Posts Tagged ‘Business and industry’


Classification In-Jokes

Friday, March 16th, 2012

One of the really noticeable difference between the Boston and DC areas are the advertisements on their public transportation systems. In Boston, the majority of the ads were either for getting another educational degree, or asking if you wanted to be a paid participant in various medical/clinical studies. When you're already in that town to get a lofty educational degree, you're sometimes tempted by the idea of getting paid to not sleep for a week. Or maybe it would just be more of the same? Har har! Grad school jokes!

In DC, a huge number of the ads are for lobbying purposes — most of which invoke horrible consequences that will befall children, jobs, Israel, and/or the entire United States should Congress or the President not do something that somebody wants them to do. It's unclear to me whether this sort of advertising works, or, at least, what it means to "work" in these circumstances. Surely the wheels of government are so well-greased by money that mere subway ads can't have too much of an effect on how the representatives vote? And we all know nobody in DC is going to write in to their elected representatives, on account of the fact that we don't have any. (None who can vote, anyway.)

My favorite series of ads, though, are basically only comprehensible for people with connections to the world of security clearances. I think people in most parts of the country might assume that a web site with a name like "Clearance Jobs" might mean "jobs that are available wholesale" (not so bad) or "jobs at a significant markdown" (hmm) or maybe even "jobs that are two seasons old and thus nobody wants" (not so good).

Out here, of course, it means "jobs for people with security clearances."

This site has advertised a lot over the past few months with variously cryptic slogans. Here's my favorite one, snapped at the Navy Yard Metro station a few weeks ago:

Real Analysts Do It In a SCIF

A SCIF is a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. You know in the spy movies when they go into the special room that is completely cut off from the outside world, guaranteed un-bugged, where the really sensitive stuff is discussed? Well, it's sort of like that, but like most things associated with secrecy, they're probably a lot less exciting than they sound.

If you don't know what a SCIF is, you probably aren't attracted to the job. If you do know what a SCIF is, you're either feeling smug about your knowledge of the in-joke, or a little disturbed by the idea of analysts "doing it" on top of a classified laptop. Or maybe it's just me.

The truth is, of course, that Smart Analysts Do It in a Cone of Silence. Har, har! I'll be here all week, folks!

Update: I happened to be on a train with another one of these on my way home today:

How Was Your Day? Oh, I (redacted)

Har har! Get it? His or her job is classified so they speak in big redacted passages. Well, there you go. (Sorry for the blurriness — moving train+bad lighting+poor cell-phone camera.)


“If an A-bomb Falls” (1950)

Friday, February 10th, 2012

John Cloud, an historian at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), sent me scans of a really wonderful precursor to the NUKEMAP. It comes from a 1950 publication by the National Industrial Conference Board titled, If an A-Bomb Falls:

John reports that the pamphlet was some 20 pages long and was designed to help apocalypse-minded executives figure out how impending nuclear war might affect their bottom line.

The mapping connection comes from the fact that the pamphlet also included a overlay acetate sheet that, if you had your maps printed to the right size, could be overlaid on top of them to show you various nuclear effects:

As the overlay explains,

By placing this insert over a vital target in your community you can judge the effects of an atomic explosion, either air or underwater, on your plant and community. Air burst effects are based on Japanese explosions, with detonation at 2,000 feet. Underwater burst effects are based on Bikini, with wind velocity of 5 mph. Higher winds would carry the surge front downwind more quickly and increase the area and volume of the surge cloud.

The radii don't quite match up to the NUKEMAP calculations, but they're close. They're a bit larger on the whole because they include some more moderate effects, like "moderate skin burns." It's also probably the case that even in 1950, the AEC hadn't released full information on the effects radii. But other than that, they seem to match up well with 20kt explosions.

Of course, by 1950, the US had already increased its standard yields to around 49kt. And the yields would only go up from there. The Soviets had 20kt bombs in 1950, but by 1951 would be testing weapons in the 40kt range. And the yields would only go up from there. (And so it goes.) So this sort of overlay would have had, let us say, some planned obsolescence built into it.

Still, it's pretty amazing, with its brilliant colors and highly "busy" rings. No simple circles here!

For your amusement, I whipped up a very simple Google Maps simulation of what it would be like to use ones of these. Nothing fancy -- just drag your location and the "air burst" image will remain centered (and at the right size for a 20kt blast):

If you have trouble viewing the map as embedded above, click here to view it as a stand-alone page. Per usual, it attempts to center in on wherever Google thinks you are accessing the internet from, based on your IP address. (This particular function is not super accurate, but there you have it.) No logs are kept of where you move it to. Playing with it a bit, I've noticed that the image gets a bit distorted depending on your latitude and longitude. This has to do with plotting an essentially square overlay (the PNG image that makes up the explosion) onto the surface. It looks more or less fine if you stay at around the same latitude as the continental USA. If you start changing latitude the little circles will either compress or expand along one dimension. Things get very strange near the poles. You have been warned: this isn't science! I'm sure there is some kind of correction I could put into the latitude measurement to keep this from happening, but I'm not too shook up about it.

John (who is known to historians of Cold War secrecy as the author of a number of articles on the CORONA satellites) came across this in the Coast and Geodetic Survey Library during his long-running research into the origins and practices of analog map overlays, the genesis of what are now called geographic information systems. Pretty interesting stuff.


How to Use the Atomic Bomb in your Business

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

In Wednesday’s post, I made the bold assertion that nuclear warfare would probably be bad for business. Today’s image of the week is, well, something of a caveat to that statement. Nuclear warfare — rockets a burstin’ in air and all that — are definitely not good for the old capitalist enterprise. But the preparations for nuclear war — the making of the bombs, missiles, submarines, and so on — can be quite lucrative indeed!

This week’s image is an advertisement that appeared in Time magazine in January 1946, not too long after the end of World War II, bearing the wonderful heading: “How to  use the Atomic Bomb in your business.”1

Click to enlarge the image.

You can benefit from the atomic bomb project now! New engineering principles, new processing methods, new equipment — mere by-products of the bomb — have already, by a conservative estimate, more than given back America its total investment in atomic research. Some of these benefits will soon be yours for the asking.

The firm in question is Taylor Instruments, who developed some of the pressure sensitive instrumentation for the gaseous diffusion project at Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project. (The company is still in existence today, and still uses its bomb work as one of its selling points.)

The pitch of the ad, with its hilarious boss with a bomb on his desk image, is that while Taylor Instruments can’t share any bomb secrets with you, they did some pretty difficult stuff during the Manhattan Project, and now you can share some of the same, bomb-hardened expertise they developed.

 To meet the unheard-of tolerances involved, Taylor had to develop dozens of new types of instruments, and mass-produce them in astronomical quantities. In addition, many standard Taylor Instruments were used. Many instrumentation details are still secret, but... The same Taylor Engineers who worked them out for Oak Ridge are ready to help solve your processing problems!

Taylor wasn’t the only Manhattan Project contractor to later hype its atomic experience for postwar benefit, but they’re the only one I’ve seen with such an amusing advertisement.

This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to profiteering off of the atomic bomb, both in the past and today. For the full bill for the nuclear weapons complex, the best reference is Stephen I. Schwartz, ed., Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 (Brookings Institution Press, 1998).

  1. Citation: Taylor Instruments, “How to use the Atomic Bomb in your business,” [advertisement], Time (21 January 1946), on 43. []

The Bureaucracy will Survive the Apocalypse

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

This week's document concerns a vexing Cold War question: if the United States was nuked by the Soviet Union, would the bureaucracy survive, or would we have to start from scratch? Would nuclear apocalypse accomplish the ultimate deregulation, the ultimate experiment in small government? Would all debts be off, all credit clean, all records blanked? For God's sake, what would happen to private business, private industry? If capitalism was destroyed in a nuclear inferno, would the survivors envy the dead?

Faced with this crushing uncertainty, the U.S. government approached the problem methodically. In the spring of 1955, they nuked the heck out of some filing cabinets.

One unlucky filing cabinet. (GZ = "Ground Zero")

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