5at5 number 1 | 3 February 2014

5at5 email headerThis is 5at5, bringing you five interesting things that I’ve found on the internet every weekday at around 5pm Sydney time. They’ll be connected to my interests in some way — the politics of the internet and how technology is changing power relationships at every level of society, security and surveillance, military technology and history, language, journalism and human nature. And more.

There’s a little more background in my blog post announcing the project.

It’s always going to be a work in progress, so do let me know what you think, good or bad — just reply to this email and it’ll get to me. And obviously the responsible thing to do it forward it to all of your friends. — Stilgherrian

Forget Cook, Banks was the real Endeavour star — and you can read his journals

A page from Banks’ journalCaptain James Cook was merely the ship-driver when HMS Bark Endeavour explored the east coast of Australia — or so says David Hunt in his book Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia, which I’ll review somewhere in due course.

Botanist Joseph Banks had been lobbying King George III to run such explorations, so when he was ordered onto the Endeavour he pulled out all the stops. He brought £10,000 worth of his own equipment — the Royal Society had previously managed to mount three entire expeditions for just £4000 in total — along with two scientific colleagues, two artists, four servants and two greyhounds.

As Hunt wrote:

Banks enjoyed life at sea. He got to sleep in a comfy cabin and had packed lots of expensive wine and tasty treats for himself, but his greatest pleasure was sitting on deck and blasting passing seabirds out of the sky — his record was sixty-nine in a day.

Sounds like my sort of chap — at least until you discover his 18th Century social attitudes.

The State Library of New South Wales is in possession of the collected Papers of Sir Joseph Banks and they’ve put them all online, including the Endeavour journal. Every page is provided as a photographic image — but since they’re a bit hard to read, the library has transcribed them all and posted them as PDF files.

Which future maritime patrol aircraft for the UK?

Britain used to rule the oceans, sure, but right now they don’t even have any maritime patrol aircraft. The UK spent £4 billion on developing the Nimrod MRA4 before the late-running project was cancelled in 2010. Now they’re having to make do with Type 23 frigates and Merlin helicopters. Other nations are developing next-generation maritime patrol aircraft, though, so what are the choices?

UK defence policy blog Think Defence has published a three-parter looking at the challenges and missions, Boeing’s new long-range maritime patrol aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, and other contenders, namely the the Airbus A319 MPA, the Kawasaki P1, refurbished versions of Lockheed Martin’s P-3 Orion, and the refurbished Breguet Atlantique. Contains slobberworthy promotional videos.

กลียุค — Thailand’s Era of Insanity

If you’re wondering why there’s been so much craziness in Thailand during the lead-up to yesterday’s elections, this solid article by freelance journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall will help. Marshall’s explanation is so blunt that it’s censored in Thailand — and if he ever sets foot in the country again he’d almost certainly be facing a long stretch in jail under the lèse-majesté laws.

Marshall had worked for Reuters for 17 years, including a stint as deputy bureau chief in Bangkok in 2000-2002, but he chose to end that.

At the start of June 2011 I resigned from Reuters, with regret, in order to publish what I consider to be an important and necessary story about Thailand. Because of Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté, defamation and computer crimes laws, which criminalise telling the truth about powerful figures, it was not possible for Reuters to guarantee the safety of its staff within Thailand if it ran the story.

The need for speed: better fighter pilots through amphetamines

While us mere mortals are working to tight deadlines, we have to make do with a coffee to perk us. Not so the military, who are made of sterner stuff. Just break out the speed!

Hence the existence of this document, Performance Maintenance During Continuous Flight Operations: A Guide for Flight Surgeons (PDF) from the US Navy’s Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center. Published in 2000, it draws upon the USN’s experiences with dishing out the speed for, um, “fatigue management”.

In the foreword, the Chief Surgeon of the Navy, R A Nelson, says:

Historically, the use of medications to maintain performance in aviators is not a new idea. Enclosure (1) notes that the British and Germans used amphetamines during WWII in their pilots. Later, the British used sedatives to regulate sleep for pilots during the Falklands conflict. The US. Air Force and Navy used amphetamines in aviators during Vietnam, and the Air Force used both amphetamines and sedatives during Desert Storm and have used both off and on since. Use in all these circumstances was reported to be safe and effective.

The document also explains how to manage the usage cycle of amphetamines as the “go pill” and sedatives of various kinds a the “no-go pill”, and the USN’s procedures for managing all this.

Remember, as the guide says, “Fatigue is a commodity to by managed.” Exactly, Officer.

Historia Discordia — Documenting the Origins, History & Chaos of the Discordian Society

People occasionally ask me about the quotes at the top of my website. “All hail Eris!” is the greeting of the Discordians, and the Wikipedia entry I linked to there is as reasonable an explanation of Discordianism as any.

It turns out that a bunch of the Discordians’ early documents were (relatively) recently saved from the trash, and they’re gradually fnord being published at Historia Discordia. Thoroughly recommended for a lazy Sunday afternoon read over a cup of tea, or maybe one of those odd-smelling cigarettes.

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[Originally published at: http://tinyletter.com/5at5/letters/5at5-number-1-3-february-2014.]

3 movies for a lazy Sunday

Image from Ballad for Worlds Fair movie

Three quick movies for you to watch on a lazy Sunday… things which I’ve been sent over the last week.

  1. The 15-minute promotional film A Ballad for the Fair (pictured) tours the 1964 New York World’s Fair, with an emphasis on communications technology since it was produced by Bell System. Marvel at the video-phone! Warning: there is folk music. Hat-tip to Paleo-Future.
  2. A creepy community service announcement about violence against women starring Australia’s celebrity criminal Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read. Chopper even has his own website. Hat-tip to Rhys McDonald via Five Thumbs Down. Check the latter for an amusing AFL players’ social guide.
  3. The US shoots down a spy satellite. Thanks, Richard. I won’t bother discussing the military-strategy and international-politics angles of that one, there’s plenty elsewhere.

Big boring “top secret” yawn

Photograph of nuclear submarine propeller

Apparently this photograph from Microsoft’s Virtual Earth is exposing some big dark secret — the shape of the propeller on a US Navy Ohio-class nuclear submarine. I reckon it’s a big “So what?”

Now the Sydney Morning Herald article is correct: the propeller design is an integral part of a submarine’s ability to remain undetected. The specific shape of the tips helps prevent noisy “cavitation”, the formation of tiny bubbles, which can reveal the sub’s location.

But let’s be real. This is one, grainy frame from a commercial satellite. The crucial propeller tip is about 4 pixels across.

The Russians, the Chinese and perhaps other people have military reconnaissance satellites with much, much higher resolution cameras — and they’d specifically target nuclear submarine bases trying to take photos. The 18 Ohio-class subs are so old they were going to be retired in 2002 — although a few are being kept on for other duties now that Destroying The World has gone out of fashion. Between them, those two facts lead me to believe that “They” already have plenty of good, clear pictures of those propellers.

And that’s assuming one of the many, many workers involved in the design, building and maintenance of the subs wasn’t persuaded to take a few happy snaps in exchange for a hand with his mortgage payments.

No, I don’t think this is revealing a deep, dark secret. I reckon it means the US Navy doesn’t care any more. But it will give the military geeks without access to classified data the chance to have a tug.