Paper tiger

Long but interesting article:

btw, I should mention, there are a number of interesting design-related things in that article (I’m not really interested in the political take - tho admittedly the Subject is too-closely linked to the headline). For example:

Chimeras - haven’t heard that word in a long time. Thought that bit of (deadly) design was interesting.

Stupid Soldiers - now that is excellent. Substituting urine for water! Someone should have designed the inlet with teeth! What an excellent example of poor industrial design.

Modular rocket - the issues with increased range doubling the rocket diameter and the resulting stress and control on re-entry problems were interesting and makes me further appreciate the amazing NASA effort in recent days. Even stuff like the simulteneous ignition was interesting; stuff most of us probably don’t even think about (esp when NASA does it so seemingly effortlessly).

Rail Guns! - those are just interesting. Didn’t know they were still decades away, tho.

Surprised no one’s commented on this. But it is a long s.o.b.

Here’s the best part, imo:

‘The Stupid Army’

Thair Anwar Masraf, an affable project engineer, made an appointment last summer to see an investigator from David Kay’s survey group. He had information, he said in an interview, that might help the Americans interpret two trailer-mounted production plants found near Mosul in April and May.

“I waited more than one hour in the Palestine Hotel,” Masraf said. “He did not show up.”

Masraf watched with curiosity, in coming months, as the Bush administration touted its discovery of mobile germ-weapon factories.

A joint study released May 28 by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency called the trailers “the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program.” Two days later, in Poland, President Bush announced: “For those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong. We found them.”

When Iraqi engineers told investigators that the discovered trailers were meant for hydrogen, the CIA dismissed the “cover story.”

By July, with contrary evidence piling up, Kay described the trailer episode as a “fiasco.” He told BBC Television, which broadcast the tape Nov. 23: “I think it was premature and embarrassing.”

Even so, Kay’s October report to Congress left the question unresolved. Kay said he could not corroborate a mobile germ factory, but he restated the CIA argument that the trailers were not “ideally suited” for hydrogen.

Had Masraf found Kay’s investigator at the Palestine Hotel, he said he would have explained that Iraq actually used such trailers to generate hydrogen during the eight-year war with Iran. Masraf and his former supervisor at the Saad Co. said Masraf managed a contract to refurbish some of the units beginning in 1997.

According to the two men, Iraq bought mobile hydrogen generators from Britain in 1982 and mounted them on trucks. The Republican Guard used one type, Iraq’s 2nd Army Corps another.

Iraqi artillery units relied on hydrogen-filled weather balloons to measure wind and temperature, which affect targeting. Munqith Qaisi, then a senior manager at Saad Co. and now its American-appointed director-general, said the trailers used a chemical – not biological – process to make hydrogen from methanol and demineralized water.

The feature that analysts found most suspicious in May – the compression and recapture of exhaust gases – is a necessity, Masraf said, when gas is the intended product.

In the late 1990s, the Republican Guard sent some of its trailers for refurbishment at the Kindi Co. The 2nd Army Corps signed a similar contract with Saad Co. Masraf said the first units were finished in 2001, including the two discovered by coalition forces around Mosul.

Qaisi’s account may also clear up an unexplained detail from the May 28 intelligence report: traces of urea in the reaction vessel aboard one of the trailers. Qaisi said the vessels corroded badly because Iraqi troops disregarded strict orders to use only demineralized water.

“The stupid army pissed in it, or used river water,” he said.

What I really found interesting, was how it might be possible to completely misinterpret the use of these things based on the confusing evidence that came from their misuse. It’s the likely inability of investigators to think like industrial designers that makes some of their odd (to me at least) conclusions more understandable.

Most people don’t ever ask: “How could this product be misused”. But designers have to ask that all the time. As an engineer, I found that part of my art/design education the most interesting and enlightening. Engineering had really put the blinders on me up til then. I don’t doubt those blinders are standard issue, but now I’m wondering how widely-worn they are. Do detectives and police investigators generally have them on as well?

I was looking at the “registered” General forum. Is there a better topic for design discussion over there than this one: the misuse of products. There have got to be a few Darwin Award-winners someone could cite.

Or has Core really tanked?