Iran

To be perfectly honest, I’m not exactly a neutral party when it comes to countries in the middle east. I’ve lost friends in both Iraq and Afghanistan. With that caveat out of the way, here’s my understanding about the current situation.

First, Iran took the view a long time ago that it would support terrorism in the middle east as an asymmetric response to the military might of the United States and Israel. This is perfectly normal and logical, as terrorism is an asymmetric strategy.

Second, relations between the US and Iran have drifter closer and more distant over the years and administrations. If Iran really wanted to emerge from US sanctions, it could have done so by capitalizing on the weakness of the Obama administration. That Iran chose not to manipulate the Obama administration into normalized relations simply means that Iran prefers supporting terrorism to ending sanctions. This is not surprising to anyone who has paid attention to the actions and choices that Iranian leadership has historically made.

Third, killing the leader of the Quds force is a good thing. It is the first signal to Iran in decades that the United States is fed up with the Iranian efforts to destabilize Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria in order to attack Israel. The rocket attack retaliation is normal, because Iran, just like Russia, will ALWAYS respond to any potential threat to their interests.

Lastly, we probably aren’t going to war with Iran. Killing one man to prevent further attacks in Iraq was a deliberate message, just like their rockets were a deliberate message. The wild card here is the Trump administration, which has a reputation for blustery foreign policy that accomplishes very little (China and North Korea for example). The reason why Trump is accomplishing very little is that we swap out leaders every 4 to 8 years, and they are simply waiting to deal with the next guy in 1 or 5 years.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

State of the blog at the start of a new decade

Well, it is the 1st of January, Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twenty. At the moment of typing I have 64,646 total views from 48,116 visitors. I’ve typed 51,167 words last year. My total word count has been falling continuously for the last three years. In 2016 I wrote 102,699 words, 2017 saw a near 20% reduction to 83,774, 2018 dropped further to 60,990.  The most popular posts are about watch movements, WWII fighting/utility knives, and rifle barrel treatments.

I hope even if the word and post count declines quantitatively that there is a qualitative increase in content.

Since starting this blog back in 2015 I’ve earned a second Bachelors degree and my first (probably only) Masters degree, both in IT security (which is why I blog about such exciting things as virtual private networks and computer hardware from time to time). I’ve started the second class Intermediate Level Education (ILE) with the distance education Command and General Staff College option (so far, very little value gained from the academic experience).

I’ve also gotten 5 years older, also ran two half marathons and a ten miler. Last year was the “year of low carb” as my wife decided she wanted to lose some weight, and I figured I’d make it easy on her so I went low carb too. Dropped over 10% of my body weight. Over 12 months that’s less than 1% weight change per month, which seems healthy and sustainable. My wife also started tracking our budget and spending habits, which in turn caused some behavior changes to change how we spend money. A massive decrease in purchasing prepared foods allowed us to transition to the “low carb lifestyle” and still save money despite the increased grocery bill. A weird added benefit is that I can really handle the transition to “very hungry” much easier, evidently after a year of low carb my body transitions to burning stored fat much faster than before.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Build your own router/firewall, or just add a VPN

Twenty years ago broadband internet started taking off and people wanted the option to network more than one computer to their new connection, so home network routers by Linksys and other vendors became popular. This was the days when DSL and Cable companies forced you to clone the MAC address of your computer in order to fool the company into thinking that you only had ONE device connected to their system. These early routers didn’t have too much in the way of built in security, but provided network address translation (NAT) and basically did the job.

Then “wifi” became a thing and wireless routers got added to the mix. I think at some point everyone had to own a Linksys WRT-54G (which was the longest continually produced wireless router produced, from Linksys as an independent company, to after LinkSys was acquired by Cisco, to back when Linksys stopped being part of Cisco).

So there is no reason other than “the hell of it” that anyone needs to build their own router and firewall appliance. However there is a lot of satisfaction in doing things for “the hell of it.”  Of course the published lists of known exploits to vendor software used by various advanced persistent threats (APTs) and other malicious cyber actors makes taking more control of your hardware/software/network a prudent step.

For a standard router/firewall you’ll need a computer with two network interfaces cards (NICs).  One can be wired ethernet, one can be wireless if you just plan on having a wireless network, although my preference is at least two ethernet NICs. My personal router/firewall is one of those compact industrial computers made in China with four Intel brand gigabit NICs, which I got for pretty cheap two years ago. But literally any PC with two NICs will do at this point because the software to run a router/firewall is so lightweight.

pfsense, opnsense, clearOS, VyOS, OpenWRT, zeroshell, are just some of the distributions that can work to turn an old computer into a router/firewall. If you have an old router that is no longer supported by the manufacturer for software updates, I’d look to OpenWRT as the first choice to flash the firmware to get community supported security updates. Ironically a lot of commercial routers in the lower price point are already running OpenWRT or a slight variation on it.

So….what do I recommend at the end of 2019? Well if you want to use a real PC with x86 processor (32 or 64 bit), I recommend opnsense, and if you want to use anything else then OpenWRT if you can.  The exception to this is if you are using Ubiquiti gear, which is built to run their version of software based on VyOS (although VyOS is command line only, no handy web interface) so getting familiar with VyOS is probably better for that one situation.

Things you SHOULD do if you are building your own device.

Set up your own virtual private network (VPN) that you can use to tunnel back to your home network while you are traveling. This will let you use public WiFi in a much more secure manner, as your traffic will go encrypted from your mobile device all the way back to your router/firewall.  Since the government and industry already know you are paying for home internet service, they see you browsing from home, and snoopers can’t snatch your accounts, credit or debit card numbers, or other sensitive data. The downside is slightly less performance, but security ALWAYS has a performance hit.

What VPN software should you use? I’m currently using OpenVPN as it comes bundled into pfsense which I’m already using. OpenVPN also has client apps for smartphones (you can download from the appropriate app store) and it has a lot of industry/community support. The downside to OpenVPN is that is isn’t inherently user friendly to set up (I had to manually edit the client configuration file to get my laptop connection to work), and the connection applications aren’t always the most stable. There is a lot of buzz around Wireguard as a solution, and Wireguard has been kernel incorporated for many Linux distros. The downside to Wireguard is that it is still a “work in progress” in terms of software development and they are still working towards a stable 1.0 release (which means if you adopt now you are essentially a beta tester).

So…why should you build your own router and set up your own VPN? It really is just “for the hell of it” or you don’t want to pay a monthly fee to a commercial VPN service. I don’t recommend “free VPN” services because I suspect they are all intelligence gathering efforts by various state actors (mainly China).  As far as the paid VPN services that promise not to look at your traffic, assume they are lying (paranoia in communications is a GOOD thing).  And as far as paid VPN services go, caveat emptor.

More background on the dangers of free and paid VPN services: https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252466203/Top-VPNs-secretly-owned-by-Chinese-firms

If you already have your network set up the way you like, and just want to add additional security with your own VPN, the old Traffic Layer Security (TLS) VPN solution using a low powered Raspberry Pi is a great option: https://pimylifeup.com/raspberry-pi-vpn-server/  and you can use an OpenVPN client for your tunneling needs when on the road.

In summary, a lot of these projects aren’t “free” in terms of hardware, frustration, or time. Some of them have a learning curve. However all of them are good things to do in order to increase your information security level.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MHI Fanfiction: Arctic Invasion: Frost Giant’s Revenge

Narvick, Norway. Port towns always have a warehouse district. Every warehouse district will have a warehouse, or warehouse space at least, for rent. Monster Hunter International (Scandinavian Division) currently occupied one slightly run down, non-climate controlled warehouse. Instead of crates of fish or goods, the warehouse stored military hardware and various tents the Monster Hunters set up inside the building to provide planning and preparation areas for the upcoming mission.

Even as far north as Narvick is, the target was further into the frozen white hell of the Arctic.

“Didn’t Odin kill all the Frost Giants?” Victor asked absentmindedly as he polished the blade of his basket hilt broadsword.

“Well, yeah.” Jon answered, pulling the handle on the reloading press, seating the .510 caliber lathe turned brass silver tipped bullet into place and sealing it with a roll crimp. “But it’s not like he killed all Frost Giants for all time, did you watch that Thor movie that explained the different dimensions connected by the Yggdrasil? There’s an entire dimension of Frost Giants.”

“Well, that’s certainly convenient for the Frost Giants.” Victor mused, testing the edge of the blade. “Less convenient for us is that Odin doesn’t happen to be around to ask how in Valhalla he happened to rid Midgaard of Frost Giants.”

“That part is pretty simple, kill ’em all and destroy the gate” Jon responded, seating another custom bullet.

“Thanks jackass.” Victor grinned, “But Murphy’s Musings for Mercenaries says, ‘Clausewitz was right, friction is that bastard concept which makes the simple things hard’. After all, Odin had a whole arsenal of magic weaponry, an eight legged flying trans-dimensional horse, and a bunch of sons with a company of heroes of fight alongside him, and he still lost an eye.”

“Hence the reason we set up an LLC for defense contracting and movie making. Your friend at the State Department was most helpful with the paperwork by the way.” Jon replied, repeating the cycle of handle up, bullet in, handle down, next round. “It turns out you can really do anything you want, anywhere in Europe as long as the paperwork is in order.”

“We may not have Slepnir” Jon continued his work, “But we’ve rented CV90s for the movie ‘Arctic Invasion: Frost Giant Revenge’ and they come with a 40mm Bofors cannon, which remains completely functional because they assume we don’t have any ammunition to run through the things.”

“And do we have ammunition to run through the things?” Victor asked, sheathing the broadsword and inserting loaded 50 BMG rounds into the links needed for the M2 machine guns.

“Oh yeah.” Jon grinned. “I had to call back to base in Alabama, but we are getting a triple combat load for the three vehicles.” dropping his tone, Jon muttered, “some assembly required…”

Victor froze, loaded round halfway into the link. “Some assembly required? Dear Brother of mine, pray tell by Beelzebub’s brazen bottom what ‘some assembly required’ entails.”

Jon lowered the handle once again. “Same thing we are doing right now with the 50 ammo, gonna have to do with the 40mm.”

Victor sighed, “Jon, even you don’t have a press big enough to handle that.”

Jon smiled, “Brother, you wound me to the quick, got a custom job locally sourced. Compound leverage, custom seating and crimping dies straight from a buddy of mine in the fab shop at ATK.” Jon passed the loaded round to Victor. “You’ve got nothing to worry about, all the projectiles are API, only five years past the pull date due to powder degradation, so we shouldn’t have a problem with duds.”

“And where are you going to get the powder for three triple combat loads for 40mm?” Victor asked, his voice dripping in sarcasm.

“I tried Sweden first, top notch powders with a top notch price tag. Same goes for Finland. Finally got lucky with the Belgians. It’s a ball powder, and I really had to tweak Quickload to come up with some data, but it should work.” Jon smiled, until he noticed the work Victor had done creating the linked ammo.

“Dude, not cool, I said one silver tip to one Raufoss round, tracer after every sixth!” Jon chastized. “Since we don’t know what works on Frost Giants a mix is better and the numerology of three silver, three Raufoss, and one tracer makes seven.”

“Damn, sorry bro.” Victor replied, and began correcting his mistake.

The two worked in silence for a few minutes until Victor spoke up. “Why are we filming again?”

Jon sighed. “A few reasons. One, we need a reason to have all the hardware we have. Two, we can sell the footage when we are done and get paid twice. Seriously, even ‘Sharknado’ made enough money that it has like seven films now.”

“Oh yeah, that was Ron’s crew out in California that filmed all the action sequences for that piece of crap.” Victor smiled. “I can’t believe someone released it.”

“I can’t believe that Ron sold enough footage for ‘Sharknado 2’ and ‘Sharknado 3’” Jon answered, “The deep ones only teamed up with that djinn the one time. He must have had more cameramen than shooters handling that mess.”

Victor laughed. “Nah, he just put a ‘GoPro’ hero cam on everyone on his team. Melvin spliced it all together into the crap that got sold.”

“Are you telling me that Hollywood got trolled?” Jon snorted.

A tall athletic redhead walked into the impromptu arms room and shook the snow off her hat and scarf.

“Shipment arrives in six hours. Last of big boxes, cameras, and snowmobiles.” Nadya smiled as her scarf and hat were folded neatly on an ammo box. She filled a styrofoam cup with three hour old coffee, burnt from having been on the heater the entire time.

“Once those snowmobiles arrive get them over to the garage to get fitted with the hard saddles and do some test runs around the area with the trailers attached.” Jon directed, doing his very best to not look at the curves of Nadya’s legs under the skin tight thermal suit she wore. “I want the drivers and gunners to test their com links under real world conditions and then run through gunnery tables 1 through 5 under day and night conditions.”

“Da.” Nadya replied, sipping the burnt coffee delicately. “We should be ready tomorrow this time, the crews have been practicing chair drills and simulator for days now. They grow tired of talking while stationary.”

The simulator was a cobbled together system of X-box game systems, one with a first person shooter where the goal was to be a gunner in the back of a pickup truck linked to the other game system where the other player was the driver of the pickup truck. Not exactly a perfect simulator for snowmobiles pulling gun platforms built on trailers on skis, but perfect solutions cost both time and money.

“Ok then, lets stick to the time schedule.” Victor replied, also doing his best to not notice that Nadya’s thermal suit covered her body but concealed nothing.

The following morning the plan was rehearsed over the map. Snowmobile teams in an outer scout formation with two CV90s in the center. The support snowcat vehicle would hold the camera crew and communications support personnel. Operational command would lie with Victor in a CV90 with Jon in the other CV90 as second in command, third CV90 in reserve with Nadya.

“So bottom line is we don’t know what the heck will kill a Frost Giant” Victor opened up his inspirational speech with the least inspiring bit of information as a matter of habit. “But to make up for that every team has at least a Ma Deuce and a Carls Gustoff. Flame Throwers will be available in the CV90s and Snowcat. We assume that fire and explosives are the safest bets for monster associated with cold, but we’ve added silver tip 50 cal to the machine gun ammo you have. Your ammo is alternating silver tip and Raufoss with a tracer every seventh shot. The CG ammo is HE and Illumination. We don’t expect there to be any thermal difference between a Frost Giant and the ambient temperature so thermals will be reduced in effectiveness out here for target acquisition.”

“Team breakdown as follows. Victor and Alex in one CV90 team one, Braunislav and Peter snowmobile team one.  Hans and I in a CV90 Team Two, Olaf and Juri snowmobile Team Two. Snowcat with Rebecca Team 3, CV9 with Charlene, Nadya and Greg Team 3.

“Do we have any ISR assets?” Olaf inquired without raising his hand.

“Actually, yes, although the range and time on station is limited to assisting the scouts.” Jon spoke up. “We have two hex-copter UAVs, affectionately nicknamed Huginn and Muninn. The base control stations will be in the Snowcat and in the team 3’s CV90, and we’ll try to have one in the air at all times when stationary, but since the only vehicle with a person to spare when underway is team 3, we can only fly one when moving.”

“I have overall mission control. Jon is second in command.” Victor finished up. “If we both go down Nadya will assume mission control with the whoever is left choosing their own chain of command for tactical engagements.

“How do we deal with the gate” Juri asked, his Russian accent thick.

“Well, I guess it is time to let Nadya explain her part in all this.” Victor sighed.

Nadya stood up, walked sensuously to the center of the room, and shimmered. Then Nadya was no longer a pale skinned, red headed Nordic beauty. Nadya was now a silver haired, ebony skinned, blood red eyed Schwarzelff with a ragged scar across her right cheek. The curves were evidently real, but now the thermal suit looked much more like tanned lizard hide battle armor than anything else.

Everyone but Jon and Victor immediately reached for their sidearm.

“Hold it.” Jon spoke up, just as Juri and Charlene reached the low ready. “Nadya, which is what we will continue to call her since her real name is fracking difficult to pronounce, is not the enemy here. Let her speak her peace.”

“I am a deep scout, watching the goings on in Jodenheim.” Nadya smiled, “You would say ‘LRRS’ or covert operative I think. I came through the gate to Midgaard from Jodenheim and will take you back to where I came out, far north of here. I can destroy the gate.”

Juri and Olaf reholstered and took a seat. No more joking, no more nervousness. Everyone focused. Peter sometimes had to translate the plan into Russian for Braunislav to clarify, but that was the only thing slowing down the rehearsal.

They set out that night for the long trek north. The Hunters playing the camera crew got good footage of the tracked vehicles emerging from the warehouse followed by the snowmobiles being hauled on a flatbed as they drove north. Outside the city where the road would take them no further everyone topped off their fuel tanks form jerry cans and said goodbye to the flatbed.

Travel in a tactical formation slowed their movement as they expected contact at any time. When the forests opened up they transitioned from bounding over watch to traveling over watch and picked up speed.

Two days into the journey they encountered a smaller Frost Giant, possibly 8 meters tall. The combined fire from the scouts on snowmobiles fixed the monster in place until a CV90 finished it with 40mm HE rounds to the chest. The Giants bled something that looked like blue window cleaner, and their corpses turned into masses of ice.

“I’m glad we have the cameras to get this on tape.” Jon said over the radio common channel, “Getting paid would be hard with ice as your only evidence.”

The next encounter was two Frost Giants, 9 and 10 meters respectively. The meeting engagement turned into a deliberate withdrawal to position the monsters for the CV90s to engage.

“Is it just me? Or are they getting bigger?” Victor asked Nadya when they stopped for an 8 hour rest period.

“They will get bigger the closer we get to the gate.” Nadya replied, heating beef soup over the C4 fire she’d lit on an exposed rock. “The gate is like a woman giving birth, the birth canal takes time to grow, so only the smaller can go first, and the larger come later as it is stretched by the energy of those who have passed before.”

“That is a disturbing analogy” Jon replied from inside his mummy sack. “Wake me up in four hours”

“Sure thing.” Victor replied.

The expedition found the gate on day five. The Frost Giant encounters had become more frequent, with more participants. Instead of three rounds killing one, it took five to seven for a 15 meter Giant. The Carl Gustoff illumination rounds didn’t do much in terms of hurting a Giant, but when one stuck into the chest of a giant it made for an excellent beacon for the CV90s to lock on with the thermal sights.

The gate was three legs, a triangle not spaced correctly making a pyramid that was missing something just out of eyesight. Massive, it looked like a 4th dimensional object had been forced against its will into the third dimension across a vast snowfield in northern Norway. Out of the corner of his eye Jon could have sworn it had five legs, or maybe four, but then he looked at it directly, he only saw three.

“It will take three hours, thirty three minutes to destroy the gate” Nadya said. “I need you to hold them off until then.” She unpacked her rucksack and pulled out a thick book, five stones, seven candles, and various bottles.

“So we are down to 40% ammo, against against an unknown number of the biggest, baddest Giants we have yet to face, and have to stick in one place which negates our mobility advantage” Olaf said over the common link.

“Which is why they pay us the big bucks.” Victor replied. “Scout teams, push out to screen. Jon, get both Ravens in the air, snowcat and CV90 with Nadya, you take left flank support, I’ll take right. Everyone report back with GPS location before Jon and I position the CV90s. Charlene, start the clock.”

A choras of “Roger” and “Da, comrade” came back over the air. Victor positioned the CV90s back to back with Nadya in the middle, performing whatever ritual magic she had to do to end the invasion.

“Pack of three, heading in towards my location.” Olaf announced over the radio.

“Ok, try cutting their knees out with the Ma Deuce” Jon ordered, “I’ll be at your position in 90 seconds.”

Juri swiveled the M2 around in the pintle mount and aimed at the knees of the first Giant, the dark night sky lit an eerie green from the northern lights which mixed with the sickly blue of the gate magic to create a winter scene straight from Dante’s Inferno. Olaf calmly picked up the Carl Gustoff and loaded an HE round. “In three, two, one.” Olaf counted down.

The heavy percussion of 50 BMG being sent down range while a CG rocket blasted into the air opened up the cacaphony of combat to the far north. “There is no hiding now” thought Jon as he brought his CV90 into position.

“Can we get closer?” He asked his driver.

“Sure.” Hans replied. “I can drive this baby right up its ass if you want.’

“I was thinking 600 meters.” Jon answered.

“No problem” Hans gunned the engine and the CV90 raced past Olaf and Juri.

“Ok, close enough.” Jon ordered. He switched over to the gunners station and began carefully aiming the Kongsberg remote weapons station to align the big 40mm cannon. The first Giant advacing began sucking in the cold arctic air to prep its freezing breath weapon or ability on the Hunters. The cold air compressed with some type of magic and began to glow in their head, making the Giants resemble a large, frozen, glowing eyed cyclops.

Jon touched the trigger for single fire, and the 40mm HE round entered the Giant’s mouth, and unleashed the fury of the compressed magic along with the chemical explosion from the shell. The lead Giant fell, dead.

“And we didn’t think of this before?” Hans muttered into the crew intercom.

“Back off, back off BACK OFF!!” Jon yelled into the intercom. Hans responded instantly by ramming the transmission into reverse. Twin beams of super-cooled magic sliced through the area where the CV90 just occupied. Jon traversed the turret quickly and laid another giant low with a head shot to the mouth.

“Back off.” Jon ordered. Hans complied. The third Giant fell to the same tactic.

“Guidons guidons guidons.” Jon spoke over the common channel. “The bigger ones have a magic breath or beam attack, but if you can land an explosive shell in their pie hole before it discharges it is one shot, one kill. 40 mil will do it for sure, CG HE round should as well. Fire and move, you don’t want to get hit with a supercooled breath weapon.”

Victor broke in. “Super cooled breath weapon? Like an anti-plasma weapon? Or an entropic beam weapon?”

“Whatever floats your boat Vic.” Jon replied with a grunt as he scanned the horizon for more Frost Giants.

“I vote entropic beam weapon.” Peter spoke in a thick Russian accent. “Is scientifically more correct than anti-plasma. Braunislav agrees.”

“Entropic beam weapon it is.” Victor replied. “Can’t argue with a Slovakian physicist without vodka, and we’re all out of vodka.”

“I think Rebecca has a bottle of aquavit in the Snowcat.” Jon responded over the common channel.

“Nyet, nyet, is not same” Braunislav muttered. “Wodka is only social lubrication for proper science.”

Nadya’s magic did something, and a brilliant golden light filled everything but their eyes for a second, along with a deep resonant bell tone they couldn’t hear, but knew it happened.

“The first lock is in place.” Nadya spoke carefully to hide her fatigue. “Four more to go.”

The previously calm, cold, dry conditions changed. Not a gradual, storm clouds on the horizon change, but more of a hey, you managed to piss off mother nature change. Conditions became blizzard and visibility went into the toilet, less than 200 meters to see a white giant in white conditions being lit by a nauseous mix of blue/green light.

“All units fall back until into a tight perimeter. Load up the HE rounds in the CGs, one out the hatch at all times, one on the gun at all times, rotate as needed to keep from getting frostbite.” Victor ordered. “I want everyone to have visual identification to their left and right.”

“This movie, I have seen before.” Juri spoke calmly into the microphone. “Is set in nineteenth century, no? Roarke’s Drift? Zulu? I do not remember title clearly, but very exciting to be in a tight defense against overwhelming numbers.”

On a side channel Jon quipped to Victor, “At least he didn’t bring up the Alamo.”

Olaf felt something deep in his gut. A rhythmic “thoom” that was too low in frequency for the ear to hear, but strong enough to feel in his bones. The “thoom” got louder with each beat.

“Something wickedly big this way comes.” Olaf spoke, furiously looking into the blizzard. In the distance he counted five, no ten, glowing orbs that could only be the heads of Frost Giants as they prepared their magic to attack.

Nadya’s magic let out another silent explosion of color and light, like silent french horns and blazing blue strobe lights that no one could see or hear, but experienced anyways.

Victor opened up with the big Bofors cannon, three shot bursts into each glowing orb only now beginning to be part of a giant silhouette. Jon wanted to re-position his CV90 to provide additional support, but maintained his sector.

“Jon, at least five more on our side” Juri spoke calmly into the microphone as he loaded an illum round into the CG. Instead of shooting at the incoming giants he shot high over their heads, the illumination now back-lighting them against the blizzard. More silhouettes, at least double, didn’t have the distinctive glow of magic.

“Oof da” Olaf muttered, swinging the Ma Deuce into position to fire at the nearest orb. It took five bursts, but the giant fell, cold lighting crackling across its head on the way down. Juri reloaded the CG and fired an HE round into the next closest. Juri moved the snowmobile out of the way just as three intersecting entropy beams hit there previous position.

Hans slammed the CV90 into drive and advanced towards the crowd of giants, the stabilized aiming cameras ensuring the Bofors cannon put a round into each head, or three into the chests of the Giants not gathering magic.

It was then that a snowball the size of a Volkswagon smashed into the ground in front of the CV90.

“BACK OFF! BACK OFF! BACK OFF!” Jon screamed as Hans immediately complied, the tracks on the armored vehicle ripping deep divots into the frozen snow and dirt. Jon kept firing until the feed was empty, and then thanked the genius designers who figured out how to reload the cannon without exposing himself to the elements.

“Forward, forward forward” Jon screamed, operating the Bofors as fast as he could while Hans plowed forward towards the enemy.  “Ok zig zag a bit, then head back into formation” Jon pulled the trigger and the Bofors ran dry.

“Stop, drop ramp!” Jon ordered and Hans complied. The loaded CG had an HE round in it, with three more ready. Jon carefully checked his backblast area 90 degrees from the orientation of the vehicle then let off the first round. One dead Frost Giant. Reload. Miss. Reload. Dead Frost Giant. Running back inside Jon screamed, “Raise Ramp and GO!”

Hans complied, and Jon worked to reload the Bofors. “We are down to our last 90 rounds Hans.”

“I have an idea.” Hans spoke calmly. “What if we used some of those snowballs they tossed our way as fighting positions?”

“Guidons guidons guidons” Jon put out. “Break formation, use the the Frost Giant snowballs as fighting positions for a deliberate defense. Go as far forward as you can, be prepared to fight back in and out as needed.”

Hans started laughing.

“What’s so funny Hans?” Jon asked over the private intercom.

“I told you I could drive this thing right up it’s ass!” Hans croaked out between tears, “And we’ve already reached the balls!”

Nadya’s magic let out a screeching wail of silence, like the howling of a tornado through a pan dimensional trailer park mixed in with flashes of non-existent lighting. Victor smelled basil cured pancetta and thought he tasted Pabst Blue Ribbon, sort of.

“Time hack, 40 minutes” Charlene said calmly over the radio.

“Spiders” Greg said over the radio. “Coming from the gate.”

“Left flank, get under cover now! Gonna get your back scratched!” Victor ordered. “Right flank, reserve, deal with the spiders, try to use the Ma Deuce!”

“You heard the man Juri, you and Olaf go to ground.” Jon ordered. “Hans, get us hull down between those two snowballs if you can.”

The spiders came out of the gate slowly at first, easily mowed down by the heavy machine gun fire. The numbers kept growing, and soon they came out faster than the M2s could deal with it.

“Flame Throwers!” Victor ordered. Greg and Rebecca pushed the packs on and opened up with long streams of burning death towards the Great Dane sized arachnids. Victor turned his Kongsberg turret around just in time to kill two smaller giants, 11 and 13 meters respectively, who were approaching in the confusion.

Nadya’s magic “FOOM” was heard by everyone. Like an air/gasoline explosion it sucked the oxygen from the area for a second. Then an otherworldly scream, like nails on a blackboard combined with the ravings of a madwoman bent on revenge in a foreign language not meant for human ears came out of the silence, deafening everyone for a moment. Then the sound of snow falling resumed.

“Time hack!” Nadya yelled into her mike.

“15 minutes” Charlene replied.

“Victor.” Nadya spoke softly, “It is time.”

Victor passed the gunner position off, and gathered his broadsword. Each step towards Nadya weighed heavily on him. He knew what he must do. He knew he didn’t want to do it. Duty is heavier than a mountain. Rebeca and Greg poured on the flame into the gate, stopping the advance of spiders.

“When I drop the stone, you must strike” Nadya spoke, her microphone turned off, her words only for Victor to hear. Her deep blood red eyes, shaped like delicate almonds, reminded Victor that different is just another type of beauty.

On the perimeter an M2 lit up, and a CG rocket flew out into the hazy darkness. A flamethrower melted the giant ice spiders who burned with a cold blue flame. On the left flank Jon let off a stream of shots from the Bofors. Victor stopped counting how many Frost Giants had fallen, and only watched Nadya perform magic.

She cut each foream and bled dark crimson blood onto the frozen ground, she closed her eyes and chanted, raising a stone high to the sky. The world stood still. The sounds of battle faded to silence as Victor watched her hands open and the stone began to fall, pulled down by the irresistible force of gravity.

Victor swung his broadsword, passed down through the ages, reforged into a new blade by his father using steel from a captured Japanese Officers sword that had also broken in half. The brass for the hilt melted down from 30-06 and 8×57 shells combed from the beaches and cliffs of Normandy. The leather in the handle from the neck leather of Cape Buffalo that hunted men in the bushveldt of South Africa. With his weapon holding all the magic of violent human history its maker could find, Victor struck.

The tip of the swords flew true, slicing through Nadya’s left eye, taking from her half the light of the world.

The stone hit the ground.

The explosion of the gate disintegrating, cutting off the magic flow from Jodenheim caused the few remaining ice spiders and Frost Giants to stop where they were and crumble in place.

“I’m so sorry.” Victor whispered.

Nadya smiled at him, blood streaking down the left side of her face, tears down the right. “There is no victory without sacrifice. Even Odin had to give an eye.”

Epilogue: It took barely a day to get back and meet up with the flatbed truck. Nadya fashioned a makeshift eye patch which gave her a decidedly rakish aura, pirate queen slash dark sorceress. Victor and Jon still did there best to not notice her curves, although they tried less hard when in her blind spot.

Rebecca uploaded all the video footage to Melvin’s FTP server, and Melvin edited the video footage into plausible action sequences and began the actual production of “Arctic Invasion: Frost Giants Revenge.”  Unfortunately the resulting plot once the writers finished production even SyFy refused to give it any air time but it eventually made enough money as a “direct to video” production to cover the production costs involved. The Sharknado trilogy got better reviews on rottentomatoes.com, a fact that Ron reminded Victor every team leader teleconference.

The Norwegian government refused to pay by the Frost Giant, and instead settled on a flat rate for extermination and gate elimination, and quietly transferred three CV90 fighting vehicles to Arctic Exterminators LLC, a video production company.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Footnote Generals

Throughout history the “Great Captains” have waged war across Europe, gained and lost empires, and provided a veneer of romantic adventurism over the brutal ugliness of war. Through that same time span, there have been an even greater number of “Footnote Generals” who gave sound advice that kept nations out of war, or created conditions that made their victory so one sided that historians scoff at their victory as “inevitable and easy” rather than skillfully played.

Quick, name three Chinese “Great Captains”!  You can’t, can you? Unless you happen to specialize in Chinese history, the names  Pretty much the entirety of Western understanding of Chinese military leadership is having read Sun Tzu’s (who was in fact a famous Chinese general) “The Art of War” once or twice (still better reading than Clausewitz in my opinion).  This is largely because Chinese military history is segregated to “before/after” the communist revolution, and while studying the maneuvers of historic Chinese forces is interesting, it is not illuminating to the current world we live in. Pretty much every world or regional power on the planet has adopted some variation of “the Western Way of War” and developed tactics to deter, defeat, or disrupt it.  The Russian’s developed the “Gerasimov Doctrine” to specifically create war that isn’t declared war to advance their national interests. The Chinese “Unrestricted Warfare” viewed all elements of national power, including and especially finance and economic, as weapons to advance the interests of the Chinese Communist Party.

Winston Churchill said something along the lines of “Slaughter and Maneuver, the better the General the more the Maneuver and less the Slaughter.” And for years I believed he meant “tactical maneuver” of troops and supplies in relation to an enemy.  He might as well have talked about “Political maneuver” there as a good General has the pulse of the political leadership and is able to provide meaningful, if unpopular, advice. Although it is equally probable that Churchill only meant tactical maneuver. GEN MacArthur’s experience in the Korean war definitely shows how political maneuvering can go wrong, especially when the President of the United States is your former aide de camp (which may have caused MacArthur to underestimate the organizational accumen of his former aide, who spent WWII in the European theater holding it all together there).

Still…there were hundreds of Generals in every military in WWII, and we can name only a handful off the top of our heads. The rest are “footnote generals” who were good enough to make the rank and keep it, doing reasonably good work. The ones who failed spectacularly actually fair better in the history books, as their mistakes are analyzed over and over again and taught as examples of what not to do.

But if I had to send my son to serve, I wold want him to serve under a footnote general. Someone who competently does their job, without a flair for the dramatic or cult of personality. Someone who attained their rank not through favor or nepotism, but by dedication and competence. I would never want my son to serve under someone who wanted to make their mark on history.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Army Navy Game

The service academies are the last “true rivalries” in sports. Yes some students do get scouted in for athletic purposes, but the number of academy athletes who are released from service to play professional is very, very small and always done on a case by case basis. None of the service academies will ever be football powerhouses or dynasties.

But the Army Navy game is a tradition, and yes Navy generally wins (Navy midshipmen get a little more leniency on body composition where Army does not). But every year someone will make the comment that this might be the “last time of innocence” for the players on the field, the cheerleaders on the sidelines, and the students in the stands. Every year the various alumni come back, some veterans of multiple combat tours. Some carrying the physical wounds and psychological toll of service. And they come together for a game.

As you go up the ranks in the “O grades” the chance of routinely working with a West Point ring knocker increases. So many of them get out at five years when their obligation is up, and that is fine. But those that stay, generally stay until retirement, and some beyond as they hope for a last chance to make full bird Colonel or become a General Officer. And the emotional resiliency they display, some of it comes from the continued traditions of meaningless rivalries like the Army Navy game.

It takes them back to before they were shot at. Before they lost Soldiers under their care. I can only imagine that Naval Officers who lost Sailors have the same fondness for seeing a young group of people at the peak of their athletic performance and their entire career ahead of them, has a soothing effect on their mood.

My Army experience didn’t involve an academy, and my commission was awarded at Fort Benning, Georgia. I have no emotional connection to the Army Navy game. What drives me now is that I have an obligation to leave the Army better than I found it.  I do remember being a young private, eager to please. And then a young Sergeant, eager to lead. My LT time was spent repairing a unit that did 15 months in “the surge” which included fixing property books, filling out training plans, and the drudge work that came my way. Most of my Captain time was spent along the same, deploying and rebuilding units after deployment. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Now, the Army has slowed down deployments to a sustainable level, and sped up training to a barely sustainable level. So when the Army Navy game comes up, it means another year passed. More and more young Officers have a slick right sleeve, the area under the US Flag vacant, many of our Soldiers too. But not for long, we’ll push out another two Brigades back to the two way live fire range in CENTCOM and all those youngsters will experience the dust, boredom, long stretches of nothing punctuated by brief moments of sheer terror and destruction. Some of them will be academy grads, and maybe in twenty years they’ll look forward to the Army Navy game, as a reminder of how they once were.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

China bans all foreign software and hardware for Government computers…

Welcome to the cyber warz. The United States government is fully “in bed” with American tech firms. Some have very long and storied relationships like IBM and Microsoft, Amazon and Google get to play too. Because of this cozy relationship, it makes Russians and Chinese view American tech firms as proxies for the US Government. After all, Russian and Chinese companies are seen as proxies or extensions of state power by Russia and China.

Russia started weening itself off of Microsoft operating systems a few years back: https://www.zdnet.com/article/russian-military-moves-closer-to-replacing-windows-with-astra-linux/

China is looking to transition to fully home grown solutions for hardware and software: https://www.cnet.com/news/china-reportedly-bans-foreign-hardware-software-from-government-offices/

Considering how much more experience and industry China has with chip lithography and manufacturing, it makes sense China would mandate hardware too. This is in line with China’s push to create more of an industrial tech base in the Chinese economy to make technology sanctions irrelevant in the future: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/04/china-ramps-up-own-semiconductor-industry-amid-the-trade-war.html

China has been working on x86 compatible processors for a while now: https://www.tomshardware.com/news/china-zhaoxin-kx-6000-core-i5-7400,39694.html

In the future I expect that the “Risk V” and “OpenPower” processors will slowly replace the x86 for Russian and Chinese mission critical systems. The x86 architecture is still the largest, but that only means that it is the most attacked. The open design of Risk V and OpenPower cpus will mean that anyone with a fab can make them without paying royalties. A quick list of semi-conductor fabrication facilities around the world shows that plenty of them exist in China, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and many other countries that may not be swayed by US foreign policy to put the squeeze on China.

And all of this effort put forth by Russia and China is designed to accomplish a few distinct goals. 1, make them more secure in cyberspace from intrusion by competing nations like the United States. 2, make them more economically secure from being reliant on imported technology in terms of silicon or code. 3, make them able to leverage their national economies (a few billion consumers is a helluva market trap) in order to bypass the economic might of the United States.

In other words…it’s business as usual.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment