Carter Moore’s “How To Defeat the British Army in Five Easy Steps”

Nice Quora writeup by user Carter Moore here, quoted in full below. I have a thing for imaginative well-researched answers like this:

So you’ve decided to take on a modern and experienced professional fighting force of some 116,000 personnel, but you’re unsure where to begin. That’s perfectly reasonable. Defeating one of the world’s most highly regarded military organizations is a pretty daunting task.

Many people have tried to defeat the British Army over the course of centuries, and most of them have failed. But hopefully with this advice, you and your victorious army (you do have an army, right?) will be knocking on the Queen’s door in no time.

The primary issue with attacking the British Army is that they’re really, really good at defending themselves from aggressors or would-be aggressors who play by the rules, make themselves known, and fight in the open. You will have to rely on the element of surprise for your attack to have maximum chances of success. Keeping that in mind:

Step 1: Set up your army in Norway

With a few exceptions, England hasn’t had to anticipate an invasion from the direction of Norway in the last 1,000 years; so it’s unlikely that they will be expecting your army to come from there. The Norwegian fjords offer you plenty of opportunities to shield your army from detection until they’re ready to launch.

I estimate that you’ll need a well-trained fighting force of some 50,000, to include an air component, in order to reasonably assure numerical advantage in your attack. You might notice that this is a smaller number than the total size of the British Army I noted earlier, but keep reading. I would also highly recommend you include an air component to fend off the Royal Air Force.

Step 2: Hijack a Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarine

Of all the contingency plans that might exist within the Ministry of Defence, I’m going to go out on a limb and doubt that they have one entitled, “The Bastards Use Our Own Ships Against Us.”

Nobody has ever successfully (or, to my knowledge, unsuccessfully) attempted to take command of a nuclear submarine, which means they might not expect your attack to begin here. Given that the Royal Navy based its submarine fleet in Scotland of all places, it seems probable that they won’t notice one of them missing for at least a few hours.

How you choose to defeat the Royal Marines guarding the base and take command of the vessel is entirely up to you, but a full frontal attack is not advised (see: British are good at defending themselves in open warfare). As has been discussed elsewhere, it’s not likely that those guarding the submarine fleet have been trained to anticipate an assault that relies primarily on slingshots, so I would recommend you explore this possibility in detail. I also have it on good authority that they no longer train to fight against swords and longbows.

Alternately, if you’re the patient type, enlist in the Royal Navy and diligently work your way up the ranks until you’re in legitimate command of one of Britain’s nuclear-armed vessels, and then turn “traitor.” The difficulty here is that most – if not all – of your crew might interfere with your plans to attack their country, so you should have loyalists in key positions to assist with putting down the mutiny.

Step 3: Eliminate most of the British Army

You might be disappointed to learn that your new submarine contains a mere 40 W76-type nuclear warheads across a paltry eight missiles, but this will be more than sufficient to eliminate most of the Army’s fighting strength. Most of the Army’s garrisons are concentrated in just five major military installations, with satellite garrisons spread across 30 counties. As such, your new-found nuclear capability should be sufficient to destroy most of the Army’s headquarters units and the majority of its personnel and equipment.

However, I’m reasonably confident that the UK has not targeted its nuclear warheads against itself, and I’m not intimately familiar with the retargeting process. There should be an instruction manual onboard the submarine to help you through this process.

Your first salvo of warheads should be set to detonate approximately 100 kilometers above Great Britain in order to maximize the electromagnetic pulse effects of the weapons. This will help disrupt or destroy any national power or communications systems that are likely to survive the secondary wave of attacks (again, owing to the small yields of the warheads you’re carrying).

Because of the small yield of the weapons, you will need multiple detonations to maximize the EMP effects across the country; and due to the orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field in the Northern Hemisphere, you will be detonating the devices approximately 200 kilometers to the north of your intended targets. I recommend an attack pattern (intended target) of:

  • Coningsby (London)
  • Bewerly (Birmingham)
  • Wark (Manchester)
  • Nairn (Edinburgh/Glasgow)
  • Bunessan (Belfast)

Here’s where having your forces tucked away in the Norwegian fjords has an added benefit: By being several hundred kilometers to the northeast of the EMP bursts, they’re in a better position to be shielded from EMP than if they were arrayed along the English Channel. The London-intended high altitude burst alone could affect sensitive systems as far away as Germany.

Very shortly after the EMP attack, your salvo of warheads set for low-altitude detonation ought to reach their targets. Not only will the use of airbursts allow you to maximize the destructive potential of the nuclear weapons, but they will limit any fallout to the immediate area of destruction (being too high to pick up and disperse radioactive debris into the atmosphere). As such, the nuclear attack should not result in much obstruction for your invading forces. Your absolute priority targets should be:

  • Ministry of Defence Headquarters at Whitehall
  • Aldershot Garrison
  • Bulford Camp
  • Catterick Garrison
  • Colchester Garrison
  • Tidworth Camp

Bare minimum. Note the lack of bases along the eastern coast, ie, facing Norway.

Side note: The detonation over Whitehall will, unfortunately, obliterate the Queen’s door (and all persons and property within many square kilometers); so contrary to the introduction, it is not advised that you attempt to go knock on it to declare your victory following the successful implementation of this guide.

Keeping in mind the potential threat from the Royal Air Force in supporting the remnants of the Army in repelling your invasion, I recommend you consider exchanging the destruction of low-priority garrisons (eg, primarily training centers) in exchange for air stations High Wycombe, Coningsby, and Lossiemouth. You can adjust the number of targets as you see fit, but keep in mind that the bulk of your nuclear attack should be focused against the Army’s capabilities.

A very crude examination of an attack on the Army’s garrisons with 35 100 kiloton nuclear weapons comes up with some two million dead and 4,600 square kilometers of destroyed land (three percent of the UK’s people and two percent of its land area). This brings us to the next simple step.

Step 4: Evade/Attack the Royal Navy

By now, the Navy will have noticed that you’ve taken their submarine and used it to kill several million people, and this will make them unhappy.

Your personal best bet, frankly, is to beach the submarine somewhere along the English coast and get as far away from it as possible before reestablishing communications with your army-in-waiting.

It’s not cowardice if you live to rule again.

Your army’s best bet, however, would be for you to gallantly engage the Royal Navy with whatever torpedoes you have available in order to distract them from your invasion force. If you choose this route, though, be advised that the likelihood of your personal survival to see the full destruction of the British Army cannot be guaranteed.

Step 5: Taunt the Army a Second Time – Invade England

Given the chaos that’s sure to reign in the wake of your nuclear attack, your army should not have much trouble establishing a beachhead at a location of your choosing. Your presence should enrage the surviving Army – which I estimate to be down to 20 to 30 percent of its full strength, most of which should now consist of Reservists, who are not based at the now-flattened garrisons – and goad them into attacking.

It is not advised that you wait for the Army to be fully organized, however, and might instead choose to attack their components while they are detached from the main body. Your success will depend on the capabilities of your own armed forces.

Once you’ve mopped up the stragglers, you should take a brief minute to congratulate yourself for successfully defeating the British Army, and then prepare to defend yourself against the might of NATO’s counterattack.

To accomplish this, please refer to my guide, How to Surrender in 1 Easy Step.

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Why the h-index is bad as an “objective” measure of individual scientific productivity

Firstly, Goodhart’s law:

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” ….

Tangentially related is Terry Tao’s advice on doing mathematics; I’ve found Tao to be a very reliable source of evidence-based common sense in general when it comes to areas he’s expert in (which is not necessarily the case for most brilliant minds unfortunately), I quote a paragraph from this article – this was where I first heard of the law above by the way:

It is also worth noting that even one’s own personal benchmarks, such as the number of theorems and proofs from <standard reference text in your field> you have memorised, or how quickly one can solve qualifying exam problems, should also not be overemphasised in one’s personal study at the expense of actually learning the underlying mathematics, lest one fall prey to Goodhart’s law.  Such metrics can be useful as a rough assessment of your understanding of a subject, but they should not become the primary goal of one’s study.

I digress. Back to the h-index, which you can intuitively think of as being someone’s “academic footprint”. Here’s Wikipedia:

The h-index is an index that attempts to measure both the productivity and citation impact of the publishedbody of work of a scientist or scholar. The index is based on the set of the scientist’s most cited papers and the number of citations that they have received in other publications. ….

The index is based on the distribution of citations received by a given researcher’s publications. Hirsch writes:

A scientist has index h if h of his/her Np papers have at least h citations each, and the other (Np − h) papers have no more than h citations each.

In other words, a scholar with an index of h has published h papers each of which has been cited in other papers at least htimes.[4] Thus, the h-index reflects both the number of publications and the number of citations per publication. The index is designed to improve upon simpler measures such as the total number of citations or publications. The index works properly only for comparing scientists working in the same field; citation conventions differ widely among different fields.

Alright, now let’s bash the h-index. Brian Farley, a postdoc biochemist at UC Berkeley, writes on Quora in reply to the question “Is the h-index a proper index to evaluate the productivity and citation impact of a scientist?”:

Absolutely, unequivocally not. It’s an “objective” metric that can be gamed to hell and back that’s used to absolve oneself of the burden of actually evaluating a scientist’s work. Yes, it takes a lot of work to understand and evaluate what a scientist does, but if you’re about to support their ability to do it, you should probably understand why. I can understand how people (especially the dreaded administrators) can be seduced by the simplicity of a single “objective” number, but the simplicity is exactly why it fails to be meaningful or even useful. Scientists are much, much more than the papers which their name happens to be on — they train, they collaborate, they have informal discussions, they make a huge number of unpublished contributions to the community as a whole — but the h-index ignores all of that. It places an extremely inappropriate emphasis on publications and leads to all kinds of behavior that hurts the scientific community, up to and including academic fraud.

As tempting as it is to make simple, objective metrics for everything, I cannot imagine a single situation in which it is appropriate to dodge the personal responsibility associated with making a subjective decision about a scientist.

I’ve previously collected material on this subject (of h-index bashing) in a previous post on Ron Maimon and Ed Witten; don’t know which.

Lastly, here’s an exchange I found in a Less Wrong comments thread which talks about basically the same thing:

“The fact that students who are motivated to get good scores in exams very often get better scores than students who are genuinely interested in the subject is probably also an application of Goodhart’s Law?”

“Partially; but a lot of what is being tested is actually skills correlated with being good in exams – working hard, memorisation, bending youself to the rules, ability to learn skill sets even if you don’t love them, gaming the system – rather than interest in the subject.”

“But those skills don’t correlate with doing good science, or with good use of the subject of the exams in general, nearly so well, and they are easy to test in other ways.”

Could a 100% reflective mirror physically exist?

Inna Vishik over at Quora:

Theoretically but not practically.

Three examples of theoretical perfect mirrors are a perfect metal (electrons never scatter) below its plasma frequency, a dielectric mirror, and total internal reflection.  In practical implementations, these deviate from perfection to varying degrees.

A perfect metal
Within the Drude model for AC conductivity, if the scattering time of electrons goes to infinity (i.e. they don’t scatter), the metal will reflect 100% of light if the light has low enough frequency.  Introducing a reasonable scattering time degrades reflectivity a bit, and inter-band absorption in real metals can make it even worse.  Many metals are not as bad as the example below, with 99% reflectance being achievable for certain wavelength ranges.


Reflectivity for an undamped metal (dotted line), a metal with some damping (dashed line), and aluminum. image source: http://www.mark-fox.staff.shef.a…

Dielectric mirror
A dielectric mirror employs a stack of dielectrics with differing indices of refraction.  Thicknesses of each layer are chosen such that there is constructive interference for certain wavelengths.  Because light is either transmitted or reflected at every interface, you don’t get the same losses as you do in a metal.  Reflectivities better than 99.999% can be achieved for a limited wavelength range and angle of incidence.  Deviations from perfect reflection occur because the materials have defects which absorb light and also some portion of light will make it through the entire stack without getting reflected.


image source: Dielectric mirror

Total internal reflection
When light hits the boundary between two materials of different indices of refraction (n) with a shallow enough angle, it will be perfectly reflected at the interface inside the material with the higher n.  This is the operating principle behind optical fibers.  In practice, the perfect reflectivity is disrupted by roughness at the interface, and for the case of optical fibers, the light will degrade over some (long) distance because of absorption.

Why is there an ozone hole over Antarctica and not over the Arctic Circle?

Robert Frost, on Quora:

The ozone hole results from ozone depleting chemicals (e.g. chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)).  When CFCs are hit by ultraviolet light, they release chlorine.  Chlorine reacts with ozone, destroying it to produce chlorine monoxide and diatomic oxygen.

These reactions are most effective when they occur on the surface of ice crystals, in the stratosphere.  There are more ice crystals when it is most cold.

Antarctica is colder than the Arctic circle because the ratio of land to water is higher.

Therefore ozone depletion over the South Pole is greater than ozone depletion over the North Pole.

On the abysmal state of current heroin addiction treatment

Since I haven’t posted in a while, I’m going to kick things off by quoting a post written by the interesting-as-always Scott Alexander over at Slate Star Codex. The man’s a wellspring of cool that never seems to run dry. Here’s Scott reviewing the Huffington Post’s fantastic 20,000-word article Dying To Be Free on the current state of heroin addiction treatment, and as usual it starts gnawing away at that part of me that says the world is broken, and it needs fixing:

The article’s thesis is also its subtitle: “There’s a treatment for heroin addiction that actually works; why aren’t we using it?” To save you the obligatory introductory human interest story: that treatment is suboxone. Its active ingredient is the drug buprenorphine, which is kind of like a safer version of methadone. Suboxone is slow-acting, gentle, doesn’t really get people high, and is pretty safe as long as you don’t go mixing it with weird stuff. People on suboxone don’t experience opiate withdrawal and have greatly decreased cravings for heroin. I work at a hospital that’s an area leader in suboxone prescription, I’ve gotten to see it in action, and it’s literally a life-saver.

Scott continues, and here’s where I get angry:

Conventional heroin treatment is abysmal. Rehab centers aren’t licensed or regulated and most have no interest whatsoever in being evidence-based. A lot are associated with churches or weird quasi-religious groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. They don’t necessarily have doctors or psychologists, and some actively mistrust them. All of this I knew. What I didn’t know until reading the article was that – well, it’s not just that they try to brainwash addicts. It’s more that they try to cargo cult brainwashing, do the sorts of things that sound like brainwashing to them, without really knowing how brainwashing works assuming it’s even a coherent goal to aspire to. Their concept of brainwashing is mostly just creating a really unpleasant environment, yelling at people a lot, enforcing intentionally over-strict rules, and in some cases even having struggle-session-type-things where everyone in the group sits in a circle, scream at the other patients, and tell them they’re terrible and disgusting. There’s a strong culture of accusing anyone who questions or balks at any of it of just being an addict, or “not really wanting to quit”.

I have no problem with “tough love” when it works, but in this case it doesn’t. Rehab problems make every effort to obfuscate their effectiveness statistics – I blogged about this before in Part II here – but the best guesses by outside observers is that about 80% to 90% of their graduates relapse within a couple of years. Even this paints too rosy a picture, because it excludes the people who gave up halfway through.

Suboxone treatment isn’t perfect, and relapse is still a big problem, but it’s a heck of a lot better than rehabs. Suboxone gives people their dose of opiate and mostly removes the biological half of addiction. There’s still the psychological half of addiction – whatever it was that made people want to get high in the first place – but people have a much easier time dealing with that after the biological imperative to get a new dose is gone. Almost all clinical trials have found treatment with methadone or suboxone to be more effective than traditional rehab. Even Cochrane Review, which is notorious for never giving a straight answer to anything besides “more evidence is needed”, agrees that methadone and suboxone are effective treatments.

Yep, that’s the Cochrane Review people, which strives for accuracy and hedges its bets on everything.

So why aren’t we already prescribing suboxone as widely as it should be?

The first roadblock is the #@$%ing government. They are worried that suboxone, being an opiate, might be addictive, and so doctors might turn into drug pushers. So suboxone is possibly the most highly regulated drug in the United States. If I want to give out OxyContin like candy, I have no limits but the number of pages on my prescription pad. If I want to prescribe you Walter-White-level quantities of methamphetamine for weight loss, nothing is stopping me but common sense. But if I want to give even a single suboxone prescription to a single patient, I have to take a special course on suboxone prescribing, and even then I am limited to only being able to give it to thirty patients a year (eventually rising to one hundred patients when I get more experience with it). The (generally safe) treatment for addiction is more highly regulated than the (very dangerous) addictive drugs it is supposed to replace. Only 3% of doctors bother to jump through all the regulatory hoops, and their hundred-patient limits get saturated almost immediately. As per the laws of suppy and demand, this makes suboxone prescriptions very expensive, and guess what social class most heroin addicts come from? Also, heroin addicts often don’t have access to good transportation, which means that if the nearest suboxone provider is thirty miles from their house they’re out of luck. The List Of Reasons To End The Patient Limits On Buprenorphine expands upon and clarifies some of these points.

(in case you think maybe the government just honestly believes the drug is dangerous – nope. You’re allowed to prescribe without restriction for any reason except opiate addiction)

The second roadblock is the @#$%ing rehab industry. They hear that suboxone is an opiate, and their religious or quasi-religious fanaticism goes into high gear. “What these people need is Jesus and/or their Nondenominational Higher Power, not more drugs! You’re just pushing a new addiction on them! Once an addict, always an addict until they complete their spiritual struggle and come clean!” And so a lot of programs bar suboxone users from participating.

This doesn’t sound so bad given the quality of the programs. Problem is, a lot of these are closely integrated with the social services and legal system. So suppose somebody’s doing well on suboxone treatment, and gets in trouble for a drug offense. Could be that they relapsed on heroin one time, could be that they’re using something entirely different like cocaine. Judge says go to a treatment program or go to jail. Treatment program says they can’t use suboxone. So maybe they go in to deal with their cocaine problem, and by the time they come out they have a cocaine problem and a heroin problem.

The whole post (of which I’ve quoted nearly two-thirds) is worth reading, but I’ll end the quotes with this last paragraph, a point Scott has expounded upon in other posts and which I find attractive mainly because it’s counterintuitive and is evidence-based etc:

Society is fixed, biology is mutable.

People have tried everything to fix drug abuse. Being harsh and sending drug users to jail. Being nice and sending them to nice treatment centers that focus on rehabilitation. Old timey religion where fire-and-brimstone preachers talk about how Jesus wants them to stay off drugs. Flaky New Age religion where counselors tell you about how drug abuse is keeping you from your true self. Government programs. University programs. Private programs. Giving people money. Fining people money. Being unusually nice. Being unusually mean. More social support. Less social support. This school of therapy. That school of therapy. What works is just giving people a chemical to saturate the brain receptor directly. We know it works. The studies show it works. And we’re still collectively beating our heads against the wall of finding a social solution.

If a person is born deaf, which language do they think in? (Giordon Stark)

This answer to the question posed above on Quora, written by Giordon Stark (who was born deaf, and who incidentally has a pretty nice piece on a layperson introduction to the Feynman integral – his standard for “layperson” being pretty high), is pretty interesting:

I was born deaf. I did have speech therapy at an early age, and growing up, my inner voice is figuratively speaking to me and I hear it as well as lipread it. This is the same voice that I imagine people have when they read blocks of text andhear in their head. I don’t exactly see some creepy “Voldemort” face in my head, but I always have some image of lips moving along with a voice that Ihear.

At the same time, I do have memories of when I was little and didn’t speak at all, and all my memories were heavily visual and olfactory. I would always remember specific images of locations and could describe them to my parents in vivid detail trying to figure out what I was remembering. Before speech therapy – my inner voice was highly visual.

Now, as I’m learning/studying sign language in my free time, I’m finding that my inner voice has grown hands as well and I sometimes read things and hear a voice, lip read, and see signs all at the same time. I would expect that a similar experience happens with those who are bilingual/multilingual and sometimes hear all languages at once when reading a text, or perhaps sometimes it switches languages in their heads (although it is a little different because they would hear in whatever language they’re reading in for example).

In cosmology, energy isn’t conserved (Lubos Motl)

Lubos Motl on why and how energy isn’t conserved in cosmology:

What is energy?

In different physical situations, we use different formulae for “energy” but we always want the “same convertible currency” that may be summarized as follows:

Energy is the scalar quantity that is conserved as a result of the time-translational invariance of the laws of physics.

This deep relationship between symmetries of the laws of Nature – in this case the invariance under the translations in time – and the conservation laws was discovered by Fraulein Emmy Amalie Noether….

Does energy exist in general relativity? Is it nonzero? Is it exactly conserved? Is it approximately conserved? Can it be written as an integral of the energy density over space?

Well, most of these answers are No, at least morally. But let’s look at them more carefully. The precise answers will depend on what you mean by energy and what situation you consider.

General relativity allows the space and time to get curved. So it is no longer the case that the objects are moving in a translationally invariant background. Most backgrounds are not translationally invariant. That’s a reason why Noether’s argument fails in its simplest form.

For example, you may study the evolution of particles and fields – including electromagnetic fields – in the background of an expanding cosmology. I mean the Big Bang cosmology. Because the history of the Big Bang is not invariant under translations in time, Noether’s theorem tells you that the energy of the objects will not be conserved in general.

Read the rest of the (rather long) entry here.