Tag Archives: Military

Pieces of the Action by Vannevar Bush


  1. Bush recounts his more than 60 years of experience as a leading scientist and innovator 

Key Takeaways

  1. We need, today, something we can be genuinely proud of. It should help to dissipate the gloom. For we have been losing our pride of accomplishment in these recent days. Pride of the right sort does not go before a fall; pride of accomplishment leads to greater accomplishment
  2. There are two primary ways in which to lose a battle or a campaign, assuming nearly equal antagonists as far as equipment, morale, and sizes of forces are concerned. One is to have confused lines of authority. The other is to have a top commander with poor judgment
  3. A military organization needs to be tight-knit if it is to fight well. And loosening it in time of war, with the idea of making it able to progress more rapidly on weapons, would be fraught with the danger that the loosening might be in the wrong places and lead to a lot of damage. Second, that there should be close collaboration between the military and some external organization, made loose in its structure on purpose. And the relationship should be a cordial one, assured to be so by the supreme command. 
  4. I never made a single technical contribution whatever to the war effort. At times I have been called an “atomic scientist,” it would have been fully as accurate to call me a child psychologist 
  5. In an industry that has become closely standardized, where nearly all competing companies are comfortably making profits, minor improvements can readily be introduced, but major improvements are up against a stone wall
  6. Edison was a very good inventor, a still better promoter, but in some ways a poor experimenter. Some of his experimentation was crude, to say the least. When we talk about the Edisonian method, which means to try everything without any theory to guide you, just hit or miss, we are talking about very poor experimentation. But Edison was such a good promoter that he could advance even with poor experimental data
  7. There are two main ways to go about inventing. One is to see a public need, or desire, and scurry about to find a way of meeting it. The other is to develop new knowledge and see where it leads. The first method was distinctly Edison’s. Today the second is the most commonly used. Of course, the new knowledge must be directed into channels where there may be useful results
  8. How as it possible for a highly intelligent group of men to pursue diligently for months a false theory, without every attacking it? The simple fact was that Joffe was above all criticism. One does not question his savior. 
  9. Patent laws and anti-trust laws, alongside a common language, a uniform market and nearly uniform customs, have helped spur the innovation in this country 
  10. My dad taught me some things about public speaking which have helped me along the way. One point which has saved me many a headache was this: never start a speech unless you have clearly in mind the sentence with which you are going to conclude. Another point involved some interesting psychology, of an informal sort. He told me, “When you are making a speech your mind is in 3 parts. One is paying attention to your actual wording at the moment. Another is roaming ahead to plan what you will say next. A third is following behind, picking up slips you may have made. Suppress that htird part or it will get you into trouble
  11. One of the finest courses I ever took was on non-Euclidean geometry…Was this a foolish thing for a young engineer to study? It was one of the most valuable courses I ever took. Here was a subject where one depended completely on careful logical reasoning. If one followed his intuition for just an instant he was inevitably lost. It was grand teaching. 
  12. There is a vast difference between understanding a problem in terms of equations and diagrams and understanding it in terms of copper and iron. A physicist can work out the stresses and geometry of a harness, but the farm boy understands the horse. I have known men (I have had them work for me) who were rather helpless on the mathematical analysis of circuits but who could go to a complex relay assemblage that was misbehaving and put their finger right on the fault. So I think the fundamentals of almost any subject, the simplest part, the core, can be taught to youngsters who are just beginning to learn and can be taught to them easily. If this is done, the student who really has an interest will carry through to quite an extraordinary extent on his own. I do not think it is worthwhile in trying t do this to take the matter into subtleties which will not really come into the youngster’s experience for many years. For a principle once learned is soon forgotten unless it gets exercised
  13. The task of teaching in the colleges is not merely to provide students with the skills necessary for a professional career and also to prepare them for the bases on which informal collaboration with their fellows is facilitated, but to go beyond these and provide the foundations for associative relationships that may become worthy, not merely trivial, and which confer genuine satisfaction upon those who participate. Thus we need a balance. Alongside the course in the mathematics of electric circuits we need a course in the history of ideas. And we need that balance wherever older minds seek to help younger minds on the way of life. 
  14. I am convinced that the greater men are, greater in the best sense, the more simple are their relations likely to be, the more wholesome, in their homes and with their real friends

What I got out of it

  1. A bit too long for my taste but it had some real gems. Amazing to get a glimpse inside the brain and experience of one of the world’s leading scientists during some of the most pressing and unstable times. 

Boyd: The Figher Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram

  1. “Boyd has had a bigger impact on fighter tactics, aircraft design, and theory of air force combat than any man in history but he was also court marshaled and investigated dozens of times for leaks to the public, stealing computer time to work on his theories, and more. He was cantankerous, loud, and offensive and made a lot of enemies but it was all in the pursuit of his theories which positively impacted how the US military trained and fought.”
Key Takeaways
  1. Boyd was a rare combination of skills and talents and became known as 40 second Boyd because of his ability to beat anyone in air to air combat simulation.
  2. He was the first to codify air to air combat. He was only a junior in the army when he changed how the Army and Navy at large trained fighter pilots. Much of Boyd’s work is classified so his contributions were almost unknown to the outside world during his lifetime. Even then, except for the Marine Corps, most divisions of the military didn’t give Boyd proper credit for his contributions because of how much of a ruckus he caused
  3. He was in search of truth and a pure man but he was also larger than life, rude, cared little for his appearance
  4. Boyd was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1927 and his father died when he was only three years old. His mother worked very hard to keep the family afloat and she taught her kids the principles of frugality and hard work that would stay with Boyd forever. The mother severed ties with religion, friends, and family if she thought it would hurt her children. Also, Boyd’s sister contracted polio and the family became a sort of pariah because at the time people didn’t know what caused polio. Although John was somewhat socially awkward, his mom instilled in him that if you work hard and had integrity, you would win in the end
  5. As a child, Boyd had incredible focus and was a championship swimmer in Pennsylvania
  6. Boyd questioned the limit of everything and often found that it was always greater than what people told him
  7. Boyd had little tolerance or patience for those who didn’t understand what he was working towards but for those who did, he would go into great detail to make sure they understood
  8. After Boyd graduated from flight school, he was asked to stay on as an instructor which is one of the most prestigious job requests that a pilot can get
  9. After several years at Flight Weapons School, Boyd wanted to get his undergraduate engineering degree and got it from Georgia Tech. It was here that he was able to intertwine thermodynamics with his aerial studies. It was the trade off between potential and kinetic energy that tied them together and the beauty and simplicity of the idea made his hair stand on end when it clicked for him. Like entropy, a plane could have energy that was unavailable for work because of his position, speed, or strength of opponent. This was his excess power theory, which eventually became known as the Energy Maneuverability Theory. At its most basic, this determines the specific energy rate of an aircraft – how fast can you speed up or slow down compared to your opponent. Using specific energy makes this ratio universal across planes because, simply put, it is energy divided by weight of aircraft
  10. Boyd’s EM did 4 things for aviation
    1. It allowed for a quantitative basis for teaching aerial tactics
    2. It forever changed the way aircraft are flown in combat
    3. It provided a scientific basis for how the maneuverability of an aircraft could be evaluated. It allowed for a comparison of aircrafts and how to negate or minimize the advantages when flying against a superior jet
    4. It became a fundamental tool when designing fighter aircraft
  11. Boyd was able to see a page of numbers and visualize how they would affect his airplane, flight, tactics, and more. He had the hologram in the head
  12. Boyd hated optimization. Instead, he iterated on his thoughts and processes, letting them grow in a very Darwinian, organic way rather than trying to have a set plan or perfect solution to work towards
  13. By getting his engineering degree and deeply understanding thermodynamics, Boyd was able to see and understand the pros and cons of fighter jets’ designs, often better than the designers themselves
  14. To say he was a perfectionist is an understatement of epic proportion
  15. When Boyd determined that somebody had an “obstruction” (didn’t agree with him or didn’t give him the respect he felt he deserved), he took it upon himself to show them why he was thought of as one of the best fighter pilots, instructors, and most knowledgeable person on jets
  16. Boyd’s temperament and harsh way of dealing with people came back to bite him as he was continually passed over for promotions
  17. Trade-offs are the heart and soul of jet fighter design. Discipline and understanding the mission at hand are key too
  18. Boyd’s incredible intensity and passion for his work of course hurt his family situation and many of his kids ended up distanced from him. He neglected and ignored his family to the point that sometimes they didn’t talk for years
  19. Ambiguity, although difficult for people to deal with, tends to reflect reality better than black and white thinking and allows for new thoughts and spontaneity to arise and help evolve an idea or situation
  20. Another of Boyd’s great contributions was Patterns of Conflict. This piece studies the emotional, moral, and behavioral aspects of people during war and is helpful to compare different strategies, technologies, and techniques to one another
  21. The OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) was another big contribution but what most people don’t understand or what they oversimplify is the fact that you always have to have one foot in reality in order to update your ideas and understanding of the situation. Otherwise, you’re orienting and acting with outdated and wrong information
  22. General Mattis developed a reputation as a genius simply by not saying much
  23. The Pentagon is not set up to protect America, it is set up to buy weapons
  24. Boyd cared far more for his ideas being spread, adopted, and practiced than for getting any credit or payment for them
  25. Boyd’s theories were all over the Gulf War and had a meaningful impact on how quickly and dramatically America overcame the local opposition
  26. Boyd experienced some severe health scares and later developed an all consuming depression. He wasn’t sure what he was afraid of but it was real and it deeply frightened him. Boyd later developed aggressive cancer which was the cause of his death
  27. if you’re fighting for the right thing there’s always a way to win
What I got out of it
  1. A great biography on a man I didn’t know anything about. He had a deep desire to learn and search for truth but his rude, in your face manner earned him many enemies and opposition to his ideas. Energy Maneuverability, Patterns of Conflict, OODA Loop were his main contributions