Auftragstaktik – Mission Tactics

I love layman level discussion of military strategy and tactics. This is a fascinating example.

But as a layman I have no idea whether he is talking cobblers :)

I have done, and still do a bit of wargaming in my time. More recently I have moved to the big live action stuff. Last summer I had to direct a challenging combined assault of 60 vs 40 using untried, undisciplined amateurs. But I can see where Moltke was coming from with Auftragstaktik. It’s far easier, and you are more likely to have success, with well trained people who will act on their own initiative to deliver the results you want, than to sit down and try and micro manage them with a complex and cumbersome set of orders.

Tablet Envy

The geek in me wants to rush out and get a Nexus 7 tablet – the 32GB version when it launches before Christmas. But the rational half of my brain keeps saying, “do you really need one”?

In theory it could be used for couch websurfing, or as an e-book reader, or for watching videos when I am travelling, or for playing games.

But I do have a Samsung netbook that works fine around the house. And I like having a screen with a hinge that supports itself so I don’t have to hold it. The Netbook also supports multiple user profiles, so the missus can use it as well. As I have a Kindle I don’t need another ebook reader. That leaves games and videos when I am on the road.

Putting aside the fact that I don’t travel too much these days, videos and games would be nice to have. I have a decent library of ripped video content and watching some of it in hotels or airplanes could be nice. But then the question is why use a tablet, why not just do it on my work laptop? Like the netbook the laptop would have more horsepower and storage, and the benefit of a self-supporting screen. On the flip-side most airline economy seats are so small it is difficult to open the laptop fully, so a 7″ tablet would be better there.

That leaves games. Games would be one of the few things that work does prohibit us from putting on our work machines and as PC gamer I have always missed them on the road. Except my preference is for good meaty strategy games something not well represented on tablets. There are some starting to appear though, so this one is a possible justification.

What I am wondering is, is there another use for a tablet, something I have missed, or something new I don’t use devices for today, that I am not thinking of that could justify purchasing one? For the most part they are not work devices. Beyond reading email (have a laptop and phone for that anyway), note taking would be a killer app for me. Except the capacitive pens people offer are crap. Only Samsung has a good solution there, having licenced Wacom’s digitizer technology. But I have overlooked anything else?

Lifehacker did have a post last week suggesting you think of new devices in terms of what you give up to purchase them. I need some new Ecco shoes. Would that be a better bet than putting a 4th gadget in my travel bag (after the phone, laptop and kindle) or am I just rationalising too much?

What to do with this site

I really need to figure out what I am doing with the site here. I want to post, but every time I look at the place the broken formatting bugs me. And unfortunately with the way my life is at the moment (moving back into house in one part of Dublin, trying to rent out another, buying a car, expecting child 2 in a few weeks, searching for a new job) I just don’t have the time to devote to this.

Maybe next week if/when I get my PC out of storage I will just blitz the theme back to some sort of minimalist canned template. I mean fundamentally all I want are:

  • A single custom photo
  • My quote rotator
  • A search box
  • The calender/archive list of articles.

A keyword/tag cloud, and some meta links are nice to haves.

That’s all not too difficult really is it? And once I have that in place then I can get back to ranting and raving, and explaining how I could run the world sooooo much better than everyone else.

Public sector pay

I was asked to expand on something I tweeted about the other day on Public Sector pay in Ireland. Two things I need to say before I get into the meat of the subject. First, I got my information from posts on the Irish Economy blog. The recent one was on the Public Sector pay gap in a number of European countries, and the other was on what proportion of Government spending goes on wages and pensions. In both cases the articles refer to published reports. The second thing I want to say is this is not an exhaustive or definitive analysis. Be careful how you use the numbers I come up with below.

Anyway, the more recent report from the ECB on public sector pay just compared the premium that being a civil servant gives to your pay packet. The key piece of data though is that the Public sector pay premium in Ireland is about 30%, and it is one of the largest in Europe.

Their Irish data comes from previous studies dating up to 2007. I accept that things have changed since in the public sector, but they have also changed in the private sector as well. My employer has fired about 40% of its Irish workers and put the rest of us on a pay freeze for the last 3-4 years. And I think I got off lightly compared to friends who work in Chemical and Mechanical Engineering and Architecture. My point is, the data is still relevant. It also has to be pointed out that these studies control for all the usual factors like the job type, age, education, gender etc. So they are valid comparisons of private vs public pay. As far as I know what is omitted is pensions. And that is significant. Few people in the private sector are on the gilded defined benefit (DB) pensions public sector workers receive. My local HR team tells me that a DB pension is equivalent to 20% extra on a salary.

I wanted to do a back of the envelope estimate of what that 30% costs us. That took me to the other report, an update from the Government on their spending to the European Commission. I took two numbers from it. The share of spend on wages and pensions is 25.5% and the total spend is €26.7Bn (Compensation of “Employees and Intermediate Consumption” page 49). It’s a very crude estimate, ignoring the cost or premium of pensions, and the fact that the money may not be recoverable, but…

If Public Sector pay is 130% of Private, and the total bill is €26.7Bn, then making the public sector salaries equivalent would mean the cost is €26.7/1.3 = €20.5. And so the the annual premium we pay out is €26.7-€20.5 = €6.2Bn.

Even if we were only talking about half that sum, and we were able to reduce that premium from 30% to 20%, that’s €1Bn extra to spend on things that are a higher priority than a group who, however deserving they may be, really managed to clean up in the Celtic Tiger years.

Three books

A Mexican politician is in trouble after flunking a question on “three books that have left a mark on your life”. It is not actually as straight forward a question as it seems. How many people feel that particular books have made a mark on their lives? And can you narrow things down to 3?

I had a quick think and picking the first 2 was easy. Coming up with a 3rd took me a few more minutes. It’s a good thing I wasn’t put on the spot in a live interview. Anyway, my three are:

  • The History of the WorldJ.M. Roberts – I read this one around 1990. As well as being a fascinating tour of where we came from, it really opened my eyes to how the world works. And in its social history elements probably did more than anything else to make me an atheist. I am re-reading the most recent version (5th edition, published last June) on my Kindle at the moment, and discovering new things in it all the time. That isn’t surprising of course when a book covers so much ground.
  • Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond. I picked this book up in Dallas airport on the way to Chile in 2001. If the History of the World talks about how European civilization went out to conquer the world, GG&S is why it happened that way and why Africans or Americans didn’t come to subdue the “Old World”. More people really should read this book, if just to see how small thing, like pigs, wheat, and chickens made the world the way it is.
  • Demon Haunted World – Carl Sagan. This one was the last of the three I decided on. I am not 100% sure where or when I picked up this one originally. I think I was working in Nenagh and got it in Limerick around 1997/1998. I had always been of a curious but skeptical nature (my mother can tell you stories). But this book opened my eyes to the simplicity and beauty of the scientific method. I got to see how it isn’t as much a tool for finding answers, as for checking which ones are good, and which ones are bad. The book also helps explain why so many people believe in nonsense – often it’s because they know no better. It introduced me to the joy of being a skeptic – of being able to look at the world with unclouded eyes, appreciating the real beauty rather than some made up nonsense, usually being peddled by someone with an agenda to push, or a product to sell.

Now not all of these are readily re-readable, and they may not be the best for covering their subject matter. But each one profoundly change my mindset and opened my eyes. And if they didn’t change my mind directly they have led me to other books that have made me who I am today.

Aren’t books great that way?

Fixing the theme

I have decided to get of my posterior and do something about the broken theme on the site. You should be able to see a load of stuff down the left. But either the theme or the widgets are on the blink and all that is appearing is blank space. Let me go at it to see what I can do.

Austrian construction sites

This is a photo of the construction site across the road from my office in Vienna. Some of my colleagues who look out at this view were telling me about the goings on there in the last fortnight.

Vienna construction site.

Vienna Construction site (in the 2nd district). Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S, SK.

Apparently last week a worked fell off the platform that runs along the bottom. Its about 5m to the ground form there and I am told he looked pretty bad when the Ambulance came for him. After that there was a push to put railings around all the rest of the scaffolding on site. But a few days ago one of the tower cranes dropped a container on the scaffolding at the back. You can see the damage marked with the other red ring. The load went right through the planking like a bullet through butter until it hit the ground.

Damage to the scaffolding.

Damage to the scaffolding. Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S, SK.

The funny thing is, that this being Austria the site remains open and as you can see (the red ring at the bottom) the rest of the staff continue to work without PPE! For all our whining, you wouldn’t see that in Ireland. The site would probably be shut by not for a full health and safety assessment after 2 big accidents in as many weeks.

When to call for help

I am a bit stuck at the moment. I have a bit of a cold (cough, mild sore throat, block nose, etc) but I don’t know whether I should make a run to the Doctor. I have been this way for about 8 days since my sinuses started to act up last week. The usual advice is “if symptoms persist” see your Doc. But then again, most things get better if left for a while. What to do, what to do…

The worry of course is that this is/becomes something more serious. I have had sinus problems travel down to become a chest infection. And a persistent cough turned out to be pneumonia and pleurisy a few years back. So there is a strong argument for taking these things seriously. But then again, you feel like a bit of a hypochondriac visiting a Doctor, to be told you are fine, and the following day feeling pretty much normal.

What to do, what to do…

The Gun – the story of the AK-47

I just finished reading C.J. Chivers’ The Gun – The story of the AK-47. The Gun - CJ Chivers. The book is history, not a gun primer. Chivers spends little time discussion the variants of the AK, how it works (some diagrams would have been helpful) or comparisons with other guns apart from the US M16. Instead he charts a history of where the AK came from, and how it became the symbol it is today. It’s well researched, and despite occasionally jumping around topics is well written.

He starts with Gatling’s first manually operated gun which was followed by Hiram Maxim’s fully automatic one, the first real “machine gun”. Maxim happily sold guns, plans and manufacturing rights to all the powers before 1914. Unfortunately most of them didn’t realise what they had, and they hadn’t much updated tactics which dated from the Napoleonic era.

It’s not like they wouldn’t have known any better. There had been several battles, in colonial Africa and the Russo-Japanese war which had shown how effective machine guns could be. Huge formations of natives were cut down when taking on western Armies in pitched battles in the open. The similarity between a spear waving Zulu and a bayonet wielding Tommy seems to have evaded many first world war Generals.

The middle of the book focuses on the development of the AK-47 and it’s famous inventor, Mikhail Kalashnikov. Chivers admits a combination of Soviet secrecy, Kalashnikov’s unreliability (he has told different versions of the story in at least 4 different biographies) and the passage of time means the full story of the world’s most common small arm will never really be known. He is pretty clear the legend of the sole genius overlooks the contributions of many others.

Chivers does take a chapter to look at how the US responded to the AK47 with their M16. He is scathing about how a rushed process, greed, lies from salesmen and a cover-up created a gun that wasn’t ready when it was given to soldiers fighting in Vietnam. And as a result a lot of them died when it failed in action.

The final third of the book describes how the AK47 became the icon that it is. A central plank of Soviet military standardisation, it was shipped all around the world. Simple and reliable, some of the ones being used in Afghanistan today came from the original production runs in the early 1950′s! The fact that the gun was supplied to insurgents like the Viet Cong, who then went up against ill-equipped US troops meant that in 100 years there was a flip. Now the peasants and hicks were the ones equipped with equal or greater fire power than the western nation. That made the AK a leveller.

The huge numbers produced and handed out means that it has ended up in the hands of criminals, terrorists, and dubious “liberation” movements. A problem became a catastrophe when the Soviet union collapsed. Vast stocks of guns held for a war in Europe ended up sold across the globe, stoking conflict throughout the developing world. An average cost in an arms bazaar today is about $200. The UN estimates small arms (of which the AK is the most common with over 100m of the 600m in existence) killed most of the people in 46 of the 49 wars fought since 1990. There have been over 4m dead, and 90% of those were civilians.

To bring it down to human terms Chivers tells the story of one man, Karzan Mahmoud, a Kurdish body guard maimed and nearly killed by an AK. Mahmoud asked how can Kalashnikov live with himself knowing what he has created, and the horrors it has lead to. In his book Chivers answers that question, and tells that Kalashnikov himself says:

“The constructor is not the owner of the weapon-it is the state… they spread the weapon not because I wanted them to… I made it to protect the Motherland, then it… began to walk on its own in directions that I did not want”

Kalashnikov says he sleeps soundly.

P.S. I wanted to add links to to videos from The Lord of War. But YouTube or the film makers won’t allow them to be embedded. So instead:

Not what I had planned

Well my great plans to post daily didn’t really pan. Out there are a load of reasons. I won’t go into them here. Lets just call them “lame excuses”. I will try and get a bit more stuff out the door though.

The other question is what am I doing for the next 30 days, or remaining 20 of August. Hard to say, as the whole family is back to Ireland at the weekend. Ditching sugar or biscuits, or alcohol occurred to me, but I think I will save them for later in year (certainly I can’t forgo alcohol until my holidays are out of the way!) .

I am tempted to ditch the internet though. How about, restricting my use to email, and this blog. All the rest, RSS feeds, discussion boards, social media sites, I could give them the door. That would be a challenge. Let me sleep on it though. A move like that could be a bit drastic!

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