How to quickly end the war in Ukraine with $10 laser pointers

President Zelenskyy of Ukraine is begging NATO for a no-fly zone they can’t risk providing. So I came up with another solution — $10 laser pointers. 

Buy 100,000 laser pointers and give them to Ukrainian mothers (not kids — too dangerous). Even the puniest lockable laser pointer (notice the keys?) can temporarily blind a pilot at a distance of more than a mile, so what will 100 non-puny laser pointers do to the same aircraft? It would not only create an effective no-fly zone, it might kill hundreds of Russian pilots before they figure it out.

Though outdoor laser pointer pictures are usually shot at night so the beam is easier […]

Here’s why Putin won’t use nukes in Ukraine — Pass it on.

President Putin of Russia has been talking a lot lately about his forces using nuclear weapons — presumably tactical nuclear weapons — in the war with Ukraine. It’s an easy threat to make but a difficult one to follow-through for reasons I’ll explain here in some detail. I’m not saying Mr Putin won’t order nuclear strikes. He might. Dictators do such things from time to time. But if Mr Putin does push that button, I’d estimate there is perhaps a 20- percent chance that nukes will be actually launched and a 100 percent chance that Mr. Putin will end that day with a bullet in his brain.

Given that I don’t […]

When is a no-fly zone not a no-fly zone? When it’s an airlift.

This was the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49. Post-war Germany was partitioned into sectors administered separately by the major Allied powers. The city of Berlin, buried deep in the Soviet sector of Germany, was similarly partitioned. So there were American- and British- and French-administered parts of Berlin. Access from the rest of Europe was by road, rail, or air with trains and trucks passing through a Soviet-ruled countryside. That was until the Russians decided to shut down those roads and railways in 1948, keeping Berlin from receiving both fuel and food.

The only remaining access to Berlin was by air and so the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force flew everything into […]

Bob’s 9/11 post from 20 years ago — To a Man With a Hammer

Some things are worth reading again. For the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, here — unedited — is my column originally published September 13, 2001.

My smarter and handsomer brother was in Northern New Jersey on Tuesday looking across the water at what was for just a moment longer the single remaining tower of the World Trade Center. A cold front had passed through the night before, leaving the day startlingly clear. The carnage was easy to see even from a distance. Only the rising cloud of smoke and ash marred the sky. And then that tower, too, was gone. The magnitude of this disaster and its sister at the Pentagon in Washington is […]

Einstein’s Fridge: Who knew the history of thermodynamics was so much like high school?

Almost 50 years ago I had the misfortune to take two statistics classes at the same time. One was a required introduction to statistics and the other was econometrics. Don’t ask why I took them both — I don’t remember. But I do remember one day in the Intro to Statistics class when another student asked about this distribution plot (below).

 “What was it? What did it indicate? What could it be used for?” they asked.

“It’s nothing,” said the TA. “It’s useless.”

But I had seen that shape before, in econometrics, where they called it a split normal distribution. that was said to […]