March 25, 2017

Black Light is the second in a series of books written by Stephen Hunter with Bob Lee Swagger as the main character.  You might have seen the movie “The Shooter” which told the story of Bob Lee and how he was accused of being an assassin and how he exacted revenge on his accusers.   That was the first book in the Bob Lee Swagger series.

I do NEED TO TELL YOU, it is NOT a book for the politically correct.  If you are a snowflake looking for a safe place when offended, you will not be amused.  The language is “R” rated as well as text describing multiple acts of absolute violence.  The discovery of a young black teen-ager who has been raped and strangled to death is detailed and extremely gruesome.  FAIR WARNING.

Former Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger has finally put his past behind him until he meets Russell Pewtie.  Pewtie wants to write a book about Bob Lee’s father, Earl, who was a state trooper in Arkansas. He died in a shoot-out in Blue Eye, Ark., in 1955.  The link between Pewtie and Bob Lee, ties the first three Hunter novels together. This link is that Lamar Pye, the escaped con who almost killed Pewtie’s father in Dirty White Boys, turns out to be the son of one of the men who killed Earl. Behind that death, lies a forty-year-old conspiracy somehow tied to the brutal murder of a young black teenager mentioned above.  Earl Swagger was investigating that murder on the day he died. The plot is fast-paced, well-constructed and builds to a pulse-pounding night ambush that echoes the finale of Point of Impact but that stands on its own as a classic one-on-one confrontation. Other echoes of the earlier novels sound as well, giving this one the feel of a recapitulation, or a farewell. But then Hunter has set a high standard for himself-and while this novel doesn’t match the escalating craziness of Dirty White Boys or the stone-cold efficiency of Point of Impact, it should seal his reputation as an author who not only can write bestselling thrillers, but write them exceedingly well.

Mr. Hunter, in my opinion, is a MASTER “wordsmith”. He demonstrates the remarkable ability to craft a story that could have multiple endings.  His writing style is very purpose-driven and gives the reader the sense of “I cannot put this down until I read one more chapter”.  In Black Light, the last three chapters leave you with the thought—“I did not see that coming”.  The ending is just that surprising.

I would now like to give you some idea as to reviews posted online from individuals who have read Black Light.  As you can see, readers are as enthusiastic as I about Hunter’s writing.

Mike Fench— Another 5-star book in the Bob Lee Swagger series! This book features Bob Lee looking into the death of his father, Earl, an Arkansas State Trooper shot in an attempted arrest of 2 killers. Kept me riveted from beginning to end WARNING: This book is far from being PC!

Rick– Some negative reviews have called ‘Black Light’ predictable, racist and violent. Yeah, what’s your point? Look, this is a book in Stephen Hunter’s ‘Bob Lee Swagger’ series. Swagger is an ex-Marine sniper in the south. He hunts bad guys. Violent? I should HOPE so!  As he so often does, and does so well, Hunter reprises characters from past novels. It’s like running into old friends (or enemies, as the case may be), but knowing these recurring characters is NOT a prerequisite for enjoying any of the Hunter novels.

Susan— And this one is the best Stephen Hunter yet. This guy can flat tell a story. Some of the plot is not even interesting (I’m just not fascinated by the intricacies of various guns) but even so, his stories are just so compelling.

Michael Burke— Never lets up for a minute you’re in it from beginning to end it hardly gives you time to breath. The writing is spare and still fulsome I enjoyed the pictures it paints of the Arkansas hills in the dust and sweat. And of several very interesting characters who I look forward to reading about in the future.

Christopher Bunn— Best thriller I’ve read in a very long time. Solid characters. Great motivations. Excellent pacing. Good dialogue. Very intriguing plot twists that advance with just enough foreshadowing and hints to keep you hooked, but not enough information to allow easy guessing. Perfect villain. Hunter knows what he’s doing. Refreshing to read a book that maintains all the way to the end, particularly these days. Rare thing.

Each to his own.  The reviews above are samplings of five star ratings that several readers have given this book.  I can certainly agree that Black Light is a book worth reading, if for no other reason, the writing style of Mr. Hunter is amazing.  A truly great author.

As always, I welcome your comments.



April 14, 2016

I usually don’t do movie reviews but this is an exception due to the technology displayed in “Eye in the Sky”.  This movie has been rated as a 4.5 to 5.0 by three movie reviewers and deserves the rating.  It is a marvelous movie and one I can certainly recommend to you.  Let me set the cast.

  • Hellen  Mirren as Colonel  Katherine Powel
  • Alan Rickman Lt. Gen. Frank Benson (This was Mr. Rickman’s last movie before his passing this year.
  • Aaron Paul as Lt. Steve Watts, United States Air Force
  • Barkhad Abdi as Jama Farah, MI6 operative
  • Phoebe Fox as Carrie Gershon—Weapons Officer, United States Air Force
  • Lian Glen—British Foreign Affairs Officer

The film, directed by Gavin Hood based on a screenplay by Guy Hibbert, and details military personnel facing the legal and ethical dilemmas presented by drone warfare against those using terrorist tactics. The overriding issue is the civilian population endangered by the military activity. The movie was filmed in South Africa in late 2014.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) commands from Northwood Headquarters (Britain) a mission to capture high-level Al-Shabaab extremists meeting in a safehouse in Nairobi, Kenya. A Reaper drone controlled from Nevada by USAF pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) provides aerial surveillance, while undercover Kenyan field agents, including Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi), use short-range video bugs for ground intelligence. Kenyan ground troops are positioned nearby to execute the arrest, but are called off when Farah discovers the terrorists have explosives, and are preparing two suicide bombers for what is presumed to be an attack on a civilian target.  Time is of the essence and as the movie progresses there seems to be many more political roadblocks than might seem necessary.  If those individuals in the safehouse are allowed to leave, killing them will be out of the question.

Colonel Powell decides that the imminent bombing changes the mission objective from “capture” to “kill” and informs drone pilot Watts to prepare a missile attack on the building.  As protocol would dictate, she solicits the opinion of her legal counsel about doing so. To her frustration, her counsel advises her to seek approval from her superiors. Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) is supervising the mission from London with members of the UK government as witnesses, and asks for their authorization. Citing conflicting legal and political views—such as contrasting the tactical value of the assassination with the negative publicity of killing civilians and the status of some of the targets as US or UK nationals—they fail to reach a decision and refer the question up to the Foreign Secretary (Iain Glen).  Impaired by a bout of food poisoning on a trade mission to Singapore, he does not offer a definite answer, first attempting to defer to the US Secretary of State (contacted on a cultural exchange in Beijing), then insisting only that due diligence be performed in seeking a way to minimize “collateral damage”.

Meanwhile, the situation at the house has become more difficult to assess.  Alia Mo’Allim (Aisha Takow), a pre-teen girl who lives in the adjacent home, is visibly in grave danger if the building—and the explosives inside—are struck by a missile. Watts and his USAF colleague Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) can see Alia selling bread just outside the targeted building, and seek to delay firing until she moves. Farah attempts to buy all of her bread so she will leave, but in the process, his cover is blown and he is forced to flee. The suicide bombers are finishing their preparations when surveillance video of them is lost, raising the level of urgency.

Seeking a way to get the authorization she needs to execute the strike, Powell orders her risk-assessment officer to find strike parameters that will allow him to quote a lower risk of civilian deaths. He re-evaluates a strike point and places the probability of Alia’s death at forty-five (45) to sixty-five (65) percent; she coerces him to report only the lower figure up the chain of command. The strike is subsequently authorized, and Watts reluctantly fires a missile. The building is leveled, with casualties in and around it. Alia has moved far enough away to survive the strike, but is injured and unconscious. However, one of the terrorist leaders has also survived, requiring Watts to fire a second missile, which strikes the site just as Alia’s parents reach her. They suffer minor injuries and rush Alia to a hospital, where the medical personnel are unable to revive her and she is pronounced dead. This is a tragic ending to a great movie.  Collateral damage ending the life of an innocent little girl.

The script is fascinating but the scenes depicting the capabilities of drone activity is truly engaging.  The field operative is unable to get close enough to determine the identities of everyone in the safehouse and a definite “make” is necessary before firing the Hellfire missile. The story line is more complicated because one terrorist is British and one American.  Both must be identified before action can be taken.  The drone sent to capture video of those inside is a “bug”—a flying bug with a camera.  The drone is directed by a controller no bigger than a smartphone with directional buttons guiding its flight path.  The people are identified but the little girl selling bread is within the “kill zone”.  Delays occur until the proper clearances and permissions are granted.  The Reaper drone is flying at twenty thousand feet and circles the area waiting on permission to engage.  All the time, video is given of the girl selling bread.  Lt. Watts knows an airstrike incorrectly placed will kill the girl and others within a certain radius of the bomb blast.  He repeatedly asks for probabilities of destruction relative to collateral damage.

I suspect the drone activity in the movie is at least somewhat accurate and if this is the case the technology is stunning.  To control a drone over the horn of Africa from Nevada is truly amazing.  To do so in “real time” is even more impressive.  The personal toll on the pilot and the weapons officer is pronounced.  They will never forget the experience and I’m sure PTSD will be a factor in their future.  Killing innocent children is a huge burden but the individual wearing the bomb vest would have killed scores of innocents had he been able to carry out his attack.

I can definitely recommend this movie to you.  It truly demonstrated American capabilities as well as the strain in fighting terrorism in today’s world.


January 12, 2013

The photographs for this posting are derived from information furnished by Ann R. Thryft; Design News, “Military Robots Extend Humans’ Reach.

For some reason, when I think of robotic systems designed for DOD applications, I think of drone aircraft and aircraft specifically designed for recon missions and surveillance.  In other words, flying machines specifically designed for flight.   Equally fascinating, are robotic systems  ground-based, that operate and maneuver thereby extending  operational capabilities “in theater” and taking our uniformed military from “harms way”.   Let’s take a very quick look at several recent advancements for ground-based robotic systems.

Nighthawk Micro Air Vehicle(MAV)

The Nighthawk Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) is a rugged, fully automated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made of carbon fiber composite. It uses GPS and autopilot technologies for navigating unfriendly territories to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. Its range is over 10 km (6 miles) and flight time is more than 60 minutes. The Nighthawk weighs 1.6 lb (725 gm), has a wingspan of 26 inches (66 cm), and a cruise speed of 18 to 30-plus knots. The MAV is equipped with 8-channel command and control, 4-channel video, and operates on batteries. It has forward and side-looking electro-optical cameras and a side or forward-looking thermal imager. A PC-based user interface provides real-time visual feedback and point-and-click waypoint navigation. The system can also be operated in semi-manual and manual flight modes. MAVs are stored fully assembled and ready to launch in a tube measuring 6 inches (15.2 cm) in diameter and attached to an assault pack. The assault pack’s outer pockets hold a rugged laptop computer, the ground control station, and an antenna assembly. The pack’s total weight is about 15 lb (6 kg).  (Source: Applied Research Associates)

Avatar II

The Avatar II is a remote-controlled tactical robot with a 300m (328 yards) operating range for first responders and SWAT teams. It includes a front-mounted drive camera, a high-intensity front headlight, an infrared light, a 360-degree pan-tilt-zoom camera, and a composite chassis that’s resistant to shock and water. Front and rear flippers help it climb stairs at inclines of up to 60 degrees and right itself if turned upside down. It’s also got secure WiFi for live video and audio transmission, as well as two-way audio operation and video and audio recording capability. Separate wireless channels let operators control multiple robots simultaneously. The Avatar II weighs 25 lb (11.34 kg) and measures 24.41 inches (62 cm) by 15.35 inches (39 cm) by 6.14 inches (15.6 cm).  (Source: Robotex)

Python HTR

The Python HTR climbs stairs and navigates difficult terrain to assist humans in hazmat, tactical, and reconnaissance operations. Simulator Systems’ operator control unit software includes a user interface that depends on touch gestures for controlling the robot’s movement, adjusting cameras, modifying settings, or changing views. The software also incorporates a secure, digital communication protocol for transmitting video. The HTR is based on the company’s Robotics Relay System for Communication in Urban Environments software. This incorporates mesh networking, like that used for smart power grids, to control multiple robots or relay surveillance cameras, and to use them as a network of mobile signal transmission points. The robot’s hardware is built in a modular fashion, so operators can swap out all components in the field without tools: accessories, cameras, OEM monitors, and even the Master Control Unit containing the robot’s critical electronic systems.  (Source: Simulator Systems)


Aptly called Pointman, Applied Research Associates’ small unmanned ground vehicle (SUGV) is a remote-controlled tactical robot for conducting video surveillance of multi-story structures and facility perimeters. Video outputs allow its display on an external monitor, and its wireless communication range is up to 600 feet (182.88m). Because its camera boom assembly lies flat, Pointman can also conduct under-vehicle inspection of automobiles, commercial vehicles, and aircraft. It uses wheeled locomotion to move over level terrain at about 5 feet (1.52m) per second, and can climb stairs at a speed of one step per second. It can climb over objects that are up to 11 inches (27.9 cm) high and runs for five to six hours on easy to moderate terrain. Pointman measures 19 inches (48.3 cm) wide x 13 inches (33 cm) long by 5.25 inches (13.3 cm) high, and weighs 18 lb (8 kg). It is water-resistant and can be decontaminated.  (Source: Applied Research Associates)

Clearpath Robotics

Clearpath Robotics says it designed the Husky A200 unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) to make UGV prototype development faster and cheaper for industrial and military engineers, computer scientists, and researchers. Built on an open, low-level, serial communication protocol, the Husky, like the company’s other robots, supports industry standard software such as LabVIEW, layer/Stage, C++, and Python, as well as the open-source Robot Operating System (ROS). Sample code is provided for interfaces with GPS systems, vision, and LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors. The remote-controlled Husky’s high-torque 4×4 differential drive system can deal with most field environments, including dirt, mud, water, gravel, rocks, and snow. 5V, 12V, and 24V user power is provided, and power lines have been filtered and fused for payload safety. The Husky measures 990 mm (39 inches) by 670 mm (26.4 inches) by 390 mm (14.6 inches) and weighs 47 kg (104 lb). Maximum payload weight is 75 kg (165 lb), and maximum speed is 1.0 m/s (2.3 mph).  (Source: Clearpath Robotics)


The TerraMax unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) kit converts any military tactical wheeled vehicle to supervised autonomous navigation in either a lead or follow role, with each vehicle able to navigate independently to the target location. Applications include improving autonomous missions, and protecting soldiers from possible IED (Improvised Explosive Device) threats. Tightly integrated “x-by-wire” brakes, steering, engine, and transmission enable advanced driver assist systems such as electronic stability control, adaptive cruise control, and collision mitigation braking. The multi-sensor system makes possible accurate positioning estimates without the need for continuous tracking through GPS signals or a lead vehicle. Sensors include LIDAR (light detection and ranging), radar, and multispectral vision. Operators can observe and manage internal operations and autonomous systems status, and create or load route information, over tactical data links.  (Source: Oshkosh Defense) Modular Robotic Control System

The Modular Robotic Control System (MRCS) isn’t a robotic vehicle, but an integrated hardware and software kit that converts existing commercial tracked or wheeled construction vehicles to remote control. The software is compliant with the military’s Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems (JAUS). Vehicles from 3,000-lb skid steer loaders, up to wheel loaders weighing eight times that much, can be controlled with the MRCS, designed by unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) maker Applied Research Associates. The customizable control system provides remote control of a vehicle’s motion, in addition to remote control of attachments such as robotic arms, disruptors, and other tools. The operator control unit includes picture-in-picture high-quality video capability so operators can remotely view the environment surrounding the vehicle, as well as tool operation. The line-of-sight range provided by the digital radio control system is 1.5 miles (2.41 km).  (Source: Applied Research Associates)

TORC Robotics


TORC Robotics’ Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate (GUSS) autonomous vehicle might be thought of as an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) on steroids. It can carry 1,800 lb and travel up to 10 mph over a variety of off-road terrain, for carrying out missions such as route clearance, reconnaissance, and resupply. GUSS drives itself via TORC’s customized AutonoNav software navigation system. The software allows control of mission planning, motion planning, behaviors, and vehicle control, as well as optimized route planning. Interfaces with GPS systems and LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors are provided, and motion planning parameters can be entered via a web-based interface. It can also be controlled using handheld or wearable units. The vehicle is the joint product of a development team that includes Virginia Tech, the Naval Surface Warfare Center-Dahlgren, and the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.  (Source: TORC Robotics)





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