Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Accelerating Science... While there's still an Enlightenment...

Well, I cannot let despair over civilization's plummet into a dark age keep me all gloomy. The Enlightenment is still kicking... and I prove it, now and then, by posting barrages of really cool stuff!

Starting with...

Who Speaks for the Earth?

SETI-METIFirst - that article in SEED -- Who Speaks for Earth, by David Grinspoon -- is now available online. A good piece of science reporting about the SETI/METI controversy. Or whether a very small number of people should make huge, irreversible decisions on behalf of all humankind. (Anyone have a link to the Wall Street Journal followup?)

See a cool lecture by my friend, futurist and media/alternate-reality pundit Jamais Cascio, about VR.

Here’s a YouTube item that’s a must, a deeply-moving ballet of two amputees. Amazing.

The nonprofit Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) -- of which I am a founding member -- released a series of scenarios depicting various versions of a near-future world into which transformative manufacturing concepts may emerge. Across eight separate storylines, an international team of policy, technology, and economic specialists organized by CRN imagined in detail a range of plausible, challenging events -- from pandemics to climate crises to international conflicts -- to see how they might affect the development of advanced nanotechnology over the next 15 years.

Future in Review

See one of the best predictive news services in the world -- and host of the annual “Future in Review” or FiRe Conference.

Stefan Jones suggests this funny one... though it hurts too. I’ve spent ten years trying to get anyone at all to notice huge, gaping gaps in our dismal online experience. Hey, I don’t need to be rich as Sergey. I just want to see this stuff happen!

wrong-democracyAlong related lines, see DemocracyLab which appears to aim at improving the level of discourse and debate within an Enlightenment civilization that desperately needs better tools. My own take on this is a bit heavy. But it shows the Web is NOT living up to its potential as a helper in problem solving discourse.

Is this true? That the side of your car that your gas filler cap is on is indicated by the “facing” of the little gas pump symbol on your dashboard?

I’d also be interested in reactions to the Presidential Climate Action Project of the University of Colorado School of Public Affairs headed up by former senator Gary Hart and industrialist Ray Anderson. The Potomac Institute calls it “ the finest systems approach to climate change that we have seen. The principles are highly adaptable to corporations and countries other than the U.S.” Thoughts welcome. http://www.climateactionproject.com/

See a speech on this topic, by my friend, acclaimed author, unleashed thinker, neurobiologist and climate pundit, William Calvin, delivered at the Chinese Great Hall of the People.

Accelerating Evolution?

ChidrenPrometheusFor those of you who missed it, here’s a link to the study indicating that human evolution has sped up, perhaps even a thousand-fold, during the last 10,000 years of civilization. See also Chris Wills’s CHILDREN OF PROMETHEUS: The Accelerating Pace of Human Evolution. Though nobody mentions one driver that I feel must have been huge. Beer. It provided a highly storable liquid bread, enabling people to bridge famines. When populations rose, water became polluted, so beer became necessary. It affected behavior, often in ways that culled out those with little self control. Resulting (I bet) in populations an average less intemperate or prone to addiction or rage. Though, we are still lamentably addiction prone. As in my rant about indignation junkies. Speaking of which...

Want a reminder that the Left can be loony, too? Here’s a cheery stocking-stuffer:

Better Never To Have Been: The Harm Of Coming Into Existence by David Benatar

UnknownMost people believe that they were either benefited or at least not harmed by being brought into existence. Thus, if they ever do reflect on whether they should bring others into existence—-rather than having children without even thinking about whether they should—-they presume that they do them no harm. Better Never to Have Been challenges these assumptions. David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm... The author shows that there are a number of well-documented features of human psychology that explain why people systematically overestimate the quality of their lives and why they are thus resistant to the suggestion that they were seriously harmed by being brought into existence. 

The author then argues for the 'anti-natal' view—-that it is always wrong to have children—-and he shows that combining the anti-natal view with common pro-choice views about foetal moral status yield a 'pro-death' view about abortion (at the earlier stages of gestation). Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct. Although counter-intuitive for many, that implication is defended, not least by showing that it solves many conundrums of moral theory about population.

Comments a National Review fellow “The author is a professor at the University of Cape Town. That's on the Cape of Good Hope, though evidently not in this case.”

To be fair, hasn’t the greatest question always been “To be, or not to be”? Ah, but if those who CAN be persuaded by these arguments then act upon them, won’t the chief result be the evolution of a species that laughs itself silly at these ideas? Talk about selection... (Actually, this stuff figures in my next novel!)

Looking to the Future

Over the past four years, in partnership with Google, the Bodleian and a number of other great libraries have gradually been transferring their holdings into digital, searchable form. By next year, the Bodleian will have put half a million books online. According to one estimate, Google is digitizing books at the rate of ten million a year, and it is not alone. Microsoft, Yahoo! and Amazon are all taking part in what amounts to a digital-literary gold-rush.

Scientists at the University of Oxford have built a device to beam waves of ultrasound into the body, generating bubbles at the site of a tumor. When these bubbles "pop", they release energy as heat - killing rogue cells.

"My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots," said artificial intelligence researcher David Levy at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands.

The company Hyperion Power Generation was formed last month to develop the nuclear fission reactor at Los Alamos National Laboratory and take it into the private sector. The portable nuclear reactor is the size of a hot tub. If all goes according to plan, Hyperion could have a factory in New Mexico by late 2012, and begin producing 4,000 of these reactors. It’s self contained, involves no moving parts and, therefore, doesn’t require a human operator.

For the majority of Americans who do not travel abroad, the only visible effect so far of the dollar’s steep fall has been higher fuel prices at the pump. The Chinese imports that fill the big-box stores still cost the same, because the Chinese yuan is still pegged to the American dollar. But that may be about to change, along with many other things. Three of the world’s biggest oil exporters, Iran, Venezuela and Russia, are demanding payment in euros rather than dollars. Recently a Chinese central bank vice director, Xu Jian, gave voice to the suspicion of many others, saying that the dollar was “losing its status as the world currency.”

AMERICA has told Britain that it can “kidnap” British citizens if they are wanted for crimes in the United States. A senior lawyer for the American government has told the Court of Appeal in London that kidnapping foreign citizens is permissible under American law because the US Supreme Court has sanctioned it. The American government has for the first time made it clear in a British court that the law applies to anyone, British or otherwise, suspected of a crime by Washington.

Something is stirring deep below the legendary hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone, the first and most famous national park in America -- and home to a huge volcanic caldron. Parts of the park have been rising the past three years at a rate never before observed by scientists. They believe that magma -- molten rock -- is filling pores in the Earth's crust and causing a large swath of Yellowstone to rise like a pie in the oven.

Note: If the Yellowstone hot spot ever does blow... or the one under Mammoth Lakes... then every other news items becomes insignificant.

See some alarming statistics about American reading habits. Do have a (depressing) glance. (Do NOT use this as an excuse for contempt for the masses! It is a sickness of the left, as well as the right.)

Final bit. Apparently the titanically talented and pioneering web artist/cartoonist Patrick Farley, has lost his Electric Sheep web site e sheep.com. I mourn.

48 comments:

Stefan Jones said...

(repeating my comment from the last blog post)

Farley didn't "lose" his website; he likely just didn't renew it.

Burnout? Money problems? I don't know. He has a blog (http://pfarley.livejournal.com/), but it hasn't had a message since June.

There is this, buried in there, that might explain things:

http://pfarley.livejournal.com/4300.html

I hope the despair there is something he's worked through since 2003.

Erik said...

The thing about the gas cap and the gas pump icon is half true. It's not the direction of the icon itself, but of the the little triangle arrow next to it. If there is no icon, sometimes it's next to the words "UNLEADED FUEL ONLY" or similar. On every car I've checked that has the arrow (about 6 or so), it points to the side of the car with the gas cap. I've only found one car that didn't have the icon (out of the 7 or so that I checked). It's a brilliant solution to a tiny problem that was rendered almost useless because nobody was ever told about it.

David Brin said...

Repeating my reply to Stefan from last time:
Gotcha, Stefan. But remember that your reflex to worry about cultural stereotyping being unjust IS a reflection of neo-enlightenment values. Tolerance and self-reproach as articles of faith.

Note that my CORE point is not about East West or US-China.

It is that there are two CONCEIVABLE general approaches to governance. Either 99% of human cultures had it right and paternalistic elites shall protect the masses... while exploiting them and protecting self-status...

...or the emergent properties of multi-scaled accountability arenas combine with other enlightenment principles, fostering reciprocal criticism based upon individual citizen sovereignty and permanent challenges to elites.

Of course in the flattened world there will be rich folks and elites... and the neo-confucian world will have some rights and social mobility. There's overlap!

Still, truly, this is an either-or choice. At the fundamental level. Because these are attractor states on either side of an unstable cusp.

e-sheep is available! How much would it cost simply to buy it for him for 5 years?

Tony Fisk said...

Not so much 'panglossian', Stefan, as 'spiderly'.

Farley (or someone called patrickfarley) updated his wikipedia entry a couple of days ago:

As of 2007, Farley has taken a hiatus from comics work to pursue projects in the film industry.

I wish him well

Anonymous said...

(Zorgon again)

"How Super-Precise Atomic Clocks Will Change the World Within A Decade"

At the University of Pittsburgh last fall, researchers used a NIST-produced atomic clock the size of a grain of rice to map variations in the magnetic field of a mouse's heartbeat. They placed the clock 2 mm away from the mouse's chest, and watched as the mouse's iron-rich blood threw off the clock's ticking with every heartbeat.
(..) The same technique for looking inward works outward too. Electromagnetic fields are all around us, and change very slightly in response to our movements. A precise enough clock perturbed by these fields can give data on where things are and what's moving. Like the mouse's heart, a closely synced array could build a real-time continuous picture of the surroundings -- an area of research called passive radar. You could passively visualize pedestrians on a sidewalk, O'Brian says, "from the microwaves of the Doppler shift of someone walking."

David McCabe said...

It would cost about $50. Search for DNS registrars.

David McCabe said...

The correct URL for the article about nuclear fission is:

http://sfreporter.com/articles/publish/outtake-112107-nuke-to-the-future.php

The www.crnano.org is not responding at the moment.

Zechariah said...

Reposted from the last thread.
Zechariah? That is exactly what the neocons do. They latch onto some dopey mantra and use it to discredit in their own eyes an opponent who would otherwise trounce them overwhelmingly, on points.

I do think that Al Gore makes some excellent points. I do think that we should invest more in renewable fuels. I think that civilization has the ability to reduce its carbon footprint and prevent catastrophic climate change.

I just don't think that Al Gore is the man to make those points. He needs to give the limelight to somebody else.

As am "inconvenient question", the 20 room mansion is a nice zinger and Gore deserves to both go "ouch" and have to explain. A little. As a DISCREDITING PROOF it is a great big zero.

Okay. You have implied that we should stop listening to republicans about morality issues because they violate their own advice. Why should they not just have to say "ouch" and explain? Bear in mind, I didn't like Larry Craig before the scandal just because of his policies. His hypocacy was just extra damning.

In fact, it is utterly hypocritical for a movement that has abandoned Conservatism in favor of an utter spasm of shortsighted self-indulgence, to screech at a man who is a MIX of hard work, vision, future-values AND a little self-indulgence.

That sackcloth and ashes thing tops it all.


I like biblical language, so sue me.

The "movement" comment really bothered me. I dislike Al Gore and I'm automatically part of a movement? Yes, I vote in republican primaries, but that's because its basically a one party state and the primaries are my best chance to choose my leaders. I do vote for democrats and independents when I think they'll do a job.

I don't think I'm part of any movement, and even though the highest levels of the republican party have been taken by some bad men I refuse to indulge in party politics.

I am a pragmatist. Give me a guy who limits his hypocrisy down around the 10% level, instead of a movement that Swift Boats every opponent, and calls it reason.

Granted, the swift boat thing was stupid. Like I said, I don't care about party lines. I do destest hypocracy. Like I said, I do think that much of what Al Gore has said has merit. I ride a bicycle and recycle what I can. But hearing him tell me he wants to raise the cost of heating my house with carbon taxes (while he sits toasty warm in his mansion) makes me want to spit. I already keep the therostat at 55, what else does he want?

iron_ringer said...

(Newbie here, jumping right into the fire in response to Zechariah's last question "what else does he want?"
I won't be joining in too much due to time constraints but I expect to continue reading most of these threads.)

I wouldn't pretend to answer for Gore, but I'd guess he wants:

- more awareness on everyone's part, the little things matter.
- opportunities for you and me and everyone around to buy more efficient cars.
- a reduction of wealth distribution (i.e. subsidies and tax breaks) in favor of big oil.
- maybe some cookies. I mean who doesn't?

---

DB: a thought re Meme Wars from your last blog entry - is Otherness fighting a dual-pronged war against Machismo and a domestic insurrection of Paranoia?

Anonymous said...

From CJ-in-Weld

(I'm joining Zorgon in frustration - every time I log in, I have to go through the sign-up process. Pain. In. The. Ass.

The author shows that there are a number of well-documented features of human psychology that explain why people systematically overestimate the quality of their lives

If everyone is overestimating the quality of their lives, are they really overestimating?

Zechariah said...

My quality of life is awesome! who told you otherwise? There's absolutely nothing with my quality of life, and if there was, it wouldn't make me less of a man, it wouldn't!

;)

Have any of you who are having login trouble tried entering your full email address in the username section?

And Iron_Ringer I will concede the point about the cookies. I would also like to buy an efficient car that isn't Japanese and I would't lose sleep if the oil companies got fewer tax breaks. I'd be happy to mind the little things, so long as it's me choosing to mind them, because if he keeps trying to legislate them I'll do the oppisite out of sheer puckishness.

But mostly the cookies.

Zechariah said...

And I'm sorry for the misspellings. I'm tired, and there is no edit feature.

Anonymous said...

Al Gore isn’t a purest. He is not calling for you to live in a 1 room eco-house. That you damn him for not doing it himself is twisted.

I believe in trying to respect and help your fellow man, but I am not a purest either. Would you damn me for not giving everything in my wallet to every beggar I meet?

Do you pursue all of your beliefs to the absolutes? Hypocrisy is something you’ll find in every person. Frankly I’m glad Al Gore isn’t a crack pot that takes things to the Nth degree. After all he couldn’t create and transport his message if he did.

Are you aware of the concept of Carbon Offsets?

Rob said...

I'm thoroughly convinced that Mr. Craig was railroaded by a combination of his own hubris, an unfortunate misunderstanding, and a zealous professional not disposed to believing the people he arrests.

It's a simpler explanation than the idea that the man was actually boffing in airport restrooms.

The gas cap used to be on one side if the car was designed domestically, and another if it was designed in Japan, though I don't think that's the case any longer. (And I can remember when a few models, including a VW van I drove in Switzerland, were fueled through the rear license plate!)

They drive on the left hand side of the road there, don't they?

Doug S. said...

"This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by a third party."

Damn you, copyright laws!

Stefan Jones said...

Grrrr! Even if Patrick Farley has moved on to other things, and won't be updating E-Sheep, that site deserves to be up and running.

There are some genuinely important pieces of web comic art there that should be preserved for posterity.

I'm probably not the only person willing to chip in for the fees.

David Brin said...

Zechariah, I do not claim that I will never listen to any Republican criticize a dem, just because the GOP has proved to be utterly foul and wallowing in corruption.

Pearls can rise through shit - a basic enlightenment principle. For example, I have always heeded the principled criticisms of welfare, especially offered by honorable men like Goldwater. Welfare DID suffer from about 20% of the flaws that conservatives pointed out, and dems were far too obstinate delaying reform.

What I'll not do is put up with Swift Boating. We had 6 years of it under Clinton. And the net truth and value of that character assassination storm was ZERO proof of anything wrong in the areas we hired Clinton for... government. ZERO.

Swift-boating is a vicious disease. And this thing about Gore's house bears all the earmarks.

Sorry if I generalized your remarks to shove you among the neocons. It was intemperate.

Look at it this way. Today's libertarians curse FDR, even tho a sovereign people ratified him repeatedly. And past-obsessed narrowmindedness is an LP disease. Fine. In his day, FDR was called a "traitor to his class," because he tried to level a playing field that was verging on feudal. But historians now know he SAVED his class from a confiscatory revolution!

Is Gore an aristocrat "masquerading" as a man of the people? A man with self-indulgences, masking as a rabid environmentalist? Maybe. SO? If he does as good a job as FDR at leaving a mightier, more efficient and more free America, with a flattened social order with both lots of free enterprise and lots of social mobility, poised for better social justice WHILE provoking us to re-think and invest in smart decisions for dangerous times...

...and this results in saving the asses of the core-smarter aristocrats, and thus enables us to stay a little self-indulgent (tho more efficiently-so?) Please explain how vile that would be.

iron-wringer... yes. Just as I want to save the professionals from being attacked by super-empowered politician amateurs... while slapping them into waking up about a coming Age of Amateurs. We must be agile! While fighting a putsch from the right, never forget communism.


Someone contact Farley and ask if he wants e-sheep donated back to him?

Marc said...

>> Sorry, this doesn't relate to your wonderful topic at hand, but I felt that this would be important news; Things are really heating up, the Bush Crime Family is unravelling -- at least the media groomed veneer that we are in a Democracy. It's going to come to a head because all the Dems and Republicans and Prosecutors and Judges who MIGHT put a check on this power, are compromised or scared. Why is the big question.

Finally. Contempt charges on Rove and Bolton;
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/12/13/america/Congress-Contempt.php

The torture tapes -- looks like an admission of "oops." The thing to watch was the ACLU's FOI request BEFORE the innocent "destruction" of the tapes. There were more tapes than just the two main ter'er uspsects. We can assume that either other unfortuneates -- many more were tortured, or it may be that people were being "engineered" to forget or perhaps have false memories.
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/13/washington/13intel.html?ref=us
Remember, that one of the two put on trial was wearing a shock belt. Really. It was there because he was a "flight risk." To my cynical mind, it was for "wrong answers." They didn't need to interrogate him because all the Al Qaeda info was on his laptop.

AFRICOM militarizes US assistance programs for Africa. Aid workers alarmed at move.
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N14212191.htm
The Congo has more death than Darfur. But Darfur has OIL.

>> Circumstantial; Blackwater was protested out of San Diego just before the fires -- they wanted to set up a base therre. Now, Blackwater to ignore Potrero vote against it. Five member planning board that approved Blackwater training center voted out. http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20071213-9999-1m13recall.html
Remember I said to keep an eye on these Militia bases -- that's the last checklist for Bush's Kleptocracy.

Sarkozy says Israel may hit Iran. Sarkozy carries neocon brief in Europe.
http://feeds.bignewsnetwork.com/?sid=308589

The last veneer of Paint on the Pig that is the drug war is rubbing off;
http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/12/12/19210/608/933/420107

Scroll down to "Inflation Looms"
http://www.urbansurvival.com/week.htm
then scroll a little more to; "Tension Rise with Russia"
>> They are probably one in the same thing. Putin, who is the hand behind the new puppet leader in Russia, is no dummy. He knows that the US government (such as it stands) knows know other way to get itself out of Conervative Economic Depression v 2.0 without going after another oil country. That leaves Iran or Darfur (with China? We aren't THAT crazy). So he is stepping up the posturing so that Bush doesn't get any ideas. He hasn't looked into Bush's soul -- the man has no ideas. But without Robert Gates around to lie to us, Russia isn't nearly the super power we pretended they were -- ever. Nothing to sneeze at, but it's hard to tell if it's a real anymosity, or just a "let's make money with war profits" sort of animosity. Regardless, it would be a proxy war -- unlike with China who can hurt us (Hint; the pocket book is where it counts).

>> It is make or break time for Bush, and the Economy. IF they can't control who gets elected to office next year -- and that will be hard if they actually get called to court BEFORE November 2008, then the Bush conspirators are going to prison. OR, the government and media tools will have to contend with a society that KNOWS it's all rigged -- while they are trying to keep the easy credit (soft chains for indentured servitude) system going, and that ain't likely.

Marc said...

More on the CIA Drug plane;
http://www.madcowprod.com/11282007.html

Take note of the "Pederasta!"
-- NeoCon connection not far behind. This is the favorite tool of creating compromised politicians for NeoCon/Globalists.

Also the plane took off from St. Petersburg -- the same town that sat on the Mark Foley story (two newspapers there).

Ron Davison said...

Evolution sped up? I don't know why there isn't more talk about social evolution - or the need to nurture it. We've gotten to the point at which our biological evoution is going to dance with social and technological evolution in ways even more pronounced.

Marc said...

"Evolution sped up?"

Darwin's theory of Evolution was based upon survival of the fittest.

There is also a factor of "genetic memory" -- the ability to re-trigger genes long dormant. That's how humans that have brown eyes can more to a high altitude and develop blue eyes in a generation or two. There really isn't enough time for only blue-eyed people to survive and change such a population.

There is also a factor of "learned genetics" from the standpoint of survival, you could say that the environment of a parent can fine tune the interpretation of genes. If you ate a lot more and worked out -- your kids are going to develop more muscles. While perhaps there are social and physical influences -- I think it goes beyond that. You can even see such competitive changes in gene expression in simple yeast. Feed a group of yeast milk, and a group of yeast a few inches over will start reproducing more -- in expectation. To have food and not be able to out-compete for it would leave offspring at a disadvantage.

This isn't an entire life that's required, just the activities before an offspring is produced. You can see the same tendencies in seasonal births.

I think it will further be found that people actually do have some subconscious influence over their own "mutation." It's a bit of an adjunct to my theory that almost all of what we people believe is Extra Sensory Perception is based on our immune system -- not our brains. But humans have developed a feedback mechanism with mind and body -- that sounds a bit cliche. But in biological and evolutionary terms, we are wild mutants.

However, I think we should be humbled by the number and breed of dogs we've developed -- I guess compared to them, we are standing still.

>> I'd like to share a bit of good news on the science front; humanity can solve it's problems. MOST of the worlds big problems, are actually taking a lot of effort from groups of the wealthy and powerful to keep going -- we just have to call them out on it. Lowering green house gases might be a lot easier than we think -- and of course, Exxon will have bought up water plants, while BP buys up factories to make solar cells. But that is nothing new.

The great news I heard was that someone studying Kangaroo farts realized that they don't expel methane. They followed this up by identifying the enzyme in the Kangaroo stomach and the bacteria that makes it. They feel confident that this ability could be transferred to other animals like Cows. The greatest source of "human" activity induced greenhouse gases is our eating of meat. It could be relatively painless and cheap to reduce methane output significantly. More info here; http://wizbangblog.com/content/2007/12/06/kangaroo-farts-could-ease-global-warming.php

Zechariah said...

If they get this to work and be safe for John Q. Public, this would be awesome.
Betavoltaic Battery Could Power Your Laptop For 30 Years
http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/power-breakthrough/betavoltaic-battery-could-power-your-laptop-for-thirty-years-305971.php

Zechariah said...

Sorry! That last one was a hoax! Sorry! I just found out while trying to find out more about it. Damn this poisoned font of knowledge we call the internet!
(well, don't damn it too hard, cause I still need it, but damn it nonetheless)

Anonymous said...

You're right about beer. I have an archaeologist friend who specializes in the late neolithic early agriculture boundary. In many of the sites he's worked on the most commonly found artifacts are related to beer manufacturing. He's speculated that beer was the source of our agricultural civilization - can't make decent beer if you're in a hunter gatherer type of culture.

regards,
larry

atolley said...

Presidential Climate Action Project: Thanks for posting this, I didn't know it existed. A skim through the sections suggests a pretty good set of ideas. Now if the next president would actually act on it...

Zechariah said...

He's speculated that beer was the source of our agricultural civilization - can't make decent beer if you're in a hunter gatherer type of culture.

And yet we have had people go from hunter-gatherer types to full blown agricultural civilization without beer, as in the Americas. I'll concede beer may have influenced our development.

Michael said...

This isn't directly related to the topic at hand, but I wanted to point out a bit of news from the transparency front:
http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/wireStory?id=3968795
This is important IMO, the legal framework that allows us to watch the watchers will almost certainly have to come from case law.

Rob said...

I could just kick myself.

Q) What has been the progressive rallying cry about fossil fuels in the last 40 years or so?

A) Well, it's been that burning fossil fuels is actually a really, really bad idea, long term, for reasons related to atmosphere pollution. [Ed: Which is what anthropogenic global warming is.]

Q) Given that burning fossil fuels is a really bad idea, what should the world do about it?

A) According to all the best science and the U.N. politicos, the world should stop burning fossil fuels, and produce less polluting energy.

Q) Really? What sort of energy pollutes less?

A) Oh, lots of things, really! As far as global warming and atmospheric crud goes, one very viable alternative is electrical energy, produced by a nuclear fission reaction.

Q) I heard that was bad juju! It's not?

A) Oh, there are some real problems possible with generating power using fission. The waste materials are rather nasty. Noone wants to store them. But, most people who know from nuclear agree that those problems are immenently solvable, without toasting ecosystems the way engineering a continent's rivers for hydropower might be.

Q) Oh, OK! I'll buy that... So, this means it's actually going to be possible to stop depending on fossil fuel for a high-energy world economy?

A) Oh, yes! The future looks pretty bright indeed!

Q) Wait a minute... Aren't there millions of people whose livelihoods would depend on that change being as tumult-free as possible?

A) Well, yeah. Any change that large should have built-in measures to make sure people don't starve from the change.

Q) OK, fine, but aren't there whole nations, like, say, Iran, whose economy depends on fuel exports?

A) I suppose you're right about that!

Q) And wouldn't it be wise and prudent for such a country to make plans for the coming change connected to a switchover from fossil fuels to nuclear fuels?

A) Yes, of course. Any wise country would do just such a thing.

Q) And, wouldn't the most straightforward economy, structured on the export of fuels, simply look to export alternative fuels, thus keeping most of its economic infrastructure intact?

A) That makes total sense, Q!

Q) So, given all of that, what should Iran do to prepare for the long term shift away from oil to nuclear?

A) It should refine and export uranium rods or spheres, rather than refining and exporting barrels of oil.

Q) Oh!

Harlequin said...

A note on Patrick Farley... checking the site, I note that e-sheep.com has been snapped up by an auction house which means that they're asking, for example, a $69 consultation fee to "broker" the transaction - no promises on how much it'll be.

However, variants such as e-sheep.us or e-sheep.info appear to be available, for the usual cheap prices ($5.99 from at least one registrar). Or as a Canuck I can get a .ca domain which means it's almost always available, though it appears that this won't be necessary. Alas, any of these means that potentially hundreds of past viewers will still be cut off. I, too, would be willing to chip in to the brokerage fees if consensus is that the lesser retrieval wouldn't suffice.

I have a mutual friend with Farley and am asking her to contact her and verify that he has not deliberately allowed the content to lapse. I concur - his work is worth paying to have retained.

Anonymous said...

Your Yellowstone link ("Something is stirring", http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp%20dyn/content/article/2007/11/08/AR2007110801336.html?wpisrc=newsletter) is 404.

Also, your comment submission form is behaving incorrectly. It does not preserve entered text if the user navigates away from the page, then returns, unlike those at pretty much every other blog I ever post comments to.

Anonymous said...

Bah. Stupid comment form also truncated the damn URL, so the one in my first comment is clearly incorrect. Trust me though -- the original is just as much a 404 as the truncated version. Just click the link on the blog post (the words "Something is stirring") and observe.

Anyone have the correct link? It's not obvious what typo Brin made in the link (or, for that matter why he didn't just copy and paste it to avoid that possibility).

Anonymous said...

(Zorgon thhe Malevolent again.)

Here's the WaPo article. This link works fine for me.

This belongs to the "Why worry about it?" category. The last time this caldera blew, 80% of the living creatures in North America got fried, so if it goes, it's like one of those 10-limoeter-wide asteroid strikes... We're toast. No likelihood of it blowing anytime soon, from what scientists believe, fortunately.

CJ-in-Weld said...

In cool science-fun news, a new edition of Tribes comes out next Spring!

And Zechariah, thanks - using email worked, whereas using my handle did not.

David Brin said...

TRIBES is a freaking TERRIFIC party game, written jointly by me and Steve Jackson. Meant to simulate the darwinistic aspects of life in the bad old caveman days. Winners are the male and female characters who have the most offspring survive to puberty!

Amazing how simple the rules need to be, in order for so many of our - ahem - characteristic patterns to emerge.

Warning. Best if played by 8 or more players across several hours.

Mark said...

Hello all, Mark Frischmuth here. David, thanks for the reference to DemocracyLab. I have no idea how you heard about our project but I appreciate the exposure. We're hoping to have the first working version of our site up within the next 30 days, in time for a "Rebooting Democracy" conference taking place here in Portland. To do so with our non-existent budget, we've had to shrink the concept to the point where it can be drowned in a bathtub, but it'll be a start. Hopefully once the open source software community has something to build on the project will take off. Thanks again-

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Are there any plans to turn Tribes into a PC game?

David Brin said...

TRIBES could make a nice pc game, and it would help playability, since it is currently limited by needing LOTS of players sitting together and negotiating for several hours.

Allowing it to be played with computer-genrated characters would be cool. So would sipplying animated action scenes. Or on online gaming aspect with remote other players... which is nice because you'd sometimes play transgender roles.

It would allow for larger tribes, too.

One advantage of the pc online version. It could be played is SEMI-real time. Say, by email. Each player could check in once a day and play through the animations and negotiations and chance moves and they all could be "cleared" at midnight. A different playing mode that could pioneer a whole different style of gaming.

Just pondering.

Andrew said...

Arthur C. Clarke's 90th birthday reflections

Anonymous said...

(Zorgon the Malevolent again)

Speaking of science:
Nytimes article about the new fusion of venture capitalist & academic grant models for funding basic research (behind registration wall) "Bell Labs Is Gone. Academia Steps In."

Brendan Podger said...

Next from David: Tribes the Multiplayer Online Game

David McCabe said...

Unfortunately there's already an online multiplayer game called Tribes, so a new name would be needed.

You know, I was a Brin fan before I even knew it: he apparently wrote the story for Ecco the Dolphin, one of the better games on the Sega Genesis.

bw said...

The Sante Fe reporter article about the Hyperion nuclear reactor has some incorrect information. I have complete info from the patent for the reactor and information from the company. The Sante Fe article quotes 27MW of thermal energy. It is actually 17-25MW of electrical energy plus additional thermal energy. I have also analyzed combining the Hyperion reactor with a Vasimr engine for 39 day one way trips to Mars. I look at light weight shielding against radiation which is relevant for the SETI article.

I discuss the simplified solid core (nuclear battery) which could start mass production in 2012 here

and here from the patent

thorium liquid flouride reactors would also be a vast improvement over existing power sources

The Freedomcar project of the DOE/EERE is developing thermoelectronics which can boost the efficiency of conversion of heat to electricity near the Carnot limit using quantum wells and other nanostructures. Thermoelectronics are already used for seat warmers and beer coolers. The first commercial co-generation in trucks and cars should start in 2010. This will more rapidly boost efficiency in transportation than electric hybrids. Big trucks would have 9 month to 2 year paybacks for installing the units. Int eh 2012-2018 range existing nuclear reactors could get a 50% electricity generation power boost by enhancing the conversion of heat to electricity.

Wayne Johnston said...

The gas cap on my Nissan Altima is on the left. The icon has the pump handle on the right. There's no triangle or other indicator beside it.

I'm Canadian - does that make a difference? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Not tribes the MMO of course - just MO :)

Steve Jackson made some great PC games back in the eight bit days - AutoDuel was a great adaptation of CarWars.

I don't know if his operation ever really recovered from the Secret Service raid - one of the most INSANE uses of that agency in American history.

A mix of AI tribes and user tribes would be best - to allow any number from one to eight human players for on-line play, while still allowing a family to sit around the PC and play hot-seat style.

The right balance of cooperation and competition is, after all, what makes for succesful on-line games.

Lorraine said...

Re. beer and evolution: Comes as sad news to me as I was hoping humyn evolution was slowing down or even ground to a halt. Part of my anti-social-darwinist worldview that wants to replace survival-of-the-fittest with something (probably technological) less rightist and inegalitarian in implications. I never imagined alcohol or other addictive drugs to be a driver of genetic selection pressure; as you point out, we are still lamentably addiction prone.

I always have suspected addictive drugs, especially alcohol, of being tools of social engineering, and I'm paranoid enough to believe that their use as such is sometimes by people who know exactly what they're doing. Consider the prevalence of hard drinking subcultures within Establishment-oriented subcultures, such as college fraternities, the 19th hole at the country club, etc. Especially among Establishment youth, early identification of the addiction-prone (along with induction of actual addiction in same) could certainly in theory create a staffing pool for 'dirty work,' or any kind of work for which you want little or none of the luxury of 'taking this job and shoving it.' See William S. Burroughs' essays on "junk (opiate) pyramids." I suspect a similar motive may be behind the HR community's insistence that employers have a legitimate interest in prospective employees' credit histories, where the (I would suggest) cover story is that creditworthiness is an indicator of trustworthiness. See the movie On the Waterfront and the policy of 'no loan, no job.'

Re. reproductive nihilism:

I have never been of the opinion that the act of reproduction, in and of itself, is doing the world or anyone in it a favor. I am not a Christian, and my short list of reasons includes the Fourth Commandment, "honor your father and your mother." Honor, like respect, is earned. A sperm (or egg) donor is not due the honor of a parent. I have always been of the view that it's unethical to commit a reproductive act without at least one parent being 'established,' meaning things like being gainfully employed and perhaps having housing in one's own name. Being a member of a guildly skilled trade, having a 'family business' or otherwise being in a position to 'pull strings' for an offspring is a definite plus, as is ability to afford 'advantages in life' such as private school or at least an internet hookup. 'Tradition-bound' ethical systems, I think, are too hung up on petty matters like marital status.

I was a little put off with the character Claire Eng in Earth who apparently thought of offspring as an ego extension. Like most people of the left hand path (by which you are apparently put off because of our looniness) I consider egoism (or egotism, as I prefer to call it) an unflattering personality trait. Parents who use their kids as an ego boost are a despicable species.

I'm neither a primitivist nor a nihilist, and I'm not for humyn extinction. Simply recognition that overpopulation is not a non-problem. If we want existence itself to be regarded as a blessing, it is incumbent on us to make the world a better place, and not to take the future of joie de vivre for granted.

Hank Roberts said...

Remember, the Enlightenment is still news in human terms. Those illustrations of geological time in which humanity is like a layer of paint on top of the flagpole? The Enlightenment is like the monoatomic layer of smog adsorbed on the top of that. It started so recently.

--------
“Strange! If we read over the works of the ancients we are tempted to class them all among the intuitionalists. And yet nature is always the same; it is hardly probable that it has begun in this century to create minds devoted to logic. ...

It is not minds that have changed, it is ideas; the intuitional minds have remained the same; but their readers have required of them greater concessions.

What is the cause of this evolution? It is not hard to find. Intuition can not give us rigour, nor even certainty ….
————-

Intuition and Logic in Mathematics
by Henri Poincaré, 1905.
http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Extras/Poincare_Intuition.html

Lorraine said...

Then again, maybe the paint-on-the-flagpole effect is simply the time dilation preceding the so-called singularity.