GPS + aircraft = disaster?


“Spoofing a GPS receiver on a UAV is just another way of hijacking a plane,” Humphreys told Fox News.
In other words, with the right equipment, anyone can take control of a GPS-guided drone and make it do anything they want it to.
“Spoofing” is a relatively new concern in the world of GPS navigation. Until now, the main problem has been GPS jammers, readily available over the Internet, which people use to, for example, hide illicit use of a GPS-tracked company van. It’s also believed Iran brought down that U.S. spy drone last December by jamming its GPS, forcing it into an automatic landing mode after it lost its bearings.

Read more:

The story focuses on UAVs, where the problem is an immediate concern. But the implications extend to civilian airliners, ships, trucks . . .

A footnote: The story says that the UAV was downed by this technique; that's a bit more definitive than any report I've seen.

Writing games . . .

. . . and the way it should be done.

Stepehn Dineheart:

. . . game writing is still treated like a shellac soft-gloss finish over a shit-cake of repetitive gameplay. This sweeping generalization is sadly still true; there are exceptions. I think the Uncharted series is breaking new ground, as did DXHR & LAnoire. For the most part, story is still treated as an afterthought. While I’d like to blame myself and my peers for the problem, I think it’s more deeply seeded in the roots of game development & production. There seems to be a fundamental divorce in the development of story and game, as such the two shall never meet. 
For me that’s where games begin, in the story. In the who, what, where and how. Louis Castle taught me the same thing – games deliver on a fantasy.

Full interview here.
Stolen Valor, lost truth

Largely lost in the fumeroll of yesterday's Obamacare ruling, the Supreme Court this week declared that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional.

In a ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court determined that the act was too broad for seeking to "control and suppress all false statements on this one subject in almost limitless times and settings without regard to whether the lie was made for the purpose of material gain."

Basically, the Supremes are saying that lying in and of itself is constitutional. I guess.

I don't know. On the one hand, obviously I'm in favor of Free Speech. But I've always been taught that free speech has limits, and that one must speak responsibly. Claiming to be something you're not - well, I guess it would seem to me that there should be some limits.

Maybe we can't legislate all of those limits, common decency, or honor.
Jake's literary forebears

 The real antecedents for Jake Gibbs: Patriot Spy are oral: the stories and tall tales I heard from various people when I was growing up and later in the Hudson Valley. Oral storytellers learn very quickly what “works” with their audiences; it’s no accident that their tales often combine humor and surprise with actual history, all unfolding in a way that keeps an audience hanging on the next word. But books are longer works, and every writer relies to some degree on models that have come before. And when I was starting to write Silver Bullet, three writers especially showed me the way.

One was James Fennimore Cooper. Cooper’s prose style is now very much out of fashion, which unfortunately makes his work difficult for most contemporary readers to get through. But he was the Dan Brown of his day, an immensely popular writer who entertained a large audience with a mix of adventure and deeper themes. As his career went on, he fell out of favor for reasons of politics and, some say, his habit of shameless self-promotion before this was fashionable. Still, his characters captured and defined the American spirit, and can still be seen as legitimate action heroes. Jack Ryan and Mitch Rapp have nothing on Natty Bumpo.

The Last of the Mohicans is generally considered Cooper’s best work, but my inspiration for the Jake Gibbs stories was actually another Cooper work, The Spy. Not coincidentally, the novel is supposedly based on several real spies, most especially Enoch Crosby – who in turn was a model for Jake Gibbs.

I can’t leave Cooper without mentioning another of my favorite American writers, Mark Twain, whose essay, “Fennimore Cooper’s Literary Sins,” is great fun, exactly right, mandatory reading for anyone interested in literature or Twain - and decidedly irrelevant when it comes to enjoying Cooper.

Nearly as important an influence to me as Cooper were the works of the 18th century British novelist Henry Fielding. Fielding, too, is not much in vogue these days, unless you’re suffering through a class on the rise of the British novel. (Suffer, though; it’s worth the effort.) Fielding’s mixture of humor, fun, and adventure were very much a model. Today, Tom Jones is considered his signature work; for me, the earlier Joseph Andrews seemed more immediate and in many ways for fun.

There are many models for the role of a comic sidekick in a novel. At the time I was working on Patriot Spy, Alessandro Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) and his priest, Don Abbondio, were very much in my mind. Sposi is an Italian novel; I’m not sure if anyone reads the English translation these days, let alone the original (unless you’re Italian, of course), but it’s everything an historical novel should be: entertaining first and foremost, historical, and often thought-provoking.

There are scattered references to all of these books and many more in the series, but getting them is not important. Frankly, I’m not sure if I would any more. The point isn’t literary history, or even American history, really – it’s entertainment.

(The Iron Chain, book two in the series, is available as a Kindle ebook here.)
You don't have to be a soccer fan . . .

.. . to like this, but it probably helps.

'I don't show off' . . .

Elmore Leonard
The suit

Paul Aiken, executive director of the Author's Guild, on the proposed settlement:

I’m writing to express the Authors Guild’s firm belief that the proposed settlement of the Justice Department’s lawsuit alleging that five publishers and Apple colluded to introduce agency pricing to the e-book market is not in the public interest.  The settlement is flawed by an astonishing provision, specifically requiring three large publishers to allow e-book vendors to routinely sell e-books at below cost, so long as the vendors don’t lose money over the publisher’s entire list of e-books over the course of a year.
The proposal, by allowing targeted predatory pricing of e-books, would give governmental sanction to a practice long considered destructive to a free and fair market. It was precisely this practice – selling frontlist e-books at below cost to discourage and destroy competition – that helped Amazon capture a commanding 90% of the U.S. e-book market. Agency pricing, which the Justice Department believes was introduced through collusion, has allowed Amazon’s competitors to gain a foothold, driving Amazon’s market share down to 60% in two years.
The Justice Department has made clear that it intends to irreversibly reshape the literary market.  Allowing Amazon to resume its predatory ways with e-books will likely accomplish that, but not in the way the Justice Department intends.  The proposed settlement will almost certainly backfire and harm readers in the long run.

Full letter to the Justice Department.

 The Revolution cometh . . .

The American Revolution began on a military high note for the Revolutionists, as Washington was able to bottle the British up in Boston, essentially forcing their retreat in the spring 1776 not just from the city but the rebellious colonies.

That didn’t last very long – the British regrouped, and under new and (somewhat) better leadership, returned in July with a new and (somewhat) more coherent strategy. They landed on Long Island, New York, and after a sharp battle and perhaps some treachery by locals, managed to kick Washington’s army out of Brooklyn. Washington regrouped in the city of New York across the East River, but was quickly beaten northwards.

The next several years saw a series of conflicts in and around eastern New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The British were never able to completely defeat the Americans and in fact suffered several humiliating defeats, most notably at Saratoga. The Americans, meanwhile, were always just a few hard months away from total dissolution. It was during this time that Washington developed what would become the signature strategy not just of the Revolution, but of all guerrilla wars to follow. It was a strategy of small victories and saving retreats; above all, it was a strategy of endurance. Washington realized that he need not defeat the British militarily to win the war; all he needed to do was outlast them: fight on long enough, and make the war expensive enough, and the British would eventually leave.

The strategy was more complicated than that, of course. Among its many key points was the need for popular support. This partly relied on timely psychological victories – Trenton and Princeton, for example – as well as more substantial ones such as Saratoga. To do both, he needed accurate and timely intelligence – spies, in a word.

Washington had an extremely effective secret service, which played an important role in most of his victories. Unfortunately, much of the information about the network and their activities has been lost to history – not entirely a surprise, of course, given the nature of the work. The few accounts in history books seem as based on rumor and tall tale as on facts.

I drew on all three when I wrote my trilogy, Jake Gibbs: Patriot Spy, in the 1990s. The inspiration for the first tale, The Silver Bullet, came from a oft-repeated, possibly true, story relating to British troop movements during the summer of 1776, as well as a real silver bullet used at the time to deliver secret messages behind the lines.

The books are still around in paperback but increasingly hard to find. We’ve recently posted them on Kindle; other ebook versions will be available soon. (You can find the first one, The Silver Bullet, here.) I’ll talk about them some more in the coming days.

An apt name

One of the minesweepers that just reached the Gulf area (see below), is the USS Sentry, the ship in the foreground above.
What a coincidence . . .

Four U.S. minesweepers (or MCMs, mine countermeasures ships, officially) have arrived in the Gulf.:

(Reuters) - Four U.S. minesweepers have arrived in the Gulf to bolster the U.S. Fifth Fleet and ensure the safety of shipping routes, the U.S. Navy said, as an Iranian military chief suggested on Monday that Iranmight try to block the Strait of Hormuz to defend its interests.
The four additional mine countermeasures (MCM) ships arrived on Saturday and are scheduled for a seven-month deployment in an area of operations that includes the Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean.



Iran can restrict oil tankers’ access to the Strait of Hormuz based on its “right of retaliation” when a European Union embargo on its oil starts next week, said Kayhan’s editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari.
Iran’s “hands aren’t tied” when it comes to the embargo that will come into force on July 1 and it can respond to the “bellicose undertaking” by barring access to tankers transporting oil for countries enforcing the sanctions, Shariatmadari wrote in an editorial published yesterday.
Iran can act in line with its rights under the 1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea, said the head of the Tehran- based daily who was appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


Shariatmadari is basically the loud mouth for the hardliner faction. There's a lot of posturing maneuvering in the leadership behind the announcements that's not caught in the news stories, but the general gist is clear - Iran is threatening to shut down oil shipping through the Gulf if no one will buy its oil. (Except on the black market, of course.)

Oil sanctions go into effect next Sunday. While the general interpretation of Iran's bluster is that it's intended to help its negotiating power, any military action by Iran will legitimize strikes against not just their naval assets, but the nuclear infrastructure. Or to rephrase an old saying, Be careful what you bluff for . . .

How it's done . . .

Gay Talese on old-school long-form reporting. He may be old, but he's still the best. (Suffer through Rather's intro; Talese is worth it. The second part of the interview, not quite as sharp but still worth watching, is here.)

I completely disagree with Talese on one small portion - the internet makes it much easier to do research, which should mean that you can do more of it. It can be invitation to be lazy, but that's a separate problem.

The great difficulty of "literary journalism" - a terrible term - is that it's easy to use the technique to disguise inadequate reporting. Not to pick on the NYT (cough-cough), but here's a lead from the other day on a feature story that uses techniques that come directly from the new journalism movement, and just happens to illustrate the problem:

ALPINE, N.J. — Last month, passengers on the Metro-North Railroad trains that run along the Hudson River looked up from their tepid coffee and their iPads to find the familiar view transformed. Just south of Hastings-on-Hudson, it looked as if a giant hand had carved a gash in the umber face of the Palisades, the wall of jagged cliffs that towers over the west bank of the river, depositing a huge mound of boulders below.

Nice writing, but wait - tepid coffee? iPads? Everyone on the train????

Where did those exist? Was there real reporting there - or did the reporter draw conclusions based on a) skimpy observation, b) her prejudices, c) something that might sound cool?

The writing is very nice - but the first job of journalism is to report the truth, even in small things. That value must stand above the value of entertainment, whether you elevate it by calling it "literary" or not. Talese points out that doing that is very, very expensive, both in terms of time and actual $$.

The people who were in the newsrooms when Talese was young - the old-timers who taught him - understood that, and were suspicious of overly "literary" prose. They'd have pounced on 'umber', if it made it to the copy desk. Those old-timers kept Talese honest. The problem today is finding others to take their place.

* New Journalism: Another term for the writing Talese and others championed, beginning in the 1960s. A bit more inclusive.
'Consumer-friendly' is a great word for it . . .

So this morning I see this story in the NYT about how insurance companies are "polishing" their image:

Over the past year, many of the largest insurance companies in the country, including Aetna, Cigna and Humana, have introduced elaborate marketing campaigns to reposition themselves as consumer-friendly health care companies, not just insurance providers. The insurers have been preparing for the possibility that the court may uphold the most controversial provision in the legislation — the individual mandate that would require people to buy health insurance or face a fine.
Industry puff piece, I mean, news story.

I guess that goes with the letter I got from my insurance company yesterday declaring that they want to hike premiums 18.1% across the board this year. (Which is on top of last year's increase, on top of the increase the year before, and the year before that . . .)

Polish away . . .
With tongue firmly in . . .

. . . something.

From MarsRisingFilms.
Speaking of future targets . . .

. . . for long range Chinese bombers, India's new (old) aircraft carrier is currently undergoing sea trials.

The official news report . . .

More candid clips.
Coming soon to a 3rd world nuclear power near you?

Item: China takes over Tu-22 production line.

Russia is to sell its production line of Tu-22M3 long-range bombers to China, and the bomber's name will be changed to the Hong-10, reports China News Service. . . .
The Hong-10, whose components will all be produced in China with the exception of the engine, is expected to fly in the second half of next year, and the country will produce 36 aircraft in the first batch to be delivered to the air force.

Story. The sale was actually arranged some two years ago, according to the original Chinese sources. The Tu-22 is a swing-wing long range bomber. Though viewed as old and obsolete by first-line air forces, obsolescence is a relative term, as any B-52 crewman can tell you.

While the move gave China more aircraft and all the spare parts it needs, you have to wonder a) what improvements they'll make, and b) at what point China starts selling the aircraft to countries that "need" a long-range delivery system for nuclear weapons.

How that meeting went

Obama and Putin had just met to discuss Syria. Clearly it did not go well.

Cold War arithmetic isn't working too well these days in the Middle East. As frustrating as Iran and Syria are for the West, the present course of either country doesn't fill Russia's long-term interests either. 
Mexican drugs, Mexican money

From the Sunday NYT Magazine:

So in a spirit of empirical humility, we shouldn’t accept as gospel the estimate, from the Justice Department, that Colombian and Mexican cartels reap $18 billion to $39 billion from drug sales in the United States each year. (That range alone should give you pause.) Still, even if you take the lowest available numbers, Sinaloa emerges as a titanic player in the global black market. In the sober reckoning of the RAND Corporation, for instance, the gross revenue that all Mexican cartels derive from exporting drugs to the United States amounts to only $6.6 billion. By most estimates, though, Sinaloa has achieved a market share of at least 40 percent and perhaps as much as 60 percent, which means that Chapo Guzm├ín’s organization would appear to enjoy annual revenues of some $3 billion — comparable in terms of earnings to Netflix or, for that matter, to Facebook.


The story reads like a backgrounder for the next Rogue Warrior, BLOOD LIES, due out at the beginning of September.

For the next next Whiplash. Naturally, we push it a little further.

And imagine this in Assault Horizon - specifically the ballistic missile site mission. (The mission had to be altered to its present form for a number of reasons.)

Rights & no rights, home and abroad . . .

An editor explains why you can buy a copy of a book in one country and not another, and how weird the world of rights and exclusive territories has become:

By the way, you can find more on John Scalzi's latest (the subject of the post) here.
LCS at sea

The Navy's LCS-2 is undergoing sea trials; you can see some images and a brief story here.

One thing that baffles me - a lot of people in the mainstream media seem to be comparing the ship type to destroyers. They're not at all, and were never intended as such. The more appropriate parallel would be to corvettes and minesweepers.

Yes, I realize that the ships are far more flexible than those types, and I also know that there's a bit of prejudice in some people's minds that equates smaller vessels with "inferior." But I think a lot of the criticism that's been heaped on the LCS vessels is simply blowback from a public relations campaign that made them seem more than they were intended to be. (That and the expense, though people are ALWAYS going to bitch about costs.)

I don't know how good these ships are or will be; even the sea trials won't give the whole story. But it would be refreshing to read criticism - and praise - that actually relates to the ships' class, rather than some imagined category.
Millbrook Book Festival Saturday

I'll be in Millbrook, New York Saturday for their annual book festival. The entire village turns itself into an open air book emporium, with readings, pontifications, and sales. The village itself is a quiet, friendly little place, a perfect spot for a weekend stroll.

Here's the festival site. I'm on a panel at ten . . .

You can't drive there, but at least you can have your huge soda.
Donate a kidney . . .

. . . say good-bye to your health insurance.

Like most other kidney donors, Mr. Royer, a retired teacher in Eveleth, Minn., was carefully screened and is in good health. But Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota rejected his application for coverage last year, as well as his appeals, on the grounds that he has chronic kidney disease, even though many people live with one kidney and his nephrologist testified that his kidney is healthy. Mr. Royer was also unable to purchase life insurance.

Because, you know, no good deed goes unpunished, especially when it comes to health insurance companies.

Here's one we missed

Mexican Cartel Hides Millions in Horse Races, U.S. Alleges


The upcoming installment of Rogue Warrior has some crazy stuff, but this one got by us.
What writers should read . . .

John Irving:
There is no one book that students of writing “should” read. With young writers, I tried to focus on the choices you make before you write a novel. The main character and the most important character are not always the same person — you have to know the difference. The first-person voice and the third-person voice each come with advantages and disadvantages; it helps me to know what the story is, and who the characters are, before I choose the point-of-view voice for the storytelling. Two novels I taught a lot were “Cat and Mouse” (Grass) and “The Power and the Glory” or “The Heart of the Matter” (Greene). They were excellent examples of novels about moral dilemmas; I find that young writers are especially interested in moral dilemmas — they’re often struggling to write about those dilemmas. 

NYT interview with John Irving.

Liddy retiring

The official announcement here:

Like him, hate him or both, G. Gordon Liddy was a force of nature, and then some. I'm glad I got a chance to be on his show before he stepped down.


Two different "think" pieces on counterinsurgency, with somewhat different takes:

Unsatisfying wars are the stock in trade of counterinsurgency; rarely, if ever, will they end with a surrender ceremony and look like a conventional victory. And yet this is the sort of war we have fought, almost exclusively, for over 50 years
Op-ed in NYT

counterinsurgency is not a type of warfare; it is one strategy by which a disproportionately powerful conventional force approaches asymmetric warfare. As its name implies, it is a response to an insurgency, a type of asymmetric conflict undertaken by small units with close links to the occupied population to defeat a larger conventional force. Insurgents typically are highly motivated -- otherwise they collapse easily -- and usually possess superior intelligence to a foreign occupational force. Small units operating with superior intelligence are able to evade more powerful conventional forces and can strike such forces at their own discretion. Insurgents are not expected to defeat the occupying force through direct military force. Rather, the assumption is that the occupying force has less interest in the outcome of the war than the insurgents and that over time, the inability to defeat the insurgency will compel the occupying force to withdraw.
The End of Counterinsurgency and the Scalable Force | Stratfor 

RIP, Ray Bradbury

The creator of the book that made everyone want to write science fiction has died.

The NYT obit.
Ugly is beautiful

We have a new version in the next installment of Dreamland:Whiplash
How much do you lie?


Chances are, you're a liar. Maybe not a big liar — but a liar nonetheless. That's the finding of Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He's run experiments with some 30,000 people and found that very few people lie a lot, but almost everyone lies a little.

Interview here.

The BookExpo is in New York, and among the "buzz" topics is DRM, or rather the lack thereof.

DRM is "digital rights management," basically a copy-protection scheme that makes it troublesome to copy ebooks. I say troublesome because there are a number of ways around it.

DRM can be a pain if you like to read on multiple platforms - say you've got a Kindle and an Android phone. (Why you would want to read on the phone is a question best left to those who do it; I find it pretty damn frustrating myself.) There's a segment of people, including authors, who claim that removing DRM will not only make the lives of this small subset of people easier, but will increase overall readership, enhance lives and cure cancer.

Well not the last. But the overall thrust of the authors - and the few publishers who have gone along with the idea - is that this will somehow help the publishing world in general.

Maybe they know something I don't know, but I fail completely to understand how making it easier for a book to be copied and, inevitably, stolen, is going to make the publishing eco system. From my point of view, it inevitably lowers the price a writer - and a publisher - can get for a book. And that in turn makes it more difficult for writers to survive.

Piracy is already a problem. Excuse me - the politically correct term is "sharing" - writers are "sharing" their work, rather than having it taken from them for free. I will grant that with certain books that it's barely noticeable, since the numbers of legitimate sales are very high. (Yes, I truly am thankful and grateful.) But the vast majority of authors are not producing books like that. Losing a few thousand dollars in sales will have a huge impact on their careers, and their lives.

Speaking as a reader, I think it's unfair that I pay $6.99, $2.99 or even $.99 when the person next to me is getting the book for free. It's not that I begrudge the writer, or am even aware that there's a publisher involved - it's a simple question of fairness. And if I see that there are no mechanisms to keep me from "sharing," then why would I not? Unless I happen to know that writer and know that he or she is actually not being paid all that much to write that book, I'm probably going to think he or she is doing well and doesn't need my two dollars or whatever. And on an individual basis, the writer doesn't. The easier it is to "share," the more it will happen.

It's often argued that people who get a book for free wouldn't have read the book in the first place. I have no idea whether that's true or not, but even if it is, the real measure of piracy's effect is not on the individual, but on the system as a whole. The effect is to lower the perceived value of the item being sold. Eventually, that hurts everyone - including readers.

Making books accessible to different platforms owned by the same person is not a great programming task. If that's the problem, DRM schemes can be easily altered. Otherwise, I have to wonder why so many people in publishing keep doing things to undermine their livelihood. They keep telling themselves it's the future, but they don't seem to have taken a good look at what that future means.

Disco, books & copyright

What do books and disco have in common? Attorney Lloyd Jassin has some thoughts:

Hailed as a landmark copyright decision by some, the recent Village People decision is a big victory for the original “Y.M.C.A.” disco songwriter, Victor Willis, but its real significance for the book community is that it is the first case to consider a 1976 amendment to the Copyright Act, which allows authors to terminate copyright grants 35 years after they were made. It is also a harbinger of greater volatility for the publishing industry in 2013 and beyond.

Before the dawn of ebooks, the idea of recovering a copyright would only be of value in a very few cases. Now, though, there's at least a potential for a much wider impact.

Artists & the Internet

Specifically, musicians, but the implications are universal:

We keep hearing from web/tech gurus about how empowered artists are in the internet age, but yet, the numbers just don’t add up. It’s also ironic that tech bloggers like to promote the idea of  “touring and t-shirts” as a solution to the difficulties musicians are having online. But it really sounds to us, more like an admission that there is no money for artists online in the Exploitation Economy to develop new and sustainable professional creative careers.

Just because they're cool.
Cyberwarfare and all that . . .

Speaking of Deep Black, here's the headline in today's NYT:

Obama Order Sped Up
Wave of Cyberattacks
Against Iran

The story is basically an excerpt from David Sanger's new book, Confront and Conceal. I haven't read the book, and generally ignore the politics, but the article lays out the mechanics pretty well.

Of course, things have moved on, on both sides . . .
A degree in . . . choking out?

A high school in Illinois has assigned American Sniper as (optional) summer reading.

Can't argue with the decision, but I do wonder if the teachers know what they're in for . . .