The Immortal Jet

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Imagine my surprise when I read about the USAF buying its first new F-15 in twenty years today. I did a little looking and there are some people seriously steamed about this… politicians from F-35 production districts. I’ve talked about this before on this site; there is a reason the USAF is re-buying the F-15. It really takes something serious for an organization as big on bells and whistles as the Air Force to go back to buying an aircraft that is essentially a product of the late 60’s.

What is that serious thing? It’s things, actually. Cost overruns, reliability issues, infrastructure concerns, a gun that won’t hit, the dreary list goes on and on. No wonder the USAF wants to buy up to 72 new F-15EX models, the ‘Fifteen has been flying and killing since the 1970s, and these jets could form an important complement to an existing fleet of F-22’s and 35’s.

That is, they could complement the 35 and 22 fleet at a fraction of the cost of the newer generation jets.

I read somewhere that the AF is looking at fielding about 1700 F-35’s eventually. At 122 mil USD a pop, that’s a lot of money. So it makes sense that the USAF is looking to save some money by keeping the current fleet of F-15’s and 16’s flying for a while longer.

Plus, you have to be realistic about the wars we are likely to fight.

Almost all of the combat time faced by modern aircraft has been in air to ground scenarios. The USAF is unlikely to face a true peer conflict anytime soon, and the Chinese and the Russians are a long way back in terms of fighter development. Where they are awesome in is air defense, and the F-35 is supposedly better in penetrating modern defense networks.

OK, fine. If we are going to invade Russia and we need to put Moscow’s lights out, use a squadron of F-22’s or 35’s. And then stand back, because whatever idiot orders such a mission would have just kicked over a hornet’s nest with the nuclear option on the table. But I digress.

For non-peer conflicts the old battle-axe 16’s and 15’s will work just fine. I would even make the argument that a bird like the F-15EX could hold its own against many of the peer aircraft in service today.

I think someone at DoD and USAF HQ agrees with me. That’s why they want new and improved F-15’s.

And of course the purse-milkers hate the idea. Heaven forbid that we give our warfighters tools that actually make sense. Why the hell would you send a 122 million dollar fighter to blow up some crazies in a cave somewhere? Because that’s mostly what the Air Force does these days. You just plain don’t need a stealthy fifth generation fighter for those types of jobs. Plus… psst… the day of the manned aerial combat vehicle may be drawing to a close. So….

Order the F-15EX and be done with it.

Bags for any occasion

me at cache

On the image above, left, that’s me using the US Army three-day assault pack. It is the best darn bag available anywhere. These bags are available right now for CHEAP. That’s what today’s bit is about. I am a bit passionate and opinionated about packs and bags- they must be excellent, or don’t bother.

Why am I talking about this today.

It seems that the three-day assault bag is coming onto the surplus market for a very reasonable fee. If you’re in the market for a backpack, don’t wait. Surplus has a way about drying up.

Alright, so quite some time ago I published an article, inspired by John Birmingham‘s apocalyptic Zero Day Code universe. Seeing as how we were discussing the contents of an ideal zombie bag over on JB’s, I expanded on the concept here on my blog.

I kind of glossed over the bag part, though, except to say that it should be sturdy. Well, today I am going to expand on the bag.

A good carry-on or zombie bag should be tough, light, and versatile. And oh yes, as cheap as possible. Well, I have good news for those who are interested; it seems that right now Uncle Sam is dumping probably the best bags and equipment in the world at pennies to a dollar. Why? It seems the US Army is switching from the old ACU digital pattern to the new OCP pattern. The ACU equipment is being dumped onto the surplus market. In my opinion there is no better, tougher stuff in the world.

But yeah, the ACU camo pattern is kind of stupid. That’s why the Army is switching over to OCP/Multicam. It just works better.

That being said, who cares about a stupid ugly camo pattern when you can have arguably the world’s best carry-on for 23 USD or thereabouts? Now, I’m not sure as to availability in the Australian, European or British markets, but if you guys can buy these bags there, do so with absolute confidence. They are that good. OK, a few pictures by means of illustration.


First off, this bag is relatively compact, at about 19.7 in / 50cm high. I’ve used these as carry-ons on flights and I’ve never had a problem making it fit. This might not be true for puddle-jumpers, for those you might have to check the bag. The pack pictured above is my overnight bag, I keep it loaded in case I go out on the road and have to stay at someone’s house. So not exactly a zombie bag, although it does share some characteristics with such an animal. It weighs 15.6 lbs / 7.0kg fully loaded.

The next photos are detail shots made to show the versatility of this humble piece of surplus.


First, let me make clear that this pack is MOLLE compatible, meaning it uses a very durable woven strap attachment for placing pouches of all shapes and sizes wherever you want. For example, above you see the right side of my carry-on. On the lower left on the image is a sustainment pouch from a large ruck, above it is an M4 magazine pouch. Also, you can see a small olive drab pouch, this is an old ALICE pouch. ALICE stuff works with MOLLE, so no issues.

I use the mag pouch for travel documents (I’m always juggling those stupid things around). This keeps everything in one place. The sustainment pouch was originally meant for MREs, but you can use it for literally anything; I prefer it to hold travel comfort items like a small pillow or a keffiyah, gloves, etc. Whatever needs to be on the outside of a bag so you don’t have to dig. And the little, old-school OD green pouch? A compass, of course. I always have one of those. Always.

Here’s another view, the other side of the bag.


Note the old-fashioned canteen at the top. Lots of people like camel-baks, and so do I, but the canteen is king when traveling. Empty it out before going through security, fill it back up on the other side of the gate. Water only. (Laughs) I knew a guy once who put milk in a canteen and forget to clean it out. Not pretty. The little British pouch on the bottom is for a US Army style poncho, I never go anywhere without one of those along with some 550 cord. Combine the two and you have instant shelter, no matter where life may find you.

So there you go, that was my take on which bag is best for plain travel / adventures / zombie hordes.

Hands down the US Army three-day assault pack.

In country mine held spare medical supplies, an MRE, some belted 7.62, extra grenades (frag and smoke, sometimes thermite), 40mm grenades, a spare battery for my radio, flares, extra socks, a camel-bak, you name it. I never once had any issue with the bag under extremely hard use and bad circumstances. As a bonus, it even kept stuff fairly dry and mostly dust free.

Did I mention that the little pack is made of rubberized Cordura? It doesn’t get tougher. Seriously. And the zippers, lashing straps and snaps are first-rate, top shelf. I’d hate to think what Uncle Sam paid for these originally, but I’ll bet it was multiples of what you can pick them up for now; 23 bucks well-used (and needing a little TLC) to 75 USD brand new, unused.

If you want a bag, and you don’t mind that it is ugly, these can’t be beat.

Buy with confidence.



Taste Test- Beyond Burger

beyond burger

BLUF- A real alternative to a beef patty.

Alright- since when is this a foodie website? Well, it isn’t. What I do try to do is to keep my articles around a central theme; the future, and our place in it. This is a pretty rough idea. The war, other random stuff creeps in from time to time.

Well, the Beyond Burger and its competitors occupy a solid place in this niche, i.e. futuristic developments. When we finally get to Mars, I doubt there will be space made for cows. However, I can certainly see something like cloned meat and dairy products or stuff like the Beyond Burger having a firm place in the diets of settlers and space travelers.

So let’s cut to the chase.

I’m sure many of you have tried vegetarian burgers before. Some of you may be vegetarian and that’s all you’ll eat. If so, that’s fine. The Beyond Burger is for people who really want the meat experience and texture, but don’t actually want an animal to be put to the knife. I get that. Does it live up to its billing?

In my opinion, almost.

First there’s the color/appearance. Somewhat beef-like, but not quite there. As you can see in the above picture the “meat” is close to the color of real beef, but the finished product has a bit of an orange tint to it. Not a game-changer, but some may be thrown a bit.

Then there’s the smell. The raw product has a bit of a whiff of corned beef, oddly enough, but it does smell appetizing as it cooks. Pretty good, even though I would hesitate to call it a true beef simulacrum. An odd detail; the meat appeared to bleed as it heated. Some weird food coloring? A nice touch, if a bit unnecessary.

The texture is excellent. It gives a very meaty, as opposed to pasty feel as I’ve encountered before in veggie burgers. If you ate by candle light you could almost pass this off as the real deal.

And most importantly- the taste. Pretty darn close. For comparison’s sake I followed the Beyond Burger with a real Angus patty- the Angus patty was comparable, although it had the unmistakable iron sub-taste that only real beef can have.

Hate to say it, but I preferred the Beyond Burger patty to the real thing.

Was it an absolute dead ringer for animal protein and hemoglobin? No. But so what? It gave an enjoyable and tasty experience without some beast meeting its end, and food products like this are a viable option for meat products going forward.

I don’t have any problem recommending these burgers, although it could be the case that if you are against additives, etc. you should probably stick to real beef or bean burgers.

Four out of five stars.

Fry ’em up and eat ’em.

1917- a review


BLUF- An accurate, entertaining movie. Fills an important hole; the Great War.

Right up front I’d like to say that I’m not a big war movie guy. But if I do go to one, it needs to be historically and physically accurate. Historical accuracy is obvious- uniforms, gear, and scenery needs to be right. But what do I mean by physical accuracy? Allow me to explain. I don’t want to see people acting like clowns when they are supposed to be shot. By the same token, I do not want to see them take round after round and keep functioning.

It doesn’t work that way.

Also, when I see a movie about war and fatal conflict, I want to see people act like people actually do in those circumstances. Pissed off. Out of control. Shaky. Grim. I don’t want to see people pretending as if it’s all a grand show- soldiers are painfully aware that they could die at any moment. No fancy speeches, no grand aspirations. Just regular guys going about a desperate trade, trying to live to see the next sunset.

This movie mostly succeeds in the above criteria.

We follow the protagonist through a series of horrifying events, you won’t catch me calling them “adventures.” A big reason I wanted to see this movie was to catch a major picture about the Great War; to compare the film against my latest manuscript, an alternate history set in WW1.

I am pleased to report that I don’t think I missed a lot of tricks, and neither did the film’s producers. For example: there was a distinct difference between the British trenches and those of the Germans; this is historically accurate (BTW, the Germans had better trenches). There were many, many details which were excellent, authentic. They vastly outweighed the few nitpicks I had.

One such nitpick was the lack of the sounds of a bullet’s passage. I think this would have drawn in the casual viewer, forced the same to engage in a visceral fashion. There were a couple of other small things, but those really were quibbles compared to the terrible beauty of the whole.

The tension was there. The stakes were high. The viewer rooted for the heroes; curiously I did not find myself hating the villains. This was an excellent job, and I think apace with the film’s historical accuracy. The Germans of WW1 were soldiers caught up in the same catastrophe as the British; they were bitter enemies who used harsh methods. The Allied soldiers of the time hated them, but there was respect as well. The film bears this out.

All in all this was a war film worth watching. The viewer cared as the protagonist fought his fights, as he overcame obstacles. Literal obstacles. Speaking of which, one stands in awe of the barbed wire defenses as depicted. Imagine actually assaulting such a position. If you know what you’re looking at, you get the chills looking at the malevolent tangles and coils.

Much respect for Great-Grandpa. What a nightmare.

So yeah, go see this movie. It’s worth it, and it was cool to see that a lot of what I saw squares with what I recently wrote and researched.

I’ll go with a solid four stars for this film.


“Boeing.” American for taxpayer abuse.


The picture above looks really cool, but it’s actually a big fat joke. Like the F-35, another complete waste of the taxpayer’s money. The “Space Launch System” is an enormous fraud made up of cobbled together outdated, un-reusable parts. For God’s sake, why didn’t they just rebuild a Saturn V and call it quits, we would have been a lot cheaper out.

Read an article today about how Boeing, Grumman, etc. have shot the space program in the foot and bilked the US taxpayer for billions upon billions. And oh yeah, absolutely jack has gotten done by these companies in space.

Thank God for Space X or we would be at the mercy of these fraudsters and losers.

We are so screwed if we get into another shooting war and these people are making our machines. And as for real progress in getting to space, doing real exploration?

Not if Boeing has anything to do with it.

It’s looking like Space X or bust. Maybe Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin.

‘Cause the military-space complex is twiddling their thumbs.

Legacy of Ghosts- a review


BLUF- A pretty darn good book. Entertaining and engrossing.

In Legacy of Ghosts we meet up with Lidan and Ran again, four years have passed since Blood of Heirs, the debut novel in the series. Once again Alicia Wanstall-Burke shows her skill at world-building, some early passages in Lidan’s story fix the scenery in a cinematic fashion; we can hear the creek, feel fear and excitement, smell the ambushed dead. This is good writing; I keep finding little jewels in her phrasing. An example? “Water ran over her brow and nose in rivulets, the tears of a broken sky on her skin.” Another. “He bit down on his doubt, crushed it and swallowed all the sharp, bitter pieces.” Marvelous.

The action scenes are nicely written, tight and suspenseful. Lidan is put up against an impossible situation, Ran is startled by an unexpected visitor from the past. Both have a series of decisions that have to be made, choices that will affect their loved ones, friends and ghosts. Journeys and battles follow, both with the living and the undead. This was an entertaining, lively read!

Also, I must mention that there is no end to the plot twists in Alicia’s latest, especially the tension revolving around Lidan’s inheritance. This will keep the reader intrigued, moving forward through the passages.

For the fantasy fan, this book seems to check all the boxes. Arcane magic. Bloodthirsty zombies. Ice dragons. Curses and spells. Swords and knives. For the casual reader there’s a lot too. Family and court intrigue, love interests and gripping action. I’ve said it before about Alicia’s writing, and I’ll say it again; she may write in a given genre, but she has the ability to pull in general readers as well. As an example? Me. Not a big fantasy fan. However, it doesn’t matter. She has me hooked on this series, number two disappoints in no fashion.

As always with a good book, I had to force myself to slow down and look at what was happening. This was tough; I wanted to race ahead and see what would happen to characters that I found myself caring about. This is a display of a writer’s real skill- creating a wholly fictional universe and people cut from whole cloth and making them real in the reader’s mind. Nicely done, Alicia. My hat’s off!

The ending raced upon me like a locomotive, I had to read it twice because of the aforementioned stutter reading, where I just had to see what was next. For a bridge novel, the finale worked out great; of course I’m going to buy the follow on.

So should you.

Highly recommend!

The Ammonite


I really enjoy John Birmingham’s for a number of reasons. First, there is JB’s patented scathing wit. Second, every now and then he gives us readers glimpses of what he’s up to. Finally, on occasion he gives us something to think about as well.

As many of you are aware, Australia is burning up at the moment. It appears they are having an unusually early and active fire season, exacerbated by dry conditions and high ambient temperatures. These temperatures are record highs, and the drought is unusually long. So, many thousands of acres are burning up. The fires destroy everything, of course, and the smoke plume can easily be seen from space.

This is what a one odd degree change in average temperatures looks like.

Today I’m going to speak of the past, not of the future. The image above is an ammonite, a completely extinct species of sea dwelling creatures prevalent worldwide from the Devonian period to the K-T extinction event. In other words, they lived for about 350 million years. A long time; these were not fragile or non-adaptable animals.

The one you see above is known as a heteromorph ammonite, I dug it out of the Pierre shale in South Dakota. Unfortunately, this is the only way we can see ammonites these days, as sad ghosts unearthed from rocks and mud.

The ammonites died because the conditions they needed to survive ceased to be, worldwide. They took the biggest hit at the P-T extinction, but the final species died with the dinosaurs at the K-T event, 66 million years ago.

Our recorded history is a joke compared to the length of time that the ammonites floated in the water columns of Earth’s oceans. A couple of thousand years as compared to hundreds of millions.

These were tough, well established creatures. Now every last one of them is gone. Forever. Why? Mostly through a massive volcanic eruption in the P-T extinction that poisoned the skies and oceans on Earth, but later via a big old asteroid that killed darn nigh everything with a pre-nuclear nuclear winter and layers of ash.

In other words, the ammonite is no longer with us because the Earth’s climate changed. For the worse. Suddenly.

We live and die by our planet’s climate. Our bodies are shaped by the living conditions and ecosystems of our ancestors. Look at the back of your hand and you’ll see the history of your ancestry, the impact of changes in climate. Those that ran from the approaching glaciers and huddled around its edges needed the sun’s rays; their descendants are what we call “white” these days. There are many, many examples of changes in morphology in our species as reactions to Earth’s climate, the planet we were made for.

The planet we are poisoning.

I am as guilty as anyone. I maintain and use three gasoline vehicles. At times I burn wood, and I have burned coal to heat. When temperatures are below freezing, I have little choice but to use a fuel-oil furnace. I use plastic bags at Wal-Mart. The dreary list goes on.

This is why I am so excited by people like Elon Musk, or even Jeff Bezos.

It is easy to sink into despair and inaction when confronted by a massive challenge. But then I look at the news and I see that Musk or Bezos, both multi-billionaires who can really make a difference, have done something new and bold. Something that makes a real difference.

Space exploration, colonization. Just in case. Electric, non-gas burning cars. Tunnels for mass transit. Solar energy advances. These are good things!

Because of incremental improvements in technology, my house uses one hell of a lot less energy than it did when I was a kid. LED bulbs, etc. Also, it’s been 30 years since this old place burned coal; I tore out the massive, blackened furnace some 15 years ago. These days we mostly heat with a heat pump; admittedly this is an older model. When it dies I’ll get a new, far more efficient model that will work to about 10F(!), and I’ll hardly have to use the fuel-oil furnace in the future.

So I’m getting there, and so are a lot of people.

What we need is time. You can’t change the world overnight.


The ammonites had eons. And then the eons stopped, at least for them. The world they depended upon changed.

Our epoch dawned.

Can we see the echoes of our sunset, way down south in Oz? Will we have the collective wisdom to be better stewards of the land and the beasts, as the Bible commands of the faithful?

Time will tell.

Do we have it?



The Thin Gold Line

thin gold line

So I spent a little bit of time imagining some of the malign ways that State and non-state actors could misuse genetic data, and I thought to hammer out a quick short story based on one of the ways that this could go wrong. Not based in any existing universes or books, a one-off.

Here goes, The Thin Gold Line.

Janine Saunders slouched at her workstation, her worn mag chair sighed as she shifted position. Her fingers danced across the holoboard, she shifted screens with eye movements and subtle gestures. Her feathery brows came together, she was doing what she loved.

She was hunting.

To be specific, she was tracking down another mongrel from the old databases that fools had enlarged back in the early part of the century; the idiots had given up DNA samples to satisfy their curiosity. Long ago, of course. No one was so stupid as to do that these days. Not voluntarily.

She tapped on her board. No-one with something to hide would give up a sample, she thought. Her own DNA was as purely Northwestern Euro as one of the vanished glaciers, she was white as a sheet; her racial pie-chart said so. Only a touch of suspect Southern genes, and zero Asian, African, or Native.

None at all. If she had that trace, or more than a trace, she wouldn’t be working here, at Government Tracking Services. Privately the employees called it Hygiene, and Janine was a “sniffer,” or a person who teased actionable details out of the abused and long since hacked databases of the old DNA ancestry services.

Oh, they were clever, the mongrels, she thought. Even witnessed samples could be faked, and for every action by the state there would be a counter action by the trash.

She moved around data and hummed a little song. “In the year 2525…”

The obviously undesirable P and G-types had been weeded out long ago, none of them stood a chance. Some had escaped into space, others had shuffled around the dwindling real estate on Old Earth. Many simply no longer existed; the War had been brutal. Final.

Janine was a guardian of the Republic, scarce resources had to be directed to the worthy.

She couldn’t breathe a word about her work outside of the ferrocrete walls of Hygiene, not even to her husband Bill. If she could have told him about what she really did, though, she was sure he would approve. He worked for the State, too. His security clearance wasn’t as high as hers, so she knew what he did fairly well. He was the leader of an enforcement crew, they did the rounds in the habitats tracking down those whose credentials, or their politics, were less than perfect.

A shiver of delight ran through her when she thought of his big, thick hands. She smiled faintly as she thought of his squat brawn. She liked that. As she shifted data, her eyes flicked to the image of her son Jake, a five year old pile of trouble. What better reason to fight for this better, more perfect society than for her children, after all?

She tapped on the end of her stubby nose. No reason that she could see.

Janine studied the pie chart in front of her, it had been emailed to someone fifty years ago. She frowned. The pie chart had been flagged for her attention, someone’s DNA had matched up to this old chart and genotype recently. She stuck out the tip of her tongue; this would be difficult.

Whoever “PS” was had never filled out their whole name, nor had they helped out by filling in their location data. That made it tough. But someone had thrown down bubble gum on 32nd Street that had been picked up by the City cleaners. The bubble gum had been randomly sampled by an undercover representative of Hygiene, and lo-and-behold whoever the gum chewer was, he or she shared 25% of “PS’s” DNA. DNA that sat waiting in the historical databases.

A grandchild thus, living on the lam in the City, a habitat reserved for the worthy.

Janine snorted. Whoever PS was, this XX, or female, was not racially worthy.  The old genealogy service made it all so easy, really. Color-coded and everything. Purple for African. Red for Asian. And, as she could so clearly see for PS, golden yellow for Native American.

Just like the gum-chewer. Betrayed by a thin golden pie-slice, ready to be purged as soon as she found the XY, a male.

She slid the data around. There was no obvious match for a descendent of PS in the city, someone had been using bootleg cheek swabs, perhaps. Maybe good, old-fashioned bribes. Purloined dandruff. The possibilities were endless. But she would find him, she did not doubt.

She made a spreading gesture with her hand and a map of the City zoomed out. She murmured a request and a series of bright blue dots appeared; more random samples of the DNA she was looking for. She had to ask the system; there was too much information otherwise.

Janine sat back in her chair; she had her man. She looked at his Patterns Of Life and placed her interwoven hands behind her head. What did he do, she wondered. Trash collector? Maybe that would explain his evasion of the strict genetic controls…

She sat bolt upright. This man was Law Enforcement. Maybe even known to Bill; no, certainly known to him. She subvocalized a request for an on-the-spot eugenic control; her supervisor would need to be brought in. This was a first-class breach, and it would be a real feather in her cap if the perp was caught. Maybe as soon as the end of shift. She smiled. This guy was going down. Her supervisor agreed to the snap inspection, the units were brought in one by one for supervised, rigorous sampling.

The Sniffer let her thoughts wander, and she started in on a new case. She lost herself in the hunt through the old archives; her duty day flew past. Before she knew it she was fifteen minutes from shift change.

Her supervisor cleared his throat behind her. Janine jumped a little and blushed; the creep had a real knack for catching her off guard.

“May I help you, sir?”

He nodded and smiled a little smile.

“You already have. We caught the perp, most disturbing.”

“A member of Enforcement?”


“Has he been rolled up?”

Her supervisor nodded. “Shot while escaping, unfortunately.”

Janine laughed. “A shame.” Her supervisor was looking at her with his head cocked.

“Is there something else I can help you with?” She wanted to go home; what a fantastic way to end the shift. What did he want, she wondered.

“Yes, there is a small matter you can help us with, Inspector Saunders.”

“Ask, sir.”

“We need a release for a genetic sample.”


Her supervisor rubbed his chin. “A delicate matter. It’s for a minor.”

“I don’t understand. Procedures handles those.” She noticed two Enforcement types had come with him. Her brows came together.

He shook his head.

“The release is for your son, Inspector.”