Cheeseburger Gothic

Things from the future past

Posted March 29 by John Birmingham

I've been working with Jason Lambright and Dirk de Jager on the next AoT novel and recently had them give some thinking time over to what sort of uptime tech might get quickly adapted and pushed out to the military by the mid 1950s.

I've also been thinking about consumer tech, but that's a different area.

Below is a far from comprehensive list of Dirk and Jason’s goodie bag. Overnight, Dirk sent me a some more thoughts about the whole process:

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something in NATO Olive

There is something about tinkering with the past and the all-encompassing theme of these books namely “What if?”. Oh, let me introduce myself first: my name is Dirk and I am one of the minions in JB’s sweatshop doing research and contributing a few words and ideas.

We have been thinking up a nice little scenario and already are on track for a great addition to the series. And we thought up on most of the toys we will be using in this book. Things like the HK 416 assault rifle, an update M60 main battle tank and the F-15 Eagle. But even three decent minds can forget something.

So, in the ye old and trusted Burger tradition we present to you The Pepsi Challenge. For this we have devised two categories:

First category:

Existing weapon, procedure of tech thingie. For this you may scowler the interwebs and the Pedia of Wiki for something cool. Couple of rules: it must be able to be build by mid 70s technology and be feasible to be used in the field and/or in daily life. And off course we haven’t used it already. We will be replying to each and every post, so you can send in another cool thing if we have already come up with one of those.

Second category:

Made up weapon, procedure of tech thingie with a degree of realism. So, no unicorn fart powered thermo nuclear tipped glidebombs or ICBM launching torpedoes. Bonus points can be gathered for things that are especially sneaky. For mentioned rules on the tech base also apply.

The prize: the two winners will get a cameo in 3.1. We can’t promise though you won’t be overrun by a speeding T-72 tank, get blown up by an incoming mortar shell or sleep with the fishes on the end of your paragraph. But if the input is good, we will do our best …

The fine print: the intellectual property will be become owned by Slim Jim Enterprises and the proceeds of these will be misused by Mr. Davidson on procuring dames and probably Columbian’s finest. But as a fan of the series you will be fine by that.

And if and when this post hits 50 replies, Jason and I will waterboard JB into publishing a new snippet of the book on the channel. So, thinking caps on chaps and chapettes and surprise us. We know you can …

And the list so far...

Gerber multitool
Zip ties
Permethrin (An insecticide and medicated ointment for treating nasty inset bites)
Blood type ID patches
Baby Wipes
IZLID (laser designator)
The metric system! (But not in the US, of course, unless Kolhammer gets his way via some diabolical Quiet Room project).
Improved First Aid Kits, training, the concept of "the golden hour"
Medevac, casevac
Quick Clot powder, Combat gauze (jam into wounds)
Combat Application Tourniquet
Israeli pressure bandage
Zodiac boats
Suppressed weapons
Katadyn water filters
V-40 grenade (with reliable fuse)
Night vision goggles. (Curious to see just how far those would advance in ten years, given the very obvious advantages to whichever side got the lead).
Flameless ration heaters
Thermals
Jungle Boots, Vietnam style (current issue)
Glow sticks
GPS navigation tools (Again, this is one, as we've seen in out TL, with massive civilian commercial applications. I suspect it would advance very quickly, along with satellite tech in general)
Black Hornet PD-100 mini recon drone
Improved maps, NVG readable
Improved socks, dacron mix, silver thread
Nicotine gum with vitamin C
Dextrose energy tablets, mixes
Power inverters for rough field power sources
Mini solar panels
Wind up propaganda radios, mini, air-droppable, tuned to VOA
JTLV
Armored glass for vehicles
Slat armor, Hesco basket mesh
Hesco baskets
Sawzall, battery powered
RPO-A-SHMEL "Bumblebee" RPG Flamethrower (M202)
Water powered field generator
Folding rubber cups
MP-5k
FLIR

71 Responses to ‘ Things from the future past’

jason reckons...

Posted March 29
Velcro
Solar panels
GM Crops
Hydrogen to power vehicles (particularly ships)

Dirk ducks in to say...

Posted March 29
Velcro and Solar panels are already in the book. GM crops and Gas to Liquid are great options. I'll chalk you down for one.

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Barnesm has opinions thus...

Posted March 29
Post it notes

Dirk mutters...

Posted March 29
Great!

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Barnesm mutters...

Posted March 29
Poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide – Kevlar

Dirk is gonna tell you...

Posted March 29
Is already in the book.

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insomniac ducks in to say...

Posted March 29
Exoskeletons

A waterboarding machine

Dirk reckons...

Posted March 29
First DARPA exoskeletons were built on 80s tech. And we have an interrogation scene in the book (if that stays in) that even goes one step further.

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insomniac swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 29
Is the 70s limitation just to give room to move in any future books?

I still maintain that a full set of (at least) US patents and applications would have been contained in the ship's information store, and some of those haven't even been applied for yet. Plus all the other non patent technical disclosures. You're losing 40 years of even relatively simple technological advancement.

Dirk swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 29
you can find me response a little more down on this page.

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balders mumbles...

Posted March 29
3D Manufacturing
Filament (Plastics, rubbers, etc)
Sintered Laser (Metals, etc)
Improved battery technology
LiPo
NiMH
LiIon
High powered LED lighting
Low power portable computing
Internet (I cant remember in the books if it was being rolled out to public - or if it was just military
Cat pictures
Gig Economy (not a physical thing)
Augmented Reality (its probably already in the books)

Dirk would have you know...

Posted March 29
Cat or CAD pictures? :D

I like the Sintered laser and the batteries, I'll chalk you up for that one.

balders swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 29
cat pictures - you know the 95% of the 5% of the internet that isn't porn - everyone loves good cat pictures


I think that the low power / more efficient electronics would have a huge boost especially in terms of miniaturization, they wouldn't be able to produce a chip on a 7nm die, but they'd be able to implement a bunch of lessons learned and the time to get down to what we are producing these days would greatly reduced

Dirk puts forth...

Posted March 29
On the one hand we would keep our brave new world clean of these excesses, but you have a point. Let me enlighten you however what the internet would look like in our little world.

Computers are expensive, so most of those you would find in the military, government, large companies and in academia. Think 80286s from the late 80s, though there is a section in the book working with reversed engineered Raspberry Pi's in the book running on Ubuntu/Linux. So it's more a 70s/80s style of computer use. Databases, communications, bookkeeping those kind of applications.

Digital pictures are another point: sure first gen will be in spy satellites, but for taking snaps we would go for Polaroid camera's. So cat pics could happen, but more or less on a physical company whiteboard then on the internet.

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pedrogb is gonna tell you...

Posted March 29
The taser. With two settings. Stun. Kill

Dirk reckons...

Posted March 29
Was already in the first series but I like the idea :)

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Dirk swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 29
The 70s tech line is indeed a threshold intended to give us wiggleroom for future books and not to make the conflict between the Warsaw Pact and NATO too one sided. A more then 15 year tech gap would make for very short books ...

But you also have to factor in the tech/manufacturing base and economic constraints in our alternate 50s and for example multi year material research you have to do to make certain kinds of things. For example we are not using Chobham or Burlington armor for tanks, haven't fielded the F-35 or gone for nuclear powered aircraft carriers in 3.1. We tried to strike a balance on what we could get into the field in sufficient numbers, not going for the ultimate but for what would have been more then good enough.

True there will be things even more advanced known already, but that insight isn't lost. It's still on a shelf waiting for the industrial base to catch up to that.

jl would have you know...

Posted March 29
Ditto what Dirk says.

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she_jedi asserts...

Posted March 29
Not sure if this is in the books already but microwave ovens?

Nocturnalist reckons...

Posted March 29
They can have microwave ovens off '70s tech but you have to wait until 1985 for custom kitchen deliveray-ay-ayys.

Dirk reckons...

Posted March 29
There are microwave ovens (even affordable ones) and even custom kitchens ;) courtesy of a company that runs on the IKEA principle. And that wasn't even a stretch as the first ones were sold in our time even as early as 1946.

Same would go for fridges and freezers, vacuumcleaners and washing-machines and even dishwashers. The constraints would have been more economical (can we afford them on mostly the husbands wage?) and partly cultural. The second feminist wave would have come a little more early (the pill is on the market), but most especially Western European and for example Australian households would have been more paternalistic.
As a base we took this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBB7YEbIYl8

But it's food for thought: what would a typical day for a lets say 27 year old She Jedi in our 1955 would have looked like?

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted March 29
I think there's a whole section somewhere about cheap Russian microwave ovens.

Dirk mutters...

Posted March 29
*nods*

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon would have you know...

Posted March 29
Doesn't fit in the weapon category but what about Gore-Tex?

Dirk asserts...

Posted March 29
Great, it is in the book but I will chalk you down for one.

jl is gonna tell you...

Posted March 29
Early MOLLE is in there, too.

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Bondiboy66 mumbles...

Posted March 29
FRED - the Fucking Ridiculous Eating Device. Featured in Australian rat packs since at least the 70s. Bit bigger than the American rat pack tin opener, with a built in rudimentary spoon. I still have a few in the kitchen drawer!

In a food related vein, tinned rats replaced with soft packaging ala current Aust and US rat packs/MREs.

If we are potentially going for newish Infantry weapons, perhaps something like the old Stoner Weapons System, where there is a basic working parts unit that can fit with different barrels, feed methods (belts or mags), grips, butts, yada yada as required, and all parts are interchangeable.

Can't think of anything else just yet....

Dirk ducks in to say...

Posted March 29
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field_Ration_Eating_Device

I like it!

On weapons we went for a standardized mix of trusted ones that could have been made on the tech bases. We took a serious look at the Stoner, but dropped that. It would have been too much of a compromise. Our mix however is NATO wide so for example a French made barrel would fit a Swedish made weapon. The mix is made up from the following:

Pistol: 9mm Glock 17
SMG: 9mm Uzi (MP5 for certain special forces)
AR: 5.56mm HK 416 (which will go under a few names M4A2, G38 etc.) for grenadiers with an underslung M320 grenadelauncher
SAW: 5.56mm FN Minimi (M249 in US service)
GPMG: 7.62mm FN MAG (M240 and L7)
HMG: .50 Browning M2

I have to give a shout out to Ian McCulloms excellent youtube channel Forgotten Weapons https://www.youtube.com/user/ForgottenWeapons which has been a great source of info.

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Keith ducks in to say...

Posted March 29
Cat 1:

Space blanket.
Hang-Up Parachute Release Assembly.
Light Marker Distress.
Aluminium foil.

Cat 2:

Hot Spot Channel:

When soldiers are patrolling in the jungle, or jungle-like conditions, their radio signal will be severely hindered or destroyed by the dense foliage. But not with the Hot Spot Channel! The Hot Spot Channel will shoot a secure signal straight up through the foliage from which the patrol can communicate (for dustoff, fire support, resupply etc.). The HQ element can easily communicate with the patrol until the Hot Spot Channel is deactivated.

How does it work? Well, let us explain by saying: Hahaha, you don't want to know. No, seriously, you leave the technology up to us, let's just say we hope you already have kids.

Dirk reckons...

Posted March 29
I'll chalk you down for the space blanket and the Parachute release. "Tin foil" was already in use in our time but that's an honorable mention.

And the Hotspot channel is cool, we are a little short on jungle in book 1, but something like that will find a place in future books.

Keith swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 2
Too easy. Thanks, Dirk.

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Phil is gonna tell you...

Posted March 29
Can't remember if it's in the books or not but rapid turnaround DNA testing. I'm thinking the uptimers wouldn't be keen on exposure to certain infections that were running around at the time. Also genealogical testing may be handy to prevent accidentally sleeping with your great-grandmother, although I'm sure some perverts would want to use it the other way around

Dirk ducks in to say...

Posted March 29
Paul Brasch put a lot of Reichsmarks in these kinda things in the first series. It will take though a lot of computing power so it's probably only reserved at the moment to the rich and famous and academic hospitals. But the idea is cool!

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Phil reckons...

Posted March 29
Can't remember if it's in the books or not but rapid turnaround DNA testing. I'm thinking the uptimers wouldn't be keen on exposure to certain infections that were running around at the time. Also genealogical testing may be handy to prevent accidentally sleeping with your great-grandmother, although I'm sure some perverts would want to use it the other way around

jl swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 29
Cheap paternity tests, to be found at the local pharmacy. What a great disruptor.

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Oldy asserts...

Posted March 29
Can't WAIT
Can't WAIT
CANNOT WAIT!

AoT was my gateway drug into JB minionhood. That cover combined all the shit I loved - Clancyesque, Military Silhouettes, Time Travel, and the 2.1 thing.

But... who's working on Time Travel? They know it's a reality...

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted March 29
Einstein.

Dirk ducks in to say...

Posted March 29
There will be research on that field. Einstein and a young Stephen Hawking will be decimating the footage with an attitude of "WTF happened?"

But there are a few things barring it. First one is money. There are a lot of things that will spring fruit for a lot less money. Eradication of polio for example and alternate energy. The space race, though with Stalin's hammer project eating up most of the means for the Soviet space program, that will be a little more balanced.

Secondly what if the Manning Pope experiment was a fluke? Can we reliably bring back the 21C's back to exactly where they came from, and what kinda distorted world will they find there? And how long will the research take? Wouldn't they not all be dead before it is feasible?

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tqft swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 29
Double walled stainless steel thermos - $9.99 from Aldi
Insulated shopping bag - $1 or 2 from local supermarket

Dirk is gonna tell you...

Posted March 29
Love both of them!

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jl would have you know...

Posted March 29
This thread is going nuts- sweet. Lemme throw in a couple more things that are indispensable today but weren't obvious way back when.

Firefly IR beacon
Flash-bang
PLB (Personal Locator Beacon, think IFF for grunts)
Tritium illuminated compass (SANDY 183)
SAM splint (flexible splint)
AN/PEQ 2
SureFire flashlight
Nomex Combat Gloves

jl mutters...

Posted March 29
Oh yeah, this is implied but I'll mention it specifically- the MIL STD 1913 Picatinny rail.

Dirk puts forth...

Posted March 29
Ok, I'll drop in a guilty pleasure of mine: the 2014 Italian MRE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GowFRT19yok and the 2018 MRE #23 of the US army https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_sY-nJ179U

jl has opinions thus...

Posted March 29
MREs, while perhaps a standard format, can't really be standardized across the board. Each country has its own prefs- imagine giving Yanks kippers, for example.

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rschappe ducks in to say...

Posted March 29
Manned space flight
Satellites, military recon

Dirk would have you know...

Posted March 30
Bless you, you have at least 3 novels to pick up on:

Sats are in this one: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07934VNLW

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insomniac would have you know...

Posted March 30
Does Harry miss Meghan?

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Steve would have you know...

Posted March 30
How about logistics, goddamit? Nothing happens without logistics.

Here is my list of suggestions, for starters:

Standard size pallets and shipping containers
Forklifts and lift trucks
RO-RO ships
NATO stock numbers
Bar codes
RFID tags
Total Quality Management in manufacturing (Deming is already developing this in the 1940s)
Six Sigma continuous improvement and defect reduction
Gantt charts
Find Jack Dorsey’s and Mark Zuckerberg’s great grandparents and kill them all – you’ll save millions of hours of lost productivity

jl mutters...

Posted March 30
You are quite right. RO-RO and shipping containers are already pieces of the puzzle, the rest can be put in the mix.

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Myriads reckons...

Posted March 30
Nail Guns
Bio-Organic insulation (Mushroom based)
Cheap digital watches (Analog dies decades earlier)
Ceramic technologies (starting with blades)
Disposable razors
Disposable Diapers
"Day After" pills for pregnancy prevention
Mass produced cheep 'roller ball' style pens.

Concepts

Modern psychological trauma therapies
"The Joy of Sex" (Popular sex guide comes sooner as birth control has)
Urban planning of the 'walking downtown' style
Understanding of the effect of 'Big Box' chain style corporations and the effects they cause.
TMZ style pop-culture reporting. (And celebrity culture in toto)

That should have something of use in there.

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Dirk would have you know...

Posted March 30
I'll chalk you down for the Bic pen Myriads. Urban planning is already in the book, though more bicycle based in Western Europe with good public transport.

Note to self: put the Evian in the winecooler and pre-heat the Egyptian cotton towels. At GWC we pride ourselves in adding a touch of class to torture ...

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NBlob mumbles...

Posted March 30
Re: surgical interventions, tape & staples replacing some external sutures. Sodium & potassium monitoring. Partial blood products. Informed consent. 5 rights with medication; right patient, right time, right drug, right dose, right delivery.

One of the most interesting things in WoC was the transplanted social contexts ot up timers, feminism, LGBTQ, & race were discussed, but not the Green movement.
Would it be possible to kick off the Green Movement without Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, without the blights of oil spills, dead rivers, introduced species. Or would we accelerate Pell Mell into a hellscape of neonicanatoids, organochlorines, and hormone disrupters?

Dirk is gonna tell you...

Posted March 31
Excellent suggestions on the medical side of things NBlob, I will chalk you down for those.

On the environmental issues, I am writing at the moment a text that I will ask John to post here on the Burger as a separate blog post. What you are pointing out here has that kind of merit.

jl asserts...

Posted March 31
I'd think the medical field would explode with the wealth of information brought by the Fleet.

Ask the residents of Pittsburgh circa 1944 whether they'd like a cleaner life- certainly, but they'd want work, too. There'd have to be a balance struck. With foreknowledge of long-term environmental effects real headway could be made much sooner.

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Brother PorkChop asserts...

Posted March 31
CBU-55s Thermobarics
OTH / BTH Radar systems
Claymores
Cheesewizz
WD-40
Super Glue

Dirk ducks in to say...

Posted March 31
I'll chalk you down for the WD40. We have done one better on the CBU-55 ... :) Rest is in the book.

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Naut ducks in to say...

Posted April 1
Computer socks
Hypercolour T-shirts
Punkrock

jl is gonna tell you...

Posted April 1
The Sex Pistols come early.

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jd quinty mumbles...

Posted April 2
I can't remember if Boxer Briefs, introduced in the 90s, were mentioned in the books (I can remember uptime suit patterns were) but I bet they would be widely distributed.
CL-84 Dynavert, a successful but unmarketable Canadian V-TOL prototype from the 70s, I imagine it beefed up in a half-measured attempt to turn it into an osprey.
Teflon coating.

jl puts forth...

Posted April 2
You learn something new every day, that CL-84 was ahead of its time. Dirk, you're keeping score, bud.

Boxer shorts per se have been around for a while, but you have a point with boxer briefs. Yeah, they'd prob be a hit, far better than the old "tighty whities"

Another point for teflon coating.

Dirk mutters...

Posted April 2
I am keeping score ;) I was composing an answer to both She Jedi and Nblob, which took me a little longer than I anticipated.

The CL-84 was new to me, tough I have studied the DO-31 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dornier_Do_31 ). I'll keep both of them in mind.

To the boxers (yes good one) I would add the humble thong then as well though that kind of undergarment would create quit a stir in for example Francist Spain.

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Therbs mumbles...

Posted April 2
Light weight, durable tent / tarp/ hammock/ bivvy material (cuben fibre / dyneema composite fabric)
Titanium mess gear (pot, spork/spoon etc)
Sawyer Micro squeeze water filter (smaller, lighter)

Was looking at this stuff for Zero Day Code fanfic


Dirk has opinions thus...

Posted April 2
I like the tent stuff.

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Brother PorkChop asserts...

Posted April 2
Contact lenses
Polarized lenses
105mm Recoilless Rifles (a personal fave)

Dirk mumbles...

Posted April 2
contact lenses are in. The RR's are already obsolete in the series cause of wireguided missiles introduced in 2.3.

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jd quinty has opinions thus...

Posted April 2
earpieces, earbuds (but the crummy kind that existed in the 90s), sony walkman-style headphones (with the exposed foam) and the 3.5mm headphone jack (did this 2024 also see the end of the 3.5mm jack?)

Betamax and music/data compact cassettes. 8 Inch floppy disks.

CCTV cameras.

High Pressure Sodium Lights (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_street_lighting_in_the_United_States#High_pressure_sodium)

Halogen headlamps (is this 50s US just as weird with their headlights compared with the rest of Europe from the 40s-80s? Where at one point they would only permit only two types of rectangular headlights in the 70s and 80s?)


Dirk puts forth...

Posted April 3
I'll chalk you down for the low end earphones. Rumor has it that on the 1956 CES - to be held at Madison Square Garden - RCA will introduce 6-track, following Phillips that will announce at the International Funk Ausstellung later in '55 their line of Running Girl portable cassette players.

Data storage on large magnetic tape is already here, as is CCTV (for military use). And we can expect advances in lighting technology.

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BostonJoe has opinions thus...

Posted April 4
How about metallurgy in general. It would have far reaching military and industrial impact. The steel and aluminum of the 40s can't come close to what current tech can produce. Hell, most of the whiz bang stuff people mentioned up thread aren't even possible without modern alloys and composites.

Dirk mutters...

Posted April 4
Very true. For this subject we have laid the bar at the late 60s. HY80 steel, Stainless steel and small scale titanium will be in use. As previously mentioned Chobham and Burlington are as of yet not out of the lab.

Aluminum is at a comparable level with scandium/aluminum alloys being in late research.

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jbtdickey mumbles...

Posted April 23
I'm late to this party, but I am just finishing re-reading the whole series after spring break so here are some thoughts.
Stalin's Hammer, especially Paris, focuses on satellite surveillance. Groovy, but, where is the SR-71 to plug the hole of all those downed birds? U-2 was mentioned in Final Impact, but ten years later, the U-2 would be toast over Soviet controlled territory. The Blackbird, however, would still be damn hard to bring down. Even the U-2 would still be useful with some AT SYERS equivalent to look deep across contested borders to spot movement by Soviet conventional forces. Which brings me to a couple of important techniques not necessarily tied to any specific platform:
Synthetic Aperture Radars (SAR) such as used on JSTARS to produce moving target indicators (MTI) or to conduct Coherent Change Detection (CCD). Both mainstays of the I&W world.
I don't remember seeing any mentions of counter-battery radars or ground surveillance radars.
I'll be interested to see if the Soviets pay a price for a "standing start" invasion. They didn't inform their "allies" and I presume they either did not move up significant logistics assets, or they managed some subterfuge to mask the pre-positioning of war-stocks. Nonetheless, fleets of tanker trucks, necessary for sustaining a mechanized offensive, are really hard to hide.
I'm hoping for the appearance of A-10 and Su-25 analogs. No WW III story is complete without a little Hog action.
The Soviets have pretty clearly developed their version of BTR and BMP. I'd expect they are at least at the T-72 level. I am kind of hoping that the allies learned their lesson and developed some effective IFV early and skipped the whole M113 stage. Maybe straight to Warrior/Bradley/Puma or even some heavy tank chassis based APC like the Israeli Namer.
How about Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) or soft kill countermeasures against AT missiles? I think Active Protection Systems (Trophy/Iron Fist) would still be too tricky at this stage of the game.
How about Software Defined Radios? Have military radios reached the SINGARS stage by 1955, or are conventional forces still stuck with PRC-77s and NESTOR/VINSON encryption devices?
Family of Scatterable Mines (FASCAM)
Please tell me the US skips right over the Dragon AT system. Milan would be better and of course TOW and SPIKE for longer range.
Where are they in the AD realm at this point? SA-3, SA-5 and SA-7. The SA-5 would still have a really tough time with the aforementioned SR-71. Hawk (US), Roland (FR), Chaparral (US), maybe even Starstreak (UK circa 1990s).

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Rotty mumbles...

Posted August 11
Not a 'thing'...but as a military working dog handler the changes since the days of big German Shepherds with some skills, to the way the Belgian Shepherd Malinois are used and trained now. Look at Australian SAS and US SF Combat Assault Dogs (CAD) and Military Working Dogs (MWD). Whole next level!!

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Writing in cafes is bullshit

Posted March 28 into Writing by John Birmingham

I’m currently sitting in one of my favourite coffee joints. Pourboy in south Brisbane. (Okay, I guess I'm not any sitting there anymore cos I wrote this hours before posting it). You might have seen me rave about their croque madame because their croque monsieur is fucking awesome.

I find myself here once or twice a week during the school year because I drop Thomas nearby to a bunch of extracurricular stuff before class starts. Pourboy is a great place, but there’s a reason I’m writing this blog post and not the book chapter I should be working on right now. Pourboy is too good. It’s popular and crowded and noisy and I don’t know how any of these pretend bullshit writers and poets and citizen journalists ever get anything done in all of these fucking cafes they seem to live in because... GAH!

It’s busy here.

Funny thing is, it’s not usually this busy when I come through because I get here about 6.30 in the AM. It’s now just after nine, and I’ll be here a while longer while I run down the clock to an interview at the ABC studios down the road.

I brought in the new iPad, thinking I’d get some work done, and I did, but nothing heavy or deep. Not the book chapters I have due, or the TV script I’m working on. Nope. This ain’t the place for that. I avoided getting caught in a social media spiral, so yay for me, I guess. But I’ve been here for nearly two hours now and I’ve basically been triaging emails, writing short blog posts, and knocking over chickenshit admin that I’d leave until it was way too late if I was at my desk.

Given all that, I suppose it hasn’t been a complete write off. In a way it’s been kind of instructive. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the unconscionable waste of time that Twitter has become (and Facebook always was). I’ve been thinking about how I always mean to blog regularly but never quite build up the head of steam to keep it going because I’m so fucking busy during my writing day that I can’t justify spending time on the Burger. And when I down tools at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is more writing.

I wonder then if the thing to do might be to carve out a little time in the early morning a couple of days a week, to do the stuff I’ve been forced to do here today by all these noisy fuckers invading my normally quiet coffee shop.

I’ve come back around to the idea that social networks are poison. That it’s not just the nazis and the advertising and the advertising for Nazis. It’s the very nature of the thing, the way these platforms are engineered to destroy people’s concentration, to lure them into mindless scrolling, and swiping and liking and kommunting. They are also, of course, intellectual property traps. Everything you post on Facebook belongs to the Zuck. Everything. And the original deal the Book made with artists, that the creators would provide content and the Zuck would gather the audience, that’s long gone. Now you provide the content AND you pay for access to the audience.

I’ll admit, it’s a lot of thinking, for a morning coffee stop to fill in some time. But I dont often get the time to sit and think. Even if I can barely hear my own thoughts.

I should do more of it.

16 Responses to ‘Writing in cafes is bullshit’

jl puts forth...

Posted March 29
Thanks for the warning re: IP traps. Hadn't thought of that, although I'm not surprised.

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jason would have you know...

Posted March 29
I cant write anything with the TV on let alone in a crowded cafe. Although I do listen to the sounds of a crowded cafe on spotify sometimes when trying to concentrate, hmmm...

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted March 29
Yeah, me too. It’s weird, innit.

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 29
Weirdly this sounds to me like a productive strategy, you admit to yourself its stuff that wouldn't othewise get done. I confess I never considered a graded level of distraction tailored to the work I needed to accomplish as a productivity tool. Nice one.

damian mutters...

Posted March 29
I’m a believer in this concept of modes that you seem to be describing. You can write certain content in a certain context, because that’s what you have time for or it’s what you have brainspace (tipping a hat to Tim and Debbie) for.

Sitting in the food court at Brookside at the moment, after eating two greasy pizza slices from the kebab shop waiting for a bus (like the old days I guess).

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted March 29
I distresses me that I know who you mean by Tim and Debbie.

damian has opinions thus...

Posted April 7
...
Because it means you’re over 40?

Nocturnalist asserts...

Posted April 9
Age is just a state of mind, damian.

Or should I say, age is just a Braaiiinn Spaaace.

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Rob would have you know...

Posted March 29
I was thinking today that a café might be a good place to study my online degree to avoid distractions at home. I might give it a go, mainly to see if the pretentiousness and embarrassment of getting out a laptop or tablet in a hipster café would make me actually study. As opposed to sitting at home and going look! a dog to pat, look! a cat to meow at, look! a video game to play.

On the plus side of social media, without it I would never had met and continued to know novelists, musicians, artists, art gallery curators and owners. Its been good in a lot of ways. But I have had to filter out the angry posters and tediously easy politics (of which I'm definitely one) .

But as a boredom shifter of the void that is the modern soul, it really needs a hand break. It will probably come in the form of a Facebook myspace moment or an Microsoft anti trust lawsuit.

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she_jedi would have you know...

Posted March 29
I honestly don’t know how JK Rowling managed to write Harry Potter in a cafe. Maybe it was before they became hipster traps of “pretend bullshit writers”...? Maybe she started it???

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted March 29
I was pondering this very question just yesterday.

Nocturnalist asserts...

Posted March 29
I suspect she spent a lot of time in there outside the breakfast/lunchtime/after work rushes. (It was owned by a relative, apparently, so at least she didn't have to contend with "Scuse me, but the boss says you have to order something or leave".

damian puts forth...

Posted March 29
I’d hang out for hours in quiet cafés in the 80s and 90s. Mostly they’d be okay if it wasn’t busy and you got at least one coffee or a pot of tea. Worst you would get is after a while a polite “Are you going to order anything else? It’s just there are people waiting for a table...”

I did get writing done that way, though it was with a good old A4 notebook and a pen (or several pens, ball points ran out too fast, felt tip sharpies hadn’t really been invented). That’s while living alone or in share houses, too, which is a very different life.

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Nocturnalist reckons...

Posted March 29
There's a particular caff here that was pretty much my second home in my 30s. I'd knock off the day job at sixish, head in there, eat, then bust out the laptop and write until they threw me out at 10pm and usually go home and put another hour or two in before bed. It was a pain if it got too crowded, in which case I'd go elsewhere, but most of the time the noise level was just right, just enough to lull the looking-for-distraction part of my brain so it didn't interfere with the writing but not enough to, well, interfere with the writing. So maybe it's just a question of finding the *right* café.

Interesting thing was that when I was in a café with a certain amount of background noise I was fine, but on the nights I went to write in the library at ANU where it was much quieter, a single whispered conversation six desks away would drive me insane.

Did you ever work in an old-school newsroom in your journalist days, JB? I know Terry Pratchett said that once you've learned to write surrounded by ringing phones and shouting sub-editors you can write anywhere.

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted March 29
Yeah, it's a weird thing. I have no trouble writing in crowded newsrooms. It's a background buzz, I guess.

she_jedi reckons...

Posted March 31
I’m a business analyst so I have to write requirements documents, business cases etc, so creative but in a formal way? And I find I can write in a mildly noisy office, to the point where i’m doing my writing workshop stuff for uni in the office after hours before I go home because once i’m home the procrastination bug gets me and my creativity dries up. It’s weird!

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Jason Cox’s first book

Posted March 28 into Books by John Birmingham

A couple of years ago when I was collecting stories for the Dave Hooper anthology, I got this great little short from a guy called Jason. And then I got another one. And another one. And another. It just went on and on like the bombing of Dresden.

Except Jason’s word bombs were really good. All up he sent me seven pieces, and I’m pretty sure I used them all.

It’s been satisfying to watch him graduate to his own story worlds. His first novel, THE HARD MAN, dropped this week and he was kind enough to let me have an extract which you can read below.

I’ve already bought my copy right here, so I’ll be reading that.

2 Responses to ‘Jason Cox’s first book’

jl ducks in to say...

Posted March 28
Good stuff by Jason, I was privileged to have Beta'd this. Enjoyed this book, recommend for anyone wanting an entertaining, fast-paced read.

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Therbs has opinions thus...

Posted April 3
Its sitting on my kindle yelling at me to start. Who am I to deny a hard man?

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[Extract] The Hard Man, by Jason Cox

Posted March 28 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

In any prison population there is a hierarchy. Most of the crims inside form groups along racial lines. The Aussies all hang together so do the Asians and the Muslims. If there are bikers inside, they hang in their own groups—often with other biker groups that they have treaties with.

Normally, the biggest group runs the jail, arrangements are made to be sure that it’s not a free-for-all every day. If you’re not connected, you’re fair game. Most people decide to get connected when they realise how hard it is in here. A few over estimate their abilities and end up bleeding from one orifice or another and then they make a decision.

The management structure of these groups is pretty simple. It’s normally the craziest, the toughest or the smartest crim that ends up in charge. Mostly it’s the smartest one, and the toughest and craziest tend towards middle management which, in this case, is in charge of smacking people senseless. In here, Lepke runs the show. It’s not his real name but he couldn’t resist using Murder Incorporated as a gang name and it just went from there.

I’m not connected. I have the sort of reputation that can scare smart people off, so I have a level of respect. Before I found my true talents as an armed robber, I used to fight in the cage. Twenty-two wins, no losses, and I can still walk. It mightn’t sound like much but if you knew cage fighting, it’s fucking amazing. This isn’t that UFC stuff you see on TV, this is bare-knuckle anything goes. Two guys walk into a chain mesh enclosure and punch the crap out of each other until one stops moving. Pretty simple and pretty brutal.

The problem with prison gangs is they get too powerful. Then they can make the guards’ lives hell. The boss ends up like some sort of king. I’ve even heard of some of them getting consulted on official jail-house decisions to make sure the prisoners will all go along with them. Lepke is that kind of boss. The head guard is too scared to come on the ward anymore because Lepke’s threatened him. They tried to transfer Lepke but no one else wanted him. All they want is a quiet life—the guards, the wardens, the decision-makers. But in return for a favour, I think I can help out a little.

I finish talking to Uncle John and I get the guard to detour me before I go back to the cells. I need a favour and, in here, you only get favours when you give them. A quick chat and a handshake, and the deal is done.

Lepke keeps his ‘office’ at the end of the rec room. He’s set up the best armchair and a small desk and thinks he’s hot shit. His two bodyguards are on either side of the chair, chuckling away. It’s not like he needs bodyguards in here but he likes the affectation of it. They top out at about six foot six, and have the sort of build you only get from steroid abuse and long hours in the prison gym. The prisoners call them the Gorilla Bros; they think of it as a comment on their physique not their intellect, which makes the truth of it self-evident.

As I approach Lepke, both the Gorilla Bros stand up and block my way, trying to look as menacing as possible.

‘Can we help…?’ And that is about as far as he gets before, I hit him straight in the throat with a right hand. My fingers are open and push right into the windpipe. It’s a sucker shot and he should have been expecting it. As I mentioned before, complacency can be a killer. The other Gorilla is caught a little off guard. They don’t really expect to be attacked, which is what I was planning on. His knees are straight, all the weight forward. Idiot. He still hasn’t moved when my heel hits the side of his knee—the crack is all the confirmation I need. I pull his head forward as he falls, and drive my knee into his nose. He falls flat and doesn’t move, unlike the other one who is rolling around and would be screaming if he could get any breath. Lepke starts to run, but there is nowhere for him to go.

The other prisoners are all moving away. They know this would be trouble for anyone who doesn’t help, so they need to be anywhere else but here. The only flaw in the plan is if someone wants to score points and tries to step in and help Lepke. No one does. Dropping the Gorilla Bros like I did was meant to deter anyone who was thinking about lending a hand. It seems to work.

I grab Lepke by the hair as he tries to run past. He likes to wear it long—no idea why, it’s just an invitation to hurt him. The brief was simple. Put him off the floor for as long as possible and ruin any credibility when he gets back. I just bash his head into the doorframe until he stops moving. The final touch is when I drape him over the unconscious Gorilla Brother so it looks as if he‘s sucking his dick. It’s the little touches that mean a lot.

The screws charge in after that, and I am hard up against the wall with a face full of capsicum spray and plastic cuffs on. They are pretty rough until I get out of sight, then it was all water bottles and eyewash. The cell in solitary even has a double thickness mattress and they send in fish and chips as a thank you. It made the wait easier.

Four weeks later, the parole comes through with time off for good behaviour being recommended by a grateful friend.

The old man buys the store before I get out.

5 Responses to ‘[Extract] The Hard Man, by Jason Cox’

insomniac puts forth...

Posted March 28
I understand the need for the set up but I found the first few paragraphs hard going. After that though I found it very readable. A few lols here and there helped with that. I'll give the rest of it a go. Good stuff Jason.

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jl has opinions thus...

Posted March 28
If y'all can find the time, please leave reviews on The Beast. They are incredibly hard to come by and they make a real difference.

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jason mumbles...

Posted March 29
Much thanks to JB and JL. Taking time out to help a newbie like me is much appreciated.

jl ducks in to say...

Posted March 29
Brother, everyone is a newbie once. Never a problem.

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she_jedi would have you know...

Posted March 29
Wow Jason you write beautifully about a very ugly scene. Mad props to you, I need to see where this goes now :)

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The Armored Saint, by Myke Cole

Posted March 27 into Books by John Birmingham

I usually think of fantasy novels as epic. Epic in in scope, epic in length, epic in the sheer fucking tonnages of old growth forest felled to provide their thousands of pages. I’ve got all George RR Martin’s GoT books in hard back on the shelf somewhere behind me, and on quiet nights I can hear the hardwood groaning under their weight.

I was surprised then to discover that Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint is a genuinely slim volume, in hardback running to just over two hundred pages. The hobbit’s tea party at the start of LoTR felt longer than that. (Much longer. I never actually got past it).

And yet Cole has written such a densely packed story that I can’t imagine it running longer. It would be too much to bear. Every word, every line seems honed to strike a critical blow at the reader. Nothing is wasted and there is nothing that could be reasonably added to improve this novel. Not even ‘splosions. It seemed as I read it so perfectly crafted that I had to keep stopping to breathe and control my seething jealousy. I read one chapter a day, usually at lunch time, because that was all I could handle. The characters are drawn so vividly, their concerns so intimate, and the peril into which they pass seems so dire that it would fuck with my head if I read any more than that in one day, or if I made the mistake of reading it too late in the evening.

You don’t want to lay your head down with this story playing out behind your eyes.

So what happens?

The story is told by Heloise, a village girl in a grim medieval theocracy where warrior priests violently enforce a rigid stratification of the settled order. In fact they call themselves the Order. For a backward, priest ridden primitive hellhole, there’s a lot going on here. I won’t give away any spoilers, because I’m not a monster, but I can say that the Order’s unchallenged power derives from their historic role of protecting the realm from monsters and demons.

Except nobody’s actually seen any for so long that a rational man might begin to wonder whether they ever existed, or whether its just a dodge dreamed up by these scripture addled psychopaths of the unholy Order.

I will confess myself somewhat fucking shocked to discover the truth of it. Cole has great fun misdirecting, misleading and generally fucking with his readers. The world he has created here is beautifully realised. The characters live, and you really, really, really end up invested in Heloise and her terrible dilemma.

I’m just stepping outside to buy the next novel in the series. I may be gone for some time.

7 Responses to ‘The Armored Saint, by Myke Cole’

insomniac mutters...

Posted March 27
So...The Dave could be a prequel then. It's a short hop from 'The' to 'St.'.

insomniac reckons...

Posted March 27
Reading the extract in Amazon, it's pretty tight writing. Perhaps I should add it, and the others, to the invisible pile of Kindle shame.

she_jedi is gonna tell you...

Posted March 27
I added it to my invisible pile of iBooks shame when JB first mentioned he was reading it. This review has now prompted me to lift it from the invisible pile of shame and into the visible Reading Now pile of smugness :)

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she_jedi would have you know...

Posted March 27
This review is excellent timing, because I finished my current book last night and was casting about for the next one. Sold!

Also, to be SUPER nit picky, you spelt Myke's name wrong in the title of your post. Autocorrect probably got to you again, but as someone who gets their name spelled wrong even when people have it spelled out in front of them in correspondence, I couldn't let it slide. Sorry :(

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted March 27
*Shakes fist at an uncaring sky*

"DAMN YOU, AUTOCORRECT!"

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Spanner swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 27
Damn you JB. Damn you to heck.

My pre order of Tiamat’s Wrath: The Expanse audiobook just landed in my audible app.

I’m currently listening to Batavia by Mr Fitzsimonds on my commute.

I can’t juggle a dead tree book and two audio books.

I can’t just buy this and toss it on my pile of shame...or can I.

Yes. Yes I can.

STOP JUDGING ME YOU JERKS.

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 27
Look it’s all well and good for JB to casually toss another outstandingly great novel endorsement but for those of us with steadily accumulating to-read lists I’d appreciate if he would confine himself to only read those on my already voluminous ‘want to read’ books listed on my goodreads page.

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It's ... er... research

Posted March 13 into Games by John Birmingham

Seriously thinking of getting this game simply because the open world design looks very similar to what I'll have to do with Zero Day Code (minus zombies).

For those not up with current events, ZDC is my End-of-the-World Patreon project that just got picked up by Audible. It's The Stand, without a supernatural meta story. (Or Days Gone without the running dead).

13 Responses to ‘It's ... er... research’

she_jedi swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 13
Research is critical. You should get onto this :)

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Barnesm mumbles...

Posted March 13
I don't know if it's research but it does look like something I could sink enormous hours of time into.

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Barnesm has opinions thus...

Posted March 13
Over at Kotaku reviewed it thus "Jason, Kirk and Maddy touched on Days Gone recently in the Splitscreen podcast, describing it as "the most AAA-arse video game" imaginable. That's basically saying that Days Gone tries to merge every possible mechanic and system from every other AAA open-world game in recent memory, and after three hours with the game myself, it's pretty accurate".

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon ducks in to say...

Posted March 13
My video game playing days are behind me. I look at the quality of what these games offer these days and sigh wistfully. On the plus side i have 5 acres to look after and nurture (semi sarcasm intended)

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted March 13
Five acres, eh? That'll come in handy when the dead rise up. Apropos of nothing... where do you live? And do you keep weapons?

FormerlyKnownAsSimon puts forth...

Posted March 14
ha. Not going to tell you city dwellers!

(it's out between Lithgow and Bathurst). The land is poor for farming but doesn't stop cows and sheep. Also some very handy nature reserves and state forests on the doorstep for exploring. Unfortunately the nearest pub is about 10kms away.

jl reckons...

Posted March 14
Rural life, you have to drive a lot. Has its upsides, though. Quiet, roomy, and clear fields of fire against threatening hosts of the undead.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon puts forth...

Posted March 14
Zombie hoardes? No problem but if it gets into the wombat population we're all screwed. Those little tanks of blood thirsty one minded purpose? Zombats has to be a good b movie right?

Brother PorkChop mumbles...

Posted March 15
Zombats!! It could be a classic! Followed up by the inevitable DropBears and Pozzoms. Has to be shown on all flights into Oz as a documentary.
Reminds me of the Japanese hioneymoon couple in Cairns that called the front desk to tell us there was a wani in their room. Wani being crocodile which truned out to be a gekko.

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rainburger would have you know...

Posted March 13
Really looking forward to this, It sounds great, the audible deal just makes it sweeter. When does it come out?

Also, I don't keep up with your news as well as I could, so I will just ask. Any news on WW3.1?

Also been hanging for new Dave for quite a while and was wondering about that as well.

Sorry to pester, I just love your writing and am generally impatient.

Keep it up John.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted March 14
WW 3.1 should be drafted in about five weeks. It's my primary title now. Dave is delayed at the bar.

Rob puts forth...

Posted March 15
more Dave. Maybe just sell the rights to Netflix? just sell it as a Orc-romcom with embiggining. That'll work.

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Oldy reckons...

Posted March 15
It looks great. Like GTA San Andreas only with this decade's graphics.

Also, I'm busting for WW 3.1. Axis of Time was my intro to all things Birmo, and I'm especially fond of Ivanov and your Prince Harry. Keen.

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