China’s “Minecraft” military camo

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On 3 September 2015, China celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with a fairly stunning display of its military might, parading hundreds armoured fighting vehicles and some 12,000 troops from the normally secretive People’s Liberation Army through Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Many of these vehicles had never appeared in public and a notable theme — one that to many eyes came as a big surprise — was the Army’s use of dramatic ‘digital’ camouflage patterns. The Chinese pageant featured columns of military vehicles covered in pixelated squares, some in shades of green and khaki, others in outlandish schemes of blue, white and black.

The pattern, which resembles the blocky graphics from the computer game Minecraft, is a stark contrast to traditional variegated “organic” camo designs that militaries have employed since the 19th Century — schemes that use blotches of complementary colours to mimic foliage and other natural features. The boldly pixelated camo, which despite some initial reluctance has seen increasing use by military forces around the world, seems counterintuitive; nothing in nature is so rigidly shaped. But it does work, and its vastly improved performance even came as a surprise to the man — a US Army officer — credited with developing it 40 years ago.

“Well when I looked at the data I think my observation was something on the order of ‘holy crap’,” recalled now-retired Lieutenant Colonel Timothy R O’Neill, PhD, when we asked him about early tests of the camo.

In the late 1970s O’Neill suggested to the US Army that square blocks of colour would disguise an armoured fighting vehicle better than large blotches. His idea was to build a pattern that would work no matter how far the vehicle is from the observer. Large patterns work well at long distances, and small patterns are better at close range. But patterns made from small squares, or pixels, can be painted to mimic both. Close up, the small patches mimic natural patterns on the scale of leaves on a tree, but from farther away, the clusters of squares create a macro texture that blends with branches, trees and shadows…

The experiment exceeded expectations, but it took a long time for digital camouflage to catch on…“It really should have come to fruition in the late 70s,” says Guy Cramer, the President and CEO of the fantastically named HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp. He is one of the leading designers of modern camouflage…

“…testing continued to show that digital was actually working better, but still you got the armchair quarterbacks, and people who don’t know about camouflage jumping to the assumption that it can’t work, it shouldn’t work, and so it doesn’t work…”

But the low-tech solution of coloured squares, developed in the 1970s, still remains the simplest and most effective form of camo. Both O’Neill and Cramer continue to work on refining it, and we can still see — or should that be not see — vehicles based on the same principles in use today.

Yup. Why pay attention to reality when it conflicts with your beliefs, eh? Obviously, some people, some armies do.

Bankrupt coal company wants to give 6 top execs $12 million in bonuses – everyone else got pink slips

Peabody Energy Corporation…is asking a bankruptcy judge to let it pay up to $12 million in bonuses to the coal-mining company’s top executives.

Peabody president and CEO Glenn Kellow and five other executives are in line for the bonuses…

Peabody, which is asking Judge Barry Schermer to approve the payments, says the bonuses are warranted in light of the fact that the success of its restructuring requires “extraordinary efforts” from its leaders…

Peabody says the two executive bonus plans it is putting forward are in line with the bankruptcy code. One plan would pay bonuses this year and next if Peabody meets profitability and safety-improvement goals. Bonuses would be triggered under another plan depending on when Peabody emerges from bankruptcy and would be tied to the financial performance of its U.S. and Australian divisions, cash flow targets and the extent of the work it does to reclaim the land it mines.

All tasks expected from any mining company. Unless it’s run by greedy thugs.