP having an internal revolt against the entire system of American politics, you'd be rich now, but if you had money to spare on betting on a sudden and devastating financial collapse, you would have lost it on my advice, so my apologies. I hope no one took the advice of my blog comments.

Rather than divesting, I will try my best to look to 2016 with a positive attitude of investing in our future. Maybe there are some neglected technologies that conceal hidden gold -- in the spiritual, not the economic sense -- to be discovered by future generations.

12/30/15, 4:35 PM

jean-vivien said...
thanks for one more of those encouraging posts. My translation project has been delayed these days by the usual end of year business.
But I heard a radio program today about the History of animals in the First World War. Dogs and pigeons were used for messaging, some pigeons even mounted (mechanically) automated photographic cameras for scouting. Sniffer cats against landmines, torpillo-wielding dolphins. Interesting... and a good axis of research for military futurism.
In the meantime, more of the unthinkable is unfolding in Cheese Kingdom's tributary island, Corsica : firemen ambushed by malevolent people (kids ?), and a Muslin prayer hall vandalized in retaliation. North pole exceeding zero degrees Celsius... We are going to celebrate New Year holding our breath about the economy. The media is catching up with talking heads saying, we need other social arrangements, past the old global/local/state divisions of power, other economic arrangements, with the sharing economy (car sharing)...
But when it comes to actually do something, nobody, from peon to statesman, knows what to do.
Not so sure what we should be holding our collective breath for !

12/30/15, 5:20 PM

Damo said...
Love the maser! I wonder if it could ignite the fuel tanks / batteries? Certainly more dramatic to have only the third one explode :-)

As someone with a passing familiarity with drones (technically called unmanned aerial systems, or UAS. There are no true autonomous drones), I don't think that many people realise how fragile and limited they can be (remember when Iran diverted one a few years ago). It will be very interesting to see what happens to them when flown against an enemy halfway competent with SIGINT. Failing that, they can always imitate the Lakeland republic and deploy some flak cannons :p

12/30/15, 5:42 PM

Ray Wharton said...
Thank you for including some mad scientists! I have become a fan of several mad scientists that are working with projects on Youtube. Turns out that quite a few guys who have started channels in the last few years exploring technologies that can be put together on a shoe string budget with common materials and gear a normal person can get at the hardware store. Trying to figure out just what they are saying has motivated me to brush up on my basic understanding of electricity, chemistry, and physics. Just got back from getting some stuff for electro plating. I adore the mad scientist type, and sharing videos is really speeding along their progress, bouncing ideas and all that. Of course I am concerned that YouTube could go off in, well, at anytime really. So each video I watch, especially chemistry, I try to note down the process, record it on paper in case use for such a process comes up.

Some fellows I follow are close to the free energy circles, often harvesting energy differences in the microAmps. Very interesting effects they are measuring, but this civilization don't run on microamps! On the other hand there are some promising battery technologies coming from exploring graphene, which I will be trying to make in the next week. While I am waiting on the graphene exfoliater (ultrasonic cleaner and nail polish remover) I am trying to make very simple batteries to relearn my basics.

12/30/15, 5:42 PM

Eric Backos said...
Dear Mr. Greer, Your Grace, &c.
Cleveland, Ohio: There is NO meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 this week.
We apologize for the inconvenience.
Splendorem Lucis Viridis!
Faithfully yours
Tower 440

12/30/15, 5:52 PM

Shane W said...
I must ask, is Prof. Franken's maiden name "Stein", so she would be Emily Stein Franken? Sorry, just had to ask. :)

12/30/15, 5:57 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Daniel, I'm not sure whether a longbow arrow packs enough of a punch to shoot down a military drone -- though I'd be delighted if that turned out to be the case! (It sounds like something the 34th Infantry would try.)

SLClaire, I'm quite sure the Lakeland standard is printed paper -- I suspect a lot of copies were made from microfilm and other higher-tech sources in the early years of the Republic, and reprinting bound volumes of old journals for sale to the mad scientist community probably keeps a number of niche-market publishers in business.

Avery, thank you! Yes, I heard the same claims; for that matter, I overestimated the speed with which the current economic crisis is unfolding -- I'll be talking about that in my New Year's post next week. I appreciate that you're willing to 'fess up to the mistake -- that's not something many people do on the internet.

Jean-Vivien, don't hold your breath -- you'll turn blue and pass out. Breathe slowly and deeply, and remember that "the economy" is an abstraction made up of one part actual exchanges of goods and services and at least three parts spin, propaganda, and outright fraud.

Damo, I figured that the frequencies that would be best for putting random current surges in the innards of computer chips probably aren't those that would be best for transmitting energy in the form of heat -- also, even with a maser, you've got a loss of power over distance that will decrease the heating potential a lot more than it will that proclivity to set electrons flowing where they shouldn't be. As for drones in general, the only reason they've gotten so much attention is that none of their targets have either adequate SIGINT or adequate firepower; the much-ballyhooed Predator drone would quickly become prey in the face of what used to be ordinary antiaircraft fire -- and we don't even have to talk about what would happen if some bright soul in Russia, China, or what have you has thought of a missile that pops up above the drone's operating altitude and then homes in on the signal that connects the drone to the satellite...

Ray, I'm a great fan of mad scientists. The switch from basement workshops to sprawling corporate research centers hasn't been good for the sciences, or for that matter for technology -- groupthink has had its usual effect, and there's also the awkward fact that the only technologies that get developed these days are those that promise a hefty return to some Fortune 500 corporation. In the days when the Wright brothers' bicycle shop was the model for technological innovation, that was much less true. Thus my advice to you and all aspiring mad scientists is to put on that lab coat and throw open the switches to the sonic oscillator!

12/30/15, 6:06 PM

Max Osman said...
Today I Learned that
>Military frequency radar won’t see wood and fabric
>Masers can take down drones

This series of post seems to be very educational. Keep up the good work.

12/30/15, 6:10 PM

Jim R said...
About four decades ago, hanging around with a friend who was the engineer at a transmitter site for a TV station in our town, I was privileged to see something happen to the transmitter. Usually the engineer's duties consisted of signing the log on the hour (and half?), checking the box for normal operation. One of the rectifier tubes burned out. These were mercury-vapor tubes that gave off a blue glow from a glass box in the main room of the little shack. There were six of them, for a full-wave rectifier on a three-phase supply. Some flashes and sparks and it went out. The engineer went to a control panel and dialed the transmitter back to 83% of full power (not to stress the remaining five), and noted that in the log. When he shut down at midnight, he waited for the rectifier to cool off and replaced the tube. Then powered back up for a few minutes' test pattern to verify normal operation. Probably no one watching TV noticed.

This transmitter was old-fashioned, even for the '70s. They were still using vacuum tubes for the big power supply and final stage. The final was an interesting affair that looked like a high-tech wood stove. Instead of a chimney it had a copper coax about 6" in diameter that carried the VHF signal up to the tower. Not flexible, it was more of a pipe (with a smaller pipe inside it). The 'stove' part had windows, and you could see inside by the light of the filaments of the air-cooled, glass-envelope triodes.

The engineer told me of a time when he was watching the final while lightning struck the tower. He said there were visible sparks and little fireballs bouncing around inside the final tubes. They were off the air for about one second, and nothing needed to be replaced.

By the way, when you go down the line reading those old analog meters, you tap them a couple times with your forefinger before taking the reading. That's because the needle sticks sometimes if it just sits on the '100%' mark for days on end. I later had a short career doing what my friend did, but did not have the patience for it in the long run...

12/30/15, 6:12 PM

Daniel Najib said...
The really good warbow archers out there (120-200 pounds) could easily pierce heavy plate armor.  I'd have trouble shooting down a drone, even pulling close 100 pounds, though.  Nice to think, though, that such skills might prove useful.

12/30/15, 6:17 PM

Grandmom said...
I had the snoopy vs. the Red Baron song in my head when you talked about the 34th and their red plane swooping down. Enjoying the series!

12/30/15, 6:30 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Eric, you're going to have to drop the "your grace" now that I've stepped down from the office of Grand Archdruid, you know. ;-)

Shane, funny. No, it was Kowalski.

Max, glad you liked it.

Jim, vacuum tubes are still used in some high-power transmitter applications, because they can easily handle voltages that melt solid state components. The fact that they're also a lot more resilient is just icing on the cake.

Daniel, granted, but the question is what happens when your arrow pierces the drone. The normal targets of longbow arrows, such as deer and French knights, can be incapacitated by pain and blood loss if you hit them anywhere more or less central, but an arrow through the wing isn't necessarily going to cripple a drone -- unlike a .50 cal. bullet, which packs enough kinetic energy to shatter the wing structure and tear off a good bit of the upper surface on the way out. Again, I'd be delighted if a longbow shaft could do an Agincourt on drones, but I'd want to see the thing tested.

12/30/15, 6:30 PM

Eric Backos said...
Hooray! Lakeland has adopted existing heraldry! Perhaps the 107th Cavalry Regiment will ride again. (Even if they really are dragoons.)

For the assembled Wizardren unfamiliar with Ohio, we host The National Matches at Camp Perry every summer and Annie Oakley was born here. The drone shoot seems quite plausible.

Northeast Ohio has skill, machine shops, and library archives. Could somebody please label a subsidy dumpster “mad scientists,” and tip it our way? We promise to be mad and not bad.

12/30/15, 6:52 PM

Eric Backos said...
Hi John
Oops! Forgot.
Maybe you would like to be the founding Arch Wizard of the GWB&PA?
Then we can still use “your grace” in perpetuity.
Go big or go home, right?

12/30/15, 6:56 PM

Daniel Najib said...
True enough. Arrows are better anti-personnel weapons than anti-drone. But now the gears in my head can't stop spinning. *what about explosive arrow heads? Might those take down drones? probably not?*

On a related note, I am pleased to find that a few local archers near me have ditched their more clunky compound bows and have adopted the more resilient longbow/recurve after finding that their 'technologically advanced* bows broke down more easily and were a pain to repair in the field and get parts for. I'm also in the process of teaching myself how to laminate and make my own bows; a useful skill in the future for hunting game, if not drones.

12/30/15, 6:57 PM

Jim R said...
JMG, lightning exceeds all the specs, even for those old tubes. But yes, they are resilient.

The tower was shared by another VHF station, which was entirely remotely operated from the downtown studio. There was no engineer on duty, it was all automated. Its final was large transistors, in metal cans. Our old tube-transmitter was just the one system, but the newfangled transmitter had a whole redundant second transmitter. If lightning hit it, the system would simply swap in a warmed-up redundant final, and await repairs. I have no idea how that worked out for them, but I think it is generally how things are done now. Most people don't even rely on over-air broadcast any more.

As for the drones, I have heard that some schools are working on a countermeasure that consists of three or four hummingbird-size craft that fly in formation, carrying a lightweight net. They fly up over the drone they are targeting, and drop it into the blades. Of course, all the current generation of drones are entierely dependent on current generation miniature solid state electronics, including gyroscopes and accelerometers as well as microprocessors.

I am not sure how vacuum tubes will support a sufficient level of complexity. Maybe a continuation of Russian cold-war tube tech?

12/30/15, 7:01 PM

sgage said...
@ JMG:

"Thus my advice to you and all aspiring mad scientists is to put on that lab coat and throw open the switches to the sonic oscillator! "

Or as Victor Frankenstein exclaimed during a raging lightning storm (in the original movie), "Attach the impulses!". One of my favorite movie lines of all time. :-)

12/30/15, 7:05 PM

Christopher Kildare said...
Dear Mr. Greer:

Can I just say how much I enjoy reading the Archdruid Report, I have a copy of Green Wizardry in my to-read stack and I look forward to putting that toolkit to practice.

I am absolutely loving your Retrotopia series, and I look forward to future installments. Do you plan on collecting this series in paperback format? If so, I would highly recommend it to all my family and friends; I think it’s that good.

I particularly enjoyed this week’s installment, not because I’m a military buff, but because it reminds me of my late uncle who passed away this past September. A veteran, military history buff, Civil War reenactor, and cavalryman (one of his horses was named Dragoon), I think he would have liked this segment. Thank you.

“Christopher Kildare”

12/30/15, 7:13 PM

Bob Wise said...
Using drones for target practice or shooting competition seems incredibly expensive. I would have expected some kind of airborne target towed by a drone.
Also, a note on cannister shot: it wasn't totally abandoned. The US Army had its own version in Viet Nam, a 105mm shell which launched hundreds of needle-like flechettes in a wide pattern. It would be effective against a drone, but probably more expensive to produce than cannister.

12/30/15, 7:20 PM

dltrammel said...
The thing with arrows would be to incorporate a fuzed warhead of some sort. Once it stuck in the drone then even if it took several seconds to explode that would be ok. The downside is range, a bow wouldnt be able to hit out at long range like a 50cal rifle. The upside it would be silent and you wouldnt give your position away when you fired, letting you close to a closer range to enemy forces.

Now a small field crossbow, packable by 2 people, might be a good option, more range and a heavier arrow.

12/30/15, 7:37 PM said...
I'm assuming that your replacement as grand Archdruid of the north won't be taking over this column. Is there shortly going to be another blog, ? It would be interesting to have another Archdruid reporting a druid's eye view of the world.

One of the other things to recall about drones, too, is that they're relatively cheap. They're currently made out of cheap plastic, but my school owns a hobbyist one that I've had the chance to fly, and there's not much to it that couldn't be done to create flight surfaces of balsa wood or similar. Recon drones for civilian or hobby use can be had for under $100 these days. I'm not a competent flyer of them, but a number of my students have taken this quadcopter out for a spin. We've kept it in the air for 15-20 minutes over open ground; seven minutes or so over trees, and nearly lost it a couple of times. But the one we have is not suited for much in the way of challenging weather conditions. Cold air, wet air, damp air, gusty breezes, rain, all of these interfere with operations. You can pack more sensors into a drone, to give the pilots more feedback on flight operations, of course... But those take time, weight, and space in the drone — making it a bigger target. And, again, they're cheap enough for now at least, that the lakelanders could deploy drones agains their drone invaders, too. This is very much a two-way air battle in which it would be easy for the two sides to field forces in rough parity.

On the defensive side... Netting, tree-mounted mesh networks of radio jammers (not the Lakelanders' style, but maybe the Brazilians? the opposite of the networks arranged for the use of the One Laptop Per Child initiative), trained falcons (and falconers — jobs for lakelanders!), chain-shot in addition to canisters, could all do a number on invasive drones. You could also build those platforms such as Tolkien described in Lothlorien, what were they? Flets? Enough places to hide markswomen, launch facilities, falcons/falconers... Every wooded region along a border provides defense in depth. Oh... the use of flare guns to fire bright lights HIGHER than the drone's operating flight, to backlight them and make them a more obvious target for a long-barreled rifle.

12/30/15, 7:48 PM

Dau Branchazel said...
Perhaps a ballista with an explosive tip would be more anti-drone than a long bow. That sounds like a 34th regiment weekend exercise.

I really like what you're doing here JMG. For those of us who don't see a return to the stone age as the only logical opposite to the current fantasy of infinite progress, this story is a great little "how-it-could-be" to think about and enjoy. I really love it when you get your "skiffy" on. You wear it well.

12/30/15, 8:04 PM

William Knight said...
We have plenty drones now that attack far above artillery/anti-aircraft range (>20,0000 ft), why wouldn't such drones exist in this future scenario? It's a fun premise for people to shoot down drones with .50 cal rifles and masers, but I don't think it's very realistic unfortunately.

Instead, the drones would fly far out of range and relentlessly destroy buildings and people as they rage helplessly on the ground, just as happens now in the Middle East.

12/30/15, 8:37 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Eric, nah, I'll pass -- and besides, "your grace" isn't the offiical title of an archdruid anyway.

Daniel, it surprises me that nobody's done what I'd consider the obvious thing -- an arrow with a 12 gauge shotgun shell on the business end, and a pin where the shell meets the shaft, set up so the shell goes off when it hits something. With a buckshot or slug, that might well take down a drone.

Jim, probably not that level of complexity, but there are simple things that could do the trick as well.

Sgage, that's funny. Many thanks!

Christopher, I've already made arrangements with Founders House to have it published once it's finished. Glad you like it!

Bob, the cheap locally made drones that were referenced in the post are basically radio controlled airplanes, without the bells and whistles -- as noted, it's only the experts and the proof of concept shooting that uses real drones. (And those are bought under the table at a comfortable discount.)

Dltrammel, yes, you could do that.

Andrew, nah, it's not the Grand Archdruid Report. I don't happen to know if Gordon plans on blogging, but one of AODA's other archdruids, Dana Driscoll, has a blog that's well worth reading at As for drones, remember that we're not talking about the little hobby drones that get so much press in the US just now; these are military drones like the Predator, the size of small aircraft.

Dau, thank you. That's certainly the plan.

William, I see you weren't paying attention. Pappas noted in the narrative that the kind of drones we have now became obsolete once militaries around the world started coming up with ways to target them -- a drone at 20,000 feet is easy meat for a range of technologies. The German 88mm antiaircraft cannon, for example,, could hit aircraft at 25,000 feet. The US top of the line AA gun during the same war, the M1, had an effective vertical range of 60,000 feet. (And of course modern militaries in 2065 presumably have antidrone missiles and antidrone drones as well.) The only reason US drones aren't being blown out of the sky in the Middle East is that they're being used to target people who don't have anything more powerful than machine guns; against an opponent with any kind of antiaircraft capacity, they'd be toast in short order.

12/30/15, 10:39 PM

Martin B said...
@Jim. Back when our long-distance landline calls were handled by a chain of microwave towers, an engineer told me the equipment used pipes instead of wires to carry the microwaves.

Later I learned about something called the "skin effect". Apparently, the higher the frequency of the alternating current, the more the current migrates to the skin of the wire and the less gets carried by the solid core.

At microwave frequencies any copper in the core would be wasted, so they use copper pipes. High performance microwave pipes may be silver-plated or gold-plated, and the plating would carry most of the current due to the skin effect.

12/31/15, 12:33 AM

inohuri said...
Arrows would be low velocity and have a high curve to their ballistic path. The lead would be very hard to estimate and changes with the angle of approach and the speed of the drone. The arrow is more likely to arrive at target after the drone zigs. It would be very difficult to hit a drone, like hitting a bird in flight at a far distance. It might work as a way to launch a fouling medium into the approximate path such as a net that deploys after delay or distance or streamed fine wires. Any method that reduces the need for accuracy or range would help.

I searched the blog for and didn't find it.
Many old photos at high resolution of different eras and subjects in the US going back to the 1850's. You can enter a year in the search box. I center click off the photo then scroll around. The comments after clicking the picture are useful too. The photos help me to get a feel for different possible levels of technology.

No mention of balloons? Possibilities there, too.

12/31/15, 12:48 AM

ed boyle said...
Falconry might work if the falcon or hawk could drop something into the blades.

The mad genius is a young blonde female, against all stereotypes of dumb blondes. I work with lots of pretty blondes and mental prowess varies as with all others. Slavic countries churn out lots of engineers though nowadays. That her mechanic type hubby has a german name is typical also. My german father in law could do anything with his hands. My anglo irish temperament is better with poetry. Your best marksman is a markswoman. In WWII Russian snipers were often female as they had patience to sit hidden a long time.

This was genuinely fun reading. I also wondered at cost of drones. It also dates piece a bit. Perhaps drones are just a fad. You seem to make it a permanent substantial military technology.

First Ramadi, next stop Mosul. In Syria Raqaa. By this time next year perhaps mopping up ISIS in isolated areas. If oil keeps diving then saudis, etc. will have trouble financing them. Hopefully this whole syraq war zone will be cleared out of such endless CIA type destabilization so some sort of stability post Bush-Cheney neoconism will be possible. As for kurdistan and turks, erdogan is also mixing things up to keep in power. He is making too many enemies it seems in destabilizing region. This is mixing cards new. Taliban now as good guys. Chinese change to allow foreign interventions. India's Modi in Pakistan and Kabul talking peace. USA makes peace with Iran. Is peace breaking out or war? Economic collapse here or there, new elections or presidents could decide our fate. 2016 interesting year.

12/31/15, 1:33 AM

Penumbra said...
In WWII, the royal navy attack on the Italian fleet was considered the blueprint for Pearl Harbor. No one considered a torpedo attack in a shallow pan harbor to be possible. In addition, the base was protected by almost 300 anti aircraft guns - not to mention the ships onboard AA weapons.
Never the less, 21 Fairey Swordfish, an obsolete wood and cloth biplane crippled half the Regia Marina in a single blow. Key to the success was the fact that the Swordfish were a generation behind. Modern anti aircraft weapons used proximity fuses which were set off by electromagnetic detection. Wood and cloth, alas, have no EM signature and hence most of the 14,000 shells fired whizzed by without exploding.
Similar effects had helped the ridiculed Swordfish cripple the Bismark and brought about the destruction of the pinnacle of naval technology.
As in evolution - newer and more complex is not always the best or the most likely to succeed.

12/31/15, 1:46 AM

Dau Branchazel said...
JMG, Re. shotgun shell tipped arrows, the new Mad Max film has something to that effect, though it's more like a spear with an explosive end. They don't go into detail about what it is, but it's a DIY impact triggered explosive tip of some sort. There was a lot I liked and a lot I didn't like about the film, but their vehicle to vehicle warfare (which made up about 90% of the film), while totally over the top and with practically invincible protagonists, was really pretty interesting.

12/31/15, 1:51 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Ha! So it was electricity after all. Well, we'll get by without that. Which makes me think about the future of hand pumps - I'll have to look into that and start constructing one sooner or later. So many projects, so little time. I’ve been giving deep thought to your recent Galabes essay too.

Nice to see that we finally made the drone shoot! Excellent! I assume that the Lakeland Republic has an overriding strategy of showing a diplomat from the neighbouring country the potential responses to that countries technology? Dunno, that one is a bit lost on me because I would have thought that the Atlantic Republic would already be well aware that their drones were next to useless. But then drones may have a constituency like aircraft carriers do now? Maybe that is what was meant by the “drone economy” which I read about recently? It was interesting to read about corruption with the sale of the drones. An underpaid and standing military is probably a big drain on the resources of a country. Still, it makes for a fun and interesting story.

Speaking of which, I was in the big smoke yesterday so I popped in to the theatre to see the new Star Wars film. Very nice work, although I would like a bit more dialogue – which is I believe intentionally reduced because the Chinese audiences don’t like films with too many subtitles (as do English speaking audiences too), still it was very good. The interesting thing is that when I left home here I noted that the temperature was 33'C (91.4'F), but when I got to the big smoke it was 39'C (102.2'F) and I was thinking to myself how unpleasantly hot it was (and still is, by the way).

I later checked the official statistics and noticed something really weird. The official weather station reported the maximum temperature for the day as 34'C (93.2'F) and I was thinking to myself - no way is that correct! And then a little bulb of insight popped into my head as a I recalled that (and I may have mentioned this to you earlier this year): La Trobe Street weather station closes after 107 years .

Yes, take the official weather station that has been at the same place for 107 years, where it resides on a corner between a 6 lane road and a 4 lane road and then earlier this year it was moved into a parkland which is close to a very large and deep salt water estuary. That is such a genius idea, I never would have thought of that myself! Kudos to them it appears to be a case of: if you can’t fix the core, fix the statistics! Of course, it is a PR exercise. I did also note that it was reported briefly that Chinese hackers had gotten into the Bureau of Meteorology's computer systems in the past few weeks too. Interesting times.

Liked the drone shoot too! :-)! I hope to never see one of those things.



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: An inconvenient shed. I fess up to my unsavoury enjoyment of Christmas lights (they're quite rare down here so it has novelty value). There is also more on the very crazy weather situation down here - bush fires that wiped out one third of a town as well as records smashed across the continent. And massive floods up north which may deliver huge salt water crocodiles to your front door. Oh yeah, I preserved half a year’s supply of apricots. Yum! A big tree branch fell (almost fatally on me!) from a water stressed tree. And I've been busy repurposing the old chicken shed into a new and heavy duty fire wood shed. Plus there is a very cool photo of one of the native bees on a salvia flower! Enjoy!

12/31/15, 3:16 AM

Clarence said...
Herf guns. High Energy Radio Frequency.I wasn't sure of what you were going to come up with for the drone shoot and so did not mention the option earlier. The current intended use of such is exactly deployment against electronic operating systems. Maybe it would merit a comment en passant during the edit process?


12/31/15, 3:46 AM

MigrantWorker said...
Good afternoon mr Greer,

I had to chuckle when reading about Lakeland's countermeasures against drones. You really cannot out-invent someone who has all the past inventions at his disposal (and is ready to use them)! :)

Migrant Worker

12/31/15, 4:32 AM

Five8Charlie said...
I realize that this series is primarily about philosophy, not technology, but I can't resist...

To 'kill' a drone, you don't have to knock it out of the sky immediately. You just need to make sure it can't do it's job and can't make the return trip back to its owners. So an arrow stuck in the wing or body, if heavy enough and with enough added drag, is likely to be the end of the vehicle. Airborne vehicles don't have a lot of margin; they are generally pretty fragile. Putting protection on them (like an A-10) costs payload and range, it's unlikely a small drone would have much tolerance for damage.

That said, can I take credit for being the first of your readers to actually shoot at and (I think) hit a drone? I had one over my house a few months ago - a toy, not a military device. I figured my airspace is my property and I don't like peeping toms. I shot at it with the only thing I had immediately available - a single shot air rifle. I got off three shots - I heard the last shot go 'pling' and the drone left. I don't think I knocked it down, but it has never come back. Hopefully the owner got the message. So at least in this case, the damage from a random hit from an air rifle wasn't enough to bring it down immediately, but I don't think it would take much more...

12/31/15, 4:41 AM

Noni Mausa said...
Not that long ago, circa 1981, I saw the largest tube electronic I ever saw or hope to see, in an inverter power station in southern Manitoba. The glass tube was nearly as tall as I am, 1.3 m or thereabouts, with a puddle of mercury inside, and was one of a rank of many inside a cage in a long inverter hall. This tube and its mates took the DC power generated up north and converted it to 500 kv AC for grid distribution in the south. I was a bit sad, even then, that the tubes were in process of being replaced by diode inverters, like large hockey pucks. Yes, far more efficient and space saving, but not one tenth as cool as the great glass inverters. Ah, the olden days...

12/31/15, 4:48 AM

Nathaniel Ott said...
Great post JMG this Retrotopia world is really shaping up nicely. Just a quick note even though I know its a few posts late. I saw an article (just look up scientists find no evedince of kardashev type 3 civilizations) were, you guessed it, scientists did a study earlier this year and the results came in. Apparently Kardashev scale type 3 civilizations, civilizations that use the energy of entire galaxies are either insanely rare or completely non existent in our local universe. What's more they even admitted that the MRI they were detecting in the areas that could have been dyson spheres and the like (like an area I believe has just recently been discovered that is generating a lot of hype) is probably just background radiation from completely natural phenomenon. Thought you might find this is interesting given your propositions and overall thoughts on the subject.


12/31/15, 4:49 AM

Uncannily said...
JMG wrote:
I'm a great fan of mad scientists. ............. In the days when the Wright brothers' bicycle shop was the model for technological innovation, that was much less true. Thus my advice to you and all aspiring mad scientists is to put on that lab coat and throw open the switches to the sonic oscillator!

Hackerspaces and Makerspaces are a growing phenomenon worldwide and could be turning the corporate tide. The one I'm involved with - rLab in Reading, UK - has 80 odd members (in both senses of the use of "odd" ) - and 2000 sq ft of workshop space where members can get involved in and share technologies at many levels. We have 3D printing and laser cutting at one end of the technological spectrum and a century old hand operated patcher for making and repairing shoes at the other.
It is a space where oldsters like me (65) can share our physical skills of woodworking and metalbashing - while learning new technologies ( quadcopters, raspberry pi mini computers and arduinos ) from the young whippersnappers.
At first sight, much of what goes on in the space can look quite trivial. Boys ( and it's mostly boys ) making toys but I bet that the Wright Brothers were seen in a very similar light though - flying toys and wasting their time.

12/31/15, 5:18 AM

latheChuck said...
Not especially relevant to this week's post, but timely: the Washington Post recently reviewed, and I received a copy of, a new book: The Typewriter Revolution (Richard Polt). The author claims that antique manual typewriters are fun to use, promote creativity, and are increasingly popular with young writers and other artists. According to Tom Hanks (actor), they are also "collectible".

Having looked under the hood of a typewriter that I salvaged from a neighbor's trash heap, I appreciate the level of capital investment that's needed to manufacture these machines; it'll be much easier to salvage the ones we can find at estate sales now than to forge new parts in the Sustainable Future.

Perhaps a home-scale enterprise of typewriter salvage, maintenance, and supply is a feasible plan for the Long Descent. (I have two manuals and an electric, and am not looking for any more.) Maybe you'd want to include sewing machine services, too. Hand-powered kitchen equipment?

12/31/15, 5:38 AM

Justin Patrick Moore said...
This was a riveting segment of the story Mr. Greer. It's got me fired up to try my hand at building a glowbug radio. And to buy / make some slingshots to play with.

As a side note, I wanted to wish you success in your new projects as you step down from Archdruid to Emeritus. Turning over power to a new head of your order is the sign of a true adept. -as is your mastery of a number of different skill sets.

12/31/15, 6:13 AM said...
Dear John Michael,

Indeed. I briefly checked out Druid Garden... on the one hand I'm pleased to find a new regular read to add to my list... on the other hand, curses! I have to allocate more time to regular reading! :-)

A quick look at Predator drone photographs suggests to me that they would be susceptible not simply to canister shot, but also to things like chain-shot and bar-shot. The purpose of such things was to disable spars and sails, to tangle rigging, and otherwise make messes of sailing ships; and we dumped such things in the face of ironclads, but they could quite easily make a comeback.

On a somewhat different course, I stumbled across this article on neglected tech in programming. This is an article about reviewing an operating system that's been in development for 12 years by a single author (, and the article concludes with a parallel thought that you've been developing in this series on Retrotopia: that abandoned or neglected technologies, or 'failed' technologies, can sometimes yield important insights.

12/31/15, 7:28 AM

44bernhard44 said...
Hi John,
just finished reading the ´´After Oil´´ anthologies (up to No. 3), your novel ´´Star´s Reach´´ and I´m also following ´´Retrotopia´´. Brilliant stuff, all of it!! Is there any chance that one, some or all of them are going to be published in German? While I´ve lived in Scotland for 9 years (back in Germany now) and try to keep my linguistic skills by reading books and blogs in English, most of my friend´s English is not good enough to enjoy reading a novel, and I would very much like these books to be accessible to them as well.

12/31/15, 7:37 AM

Eric Backos said...
You’re right – “your grace” really doesn’t fit the genre. I wrote the weekly announcement in a fit of whimsy. Which leads to a discussion we’ve been having amongst ourselves and with our Wizardren in Oz: What do we call ourselves when (no longer if) we form a club / trade association / friendly society?

The three major models in play are no whimsy, some whimsy, and full whimsy. No whimsy seems dull – president, secretary, member. Some whimsy lets us call chapters “Towers,” and adopt the guild language of apprentice, journeyman, and so forth. Full whimsy? Novice, adept, and master wizard? President and vice-president become Grand Cockatrice and First Unicorn. We could call the sergeant-at-arms the Sword Mage.

I’m inclined towards guild language with journeymen (journeywizards?), preceptors, and heraldry. Perhaps you and your readers have suggestions.

12/31/15, 7:45 AM

Mikep said...
Hi JMG, great story keep it up and try not to get too distracted by trivial matters like global warming or the economy.
I would have thought that the best approach to tackling drones is to go for the weak link, which with today’s remotely operated machines is the two way radio link to the operator who may be hundreds of miles away. Effective jamming technology may be beyond most Afghan peasants but I’m sure that your Lakeland Republic is an altogether more formidable opponent. Of course in fifty years drones may well be much more, if not entirely autonomous. The weak link here is likely the on-board sensors and decision making software. Any software that controls a small fast moving aircraft flying close to obstacles like trees will I guess, need to be fairly simple and fast. In which case it should be possible to fool it, if you understand how it functions. Mr Carr did not ask but it’s a safe guess that those “real drones” from Chicago will have been thoroughly reverse engineered, studied and re-assembled before being handed over to the happy snipers.
I suspect that drones are largely an exercise in propaganda. Mr Obama announces that the terrorists (somehow he always sounds as if he’s saying tourists) have been “taken out”, we see some grainy footage of some blokes standing around, then, poof they’re gone, a car is seen travelling through the desert full of terrorists, (they could be tourists for all we know), the crosshairs settle on the vehicle and a moment later they’re history. Have any of these drone strikes had any effect on the outcome of any of the utterly pointless and interminable wars that America and its gang of hangers on have got into over the last fifteen years?
In truth terrorism (not tourism that’s fine) is really nothing but publicity stunts carried out by people who are otherwise powerless to affect events. Britain was subjected to a concerted campaign of terror (well-funded by Washington and Libya) by the IRA for over thirty years. As far as anyone knows it had no real impact on the British economy or society. The funny thing was that it only ended when the British Government admitted that they would never defeat the IRA and we would just have to learn to live with it, a bit like road traffic accidents and cancer. At the same time the British media got bored with reporting yet another outrage and gradually relegated them to the back pages along with sport and skate boarding dogs. I guess that in the end Gerry and his mates finally got fed up with looking in the mirror, seeing themselves getting greyer and greyer with nothing to show for a lifetime dedicated to the cause. In the end they sold out to the Brits for a role in local government.

12/31/15, 7:47 AM

avalterra said...

When are you going to post your 2016 predictions? It's my favorite yearly post!

12/31/15, 8:56 AM

Ray Wharton said...

Here is one of my favorite mad scientists discussing a energy storage device he has worked on. There are details of making his highest capacity systems that he leaves out of his youtube channel, but there are enough details to make a system that is still pretty good. I am currently trying to make some of the chemicals for testing what an amateur could make. What I find interesting about this technology is that it doesn't require dangerous or especially hard to get resources, and can make a battery that competes handily with lead acid. The fact that they are made on benches and not wearing gloves makes me suspect that a local specialist, running a shop not too different from an old fashion chemist shop could produce them, and at prices that might be sustainable, assuming that there is demand enough for electricity in niche applications.

The bigger question is what electricity would be used for. Shooting down drones, I would not be the lease surprised if the power source for Emily's Maser-beam would be derived from such a technology.

Personally when I think of the use of electricity in the post industrial world their are two uses that spring to the front of my mind for home use. Light and radio. Temperature and motion I think are practicle to get through a wide range of sources, but electricity can be a good source of light, and radio pretty much requires it. Of course I am picturing an electrical budget that figures on Watt hours more often than Kilowatt hours.

12/31/15, 9:18 AM

Grebulocities said...
I love mad science! There's nothing quite like taking some concentrated nitric acid meant for testing gold, some concentrated sulfuric acid, and food-grade glycerol. Measure out some sulfuric acid and half that amount of nitric acid. Slowly mix them together, keeping in mind that this is extremely exothermic and the mixture will heat up rapidly (obviously, safety goggles and gloves are your friends). Then put it in the refrigerator and wait until it cools down to <10 C. Now slowly add a few drops (I wouldn't advise more than 10 drops) of the glycerol, and wait a while until you see little globs of yellowish nitroglycerin accumulating at the bottom. Carefully pipet it out, put it in a test tube, neutralize with a sodium bicarbonate solution, and you're done! I found that if I pipetted two drops of NG, put it on a concrete patio, and hit it with a hammer, the explosion was easily as loud as a gunshot or firecracker and enough to leave me with some hearing loss for the rest of the day, after which I discovered that earplugs were a good idea. ;)

This sort of thing is sufficient to hook any teenager with half a neuron on chemistry. Modern high school labs, where they exist at all, won't touch anything remotely dangerous with a ten-foot pole for fear of lawsuits, which drives down the number of people interested in science. Even worse, it makes it much less common for people to tinker with rudimentary scientific equipment at their own homes and learn in a hands-on, undirected way without any institution over their shoulders. Granted a few people will get hurt, but it's worth having lots of people who can actually do science themselves and tinker with whatever is at their disposal, rather than just answer test questions and do labs only in a predetermined, step-by-step way.

The good news is that this can be remedied - real chemistry sets are hard to come by, but all the chemicals and equipment you could need are available quite cheaply online. In particular, the Chinese will sell anyone anything. The only caution is to look up lists of chemicals that are used to make meth, and make sure what you're buying is not on those lists (unless it's something extremely common with large numbers of innocent uses, like sulfuric acid). As long as you get only small quantities and don't look like you're making meth, Big Brother will generally stay off your back.

Helpful website:

12/31/15, 9:35 AM

Nick said...

Aircraft can be said to be statically stable, dynamically stable or dynamically unstable (this is a simplification). Statically stable aircraft will respond to a disturbance (say turbulence) by returning to stable flight at whatever attitude they are trimmed for. Dynamically stable aircraft will maintain the same attitude they had before after a disturbance, but require the pilot or control system to kill the oscillations. Dynamically unstable aircraft require a control system to maintain stability because any deviation from stable flight will tend to grow rather than shrink.

What we think of as drones (multirotor aircraft) are dynamically unstable and require quick and accurate adjustments to their control inputs to maintain controlled flight. This is probably possible without semiconductors, but I wouldn't count on it. That being said, some sort of vacuum tube that works as an accelerometer and gyroscope in a similar fashion to the MEMS chips you can buy for $1 today that do the job in hobby drones is likely technically possible, nobody has invented it though. However, a multirotor also requires very powerful, light motors and lithium-ion batteries to be technically viable, and those might not be available in 2065. The vacuum tube gyro though... it probably existed during the 1950-70s, we were probably not supposed to know about it at the time, and it would be considered irrelevant (except probably by the Russians and Chinese) now.

However, a drone that looks like a conventional helicopter or airplane could easily be statically stable, and would not require any feedback control to fly, and could easily work with vacuum tube technology. However, beyond line of sight control would be a challenge (by no means an impossible one) without semiconductors due to the need to relay video and telemetry back to the ground station.

That being said, a powerful spark gap transmitter powered by a car alternator and a small gasoline engine would probably put a stop to most radio-based military technology whether it used vacuum tubes or not. Considering that it's far simpler to build a spark gap transmitter than any of the other things I talked about, it's likely that the LR would use those in situations where denying the entire radio spectrum to both sides made strategic sense. Telephone-wire technicians are likely to be important in 2065 ;).

12/31/15, 9:58 AM

William Knight said...
"William, I see you weren't paying attention."

I did note your assertion before responding, just don't agree with it. I suspect 2065 drones will converge toward a fusion of modern piloted fighter jets and drones: fast, high-flying and largely invulnerable to non-missile ground attacks. They would also be very expensive and small in numbers, and so only effective at generating terror, hatred and dread amongst lower-tech victims on the ground.

12/31/15, 10:14 AM

Tommy said...
I've been enjoying these stories and your writting for a while and felt the need to comment. I was a soldier for most of my adult life and had been many things in that time, to include part of the Army's professional opposing force (OpFor).
One of the things I remember from being OpFor is that drones are easily killed or easily avoided by people who are trained to do so. OpFor at JRTC learned how to hide from drones so well they were useless and OpFor at NTC usually killed all the drones shortly after the battles began. You, and Pappas, are right. Current drones can not survive anyone that can fight back against them.
I honestly feel drones are a military fad, which are actually quite common, and will never provide much of a real combat force. They are not much more capable than a WWII aircraft and suffer from operator lag time from the radio link; the only advantage is they are small. Unless they fly high, they can be easily hit by ground fire and the lag time becomes a larger factor in their survivablility. Against an enemy with actual ADA, or air assests, they can not survive at altitude. I imagine they will remain as a tool for direct observation but they will become simpler and cheaper so they can be disposable.
I think a .50 cal would be too big for a drone but if the soldiers were trained for anti-material gunning and sniping, I could see the use. Capping a tank's commander will seriously degrade the tanks ability to fight, knocking out the tank gunner's or commander's sights would also seriously degrade their ability to fight. A .50 cal would do both of those with honors. I also figure that these soldiers operate on the "chopping cord wood" tactic of the Finnish troops during their war with the Soviets. Snipers are very important for such a tactic.
I think you place a little too much faith on ADA guns, though. I mean, I think ADA guns are very good at low altitude but beyond that you would still need missiles. As an example, the Soviet ZSU-23-4 with simple 23mm guns and a vacuum tube fire control computer is still one of the deadliest ADA guns in existance and the USAF will not fly low altitude where such guns operate. Higher than that, you would still need some missiles in your ADA mix. The thing is missiles are actually far lower tech than what people believe. It takes a lot to overcome ADA, we have spent a fortune making counter-measures and stealth aircraft to defeat '60s era Soviet missiles and we still don't know if it will work since the last time we were in a shooting war with a country that had an interlocked and intergrated ADA system was North Vietnam. Don't get me wrong, with a good fire control computer and radar, I believe guns might be effective but you would need a large volume of fire and proximty rounds. Also, missiles are cheaper and use less resources than the aircraft they will be shooting down. The same is true with anti-tank missiles and antiship missiles.
I have much I could go on about this topic but I should stop before being a bore. Again, I've enjoyed the stories and the rest of your articles.

12/31/15, 10:22 AM

Celt's Garden said...
Mr. Greer,

I just love Retopia. Thank you so much for putting the time into this lively and thought provoking project. Every post gets me thinking, as in hmmm, I'd put buried landlines (telegraph and single channel voice) to every level of government, armory, bank and post office in the LR, irregardless of the county's chosen technology level.. And hmm, why didn't Peter Carr notice the woodlands on his train ride in? A society that burns wood for heat (less of that, back to nice cozy three piece suits) and cooking needs extensive managed woodlots. And hmm, now wait a just a cotton-picking second, that brilliant 19th century metallurgy requires coking coal and iron ore, both non-renewable resources that the LR would have to squeeze out of played out 20th century mines. Could be. Also could be a most dangerous line of work. Maybe they could get another country to sell them a pile of vanadium, left over from refining the sour sludge of played out 20th century oil fields, to temper their steel. And similarly, hmm, where are they getting the silver, for photographic processes? Much too useful stuff to circulate as coinage.

And basing Lakeland Republic technology on vacuum tubes is just brilliant. Ever since we closed the last incandescent lightbulb factory in the country a few years back, I have been grousing that we have put ourselves in a position where we are dependent on a semiconductor foundry on the other side of the world to turn on a light bulb. And we call it progress. Vacuum tubes can be made with workshop level technology. If miniaturization is irrelevant, printed circuit boards on plastic or ceramic substrates are made with the same screen process as printing tee shirts.

Great stuff, and I look forward to the next installment!

Celt Schira, P.E.

12/31/15, 10:49 AM

Clay Dennis said...
One of the other advantages of the Lakeland Republics low altitude drone shooting skills is that it would force an attacking high technology adversary to fly their drones at ultra high altitudes to avoid the low altitude manual "drone shooters" and the high altitude anti-aircraft guns or at least make it harder for tha anti-aircraft guns to hit them. This would cause the drones to be more expensive and have smaller payloads as well as making any usefull weapons they would carry much more expensive and sophisticated. This would put the attacking force in the position of spending 100 of 1000's of dollars to destroy a sandbag sniper nest that cost $500 total. This is of course much the same position the U.S. finds itself in when it uses a $100,000 hellfire missle to take out a pashtun rebel on a mule. Only our current empires use of fictional money and debt pushed forward on our children makes it sensible to do 10 times as much economic damage to yourself as your enemy when carrying out an attack.

12/31/15, 10:58 AM

Ed-M said...

Well this is interesting... looks like Ellen and Jim Franken have given the Lakeland Republic a bit o' progress, wouldn't you say? All in all a very good read.

Now on a different subject regarding current events, it appears that the GOP Evangelical Base is turning on House Speaker Paul Ryan in particular and the Republican Party in general. Some even think Ryan's gone Muslim for growing a beard! HAHAHA. (Personally I think he's gone hipster.) Looks like there's going to be a whole lot of fireworks coming into 2016! And I'll bet the Evangelicals won't get behind Trump, either... eventually he'll say something that to them would be beyond the pale; because, after all, he is a fascist, albeit a poor one.

12/31/15, 11:08 AM

Lynford1933 said...
At 82, an Amateur Extra Class from the 50's, military pilot 52-72, model airplane U-control transition to radio pulse control with carbon batteries and tubes, built a solar powered golf cart with inverter (mobile renewable power supply), and woodworker with hand tools, thanks for this trip to the past future. An ultralight with forward firing Gatling gun may be in the future.

12/31/15, 11:14 AM

Celt's Garden said...
Mr. Greer and Avery,

No worries, I think it was the Rockman who once said that it is the occupational hazard of Cassandras to call it too early.

My design business is an economic early warning indicator. I had three big projects implode and vanish in the first week of March 2015, all for the same reason, because the financing deal had fallen apart. The investors had gotten skittish. That was a red flag for me, even though the evening news was full of great news of recovery at the time. The last two times the money flowed out to sea like water retreating before a tsunami (2000 and 2007), the big wave was a year out.

Celt Schira, P.E.

12/31/15, 11:29 AM

Paul said...
This reminds me of a short story called Natural State, by a guy called Damon Knight.

In the story, the cities, following the breakdown of industrial civilisation, and unwilling to evolve new modes of existance, resort to cannibalising existing technology. They send out an emissary/salesman into the wider world, and he finds that the rustics he'd expected to encounter were nothing of the sort.

12/31/15, 11:59 AM

Keith Huddleston said...
I know this is a bit tangential to this post, and will probably be more relevant to the post on the retro-topia's education system, but knowing you are a former debater, I wanted to share with you what technology has done high school policy debate.

I am a debate coach and have watched in a handful of years how laptops and "flashing over" evidence has completely transformed the activity -- the medium truly is the message. Now students simply rely on the evidence they have complied to read and they often do not develop the ability to flow (note taking, for those not of the debate sub-culture).

The start of a round is almost invariably delayed because of issues getting the computers started, and getting the the first speech onto a flash drive and transferred over. Meanwhile, I have my paper out and have been ready to receive the information -- ie by listening and writing notes -- for 5 to 10 minutes.

I would punish students for this behavior, but don't see the point when it is nearly universal. (I tell my debaters to have the case printed out, so the round can start immediately, but I don't judge my own students at a tournament).

The amount of "prep time" allowed between speeches has moved from 5 minutes to 8 minutes in my state, which I think is connected to how much longer it takes students to be ready because of all this wonderful technology -- and technocratic thought.

12/31/15, 12:23 PM

buddhabythelake said...
Re the resilience of "older" technologies: One of the businesses in my town, a 125 year-old family-owned department store (!), still uses physical ledgers and journals for their accounting and I sometimes wonder if they are not better positioned in the long run. No computer hacking, no dependencies on a computing platform.

On another note, I ran across an article recently re the "human internet of things":

Yes, it is talking about exactly what you think it is. My first thought after reading the article was "This is some scary [excrement]!"

Finally, I'd like to report that this afternoon I turned in my paperwork to city hall and I am now officially a candidate for city council of Two Rivers, WI. If I make it on, perhaps I can help nudge my community in some small way towards a more robust/resilient path. We shall see.

12/31/15, 12:27 PM

Blueback said...
Couple of things:

1) Thanks for the link to Archdruid Driscoll's blog.

2) Canister shot is still in use for specialized applications. American tanks used canister shot extensively in the Vietnam War for close range combat against enemy infantry. Canister shot was by American anti-tank guns in World War II to give them an effective anti-infantry capability. I've seen photos of 37 mm AT guns employing canister in jungle battles against the Japanese in the South Pacific.

The US Army also used what were known as beehive rounds during the Vietnam War. These were 105 mm and 155 mm artillery shells packed with flechettes and detonated above the target by a time fuse, much like the old Civil War and World War I shrapnel shells. I read Colonel Duquesne Wolf's account of his experiences as a brigade commander in Vietnam and how devastating beehive shells were against infantry caught out in the open. Beehive rounds were developed for other calibers as well.

Both concepts were resurrected during the occupation of Iraq for use in tank cannons. American tank soldiers in particular found that canister shot was ideally suited for blowing a hole in the wall of a building so that friendly infantry could enter without having go in through one of the doors or windows (infantrymen quickly learn in urban combat that if you have to enter an enemy held building, its best not to do so through a door or other obvious entrance since you can bet those are being watched and covered by fire).

12/31/15, 1:00 PM

Pantagruel7 said...
For the sake of plausibility in fiction, I'm willing to assume that the flamboyant Pappas is merely testing the depth of Carr's credulity when he tells the story about one unit using a replica Fokker tri-plane against drones. After all, there's no requirement in the Lakeland Republic, as far as I know, to always tell the truth to foreigners.

12/31/15, 1:12 PM

Shane W said...
you've mentioned the impossibility of industrial society continuing for very long, but I was wondering what your thoughts are regarding Antarctica? Once It melts, which presumably would be after industrial society comes to a halt elsewhere due to resource constraints, could its resources be exploited to maintain a small industrial plant? I'm thinking that the people of that time, for whom limits to growth are a given, could very carefully use and extend out Antarctica's resources over a much greater time span than industrial society did with the rest of the world's resources. I'd never thought of it until recently.

12/31/15, 2:36 PM

Ezra Buonopane said...
Here's a technology the Lakeland Republic might find useful for both combat and commerce: the aeroscraft. It's an improvement on the conventional zeppelin which requires far less ground infrastructure (it can land unaided on pretty much any flat surface, including water), and has a much better gas volume to payload ratio that could make it viable for cargo transportation. The California based company Worldwide Aeros has tested a prototype and is currently looking for money to manufacture larger vessels capable of carrying commercial cargo. Currently, the ships are filled with helium, but hydrogen could provide a non-fossil fuel dependent substitute.

I do think that this technology has potential as a part of the future of cargo transportation, and has a unique advantage in a period where large infrastructure projects are becoming harder to construct and maintain.

12/31/15, 4:07 PM

Nastarana said...
IatheChuck, I can tell you that home scale sewing machine repair is badly needed even now, as is home scale tool maintenance in general. Sure, many of us can do these things ourselves, in a half baked sort of way, but good tools need expert maintenance from time to time.

12/31/15, 5:20 PM

rabtter said...
For the long bow, maybe a paper cartridge on the arrow tip with about 100 gr of powder, and one of the little silver fulminate bang snaps in the end of the cartridge.

12/31/15, 5:27 PM

inohuri said...
Five8Charlie you make me think of the Amish hunter who fired his (muzzle loader?) rifle into the air to unload it for safety before he got home. He killed a girl a mile or more away. I believe he got jail time.
Think it through. If you make the drone uncontrollable and it then does harm you are responsible. The drone might be taking your picture when you shoot.

Nick a spark gap transmitter would probably at least blow the diodes in an alternator. I have been zapped plenty of times by the current from a seemingly harmless low voltage horn. Use a battery separate from other circuits.

Mazer effectiveness would depend partly on the signal carried by the microwave (a little like a cell phone but much stronger and with different intentions). A sympathetic or natural frequency of a component is sent it would be harmed more. A range of signals would be even better if from a known pattern. Even better might be to periodically interrupt the mazer which might induce an even stronger AC current like the horn above.

There are directed, semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles for air (and space), ground, water surface and under water. I only see directed discussed here but if they are flying low and taking an evasive course they would seem to be semi-autonomous and/or have a terrain following system. Probably not much terrain in the story. A cruise missile is autonomous and expensive but hey no problem - a million dollars spent to blow away (military slang) a family in a mud hut in Somalia is certainly worth it, don't you think? Your taxes at work.

Don't forget analog computers. They might be simpler and more rugged for this purpose.

List of unmanned aerial vehicles

"In 1946, surplus B-17s [Flying Fortress is a four-engine heavy bomber] were chosen as drone aircraft for atmospheric sampling during the Operation Crossroads atomic bomb tests, being able to fly close to or even through the mushroom clouds without endangering a crew. This led to more widespread conversion of B-17s as drones and drone control aircraft, both for further use in atomic testing and as targets for testing surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles.[143]"

If they could fly near or in mushroom clouds they weren't bothered much by EMFs. I am.

12/31/15, 5:55 PM

rabtter said...
Some more thoughts on the longbow, Daniel. A small shaped charge warhead for the tip. The same concept that American bazookas, German panzerfausts, and the Soviet aerial ptab tankbusters used to take out tanks in WWII. I don't know how far it could be scaled down and still be effective, but the panzerfaust could penetrate 5 1/2 inches of armor with 14 oz of explosive. The spalling effect often killed the whole tank crew.

If viable with a longbow it may be more of a general sabotage tool than a drone killer in Lakeland's military.

12/31/15, 9:49 PM

Kevin Warner said...
I am going to throw out a theory about Carr's mission in the Republic here based on some of the ideas that commentators have come up with in reply to this week's post. Carr himself has mentioned that he has been interested in the problem of satellite collisions for over a dozen years - the so-called Kessler syndrome - and has been following the news of a recent collision when he was in Toledo.
What if his mission here is to see if the Republic is ever invaded again, that they might invoke a Samson option. What I am talking about are several basic-tech missiles packed full of shrapnel that would be launched into orbit set to explode and threw out millions of lethal fragments that would put an end to most, if not all, space missions. Due to the Republic's low-tech, there would be little effect on it but it would cripple a 2065 civilization. If this became known, then no country, particularly the Atlantic Republic, would ever allow such an invasion to ever occur.
There is a precedent for this idea. When the US made active moves to weaponize space so that they could "dominate" that domain, the 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test which created some 150,000 debris particles was a message that if the US tried that, then they could expect to lose ALL access to space itself.
In reading this week's post and some of the comments, I wonder too how many of them could be made applicable in taking out satellites in orbit.Just a thought.

12/31/15, 9:56 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Inohuri, true enough, but I'll leave it to our archers to try to find some way around that.

Ed, the fact that drones are still around fifty years from now doesn't make them permanent -- and in fact Emily Franken's invention, once deployed, may put an end to those along with many other pieces of technology. Yes, we'll be discussing that further as the story continues.

Penumbra, thanks for the reminder! That's a very good example of what I suppose out to be called tactical technological regression -- something that may play a very large role in the future.

Dau, duly noted -- I admit it's not on my very small to-watch list.

Cherokee, if the US was paying attention it would realize that its aircraft carriers are sitting ducks in anything approximating real combat; I figure the drone fleets owned by the Atlantic Republic et al. fall into the same category. If you do see a drone, by the way, the small hobby drones can be taken out very gracefully by low-tech means -- a stone powered by a sling comes to mind.

Clarence, not unless it's old technology; this is Retrotopia, after all.

Migrant, exactly! Half of what makes the current triumphalist rhetoric about progress so absurd is that it assumes, on the basis of nothing more than blind faith, that every time our society replaces thing A with thing B, B is not only better than A but better than all the competing technologies vying for A's spot, now or in the past.

Five8Charlie, sure, but there's something soul-satisfying about seeing a drone vanish in a billowing bubble of flame, and have burning fragments tumble down to the ground, you have to admit.

Noni Mausa, I've never seen one that big! Those would be impressive. Ordinary high-end transmitter tubes can be pretty cool, and the gentle glow from little tubes has its own charm.

Nate, thanks for the heads up. I find it completely plausible that K-3 civilizations would turn out to be N=0; in fact, it seems most likely to me that K-2 civilizations are equally numerous, and K-1 civilizations (those that use all the energy resources of a single planet) would be shortlived and messily self-terminating. But of course you knew that...

Uncannily, the emergence of Hackerspaces and Makerspaces are among the more genuinely hopeful signs I've seen in the last decade or so.

LatheChuck, fascinating. I confess with some embarrassment that I like, and make much use of, the word processor's capacity to handle repeated small revisions -- I edit my work in multiple passes, changing a word here, a sentence there, tightening and cleaning up a rough draft in stages until it says what I want it to say -- but I have a very nice manual typewriter, an Olivetti Lettera 22 in exquisite condition, and should probably get some practice with it as time permits.

12/31/15, 9:57 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Justin, thank you. Build that radio -- and get some target time in with those slingshots!

Andrew, I seriously considered chain shot; the advantage of canister shot, though, is that you don't need to be anything like so good at aiming.

Bernhard, I've had a couple of inquiries, but haven't yet been able to interest a German publisher. If you know any small publishers that might be interested, please let 'em know that the rights are available!

Eric, I'd recommend some whimsy -- enough that it keeps people from getting too pompous, not enough to attract people whose sole interest is the trappings of pop fantasy fiction.

Mikep, I'm quite sure Carr isn't being shown everything the Lakeland Republic has up its sleeve! As with most things military, the best defense against the other guy's technology is to have a range of different ways to mess with it, so that nobody can predict what's going to hit them first. That kind of uncertainty makes a good deterrent.

Avalterra, that'll be next week.

Ray, light and radio were the standard uses for electricity in rural America when the most common power source was batteries charged by a windmill, so I think you're on the right track.

Grebulocities, I'm not a great fan of nitroglycerin, but whatever boils your retort!

William, you asked me why I didn't put modern, high-altitude drones into my scenario, which I'd already explained. If you wanted to say "I think your scenario is inaccurate," that's a different matter -- but I think you're letting yourself be sold on a gizmocentric fantasy.

Tommy, thanks for the details! I appreciate hearing from someone who actually works with these things. I have no doubt that the Lakeland Army's AA guns use proximity fuses -- that's old tech, after all -- but you're doubtless right about missiles; I simply don't know enough about ADA missile guidance systems to know how low tech you can go and still hit an enemy plane.

Celt, you're certainly right about coke, but the iron ore used in the Lakeland Republic comes from dismantled skyscrapers and freeway bridges. Wood is used as a fuel, but a lot of rural areas use methane from manure for cooking. Silver and vanadium? Now that the borders are open again, no doubt they'll be trading for a variety of metals, among other things.

Clay, exactly. As noted in the episode two weeks ago, the entire military strategy of the Lakeland Republic consists of bankrupting its opponents -- easier to do in a world where none of its likely opponents dominates the world's financial infrastructure (and so can print as much money as it wants).

12/31/15, 10:16 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Ed-M, "progress" is an interesting word. Notice that the Franken's maser isn't an advance on existing technology; it's a deliberate return to an older technology, which is then perfected beyond its 1950s level. Pay attention to that; it's going to become a continuing theme.

Lynford, I've more than occasionally thought that alcohol-fueled ultralights may be viable straight through the deindustrial dark age; one of these days I may write a story, or a series of stories, set in a dark age warrior culture where the heroes fly ultralights into battle and the long rifle (along the lines of the Kentucky long rifle) has the same sort of ambience that swords had in the last set of dark ages.

Celt, thanks for the heads up. Given recent plunges in the commodities markets and indicators of shipping, your warning sign may be well timed.

Paul, now there's a blast from the past! Many thanks for the link.

Keith, that's embarrassing -- and typical. I assume you've noticed that "labor and time saving technology" always costs more labor and time...

Buddha, congrats! If I lived there you'd have my vote.

Blueback, thanks for the info -- I wasn't aware of that.

Pantagruel, not at all. A wood-and-fabric triplane of World War I vintage with a couple of good forward-firing machine guns would be effectively invisible to radar and proximity-fused antiaircraft shells, and would likely wreak havoc on low-flying subsonic drones. See Penunbra's comment above about the biplane attack on the Italian Navy!

Shane, it depends on when the melting finishes. Remember that Europe, for example, had all the resources necessary to sustain an industrial society for millennia before anyone got around to using them for that purpose. If it takes long enough for Antarctica to finish melting that industrial civilization is a evil memory from the distant past, no one may ever get around to it there.

Ezra, interesting. Since this is, ahem, Retrotopia, I'm going to be focusing on old technology, but we'll see.

Rabtter, yes, that'd probably do it.

Inohuri, you could fly B-17s near a nuclear explosion because they didn't have any solid state electronics (i.e., transistors or integrated circuits). Vacuum tubes are invulnerable to electromagnetic pulses; it's solid state components that go "pfft!" when an EMP comes along.

Kevin, I have to confess that your last comment got me thinking of somebody leaning out the hatch of a space capsule with a drawn longbow, aiming at a satellite! As for Carr's mission, stay tuned; there's quite a bit more to the story. All I'll say now is that the Kessler syndrome, which will get more attention as we proceed, is one of several plot engines...

12/31/15, 10:34 PM

inohuri said...
"On 26 May [1941], Ark Royal launched two [Fairey]Swordfish strikes against Bismarck. The first failed to find Bismarck. The second strike scored two hits, one of which jammed Bismarck '​s rudders with 15° port helm on.[8] This made Bismarck unmanoeuvrable, and unable to escape to France; it sank after intense Royal Navy attack within 13 hours. The low speed of the attacking aircraft may have acted in their favour, as the planes were too slow for the fire-control predictors of the German gunners, whose shells exploded so far in front of the aircraft that the threat of shrapnel damage was greatly diminished. At least some of the Swordfish flew so low that most of Bismarck's flak weapons could not depress enough to hit them.[9]"

1942 onward female Russian military aviators.
"The regiment flew in wood-and-canvas Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, a 1928 design intended for use as training aircraft and for crop-dusting, and to this day the most-produced biplane in aviation history. The planes could carry only six bombs at a time, so multiple missions per night were necessary. Although the aircraft were obsolete and slow, the pilots made daring use of their exceptional maneuverability; they had the advantage of having a maximum speed that was lower than the stall speed of both the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, and as a result, German pilots found them very difficult to shoot down. An attack technique of the night bombers was to idle the engine near the target and glide to the bomb release point, with only wind noise left to reveal their location. German soldiers likened the sound to broomsticks and named the pilots "Night Witches."[4]
"It was the most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot having flown over 800 missions by the end of the war..."

1/1/16, 12:51 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Quote: "I overestimated the speed with which the current economic crisis is unfolding".

Yes, I recall that prediction about the fracking bubble popping and have been wondering about that particular side of the equation. We don’t hear much about such things down here, other than coal seam gas extraction (i.e. the polite name for fracking down here) is becoming uneconomic at current oil prices. I read somewhere that they require at least US$55/barrel (from memory) for it to be economic and yet the companies have committed so much capital to the LNG refineries that they have to continue – even with the low oil prices.

You know what though? I'm honestly surprised at how resilient the economy actually is and the sheer number of ploys being thrown at it to keep it afloat. You have to admit that it is impressive? I may have mentioned to you previously that the number one game in town is keeping inflation in check - and given that we are currently experiencing stagflation (as you quite rightly previously pointed out), my best guess at this stage is that pretty much anything goes now that will keep inflation in check - even if that means throwing large portions of the working population under the bus to achieve that objective. Because keeping inflation in check ultimately means retaining some semblance of control and submission. They may have learned from history?

My gut feel now tells me that given the incredible shift in the climate currently underway, we may see an interesting intersection of stresses between the environment and the economy. Dunno, but that is what my gut feeling is telling me now as any recovery process from environmental disasters requires real wealth, whereas the economy, well, it can sustain a fair bit of magic - in your understanding of that word.

Again, the process is slow and unfolding gradually rather than reaching a tipping point. We're really a lot like the story of the frog adapting to the slowly heating water and forget to notice that the water is actually getting hotter until we suddenly cark it!

Anyway, I'm hopefully shifting another two cubic metres of manure tomorrow into the orchard as I don't reckon that there is any other game in town worth playing. Maybe that is my bias though?

PS: Forgot to add that I really like how the Lakeland Republic drone shooters have to prove their systems on the ground in a most public manner. Wouldn't it be fun if the F-35 (which we are also involved in and are up to our eye balls) had to prove itself in a public forum? I guess it may one day?



1/1/16, 2:58 AM

ed boyle said...

1/1/16, 3:40 AM

Daniel Najib said...
rabtter et al. shaped charge on arrows, and shotgun-shell-tipped arrows might be effective. This one youtube video shows shotgun-tipped arrows working after a little bit of experimentation: As an added bonus, it seems that the majority of these shotgun shell tipped arrows can be salvaged for reuse without damage to the arrow shaft! Also for safety, it seems that the arrows don't explode on soft-targets (watermelons), but explode on hard targets (metal soda cans), and so might work against drones.

Re: aiming problems from inohuri: Good archers don't aim for where the target is, but where it's going to be. That takes practice, and a lot of it. Hitting a stationary target is better, but we can judge distance mentally on the fly. That being said, even pulling one of my lightweight warbows with such a heavy grain explosive arrow tip, I would likely only be able to hit a drone accurately within 40 yards. Again, I see this weapon being used, if at all, by Lakeland during an invasion as part of irregular forces. There will be no medieval longbow battles with both sides loosing volleys at each other, but a few archers running around the woods doing hit-and-run ambushes on convoys and low-flying drones can be devastating. Just ask the sheriff of Nottingham!

1/1/16, 4:26 AM

Patricia Mathews said...
Steve Stirling already has medieval warriors flying ultralights, but due to realistic weight considerations, combat flyers (scouts, mostly) are slender young women, built like gymnasts,armored only in leather helmet, trousers, and jacket. And a long utility knife. One of his Emberverse novels opens with one such crashing in the mountains where there is a grizzly bear and an enemy soldier. Things get interesting from there.

But the image is delightful. Sir Daniel of Boone with his Kentucky rifle* ... "I was shot down by a gal?!?!?" Enter Old Ephraim, stage left; exeunt omnes, pursued by a bear.... while the minstrels in the gallery sing the "Snoopy and the Red Baron" song in the background.

Sorry. You wanted whimsy. And I sadly fear the only can(n)ons I have much interest in are spelled with one less "n", so amid all these avid mil-sf fans, I insert a bit of pipe organ music....

Pat, chortling, running, and ducking the rotten tomatoes, my cold grey New Year's morning made.

*Wait a minute! Wasn't that what your villain was up to?*

1/1/16, 5:57 AM

M said...
I'm a little late to this week's party, but really felt the need to post this. As a Christmas gift, the incomparable Paul Krugman was kind enough to alleviate all our worries--no more need for The Archdruid Report--technology is back on track and ready to save us!

He lays it all out in Things to Celebrate, Like Dreams of Flying Cars.

Man, that was close! As you were, world. Oh, Happy New Year!

1/1/16, 6:39 AM

Bruno B. L. said...
JMG,and @Shane, isn't it possible that some industrial societies existing today may keep at least some of their existing plants by using geothermal power? I'm imagining Iceland as one of the last bastions of industrialism thousand years on the future.

1/1/16, 7:19 AM

peacegarden said...
I am loving this tale, especially the mad scientist/basement workshop angle. It is a nudge toward what can happen when we break through the dual chains of thought prevalent today: “We’re doomed!”, and, “Someone will save us.”

The possibilities may not be endless, but a wide angle view suddenly opens, and we can say, “Hmm…what if…”

May all of us have a green wizardry filled 2016, and beyond.



1/1/16, 8:18 AM

Pantagruel7 said...
JMG: not to belabor a small point, but I wasn't so much doubting the ability of an obsolete triplane to pull that off. Rather I was questioning the extravagance of the gesture - building such a plane for what was basically a stunt - together with the propensity of some military men (Oliver North comes to mind, for example) to lose track what's true and what's a lie.

1/1/16, 9:08 AM

Moshe Braner said...
I would quibble with the idea that a tube-and-fabric airplane is "invisible to radar". It carries a large metal chunk: the engine. Even gliders, with far smaller pieces of metal, are often visible to air traffic control radar. Perhaps WW2 proximity fuses were designed to only detect larger hunks of metal, and radar back then was in its infancy.

1/1/16, 10:25 AM

Shane W said...
Somewhat off-topic, but I was wondering what the manners & mores of Lakeland are? Somehow, I have this idea of Lakeland discovering a mid-to-early 20th century copy of Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt as if they'd struck gold, and manners & etiquette coming back in force, and the informal crudeness of the late 20th-early 21st century is just a bad memory receding into the past. But that's just me...

1/1/16, 10:30 AM

inohuri said...
12 April 2014
"The more a radio-electronic system is complex, the easier it is to disable it through the use of electronic warfare." Vladimir Balybine - director of the research center on electronic warfare
"As the Russian jet approached the US vessel, the electronic device disabled all radars, control circuits, systems, information transmission, etc. on board the US destroyer.
The Russian Su-24 then simulated a missile attack against the USS Donald Cook, which was left literally deaf and blind."


"The aircraft did not respond to multiple queries and warnings from Donald Cook, and the event ended without incident after approximately 90 minutes"

1/1/16, 11:13 AM

Lunchista said...
Ooh am I the first to post a (Space-bat-free) story on here?

Here it is: GIFT

Enjoy! And Happy New Year!

1/1/16, 11:23 AM

Ed Prell said...
Shane’s musings about exploiting the resources of Antarctica reminded me of a post I saw somewhere suggesting that there is plenty of temperate high plateau land that is largely uninhabited, and it could become a habitable haven for us humans as climate change trashes our once-desirable low-lying population centers and warms the high elevations. The flora and fauna have already gotten the memo and must be scurrying up there already. We could pick up the pieces there if we behave and make do with pre-industrial resources. Snap up Mongolian real estate and get in before the rush?

1/1/16, 11:54 AM

kayr said...
Hi all,

Just a comment to Nastarana and LatheChuck about sewing machine repair. In years past I used to see signs posted on utility poles around my home advertising house calls made by the Sewing Machine Doctor. I never used this service, but there are still places to go where I live to get a sewing machine fixed. My recent experience was with two Phaff machines, one 60+ years old and one maybe 30 in two different stores. Guess which was was able to be repaired. The older one, all metal parts. The newer one had nylon gears that were cracked and it would not be able to be repaired. I think there is a real place for sewing machine repair that could make someone a living even now. Also maybe even machining new gears to replace plastic ones could be another job. Forget electronic ones. I have never thought they were as good as the built-like-a-brick mechanical ones.

1/1/16, 11:56 AM

Myriad said...
A few random New Year's Day thoughts:

I know where the line comes from, but still, throwing open the switches to the sonic oscillator is just going to turn the thing off.

War kites are a good example of often-tried never-"perfected" military technology, going back to ancient times (especially in Asia). Man-lifting kites have proven dangerous to the point of being suicidal, and it's hard to see them working any better for any mission in an era of powered aircraft and rifled firearms. But wind permitting, a thousand kids flying a thousand ordinary box kites could interdict drones from an airspace at least a mile square, below 500 feet or so. There would have to be a good reason, and a limited time window, because that's also a lot of effort (kids' time presumably not being considered worth less than nothing in Lakeland as it is in the present-day U.S.).

In RetroCartoonTopia, you could put a wig, dress, and false eyelashes on a drone, and use it to lure all the attacking drones away.

Obviously, the Lakeland Republic has reformed our present tort system. Attending a drone shoot has to be an "at your own risk" activity, even without mad scientists squirting prototype maser beams around!

In fact, it seems like the Lakelanders' remarkable ability to apportion blame with reasonable accuracy (or at least, sanity) could account for 90% of the "-topian" quality of the place. (Oops, was that a serious point? My apologies.)

Happy New Year everyone!

1/1/16, 12:06 PM

Nathaniel Ott said...
JMG, your welcome, and yea I figured that would be your assessment.

As for me, in all honesty I haven't totally made up my mind on the possibility of K civilizations. Specifically something like a type 1 with a few rare shades of type 2, such as reletively fast interstellar probes and off world mining, enduring for a good while maybe several centuries or more. Even that though would be a blink in cosmological time spans though.

N to again be honest, a lot of the research I've done on the topic since becoming aware of resource depletion problems has led me to believe I'm just being optimistic. Space mining for instance wouldn't be worth enough to even try with the costs even with optimistic advancements. Interstellar travel even with a probe in a human time scale would take so much energy and money that I doubt any government or corporation would bother to even try that either. Renewable energy may be renewable but renewable technologies arent. From the looks of things I'm not sure if there is enough economically extractable rare earth metals (among other things) to power the world on renewables at U.S levels, at least not for very long anyway. N like you said, you already know about this stuff, so I don't even need to mention the problems with nuclear...

So yea thanks be to you and other sources for destroying my childhood dreams lol.


1/1/16, 12:11 PM

dltrammel said...
While the maser is certainly feasible, let me counter argue that knowing you have a representative from a neighboring state on hand, a bit of misdirection with a bit of old tech and a remotely detonated drone would go along way to selling the "Dont mess with us, we can shoot your stuff down at anytime" propaganda. A weapon only has to be thought of working to be a deterrent.

1/1/16, 12:40 PM

Helen Highwater said...
What I'm wondering is who cleans up the debris from all those blown-apart drones and spent cartridges.

1/1/16, 2:05 PM

whomever said...
Completely unrelated to this story, but truly depressing nevertheless. Basically, politically connected California farmers have decided that the obvious way to get more water is simply to use politics. So they can grow nuts for export. Because obviously congress can legislate more rainfall. This is all so depressing, watching stuff like this really makes me understand at a gut level just how questions about past civilizations along the lines of "how could they be so stupid?" are answered.

1/1/16, 4:17 PM

buddhabythelake said...
Thanks for the support, John. It is much appreciated. I'll let everyone know how things turn out in a few months.

1/1/16, 7:13 PM

Disinterested Observer said...
This may or may not be news to all, but Battelle (the big non-profit R&D firm) has already built and tested a anit-drone rifle which uses radio waves to disable drones. Range 400 meters.

And it does not destroy the drone. It forces the drone to land. It will also jam detonation frequencies. Much more effective than a shotgun type of approach.

1/1/16, 7:20 PM

Jim R said...
@Martin B,
The VHF station was on channel 9. Or 186 to 192 MHz in the band plan of that locale/era.

The antenna was connected with a coax. This differs from a waveguide in that there is a center conductor. In the VHF band, a waveguide would be prohibitively large, awkward, and expensive. It was a pipe, because there was a smaller pipe in the center. The center was also a pipe to save weight and expense, though there must have been a fortune invested in copper going up that 1000' tower. In a coax, the current runs in opposite directions in the center and outside conductors, so that everything cancels and no energy escapes along the length of the coax. A single pipe would radiate along its entire length at that wavelength.

The STL was microwave, I don't remember which band. It used a little TWT amplifier, and its signal went through waveguide indoors, and a parabolic dish formed a beam from/to a similar dish and transceiver at the studio. Pretty much bog-standard microwave communication. The telco uses similar things today for long-distance high-speed links, but the TWT has been replace with some solid-state thing, though I'm not sure what.

When the wavelength is short enough, the center conductor becomes redundant, or an impediment. Then one simply uses a hollow tube. At even shorter wavelengths, one uses an optical fiber. But it's all part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

1/1/16, 7:50 PM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
In an ADR posting dated 2015-12-18, I wrote the following: It would help if those of us with a special interest in the Catholic world had a separate place to discuss, from week to week, the bearing of ADR, in its week-upon-week evolution, on Catholicism.

We have now had expressions of interest strong enough to justify our going ahead - soon launching the blog on some appropriate server, under some appropriate name, under the moderation of past occasional ADR contributor Brien, and with one fresh essay contribution every week or every two weeks, in each instance from some one of a group of around three or four writers.

This means that each individual essayist will be burdened with writing just once every few weeks. The burdens on JMG, as a weekly essayist, are surely severe. We do best not to imitate his heroic literary example in its full severity when launching our own venture.

We should be announcing blog-launch details here on ADR later in January.

The envisaged blog will be open to courteous, germane comment from anyone, whether Catholic or not, subject only to the same rules regarding courtesy and relevance that JMG himself successfully enforces on ADR.

As I have remarked before, the envisaged blog gives us a chance to air topics of current theory-of-catabolic-collapse interest, as raised on ADR, from a rather Roman perspective. We will be able to do so without fearing that we clutter JMG's good Web space with billowing, intrusive clouds of Roman incense.

Is Byzantium an example of a jurisdiction that managed catabolic collapse successfully? How does one start reading Augustine, and how closely does his situation parallel our own? How does one battle temptations to despair, as one probes the hollowness of the COP21 Paris agreement? What parts of Laudato Si' now most urgently require rereading? Why, oh why, does it seem such fun in an era of social decline to work with beeswax, or to ponder bookbinding, or to listen to chant from Silos? Is Opus Dei a Good Thing? How should a Catholic respond to that ancient debating-club resolution, 'That America is a Good Thing, and ought to be kept'? Is pacifism mandatory for Catholics contemplating drone-shoots? Ours will be the place to thrash such things out.

My next task tonight is to send an e-mail to all the relevant people. I believe that my duty is to write tonight to the following: the Catholics Brien (in North America), Andrea J. (in a large, warm, normally dry European Union country), and Brian (in a small, cool, damp European Union country); and additionally a theological dissident, not presently in formal communion with Rome, who blogs on ADR under the name 'Nestorian'. If I have everything right, that means one e-mail transmission from my desk tonight, going out to four people.

I would be keen to be told urgently (a) if I have missed anyone, and (b)if any additional individual would like to take this late opportunity to add himself or herself to our little blog-seeding collective. (I mean, in other words, to take this late opportunity to become a potential blog administrator or blog essayist, as opposed to a mere blog commentator. Once the blog is launched, mere commenting will - to reiterate - be open to all and sundry.)

Any urgent communications asking to be added to the collective of blog-seeders are best made via private e-mail to Toomas(dot)Karmo(at)gmail(dot)com, or by dialling my (Canadian) cellular phone (647-267-9566).

Now let me try to sum up the key point as that feisty ecclesial Latinist Reginald Foster perhaps would: Nuntio vobis gaudium magnum - habemus, vel habebimus, tabulam interretialem sententiarum scribendarum (anglice 'bloggum'). - I announce to you a great joy - we have, or will be having, an Internet table-for-the-writing-of-opinions (in English, a "blog").


Toomas = Tom (Karmo)

in Richmond Hill, Ontario

1/1/16, 8:38 PM

nuku said...
Re older sewing machines: there are heaps of older cheap repairable all-metal machines here in NZ, including industrial ones with oil bath lubrication that can run all day and sew anything from silk to canvas. When the local junior college got rid of all the useful hands-on blue collar "trade" classes like clothing design and metal and woodworking in favor of sexy "IT", all the associated machinery was sold off for pennies on the $ or even given away. I scored a beautiful industrial Consew complete with built-in table at price of $0. It only does a straight stitch, but for 90% of jobs that's enough. For the rest, I've got an old all-metal domestic Singer which, with its replaceable "cams" and various levers, can do about 25 different stitch patterns.
The modern "electronic" machines are mostly plastic throwaway crap with heaps of useless "features". The all-metal machines tend to last for many years if properly lubricated.
Adjusting a sewing machine when it goes "out of timing" is fairly easy, and the basic principles are relevant to almost all simple single needle machines.
My mom taught me to sew when I was around 11 (she thought it was appropriate for a boy bless her heart), and the skill has come in very handy over the years, especially in my 17 years sailing around the pacific on my 3 cruising yachts.
There definitely is a niche for sewing machine repair. Our medium sized town has one guy who is constantly busy.

1/1/16, 10:00 PM

nuku said...
Re man lifting kites: after the Korean war, my dad gave me a large Army surplus "target practice" box kite; it was about 6ft high, had bulls eyes, and had a 2 line bridle arrangement for steering it from side to side. My little brother was 5 at the time and liked to tag along with the big kids gang; I was 12. Well, the gang came up with the idea of putting him inside the kite and to see if it would lift him, which it did, about 70 feet before we brought him down permanently traumatized about kites. So there is potential for development there for sure.

1/2/16, 1:24 AM

Matthias Gralle said...
Dear Mr. Greer,

I found out about your blog following a rather unsympathetic link to last week's Paris comumente on Since then,I've read a parte part, thought not all of your posts.
It is quite clear that the Atlantic Republic is on a slow downward trajectory in this narrative. However, do you think Lakeland nas already stabilized by 2065, or will it lose population and technologies over the next 200 years? The city of Rome loooked rather stable in 700 AD and the slid further.
Second, would you mind to link to recent EROEI figures for PV technology? The diferença between Retrotopia and Ecotopia comes down to this.

Matthias Gralle

1/2/16, 4:09 AM

Matthias Gralle said...
My last post seems to be in moderation. Comparing today to the Roman Empire right before Adrianopolis and Partition, do you think the Lakeland Republic is more like Aquitaine in AD 500-700, a temporary reprieve on the slide downwards (or the city of Rome in the 7th century), or like Ásia Minor or Mesopotamia, which sete doing spectacularly well, better than in Augustus' time?

I think that if the rest of the world goes down, the Lakeland educacional system won't maintain a good knowledge of quantum mechancs for centuries.



1/2/16, 5:25 AM

ed boyle said...

I was interested in the kowalski name, 'A Streetcar named Desire' occurred to me. My comment about blondes had obviously to do with changing sexual steretypes over times. I found this quote by wikipedia on the play:

Influence on 20th-century theatre

By the close of the 19th century, melodrama began to disappear from the theater. More and more, the focus was on a style of acting called dramatic naturalism.[6]

By the time A Streetcar Named Desire was written and produced, melodrama was in its last stages and Blanche DuBois's memorable personality used it to illustrate exactly how misleading melodramatic acting could be.

Exaggerated sighs, unnecessary screams of distress, and fluttery hand gestures are all employed by Blanche throughout the play. Dramatic lines about needing rescuing (which are now often seen as clichéd) are an internal part of Blanche's working. They veil her true personality (that of a sick, unbalanced woman) and allow her to play with men like Mitch, who falls for her histrionics and becomes convinced he will be her savior."

I saw on New Year's Eve the 4th part of Panem hunger games with my family. This could arguably be a sort of post PO future novel. The wikipedia comments that sex differences are deliberately eliminated with only a couple of steretypical female figures. All serve equally in military, etc. and in the capital city all are what we would term now 'metrosexual' or fashion conscious in extreme.

So while poor females in servitude become masculine, upper class males are feminized. I wonder how tech and social change will play out in reality when one lacks tech. I see that in just 40 years car use has weakened individuals globally to where obesity and diabetes are global epidemics and finding good candidates for military service among young US males or slim sexy mating partners in younger age groups is becoming difficult on a staistical basis according to my reading in US. I recall reading of the extremely brutal transformation of life in early industrialized England and we have seen similar happen since 1979 in China. Parallels in changes in tech to body public can be expected again. I sat for years in an office and now have been a labourer for some years. One changes.

Will we become healthy, slim, sexy and return to stereotypical sexual historical norms when kitchen and house work is deautomated along with clothing and food production? This is controversial of course and perhaps not to the topic. When I read such a blog entry though, although I enjoy the technical part, I cannot help myself thinking of naive star trek episodes playing hundreds of years in the future with mini skirts from 60s. In other words current social norms are taken on without criticism to avoid controversy. Here in the schools girls are encouraged to do technical careers and boys to become kindergarten teachers. Needless to say this sort of thing only goes so far.

1/2/16, 7:35 AM

Max Osman said...
Speaking of Peak Oil, have you ever read Stirling Newberry's analysis of the international energy situation?

It's concise and written in 2005 but what gets me is how much he agrees with you that peak oil is about peak light oil, and not about every gallon of oil being sucked out.

I recommend everyone who does not think the Archdruids case to be solid economically, to read Stirling Newberry for the numbers on the issue.


Also on Drones, when I lived in Bosaso Somalia, I saw a couple of drones shot down by light anti-aircraft fire. They're really flimsy things up close honestly.

1/2/16, 12:38 PM

GHung said...
Apologies if someone has posted this; "The Survivors Library" is a huge collection of books starting from about 1800 through the early 20th century on just about every subject and technology: "How to survive and prosper without modern technology", from building steam engines to shoe making to embalming and refrigeration. Old tech stuff. Available for download free or on DVDs for about $37. I ordered the DVDs since there's over 70GB of old books, mainly in PDF format.They're always adding new old stuff.

I've downloaded several books on 18th century animal husbandry and veterinary practices, and I'm currently enjoying "Forge-Practice - Elementary 1908". Great reading!

1/2/16, 1:47 PM

Robert Mathiesen said...
"Tabula interretialis" Oh, Toomas, this is wonderful to see in Latin!

1/2/16, 2:02 PM

Myriad said...
@nuku, lifting even a full-grown adult with a large box kite is relatively easy (especially given a motorized winch or a large enough ground crew). Keeping them aloft and alive long enough to complete a military mission (shooting, bombing, signaling, observing, or whatever) and then recovering them in one piece is considerably more difficult. They're at the mercy of the wind, and the wind often has none to offer.

I suspect your brother froze in terror, which saved him from doing anything that would have unbalanced the kite, preventing a disaster. Congratulations on getting him back!

One thing kites might be good for is hoaxing UFOs at night (possibly disturbing an enemy camp, and/or drawing fire). I've noticed that a light lofted by a kite at night creates a strong illusion of being a much larger object at a much greater distance, and therefore of moving very quickly. And because even single-line kites tend to move in ways that are impossible for most free-flying aircraft (because the aerodynamic forces on them are levered against the tension of their tether), they make a very strange impression. Quite a few UFO accounts describe lights low above the horizon in the distance, hovering and "darting" about with rapid changes of direction, and I've always wondered whether the "aliens" have historically preferred windy nights for engaging in such displays.

Aha... now I've got to turn into an Uncle's Mile story. :D

1/2/16, 2:12 PM

Susan J said...
JMG, you have been writing for some time about the fantasies of unlimited growth and technology, and the widespread hope for technological fixes for every problem—and the unlikeliness of such solutions.

Who is working on a more efficient windmill? Or affordable solar heating? There is still room for improvement in strictly mechanical devices. But who is there to do it? Is shop still taught in high school? Who knows how to build and use a pulley?

Self-sufficiency has had a difficult time resisting the broad support of consumerism. The skills and knowledge needed for self-sufficiency—soon to be deeply needed—are not widely available. We should be building libraries and collecting books that can provide the information needed for self-sufficiency.

1/2/16, 2:20 PM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
Dear Robert Mathiesen,

So pleasant of you to comment. But now I notice that, as often before, I have screwed up a little. The Latin Wikipedia, i.e., Vicipaedia, at asserts "blog" to be in Latin an **IN**declinable noun. If the Vicipaedia assertion is right - alas, we are I think handicapped right now by not having a normative authority, such as exists for e.g. French in the form of that court-of-final-appeal, the Académie française - then the conceivable forms "bloggus" (for a declinable masculine noun, becoming "bloggum" in the accusative) or "bloggum" (for a declinable neuteur noun, the same in both nominative and accusative) do not exist. If Vicipaedia is right, we need not "Habemus bloggum" but merely "Habemus blog."

This is one of the various points at which ADR could do with input from a professional classicist. Can some classics prof somewhere in our readership give us a hand?



Post scriptum: I cannot resist adding that at, Vicipaedia has a fine colour illustration of English neon signage, in some such place as Las Vegas, proclaiming an Internet cafe "open 24 hours". The Latin caption explains that this so-gaudily advertised establishment is a thermopolium interretiale. (We do note here: "interretialis" with "tabula", since the noun is feminine, and yet "interretiale" with "thermopolium", since the noun is neuter.)

1/2/16, 7:17 PM

ChaosAdventurer said...
Oh bearded one who naturally enough appears a bit out of touch with state of the shaver market.
An electric shaver that needs to be plugged in to work is already hard to find. The battery based ones are the rule now-days, to the point that the few corded ones left are low DC voltage motors with an AC/DC wall wort to deal using about 50% more power than my previous AC based one to do the same task. My growing a beard has been vetoed by my better half, and I'm saving my granddad's straight razor as a backup.
I would suggest that Carr found his battery drained and was unable to recharge it.

Interestingly, Elon Musk recommended an old story today "The Machine Stops", that 'predicted' tech such as instant messaging and the internet, and ends in disaster for the civilization. Very interesting reading appropriate to this blog and one that would fit in one of the short story collections being generated here.

1/2/16, 8:20 PM

Brien said...
Thanks, Toomas!
Gratias permultas! Exhilaror, hoc maxime mihi placet!
Many many thanks! I'm excited, this is going to be great!

As mentioned, I'll be moderating. Announcements of the new blog will come later this month. Stay tuned!

1/2/16, 11:19 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)


Down with "blog" and "bloggum".

"Tabula" means both "board, plank" and "record". That's a neat equivalent for "log". My Latin isn't equal to boiling down the formal "tabula interretialis", but I'll attempt it. I start with tabula retialis, with the "inter" part understood, and hope for a rule that elides the r between a short "a" and a long "e". If such a rule exists (I have no idea), we get something like "tabulet'yalis", five syllables, which is short for Latin.

The Academie Francaise frowns upon English loan words and prefers to coin native French substitutes, whether from nationalism or esthetics. Blog is an ugly word even in clipped Murcan, though we've gotten used to it. It's even more barbarous in Latin, as it should be, since "web" and "log" are both from Old English roots.

1/3/16, 3:37 AM

inohuri said...
Snipped paragraphs:

Iran guided the CIA's "lost" stealth drone to an intact landing inside hostile territory by exploiting a navigational weakness long-known to the US military,
"The GPS navigation is the weakest point," the Iranian engineer told the Monitor, giving the most detailed description yet published of Iran's "electronic ambush" of the highly classified US drone. "By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain."

The “spoofing” technique that the Iranians used – which took into account precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data – made the drone “land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications” from the US control center, says the engineer.
US officials skeptical of Iran’s capabilities blame a malfunction, but so far can't explain how Iran acquired the drone intact. One American analyst ridiculed Iran’s capability, telling Defense News that the loss was “like dropping a Ferrari into an ox-cart technology culture.”

1/3/16, 8:36 AM

Sylvia Rissell said...
Mr Boyle, Im not sure "slim" would be considered sexy in a future agrarian society. In the past, "slim" was associated with women who were too young, malnourished, or tuburcular for farm work and childbearing.

It is interesting to note that a current study found that women who watched cooking shows on TV but didnt actually cook were less overweight than the women who watched the shows and actually went in the kitchen to make the food. (fatness associated with cooking practice)

As in most things, everyone has to make their own decisions.

Patricia, I think I need to go find an Emberverse novel or two.

Thanks to everyone for singing the praises of natural fibers. I pulled some lovely plaid wool out of the back of a closet, and it is now 75% of the way to being a cape. I dont expect it to be comfortable for driving, but I plan to test it for walking and possibly cycling.

1/3/16, 8:39 AM

Shane W said...
Correct me if I'm wrong, JMG, but Lakeland seems to be an all but total rebuke of the late 20th-early 21st century, the technology, the ethics (postmodern moral relativism, secular humanism, hypocritical fundamentalism), the politics. Is it fair to say that Lakeland has closed the chapter on the late 20th-early 21st century, buried it, drove a stake through its heart? Is our era but a horrid nightmare that they're trying, and succeeding in, recovering from?
BTW, I can see the influences of Small is Beautiful, and by extension, The Wealth of Nature, in Lakeland.

1/3/16, 9:40 AM

Anthony Romano said...
A developing news story is taking place in Oregon. It seems a small group of militia members have seized an unoccupied federal building (A U.S. Fish and Wildlife headquarters for a federal wildlife refuge). Here is the link to an Oregon news source:

I don't know what to make of these guys, Cliven Bundy's son among the group occupying the building. This group initiated this seizure after a peaceful rally in the town of Burns to protest the arrest of two local ranchers.

This seems like a spur of the moment action with little support from the local population of Burns which is a ranching town. I have trouble gauging how much support these "sovereign" militia types really have, even among the ranching community. This sort of action only seems to discredit them with the general population even further. Maybe it inspires the hardcore or unhinged, but it takes more than that to spark a civil war.

I'm just not sure how close we actually are to the type of insurrectionist conflict that the Retrotopia narrative is built upon.

I am interested in the federal response to this. The Feds backed off at the Bundy ranch to avoid bloodshed, but they may have emboldened these militia types. Backing off completely in this case seems like a bad move. I imagine they will just jam communications and road block supplies and wait for these guys to get cold and more importantly, bored.

They seized a federal building this time, that is insurrection and ought to be grounds for jail time. I'm really curious how the federal response to this will vary from the heavy handed response to Ferguson and the BlackLivesMatter protests. Maybe the state fears that movement a lot more than this handful of yahoos.

1/3/16, 10:56 AM

Ed-M said...

"Franken's maser isn't an advance on existing technology, it's a deliberate return to an older technology."

Oh, I'm fully aware of that. But it's still progress, from a point further back, now innit? ;^)

Hi Celt's Garden! (You too, JMG and Avery)

On your design business being an economic early indicator this year, and also in 2000 and 2007: your loss of three big projects due to investors getting all skittish probably means 2016 will bring some interesting times! Last time they came, they stayed for 39 years (1914-1953). THis time around I'm afraid it's all going to end so very badly.

1/3/16, 12:50 PM

Dearcan said...
I am proposing a Green Wizzard / ADR meetup in Boston on Saturday January 30th. Please see proposed details over on the Green Wizard website under the New England Meetup forum heading (Comment#7).

1/3/16, 6:18 PM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160104T023634Z

Dear Deborah (Deborah Bender),

A rete is a net. 'Interrete' is a now generally accepted term for 'Internet'. 'Interretialis' (in masculine and feminine nominative singular; for neuter nominative singular, 'interretiale') is a correct form for 'of or pertaining to the Internet'. 'Tabula' can, as you remark, mean a plank or a table, for example for eating on, and has also a legal or literary meaning: a 'tabula' can be a rather formal list, or publication, or plaque, or noticeboard, including a noticeboard onto which some public authority has put some proclamation - and of course your 'log', in the special sense of 'formal, and rather public, record'. 'Tabula interretialis' is 'Internet noticeboard' or 'Internet thing-put-up-for-citizens-to-read'.

Yes, you are quite right: 'blog' is barbaric. We have this kind of struggle nowadays in Estonian (where people say 'okei' to signify assent, where 'hea k¨ll' would do perfectly well, and 'sorri' to convey an apology, where 'vabandust' would do perfectly well; what the USSR could not do in a half century of Rule by Frankenstein, America seems to be achieving without trying). As you point out, French has similar miseries - I recall Schweppes, le drink des gen raffinés ('Schweppes, the drink of refined folk') from dreary 1970s magazine adverts; also 'le smoking' (for 'dinnerjacket', or in America English 'tuxedo'), and 'le parking'.

I herewith resolve to abandon 'blog' in Latin. The authority in Polska at reflects the cyberculture of the 1990s, not of 2016, and so fails to provide a substitute. The problem has likely been solved by the guys over in Suomi doing those Latin news broadcasts, or by some similar recent authority, but I have not yet started digging.

By the way, soomlased/suomalaiset/Finns have in their own language (as opposed to the Latin in which they have been doing the just-cited broadcasting) setting the Nordic world at least one conspicuous example of good practice. The eestlased say, alas, 'telefon'. They OUGHT to say 'kõnetraat', for 'speech wire'. The soomlased, by contrast, stay pure, saying 'puhelin', for 'speech wire' or 'speech thread'. - Ancient, pre-war, Estonian play, much imitated in 1960s exile by Mum and Dad: the hero, on the phone, to the heroine, 'Teile räägitakse telefoniga' ('You are being spoken to via telephone', when the hero has to explain, perhaps from Stage Left, something to the Naive-Blonde-Lady heroine, standing at Stage Right); she replies into her handset, in ecstasy, 'Oi, TELEFONIGA', as she realizes that she, too, is participating in technology. So this particular philological mess is old, old, ancient, 1930s or worse.

Hastily, resolutely,


(Estonian diaspora, near Toronto in Canada)

1/3/16, 7:04 PM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160104T031647Z

Thanks to three or so recent correspondents for private incoming e-mails on the matter of the envisaged Catholic catabolic-collapse blog. I have to e-mail a reassurance to Ireland (yes, very happy to give feedback; published materials wonderfully clear; etc etc), and to congratulate via e-mail a North American Latinist on what seems in my own private estimation to be an exactly right blog name, and to assure all the various e-mail correspondents via e-mail that even essayists are (at least in my own private estimation) welcome to disagree publicly with one another on the blog (as do, for instance, the various op-ed writers in our local press, at Canada's Catholic Register), and to take care of various other bits of happy correspondence.

But I will hold off on that until 2016-01-06 (WED), thereby giving any remaining stragglers a chance to reach me: use Toomas(dot)Karmo(at)gmail(dot)com.

Unless anyone advises me otherwise, I will assume that all the authors of incoming e-mails are happy to have their e-mail addresses, and also telephone/telefon/puhelin particulars if divulged to me, shared in my eventual outgoing e-mail with all the other authors of incoming e-mails.


"E-mail, e-mail..." - we need a good Victorian song for this, to the tune of "Daisy, daisy, give your answer, do". The Victorians, who were never at a loss for words, and who made a most enthusiastic use of the telegraph, would have taken to e-mail as ducks to water.

1/3/16, 7:29 PM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160104T033011Z

JMG, thanks for your assurance this week that physics, especially physics-of-radio and quantum mechanics, is alive and well in Lakeland. We may hope that you can later continue discussing the status of Lakeland science.

If Lakeland has made such a large advance with masers, might it also have some physicists, perhaps working on topics other than masers, in some equivalent of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, or of the Perimeter Institute here in Ontario? The old Soviet model, on which much research was put into Institutes as opposed to universities, MIGHT have something to recommend it in Lakeland.

Also of conceivable Lakeland interest is the old Soviet approach to high-school education: the State was continually on the prowl for brilliant youngsters, and would put them into several special gymnasia, in half a dozen or so akademgorodoki ("Academic Cities" - i.e., think-tank campuses) across the Union. If you went to such a gymnasium, you would be away from Mum and Dad and siblings for literally months at a time, literally breathing the air of Nobel laureates, and with your future mapped out for you. This, I would suggest, is Heaven on Earth.

Interestingly, the Union did pay a proper regard for USA achievements, with Feynman's multi-volume physics lectures readily available in Russian, to young book buyers even in remote places east of the Urals.

With the Union now kaputnik, many of those former brilliant young people have emigrated. I understand that Russia's loss has become in many instances America's gain, as the post-Gorbachev brain-drain plays out.

In the corner of the Union which was occupied Estonia (the 'Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic', with the unwanted red bedsheet on every flagpole, to universal derision), things were not quite so good in secondary education. **BUT** the ESSR still had a computer - a vast, hot-running, late-1950s vacuum-tube 'URAL' - in the Nõo gymnasium by around 1965, and this was the first in any Union gymnasium. I am pretty sure that Nõo inherited it from Tartu University, when the university undertook a system replacement, going from first-generation mainframe to second-generation mainframe.

These days, Nõo apparently remains as one of the three Estonian gymnasia particularly tasked by the Ministry of Education and Research with encouraging hard science. It is, admittedly, awkward that pupils going to remote and rural Nõo have to stay on overnight, as boarders in a dorm.

I think your eventual discussions of Lakeland curriculum are awaited in various quarters of the blogosphere. We may hope that some further particulars on Lakeland science emerge at that time, if indeed not earlier.

Cheerfully, respectfully,


1/3/16, 7:54 PM

Brian Cady said...

Thought you might like this site:


1/3/16, 8:51 PM

PatOrmsby said...
To JMG, I look forward to your newsletter. It sounds like a good way to help support your efforts. I used to help put out a newsletter in Japan, but that finally turned into a blog (Rice Farmer's). At some point, it might make a comeback.

@Buddha by the lake, what I failed to appreciate last week was that the Thai word for "curry" is "gaeng" (pronounced "gang"). If you want a really good gaeng fak, I know some really nice people in Krabi, Thailand, but if you would like to do it for yourself, take a good yellow Thai curry and replace the potatoes with the richest squash you can get. Big improvement right away. They also add young pumpkin leaves. The Japanese for pumpkin is "kabocha" which derives directly from "Cambodia" quite a while back. The Japanese perfected the thing, though, and the Thais pay a good amount to import them.

1/3/16, 10:50 PM

John Roth said...
@Cherokee Chris

From up here, keeping inflation in check isn’t an issue. The problem is that inflation is stubbornly staying below the Federal Reserve’s benchmark of 2%. The FED finally quit waiting for it to get there and began the extremely slow and cautious process of raising interest rates back to historic levels last month.

As far as another commenter’s note (Celt’s Garden) about some venture capital drying up last March or April - that’s when the market started taking seriously the possibility that the FED would start raising interest rates. I’m not at all surprised that it would cause some venture capitalists to look for less speculative investments. Since the market has already priced two more rate increases this year, I don’t see that causing a lot more turbulence. The current rate increase seems to have passed without any noticeable effect.

The reason I’m pointing this out is that the more serious part of the financial press seems to be quite well aware of many of the upcoming issues, and people seem to be making long term adjustments. Whether that’s going to be enough to avoid another financial crash? As someone (Mark Twain?) once said: Prophecy is difficult. Prophecy about the future is even harder.

re longbows:

Now we’re raiding Green Arrow comics for ideas?

@Moshe Braner:

Exactly. If radar can find storms, it can find most other things.

@Shane W.

How about Miss Manners?

Re: windmills

The problem with windmills is that they’re intermittent, which requires energy storage if you’re going to operate machinery continuously. Has anyone considered compressed air as energy storage? At one time, high pressure air was one of the technologies used in factories. In fact, I can still see pneumatic tubes used in some banks around Albuquerque.

You can eliminate a lot of efficiency problems by not going through the storage mechanism when there’s lots of wind.

1/4/16, 5:27 AM

Nick said...
John, generally in most industrial settings air tools are generally preferred. They are lighter than their electric counterparts and are much more durable. It would be relatively easy to run a compressor off of a windmill, too!

I would be curious where the Lakeland Republic gets rubber for hoses, gaskets, o-rings, etc.

1/4/16, 11:35 AM

inohuri said...
compressed air as energy storage

1/4/16, 12:59 PM

latefall said...
Re windmills
What fraction of industrial electricity consumption really requires what kind of reliability? And how does that rhyme with availability from different sources? I think that is part of what is behind current development of "windmill style" tide power. It is intermittent but predictable. The issues of energy storage are perhaps nicely illustrated by the electric car industry. What is the cost of electricity versus the cost of wear and tear on the battery? I could imagine compressed air energy storage (CAES) may beat that. There are two large scale plants in operation (McIntosh and Huntorf). I believe they would be interesting for the other options they allow in terms of rounding off the tech suite. Perhaps more so than another battery formulation.
One more word on the tide power - I think this is a "trick rich" technology and I have some hope that with a few decades of tinkering something can be designed that is viable also in significantly scarcer times than the large wind power plants. Reasons being: energy density in water is higher so you need less gigantic structures. Also the logistics may be more manageable in the long term. Critical issues are of course noise and corrosion/fouling.
@GHung: I recommend sd-cards in addition to dvd. I really don't trust digital optical drives to last long where you'd want to read these books. Sd-cards also need refreshing, but at least they store better and there are far fewer moving parts involved.
Re drones: Drones are very much a product of the "economics by different means paradigm". With the caveat that we are currently awash in electronics, so you can save a lot of money by not training a pilot, and designing for short lifetime from the get go. They are quite flimsy but aerodynamically efficient. I am not sure regular .50 cal would generate enough spalling to bring one down without hitting critical systems or at just the right angle. And to hit those your markswomen should better use the right support (bipod at least). Last bit - you may want to mention the distinct sound that most small grain canister shot makes.
In general I would expect quite a few people training war animals at the proof-of-concept range. I saw a bunch of seagulls going after a small drone on the beach this weekend. I doubt these things would be reliable by 65, but domestication of other (war)animals than the current staple strikes me as one key technology(?)which may hold quite some potential yet.
By the way ground ECM is currently routinely used for anything above a walk in the park. It uses some power though and does not seem to be terribly reliable.

1/4/16, 1:29 PM

Nastarana said...
Shane, what is a 'secular humanist'? I have never understood that term.

If one means, e.g. "people who reject all religions in favor of secular belief systems like Marxism or Progress" the term includes many of the heroes of modernism, very much including Herr Freud. In fact, the mercenary charlatan of Vienna could be considered the quintessential secular humanist, and anyone who casually and unthinkingly uses terms like 'ego', 'libido', and so on, is buying into secular humanism, as explicated by one of its' founders.

1/4/16, 1:38 PM

James said...
JMG, feel free to delete this post if needed. I wanted to bring this link to your attention.

It's a link about a business book, believe it or not, called "How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In". It provides five stages of collapse for a mighty business.

1: Hubris born of success
2: Undisciplined pursuit of more
3: Denial of risk and peril
4: Grasping for salvation
5: Capitulation to irrelevance or death

Given "Twilight's Last Gleaming" and your writings on collapse, you might find this an interesting link. If the business of America is business, it looks like USA, Inc. has already passed stages 1, 2, and 3 and is right in the middle of Stage 4.

1/4/16, 2:09 PM

latefall said...
@Tommy re Drones a fad?
Hard to tell, but I would assume they'll become at staple for as long as we have smartphones (and a little beyond that). They aren't integrated into the force structure for anything but harassing poor people at the moment.
Consider a near peer conflict, securing landing zones and drop zones, urban operations, policing, arty spotting, probing, feints and ruses. I don't think helis (or transport gliders) will travel without drones much longer.
Of course they'll have to adapt to their mission much better than now - and probably also be intermodal. But speaking as the Atlantic Republic, unless you have penal battalions to burn, why would you not use a drone (or rather 3 of which 2 are dummies) as fast and cheap recon unit - until your subsidized economy dictates otherwise of course. Also once you went through a near peer conflict I assume drones are pretty much what is left (or rather rebuilt) of your air force.
I wonder, does any armed force still use (functional) body armor? Titanium diboride and glass fibers and aramid may be a bit difficult - but my impression is that we're not exactly done with figuring out ceramics, or natural fibers.
Have a look at - there is a lot of info for the mad scientist messing about with graphite/graphene. By the way you may also be able to exfoliate in the microwave. Do the thermal paper trick to get better results.

1/4/16, 2:21 PM

Helix said...

While 2015 did not usher in Financial Armageddon, you still came out ahead if you pulled your money out of the stock market in Jan 2, 2015.

Market 1/5/15 1/4/16
DJIA: $17501.65 $17148.94
S&P: $2020.58 $2012.66

Only the tech- (and healthcare-) heavy Nasdaq yielded positive returns:

Nasdaq: $4652.74 $4903.09

That's a 5.4% return on the year. Not bad in today's world, but missing it is hardly a devastating blow. Nothing, for example, like the massacres we saw in 2001 or 2009, and could see again pretty much any time. Except each meltdown seems to be inflicting damage that is ever-harder and more expensive to recover from. One wonders what to expect in the way of recovery from the next meltdown.

IMO, you didn't do that bad!

1/4/16, 3:18 PM

nuku said...
@John Roth,
Re compressed air as energy storage: There's been various working systems that used compressed air for energy storage. A lot of them have to do with starting mechanisms for large internal combustion engines. The engine has an attached pump which tops off the compressed air in a tank whenever the engine is running. That air is then used to power a compressed air starting motor when needed. It has various advantages over an electric starting motor/alternator/battery system, but one drawback is weight, especially of the storage tank which has to hold high pressure (think scuba tanks). This is no problem in stationary systems or large ship systems.
As will all systems, the energy losses in both the pump and the air motor have to be factored in; you can never save and use all that original energy you generated say in a windmill or other intermittent source.

1/4/16, 3:23 PM

Shane W said...
I always conceived of it as people who had faith that humanity, via the great god Progress, would achieve Godhood/perfection in the future, of a kin of the "angry atheists" JMG speaks of. That's my concept of secular humanism, and I think it underlies a lot of the faith in the ability of Leftist politics to achieve equality/utopia, as JMG lays out in After Progress.

1/4/16, 4:11 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi John,

Fair enough and that may be the case in the US, but outside that country, you may not be aware that there has been an absolute hiding in other currencies exchange positions relative to the US dollar. This along with the low oil price per barrel is keeping your inflation low and if it goes away. You should recall that most of your manufactured goods are imported and this is a significant risk.

For people living outside the US, we are seeing inflation on the street - although you wouldn't know it looking at the official figures.

My take on the world is that China has deliberately slowed the import of raw materials. They have the foreign currency reserves to do as they please and they have instead been quietly buying up property in and around the other parts of the world. Especially of note is some crucial bits of infrastructure down here - next to things like RAAF bases and US facilities. Wake up people!

And what should be very alarming is that I noted that three Chinese warships docked in Brisbane the other day. Do you not recall your own history of the Great White Fleet?



1/4/16, 4:37 PM

dragonfly said...
Having recently acquired and learned to use a crossbow in the service of dispatching wild pigs from our property, I have no trouble believing that an arrow thus launched could penetrate the thin aluminum skin of a drone. Mine is a low-end model with only 125 pound draw, and it will punch a hole in 1/2-inch plywood at 40 yards.

Further, some of the higher end crossbows approach 300 pounds draw. Using one such bow as an example, I calculate that a theoretical maximum altitude of approx. 2500ft could be achieved - almost half a mile. The velocity at that point would be approaching zero of course, but perhaps that's where a proximity fuse would come in handy.

As others have noted, aiming would be the challenge to overcome.

1/4/16, 4:43 PM

inohuri said...
Chimp that attacked a drone with a stick planned ahead

1/4/16, 4:49 PM

pax said...
Dear JMG, there is a mail for you with an improved German version of Star's Reach

1/5/16, 7:48 AM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160105T161415Z

(1) In correction of my typos above, in a posting which I timestamped as UTC=20160104T023634Z: (1) françcais le drink des gens, not le drink des gen; (2) Esto "hea küll", not "hea k¨ll".

(2) The following is a further rather hasty comment on drones: Horrid though drones generally are, a possible small role for them in pro-environment diplomacy, in peacemaking, in the morally licit battle against crime, and the like is suggested by the citizen video at (upload by a party unknown to me, "Beygin Media", under title "Fallen trees: Richmond Hill aerial of Dunlap Observatory housing development"; context for this astonishing vid can be had by reading, and by studying the accompanying map in,

The "curious guy" online journalist is one Glen Strom, blogging under the admittedly unhappy title - so unhappily Atlantic Republic, in fact - "The Commercial Space Blog: Focused on Canadian Money Making Activities, High Above the Sky..."

Mr Strom misses various facts in our forest-conservation case. But he does convey part of the story. And I myself fill in some gaps in my online comments, below the story itself.

I should additionally remark - nay, should additionally plead - that anyone interested in doing a small, two-minute thing, which will help in Ontario's forest conservation advocacy, can follow the suggestion which I put into the first of my two online comments on Mr Strom's article. This is the suggestion that one subscribe, ever so politely and truthfully, to the subdivision-promo newsletter now being offered by the property developer. Subscribing to the newsletter is a backhanded form of resistance to Da Man, or more accurately to Da Group, as I explain in that online comment.

Da Group in this case is "D G Group", readily found via Google. The Group's corporate persona has a nice Atlantic Republic quality: their slogan is "Bringing Life to Land" (as Google will reveal to anyone interested), and this is accompanied with the assertion that they have for decades been into "sustainability". I can say a little more about Da Group to anyone who is interested (sharing my feeble knowledge), but such conversations are best relegated to private e-mails.

Ah Da Group, and the ethical obligations now incumbent on the De Gasperis family, as we struggle with this, as Catholic against Catholics, and with the De Gasperis family so far failing to communicate with me - it is as one says in American cafes, when launching into that juicy chat over that delicious four-dollar steaming cappuccino: "Puh-LEEZE, don't get me STARDED."

Cheerfully,thinking of fine cappuccino,
and of maple syrup coffee here in Canada,
and of January sunshine
over silent stands of Acer saccharum,


1/5/16, 8:42 AM

Shane W said...
basically, IMHO, it's a belief system that eschews all gods/higher powers, instead choosing to make humanity itself, in the whole, a god...

1/5/16, 8:47 AM

Patricia Mathews said...
Quite OT: Nothing to do with drones or Retropia, but a possible straw in the wind for today: my far-flung second-generation relatives, who belong to the class they call "hard-striving middle class" and others call "affluent liberals", are cutting back on Christmas enormously.

"No more material goods for the kids; just Kindle cards. Modest is fine." (In context, the $25 ones, not the $50 ones.)

"We're having a low-key Christmas this year." Of which I had visual proof. Offset by regular weekend skiing trips to Taos on their family pass.

There were very few Christmas cards, most of them either hand-delivered by friends at group gatherings, or sent out by politicians and people I do business with. No more long annual letters. Two family photos, one with a very brief summary of the year's events including a major relocation, and one more sent out as, essentially, a New Year's card. But without even the "Season's Greetings." Let me say I am glad to have these pictures, since I rarely see them in person.

I have watched the collapse of the old Hallowe'en customs, including Trick or Treat, over that past decade. This seems to be a sudden collapse of a time-consuming and somewhat money-consuming Yuletide custom of long standing. I could almost hear the drumbeat in the background of "a contracting economy. A contracting economy."

Just FYI - it feels significant.

1/5/16, 9:15 AM

John Roth said...
About biogas from cattle, etc:

We have a new variant on "the dog ate my homework."

1/5/16, 10:09 AM

Nastarana said...
Shane Wilson. OK, fair enough. I think my point still stands, though not necessarily pertaining to you or your posts: the term needs to have an intellectually intelligible meaning, not just be an all purpose insult directed to whom or what ever the speaker doesn't like. Part of the problem I have with self-described "conservatives" is their never ending parade of hurt feelings.

"Leftist politics" was pretty much a scam from the days of the so-called "New Left", at least in the USA.

I clearly need to read After Progress.

1/5/16, 1:10 PM

Shane W said...
JMG lays it out in After Progress when he describes the different kinds of progress. As far as After Progress, it's based on the posts here (I think of this blog as an old-fashioned serial), so if you've read all the posts, you're up on things, but it's always worthwhile to buy the books and have hard copy!
As for "self-described 'conservative'", I'm not necessarily a "self-described 'conservative'". I pretty much subscribe to JMG's view that both "sides" (pseudo conservative vs faux left) are intellectually bankrupt and have nothing to offer. The Suicide of the American Left and the post about pseudo conservative Satanism pretty much sums it up. As a disillusioned Democrat, I'm probably more small-c, Burkean (of who I need to read). Right now, I'm reading I'll Take My Stand, and enjoying it thoroughly! I wish the South could be refashioned (restored) in its image, and set aside the whole financial/industrial experiment as a bad nightmare!

1/5/16, 7:13 PM

Stacy said...
@Toomas, re: gymnasia/boarding schools--My mother-in-law grew up in a very rural area and her family believed she was the brightest of the bunch-very true, by the way. There was no secondary school locally. So she was sent away for high school 60 years ago at great expense for the time. She paid rent to an another family member who lived in town and saw her family only occasionally during the cold winters. Perhaps this could be a model for academically oriented Lakelanders (or us, of course).

1/5/16, 9:45 PM

RPC said...
Not drones nor tech, but a thought on going 1950s retro .... a period I grew up in. It saw the rise of rock'n'roll, but was before the days of the incessant and intrusive soundtracks that accompany all aspects of life today. Then I remembered something called the Wall of Sound - an invention that came out of rock'n'roll and was widely greeted with great praise, and started to wonder why.

Now, I hate the incessant soundtracks, and movie soundtracks that drown out the dialog, and "wall of sound" music feels like the tortures of hell to me. So why was it so avidly welcomed, and why do people like it today and even insist on it?

I applied Miller's Law: assume it's true, and figure what it could be true of. A comment by an Ayn Rand character - she DID have her moments! - came to mind. "Don't bother to examine a folly. Just ask what it accomplishes." And that one was easy. "I can't hear myself think."

Today's blasts of sound from every amplifier on the planet is designed to keep people from thinking, and they welcomed it because it did drown out their thoughts. That's the only answer I can come up with. For what it's worth.

Now, Lakeland obviously does not have that. Does the Atlantic Republic? Or did that vanish in the Troubles of our own day? There is no sign that Peter Carr misses the noise, for what that's worth. But, it;s a thought.

P.S. Now rereading COLLAPSE NOW AND AVOID THE RUSH. Seems appropriate for this New Year.

1/6/16, 9:55 AM

Ed Prell said...
@Patricia Mathews-the ambient obtrusiveness which you and so many of us are rightfully irked by is dissected masterfully by Matthew Crawford in The World Beyond Your head. It’s not only music/noise, the intrusion reaches for every patch of our visual field and even assaults our olfactory sense with perfumed magazine inserts. It’s a design to relieve us of every bit of our intentionality and become a cog in their profit machine.

1/6/16, 5:26 PM

osimos said...
As a longtime reader, congratulations on one of your most tightly-knit and impassioned essays yet. I haven't been so riveted to the page/screen since your series on the Civil Religion of Progress.

I wonder what your Archdruidical intuitions say regarding Trump's magical abilities; he seems to work a quite respectable spell. As you pointed out, media figures generally set out to deride him but tend uncannily often instead to play into his hands (if not eat out of them). I believe he said he has barely had to spend on advertisements, due to the immense free publicity this provides.

Regarding the "salary class"--it may have fared better than the wage class so far, but even supposedly elite professionals are now feeling a squeeze. I know many people with PhDs, and hours are becoming extreme, competition more rapacious, and the hiring system itself dominated by sudden layoffs and favoritism. Gluts of professional degrees like PhDs and J.D.'s have driven starting salaries down and led to big pools of un(der)employed people with advanced degrees. In medicine, administrative and profit-seeking pressures are creating widespread misery--do not ask a doctor about whether to go to med school today unless you have a stiff drink handy. Collapse may have begun with the wage class, but it appears to be well afoot elsewhere too.

1/20/16, 8:00 PM

Ralph Smithers said...
Brilliant. Thank you. And for proof, read every editorial in the Washington Post or NY Times from the left or right: demeaning and dismissive. I think the most memorable was an interview with David Brooks on NPR in which he said something like "he'll never get elected, but I would still be saying that on the day he takes the oath of office".

1/21/16, 9:16 AM

Paul Mineiro said...
OT: for the cover of After Oil 3 on the side panel ... do we expect there to be good farmland so close to the ruins of a city? Would the decomposition of the city spoil the soil around it somehow?

1/27/16, 6:25 AM

deedl said...
This is a very late comment on the subject, but i did spent some time thinking about the validity and usefulness of technologies and an answer to the question "why do we use a certain technology to serve a distinct purpose and not some other?".

What i came up with is an biological analogy. No species has a fitness that can be valued in an isolated way. The fitness of any species is determined by its ability to derive energy to live from the ecosystem it lives in and the ability not to get eaten by predators, parasites or other organisms that choose the considered species as a source of energy.

Similiar, no technology has an intrinsic value, but technology has always to be judged by the ecosystem it lives in. Technological items have to be developed, produces, maintained, supplied with flows of energy and or material or information to work with and of course technology needs able people to create and use it. All those things have to be provided be the ecosystem the technology lives in. For example in today's ecosystem, every room in every building is connected to the electric grid. Thus any household appliance that uses electricity can easily create advantages. In medieval times, every farmer was able to do basic woodcraft, so every technology that was based on woodwork (tools, buildings, ...) could be easily maintained by the farmer himself.

My thoughts about retrotopia are, that you basically moved a past ecosystem into the future. As intriguing as the idea of a less complex future is (and i agree totally with you an that) i think the future will in no way resemble the past, because technological evolution, like biological evolution, can not run backwards. There will never be dinosaurs again, because the ecosystem they evolved in is gone forever, and no future technological ecosystem will be the same as past ones.

I see some current technologies that will survive a long time, because they are very powerful. One are electrical engines. Electrical motors and generators are extremely simple devices of wrapped copper wires. Every 18th century instrument builder could have made them, if they were known to them. Yet they show efficiencies of above 90% and have almost no mechanical wear. Another thing that will be around for some time is the ecosystem needed to create military missiles. Even tiny isolated North Korea managed to build them, and their military value is unmatched. Same is true for a wide range of sensors based on different EM-waves.
Today computational power is roughly 250 Million times cheaper then in the 80s. So when the fossil fuel subsidies for electronics vanish and their cost would even rise by a factor of some hundred millions due to that, we could still maintain the level of automation we had in the 80s.

So i agree that a future technological ecosystem will be much less complex then the current one, but i think that we will not go back to the mechanical age, but instead fall back to a less complex electronical age. I can even imagine, that in analogy the the blacksmith, who maintained the technologies around iron even for the most remote villages in darkest medieval times, future darker ages may have in small towns a craftsman for electrical and electronical devices, keeping alive pumps, generators, lamps and the sensors and communications for the towns defence.

4/26/16, 1:43 AM

laureth said...
I'll just leave this here: a quick NPR filler blurb about a Russian medieval reenactor took out a drone with his spear.

5/13/16, 6:07 PM