Thursday, May 27, 2010

Science Rocks!

First, any of you in the San Diego area, I will be among 30+ visionary speakers at TedX Del Mar... a spin off TED conference to be held in the beautiful seaside village of Del Mar on June 2.  Speakers will do 18 minute flash presentations on all types of science, hyper-new technology, art, society... from noon to 9pm.  There will be a charge for attending, since the audience is limited to 100 or so. Or see  TEDxDelMar.com

Uplift fans.  Now you can show your visionary belief in the future by wearing the meme! Order T-shirts, caps, mugs etc emblazoned with logos of the Galactic Institutes.  Or get a tot-bag with the crest of the the Earthclan Uplift Project (featuring a brash neochimp and neo-dolphin).  Or wear the proud emblem of the Terragens Marines.

  Most recent issue of New Scientist focuses on Climate Denialists with articles by Michael Shermer and others.

My special feature on “How the Net Ensures Our Cosmic Survival” has appeared in Communications of the ACM, the June 2010 issue.

For my predictions Registry:  Jeff Robbins recently stumbled upon an article in the New York Times about a hedge fund that provides upfront payments for IRS whistle-blowers. They are essentially agreeing to buy a percentage of those future payouts in exchange for a smaller amount upfront to the whistle-blowers.  “This could hopefully be the start of realizing a whistle-blowers reward system as you envisioned in Kiln People.” 

philanthropyFascinating.  I had hoped that a philanthropist would get behiond this, as I portray at Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy.  But capitalist drive can be good, too. 


=== Accumulated Science Stuff ====

A new Chinese train innovation allows people to get on & off a bullet train without the train stopping. No time is wasted. If there are 30 stations between Beijing and Guangzhou , just stopping and accelerating again at each station will waste both energy and time.

The new, second tallest building in New York is amazingly green.

Alternative future passenger jets.

EcoMotors is currently developing an engine prototype that could improve fossil-fuel economies by up to 60 percent (achieving 100 miles per gallon), while halving the weight and size of standard gas and diesel-powered engines.

"There are lakes and seas that make Titan the only other place, other than the Earth, in the solar system with large, stable bodies of liquid on its surface," says Zarnecki. "There are also river channels; great stretches of dunes; weather and meteorology; complex hydrocarbons; and – most excitingly – powerful signs that Titan has a subsurface ocean that could provide a home for primitive life. Titan turns out to be an incredible place. It's a moon that would be a planet."... "It turns out that those rivers, lakes and seas on the surface are not watery affairs but are made of methane."

Bill Gates, the Microsoft billionaire, is funding research into machines to suck up ten tonnes of seawater every second and spray it upwards. This would seed vast banks of white clouds to reflect the Sun’s rays away from Earth. (Um, but you get the power to drive the pumps from... oil, right?)

An interesting TedX riff about the importance of resilience in any ecosystem. The fellow’s specific - somewhat barter-based - alternative currency proposal is much less important than his insight offered at the start of his talk.

Smart guy Marc Millis talks about future tech in space.

New experiments with photosynthetic light-harvesting protein found in green sulfur bacteria show that solar photons generate coherent, wavelike oscillations in the protein complexes. These "quantum beating" signals enable the donor and acceptor molecules to sample all potential energy pathways at once, and choose the most efficient.

Martin Gardner, Puzzler and Polymath, Dies at 95; amazing fellow.

YIPE!  Talk about a politically incorrect theory: "A Farewell to Alms discusses the divide between rich and poor nations that came about as a result of the Industrial Revolution in terms of the evolution of particular behaviors originating in Britain. Prior to 1790, Clark asserts, man faced a Malthusian trap: new technology enabled greater productivity and more food, but was quickly gobbled up by higher populations. In Britain, however, as disease continually killed off poorer members of society, their positions in society were taken over by the sons of the wealthy, who were less violent, more literate, and more productive. This process of "downward social mobility" eventually enabled Britain to attain a rate of productivity that allowed it to break out of the Malthusian trap."

A transparency setback. Andre Hansson writes in: “Swedish income tax records were subject to public scrutiny. This will now change with the motivation that it violates the privacy of ordinary citizens. Hence, it will also be more difficult for citizens and journalists to scrutinize individuals in public office or in any other position of power. Let's just hope it won't cause a snowball effect on other transparency laws.”  Amen


=== MORE GREAT SNIPS (some of them c/o Cheryl) ===

Little Dog Robot: Very cool video of a miniature quadruped robot. Watch how it assesses where to put its foot on uneven surfaces, as it climbs stairs, crosses a gap, walks over a see-saw – and recovers/learns from errors. Developed by researchers at USC. Let’s send a larger one to Mars…and let it fetch some nice samples.  -- Oh, see the earlier "BIG dog" robot from Boston Scientific!  The growling sound is from the onboard generator, since the big version could not carry enough battery power.

Then see the parody!

Leonardo would have been proud:  A model butterfly that flies nearly as elegantly as its real world cousin. A rubber band drives a crank that flaps thin plastic wings. First time that a free-flying replica has been made with the same size, shape & weight as a real insect. Tests showed that veined wings created more lift that veinless ones….as chosen by natural selection.

Testosterone makes people suspicious of one another.

Humans: Why They Triumphed: "The answer lies in a new idea, borrowed from economics, known as collective intelligence: the notion that what determines the inventiveness and rate of cultural change of a population is the amount of interaction between individuals. Even as it explains very old patterns in prehistory, this idea holds out hope that the human race will prosper mightily in the years ahead—because ideas are having sex with each other as never before. 

Could companies that toss out copiers become targets for corporate theft? The hard drive of copiers retains copies of all documents copied; tax documents, research papers, employee records.

Five ways to monetize the future of news media

1. Erect a paywall
2. Erect a semi-permeable paywall ( a percentage of articles are free) 
3. Implement a metered system (redress users can read a set number of articles a day
4. Remain free (generate lots of inexpensive output)
5. Create better value for advertisers

Can bacteria make you smarter? Specific bacteria in the environment not only have anti-depressant qualities, but can increase learning behavior

New study shows that the number of books in a home is as important to a child’s success as the parent’s education level. A bookless home is equivalent to having parents who are barely literate.  A book-filled home – equivalent to having university-educated parents. In China, having 500 or more books in the home propels children over 6 yrs further in their education; in the U.S. the effect is 2.4 years.

“You can’t beat doubt as a corporate strategy – especially if your product is life-threatening when used as directed”. New Scientist’s latest issue focuses on the Age of Denial. In particular how corporations manufacture doubt through PR campaigns, ads, slogans, hiring scientists & phony grass roots groups….all extensively used by tobacco, coal, chemical, fossil fuel industries.

What will the city of the future look like? Here’s a gallery of past notions with many failed hopes and dreams: Glass-domed cities, plastic pod-houses, an underground metropolis, orbiting space structures, multi-level streets & swooping walkways, rooftop landings for dirigibles, robot-controlled farms.

27 comments:

David McCabe said...

Can't wait to hear your TedX talk once it's online. Good luck!

Pat Mathews said...

"YIPE! Talk about a politically incorrect theory: "A Farewell to Alms discusses the divide between rich and poor nations that came about as a result of the Industrial Revolution in terms of the evolution of particular behaviors originating in Britain. Prior to 1790, Clark asserts, man faced a Malthusian trap: new technology enabled greater productivity and more food, but was quickly gobbled up by higher populations. In Britain, however, as disease continually killed off poorer members of society, their positions in society were taken over by the sons of the wealthy, who were less violent, more literate, and more productive. This process of "downward social mobility" eventually enabled Britain to attain a rate of productivity that allowed it to break out of the Malthusian trap."

That is interesting. Also the evangelization of the population, especially those who felt marginalized - and many who were distressed by the violence and corruption of 17th and 18th century culture - helped create a "less violent, more literate, more productive" set of middle classes and "respectable working class" population. And, of course, being barred from positions open only to members of the C of E and aristocrats, they turned to business, with the results we know.

rewinn said...

".... sons of the wealthy, who were less violent..."

No need to read further nonsense like that discredits any author.

See Pitt, Thomas, 2nd Baron Camelford

Tim H. said...

Water spray to create clouds, sounds safer than some ideas, might want to run it with older nuclear naval vessels. I would expect it to make the surrounding ocean more attractive to fish as a side effect

Stuart said...

".... sons of the wealthy, who were less violent..."

It's true! Not only are they less violent (for instance, less likely to mug people or to join a neighborhood gang) but their superior virtue makes them less likely to shoplift, less likely to negotiate with a worthless instrument, less likely to steal to support a drug habit, less likely to harass pedestrians for money, less likely to drive off without paying for gas, and less likely to have blue-collar criminals for friends.

On the other hand, the poor are careful never to violate SEC guidelines or antitrust legislation.

rewinn said...

@Stuart

As they say ...
"... many a king on a first-class throne,
If he wants to call his crown his own,
Must manage somehow to get through
More dirty work than ever I do"

Anonymous said...

Two books I've finished lately had somewhat David Brin-related content:

Superfreakonomics mentioned geoengineering for global cooling and a few different looks at climate change (for example, the primary culprit *may* be water vapor instead of carbon dioxide, which makes me wonder about the Bill Gates seapspray idea mentioned above.) Also of note was Al Gore's opposition to any and all geoengineering. Guess he not always Brin's alter ego.)

"Born For Love" by Bruce Perry (and journalist whose name escapes me) looked at the neuroscience of empathy, how it develops, what helps and what harms it. Some of the passages were about how empathy grew with the enlightenment, which reflects some of what David Brin has written in this blog. Some of the book takes a "TV and Video games are harmful unlike those wonderful radio and movie filled good old days" tone which annoys me, but the book is definately worth it.

Jon

Ilithi Dragon said...

Anon, I haven't read Superfreakanomics, and climate science isn't my strong suit, but I do know that their information and ideas on climate change and geoengineering is hogwash. At least one other poster here can give you an ear-full on it, but the short version of on their water vapor idea is that water vapor is a feed-back in climate, not a forcing; it doesn't directly CAUSE climate effects itself, just magnifies them. This is in no small part because water vapor's duration in the atmosphere is measured in weeks or less, FAR lower than CO2 (which can hang around in the atmosphere for years, if I remember correctly). Their ideas on geoengineering are also rather absurd, and at best would have vast ramifications that we can only guess at, and at worst would make the problems worse on top of everything else.

Wilde said...

The story of Hypatia and the sacking of the Library of Alexandria was recently made into a movie, Agora, which is being released in the US this weekend.

The critical reviews are surprisingly good, Slate has a nice write-up. It sounds like the most unabashedly pro-Enlightenment film in recent years.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Fascinating... With any luck, it might be at the drive-ins near camp this weekend...

Tony Fisk said...

(normal) CO2 levels drive global mean temperatures to about 15C. This is enough to allow water vapour to exist at near saturation levels, and boost temperatures higher. Water is tricky, though, because it can also cool things.

Take (all) the CO2 away and water vapour will not sustain itself. Things will get rather chilly.

We are far from CO2 saturation levels

The most recent Scientific American contains an article proposing mechanical CO2 filters: we'd only need a few hundred million (I suppose if you re-structured the automobile industry...)

Corey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Corey said...

'Anonymous', while Levitt and Dubner are very intelligent individuals who, for what little I've been through their books to see, have given a thoughtful presentation in their books, they are not climate scientists.

For that matter, Al Gore is not a climate scientist either, so trying to listen to pros and cons of geoengineering by those two is like listening to an electrical engineer and a geologist debate molecular genetics, and expecting either to be an expert.


If you look at what the actual *climate scientists* have to say about it, you'll get a much better picture than two economists constructing what was, frankly, a shoddy presentation of the pros and cons.

NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt discusses the potential problems with the SO4 solution by Levitt and Dubner here (http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/10/why-levitt-and-dubner-like-geo-engineering-and-why-they-are-wrong/), citing not only what he knows, but also relevant papers from meteorologist Alan Robock on the subject.


Another good source would be the responses to a report published by the Copenhagen Consensus Center, making claims about Geoengineering that were similar to Levitt and Dubner's (available here: http://fixtheclimate.com/fileadmin/templates/page/scripts/downloadpdf.php?file=/uploads/tx_templavoila/AP_Climate_Engineering_Bickel_Lane_v.4.0.pdf). THAT report was scathingly criticized by the very person assigned to peer review it for CCC, Roger Pielke, who's own report can be read here (http://fixtheclimate.com/fileadmin/templates/page/scripts/downloadpdf.php?file=/uploads/tx_templavoila/PP_Climate_Engineering_Pielke_v.3.0.pdf).


Yet another response to the CCC report by, again by Alan Robock, is here (http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/08/a-biased-economic-analysis-of-geoengineering/).


In a nutshell, if you read what the actual scientists who study climate have to say, they'd tell you that you can't actually DO a cost-benefit analysis of SO4 climate engineering, because we haven't the slightest clue what the full impacts would be, and what's more, the impacts we DO know about are not pretty. For instance, such a response could wreak havoc on global hydrological cycles, the regularity of which we rely upon for survival.

The worst problem of all is that no matter how bad the consequences, forseen or unforseen, we could never stop this form of geoengineering, ever, until the CO2 levels came down (which will likely take several centuries), because you're not stopping the force that's pushing temperature up. All you're doing is pressing back on it with your own force, and as CO2 and SO4 both go up and up, they'll be pushing against each other more and more forcefully. Should you ever stop the SO4, the climate would react like a dam burst, and the temperature would re-align itself in one or two cataclysmic years.

In short, an atmosphere with more CO2 AND more SO4 is not the same as an atmosphere with neither. You could end up creating worse problems than you set out to solve! Furthermore, this would only solve some of the CO2 problems. It would not solve, for instance, the acidification of oceans that we're seeing from anthropogenic CO2 contributions.


Now, I'm not saying that the Kyoto approach is necessarily the right answer, completely or in part. I think there is still room for debate on that point. That said, geoengineering is not he right answer either.

Ian said...

"Superfreakonomics mentioned geoengineering for global cooling and a few different looks at climate change (for example, the primary culprit *may* be water vapor instead of carbon dioxide, which makes me wonder about the Bill Gates seapspray idea mentioned above.) Also of note was Al Gore's opposition to any and all geoengineering. Guess he not always Brin's alter ego.)"

The co-author of Superfreakonomics has a financial interest in a compny that's promoting geo-engineering and ths relevant section of the book has been criticised by a number of climate scientists.

As for Al Gore opposing geo-engineering, I am yet to see a statement to that effect from Gore.

what I do see is the claim used repeatedly by Republicans , using in the course of claiming global warming is a hoax designed to establish a global socialist dictatorship.

Corey said...

"what I do see is the claim used repeatedly by Republicans , using in the course of claiming global warming is a hoax designed to establish a global socialist dictatorship."

because if they tried to argue against it scientifically, it would be tantamount to trying to argue against evolution (which, they also frequently do), and would get instantly stomped by anyone with any knowledge of the subject, especially a scientist in that field.

For this reason, they rely on red herrings and ad hominem attacks to try to keep the discussion away from what it's really supposed to be about: science

Ian said...

Corey,

I don't think geo-engineering is a "solution" to global warming. But it could buy us a couple of decades to develop zero-carbon technologies and viable ways to actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on a massive scale.

Personally I think Titanium Dioxide is a better reflective agent that Sulphur Dioxide. fro one thing, it has a much shorter duration in the atmosphere so we can stop more easily if there are unpredicted adverse consequences

Ian said...

Gore has actively supported at least one form of geo-engineering - attempts to capture greenhouse gases form the atmosphere.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_Earth_Challenge

David McCabe said...

We're all going to die.

Tacitus2 said...

David Mc

Lets all hope the software program does not contain the word SkyNet in any form!

Tacitus2

Anonymous said...

My special feature on “How the Net Ensures Our Cosmic Survival” has appeared in Communications of the ACM, the June 2010 issue.

The link leads to a paywall. How about at least a precis?

Please also enable the blockquote tag in comments, so that people can actually quote properly.

Anonymous said...

Known as “N+3” to denote three generations beyond today’s commercial transport fleet, the research program is aimed at identifying key technologies, such as advanced airframe configurations and propulsion systems, that will enable greener airplanes to take flight around 2035.

Useless. By 2035, either we'll have blown ourselves up, making "N+3" moot, or advanced broadband, robotics, and telepresence technologies will have obsoleted flying big bulky human bodies hither and thither, making "N+3" moot.

Corey said...

Ian, if a way could be found to run CO2 "scrubbers", if you will, through the atmosphere, it would be fantastic solution to Global Warming.

That's less geoengineering through, and more a way of getting rid of the climate engineering we've already accidentally perpetrated through massive dumping of net CO2 into the carbon cycle.

What's dangerous, however, is trying to increase the Earth's albedo, because the climate is very complex, coming from an atmosphere with many layers all doing many different things that interact with each other in tons of funny ways. There's a reason our best climate models can only either predict short-term atmospheric features, or give long-term presentations of the biggest and simplest features (for instance, radiative balance changes from CO2 and water vapor feedbacks).

What we really need to dois to dump a lot of money into energy research, and not just because of climate change. Our civilization has an unfathomably intense craving for energy, and frankly, chemical energy resources just don't have the energy density for us anymore (because we'd blow through any fossil fuel in only a few decades at this point, be it oil, coal, or anything else).

Robert said...

I have an idea. After learning that there is a bit of sealife that builds homes on oil rigs as they travel from place to place, I started thinking: what if we build floating coral reefs? Basically take nets (old fishing nets that are getting holey will do), put coral bits on them, and floaters to keep them afloat in the middle of the ocean.

The coral will grow into the nets and start building floating communities that more fish can be transported into. In turn, the carbon dioxide will be pulled out of the water by coral and seaplants in the middle of the ocean, and small oases will be formed where life can start to flourish in what is (when you get down to it) a massive desert. You then start growing these oases with "add-ons" and more floaters.

Coral will continue to grow into it, more life will flourish, and there will be more regions where fish CAN flourish, allowing for an eventual expansion of fishing. If we place these oceanic oases in the equatorial regions, they won't be bothered by hurricanes and the like, and should be safe havens.

The cost would be fairly small (relatively speaking). The only real thing we need to do is find something that can float in the ocean for long periods of time as we don't want to build these communities and then sink them. ^^;;

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews

Ian Gould said...

Robert,

That's an interesting idea but it has one major drawback.

The process by which coral polyps extract Calcium from seawater to build reefs involves the release of carbon dioxide into the ocean.

You might eventually get net carbon sequestration from th plants growing on the reef but it'd take 10-20 years, maybe longer.

Tony Fisk said...

The process by which coral polyps extract Calcium from seawater to build reefs involves the release of carbon dioxide into the ocean.

Apart from Milankovich cycles, corals may have an effect as well.

A quick primer on what drives ice ages.

bionizer: spray-on life

Catfish N. Cod said...

Useless. By 2035, either we'll have blown ourselves up, making "N+3" moot, or advanced broadband, robotics, and telepresence technologies will have obsoleted flying big bulky human bodies hither and thither, making "N+3" moot.

Reductions in *business* travel, sure. But tourism will go on, and probably get bigger. Of course, the difference is that tourists aren't going to pay last minute business class fares.

Anonymous said...

And you don't think we'll have teletourism?