Links from April 2022

  • Will the United States Run Out of Javelins Before Russia Runs Out of Tanks? (12 April 2022). This seems (potentially) bad for Ukraine in the short term, but it also makes me (continue to) worry about the United States’ preparation for large-scale combat operations. What about larger and more sophisticated systems? Can we build F-35s, or even JDAMs (NSFW) for them to drop, fast enough?

  • Emily Ferris writes that Russia’s Military Has a Railroad Problem (21 April 2022); this pairs nicely with Alex Vershinin’s prescient Feeding the Bear: A Closer Look at Russian Army Logistics and the Fait Accompli (23 November 2021). Vershinin’s article describes quantitative limits on what Russia could accomplish in the Balkans: because railroads in the Balkans are limited and vulnerable, Russian capabilities there would be strictly limited by the availabilities of trucks. Ferris offers an overview of how some of those limits are playing out in Ukraine.

  • Via Byrne Hobart: turkey vultures like the smell of mercaptan, the smelly stuff added to natural gas for safety purposes, and have been used to find gas leaks in rough terrain. The original source appears to be the PhD thesis of Kenneth Stager, The Role of Olfaction in Food Location by the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) (paywalled?)

  • Holden Karnofsky writes about useful vices for wicked problems (follow-up to The Wicked Problem Experience). This matches my experience in research very well. But I look at researchers more senior and more productive for me, and wonder whether “research” (in the sense of producing a paper worth reading) is still a wicked problem for them. I’m certainly much faster than I was as a grad student, in large part because I understand the domain better—I can see much more clearly what needs to be done to get me & whatever grad student(s) I’m working with from where we are to a PRB. I can only imagine that process of speeding up will continue.

    There’s a countervailing effect, though, which is that as you move from early-stage grad student to senior student to postdoc you (generically) work on harder and harder problems, or are responsible for larger and larger pieces of the problem. Perhaps everybody finds a certain comfortable range of wickedness in the research questions (as opposed to the relatively simple problem of producing a PRB that’s not totally stupid) they like to tackle.

  • Daniel Lemire gives an overview of version control in programming: a broad look at what version control systems are for, how they work, and how and why they developed the way they did.

  • The Kac Ring is a beautiful, perfectly elementary model Mark Kac came up with to clarify how you can get irreversibility in the Boltzmann equation starting from reversible microscopic dynamics. Gottwald and Oliver have a very nice pedagogical article on Kac’s Ring and all the fundamental statistical mechanics you can illustrate with it (including what we mean by “reversibility” and “irreversibility”).

  • A brief account of Lacan’s thought that is reasonably coherent and intelligible. I don’t know if it’s accurate, either as an account of Lacan or an account of how people actually work, but it’s interesting.

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