Cheeseburger Gothic

Thinking of getting a new keyboard. By... Microsoft

Posted August 30 into Science and Tech by John Birmingham

Look! It's not that I don't love my Apple Extended keyboard. I do. I really do. But with Dragon borking itself in the last major update I've been typing more often than dictating, and I'm starting to feel it.

Been thinking I should try an ergonomic keyboard and most of the reviews point to this badboy from the orc foundry at Redmond.

It is just about the most un-Apple thing I've ever seen, and I would be mortified were Johnny or Tim ever to find out I'd defiled their virgin USB slots with it's nasty little plug.

But until Dragon releases an unfucked version of its dictation software, I'm in a bind. I have a shit ton of writing to do in the next 12 months and I'd like to finish it without reducing my limbs to withered T-Rex claws.

9 Responses to ‘Thinking of getting a new keyboard. By... Microsoft’

insomniac mumbles...

Posted August 30
Don't the bunnies take dictation?

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted August 30
TBH it’s not their core skill set.

insomniac mutters...

Posted August 31
How many do you have? Assign a word to each one and just start pointing your finger.
(point) Hooper
(point) closed
(point) his
(point) eyes
(point) and

You get the picture.

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Dave W swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 31
I use an ergonomic board in my non-fruit laptop. Basically I'd back anything that matches the natural posture of your arms and hands. Mine is a logitech thingy, but all good.

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Murphy_of_Missouri reckons...

Posted August 31
You need a Razer Blackwidow.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted August 31
I'm not launching drone strikes here Murph.

Bondiboy66 asserts...

Posted August 31
I think my gaming mad young bloke would like one of those - he has the fancy Razer mouse with about a dozen buttons.

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Rob puts forth...

Posted August 31
I've got a similar one but its a wireless Logitech , I'd recommend it . good response time and zero lag between the mouse, keyboard an d PC. I don't use a lot of the extra bits, but its photoshop so its mouse and keyboard short cuts. Your white box might get a bit punchy having an agro metal fan of a keyboard ruining its northern Californian vibes though.

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BrianC mutters...

Posted September 3
Disclaimer - I am a Microsoft Employee

I love that big black stealth wing keyboard for long typing sessions. I probably dont type continiously for as long as you do but I picked up one of them a couple years back when i was upgrading my home office. Its a great KB for the work laptop, but i cant recommend it for gaming.

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Alexa in the house

Posted February 12 into Science and Tech by John Birmingham

It's hard to believe I got an Echo before an Apple Homepod, but I did. The Echo is now sitting in our kitchen, where I would never dare put a Homepod. I've had a Bose bluetooth speaker in the kitchen for a couple of years now and it's given sterling service. But it's getting old, the charging brick has fallen apart, (I shudder to think how much it would cost to replace that sucker) and the whole unit looks like shit. Over the years it's picked up a second skin of cooking grease, microscopic organic debris, oily particulates and crap.

There is no way I want to drop $500 on a piece of Sir Jony Ive's handiwork in that environment.

The Echo, however... meh.

It's a fraction of the price, a literal fraction, about 1/5 I think, and it's not going to look any better once it's been exposed to a couple of weeks worth of cooking, but it's not going to break my heart either. Also, to be honest, the Echo is likely to be a lot more useful in the kitchen. The Homepod's inability to settle multiple timers has already been noted by most reviewers, as has Siri's constrained functionality compared to Alexa (and Google's eponymous AI). I think that misreads the purpose of Homepod, which is a mid-range premium speaker first, and a smart speaker a distant second.

Still, it creates an opening for Alexa. I've had her parked on the kitchen bench for a few days now and I'm getting used to the syntax and constraints native to Amazon's lady in a can. Because Alexa's APIs were opened up to developers immediately, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of 'skills' she can learn that are completely beyond Siri and probably Google.

I've taken to asking her for the surf report from Bondi every day.

Not having listened to the radio anywhere but the car for nearly a decade, I found myself listening to news bulletins again to start the day, because it's such a simple matter to ask Alexa to bring you up to speed. There are cocktail recipes, bus and ferry timetable information, cooking suggestions, podcast players, dictionaries, weather reports, all sorts of useful shit. It's a device focused on very broad but low-level functionality. That makes it a perfect fit for the kitchen. Or maybe just a very good fit. I don't find Alexa to be any more intelligent or responsive than Siri. There were some hilarious misfires when asking her to play music from an Internet radio service. (It's better now I've picked up an Amazon Music subscription on a free trial for three months).

I suspect the functionality will also greatly improve when Amazon Prime launches locally, and the Beast of Bezos starts competing with Coles and Woolworths for the food delivery market. The ability to add an item like butter or baked beans to a shopping list and have it turn up a day or so later will be a compelling use case. It's pretty much why I got the device.

It's a lot cheaper than Homepod, of course, and it sounds it. There are some types of music which sound authentically awful coming out of this speaker. OTOH there are plenty of other types, usually older albums for some reason, which sound just fine. Maybe it's the way music is produced these days, I don't know. But my old man music does sound way better than my new music playlists on this device.

It's hardly a dealbreaker, though. This is a kitchen speaker, and kitchens are terrible places to intensively listen to music. There's always something else going on, usually something noisy. Everything echoes of the hard surfaces. And people tend to be talking at or over each other. In that sort of environment a speaker which can pump out tracks at a reasonable volume is good enough, and this bad girl is more than good enough.

10 Responses to ‘Alexa in the house’

Therbs asserts...

Posted February 12
So basically Alexa is your default breakfast radio crew without the zany hijinks. Be careful of the secret sound.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted February 12
Hard to capture the depth of my loathing for zany fucking hijinks.

Bondiboy66 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 13
The surf has been crap at Bondi for weeks.

As for radio - the car stereo is stuck on 2MMM (and the attendant shouty tradie ads interspersed with Zaniness and popular 'rock' music....or JJJ if thats too much. Or CDs. Don't bother with radio at home for the above reasons.

Dunno if I want one of these things spying on me at home. My luddite inner self is a bit suspicious....

NBlob mutters...

Posted February 16
I now podcast 6-7 hours a day. My Utes antenna was snapped off 2 years ago. Haven't bothered to replace it.

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Dirk is gonna tell you...

Posted February 12
Looks good JB.

The problem I have with it is that it doesn't understand Dutch at the moment. But neither does El Goog at the moment (and Fruit IMHO is better bought at a green grocers ... ). But that is bound to change in time. Dutch will be in Home this year probably, and if Bezos comes over here (and he is making overtures to do so) Echo will support it also.

Would I buy one?
For a stand alone music system, maybe. But I would want to use more of the features and have it plugged in a total domotic infrastructure. So, music, video, lights, curtains, heat etc. And that "landscape" is at the moment to fragmented. To many different protocols, standards, interfaces. And with another battle of the brands brewing like in the 80-s with VHS, Betamax and V2000, i think i'm on the sideline for the moment.

But you made me curious what's out there.
I did some digging, and found something that might could be a reference for the 3rd generation. It's called Homey.
(note: site is best viewed in chrome, FF doesn't do the features that good).

IMHO it's not totally matured yet, but it could be the direction in which this battle will go.

The pro's:
1. what i can see it talks to about everything even old protocols like your tv via IR, bluetooth, different light systems, heating and WIFI/DNLA stuff.
2. It can operate with Alexa and Home.
3. It's an open system like Alexa, so there is room for growth

The con's
1. It's price is still a little on the hefty side (EUR 300, $ 370, A$ 470) but if that goes down to let say Eur 150-200, well then maybe.
2. The user friendly ness has to go up; what I've been reading in reviews installing it has kinda sorta steep learning curve at the moment, so that needs maturing.
3. What I can see it doesn't work in an Apple universe, except for the app. So no Apple TV interfacing etc. Not a big problem for me, but could be a downer for some.

PS: Google is teaming up over here with the largest grocer, so when Home finaly learns Dutch the shopping list could be made digitally. There is an app already for scanning the barcodes on products you want with your phone, so that won't be a biggie. add a cam to a next gen alexa/home maybe would be another option.

jl ducks in to say...

Posted February 12
Albert Heijn strikes again? The last time I was in Holland I was shocked by the little personal barcode scanners at the door of my mother-in-law's little village grocery, the Plus. You would scan your own groceries as you put them in the basket. It made shopping soooo easy- a much different experience than here in the US at Wal-Mart, where there are huge bottlenecks at checkout. And Alexa makes it easier yet.

Dirk swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 12
Yep. They even took it a step further in the last 6 months...

For the uninciated: Albert Heijn is the biggest dutch grocer (think TESCO/Wallmart). Sister companies include among others ETOS (eq. Boots/Walgreens), Gall & Gall (off license/spirits) and (eq. Amazon).

Shopping and paying:
1. You can pay at a normal nice girl operated till (cash/direct debit)

2. You can use a handscanner, a dedicated phone app or if you have only few items a fixed scanner at the automated till, check in with your loyalty card and pay by direct debit. You can also drop your empty bottle receipt there, which is subtracted from your bill.

3. You can order online, and pick up your groceriers packed and all 2-6 hours later or have them home delivered within 24 hours (exc sundays for now) for a fee. They are working on a system to cut that back to 6 hours, and add your deliveries aswell.

The app also points you to the discounts of the week, can be used as a personal groceries list (just scan the barcodes, or use you loyalty card info: they know what you bought earlier), and gives you special bonus on products you buy regularly. So in my case for ex microwave meals, milk and coffee beans.

If that ain't fast enough, they are experimenting with Near Field Communication, so anything you dump into the trolley is automatically added to your bill. Swipe your loyalty card and Direct debit card (also NFC) at the exit and you can go on your merry way. is one of the reasons Amazon is not here yet. Starting out as a online bookretailer they added and added products (electronics, pet supplies, beautyproducts etc.) and also cater to other retailers, who for a fee can sell via the system and use the logistics track. Standard delivery is within 24 hours (which is de facto standard over here for about everything you shop for only unless its from Germany (Zalando/Correct + 1 day) or China (allibaba 4 day minimum), express delivery is for an extra fee within 6 hours.

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Spanner mumbles...

Posted February 13
I'd already tweeted this but it warrants repeating.

Mr17 got a goog home mini in his bedroom.

I told him that Google now listens to him masturbate.

The look of horror on his face was priceless. It works because there is a grain of truth in there. Just what is the sneaky bastard listening to?

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Dave W mumbles...

Posted February 14
It looks like there is a pod-coffee machine off to one side. I trust that this is to keep the junior Birminghams away from the aeropress and single origin civet-cat bespoke beans.

But anyway- we have the el goog at home and much fun and hilarity ensued when we ask it to put ham and bay leaves on the shopping list. Instead, cam and Bailey's wound up on the list. Glad there isn't a one-touch buying yet.

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insomniac ducks in to say...

Posted April 12
Have you asked Alexa to open the pod bay doors?

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Science is horrifying

Posted November 23, 2016 into Science and Tech by John Birmingham

I'm not sure how I'll use the terriftying details of this New Scientist story about the "dinosaur-killing asteroid that turned planet Earth inside-out", but I suspect they'll turn up somewhere in The Cruel Stars.

How could they not?

By analysing the depths and compositions of the rocks, the team reconstructed a timeline for the impact.

First the asteroid blasted through almost all of Earth’s crust, propelling rocks from the bottom of the crust and lifting them 25 kilometres within 10 minutes. At the rim of the newly forming crater, a mountain range higher than the Himalayas lifted and collapsed within three minutes, leaving a halo of basement rock in a geological feature called a peak ring. At the centre, a massive peak of rock splashed upward, fluid-like, before collapsing again – much like the splash of a sugar cube in a cup of hot tea.

About 10 minutes after that, the rocks stabilised and stopped flowing like a liquid. The titanic forces of impact sent shockwaves through the planet and caused earthquakes that would top the 10-point Richter scale, rattling the ground with greater force than any existing fault is capable of producing.

13 Responses to ‘Science is horrifying’

jl has opinions thus...

Posted November 23, 2016
Harrowing reading. Imagine aliens or future humans doing it with deliberation while parked in orbit.

Nocturnalist puts forth...

Posted November 23, 2016
Check out "The Forge of God" by Greg Bear, which concludes with exactly that. There are some pretty harrowing scenes from the PoV of some of the people caught in the middle of it.

(The book as a whole is less catastrophically actiony, but the long slow buildup is worth reading in full because it makes the ending that much more effective.)

insomniac reckons...

Posted November 23, 2016
Sounds like something Havock or his descendants would be up for

HAVOCK21 would have you know...

Posted November 24, 2016

HAVOCK21 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 24, 2016
You know that anything worth doing is best done FROM FKN ORBIT!!

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pitpat is gonna tell you...

Posted November 23, 2016
Hey John,
Thanks for the link. As a bit of a rock doctor on the other side of the world I'm looking at rocks of similar age which have textural features that are similar but are related to explosive events derived from magmatic or batholithic sources. I would expect some vigorous discussion in the next couple of years. They might even get some more funding to drill another hole ( the hole they drilled probably cost between 1 and 10 mill) but more than likely they won't.

Either way it is a nice story in these times of post-modern science. As for big geology events it probably isn't in the top ten. If you drive from Brisbane through to the Whitsundays you are driving - in large part- across volcanic terranes- extruded during the late Jurassic/early Cretaceous that have volumes measured in millions of cubic kilometres. Probably not a great place for a beach house.

Any hoo Thanks for all your published work so far this year, have bought it all and loved it all even if I disagreed with some of it.

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Spanner swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 23, 2016
Was there an earth shattering kaboom?

(Marvin the Martian reference)

Therbs mumbles...

Posted November 25, 2016
Oh goodie! My Illidium Q36 explosive space modulator

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MordWa has opinions thus...

Posted November 23, 2016
*puts on Sid James leery voice*

"-That's still less 'ard than I'd hit Barbara Windsor give a tuppence chance. Amiright? Hehehurh"

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John Petherick reckons...

Posted November 24, 2016
Sounds like home!

I live in Sudbury, Ontario. My house is just south of the southern rim of the Sudbury Basin and I work up on the northwest edge of the rim, so I drive across the basin twice a day. The basin, however, has been deformed by tectonic forces so it is now an elliptical / ovoid shape rather than circular, further complicated by a second, smaller impact crater.

Sudbury breccia has different colours but looks very similar to the core in the article. Mind you, the drill only went down 1335 metres, barely scratching the surface (mind you, it was underwater, too).

Therbs mutters...

Posted November 24, 2016
Sudbury! Stopped in there whilst on a ratsacking adventure through North America a few lifetimes ago.
Was heading west to east and had stopped at Sault St Marie then Sudbury before hitting Toronto.
Liked it. Had a fun pub, Peddlars? Was good.

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NBlob has opinions thus...

Posted November 24, 2016
That neatly describes Greybeard getting into a bath

Gutz mumbles...

Posted November 26, 2016
That made the ginger beer i was drinking shoot out my nose!

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Kim Beazley on the new subs

Posted May 7, 2016 into Science and Tech by John Birmingham

The Bomber returned from the embassy in Washington and took up a role with ASPI where he writes the occasional piece, bringing a lot more insider knowledge than most analysts:

While I was Ambassador to the US, I visited Electric Boat’s yard in Groton, Connecticut, where the US Navy’s latest Virginia class nuclear submarines are under construction. This wasn’t an indulgence. Part of my job was to seek constant reassurance from the relevant officials of our ally that strong US support would be forthcoming when we finally decided on a process and partner(s) for the replacement for the Collins-class submarines. That reassurance was constantly but, lately, impatiently given. They came to wonder when we would get on with it. The US regards the Australian submarine as a potent addition to allied underwater strength in the Pacific.

I was taken aboard the then-latest Virginia-class submarine, the USS Missouri. The captain showed us the control room and asked me if I recognised anything. I said ‘yes’ and told him that I appeared to be standing in a Collins-class submarine. He responded, ‘Exactly’. The US had benefitted greatly from the structures we had put in place in the Collins. He had served as an exchange officer on one of them. ‘Best submarine I have served on’. It was polite hyperbole, but the USN has great respect for the class nonetheless. It has been a handful in joint exercises—so troubling, in fact, that a couple of years ago they hired the Swedes to practice on, as they tried to get to grips with finding modern conventional submarines. On my bookshelf sits a photo of the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln taken on exercise through the periscope of a Collins. The submarine, undetected, had just put three “torpedos” into the carrier.

Read it all here.

13 Responses to ‘Kim Beazley on the new subs’

w from brisbane has opinions thus...

Posted May 7, 2016
I believe a reasonable working ratio for subs is about 4:1, which means that having 12 subs might give you 3 subs available at any one time.

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ShaneAlpha mumbles...

Posted May 8, 2016
Are we starting a petition to name the first one the HMAS Havok?

HAVOCK21 mumbles...

Posted May 8, 2016
Its got a C in it FFSAKES MAN!

Nocturnalist has opinions thus...

Posted May 9, 2016
Not if he's proposing to name it after the Marvel character.

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Surtac would have you know...

Posted May 9, 2016
Confirming what I'd heard off the record for awhile now - the Collins class are f*cking good at their jobs.

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another JB is gonna tell you...

Posted May 9, 2016
Having presided over the last debacle it's no surprise Bomber has enthusiasm for the next one.

The success of Collins as more to do with the crew performing above and beyond in a platform badly compromised by a poor development process.

A poor process being replicated in alarming detail again now.

Seriously the wikipedia article is well work a background read.

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 9, 2016
I didn't realize that the French boat is designed as nuclear and the Australian model will be fitted for diesel, how can that possibly be a very efficient design?

Nocturnalist asserts...

Posted May 9, 2016
You're absolutely right, Barnes. Should be coal.

Barnesm would have you know...

Posted May 9, 2016
because according to an ex-PM it's good for humanity?

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Murphy_of_Missouri swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 9, 2016
Or you could do the novel thing of getting over a resistance to nuclear power.

Barnesm puts forth...

Posted May 9, 2016
To be fair there are some advantages of diesel to nuclear other than ideological nut-baggery. I remember reading the heat signature from nuke subs is harder to conceal whereas if you turn the engines off on a diesel boat the acoustic signal is zero.

Murphy_of_Missouri asserts...

Posted May 9, 2016
I am aware of that.

I was mainly referencing the concerns of trying to take a nuke and turn it into a diesel. I'm sure they'll work it out though.

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Bondiboy66 ducks in to say...

Posted May 9, 2016
I have been told a similar story about Aussies v US on Ex when we still had the Orion Class subs - i.e. Aussie sub sneaks into US fleet, shadows a large aircraft carrier for about three days, takes pics and sound/sonar recordings, then slips away undetected. Make of that what you will!

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Raising the dead for profit

Posted May 6, 2016 into Science and Tech by John Birmingham

Philadelphia-based biotech company Bioquark, Inc. has been granted approval from an Institutional Review Board at the National Institutes of Health to complete a clinical trial of a drug to wake the dead.

Seems legit. Can't imagine a downside to messing with powers beyond our control.

11 Responses to ‘Raising the dead for profit’

FormerlyKnownAsSimon reckons...

Posted May 6, 2016
Please let the first person this is successful on be a comedian whose first words are "Brainnnsss"

Quickly followed by "just kidding! just kidding! put down the chair. Jeez i feel like shit what happened to me?"

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Dave W puts forth...

Posted May 6, 2016
The good news is that, if I've learnt anything from the zombie genre, there will be one scientist who worked on this but transferred over to Honolulu six months before the outbreak and because of her work with Bioquark we won't know whether she's a goodie or a baddie, but we suspect that she has developed a vaccine for the survivors.

Oh, and those survivors will have interminable journey from the region of the initial outbreak to Honolulu.

But at least in real life we'll know that it was those crazy people at Bioquark who started the whole mess.

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GhostSwirv swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 6, 2016

Bioquark isn't a subsidiary of Cyberdyne Systems by any chance?

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SG puts forth...

Posted May 6, 2016
Check out Ressurection Inc by K.J. Anderson

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WA n'ker reckons...

Posted May 6, 2016
Is it effective on cremated remains?
Uncle Malcolm would probably buy some.

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Therbs has opinions thus...

Posted May 6, 2016
Six drops of the essence of terror, five drops of sinister sauce ...

Barnesm mutters...

Posted May 7, 2016
'whoops too much'

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pi has opinions thus...

Posted May 6, 2016
We ALL know how this is going to end.

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pi is gonna tell you...

Posted May 6, 2016
Totally OT, but if you haven't read this investigative journalist piece on the man who wrote trucrypt... It really is amazing stuff. Truly breath-taking.

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Rhino is gonna tell you...

Posted May 7, 2016
OK, I'll go for the obvious: Hmmmm, I wonder if this would work on (insert name of living politician, living boring person, etc., here).

I was going to say something about Havok ... but then realized that they are probably using a serum derived from his adrenal gland for this stuff.

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Barnesm mutters...

Posted May 7, 2016
so new hangover cure.

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Japan Times on sub deal

Posted May 2, 2016 into Science and Tech by John Birmingham

A tip o' the propellor beanie to Guru Bob for this link to a pretty good Japan Times piece on how the Japanese lost the bid to build the RAN's submarines when they started off with the inside running.

In February 2015, Abbott called his “best friend in Asia,” as he had previously described Abe, to tell him about the new bidding process. Abe sympathized and said he would do his best to comply, two sources with knowledge of the conversation said.

Yet, convinced the deal was still in the bag, Japan’s bidding group dithered.

“Even though we were in the competition we acted as though nothing had changed,” said one Japanese government source involved in the bid. “We thought we had already won, so why do anything to rock the boat?”

The Japanese did not attend a conference for the Future Submarines project in March, failing to understand the importance of the crucial lobbying event and leaving the field to their German and French rivals, sources on the Japanese bidding team said.

Japan’s belated attempt to engage with potential local suppliers at a follow up event in August 2015 went badly.

Companies complained Tokyo was unwilling to discuss substantive deals. Having only ever sold arms to Japan’s military because of a decades-old ban on exports that Abe lifted in 2014, neither MHI nor KHI had any Australian military industrial partners.

And unlike France and Germany, which quickly committed to building the submarines in Australia, Japan initially only said it would follow the bidding rules, which required building in Australia as just one of three options.

“The Japanese had been invited in on a handshake deal and were left trying to compete in an international competition having no experience in doing such a thing,” an Australian defense industry source said.

By September 2015, Japan’s key ally Abbott had been deposed by Malcolm Turnbull, blowing the competition wide open.

Full report is here and worth a look.

7 Responses to ‘Japan Times on sub deal’

DiddyWrote ducks in to say...

Posted May 3, 2016
The question to ask, is why was it a handshake deal in the first place?

dweeze has opinions thus...

Posted May 3, 2016
...because Captain Tones was (is?) an idiot and the Japanese didn't see that clearly enough.

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HAVOCK21 puts forth...

Posted May 3, 2016
Plenty og captains calls get made. its just the severity of the fk up or really whether or not it is a fk up, and also that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I wonder if its better to HAVE a decision that NOT have a decision, given the decision has been waiting to be decided for some fkn time and the list of culprits is rather long and large.

As for the choice, well its a good one IMHO. Even if it does mean we get a frog boat.

But here is the kicker, that a rather large amount are NOT aware of:




All the other screaming about combat systems and the US not supplying etc is pure bullshit.

Im not keen on forward tube launched TLAMS or similar via the tubes, vert cells would have been much better.

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NBlob ducks in to say...

Posted May 3, 2016
Still think we could have all the nice things for $50 BILLION.

HAVOCK21 puts forth...

Posted May 3, 2016
yeah, but subs are sexy...and we could do a bit of whale research for ya!

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GhostSwirv asserts...

Posted May 5, 2016
HAVOC21, When you say 'whale research' it sounds more like the whole exercise is really about spying on MAGMA displacement or sperm whales & humpbacks cavorting or even 'caterpillar drives' trying to nut out why Sean's accent is different to Sam's.

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HAVOCK21 reckons...

Posted May 5, 2016
I would be I aint got enough hair!

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