Tag Archives: Kvick Tänkare

Kvick Tänkare

Stoic Studio just recently released a viking themed game called The Banner Saga.  I’m not sure if this is a new trend or I’m just getting more selective in my gaming choices but Banner Saga places a high emphasis on story and mood, interspersed with more traditional game play. I really enjoyed how they captured the feel of the fatalism of Norse mythology.  Games like this give hints for where they can (and probably will) go in the future.  I suspect that story driven games may even become the cultural touchstones for the next generation.  Whereas, TV played that role when I was growing up (with half a dozen channels to watch, odds were good you and your friends and neighbors were watching the same thing), radio before that all the way back to the traveling storytellers.

YouTube Preview Image

Back when I was stationed in (West!) Germany in the late 1980s there was a reoccurring call for coins from the banks on post.  The problem was soldiers and their families did what everyone did…put their pocket change in a piggy bank of some sort until there was enough to make it worthwhile to cash in.  That meant coins were being taken out of circulation faster than they were being reintroduced into the system.  That, in turn, meant that the government had to ship coins from the U.S. to Europe to keep the military banks, PXs, etc. running.  A bag of pennies ($50) weighs around 30 pounds.  You don’t need to be a shipping genius to know that it’s not cost efficient to do that in bulk over and over again.

By the time I got to Afghanistan the U.S. government was not going to devote scarce cargo space to ship pennies in bulk, let alone other cash:

Shortly before the Iraq War, the military found that for every $1 million to currency sent to pay soldiers overseas, it as costing them $60,000 in security, logistics, and support fees.

So, the military handed out small cardboard tokens (known as POGS by children of the ’90s) and ‘$100 in quarters (5 pounds, 1 ounce), was reduced to 14 ounces in equivalent pog currency.

All of that was introduction to this piece about the history of military currency and, more specifically, pogs.

First Corinthians in a terrible PowerPoint presentation…I feel like I’ve sat through this many times and in many places.

YouTube Preview Image

Who Are the ‘Satanists’ Designing an Idol for the Oklahoma Capitol?

An awesome article about the ‘backpack nuke’ and some of the soldiers that were tasked with using it to stop a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

Kvick Tänkare

From Defence and Freedom, I found this little bit of trivia.  The Esbit stove was invented in 1936 and used by the Bundeswehr.  I love these for camping (which I haven’t done enough of) or your ‘go-bag’.

An interesting story from WWII about outnumbered American and German troops banding together to fight elements of an SS Division.  The author raises a good point.  What hasn’t this been made into a movie?

Courtesy of Julia Angwin, a couple of recommended privacy tools for your computer.  Two of which I include here because they’re so simple to install…

• I installed “HTTPS Everywhere,” created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project. This tool forces your Web browser to use encrypted Internet connections to any website that will allow it. This prevents hackers – and the National Security Agency – from eavesdropping on your Internet connections.

• I also installed Disconnect, a program created by former Google engineer Brian Kennish, which blocks advertisers and social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, from tracking which websites you visit.

Kind of feel out of the loop with all these classified revelations from WikiLeaks, Manning and Snowden?  Well, no worries!  Use the NSA Product generator to develop your own completely nonsensical yet authentic sounding intel products!  I suspect these also say something about how impenetrable and embedded Bureuacratese that these sound plausible.  We really need to bring back the English language.

The British National Archives are putting millions of pages of military diaries from World War One on line for the public to use.   They are also asking for help form the public in tagging and classifying the documents.  You can do your part (after a 10 minute tutorial) here.

How nations address their problems….


A study which looked at the language used in Kickstarter campaigns reveals some interesting predictors of success and failure.


Kvick Tänkare

Incredible piece about the attempts of researchers to understand the migration and behavior of Great White sharks.  What do you do after spending years of your life and lots of money and your conclusion is:  ““There’s no frickin’ pattern at all,”

The Scandinavians have been producing quality crime fiction for years.  Who knew they also produced some of the more intriguing crime reality as well.  GQ puts together a lengthy piece about a man who may be a serial killer, cannibal, sadist, pedophile…or he might be a really disturbed guy who was almost a killer, sadist and pedophile who was (intentionally or not) set up to take the blame for 30 homicides by an incompetent and overzealous judicial system.

The Boston Globe has done an amazing piece of investigative reporting about the Tsarnaev brothers (of Boston Bombing infamy).  Really, you don’t want to miss this.

In the daily to and fro of putting out fires and addressing the next crisis, is anyone thinking about out long (and I mean long) term survival as a species?  After all, over 99% of all species that have lived are now extinct and we continue to learn new ways we might get snuffed out all the time.  Here’s a piece about a group of people thinking about what our existential threats might be and how we should think about them.

I was really shocked when I saw Supersize Me! back in 2004 but now research is indicating it might not be quite as cut and dried as that documentary looked.
I really thought I enjoyed the first season of House of Cards.  The plot kind of went off the rails and it was almost like the writers ultimately felt like they couldn’t commit to a straight up political drama and so had to get all John Grisham in there.  If you’re looking for a good political drama I highly recommend the Danish series Borgen.  Really quality acting and plotting.  Check it out.
YouTube Preview Image
I don’t know what’s going on but the past few years have seen an explosion of quality TV and film from Scandinavia.

Kvick Tänkare

I was never a devout Christian but when I was, as they say, ‘in the fold’ I always found the Book of Job weird.  How this story doesn’t undermine everything we’re told about god today is beyond me.  One can see how Nietzsche called it a ‘slave-religion’ if you cherry pick parts like this.  Joan Acocella from the New Yorker recounts the efforts scholars throughout the ages have attempted to reconcile that book with their understanding of their religions.

Does human evolution owe a debt to sabercats?  Amazing article about the diversity and impact of these creatures.

It’s been 500 years since Machiavelli wrote The Prince and to mark the anniversary, there have been a spate of articles about his impact.  Most have been derivative and phoned in but some have been interesting.  I found this article from The Diplomat to be in that category, particularly if you apply it to the intelligence community.

Now think about big institutions, bodies made up of — and led by — individuals prone to linear thinking. Institutions like governments, armed services, and companies tend to transcribe dramatic events — great victories or traumatic defeats — into bureaucratic routine. Structuring policies, doctrines, and career incentives on the assumption that past triumphs can be rerun or setbacks avoided strips flexibility out of decisions and actions.

Written with a slate and, I suspect, maybe some liberties with some details but both entertaining and disturbing in turn.  Vice’s ‘Year in Bad Cops‘ wrap up (be warned, there’s NSFW content on this site).  I am very concerned how our culture deifies authority figures who share a monopoly on the use of violence whether its law enforcement of the military.  They aren’t all brave, honorable, selfless, etc.  Some are.  And some are despicable, sadistic and parasitic.  Fetishizing them with a broad brush encourages abuse and exploitation.  They should be held to a higher standard than everyone else, not given a pass for their transgressions by saying ‘Well, they’ve got a tough job.’

This article feels about six years too late but I’m a sucker for ‘Lessons from the ancients’ stories.  What can Tacitus’ Agricola teach us about successful counterinsurgency campaigns?  Hmm…sounds remarkably like FM 3-24.

Kvick Tänkare

It’s been awhile so I thought I’d revisit the point behind Kvick Tänkare posts.  From the Swedish it translates roughly as ‘Quick Thinking’.  My intent is to provide a hodge podge (perhaps a smorgasbord?) of ideas from a range of sources and fields in one place.  I’ve always believed that exposure to disparate pieces of information helps make new connections and creates the opportunities to view old subjects in new ways.

Or, you could just look at is as a blogging miscellaneous drawer…

1) After 9/11 the CIA built a program to recruit people to be spies with ‘non-official cover’ (agents who couldn’t pose as embassy staff and instead appeared to be students, business people, etc.).  Well, ten years and $3 billion later and what’s the verdict?

“It was a colossal flop,” a former senior CIA official said in sentiments echoed by a dozen former colleagues, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a classified program.

According to the story, some of the reason behind the failure was the lack of skills but it was also good old fashioned bureaucratic inertia.
“There was just a great unwillingness to put NOCs in really, really dangerous places,” said another former case officer. “If you’re a high-grade agency manager, are you going to sign off on a memo that puts Joe Schmuckatelli in Pyongyang? Whether you are a careerist or not, that is a hard decision for anybody to make.”
So, here’s to you Joe Schmuckatelli.
Of course, if you want to get your paranoia on, you could say this was all just a clever planted story so foreign intelligence services and terrorist groups (and foreign businesses perhaps?) would lower their guard.  I’m not sure the CIA has demonstrated that sort of skill in the past but it’s possible.
2) An interesting article by Dilbert creator Scott Adams about when we should simplify in order to get a task done and when we should focus on perfecting a process.  Too often it seems we simplify as a way to get the undesirable stuff done quickly and focus on the stuff that we find interesting but it’s not clear that results in the best outcomes.  Probably would have been useful to think about Healthcare.gov in these terms over the past couple of years.

3. About a year ago, Tell Tale Games put together a small game based on the TV Series/Comic Book The Walking Dead.  It was brilliant…in fact, probably better than both the TV series and the comic book.  Calling it a game, which technically correct, is a bit misleading since it was primarily a story in which the reader (or player if you must) could make some decisions.  In essence a ‘choose your own adventure’ story.  The trick was putting together a story which conveyed real depth and more character development than I’ve seen in the original products.  I was totally invested in the game.

So, it comes as a pleasant surprise to hear that the same company is making games based on the Game of Thrones book/TV series and the Borderlands game.  If they can keep up the high standards of plotting and writing this could be great.  Beyond simple gameplay I wonder if there isn’t a broader audience for something like this where the audience can directly influence the flow of the story.

4.  In New York state, a lawsuit was recently filed to grant chimpanzees the status of ‘personhood’.  The lawsuit is being brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project, led by Steven Wise (who I wrote about several years ago).  Before you get all wound up about chimps getting social security or voting, they aren’t talking about that.  In light of ever more compelling research about animal cognition and consciousness, Wise recommends essentially a sliding scale of rights to a wide range of creatures.  In our current legal system, animals are considered property (insert awkward comparison to slavery here)  yet that no longer seems tenable both in terms of our culture and the existing science.  Given that chimps are the closest to us physically and in evolutionary status they’re starting with them.
5. Prostitution in Nashville during the Civil War.  10% of Union troops had some sort of VD.  That’s pretty significant and the reason why the Union tried to banish and then regulate all the prostitutes from the town.

Kvick Tänkare

While you may think that reading this blog gives you all the 18th century British grenadier goodness you can stand, you really need your very own grenadier.  Fortunately, the people over at Paper Replika have posted plans that let you create your very own.  Looks really cool.

My latest time sink has been Turntable.fm.  I am absolutely hooked.  My most frequent haunt is a ‘room’ which specializes in rock and heavy metal music.  One of my fellow metalheads recommended the movie Anvil! The Story of Anvil and I heartily pass along that recommendation.  Even if you aren’t a fan of heavy metal music (and Anvil isn’t my particular cup of tea) you should check this out.  It’s all about friends, family and following your dreams.  While it would have been quite easy to make a mocking, real-life Spinal Tap, the movie does a great job of showing the human faces of the band and their families.  Quite possibly the best documentary I’ve seen in a very long time. Really, don’t miss this.

YouTube Preview Image

I’m a bit skeptical of the ‘Oh no! China will bury us!’ meme but there are real consequences at the prospect of tens (hundreds?) of millions of people moving from poverty into the middle class.  Some of those we can guess pretty easily like the increase in demand for consumer goods and energy which will make resources scarce and likely accelerate climate change.  Others you might not readily think of.  Take, for example, the boom in hunting mammoth tusks in Siberia to feed the ever increasing demand for ivory in China.

Nearly 90 percent of all mammoth tusks hauled out of Siberia—estimated at more than 60 tons a year, though the actual figure may be higher—end up in China, where legions of the newly rich are entranced by ivory. The spike in demand has worried some scientists, who lament the loss of valuable data; like the trunk of a tree, a tusk contains clues about diet, climate, and the environment. Even Yakutiyans wonder how quickly this nonrenewable resource will be depleted. Millions of mammoth tusks, perhaps more, are still locked in Siberia’s permafrost, but already they’re becoming harder to find.

Probably not a huge deal in the big picture but you never know what this might lead to.

The Swedes continue to astound the world.  Recent low water levels have revealed the wrecks of two 17th century Danish warships.  Pretty amazing when you consider it’s a capital city and the waterways are heavily developed and used.

So, the economy is changing fast…manufacturing jobs are going overseas, technology is making old jobs obsolete, you know the deal.  So, what happens to people lacking education, opportunity for reeducation or other reasons they can’t keep up?  Well, the U.S. government has (unintentionally) created a program to warehouse all these people in poverty.

It’s called disability insurance.  And in addition to poverty wages of about $1,000 a month you also get health insurance.  Since that’s a better deal than most low wage and/or part time jobs out there it basically incentivizes people to stay on the program until they are eligible for social security.  And since ‘disability’ is a subjective evaluation rather than a medical diagnosis, this is a problem that won’t get better on its own.

There’s a whole lot more you should know about our disability system may not do what it was intended to.  Check out this brilliant explainer from NPR.

The Washington Post apparently has an annual peep contest every year.  Check out one of this year’s finalist…Zero Peep Thirty.

Kvick Tänkare

Foreign Policy takes a look at the stuff a rebel commander from the DRC carries.  Really interesting stuff, particularly for the amount of technology it includes.

It appears some Swedes are looking to even up the score in terms Scandinavian horror movies(the Norwegians seem to be on a role lately in producing good quality horror).  Playing to their Nordic strengths, this movie will rely on a monster from local folklore called the ‘vittra‘.

YouTube Preview Image

Slate has an interesting piece about inter-species cooperation between human and dolphins.  In one small Brazilian city, the two work together to catch fish.

If you thought the F-35 was a boondoggle that is unique to 21st century American defense procurement, Sven at Defense and Freedom has a nice piece of satire about German aircraft development from WWII.  As they say, the more things change…

Spiegel has this picture from the Syrian rebels.  Who knew you could mash up indirect fire capability along with sensible gas mileage?

A mortar that belongs to the Free Syrian Army fighters, is pictured attached to a car to be pulled to the front line in Binnish in Idlib province

I’m sure this is a metaphor for something…I just can’t put my finger on what:

According to the Dallas Morning News, on Monday afternoon a Fort Worth police officer used his Taser to subdue a 19-year-old man dressed as “Lady Liberty” when he refused to comply with an order.


Intelligence analysis, avalanches, and Sally Fields

An excellent article by the BBC that uses archival footage to talk about the mutually dysfunctional relationship between Israel, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Also demonstrates that while we often think the Arab-Israeli conflict has been unchanging for the last 60 years, there has, in fact, been significant changes in attitudes on both sides…and not for the good.

Speaking of interesting ways to present information, check out this amazing use of video and graphics to convey information about an avalanche that swept up a group of experienced skiers.

These sort of stories are fine examples of how information can be transmitted more efficiently and effectively through the use of mixing media.  We’re all familiar with the trope that people learn information differently and we also know that the more senses we can engage with a piece of information will make it more ‘sticky’.  That’s one reason, for example, that the Obama campaign in both 2008 and 2012 were insistent that campaign people have at least three contacts with voters they were looking for.  Voters that had such contact were more likely to vote for the President.  Now some of that might be a result of voters saying ‘Hey, they like me!  They really like me!’

YouTube Preview Image

Some of that, however, is due to the voters internalizing the positions of the campaign by hearing the arguments repeatedly through different mediums.  A phone call, a knock on the door, an email, you get the point.

So, why not think about that in terms of intelligence products?  Frequently, products come out in one format *cough* pdf *cough* but why?  I’m convinced that a lot of it has to do with ingrained prejudices about what products are ‘supposed’ to look like.  But c’mon, that’s all based on style guides from 50 years ago when people were using typewriters and carbon paper (look it up).  At that time, strict uniformity made some real sense since we’re no longer getting out information primarily from the physical, written word.  Whole new venues have been opened up and yet the conventional wisdom seems to be that we should try to make our digital products mimic paper ones as much as possible.

That’s kind of like inventing the airplane but then only using it to taxi to where you want to go.

But we might want to think about this not just in terms of production but also analysis.  If one of the cornerstones of analysis is trying to understand some aspect of our environment by reducing bias and making connections maybe there are ways to engage multiple areas of the brain at once.

More on this later….

Kvick Tänkare

Mike Bennett has put his vampire audio novel ‘Underwood and Flinch’ up on You Tube.  This is totally worth you time.  Mike does great stuff.

We’re coming up on Halloween so here’s a cool, creepy vid for you (h/t i09)

We’ll stick with the animal world with this brilliant infographic on cheetahs.  I include it here not only for its intrinsic value but as an inspiration into thinking about how other types of data (yes, I’m looking at you intelligence analysts) could be presented in different and (dare I say it) more effective ways.  Click on the image to see the thing in it’s big, animated glory.

huh…seem to be on an anatomy kick today.  Check out these amazing pics of animal skulls from the NYTimes.  Lesson learned today:  Do NOT screw with the Chinese water deer.

Estragon42 has  put up a bit of fiction asking the questions ‘What if Hemingway deployed to Afghanistan?‘ Check it out.

Finally, courtesy of Discover magazine, is this piece summarizing research that seems to indicate that people that sign their documents on the top of documents (before they’ve entered data or made a statement) their information is more accurate than if they sign at the bottom of the document (after they’ve already done the work).

People are often dishonest in little ways on forms, rounding numbers in a beneficial direction or failing to mention a relatively small item as part of a larger list. If they sign a form once they’ve done all that, they don’t go back and correct it; instead, they’ve already woven a story to themselves—consciously or not—about why what they did was perfectly fine.

It’s worth noting that most intelligence products do not have the author(s) names attached.  Now, there’s usually a very good reason for that.  Namely, that the analysis done is supposed to represent the agency’s position and not the individuals.  Additionally, there’s a security issue as well.  Knowing that analyst ‘A’ is the one who writes all the stuff about security issues in Outer Mongolia opens that analyst up to targeting and influence.

That being said, I’ve heard analysts say things like ‘I don’t care, my name’s not on this.’   There’s got to be a way to address both problems.

Kvick Tänkare

I can’t remember the movie(s) but I do remember hearing anecdotes about weird experiments with victims of the guillotine.  Specifically, trying to see how long one could keep a head alive once it was separated from the body.  Well The Chirurgeons Apprentice tracks the rumor down and finds the truth behind it.  It’s kind of creepy.

A long time ago, I lived in an apartment and I just wasn’t able to own a dog.  I did, however, really want some sort of animal in my household and so I took in a ferret.  Eventually I had a small group of three of them and they really are great pets.  More social than cats and almost as trainable as dogs, I would continue to be a ferret owner if their life spans were not so short (about 6-8 years).

English: This is Vinnie the Ferret in the midd...

English: This is Vinnie the Ferret in the middle of a war dance jump. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In any case, recent research has indicated that ferrets are just about equal to dogs in terms of picking up social cues from humans.  It is assumed that this is the result of selective breeding, probably for other, specific traits, with the resulting side effect of greater social-cognitive skills.


Speaking of dogs, some Samurai dude in the 19th century decided to outfit his dog with a special set of armor.

And talking about warfare…Swords are pretty badass weapons as demonstrated by their use for thousands of years.  What would make them even more imposing?  Adding shark teeth, of course…

Finally, what would happen in a war broke out between the old school video games and the fancy-schmancy new ones?  Well, somebody thought of that…

YouTube Preview Image