I recently completed the Craig Douglas Extreme Close Quarters Concepts course. Over the period I trained there was one kinked neck, one torn/sprained shoulder, a dislocated finger, and at least one bruised rib. I list the injuries first not because the drills were given in an unsafe manner, but because out of  class of 22 people, having around 20% of the class be injured in training is a sign that you are close to the edge of “good training.” At least three of the four who experienced an injury that they relayed to the rest of the class that they had injured that area before, so they were known weaknesses going into training. And if you train hard, usage injuries will happen.

Total props to Craig for the quality of the class. If you make everything too simple and easy, people aren’t learning anything of value, if you make it so hard that only black belts in BJJ and full time crossfit gym rats can learn something then the vast majority of students aren’t learning anything of value. So Craig really did a great job keeping the training at the right intensity and pace to get the maximum value for the majority of his students.

Day one, the most uncomfortable thing for me was the “Managing Unknown Contacts” drills which combined verbal and physical activities to take the initiative to clarify a situation. An unknown contact is neither good nor bad, just unknown, and verbally initiating contact allows you to take initiative and clarify the situation. As an introvert, this was probably the most challenging thing I had to deal with.

Thankfully the second drill I was more familiar with. Decades ago I took a self defense class from Jeff Alexander which focused on very similar strategies, an eye attack to change the dynamic, escaping a grab, and getting back on your feet. The techniques were slightly different, as Craig’s context for training is focused on training armed adults who are putting themselves in harms way and Jeff’s focus was on teaching unarmed people to escape a surprise attack without weapons in play (keeping women and kids from being abducted).

The “head cage” stance of vertical and horizontal elbow shields made a great deal of sense, to take a blow and then close space or disengage as needed. As the “one thing” to do when swung at is a very simple response and one that can be easily trained into muscle memory.

Day two, the shooting was new, but the unarmed part was a lot of repetition for me. The mat work I’ve done through various iterations of US Army Combatives made day two a pretty long grind on previous material. As far as shooting goes, I’ll never draw a pistol the same way again, nor will I hold a pistol the same way again. My trigger finger having an index point is great, and a draw that comes up in contact with my body to a high center position isn’t any slower than my old draw but has the added benefit of a much more consistent feel and feedback.

Day three, more new shooting drills, I got caught flagging my support hand once and I started to become much more focused on getting the mechanics of that hand correct. The combatives portion involved more people, unscripted scenarios, and group feedback. This also gave the class the time to incorporate all the tools/skills taught.

So, my final verdict is that yes, ECQC is expensive, however it is worth it. I would not recommend it as someone’s first class though, and if they don’t have some familiarity with grappling it will feel like drinking from a firehose. I was very lucky to have a background that made me feel like I was drinking from a firehose for only about two of the five major subject areas.

To someone preparing for ECQC, I recommend getting on the mats with a BJJ (or Aiki JJ, Danzan Ryu JJ), Judo, MMA, Hapkido, or wrestling club every week for about six months or so. This will get you comfortable with how your body works when struggling with someone else’s body, and help you not react intuitively (always make space, get away) as you’ll learn that sometimes you have to close space and take dominance. You will also get in much better shape, as I felt like hammered vomit after training was over (seriously, it’s a smoker).

If you can’t take the pounding of a wrestling intense martial art, one of the more serious branches of Aikido (such as Tomiki Aikido) would be beneficial to helping you get your body in shape, and helping you learn to take a fall without getting hurt and slightly more used to being in close contact with someone who means you harm. Do not bother with Karate, Tae Kwon Do, or Kung Fu styles.

I also recommend getting a Glock 17 or 19 and becoming familiar through a serious concealed carry pistol course, as that seemed to be the pistol of choice for instructor and student alike. Make sure it is in good working order before coming to class, as we did see one pistol failure during the class (a 13 lb mainspring just finally gave out, and the student transitioned to a back up gun).

So I don’t think that I’ll take ECQC again in the next year, but I will try to make room in my calendar for Shivworks EWO. I have enough information from ECQC that I need to internalize before taking it again to maximize my learning capability as a student, and EWO would focus on another set of things in which I currently have a skills gap which is edged weapons in the close fight.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments, or even just comment in the comments.

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Amazon’s Data Centers

Wikileaks put out a big expose on Amazon Data centers that gave me a huge “no duh, derplock” moment.

Here is the map that Wikileaks put together:


Obviously that looks like a highly disperse array of data centers. But it is also highly ordered, and highly ordered based on something that has been public knowledge for a very long time.

All of those Amazon Data centers are located near internet exchange points where terrestrial fiber lines (not shown) go international with undersea fiber lines.

Rather than show you a map of all the US fiber optics (which is seriously crowded) I’ll show you just the US internet exchange points to give you an idea.

So it is obvious that Amazon put its data centers where they are proximal to undersea fiber optic access points and internet exchanges. Even with the large geographic distances, this gives each data center a minimal hop count between each other on very big bandwidth fiber links, and this allows Amazon to provide excellent cloud services and infrastructure to clients. This is no big deal, and anyone in the internet business would say “seriously, this is a no duh thing.”

What I haven’t done here is show you which networks are connected at which exchanges, but that really doesn’t matter from the business logic perspective. However, if you wanted to see something interesting, you could overlay the known intelligence agency locations with internet exchange points, and then identify which networks used those IXPs, you could probably see the logic behind why some locations were chosen over others:  Once you do that, it becomes very easy to see which locations would be useful for international spying, and which would be useful for domestic spying (here’s a hint, on the map provided by the Intercept, only Chicago and Dallas strike me as of questionable value for international spying, but that’s just my gut reaction without serious in depth analysis and both locations are in states that are very proximal to Canada or Mexico).

Hopefully this has been a fun and informative read.

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The struggle for survival of Western culture.

I was idly thinking the other day that there should be some sort of “Order of LMSV” or something to piss off people who get offended by those who defend the right of Western culture to continue to exist….

King Leonides of Sparta, made famous by the graphic novel turned blockbuster movie “300” stopped the Persian empire from conquering Greece, which as any Greek will tell you is the birthplace of Democracy. That was around the end of August to the beginning of September, 480 BC.

Charles Martel, stopped the Moorish invasion of Europe at the Battle of Tours, on 10 October 732, more than a millennia after the Battle of Thermopylae.

On the 10th of September, 1683, more than two millennia from Thermopylae John III Sobieski, King of Poland, led the largest cavalry charge in known history to break the siege of Vienna, against the Ottoman Turkish invaders.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Vlad Tepes, who fought the Ottoman Turks as well, although it is unknown if his battlefield accomplishments were decisive as the Hungarian-Ottoman wars continued long after he was gone.

Unfortunately for Western Culture, when our ancestors weren’t fighting Persian, Moorish, or Ottomon-Turkish invaders they were busy fighting each other. This is because “Western Culture” isn’t a monolithic culture block any more than “African Culture” is incredibly different from Morocco to Congo to Zimbabwe, or Asian culture is different from Mongolia to Japan. But still, the advances that Western culture have given the world are pretty cool, even if the historical revisionists want to paint it all as “imperialism.” Funny how the fallen empires of Persia and Nippon don’t get brought up as examples of “imperialism.”

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Chinese hacking chip on Super Micro server boards

It is no real secret that the goal of Chinese state-sponsored Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) is to support the Chinese government’s goal of rapid development for economic reasons.

This is why the J-20 looks like the F-22 and the J-31 looks like the F-35, why the PLA Navy’s latest trimaran frigate looks a lot like the Independence Class Littoral Combat Ship. It is also why the J-14 looks like a Sukoi, and why Russia has called out China in the past for stealing Russian intellectual property.

China steals IP, because the leaders of China need rapid advancement across multiple industries to create the future China which is a world power strong enough to create a “multi-polar world” where China counterbalances the US.

So, did China modify server motherboards being manufactured for specific clients in the US? Oh hell yes they did, no matter what Apple and Amazon say about it, it happened. Were Apple and Amazon targeted? Hell yes, but since both of those companies have huge economic ties to China, they aren’t going to admit it.

Full disclosure, as I type this I’m not ten feet away from my own server that has a Super Micro mother board in it. I have no idea whether my motherboard is on the list of compromised units or not, and I have no idea how to go about identifying whether or not my board has a component in it that it shouldn’t have. If the Chinese get into my home lab, its not like they’ll find anything valuable.

But, to explain further how something like this comes about, when a corporation that has IP that China wants, and that corporation makes a big purchase of a custom motherboard, it is in China’s best interest to conduct a supply chain attack to pre-position a vulnerability to let their APTs into the target corporations network. The Chinese so far haven’t been planting malware (like some other countries) as their entire government strategy is to avoid conflict with the United States. In their perspective, the US will put up with the spying as long as there is enough profit for the US to gain from a continued relationship with China. In short, China is making the theft of IP just part of the cost of doing business with China.

So why now? Anyone in the industry has known this is going on for years. I think that there are two distinct possibilities. 1, the Trump administration wanted to let the American public know why he is risking a full on trade war with China. 2, sheer coincidence that a major media outlet put together a big story that took over social media for a few days.

So, is your computer vulnerable? Yes, it is vulnerable to something. So practice good cyber hygiene, try to be “uninteresting” out there in cyberspace, and hopefully the huge corporations that have your data (google, facebook, amazon) encrypt your records properly.

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Tank Trends, getting to be part of the “right mix”

There is a passage in the book, “Charlie Wilson’s War” about a Special Forces captain who worked with the CIA to arm the muj in Afghanistan. He scoffed at Charlie Wilson’s desire to get the muj the Oerlikon cannons to kill the HIND gunships, and said that it would be “the right mix of capabilities” that included short range anti-air missiles like Stingers and Blowpipes, but also heavy machine guns, and appropriate ground arms.

Right now the US Army has but one tank, the M1A2 Abrams, which is on the “Systems Enhancement Package version 3” which is essentially all the electronics and some of the “TUSK” (Tank Urban Survivability Kit) capabilities. And the US Army has a lot of them, and Congress continually forces the Army to buy more of them.

The Abrams is heavy, not very efficient on fuel, and has a crew of four. It is a good tank, although it isn’t strategically mobile, nor tactically mobile. It requires a tractor trailer to move it around before dismounting to fight. It’s a maintenance queen.

The Soviets encountered many of the same downsides with the T-64. It was high tech, a bit heavier than normal for Soviet tanks, which trend lighter than their American counterparts. The Soviet answer was to create the T-72, which was simpler, cheaper, and more reliable. Premier units got the T-64, and the bulk of the Red Army got the T-72.

But the Soviets did not stop making the T-64, and continued it’s upgrade path with the T-80 and T-84. The T-72 also got the upgrade path with the T-90 and T-73B3. Eventually the T-72B3 became the standard as the advantages of the “higher tech” T-64/T-80/T-84 tanks just became too expensive for the supposed advantages.

Of course talking about just the tanks isn’t really talking about the “right mix” of each nation. The US Army has the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Which is a good fighting vehicle in terms of firepower, horsepower to weight, and efficiency. The Russians have a whole shmuck of different tracked and amphibious fighting vehicles, some of which are also tank killers in their own right.

Right now the biggest drive for tanks is not bigger cannons or “tank guns” or stronger armor, it’s active protection systems, communications, and better all conditions optics. In short, all of the cool advantages of the M1A2SEPV3 are getting applied to T-72B3s. Individually the Abrams is still the better tank, however as part of a combined arms team, the T-72B3s are definitely part of the “right mix” of capabilities. The new T-14 Armata family of tanks and fighting vehicles doesn’t offer any new capabilities on the battlefield in terms of range or firepower, although it does have one less crew member.

So the trend really is clear, there isn’t much to be gained by going to a new tank platform at this point. Although the Germans are working on a new tank with the French that’s really because they were stupid about their drawdown and scrapped so many Leopard 2A4s that they now only have a limited number of Leopard 2A6s. Ironically Poland has more Leopard 2 tanks in service than Germany.

The current trend is add reactive armor and an active protection system. If the US builds a new tank at this point, it should be in the 35 to 45 tonne range, built for ease of maintenance and crew survival. After all, the upgrade path for everything else is going to naturally occur the way it did for the Abrams, T-64, T-72, and Leopard 2s.

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Russia’s announced aircraft carrier

About seven years ago rumors started going round ye old intertubes about a new catamaran Chinese aircraft carrier. Some high tech looking computer simulations were released, and nothing became of it as China seems wedded to the proven Russian design for the time being. Pretty good summary of the rumor, and the reality, here:

Now Russia is announcing that it is creating another medium size carrier, but with a catamaran like hull, or “semi-catamaran” as described in the puff piece. One of the many propaganda arms of the Russian government that targets english speaking audiences, in this case TASS dot com, released a photo of a proposed design and an appropriately vague description of the design, and some hard numbers about planned capabilities.

My bet is that the semi-catamaran design goes nowhere for at least quite a while. Russia doesn’t have the resources to waste on a large scale project that might fail such as a new hull design without some extensive smaller scale modeling to prove/disprove the concept.

What irks me, is how many western news outlets immediately parroted the Russian press release without bothering to talk to anyone in the boat building industry. You now, actual experts in marine engineering might have something to say about a “semi-catamaran hull” especially when the press release doesn’t show any pictures of the hull, only a picture of a model from the top down.

There are a lot of good things about catamaran and trimaran hulls. The Chinese have fielded at least two trimaran recovery ships, and are building a new class of Frigate based obviously on the Independence class Littoral Combat Ships that will have trimaran hulls. The shallower draft per displacement of a the multi hull design over mono-hull design makes sense for operating in the littorals, and the fact that China is making a warship a tri-hull design means they want the option to put some relatively serious firepower seriously close to the beach. More about the Chinese tri-hulls:

Speaking of the Russia/Chinese connection working on multi-hull aircraft carriers, that rumor goes back at least a decade:

As far as the Littoral Combat Ships go, the Independence class hulls started out as “cost a lot for small performance.” But, as newer weapon systems are coming online, such as a long range surface to surface anti-ship missile, the “dogs” are growing some “teeth.” The fact that they can serve as impromptu floating airbases for Cobra and Apache attack helicopters, or possibly an F-35B if the deck plating can get replaced with cobalt steel alloy so it doesn’t melt…

Eventually someone will manufacture a catamaran aircraft carrier. The design advantages are too numerous to avoid forever, although the advantages in terms of top speed really only helps with “strategic mobility” rather than tactical mobility and shallower draft could mean more deck pitch for landing aircaft in rough seas (the deeper your draft and longer the ship, the more the ship “cuts” rather than “rides” the sea). Then again, if deck pitch is a serious concern, the weather is so bad planes should not be flying, in my opinion anyway.


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But can you shoot?

I’ve lost many a match to young, perky blonde girls and women. Because they shot better than I could that day.

Ironically the “long range shooting” hobby has had a bit of a resurgence in the recent years, with the inclusion of F Class and F/TR class, as well as various “outlaw” competitions not sanctioned by the NRA, USSA, CMP, or other sanctioning body. The other part is the rapid adoption of target rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor.

For years if you wanted to shoot long range your options were 308 Win and 300 Win Mag for “common” options. And there is nothing wrong with either cartridge. For actual use on living tissue, either round is perfectly adequate to drop animals (two or four legged). However, the recoil wasn’t particularly pleasant (even a 308 gets tiresome to shoot, a 300 much more quickly so), and people kept trying to make the “next big thing” with the 7mm-08, and the 260 Rem.

Somehow, the 6.5 CM, with all of the external ballistics of the 260 Rem, took off. Maybe it was a better marketing strategy, maybe it was all the major rifle producers thinking, “Hey, since it doesn’t have Ruger/Steyr/Win/Rem on the case stamp, we can make a rifle for that!” Who really knows.

But I do know this, there are way more 6.5 CM rifles sold than there are shooters capable of wringing out a first round hit at unknown distance in field conditions. I can’t prove it, but I sure as heck know it. But let me explain my logic.

At my last match, a Soldier (perky blond female MP) took top honors with a 485. A soldier also took last place, with a score less than 250. The vast majority of shooters in the Army are closer to the one who came in last place, and for the Army she is a very good shot. Unfortunately like me, she’s getting into the High Power game a tad late in life (I know, boohoo, cry a river). The match winner got into High Power at the ripe old age of 17, which is positively ancient by junior standards, but when you are in your mid 20s give you the perspective of having shot High Power for a whole quarter of your life….

I also see a lot of guys shoot from the bench, working hard to make really small, tight groups on paper. I don’t begrudge anyone their hobby, but bench shooting isn’t really a test of your skill as a shooter, no matter how much of a test it is of your ability to handload.

Some of the best advice on wind reading I’ve ever gotten was given to me by a perky blonde junior. Wouldn’t have gotten better if I hadn’t been out there losing matches. But ironically, also moving up the NRA qualification ladder. If all goes well, the end of this season will see me move up another rung. Wish me luck, cause sometimes no matter how good you are, a little luck doesn’t hurt.

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