Time for another NPF potpourri post, albeit one with an unusually mixed bag of links. Instead of the usual small servings of random internet finds of the funny/"omg awesome" variety, this sample ranges from funny to terrifying. To better mess with your fragile Friday emotional state, I present them in no logical order:

1. This may be old news to some of you, but I had never before seen the "9/11 from space" photos taken by ISS astronauts during the terrorist attack. For the recent anniversary NASA astronaut Frank Culbertson shared his thoughts and recollections on witnessing the event from orbit.

2. Do you like things that are awesome? Do you have $400 burning a hole in your pocket? Well you can get a big ol' print of the cover art from Eightball No. 18 straight from Daniel Clowes.

I kinda want to use this as the new background art, despite how hard and how repeatedly he would sue me.

3. The latest from the "DARPA's reality is far scarier than anything fiction writers can imagine" file: the Squad Support System, an autonomous robot intended to carry heavy loads over rough terrain for soldiers. Not interested in sleeping? Then check it out!

Despite the fact that this thing is unarmed and intended to be helpful to our fighting men and women, the only things I can picture when I look at it are A) hiding from it, and B) Linda Hamilton urging me to lure it under a machine press and crush it.

4. From the "Everything the government produced during the Cold War is inherently hilarious" category comes the 1975 instructional manual "Civil Disturbances." It contains helpful descriptions of how your friends and family in the Army will put you down like dogs when you start rioting over President Romney's plan to turn you into high-protein animal feed. Complete document available here.

5. In my new city the air raid/tornado warning sirens sound often and at absolute random. They go off four or five times per week (in perfectly calm weather; not so much as a rain shower in ages) at any hour. They've gone off at all times of day – noon, after work, early in the morning, and right now at 12:43 AM…after a rousing chorus of sirens at 10:30 PM. I urge anyone able to offer a rational explanation for this to do so in the comments. Baffling.

58 thoughts on “NPF: MANIPULATION”

  • Squad support system for combat in rough terrain? We already had that. It's called the horse(mules too). Oh I know, this is the part where someone says, "But horses have limitations, AND you have to feed and water them, etc.! This is a robot!" To which I reply, you're not very familiar with military technology, are you? This thing is basically a horse that will end up costing tens of billions of dollars over the years.

  • I don't really care about the price/ridiculousness of robomule. I just like that the field of robotics is being advanced. Darpa has also made a robot cheetah that can run at 28 mph.

    And the air raid/tornado siren going off 4-5 times a week? HAH!
    The one in my town goes off twice daily that I hear. And it does it at all hours as well. My explanation is that hillbillies are in control of it. Sorry if that's not helpful.

  • I will bet that within a week one of the Alex Jones listeners I know will be in a panic over the civil disturbances manual.

  • Instead of DARPA, they should call that mechanical horse, Rafalca.

    Mitt will soon buy a Dressage DARPA for his wife.

  • As for panicing over the civil disturbances manual, that ship has LONG since sailed. Remember, Alexa Jones has been warning that martial law is "right around the corner" for more than fifteen years now. Others have been arguing the same for much longer.

    As for military technology like this, you need to remember that just because they can show you a slick video where the damn thing actually works, doesn't mean that it actually will under real-world conditions.


    The basic problem, Smith says, it that sirens are sounded too often in most places. Sometimes they sound in an entire county for a warning that covers just a sliver of it; sometimes for other thunderstorm phenomena like large hail and/or strong straight-line winds; and sometimes for false alarm warnings ­ warnings for tornadoes that were incorrectly detected.

    The residents […] were numbed by the too frequent blaring of sirens. As a result of too many past false alarms, he writes: "The citizens of Joplin were unwittingly being trained to NOT act when the sirens sounded."

    As to the Robomule: it works!, even if only in a somewhat controlled environment. That's not little. Certainly beats the rocket cars we ought to have by now.

  • Rolling Barrels says:

    The robotic mule is actually not a bad idea. I don't think it needs legs though – in a combat zone, having weak points like that strikes me as a bad idea. Why not use armored treads? I've seen robots used for S&R that don't need legs. Granted, they're usually a great deal lighter than what a mule would be, but it seems like the technology is already there to fill the role the LS3 is designed for sans creepy legs.

  • I invite you to check out Rober Heinlein's "Farmer in the Sky" (original title – Boy Scouts on Ganymede) for an all terrain concept far more inventive than the Squad Support System. Written in the 1950's I believe. Serialized in Boys Life.

  • It's possible they are malfunctioning. Unless you live in a postage stamp-sized town, you should notify the police department or dispatch center when they are sounding. They can attempt to shut them off and can report it to Emergency Management who can then send someone to check it out.

  • Hank's right about that. In many places, the warning sirens are sounded to alert the Rural/Volunteer FD for calls. Those departments barely have the funding for protective gear and vehicles. Communications and notification systems are afterthoughts, usually cobbled together with whatever is available for use.

  • I'm buying one of those hemi-powered air raid sirens and pointing it at my neighbor's house – the one with the very loud motorcycle.

  • Mild Mannered Secretary says:

    This is the beginning of Imperial Walkers. Fantastic. I was preparing for zombie apocalypse and instead it's the Empire coming for me. Of course.

  • Arslan nailed it. It's a multi-million dollar mule. No wonder our forces are so often vexed by irregular forces with low-tech solutions to logistical problems (think bicycles on the Ho-Chi-Minh trail). Sheesh.

  • Sirens?

    Psychological conditioning – DUH.

    People are rightly horrified at the gov't keeping prisoners awake constantly blaring music. But complain about the gas station on the corner playing music at the pumps 24/7 and you're the lunatic. Shut up and take it or you might get the hose.

  • GM Victory and Hank are right. I grew up in a town in the Midwest that turned on the air raid/tornado siren every time the paramedics or firefighters had to respond.

  • If you put a siren on top of the Imperial Walker/Robo-Mule………then, we might just have something I could point at my neighbors' house……

    I'm just saying….

  • I'm going to print out that manual and hand it out to the next gun nut who says they must have guns so they can rise up against the government.

  • Instead of DARPA, they should call that mechanical horse, Rafalca.

    c u n d gulag, DARPA is the name of a DOD agency for the development and research of new war toys/technology. So that robot horse/mule was developed by Boston Dynamics (I am guessing) with DARPA funding. A couple of DARPA projects more scary than that robot are the flying remote-control insects (for use as tiny little listening or maybe even killing devices) and "Combat Zones that See" which is a system to link up city cameras to track everything that moves.

  • One kid with a BB gun putting a round through any of the SSS exposed hydraulic lines would be worth seeing, IMO.

  • Are we allowed to shoot at it (the LS3)? It looks like an expensive and fun target. Our own soldiers would barely be able to resist taking pot shots at it.

  • Major Kong and Sluggo: I had a neighbor who decided to have a car towed at 1:30 AM one morning. Woke me out of a sound sleep. The very next time I had to cut grass I made a point of doing it as soon as I could see clearly after first light, and I cut the yard nearest his property first.

  • Can't help you with the sirens. Our tornado warning siren has gone of at 1PM every Saturday for 30 years. You can set your watch by it.

    That DARPA thing is getting down into the "Uncanny Valley". It's creepy because it looks almost alive, but not quite. Brrrr. The camera on the front (that kind of peeks randomly back and forth) HAS to have been intentionally made to look like eyes.

  • The Boston Dynamics robot developed for DARPA in the video is derived from their BigDog robot. It's really cool because it was designed using dynamical systems theory, and its movements aren't all being processed through a central processor. People often imagine that limb movement is all being calculated (subconsciously) in the brain, but with dynamical systems theory and the concept of embodied cognition you can model animal movement where a lot of the cognitive aspects of moving (and correcting for error and such) take place in the limbs themselves, and BigDog is a sort of proof of concept.

    Too bad that so much of the cool technology is developed for the military. :(

  • Needs Truck Nutz if it's a Marines thing. Also, I looked at it and figured it would constantly give Marines' position away or get in their way. And an M60 would be on board.

  • The robomule concludes a sort of melancholy arc over 3,000 years of history — it was the horse, a military technology only they possessed, that allowed the Indo-Europeans to conquer so much of Europe and Asia. Mechanical horses will now permit latter-day IEs to maintain their order in the imperial backyard, back where their ancestors set out from.

    @RollingBarrels : I'm no expert in these things myself, but I suppose having legs instead of treads greatly reduces the chance of stepping over landmines, which still do manage to stop tanks and armored carriers.

    The most cogent point I've seen raised is this : what's the point, ultimately? Unless this steel horsey has some magic trick up its sleeves, it looks like it can be stopped dead in its tracks by most ragtag amateur insurgents aiming a RPG at its skinny legs. (Just as I don't much see the point of multi-bazillion-dollar aircraft carriers when you can sink them with a few Walmart-cheap anti-ship missiles.) Cui prodest? Who stands to gain from these gizmos, other than the military contractors suckling at the federal teat?

  • Granted I'm getting old but back in the day the air raid/tornado sirens were used to signal the volunteer fire department. The sirens would go off and blast out a morse-type code that you could look up in the phone book and it would tell you the address where the fire crews were to report. I would think that the system would have been replaced by a pager of some type by now but who knows, maybe not.

  • Arslan, @ 9/21/2012 @ 3:26

    "This thing is basically a horse that will end up costing tens of billions of dollars over the years."

    And you could most likely bring it down with a well-placed shot from a .22 rifle.

  • Dpb @ 9/21/2012 5:23

    "Darpa has also made a robot cheetah that can run at 28 mph."

    Cool. But wouldn't it be more useful for them to design robotic limbs for the thousands of injured vets that are not only as functional as the real thing, but that cost less than a Porsche Cayenne?

  • Ed:

    When I was a kid, we all walked to school and went home for lunch. The air raid sirens on top of the school went off just before 8:00 a.m. and again at about 12:30 p.m. to let the kids know they had less than 10 minutes to get their buts to school, or they would be marked tardy.

    As for the 10:30 p.m.siren, I'm guessing that your new town has a curfew for kids under 18 that kicks in about that time.

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