Popular Mechanics highlighted a few stories in the world of DIY weapons lately that’re worth looking at. Sort of a mashup, but to distill down: an ISIS workshop in Mosul was found with a number of DIY weaponized drones. This follows a February find of a workshop in Ramadi complete with vehicles constructed of plywood and styrofoam. The Mosul site included a peculiar model that looked to be a fixed-wing drone with attached quadrotor and PM speculated that it was either a mothership kind of design or for dropping boobytrapped quadrotors.
I’m left wondering if it was some sad attempt to create a fixed wing/VTOL hybrid, able to elevate vertically without runway or human launch but then take advantage of fixed-wing speed and stability like a Harrier.
Another part of the Popular Mechanics story was from Syria, where a refugee camp was hit by miniature guided bombs that appeared to be at least partially 3D-printed. They lacked engines but did apparently have working servos to operate fins and provide mid-course correction or at least stabilization, reportedly dropped from drones. I’ve been expecting sophisticated 3D-printed ordnance from insurgencies for a while but assumed they’d be in rocket form – perhaps it’s just easier to drop from above and guide in than launch and propel, plus the launch site has a better chance of staying undetected. The problem with assuming these latter are insurgent bombs though – aside from the fact that the Syrian regime is happy to kill refugees at their leisure – is that the height you’d need to drop them from to allow for any kind of vertical guidance is considerable, higher than the typical quadrotor. ISIS obviously has fixed wing dronecraft but the level of sophistication involved has me wondering.
Given the previous evolution I talked about involving ipad accelerometers to aim mortars in Syria and Raspberry Pi-powered missile launchers in Ukraine, when we were barely producing single-shot 3D printed firearms a decade ago, we’re likely to see more innovation in this area and to terrible effect.
Jon Jeckell tweeted a Popular Mechanics piece showing what appeared to be a Ukrainian prototype shoulder-fired missile with a guidance system powered by the Raspberry Pi microcomputer. The inclusion of the Pi makes it a seeming next-step from the much shared image of Syrian rebels in Jobar in 2013 using an iPad to angle mortar fire. We are using our new off-the-shelf street-level tools to build the complex weapons systems out of most people’s reach for the past half-century or more.
Just as notable as the idea that it uses the hobbyist computer is that it’s apparently guided by sound, making it the first sound-homing ground-based weapon. This dovetails neatly with another trend I’ve been tracking and laid out a bit in The Renewed Importance of Sound – an exploration and exploitation of a much different sensory domain than we’re used to engaging with.
Mortars have been around since the 14th century or so – unsurprisingly (due to the history of gunpowder), first appearing in east/southeast Asia. It took 500 years to go from massive, unwieldy field artillery pieces to the compact Stokes trench mortar in the first World War that could be carried and crewed by a single soldier. Less than fifty years later, engineers successfully managed to link hardware and firing control computers in such a way that they could achieve MRSI or Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact, a devastating deployment of ordnance in which multiple weapons in different places fire in such a way that their rounds reach the target at the same time. With minimal human input, which seems to be the way our weapons trend.
Shoulder-fired missiles have a similar line of development. Traced back to ancient Chinese arrows loaded with black powder and a fuse, they evolved then into multiply-crewed weapons systems that looked like a collection of tubes on a single wheel axle that could be fired in quick succession but not aimed particularly well. Fast forward roughly equivalent to the above and you get to the Panzerfaust of World War II and similar rocket-propelled weapons systems that were much more practical and stable, if not necessarily accurate. And again, in less than 10% of the time between the real inception of the weapon and its 20th century jump, the technology jumped again. As just one example, Britain developed the MBT-LAW shoulder-fired “fire and forget” system that tracks moving targets on its own, making autonomous corrections to its flight path and speed. Also consider MANPAD (man-portable air defense systems) like the Stinger missile.
At first glance the Jobar case and the Ukrainian prototype seem disconnected. After all, the former involves using the accelerometer of a separate, unlinked device whereas the missile integrates the technology. But consider the similar technological trajectories of the weapons systems and the fact that people without access to Pentagon engineers can now not only use computers to deliver ordnance accurately but can relatively easily link them similar to the MRSI concept explained above. Once an abstract concept, ballistic computers are now so natively and immediately understood that in the absence of them we appropriate our own, integrate them how we can, and deploy.
Raw Story – Mich. Repub ripped after suggesting that making black students white would ‘fix’ school issues – ‘Footage posted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) shows Knollenberg saying during a state Senate committee meeting on Thursday, “You mentioned these school districts failing, and you mention economically disadvantaged and non-white population are contributors to that. I know we can’t fix that. We can’t make an African-American white. That’s just, it is what it is.”’ – also – ‘He denied citing race as a specific factor and pointed out that he has a black employee at his insurance company.’ – Horrifying.
CNBC – Interest in active shooter insurance grows – “The insurance policy covers potential liability if an institution is deemed not to have taken the steps needed to prevent gun violence, according to Fortune.” – WELL now that insurers are set to make a profit off mass shootings I think it’s even safer to say legislators are going to do fuck all about the issue. The NRA profiting off putting the country at risk isn’t enough – now the financiers are in on it. I’m waiting for securitization of security-weakening legislation, a new derivatives market that lays bets on the specifics of the next shooting.
Reuters – Czech MEP accused of trying to snatch 350 million euros from Swiss bank – “They include Miloslav Ransdorf, 62, an expert on Karl Marx and a former philosophy teacher who speaks about dozen languages and who has served in the European Parliament since the Czech Republic’s entry to the European Union in 2004.” – Can’t wait for the movie version of this.
MSNBC – Ben Carson to veterans: ‘Deal with the transgender thing somewhere else’ – ‘“If you can’t lift, you know, a 175 pound person on your shoulder and hoist them out of there, I don’t want you as my backup,” he continued.’ – I love that a guy who had the courage to direct an armed robber at someone else and brag about it finds himself fit to judge combat readiness.
NBC – President Jimmy Carter Says Cancer in Brain Is Gone – The one good bit of news I’ve seen all December. So thankful for this.
NYSE being vague about yesterday’s major trading glitch. I’m not convinced, but I’ve got no evidence to the otherwise.
Two lawyers talking about how artificial intelligence may affect legal work.
The Daily Beast on how OPM’s IT security department had no one with IT security experience.
The parody DPRK News twitter account ended up as a Fox News reference.
Excellent TED talk highlighting American women on the front lines in Afghanistan.
Of special note:
Author and all-around awesome person Patrick Rothfuss has started a new podcast with Max Temkin of Cards Against Humanity fame (or infamy). Really loved their first conversation – check it out here.
Surprising news that Reddit nearly decentralized last year. Guessing after last week we’re about to see a reconcentration of authority.
Rob Graham on Google’s ‘Project Fi’ virtual mobile phone.
Motherboard on a fantastic long-range wifi proxy.
Milton Security: Harvard University breached.
Susan Landau at Lawfare with a great post on FBI Director Comey conflating the lone wolf threat and the encryption issue.
Brookings debate on whether to put boots on the ground to fight ISIS. Incredibly important conversation to engage in, and on an intelligent, mutually respecting basis. Need more conversations like these across our society.
Piketty on Germany and Greece. And an amazing project trying to crowdfund Greece’s 1.6B Euro payment.
Slate on Greece’s rejection of austerity through its referendum.
On a similar point, here’s the Guardian on where Greek bailout money went.
And from the FT via Tyler Cowen,
The Shanghai Composite has now fallen 12.1 per cent since Monday, its third consecutive week of double-digit losses since hitting a seven-year high on June 12.
The Shanghai index is firmly in bear market territory, down 28.6 per cent since the June peak, while the tech-heavy Shenzhen Composite has fallen 33.2 per cent.
There were also signs on Friday that the stock market turmoil is beginning to reverberate beyond China. The Australian dollar, often traded as a proxy for China growth, is down 1.2 per cent to a six-year low of US$0.7539.
The 21st Century Business Herald, a Chinese daily newspaper, on Friday quoted multiple futures traders as saying they had received phone calls from the China Financial Futures Exchange instructing them not to short the market.
Techdirt: Office Depot Sends World’s Worst DMCA Notice To Reddit – This has got to be the dumbest idea ever. Hoping the person responsible is looking around sheepishly.
MediaMatters: CBS “Eyewitness” Admits He Lied About Benghazi Attack While Bashing Critics – The Right seized on this guy’s account as proof Obama lied but, as usual, didn’t bother with the least bit of fact-checking or vetting (nor did 60 Minutes, it seems). Looks like he wasn’t even close to the embassy. Simon & Schuster has pulled his book from the shelves at this point.
Foreign Policy: Meet the Most Crooked Cop in Afghanistan – American soldier who warned his fellow soldiers about this guy getting criminally charged for it. Insane.
Reuters: Snowden persuaded other NSA workers to give up passwords – One CIA director gets nailed arranging an affair via Gmail, a former NSA/CIA director gets eavesdropped on while spilling secrets on the train, now NSA employees are handing over their passwords. Lovely.
Quotes in quotation marks, commentary by me in italics.
Guardian: Family of grandmother killed in US drone strike arrive for Congress visit – ‘Among the most striking evidence that the attack was carried out by a US drone, Qadri said, was the “phenomenal accuracy” of the strike. “It physically hits her,” he said, referring to Momina Bibi. “She’s literally hit flush and is blown to smithereens.”‘ – Family’s story was consistent across multiple blind interviews. No answers for them so far. Government’s story has changed multiple times, from suggesting this grandmother was cooking for militants to implying a militant had simply “been in the area” ten minutes before. Crushing. Infuriating.
TPM: British Man Arrested For Allegedly Hacking U.S. Government Systems – “An indictment unsealed in Newark federal court said Love, who was also allegedly known as “nsh,” “route,” and “peace,” worked with multiple co-conspirators in online chatrooms to compromise the systems and steal personally identifiable information of thousands of government employees and contractors.”
Phys: – New material for quantum computing discovered out of the blue -“Our research shows that a common blue dye has more potential for quantum computing than many of the more exotic molecules that have been considered previously.”‘ – Gotta love the little tricks the universe pulls from time to time.
Gawker: Ron Paul’s Campaign Manager Died of Pneumonia, Penniless and Uninsured – Article’s from 2011 but I stumbled across it today and found it pretty educational. The great, free society that Libertarians want to build doesn’t even take care of their own. What the hell kind of way is that to live?
Quotes in quotation marks, commentary by me in italics.
Mother Jones via pi8you: Could Obama’s Campaign Tech Gurus Fix Healthcare.gov? Let’s Ask ‘Em! – ‘”The ‘secret’ here is that the problems are not about tech at all,” he tweeted on Monday. “It is about procurement. I can’t fix that with my tech chops or my team.”‘ – A pretty good, fast read on why the problems with healthcare.gov are vastly different than any web startup or website you’re comparing it to.
TechDirt: Texas Judge Forced To Resign After Being Caught Texting Instructions To Assistant DA During Trial – “Coker used Assistant District Attorney Jones to privately communicate information about the Reeves case to the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case; to suggest questions for the prosecutor to ask during the trial; to ensure that a witness was able to refresh his memory and rehabilitate his testimony by reviewing his videotaped interview with law enforcement before he took the stand for the second time the following day; and to discuss legal issues pertinent to the case. in an unsuccessful effort to assist the State obtain a guilty verdict in the case…”
Newsweek: Campaign to Defund, Repeal Obamacare Abandoned by Tea Party – Not sure I buy it, but makes a case that the major backers of the anti-Obamacare movement are moving on.
And finally, via American Military, one of the most badass military tattoos I’ve ever seen: