Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Is our time in outer space finally at-hand?

Last week it was asteroid mining, as Peter Diamandis and his partners showed us their bold new venture, Planetary Resources, aiming eventually to start harvesting trillions of dollars worth of materials that would then no longer have to be ripped out of Mother Earth.

This glimpse of a vigorously bold and can-do future provoked The Daily Show's Jon Stewart to comment, "Do you know how rarely the news in 2012 looks and sounds how you thought news would look and sound like in 2012?"  to fervent approval from his audience. Having worked in this area 30 years ago, I was thrilled to see this forward-looking initiative finally get rolling in my lifetime.  Oh, but also... to see it completed...

Now, for something else that's speculative/inspiring: another bit of space news announced only a few days later.

According to the The Daily Yomiuri (via Gizmodo), construction company Obayashi Corp has announced it will construct a space elevator capable of shuttling passengers 36,000 kilometers above the Earth by 2050.

Obayashi plans to manufacture cables for the elevator from carbon nanontubes, which are twenty times stronger than steel. Those will extend toward a counterweight placed 96,000 kilometers above earth's surface (approximately one-fourth of the distance to the moon.) Passengers will be able to reach the elevator's terminal station at geostationary height (GEO), 36,000 kilometers above Earth's surface, traveling in cars at 200 kilometers per hour, powered by solar energy.

Cool enough for you?  Could it happen in real life?

== An uplifting idea ==

Although there had been scribbled concepts for "towers to space" going back to Tsiolkovsky in the 1890s, it wasn't until 1959 that Russian scientist, Yuri N. Artsutanov  published the counter-weighted space elevator concept known today, with a midway station conveniently located at GEO, and everything held suspended by tension, rather than compression.  Subsequently, amid all the excitement over rockets, most in the west remained ignorant of the concept...

... till it burst upon us in the 1980s, with the simultaneous publication of great space-elevator novels by Charles Sheffield (The Web Between the Worlds) and Arthur C. Clarke (The Fountains of Paradise). Since then, it has been portrayed in many other tales, like Red Mars and Foundation's Triumph.

In fact, in Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson vividly showed that the ideal site for a space elevator system is not Earth, where you need materials right near the edge of what's possible with the carbon bond, with a safety multiplier in single digits... but Mars, where such a device is much simpler to build, due to lighter gravity.  Almost a no-brainer.

That is, till someone sabotages it! At which point (snap!) the part that's beyond geostationary orbit goes hurtling away while the lower third proceeds to impact the surface at hypersonic speeds, laying a visible equator mark, as if for a manufactured toy globe!

Ah, sci fi.  It does warn us to exercise extra care, and get it right.  And watch out for crazies.

== So.... BS?  or not-BS? ==

In fact, this is not the first time we've heard such an announcement and I give it less cred than the initiative from Planetary Resources, by some distance.  Still, the coincidence in timing... plus a number of fascinating technologies that I saw while attending (as an advisor) the recent NASA Innovative and Advanced Concepts workshop ... lead me to wonder.  Is our time of disappointment in space coming to an end?

Consider how different things used to seem.  Until the launch of Voyager 2, every advance in the speed that human beings could travel fit neatly on a logarithmic curve that increased very slowly for centuries, through foot and steed to sailing and then steamship.  Then overland train, automobile, airplane... an acceleration that breached escape velocity from the solar system! Projecting this curve beyond Voyager, it seemed the stars might be in our grasp within a lifetime.

Only then, the seeming irresistible force of a mathematically modeled curve met the immovable object of something called reality. The much-feared "S-curve" that crushes the fantasies of the naive... those whose simple-eager projections fuel doomed asset bubbles!

After Voyager, nothing man-made ever moved that fast again... that is, till the New Horizons mission to Pluto, just a few years ago.

Shall we forgive some dreamers for growing grouchy, during the long wasteland of the Space Shuttle era?

(Indeed, I once started writing a story with a stark premise to explain such an unlikely shift from hopeful progress to stagnation. In it, some nasty aliens negotiate a pact with President Elect Ronald Reagan - similar to the one he worked out with the Iranian Ayatollahs.  The aliens would stop supporting the USSR, propping up that incompetent, thuggish state, allowing it to crumble...

...and in return, America would divert all "space" efforts, veering away from accomplishment and toward wheel-spinning.  Spending lots of money but getting nothing done at all.  The timing works, by the way. Certainly George W. Bush's nonsensical notion of wasting our time by going back to the sterile moon fit that lurid but snarky scenario.)

== A Resumption? ==

So is that it?  Were those early dreams just fantasies? Were the Apollo landings flukes? Or evidence that an earlier generation was better, or more daring, than us?

Well now, here's the thing about sudden tech spurts and long, frustrating plateaus. You may be deluded by the spurts, but you can also get too accustomed to plateaus! In fact, as models of reality they are just as unrealistic.

What's more accurate is to realize that Apollo was way, way premature. Given the technology of the 1960s -- your phone has more computational power than all of NASA had, back then -- it's amazing they didn't blow themselves up every time. It was a perfect example of human determination and ingenuity overcoming all obstacles of technology or common sense.

I have long called Apollo an example of the same phenomenon as Las Vegas -- proof that there is nothing human beings cannot achieve with enough fervid concentration of money, water... and desire.
Ironically, during the long dry period, background technology and abilities have been maturing, till now....

Why did the Planetary Resources consortium of billionaires suddenly announce plans to move ahead in steady steps toward fulfilling the dream of reaping lavish rewards from asteroid mining?  Because space optics and microelectronics and communications and computers and ion drive engines have all matured to a point where dozens of their planned "Arkyd" spacecraft might be built and deployed for mere tens of millions of dollars.  Crowd-sourcing some of the computation to distributed networks of millions of home computers will both reduce costs and get countless citizens involved. (I hope each participant will get a stock share!)

== Can it really happen? ==

So are the the folks at Obayashi Corp just blowing smoke?  Well... almost certainly at some level. Still, that doesn't matter, so long as we are generally moving forward, with confidence and an eager, can-do spirit.

Could it be that Clarke and Sheffield and Artsutanov had a prescient dream that might come true o n my 100th birthday, perhaps soon enough for me to take a comfy orbital elevator car ride, gentle enough for brittle centenarian bones?  You gotta hope and believe that a confluence of technologies may arrive, as part of a "good singularity" wave.

Is humanity ready?  I mean mentally?  Well, not judging from the level of puerile responses in the comments section, under the Gizmodo report...

My optimistic solution to that obstacle?  Brain boosts. Smart pills.  For everybody. (oh, please!)  If we can get those, without major side effects, then maybe... just maybe... those stars.

It's an amazing time. A time for us to resume being amazing. In fact, if you heed the wise advice of Zaphod Beeblebrox, you'll be getting ready to be amazingly amazing.

See more of my speculations about Space: Where are we headed?

182 comments:

Jonathan S. said...

Seven and a half days to orbit. Those had better be some seriously comfortable elevator cars...

nazgulnarsil said...

almost anything is more comfortable than strapping yourself to the tip of an ICBM.

matthew said...

From Salon, on Marco Rubio, the veep-stakes, and the dream act.
http://www.salon.com/2012/05/02/dreamers_spurn_obama/singleton/.html

For the third time here I make this prediction: Rubio will get Romney's VP nod. Rubio's version of the dream act will not clear the house, but Romney will "give it due consideration,"showing that he is a moderate, and drawing down Obama's hispanic support just enough to win purple states like new mexico, colorado, florida, and arizona. This is the path for Romney to win in november

Stefan Jones said...

The asteroid mining scheme sounds fairly straight-forward. Phil Plait, nobody's fool, doesn't find anything ridiculous about it.

In one of the right-wingish tub-thumping space colonization stories I dug as a teenager in the 70s, the Enemy would be scheming United Nations bureaucrats and humanity-hating environmentalists.

In reality, what might scuttle this scheme are costs (higher, ALWAYS higher), disappointments (e.g., asteroid after asteroid turns out to useless ash and cinder) and demoralizing disasters (heroic Last Frontier triumphalist bullshit might get you past the first couple of dead crews . . . then people wise up and realize this isn't a frontier they're on, it's a glorified offshore platform or company mining town).

Stefan Jones said...

Whoops, meant to add:

The Planetary Resources folks are going to have to be really dedicated to pull this off. They have to be in it for the long run. If they know that, if they're really in for the long haul, then they are true heroes and pioneers, and truly worthy of enthusiasm and admiration.

Tony Fisk said...

I thought the current thinking on space elevators leant more to ribbons than towers? (ribbons wouldn't cause widespread carnage if anything snapped)

Anyway, I put up a few brainstormy thoughts on the topic about six years ago.

Finally, I don't space elevators can be raised without passing reference to dear old Liftport*. Oh, they had dreams and high hopes. And, they crashed and burned.

However, Mr. Laine's ideas haven't *quite* guttered out into oblivion. Just made a passing check on the website and, it's been updated as of last February. Seems they have lowered their sights a bit to... a space elevator on the Moon!! Given the debate about the worthiness of returning there, I thought that one's worth a chuckle if nothing else (of course, we're talking commercial development rather than exploration here)

* I also occasionally see whether Paul Moller's been been able to get off the ground yet as well.

Paul451 said...

Day in day out, serving the community. What do you get? Nuttin'. But you Tase just one guy in the brain...

http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2012/05/taser-dart-pierces-skull-and-s.html

Craig Comments said...

These are the kind of stories that are inspiring. It too bad there do not seem to be any Republicans inspired by science and the dream of what we can do, so the chance of accomplishing anything in the USA is reduced considerably.

I wonder if the "NOT IN MY BACK YARD" mentality will make it hard to find a place on the equator to build the space elevator. Or the fear of terrorist.

Carl M. said...

We hit the S curve not from inherent technology constraints, but from safety concerns. Convenient space travel requires concentrated energy. Concentrated energy is dangerous. It's that simple.

Case in point, the Air Force was playing around with nuclear powered bombers back in the 1950s. The idea was dangerous, and so dropped.

Nuclear powered interplanetary ships are similarly scary. 1/2 m v squared is a bitch. First order of business for intestellar flight is deflector shields.

Marino said...

I'm quite skeptical on space elevators. The big problems are, how the cars connect with the cable (iirc most novels about space elevators, from Ciarke to Gerrold assume something like a vertical maglev using room-temperature superconductors...) and how the cars will be powered (some projects iirc assumed focused lasers...)

With a lot less expenditure in material science we could find a structural material for the large pipes required for a OTEC powerplant.

Sean the Mystic said...

We’ll see what happens. The thing that makes me, a mathematician turned mystic, skeptical is that the cultural trajectory of the West seems to be changing. The West is becoming the new East, and vice versa. In China they are building huge dams and railroads into Tibet, while our infrastructure crumbles and few people seem to care. Maybe centuries of disruptive change, "progress" and obsession with the material have left Western people spiritually exhausted and ready for something new.

It may also be that the internet has awakened people's inner lives in a way that wasn’t possible in the wasteland of the TV age. I don’t actually find a lot of enthusiasm for space exploration among young people; they tell me that space seems cold, empty and uninteresting, and that they would much rather spend their time plugged into a rich matrix of experience. So my suspicion is that we are moving toward an “techno-esoteric” age in which exploration of inner space with the aid of technology will become the central project of our civilization going forward.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Obayashi plans to manufacture cables for the elevator from carbon nanontubes, which are twenty times stronger than steel. Those will extend toward a counterweight placed 96,000 kilometers above earth's surface (approximately one-fourth of the distance to the moon.) Passengers will be able to reach the elevator's terminal station at geostationary height (GEO), 36,000 kilometers above Earth's surface, traveling in cars at 200 kilometers per hour, powered by solar energy.


An elementary physics question that I just can't seem to grasp...

If the passenger station is at geosynchronous orbit, then the counterweight (at a different height) is not. So what keeps the entire apparatus in a straight line?

Rob said...

Larry, picture the whole thing with the geostationary point as the center of the system.

Then, the counterweight and the Earth revolve around *that* point with the same period, keeping the line nominally straight. There would be a "tide" equivalent to 1 G multiplied by some factors, at the counterweight.

I *think* (guessing educatedly) that that puts the geocentric station at the focus of an ellipse.

David Brin said...

It's simpler than that. Go attach a rope to a can of paint and grab the other end, and start whirling it around you as you (the Earth) slowly turn.

LarryHart said...

I realize I'm still missing something really simple, but...

I'm not sure whether the "paint can" above is the terminal or the counterweight. But it seems to me that both the terminal AND the counterweight have to stay directly above the same point on the surface. Point on surface, terminal, and counterweight have to stay in a straight line.

By definition of "geosynchronous", the terminal stays above a point on the surface. Got that. But what keeps the counterweight in a straight line with the other two points? What overcomes its tendency--at a higher orbit--to fall behind the earth's rotation?

Is the answer as simple as "centrifugal force"? Does the tension on the line exactly compensate with the correct additional angular velocity?

ell said...

Okay, physicists and mathematicians, help me out here.

Gravity decreases as you get farther from the Earth. Sunlight is less diffused as you go higher through the atmosphere. Shouldn't these elevator cars be able to travel faster the higher they go? Does the week-long trip account for the faster second half of the journey? Or is something forcing the speed to stay steady?

Rob said...

Larry, David's right that it's that simple, in simple terms.

Think of the tether without its station at geosynch. The counterweight is the paint can. The balanced mass of the stations along the tether are epsilon-sized relative to the mass of the counterweight. Or, at least, much smaller and inside a range of error.

No matter how it's built, it won't be a static object. Thinking about ell's question prompts me to point out that if an elevator car on the tether is powered, then the force it exerts to traverse the tether will be equal-and-opposite. "Upward" motion towards orbit will draw the counterweight towards Earth. So, you also have to think about how to counterbalance that, probably with a descending car of equivalent mass exerting an opposite force.

If the two have to stay in sync to keep the masses balanced, that would be one reason why the ascending car can't pick up speed; there's always a descending car and a need to keep pace with it. Some others might include giving time to dissipate electropotential differences as the cars pass through the Van Allen belts. A lot of that depends on the design of the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

My comment on the title of this essay: God, I hope so.

Tacitus2 said...

Obiyashi....

Hmmm. Notice that all the companies we hear are getting into the private space business sound just a little like Weyland-Yutani?

Oddly enough I am not a troubled by that as I should be!

Tacitus@

LarryHart said...

Thanks for the explanations of the elevator concept. I think I get it more now. The geostationary platform has downward weight on it from the cable, which is offset by upward tension from the drag of the counterweight.

Hey, just to prove I can ask non-political questions, your mention of "Red Mars" reminded me of something else I wondered when I read that book. There's a section in which astronauts on Phobos are having trouble adjusting to the low gravity, and a female engineer comes up with the brilliant plan of having a train circle the moon at high speed in order to generate gravity. Wouldn't that be backwards? Wouldn't someone in a train circling the moon at high speed feel a lift due to centrifugal force?

Or were the riders expected to be sitting upside-down in order to feel "gravity" pushing them against the ceiling?

LarryHart said...

Anonymous said

My comment on the title of this essay: God, I hope so


Well, I've been waiting decades for the mothership to take me back to my home planet. That's easier than believing I'm a native of THIS one.

:)

Rob said...

Larry, there would be one dominant force vector in that rail car that everyone would choose to call "down".

Paul451 said...

LarryHart,
"But what keeps the counterweight in a straight line with the other two points? What overcomes its tendency--at a higher orbit--to fall behind the earth's rotation?"

The counterweight has no tendency to fall behind. It's tangential velocity is precisely high enough to match the rotational rate of the Earth. But its velocity is higher than a circular orbit at that altitude, so the counter-weight wants to go into a higher orbit (or escape velocity). It is prevented from doing so by the great honking tether attaching it to Earth. So the whole system is under tension and stays straight.

Fun fact: It doesn't have to be tied down for this to work. Put a free-flying tether (or unusually long spacecraft) in orbit, and whichever end is slightly lower will tend to be pulled down, while the end that slightly higher will be pulled outward, so the tether will eventually point directly at the Earth. This effect happens with any satellite, but they are too short for it to be noticeable.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_tether#Gravitational_gradient_stabilization

By the way, IMO, it is easier to think about if you just forget about the "Geostationary" station. It's irrelevant to the system. Earth, counter-weight, cable, that's it.

ell,
"Shouldn't these elevator cars be able to travel faster the higher they go? Does the week-long trip account for the faster second half of the journey? Or is something forcing the speed to stay steady?"

Once they are above most of the atmosphere (50-100km), they should be able to accelerate to any velocity for the remaining 30+ thousand km. Two things limit their speed, one is how they are attached to the cable. Use a physical connection, like wheels, and friction is an obvious limit. Even maglev apparently has speed limits.

The second is orbital mechanics, as the car is accelerated, obviously there's a counter-force on the cable (Newton's third law and all that). So as the car rises, it pulls down on the cable. Since the cable is rotating, that translates as a slight drag, bowing the cable. Accelerate too fast and you can break the cable. (Hell, accelerate a large enough car at high enough g's and you could pull the whole cable down.) So you need to have the system under enough tension to counter the downward/backward pull, and the tether itself needs to be strong enough to handle the extra lateral loads. Picture -

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2b/Space_elevator_balance_of_forces.svg

(niclon hammode: Created the first space elevator. Made his money from his family's space mining monopoly.)

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Brin said...

Last day for a chance to get a free copy of Existence...

http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/20736-existence

http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/
show/20736-existence

BCRion said...

Carl M,

Re: Nuclear aircraft. What really killed the program was not concerns about reactor safety back then. It really was weight needed for shielding. During takeoff and flight, you're fine. During landing, neutrons and gamma rays from the reactor reflect off the ground and back into the aircraft, giving the pilot a lethal dose of radiation. That additional shielding to protect the pilot during landing just adds too much weight to fly.

If you can get a reactor into space by conventional means (chemical rockets) or a space elevator, it really is the way to go. Space is an ocean of high energy radiation that really cannot be shielded. You need to reduce your transit time, and nuclear propulsion is the best way to do that. Considering all the other risks associated with space, the risk from the reactor is pretty small.

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony Fisk said...

Before swinging David's can of paint, tie a knot in the rope. Now swing.

Can is the counterweight that holds the string taut. Knot is the station, at geosynchronous orbit. That is, anyone letting go there will just stay put relative to the string. Further up or down, and you will go into an elliptical orbit. The cable length is usually defined so that the counterweight is travelling at or above escape velocity (not exactly a 'free launch' for interplanetary travel, but...).

@marino said The big problems are, how the cars connect with the cable
Actually, this was the simple bit. Before they folded, Liftport did succeed in having a vehicle climb up to a weather balloon tethered a mile up (their early stage business plan was to provide supply services to balloons stationed 20 miles up by this means. I suggested they commence their main phase *from* 20 miles up. I was told the ribbon material was enough 'magic sauce' to handle for the moment!). They simply had rollers clamping on the ribbon, like this

Now, one just needs a wheel train that doesn't require servicing for 100000 km...

Depends on desired loading of course, but I think Liftport was proposing 5 tonne payloads on a CNT cable with 20 tonnes of mass? Something of that order, anyway.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

My summer reading season begins in May, and since "Existence" isn't yet available, I'm re-reading "Brightness Reef" to pass the time.

Maybe you can answer a question. The first time my wife and I both read the book, I envisioned the G'Kek as resembling bicycles, while my wife thought they were shaped more like wheelchairs. Can you elaborate?

Lizy said...

"Politics is weird, and creepy, and now I know it lacks even the loosest attachment to anything called reality."
-Shepherd Smith on Romney's reaction to Gingrich suspending his campaign.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuF03PTNpp8

Tony Fisk said...

... I always thought of the G'Kek as sentient Harley-Davisons, although I do recall the phrase 'squid in a wheelchair'... but would these require the trainers that apparently juveniles have?

(I think I know which body plan Huck would prefer!)

Tony Fisk said...

Shep should be reminded of that scene in Nineteen Eight-Four where the protestors realise that someone has sabotaged their signs to spout vitriolic condemnation of the now allied state.

Welcome to your world, Mr. Smith!

Tom Crowl said...

Can't wait for the book! Love the premise!!!!!!!

And off-topic but of interest in areas of transparency and transaction both:

How A Private Data Market Could Ruin Facebook
http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/27817

Hmmm… if only there were some hook… some capability… some high-level functionality that could catalyze such a network?

The user-owned network that can be built on the speech-related micro-transaction’s potential in lobbying… and the natural concentration of the network that provides it… can form just such a private data market.

Entities seeking a secure space in the social media area (you know… little companies like Google, Microsoft or Yahoo) could be advantaged by supporting the growth of such a network.

They could well be willing to sacrifice this market segment and the potential profit on the transactions in these specific areas (with the user-owned network coming to dominate transactions in charity, politics and journalism) by being offered an opportunity to gain position in their existing retail pay systems… and advantageous access to such personal data as our network’s members choose to share. They may also have some interest in giving Facebook a poke in the eye.

David Brin said...

Larryhart said: "Thanks for the explanations of the elevator concept. I think I get it more now. The geostationary platform has downward weight on it from the cable, which is offset by upward tension from the drag of the counterweight."

Closer. As it happens, the GEO station is at exactly its right height, orbiting the earth once a day at the height where that happens naturally. If the tether is chopped intop bits, the GEO station is the ONLY part that continues as before. Everything closer in falls! Everything farther out flies off into space.

Anonymous, we had guys like you a mile from me at the Heaven's Gate compound. Look em up!

Paul451... tell em to read Tank Farm Dynamo! Eventually they'll get it!

LarryHart... I saw the g'Kek as more like Wheelchairs... but I love your wife's image!

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Considering the critical importance of geostationary satellites, and the fact that their lifetime is mainly determined by the amount of station-keeping fuel that they carry on board, I would think that an idea proposed by Russian engineer G. Polyakov would get more attention.

Polyakov wrote an article in 1977 called, "A Space Necklace about the earth." He proposed using the same high-strength materials used for space elevators to connect all of the satellites in geostationary orbit.

This provides accurate positioning of satellites in a particular location without station-keeping fuel. It would also allow for closer spacing of the satellites.

In order for the Space Necklace of geostationary satellites to maintain orbital stability, the Necklace would have to be connected to the earth by orbital towers (space elevators). I believe that Polyakov proposed using 6 orbital towers with roughly equal spacing around the equator.

Polyakov's paper isn't available on the web, but it was translated into English by NASA in Technical Memo TM-75174, and it is available from the National Technical Information Service at ntis.gov.

Polyakov's Space Necklace would probably provide much more of an economic justification for developing space-elevator capable materials than an elevator concept alone.

Ian Gould said...

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

This post inspired me to look up the Wikipedia article on space tethers. A couple of points from there)

1. A skyhook (essentially a space elevator that ends a few miles above the surface of the Earth and moves slowly enough that aircraft can dock with the lower end)seems to provide a lot of the same benefits as a space elevator at much less cost and without the need for Unobtainium.

2. A lunar space elevator makes sense when you realise that the moon is orbiting the Earth and that every bit of it has a lot of angular momentum.

So you can lift mass off the moon's surface (which requires energy)then effectively release it into a lower Earth orbit which requires less energy. The energy surplus can be tapped in various ways (the most obvious being a linear induction motor.

So a lunar space elevator would actually generate energy. If you could get the extraction cost low enough, you could actually make money putting lunar material into Earth orbit. (Okay technically by putting it into a different Earth orbit.)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

As it happens, the GEO station is at exactly its right height, orbiting the earth once a day at the height where that happens naturally. If the tether is chopped intop bits, the GEO station is the ONLY part that continues as before. Everything closer in falls! Everything farther out flies off into space.


Thanks much to you and others here for the explanations. I think I pretty much get it now.


LarryHart... I saw the g'Kek as more like Wheelchairs... but I love your wife's image!


I like my wife's image very much myself. :) But actually, she was the one who had the wheelchair bit correct. It was me who thought they were bicycles.

A follow-up question: In the second Uplift trilogy, there was an oft-mentioned backstory in which the Jophur had a particular hate on for the g'Kek because of some unspeakable insult in the distant past. Unless I missed something in my first reading (15 years ago now), you never revealed what that precipitating insult actually was.

I have an idea in my head as to what the g'Kek might have done to earn such a blood feud from the Jophur--an explanation that I think fits so well that it HAS to be the real reason once one thinks about it. But I'm curious as to whether you had something specific in mind, or if you purposely left the reasons for the historical feud unspecified.

Robert said...

It involved an orbital bombardment cream pie. City-buster size. =^-^=

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

The insult I had in mind is quite specific to both races. I'll describe it later, after Dr Brin has had a chance to tell if he had something specific in mind (and if so, whether he'd like to reveal it, or whether he DID reveal it and I just missed the revelation).

If the g'Kek are wheelchairs rather than bicycles--that is, if their wheels are side-by-side--then I have a hard time picturing how Huck could pop wheelies or how "what a g'Kek calls a could be as narrow as a plank." Both of those images were from the very first non-prologue chapter of the book, which is probably what led me down the "bicycle" path.

LarryHart said...

That was supposed to be:
"what a g'Kek calls a ROAD could be as narrow as a plank."

Ian Gould said...

Larry, Having spent a couple of months in a wheel chair as a teen, it is indeed possible to pop a wheelie in one.

You get up a good head of speed, leaning forward, then jerk back and pull up on on the armrests.

The real trick is seeing how long you can balance on just the back two wheels when you aren't moving fast.

LarryHart said...

Ok, I guess I wasn't thinking about wheelchairs having BACK wheels. Somehow, I was picturing them with just two big wheels on either side, despite the fact that the chair part probably wouldn't stay flat that way. That's what comes from thinking of comic book icons rather than real images.

Jonathan S. said...

I seem to recall the g'Kek had lost a wager of some sort, whose size would have left the entire species enslaved to the Jophur as clients, and rather than pay up they had relocated en masse to Jijo.

Apparently, the Jophur didn't take this well...

(The city-sized cream pie seems more of a tytlal thing to do, really.)

LarryHart said...

First of all, I hope Dr Brin doesn't mind this thread being hijacked to talk about characters from one of his novels.

Jonathan S:

seem to recall the g'Kek had lost a wager of some sort, whose size would have left the entire species enslaved to the Jophur as clients, and rather than pay up they had relocated en masse to Jijo.


No, that doesn't entirely work. IIRC, the g'Kek were known to have been exterminated by the Jophur. It may well be true that the g'Kek who escaped to Jijo are all that is left of their race, but it isn't the case that their entire race escaped extermination by relocating.

As much as the phrase "is the case" applies when talking of fictional characters, that is.

locumranch said...

When I feeling optimistic, I look to these altruistic billionaires and think that this is our last great chance to reclaim that great old interstellar future promised us by speculative fiction, a chance to break the bounds of Earth, immortalize the human germ plasm & walk among the stars, and I am almost willing to pay any price.

And, then, a measure a reality sets in. I look to the logistical problems related to space travel, problems that are insurmountable on a mass scale (without a 'Stargate', that is), and realise that only a fraction of a fraction of the human population (0.00001%) will ever be able to travel into space even with an elevator built of super-strong carbon filaments. Also, as I cannot be said to represent either our best, brightest, most popular or richest member of this 0.00001% minority, I know that I will never have the opportunity to do so.

And, when I am feeling even more cynical, I see this new billionaire-inspired Asteroid Mining scheme as a giant economic Ponzi scheme, just the newest and latest economic bubble that follows countless other economic bubbles, like the Real Estate bubble of the 1980's, the Dotcom bubble of the 1990's & the more recent Mortgage bubble (ad infinitum), an opportunity for the rich to get even richer while the late-coming investor gets stuck with crushing debt, to keep 'the rich man busy dancing while the poor man pays the bill'.

Of course, it is an ill wind that blows no one good. These billionaires will certainly get richer. And they might just succeed. They may immortalize the human genome; they may break the bounds of Earth; they may walk among the stars; and they may allow some technological benefits to trickle down on the gravity bound human majority. Or, they could just pee on heads and tell us that it is raining.

Altruism, my ass: Few other concepts have been as thoroughly discredited by science as altruism has.


Best.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

Altruism, my ass: Few other concepts have been as thoroughly discredited by science as altruism has.


In what sense?

If you mean that people don't tend to act EXCLUSIVELY from altruism, then you may have a point. But what conclusions can one draw from that premise?

If you mean (as Ayn Rand would claim) that people don't act altruistically at all, I'd say that THAT assertion is disproven by the fact that examples of altruism abound in real life. The firemen who rushed into the WTC on September 11 alone refute the assertion that altruism is disproven by science.

If you mean that brain chemistry is a complex mechanism, and that what we call "altruism" is really a bunch of other motives all conflicting and reinforcing each other into something that looks like "altruism" but isn't--well, again you may have a point, but again what conclusions does that suggest?

David Brin said...

LarryHart has that last part right. The Jijoan g'Keks are all that's left, till Huck arrives on the Hoon world. Her offspring will be raised by hoons, possibly supplying them with a lick of common sense. One hopes.

I welcome all speculations about the g'Kek -> Jophur insult!

Remember, as flexible organics, g'Kek might NORMALLY by wheelchair-like, but able to tilt wheels inward to cross a narrow plank. Or stagger one way forward in order to almost have them linear.

ell said...

Saying that most of us will not move off-planet may be true. But it only takes a breeding population (minimum 30 fertile couples) to have a chance of surviving the extinction of life on Earth. Radiation and shielding may be the most important consideration in achieving this. Several astronauts have already proved that we can stand on other rocks in this solar system.

What we need is a breakthrough in physics, like CERN discovering the Higgs boson -- or something not even suspected. Once we really figure out mass, energy, gravity, etc., we may be able to create stargates/wormholes/transporter beams.

You just know Ben Franklin didn't envision Twitter when he flew that legendary kite.

ell said...

Come to think of it, the traditional town crier was the Twitter of that era.

David Brin said...

In the recent book PATHOLOGICAL ALTRUISM I have not one but two papers. It's a topic I know something about and it is complicated. As usual, those who make grand statements - either Ghandi or Locumranch - haven't a clue what they are talking about.

Altruism often falls along a sliding scale from utter devotion and self-sacrifice - e.g. for one's offspring (the biggest reason Rand-ian characters NEVER breed) - all the way to a mild willingness to tithe 5% of income to helping make a better world for your distant descendants. (In fact, mathematically, both work out the same!)

In any event I will partly agree with locumranch this far... pleading to altruism is a weak method to make the world work better or (especially) to get oligarchs to ignore the inbred drive to crush competition and make themselves into lords.

It failed in every culture where finger-waggers told the rich to behave with noblesse oblige. Oh, maybe it did a little good. But...

...real progress awaited the enlightenment's positive sum game in which altruistic cooperation was accompanied by a level playing field for COMPETITION.

And here it is flat out slander to call the Planetary Resources billionaires "altruists." They want - above all - a better world. But they intend to achieve it by competitively getting riches out there and driving the gold-bug hoarders into bankruptcy.

Ian Gould said...

DAvid, I somehow doubt that if one took all the possible investments the PR guys could make and ranked them by risk-adjusted Net Present Value, asteroid mining would be the top choice.

The PR backers aren't simply driven by profit maximization, if they were they'd be shorting the Euro.

Locumranch: at any time there are a whole bunch of nascent/potential bubbles out there. why bother to create a new one rather than, say, going heavy on the Facebook IPO or investing in African equities?

Oh and that Dotcom Boom of the 1990's you complain about creating companies like Google which collectively produce billions in profits annually and employ millions.

Going back further, the US railway boom of the Gilded Age was about the least altrustic thig imaginable - and still generated vast wealth for an enormous number of people while most of the promoters ended up bankrupt, in prison or both.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Remember, as flexible organics, g'Kek might NORMALLY by wheelchair-like, but able to tilt wheels inward to cross a narrow plank. Or stagger one way forward in order to almost have them linear.


Thanks.

At the risk of not letting the work stand on its own, it's great to be able to ask the (living) author questions like those. And since the book DID stand on its own when I read it the first time, I only feel a little bit decadent.


I welcome all speculations about the g'Kek -> Jophur insult!


I take it that means that no such specification was ever made in the books.

Ok, my thought was that during some historical incident (perhaps a desperate survival situation, or perhaps just because g'Kek take amazing risks for no particular reason), one or more g'Kek made use of Jophur rings as...tires!

I know, it's a goofy thing to imagine. And yet, it fits the two species so specifically--it's an insult that could ONLY have been perpetrated upon Jophur and ONLY by g'Kek--that once I thought of it, I figured it HAD to be the backstory in your own mind. In fact, I originally waited with bated breath through the trilogy wondering when you were going to drop the revelation on us, quite certain that it would be the one I thought of.

locumranch said...

Wow. I never expected Dr. Brin to agree with me, even in part.

The biological disciplines have conclusively shown that species specific behavioral characteristics originally described as 'altruistic' or 'selfless' are intrinsically 'selfish' on a genetic level, as evidenced by the study of colony insects, reptiles, avians & mammals that exhibit parenting, pack or herd behaviours.

Although defined as "an unselfish (or self-sacrificing) concern or regard for the needs of others, entirely without ulterior motive", " the principle or practice of unselfish concern for the welfare of others" or "the philosophical doctrine that right action is that which produces the greatest benefit to others", these commonly used and/or non-scientific definitions have been proven to be both baseless and false.

Human acts of so-called 'altruism' are attributable to common, additive & deliberately cultivated misconceptions:

(1) Thoughtlessness -- The 'heroic' individual often fails to consider his personal vulnerability or falsely assumes that he is somehow immune to a specific threat;

(2) Conceit -- A selfish, favorable and especially unduly high opinion of one's own abilities, worth or relative invulnerability;

(3) Social Conditioning -- The application of external group, social or familial pressures that discounts or punishes individual survival; and

(4) Military Conditioning -- Intense psychological manipulation with the intent to force genetically or culturally diverse individuals to identify with a new 'family' or 'Band of Brothers'.

In accordance to a particular social or group-based ulterior motive, our social heroes are made rather born:

(1) We take our young males (mostly) wherein adolescent is characterized by a lack of mature forethought and we give them magic bullet-proof uniforms or 'ghost shirts';

(2) We train them, compliment them, label them 'expert' and inoculate them an inflated opinion of their abilities, worth and relative invulnerability;

(3) We offer them reward for 'good' group behaviours, penalize them for 'bad' individual behaviours and we tell them to 'Come home with their shield or upon it'; and

(4) We mold them, dress them identically, segregate them, force them to cohabitate, build social cohesion through shared hardships and we thank them for their malleability.

Is it any wonder that our 9/11 heroes or veterans act in complete disregard for danger or place themselves in harms' way?

They are good lemmings, behaving in the manner that they we trained them to behave, because we all benefit from their personal sacrifice, as long as their sacrifice doesn't become our sacrifice.

No disrespect is intended.


Best.
___

PS: Bubbles always make the rich richer because they take their profit up front. This is the nature of the Ponzi scheme. How many of you profited from Goggle's success? Very few, most likely. I know I lost a bundle.

locumranch said...

BTW, Google doesn't employ 'millions as Ian claims. According to Goggle 2012 financial tables, it employs 33,077, mostly minimum wage grunts, with very few millionaires.

Best

Rob said...

I am enormously enriched by Google's success, without having invested a dime. General keyword searches plus a decent college research education equals more knowledge than my grandfather ever dreamed one could possess.

I tried to find the XKCD cartoon that showcases this best but failed. How's that for irony!

Larry, you made me ROFLMAO with the tires thing. Thank you for that.

David Brin said...

LarryHart: "one or more g'Kek made use of Jophur rings as...tires!"

Guffaw! Of course it has to be more than once, but a matter of policy. The Jophur hire-out individual rinks bred for many purposes... but refused g'Kek plans to modify up their own version to grow and use... and they did it anyway.... and the tires liked it!

Locumranch: "Wow. I never expected Dr. Brin to agree with me, even in part."

A clear sign that you are growing and moving (gradually) toward enlightenment.

Alas, you truly are clueless about altruism, utterly ignoring its biological bases and choosing social conditioning because it fits your worldview of cynicism.

COmplaining about rich getting richer... is rich with irony, coming from a fellow who defends the putsch being waged against us by oligarchs

Ian Gould said...

"BTW, Google doesn't employ 'millions as Ian claims. According to Goggle 2012 financial tables, it employs 33,077, mostly minimum wage grunts, with very few millionaires."

What I actually wrote:

"companies LIKE Google which COLLECTIVELY produce billions in profits annually and employ millions."

Also, I'm willing to bet that few if any Google employees are paid minimum wage.


"Google's 10% salary increase and $1000 cash bonus may be part of "competitive compensation plans" seen by the company as vital for its future. Google's move is now seen as a way to keep its employees from being poached by competitors like Facebook.

Business Insider earlier reported that Google gave its employees a $1000 tax-free cash holiday bonuses and a minimum of 10% salary increase set to be implemented starting January 1, 2011 accross all Google offices."

Ian Gould said...

The link for that:

http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/80714/20101111/google-s-10-salary-increase-1000-cash-bonus-part-of-company-s-competitive-compensation-plan.htm

Ian Gould said...

"Bubbles always make the rich richer because they take their profit up front."

Nonsense, the stock market and real estate bubble of the 2000's resulted in the net worth of the richest Americans falling by several trillion dollars.

Ian Gould said...

"Human acts of so-called 'altruism' are attributable to common, additive & deliberately cultivated misconceptions:"

Prove that assertion and there's probably a Nobel Prize in it for you since you will have overturned several decades worth of research in behavioral economics; psychology; sociobiology; evolutionary theory, anthropology and primate studies.

Paul451 said...

A bird in the hand. Is the word. In robotic gliders.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QqTcQ1BxIs

Locumranch,
"only a fraction of a fraction of the human population (0.00001%) will ever be able to travel into space even with an elevator built of super-strong carbon filaments."

Errr, assuming a population of 7 billion, 0.00001% is about 700. The official count is already over 500, so are you saying that only 200 more people will ever go into space, even if we had a space elevator?

About 900 million people travel internationally by air. Another 2 billion fly domestically. (Lots of repeats, but still hundreds of millions of individuals.) So space travel has some room for growth.

(turnt subsene: Sub-genre of fanfic in which an author demands his readers entertain him for a change.)

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

The biological disciplines have conclusively shown that species specific behavioral characteristics originally described as 'altruistic' or 'selfless' are intrinsically 'selfish' on a genetic level, as evidenced by the study of colony insects, reptiles, avians & mammals that exhibit parenting, pack or herd behaviours.


I thought that might be where you were going. But my question is why you think this is a bad thing?

The gist of what you are saying is that even the choice to act unselfishly is done because that's what the individual wants to do at the moment--because it feels good or because it seems like it will pay off later or any number of such reasons.

So human beings will (subject to external constraints) act in ways they want to at the particular moment? So strictly speaking, the motive is "selfish" rather than "in someone else's interest with no regard to oneself"?

I'll concede the semantic point, but continue to ask "So what does that tell us?" Altruism isn't an unqualified good in and of itself. Altruism is a good thing to the extent that human beings make choices that benefit others as well as themselves. When human beings act in ways which promote positive-sum gains, this is a good thing.

The fact that the motive isn't "unselfish" but only produces the same result as an unselfish motive might--that doesn't change a human characteristic from good to bad.

You seem to be observing human behavior at its best and somehow regretting the fact that those acting in positive ways are doing so because it will benefit themselves to do so. I hardly see where that matters.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

LarryHart: "one or more g'Kek made use of Jophur rings as...tires!"

Guffaw! Of course it has to be more than once, but a matter of policy. The Jophur hire-out individual rinks bred for many purposes... but refused g'Kek plans to modify up their own version to grow and use... and they did it anyway.... and the tires liked it!


I'm glad the idea was worthy. It just seemed to be the only thing g'Kek could have done to Jophur to get them so royally pissed.

Tim H. said...

Commenting on several things... I'm thinking what I'd want in a space elevator is good shielding and good books, early versions might be best used for freight. And would G'Keks find cats less than funny? The name might sound like a hairball being coughed up. And it should take generations for space industry to improve life here, by which time it'll be taken for granted. And altruism, are do-gooders really wanting to improve the lot of the 99%, or do they just wish to live in a nicer looking place? Works for me, either way.

Paul451 said...

LarryHart,
"It just seemed to be the only thing g'Kek could have done to Jophur to get them so royally pissed."

Didn't the Jophur, after Uplift, kill off their own pre-sophonts, the traeki. In which case, drawing on the coincidence of the ring-race and wheeled-race you mentioned, couldn't the g'Kek be an alternative path of Uplift of the traeki? (Perhaps the Oallie disliked the Jophur they'd created for the Poa, so they secretly created the g'Kek for the Drooli.) I doubt the time-lines work, but it is consistent with the Jophur's hatred of their own ancestor race.

Re: Altruism.
Locumranch, IMO, is reading too much into the dictionary definition of altruism. The word was created to describe a human behaviour. That behaviour is what the word applies to, regardless of the causes of that behaviour, regardless of the dictionary definition.

Tony Fisk said...

@LarryHart one or more g'Kek made use of Jophur rings as...tires!
*SNAP!*

Whatever the intended body plan, I think the notion of 'sentient Harley-Davisons' being raised by 'Hoons' a delightful prospect!!

David Brin said...

Paul... you and LarryHart are... on a ... roll!

David Brin said...

Wow!

"For the past fifteen years, the records of Western capitalism have been debased, leaving governments without the facts to spot what needs to be fixed and for businesses to know what their risks are. To regain its vitality, Western capitalism must bring under the rule of law and public memory hundreds of trillions of dollars now swirling mindlessly out of control in the obscure world of financial innovation. That task requires major political leadership." –

Hernando de Soto, author of The Mystery of Capital and The Other Path; in the FT.

de Soto is no socialist but the champion -- THE champion -- of vesting openly avowed property rights in farmers to make them middle class.

It appears to me he is demanding either universal transparency of ownership... or else a Hel vetian war.

Ian Gould said...

Actually when he talks about "hundreds of trillions of dollars now swirling mindlessly out of control in the obscure world of financial innovation" he soudns like he's simply wrong.

There just isn't that much money in existence in any form.

The only way you can get close to that figure is by conflating the face value of options and futures with their strike value - which woudl earn you a fail mark on any intermediate macroeconomics course.

Are De Soto's full remakrs avialble on line anywere David?

LarryHart said...

Ian Gould:

Actually when he talks about "hundreds of trillions of dollars now swirling mindlessly out of control in the obscure world of financial innovation" he soudns like he's simply wrong.

There just isn't that much money in existence in any form


It's available as derivatives. Thom Hartmann has remarked often on the fact that the value (or "value") of derivatives being traded amounts to orders of magnitude higher than the GDP of the planet.

I understand where you're going with refusing to call that stuff "money", but the fact is that financial decisions are being made every day based on trades of those derivatives. Does this set us up for an inevitable bubble burst again? Of course. That's what nearly happened in 2008. But that financial activity does happen, whatever you want to call it.

Jumper said...

DeSoto's latest (?) in Financial Times, and the Jan. article after it
http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/0a12c67e-8f3b-11e1-ab32-00144feab49a.html

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4520ccda-4769-11e1-b847-00144feabdc0.html

I once tried to find the owner of some property. Locally no one cares much so long as it isn't a nuisance and taxes get paid. Shell corporations with post office boxes are good enough for the tax people.

David Brin said...

Ian: "There just isn't that much money in existence in any form

Larry: "It's available as derivatives. Thom Hartmann has remarked often on the fact that the value (or "value") of derivatives being traded amounts to orders of magnitude higher than the GDP of the planet.

Do recall de Soto's famous for the vesting of peasant farmers in their houses and land, a huge reform in Peru that transformed the economy and won huge praise from both liberals and libertarians alike. It achieve socialist aims by market means and he should be a world hero of the first order.

Now ponder this. by "hundreds of trillions" he is not talking about money. He is talking about his area of expertise... ownership of the physical world. The houses, boats, roads, farms, cattle, oil tankers... much of it with masked property trails.

If I could get ONE law passed worldwide, it would be "avow your ownership in something, or else on January 1 you simply do not own it.)

It is totally not-socialist... though some nations might then decide to do some socialist things about it. The key point though is that if all property is known, then people will be more responsible. An oil tanker than runs aground (as one did a decade ago, despoiling the coast of Brittany) you'll be able to find the owners.

And the tax burden will be spread widely to those who now cheat. In theory taxes should go DOWN for all who currently play by the rules. Or stay the same while debt is paid down.

ell said...

Paul 451's definition: "(turnt subsene: Sub-genre of fanfic in which an author demands his readers entertain him for a change.)"

Isn't the place where an author demands his readers entertain him for a change actually called Contrary Brin?

locumranch said...

The point I've been trying to make about 'altruism' is that it is not 'selfless' or 'devoid of ulterior motive' as commonly believed. On an individual level, it entails the selfish or self-interested protection of shared personal DNA. On the social level, it is practically a synonym for 'good will', defined along the lines of 'an intangible business asset which includes a cultivated reputation and consequential attraction and confidence of repeat customers and connections'.

We as a society cannot simply depend on 'altruism' to make other people do the right, morally correct or scientifically proper thing in regards to society in general (IE. climate change and/or asteroid mining), especially if those individuals are rich or extremely competitive 'winners'. You can talk about 'win-win' (positive sum), lose-lose or zero sum game theory as much as you like, but that doesn't change the fact that most political games are 'win-lose' because people -- especially people who believe that they are 'correct' -- don't want to share power or authority with losers who are wrong, wrong, wrong by definition.

It therefore follows that unbridled competition (ie. the free market) is not necessarily a good thing because the 'winners' (ie. oligarths) tend to change the rules to guarantee their continued dominance. Not fair, you say? Too bad, so sad. Either suck it up and accept your role as designated loser or 'win' by over-turning the game board and changing the agreed-on rules of play. Having both good and bad points, capitalism is not necessarily a panacea. So, before you wave the 'Capitalism Uber Alles" flag, you should think about consulting the definitive 19th Century expert, author of the 3 volume work 'Das Kapital', who goes by the name of Karl Marx.

Dr. Brin appears to be an out-spoken advocate of the free market; Rob points out that he profits enormously by Goggle's success because he consumes their product; Paul451 points out that almost 3 billion individuals utilize fossel-fuel driven air travel; and Dr. Brin points out that fossel-fuel driven climate change is a real and imminent threat. By the same logic and in accordance with the same economic rules, I'll point out that all of us, including Rob, Paul, Ian, Larry, Dr. Brin & I, all profit enormously by the enormous 'win-win' positive sum free market success that is Big Gas, Oil & Climate Change. Whoopee!

Apologies to Paul451 for hyperbole & too many decimals. Even though I still say that an upper earth-to-space travel population limit of 700 seems about right for the next fifty years, I'll concede up to 30,000 travellers by 2200 c.e. assuming that we find somewhere to go. Feel free to let your great-great granchildren mock me if I am wrong.

Best
___
PS: Do my eyes deceive me, or does Dr. Brin now want to change the rules, too?

Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons !
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !

Rob said...

Oh, please.

The fact that altruism meets primal needs doesn't make it less valuable as an ethic.

As for whether Dr. Brin wants to change the rules, well, derp. Are you reading anything he writes?

LarryHart said...

locumranch,

Maybe that's the source of our confusion over what you're arguing about. Dr Brin has a certain reverence for regulated capitalism, but he's no Randroid. And many if not most of us are fans of regulated capitalism, not socialism nor law-of-the-jungle libertarianism.

Lizy said...

I am enormously enriched by Google's success, without having invested a dime. General keyword searches plus a decent college research education equals more knowledge than my grandfather ever dreamed one could possess.

I tried to find the XKCD cartoon that showcases this best but failed. How's that for irony!


This one?
http://xkcd.com/903/

Rob said...

That's the one. Thanks, Lizy!

I suppose this proves that the Internet can't help me stand alone. I need altruistic people, too!

Ian Gould said...

"Now ponder this. by "hundreds of trillions" he is not talking about money. He is talking about his area of expertise... ownership of the physical world. The houses, boats, roads, farms, cattle, oil tankers... much of it with masked property trails."

I'm sorry but it still doesn't pass the smell test - world GDP is only around $75 trillion implying a market capitalized value of, maybe $750 trillion most of which is easily quantifable by known hysical assets and readily traceable financial assets the ownership of wich is perfectly clear.

Ian said...

A quick run down on what "value" means here.

Let's say a company's shares currently trade at $1. I own a share and what to protect myself against a fall in the value of the shares. You think the company's shares will go up.

We enter into a contract: I pay you one cent, you agree that if the shares fall below 95 cents you will pay me 2 cents.

In describing this contract, economists and traders would use three terms:

1. The face value: the value of the underlying asset i.e. $1.

2. The strike value or strike price: the premium I pay for you to enter into the contract i.e. 1 cent.

3. The value at risk: the maximum possible loss under the contract i.e. 2 cents.

what De Soto is in effect saying is that the value of the transaction is $1 and that by entering into the contract we have created $1 in "secret hidden wealth".

This is nonsense and I'm surprised and disappointed that De Soto who I greatly respect and whose work I've followed for decades would make such an elementary error.

Then again Einstein never got his head around "spooky action at a distance".

David Brin said...

WHo is this guy and what has he done with locumranch? Only the snarky, cynical tone remains. The rest of his missive this time actually.... made some sense!

Ian said...

Additionally, I'll add that while De Soto has contributed enormously to development economics, his work needs to be combined with those of other economists for best effect.

In particular, there's Muhammad Yunus (of Grameen Bank fame) and Amartya Sen, the man who ended fami9ne in India.

De Soto focuses on property rights and that focus is then exaggerated massively in popular accounts of his work because it's seen as supporting a neo-liberal agenda.

As a matter of simple empiricism, DeSotonian policy initiatives based on formalizing property rights work best in conjunction with social welfare policies that are anathema to neo-liberals.

We see this for example, in De Soto's homeland of Peru where Fujimori's implementation of De Soto's policy recommendations had very uneven and modest results.

Since 2006, successive Peruvian governments have followed what could be described as a heavily modified version of De Soto's policy model influenced by Lula Da Silva's social welfare policies - which in turn were inspired by Sen's work.

On the neo-liberals' own criteria - GDP growth; public sector financial balance and external trade balance - the Garcia/Humala era has been far more successful than the Fujimori era.

Joseph Stiglitz has also written recently about how economic reformsin Malawi which have made that country one of the most successful in Africa were opposed by the IMF and bilateral aid agencies because they were seen as going against a DeSotnian orthodoxy in development economics.

Ian Gould said...

Chin's internet censorship - the so-called Great Firewall -pretty much collapsed during Chen Chengguang's escape from house arrest.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/with-chen-guangcheng-news-on-twitter-chinas-censors-lost-control/2012/05/05/gIQAUctU4T_story.html

locumranch said...

I'm having a little trouble with some qualitative terminology.

This "regulated capitilism" term that LarryHart talks about, can it be used as a synonym for "managed competition", "liberal communism" or an "unfree free market"?

Can we then use the same type of linguistic construction to describe:

(1) PRC censorship as a partial free press? Or,

(2) The current US Conflict in Iraq, Afganistan & Libya (and possibly Syria, Iran & Pakistan) as a limited war? Or,

(3) A country that incarcerates 10%of their adult male population as the 'Home of the Free'?

You input is appreciated. Either I may have Asperger's, or everyone else does. Or, maybe I'm just a little bit pregnant.

Best.

locumranch said...

Strike that.

Let's just call the current US Conflict in Iraq, Afganistan & Libya a 'Limited Peace'.

Jumper said...

Meds wore off. Or started early. Hard to say. Then again, I'm mentally challenged today. Blew the daily sudoku, not a good sign. But I'm pretty sure that 10% is not true (although I think it is true of African Americans which is actually atrocious)
Ludwig von Mises referred to a "mixed economy"and as it serves as an honest descriptor of most of the successful world, I use it also.

Jumper said...

I'm not sure this bone has much meat on it, but...
http://nader.org/2012/04/30/the-ghost-of-osama-bin-laden/

Ian Gould said...

"although I think it is true of African Americans which is actually atrocious)"

No, not even vaguely true.

https://www.google.com.au/search?source=ig&hl=en&rlz=1G1GGLQ_ENAU318&q=african-american+incarceration+rate&oq=african-american+incarcera&aq=1v&aqi=g-v6g-q4&aql=&gs_l=igoogle.1.1.0i15l6j0i22l4.564.4048.0.7131.17.11.0.1.1.0.695.2893.4j1j2j1j1j2.11.0...0.0.

locumranch said...

typical US denial

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

Incarceration in the United States is one of the main forms of punishment and/or rehabilitation for the commission of felony and other offenses. The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. At year-end 2009 it was 743 adults incarcerated per 100,000 population.[4][6][7][8][9]

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2010 — about .7% of adults in the U.S. resident population. [6] Additionally, 4,933,667 adults at year-end 2009 were on probation or on parole.[4] In total, 7,225,800 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2009 — about 3.1% of adults in the U.S. resident population.[3][4][10]

Robert said...

The problem, locumranch, is that you cannot have a truly Free Market economy. After all, in a truly Free Market economy, businesses are not fettered by any and all laws. If a business wants to hire mercenaries to go in and slaughter its competitor's workforce, in a truly free market it would be allowed. What's more, it would not be subject to any claims of murder or the like because those laws are government regulations forcing it to do business under constraints. And if another business decides to acquire an atomic bomb and use it to annihilate the first company in payback by destroying the city where its headquarters is located, then in a truly free market economy that is allowed. Because once again, claiming that the use of nuclear weapons is illegal by non-government forces is, once more, a government regulation forcing a business to do something it doesn't want to.

Ah, but I hear you now claiming "well, of COURSE businesses are forced to obey the Rule of Law, that's only logical!" Hmm. How about laws keeping them from putting out dangerous products? How about laws that prevent them from abusing workers? And what of laws that disallow the dumping of toxic waste into the environment?

At what point does Rule of Law become "Government Regulation" and being bad?

We either have Anarchy and allow for eventual wars between businesses (and mind you, a hundred years ago businesses hired mercenaries and law enforcement agents to beat and kill union workers, so yes, this is a path business can and would take) or we accept that a truly free market economy is foolhardy and allow for government regulation.

Which would you prefer?

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

This "regulated capitilism" term that LarryHart talks about, can it be used as a synonym for "managed competition", "liberal communism" or an "unfree free market"?


I'm talking about a society that recognizes the concept of "the commons" which is not owned by individuals and not available to be claimed by individuals. The commons is protected and managed by We The People via government.

That which is not part of the commons can be owned by private individuals and managed and traded by those owners. The system by which individuals trade with each other--the market--also has rules that apply to all (such as what constitutes fraud) and enforcement mechanisms (courts) and those rules and courts would also be managed by We The People via government.

To use a rough analogy, if society is a football game, then individual teams and players are free to plan and execute their own play strategies, but the rule book and the referees are "government". The point of "goverment" isn't to pick winners and losers, but to determine what the game itself looks like and to provide a level playing field for all competing teams.

locumranch said...

To answer Rob:

No question.

I prefer the International Anarchy that we have now, where businesses & tribal nations are essentially unfettered by law, free to torment, imprison and poison a captive workforce, hire mercenaries to slaughter its competitor's workforce, acquire atomic bombs and annihilate its competitors with or without payback, all while claiming sovereign immunity from legal prosecution.

That's what I call a "Free Market".

Of course, I understand the importance of rules including the purported purpose they serve -- I am even a model citizen by all accounts -- but unlike Larry I don't pretend that any rules or laws are carved in stone. Instead, I recognize that 'everything is permitted', assuming you can get away with it.

OK, OK. I admit that some rules are 'carved in stone' (IE. The Ten Commandments) but those are more along the lines of 'suggestions' because we all break them sooner or later.

Best.

Robert said...

So in short, you are a slave who is protesting having his chains cast off. Some of us prefer not to be slaves. So you can live your life in chains if you want. You do not have the right to insist the rest of us have to do the same. And the only way the rest of us can live a life without chains is to ensure that business is regulated and forced to obey the Rule of Law along with we organic aspects of humanity.

Oh, and your claim about the Ten Commandments? It's government regulation of business. True Free Markets would not even be regulated by that much. And in fact it would be unregulated by God itself.

In short... what you are describing is Business... as Satan.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

That Nader piece was - typically for the lefty flake who saddled us with Bush - deeply stupid.

Usama bin Laden had one goal on 9/11... to draw us into an interminably draining land war of attrition in Asia, something we swore we wouldn't do, after Vietnam and watching the Russians in Afgh.

He did not expect the utter success of Afgh Phase One, which used Democrat-Clintonian war doctrines, like Bosnia, Libya and the strike on Usama himself.

...but then Bush veered to the way the GOP wages war... with giant thuggish thundering oaffishness. Giving UBL exactly what he wanted.

David Brin said...

Bah, locumranch has reverted to mean. He ignores 6000 years of human history in which the fundamental lesson was this:

"Unregulated competition leads to destruction of competition."

If they are allowed to cheat, human competitors will cheat. When the playing field is relatively level, cheating is kept to a minimum by the reciprocal action of competitors catching each other. But, inevitably, there are winners. And when the winners get powerful, none of their competitors any longer have the power to stymie their cheating.

This has played out in every single human society EVER. The result, in pre-agricultural societies, was bullying by chiefs. The result in later ones? Lords. Priests, kings and more lords. And more priests to help the lords to cheat by saying "it is right and proper for that guy to own everything and to have power over you."

Without any doubt, it was that process that Adam Smith wrote the most about, that angered him. Indeed, Smithian capitalism was designed to stymie it! Indeed, Smith prescribed civil servants as part of the solution, to help keep the playing field even.

Dig this well. Only one civilization ever kept the cheating under some degree of control. Never perfectly! But with enough rebalancing, every generation, to supply fresh, eager swarms of innovative competitors to relatively even starting blocks, each generation. That society was THIS ONE.

And "regulated markets" were precisely the method used.

sociotard said...

Faux vintage travel posters for the solar system

http://www.giantfreakinrobot.com/scifi/faux-vintage-travel-posters-invite-tour-solar-system.html

Ian Gould said...

"typical US denial"

I don't see why you're seeking to blame the US but making factual errors then refusing to acknowledge them is indeed typical for you.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

Of course, I understand the importance of rules including the purported purpose they serve -- I am even a model citizen by all accounts -- but unlike Larry I don't pretend that any rules or laws are carved in stone. Instead, I recognize that 'everything is permitted', assuming you can get away with it.


Unlike who-the-what now?

Seriously, that's what you get from me? That I think the rules are carved in stone?

No, my contention is that Enlightenment society is an extraordinary feat of engineering which constructed a society that would simultaneously protect the commons, ensure justice, AND allow individuals to earn wealth (within the strictures). It's also a fragile construct which requires a good amount of maintenance, not to mention upgrades. When it gets too far off course, as it did in the 1920s and again in the current era, the entire construct is in danger of failing.

I'm saying the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and we've been complacent (i.e., not vigilant) for so long that we're in danger of losing it all. I fail to see how that translates to "the rules are set in stone."

The antidote to "Everything is permitted if you can get away with it" is to have a strong enough government of the people, by the people, for the people to keep cheaters from getting away with it. It's the right-wingers who insist government (in and of itself) is evil who want to make sure the rich and powerful are always able to "get away with it".

As for your attempts to portray my terminology as self-satirizing euphamisms, I acknowledge that there is a certain level of fuzziness in the concept of "regulated capitalism", but the concept stands regardless. I recognize the fact that I can walk into a grocery store and buy a delicious slab of beef or a bag of Doritos, and that those items are then mine to eat or to trade or to set on fire as I will. So yes, I recognize the claim of private ownership of food items. However, I do NOT accept that anyone with enough money should be allowed even the OPTION of buying up ALL of the food, and then forcing anyone who wishes to survive to trade for food on his own terms. Somehow, our society has to decide upon and enforce rules such that the right to the former is checked-and-balanced before it becomes the latter.

David Brin said...

The top 10 toxic chemicals suspected to cause autism and learning disabilities...

http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1104285

http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article
/info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1104285

No wonder certain powers want the distraction of "vaccination" fury...

David Brin said...

The top 10 toxic chemicals suspected to cause autism and learning disabilities...

http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1104285

http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article
/info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1104285

No wonder certain powers want the distraction of "vaccination" fury...

David Brin said...

You Canadians, your thoughts on this article about the Harper govt and allies joining our war on science? Please say it ain't so!

http://www.ottawamagazine.com/society/politics/2012/05/04/politics-chatter-the-harper-governments-war-on-brains/


http://www.ottawamagazine.com/society/
politics/2012/05/04/politics-chatter-the-
harper-governments-war-on-brains/

Tony Fisk said...

From what I've been reading, (eg open letters from minister of interior equating environmentalism with terrorism) more than likely true.

On that note, that paragon of the neo-enlightenment, Heartland Institute, posted billboards equating belief in global warming with a predisposition to commit mass murder. (personally, I thought the wording suggested that *advocating* global warming, via business as usual practices, was what led to such civic mindedness. That is at least consistent, if not the intended meaning)

That said, I'm not a Canadian...

Paul451 said...

Jumper,
"But I'm pretty sure that 10% is not true (although I think it is true of African Americans which is actually atrocious)"

Not all African Americans, just black, non-Latino, males between 18 and 34. It's 1% for all Americans. 2% for Latinos. 5% for African Americans (1/15), 11% for young black men (1/9). The latter is the headline statistic that you remembered. And two-thirds of all prisoners are non-white (I was going say "minorities" but, you know, two-thirds.)

Apparently 20% of imprisoned men are there on drug charges. 30% of imprisoned women. I was trying to drill down to individual drugs, but it's hard to get clean numbers.

Ian Gould said...

Paul, without checking, I'm pretty sure those figures are peopel "involved iwth the criminal justice system" pr some such which includes people on bail; awaiting trial; on parole; on probation, performing community service or subject to home detention.

The number of people actually in prison at any given time is far lower - for African-American men the figure is around 0.4%.

Paul451 said...

Ian,
"some such which includes people on bail; awaiting trial; on parole; on probation, performing community service or subject to home detention."

No. Looking at the Pew report, it does include jails, those "held for trial", parole-violators held for hearing, etc, but not parole/bail/probation/community-service. I'm not sure about home detention or half-way houses.

(It also excludes 40,000 in "territorial prisons", military prisons, ICE detention centres, and Indian-territory prisons, and about 80,000 in Juvenile facilities.)

I believe the differences in numbers, percentages/per-100,000's, is whether you calculate incarcerated-vs-total population (as the DoJ does, which are the numbers you quote) or incarcerated-vs-adult-population (as the Pew report does, which is what I quoted.)

Fun fact: The US incarcerates over 2.2 million people and has a population of 300 million. The 36 nations across Europe, from Russia to the UK, incarcerate 1.8 million people, from a combined population of over 800 million.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

On that note, that paragon of the neo-enlightenment,...


"Endarkenment"?

LarryHart said...

More thoughts on the "endarkenment"...

You all know me as someone who despises Ayn Rand and all she stands for politically, but she does have her "stopped clock twice a day" moments. Toward the end of "Atlas Shrugged", the heroine, Dagny, has a moment of genuine horror when she glimpses the true motives behind the villains who have been trying to take control of the productive factories and railroads and such. She had assumed all along that they wanted to wrest control of those things so that the benefits of ownership--the money and influence--would go to themselves. She knew all along they wanted control, but she thought it was for the purpose of controling a going concern. What horrifies her is the realization that these villains want to control her railroad and Rearden's factory and other productive concerns in order to stop them from being productive. That their goal was not ownership, but destruction. The villains actualy would prefer a pre-industrial society because people are easier to dominate and control in that sort of world.

At the risk of a ***SPOILER*** for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", that's the plot of that movie as well. The villain buys out the Los Angeles "Red Car" system so he can dismantle it because without public transportation, people will be more receptive to his restaurants, hotels, and "automobile dealerships as far as the eye can see" on highway off-ramps.

And I'm having a similar horrific moment of realization myself, coming to the understanding that the right-wing powers that be in the US and Europe aren't interested in ownership benefits of Enlightenment society as they are in bringing it to an end so that they can be the rulers of huddled masses of cold, hungry, desperate people.

LarryHart said...

...and yet, as much as Ayn Rand presents the "endarkenment" as the goal of the villains of her book-- a goal which horrifies Dagny when she realizes it--it's not those villains who bring it about. The climactic lights-out is brought about, by design, by the book's heroic characters.

Just like my right-wing friends who believe they are supporting society's champions instead of its enemies, Rand herself was oblivious to the fact that the image that most horrified her heroine was also the stated goal of her heroes, and the "happy ending" of the book.

LarryHart said...

A Krugman/Asimov connection:


BOOKS: Anything else you have going?

KRUGMAN: I just finished Ken MacLeod’s “The Restoration Game,” which was great fun. And I am rereading Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy” because I am supposed to write an introduction to a new edition. That is pleasure and work together.

BOOKS: That trilogy was formative for you wasn’t it?

KRUGMAN: I first read them when I was a teenager. I was really inspired by the psychohistorians, who used statistics and social sciences to predict the future. I knew it was fiction, but what really struck me is the notion that the science of what people do could be important. I wanted to be one of those guys


http://bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2012/05/05/paul-krugman-economist-and-sci-buff/2LTK79iHuaYgszURfogh1J/story.html

http://bostonglobe.com/arts/books/
2012/05/05/
paul-krugman-economist-and-sci-buff/
2LTK79iHuaYgszURfogh1J/story.html

SteveO said...

I worked in the mining industry back when I was a baby engineer (both extractive and mineral processing) so maybe I can talk about the economics space mining. (Mind you, I am no expert.)

The market prices that are set for most primary metals are pretty close to what it takes to extract them from ore. (Some exceptions being gold, and to a lesser extent silver and platinum and some of the other noble metals whose price is more tied to market as well as non-rational speculation.)

Doing some back of the envelope calculations, I just don't see the economics of space mining. The cost of automated or manned equipment, and the delta-vee to get out there, the delta-vee to bring it back, the delta-vee to bring it down I think will *far* outweigh what you could get for it in the market at current prices, not to mention that a huge extraterrestrial supply would depress prices further. (At that point, supply and demand would drive the market, rather than actual extraction costs, and everyone loses money unless we make a cartel.) And just dropping them down is no good based on my previous calculations. Unless you lower them down to Earth with a momentum exchange tether (kept aloft by catching rocks from opposite "directions"), you are adding more energy to the atmosphere by dropping one shipment than all the nuclear weapons that have ever been set off.

There might be a market for volatiles or light elements (C-H-O-N-P-S) if there is a large manned space presence, since it might be cheaper to bring them from asteroids than from Earth's gravity well, but even so, I am guessing that would require manufacturing the mining equipment in GEO or out of the well even further. So viability there would require building the market first and we end up with a chicken and egg situation.

I love science fiction, but as an engineer one thing that drops me out of a story is something that is obviously not economically possible. I just don't see a way to get there from here with current technology. I would be happy to be shown otherwise.

David Brin said...

See a hilarious xkcd about picking a college major: http://xkcd.com/1052/

Has Castro been reading Asimov?
http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/star-spangled-staggers/2012/01/castro-robot-president-obama

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs
/star-spangled-staggers/2012/01
/castro-robot-president-obama

Castro wrote: "Is it not obvious that worst of all is the absence in the White House of a robot capable of governing the United States and preventing a war to end the life of our species?"

David Brin said...

Ironic... since in fact, every other time a great power had new and mighty weapons it used them relentlessly. After one brief initial use, presidents of the US have done an excellent job of preventing world war and annihilation. Castro's polemic is typical for polemicists. Ignore facts in favor of a cool sound bit.

Robert said...

Of course, here's the question: would the United States have held off on the use of nuclear weapons if it had remained the sole nuclear power? While it seems nice to think we would, there were several instances (such as during the Korean War) where it was strongly debated to use nuclear weapons during the conflict. It is very likely that the Soviet Union's access to nuclear weapons and the development of the MAD war concept prevented nuclear weapon use... and helped bring about the nonproliferation movement.

On a side note, I had reason to abstract an article in "Foreign Affairs" (I think) concerning nonproliferation and reasons why so few nations after 1970 developed nuclear power. The primary reason? Government structure. Western-style governments (including Russia and for a time Communist China) were accepting of scientific autonomy and respect and thus allowed for these programs to come about. However, Syria, Libya, Iraq (especially Iraq!) and probably Iran have authoritarian management styles that impede on the development of viable nuclear weapon programs... meaning that while Iran may have the knowhow to build a bomb, their mismanagement will likely prevent them from building one for years... meaning then that sanctions are the most likely method of dissuading Iran from the bomb.

(North Korea was discounted as the two nuclear bomb detonations were both fizzles more than bombs, suggesting that their program can't overcome key hurdles.)

Rob H.

locumranch said...

Reading some of your recent posts, I don't think that we are quite as far apart as some of you would like to imagine. Just look at your verb choice when you discuss the 'Rule of Law': Allow, Permit, Compel & Enforce. These verbs bring us right to the crux of the matter: Law is about Force.

Use as many euphemisms as you like. It still doesn't change the fact that -- aside from physics, chemistry & possibly God -- there is no such thing as 'Objective Law'. Legal authority comes from the application either physical or psychological force.

The laws which we abide by lack intrinsic value. They are often arbitrary; they may or may not protect; they may or may not oppress; and they may or may not be rational. They are merely behavioral rules made by some people for other people.

There are very few things in this life that can be said to have any objective and/or intrinsic value: Food, Shelter, Family, Health, Force & Community. Everything else that we tend to value is either shit or mass cultural delusion (IE. Money, Justice, Romantic Love, Law & Economics), concepts that are humanly important only because we believe them to be humanly important.

On a more technical note, the new 'epidemic' of autism is no epidemic at all. It's a statistical anomaly due to a recent reclassification of diagnostic criteria which are now so broad that almost any shy or antisocial behaviour can qualify as 'autistic'. See for yourself at http://www.autreat.com/dsm4-autism.html . The related toxic compounds cited are still toxic, but that doesn't mean we have to exaggerate their toxicity with sham science.

BTW, my stats on US incarceration were fairly accurate. US Justice website documents a 2010 incarceration population of 7.1 million (post-conviction), while the US 2010 US Census Bureau documents an 2010 adult male (age 18 to 65) population of about 76 million.

Best.

SteveO said...

Umm, locumranch are you being ironic on purpose?

Laws are *rules*. Rules permit society. In the absence of a group of people agreeing on the rules of behavior, you have Somalia, for example. Rules are, by their nature, imperfect in an imperfect world, thus we have courts to interpret (and change interpretation) of rules as well as mechanisms whereby rules themselves can be changed. "Rule of Law" is a fascinating phrase with many reflections of meaning, and is a great accomplishment of humanity.

Many of those things you list as having "intrinsic" value cannot be shown to have that at all, and most if not all would not be possible in the absence of agreement on the rules of behavior. Those purported "intrinsic" values are only your own rule biases.

Thus: law is not about force, as long as you follow the rules. It is about force if you do not follow the rules of the society in which you are living, since a society cannot abide a rule-breaker.

Where do you get the rules by which you choose to live? Many of them (some would say all, but I would disagree) come from your upbringing and the society in which you were raised. So wherever you get your rules, they are subject to bias.

I believe universal minimum rules are derivable from reality, but if you were born and raised in Spain, Saudi Arabia, the US, or Papua New Guinea, you would have a very different set of culturally trained rules, each distinct and different, each with similarities with each other, and each suited for survival in some sort of society, and each with punishments ("force" if you will) for breaking the rules.

Review Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, consequentialism, virtue ethics, utilitarianism, and Kant's Categorical Imperative.

David Brin said...

Purists who think all should be negotiated and nothing coerced are right about the direction we should constantly be heading... and cockeyed isiots when they think the time is yet ripe.

We are MIDWAY along a marvelous evolutionary path from Lockes IMPLICIT social contract, under which we owed obedience to the tribe and king in return for implied decent rule...

... toward the explicitly social contract, negotiated with each sovereign, mature, smart, ready adult at age 20.

We still have very strong residual bonds to the tribe and its leaders and Locke is still operative. The tribe now operates under sophisticated systems of majority rule, mediated by individualist freedoms and corrupted by conniving elites.

Libertarians are too busy shrieking against majority rule and not busy enough helping us control the corrupting elites, who spoiled every other renaissance. And who are busy now working hard to discredit majority rule AND individualist rights!

David Brin said...

Quick query!!!!

Anyone know of a site that offers public domain or creative commons MUSIC the way you can access IMAGES that are freely available for use online?

I am making some book trailers and need some dramatic background scores for different lengths. Especially one minute and 4 1/2 minutes.

Help?

Tony Fisk said...

Um. Try googling 'creative commons music'?

Among several others, it returned this review of sites

Jumper said...

I'm no expert but I'd go for "real inexpensive" as opposed to public domain. There are pros in cheap &easy acquisition. If you've no agent to recommend a music operation, call Muzak and tell them what you are looking for, maybe they'd hook you up. Or do some Googling in that direction.

Rob said...

Re explicit social contracts, David, are you aware of the lengths to which Mormons and Mennonites (Amish), for two examples, go to accomplish exactly that?

For example, at 19, every young Mormon man is expected to choose, at that moment, whether to enact the LDS Temple covenants, a very explicit social contract, or forego and settle for a lesser level of membership. If he chooses to do it he's immediately submerged in it 24/7 for two years!

Mennonites get "rumspringa" after a lifetime of isolated family living, and then do the same immersion if they choose it.

It's not for everyone. But, the implications have been in place for Mormons since the 1840's, and longer for the Mennonites; both groups in their early history explicitly sought to erect Cities of God. Civilization.

In a very real sense it's also what Catholics do at their confirmations, not to mention the Bat/Bar Mitzvahs, though the ages and levels of commitment are certainly different throughout.

I wouldn't myself agree to a mishmash of all the specific obligations under those covenant structures for an explicit social contract, but the forms it can take are myriad and explorable, for elevation to a metatribe of homo sapiens civitas. Perhaps instead of ignoring religion for its distasteful elements, one could *mine* it for the best of its many ideas!

Then again, perhaps that's what's happening anyway, with the difficulties along the road you've always showcased. The sad thing is I don't have a lot of confidence that we'll ever pull it off globally without a deus ex machina intervening. Won't stop me from working toward it without HIs direct action, though, since I don't think engineering the Apocalypse is what He'd want.

Ian said...

David:

http://archive.org/details/audio

Tom Craver said...

A much more sensible space elevator to start with might be placed with the center of gravity at LEO, a heavy counter-weight station somewhat below LEO, and a long elevator cable extending outward. Never touching Earth.

Take a small rocket up to LEO, rendezvous, and ride on up until you attained the desired velocity.

No need to have a cable car able to overcome Earth gravity - after you move out a ways from LEO, you slide outwards. Seemingly paradoxically, you brake to move further out and get going faster.

A solar powered plasma rocket would be fired at the sub-LEO station, to maintain overall orbital velocity.

The stresses on the cable should be substantially lower than on an elevator going to Earth, the mass much less, the ride shorter.

rewinn said...

@LarryHart - congrats on "Endarkenment", an excellent neologism for the goals of the anti-enlightenment crew!

I see that Urban Dictionary has a definition based on a Jimmy Fallon joke, but it's focussed on the emotional state rather than the intellectual and/or historical movement. Nevertheless, neologisms can have power, at least the power for us to understand what's going on ... so use the word proudly!

David Brin said...

Tom Craver... please read Tank Farm Dynamo to see your idea illustrated.
http://www.amazon.com/Tank-Farm-Dynamo-ebook/dp/B0056WQTX4

Guys We trawled around and found a reasonable site that sold as an appropriate 1 minute segment for $30. Good background for the re-issue we're doing of Heart of the Comet. Stay tuned!

Rob the "explicit" contracts you describe actually involve a lot of social pressure and you don't get to re-negotiate the terms.

Paul451 said...

SteveO,
"The cost of [...] the delta-vee to get out there, the delta-vee to bring it back, the delta-vee to bring it down"

How did you price delta-v? The earliest market for asteroid (or lunar) mining is assumed to be volatiles for fuel, both to service the existing orbital markets and allow new markets (such as satellite refuelling, refuelable GTO-boosters, etc) but also to provide fuel for every future asteroid venture.

"You see, it's not that space is expensive, it's that we are poor, precisely because we don't access space properly." - quote from NextBigFuture commenter.

"I think will *far* outweigh what you could get for it in the market at current prices, not to mention that a huge extraterrestrial supply would depress prices further."

And you're assuming that it is both unaffordable, and "huge". Wouldn't it be incremental? Small initial affordable developments, expanding as they build up knowhow and technology, as they find profitable ventures, and as markets in space develop. (With an occasional gold-rush boom/bust thrown in.)

Look at Planetary Resources. Their first product is not asteroid-platinum, it's a super-cheap small space telescope. ("Super-cheap" by space telescope standards. $100k instead of $100M.)

Tony Fisk said...

@SteveO. Also consider the possibilities of transferring that asteroid potential energy to something else.

Rob said...

David, the point is that the contracts are explicit and there is a history of successes and failures with people entering into, honoring, and breaking them. (Though I'd have to say that for Mormons, the consequences of breaking them create more personal trouble for the people still within the contracts than for those who leave it, since a term of the agreement is not to shun those who violate!)

You imply that social pressure is a drawback to such arrangements. There is no doubt that it plays a huge part in them and I'd never deny it.

But I have to ask, has there been any thought as to *why*? More to the point, why wouldn't social pressure be involved in enacting explicit social contracts? If we view social pressure as a cultural survival mechanism, unfair as it is to an individual anecdotally, what value is drawn from it?

Obviously, Americans and Chinese have both moved away from its use as a cultural tool, sort of. We no longer rely on parents as inviolate owners of children; CPS departments all over the place routinely confiscate children when abuse is identified. And the Chinese have more authoritarian ways of nurturing children and sharing resources. But based on that I still can't see a future where we all don't pressure each other into behaviors of one kind or another. Shame is powerful; the LGBT movement is using it to great effect by invoking American liberty shibboleths, for one example. One day soon, they'll probably win their cause.

Tim H. said...

SteveO, I expect the primary use for asteroid mining will be for off-planet construction. Some of that material will make it dirt-side as an expensive curiosity for those with more money than sense, it'll be years before we see a lot of it, even if there's a process, do-able up there and nowhere else that's useful here.

LarryHart said...

A while back, I paraphrased this Keynes quote that Paul Krugman likes to use, but he just referred to it again in his blog today, so here's the direct quote:


4. Anything along the lines of “we need long-run solutions, not short-run fixes” may sound sophisticated, but it’s actually just the opposite. Take it away, Maynard:

-> But this long run is a misleading guide
-> to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.
-> Economists set themselves too easy, too useless
-> a task if in tempestuous seasons they can
-> only tell us that when the storm is long past
-> the ocean is flat again.


Point being, in order to be of any worldly use, economists can't just think long term, but must offer short term solutions to immediate problems.

locumranch said...

Statistically speaking, economists have better hindsight than foresight.

Most economic predictions are reminiscent of 'Jimmy the Greek", a 1970's TV Sports Commentator & Bookie, who was famous for picking 'winners', despite an statistically impressive 80% failure rate.

Best.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

Statistically speaking, economists have better hindsight than foresight.


The ones who actually have influence over policy (American and European) unfortunately don't even have hindsight. The fact that their own predictions (hyperinflation and soaring interest rates) fail to materialize doesn't change their mind about anything. The fact that their policies (austerity and tax cuts) don't fix recessions, but actually make them worse doesn't alter their devotion to those "solutions".

Meanwhile, Krugman has been spot-on in his predictions--predictions actually made ahead of time. He's marginalized among the influential economists, not because he gets the numbers wrong, but because the story those numbers tell don't jibe with the oligarchs' agenda.

SteveO said...

"How did you price delta-v?"

Well granted, this varies a lot. The slow road - high Isp long-return time is less expensive than high-thrust, short return time chemical rockets. So let's say we can go that route - sending robo-tenders with loads of xenon and big solar panels to return stuff from asteroids over years.

So, do we send back ore, most of which we will end up throwing away, or do we refine there, and incur whatever costs for remote mining and refining?

I think getting it from the asteroid to Earth is not a unimaginably huge cost (it just has to fall in to Eartyh and be at the right place at the right time), but getting it down to Earth and slowing it down is. A momentum tether could work, but man, that is a balancing act like no other and then you incur additional costs for the delta-v to send half your mass on a "backward" orbit to balance the tether momentum. (Tony, that is the only way I could think of to harness all that kinetic energy and why I put a tether into the discussion. If you know of some other way to harness he gravitational potential energy of going from the asteroid belt to Earth, let me know.)

Even if one grants this is possible and affordable, space mining still has to be differentially cheaper than pulling it out of the ground and refining it here (or provide something that is not available here). Mining and refining technology is really well optimized, so you are going to have to show that the total process cost, from going out there, bringing it back, refining it, and getting it to market is cheaper than Earth-bound mining and refining. And that is not even counting market price depression due to an increased supply. Even mining light elements in space would have a tough time making economic sense without a large humans in space infrastructure - a heck of a lot more than ISS.

I don't see it as incremental development - it is not at all like building a petroleum, or even hydrogen, economy step by step, for example. There are fundamental upfront energy costs without concomitant high energy density benefits. The benefits are achievable with less energy and cost right here. It is actually a constantly challenging endeavor to make money mining here on Earth. (Look at EVA for most mining companies and then wonder why anyone does it.)

Also, keep in mind I *STRONGLY* believe we need to do this. One of my big long-term fears is that exactly this economic thinking rules...until we don't have economically viable mineral and energy resources, and then it is too late to get out there to where they are still available and we are stuck on Earth, mining our trash heaps until the next big rock hits us.

TimH - yep, and then you get chicken and egg. You need cheap materials to make economic sense to do anything at that scale on orbit, but you need an economic reason to go there. A lesson of the past 50 years of space exploration is that you can't bootstrap yourself up there - the well is just too deep. Now maybe if someone figures out how to build power generation satellites and bring that power down here...

I must admit, I have my long-term hopes pinned strongly on a space elevator.

LarryHart said...

SteveO:

A lesson of the past 50 years of space exploration is that you can't bootstrap yourself up there - the well is just too deep. Now maybe if someone figures out how to build power generation satellites and bring that power down here...


If only there was a way to leverage the extra energy currently responsible for global warming. I'm sure that suggestion is an impossibility on the order of a perpetual motion machine, but it makes a nice fantasy.

SteveO said...

Larry, if you invent that, you win. :)

Problem is that entropy wins. You need some sort of gradient to do work, and global warming is too diffuse to do anything with.

locumranch said...

What about an earth-to-space thermocouple?

All we'd need is an orbiting satellite dangling numerous 50 mile long strands composed of two non-homologous conducting metals, coated with a super-strong non-conducting polymer.

Imagine a low-orbital technological Man-of-War jelly: It would dangle its tentacle thermocouples into a warm atmospheric soup while its body is exposed to the chill of space.

Assuming that we could compensate for orbital decay, it could generate unlimited electricity while cooling the earth's atmosphere.

Ian Gould said...

"The ones who actually have influence over policy (American and European) unfortunately don't even have hindsight. The fact that their own predictions (hyperinflation and soaring interest rates) fail to materialize doesn't change their mind about anything. The fact that their policies (austerity and tax cuts) don't fix recessions, but actually make them worse doesn't alter their devotion to those "solutions"."

Speakign as soemone who actually knows economists and reads the economics journals on occasionm those policies are not advocated by the majority of economists.

Please don't confuse economics, the academic discipline, with economic policy.

Ian Gould said...

While we're talkign abotu crazy ideas: how about a cooling system for returning spacecraft that actually captures and stores the heat energy generated throguh re-entry?

Use a liquid-metal collant of the type propsoed for breeder reactors, store the heated metal and recover the heat later.

Or develop some ultra-efficent thermo-electric converting material and beam the pwoer to the ground or back to a satellite.

Ian Gould said...

Here's a thought for using all that rubble left over from asteroid mining (and preventing it from becoming space junk), variations on this idea have been proposed by a number of people including the late Bob Forward.

Build an Orion-style pusher plate on the back of a spacecraft.

In Earth orbit, convert the rock into standard-sized blocks then throw them at the specacraft.

So long as you hit your target and the rocks are travelling faster than the vessel, they'll cause it to accelerate.

Since the launcher, which could be a simple mechanical device or a railgun if the metal content in the reaction mass was high enough, sits in Earth orbit, it can be as big and heavy as you like and with a bit of targetting can service multiple spacecraft.

There's another refinement on this idea where you resupply a manned spacecraft with food and water en route. Of course, you'd have to be very confident of the technology before you tried that.

Tim H. said...

SteveO, the bootstrapping has begun, slowly. What's unfolding is one of those times that great wealth can do something more useful than what we've seen lately, all it'll take is a few wealthy folk, willing to risk a giga-bundle to live some Jerry Pournelle and Ben Bova stories. As refined metals become available the economics of space-based solar power start looking better, and microwave power transmission has been demonstrated. Just don't hold your breath waiting for it, it'll take decades.

SteveO said...

Hi locumranch,

You aren't really talking about a thermocouple there, but a notion that you could use space as a heat sink. Well vacuum (or near vacuum anyway) is a problem. It is a great insulator, which is why the shuttle had to have huge radiant heat exchangers to keep the crew from baking in their own heat. Not many atoms to carry away heat. (If we are talking LEO, then there are atoms there, but they are moving at about 1500°C, so they are not going to be doing anything but heating up your heat exchanger.) You would have to get rid of heat by radiation, and a given source would eventually reach the MBR temp of 3K, but that takes a long while. And that is ignoring that the sun will heat it up every day. I kind of think your method would be a way of pumping heat into the atmosphere, rather than the opposite.

We could imagine thermoelectric heat pump, but we still have to pump the heat somewhere. And, of course, generate that current without increasing the CO2 load.

Hi Ian,

Well I am not a rocket scientist, just an engineer (I teach rocket scientists though), but I see a couple of problems with the "capture the heat" idea, though it is cool. (Pun intended...)

Most fundamentally, anything you are going to use to store heat, you are going to have to spend energy to put up there. So if we line a capsule with, say, a metallic sodium layer with some sort of a heat exchanger, you have to spend more energy to get that capsule to orbit that you would have otherwise. You might be able to get back some of that as heat, but TANSTAAFL, always some fraction of what you put in. Same thing for thermo-electric. At best, you are only trying to recapture some of the energy you used to put it up there in the first place.

Also not so sure astronauts are going to want a hot liquid metal that explodes on contact with water surrounding them during splashdown.

My idea for the momentum tether uses the basic idea you have about a modified Orion. My idea there was to replace the momentum you lose dipping something down to Earth with whacking it from the other direction with the next load. For a spaceship, you would still have to redirect the mass, and that costs energy.

Entropy is playing a fixed game - you never get more out than you put in.

Ian Gould said...

"Most fundamentally, anything you are going to use to store heat, you are going to have to spend energy to put up there. So if we line a capsule with, say, a metallic sodium layer with some sort of a heat exchanger, you have to spend more energy to get that capsule to orbit that you would have otherwise. You might be able to get back some of that as heat, but TANSTAAFL, always some fraction of what you put in. Same thing for thermo-electric. At best, you are only trying to recapture some of the energy you used to put it up there in the first place."

I'm pretty much just goofing here - but the relevant question is the weight and cost of a heat-recovery system versus the weight and cost of other re-entry shields.

Come to think of it, ablative re-entry shielding would be another potential use for asteroid rubble left over from extracting volatiles.

SteveO said...

Tim, I did some reading up on the Stanford Torus project when, for fun, I was learning how to model in 3-D. (By the way, I moved that model into the Orbiter space flight simulator because I wanted to get an idea of the scope of the thing.) That idea of building power satellites and beaming solar satellite power back to Earth maybe via microwaves, and bootstrapping ourselves up that way might work. (The economics might work - they calculated a 20 year payback, IIRC.)

Still, last I heard, there were some really big engineering problems to overcome to even demonstrate orbital power generation and transmission.

By the way, the Stanford torus had a use for all the slag - that is part of the radiation shielding used to protect the inhabitants in the wheel.

If you can get a self-sustaining economy going like that, then we can start talking about using asteroids.

Robert said...

Here's some food for thought: there are two theories in physics that will likely result in the violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The first? Proton decay. When, a long long long long long time in the future when protons start decaying, eventually the number of atoms out there will be low enough that universal temperatures will start to drop. When the final proton decays (since neutrons are unstable without protons and tend to break apart as well), then won't the temperature of the universe effectively become absolute zero? There are no molecular vibrations... and thus no heat. This one is iffy, and I could see arguments against it (as I'm not sure what happens to subatomic particles and if they decay as well... or electrons).

The second aspect however is Dark Energy. It is believed that eventually Dark Energy will pull galactic clusters apart... galaxies apart... molecules... and eventually atoms themselves. As the universe expands increasingly, the volume of space between atoms increases... which means temperatures will DECREASE (expansion of gases results in cooling).

Just a little something to gnaw upon.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

@Rob:

1. Entropy is a measure of disorder, or the tendency toward energy homogeneity ('heat death') This would hold on protons *and* their decay products.

2. Apart from applying subatomic processes to a macro situation, I don't think the analogy holds. An expanding gas drops in temperature because it is doing work (pushing against piston/ other gas) which slows molecules. I think you'll find that gas expanding into a void doesn't cool since it isn't pushing against anything. The infamous ice fountains of urine dumps in space occurs because liquid is boiling, an endothermic process that causes the remaining liquid to freeze.

I think the problem is that you are using the classical 'second law of thermodynamics' to describe non-classical situations. The basic concepts (eg entropy) may still apply, but need to be phrased differently.

eg 'temperature' is merely a classical description of kinetic energy of gas particles. That energy can just as easily exist as motion or as photons.

Tom Craver said...

David: "please read Tank Farm Dynamo to see your idea illustrated"

Sure - that has most of the elements of what I'm recommending as a more rational alternative to going directly to a space elevator.

Though only providing momentum transfer for LEO maneuvering is kind of limiting, and I wonder if the benefit is worth the pain of needing to launch at the right time to rendezvous with the transfer station.

I had in mind a tether long enough to do most of the work of transfer to LEO (a substantial reduction in launch costs), and eventually long enough and with enough counter-weight mass to provide very cheap launch to intercept asteroids. (Or the moon. Or Mars. Or...)

Paul451 said...

Tim H.,
"I expect the primary use for asteroid mining will be for off-planet construction. Some of that material will make it dirt-side as an expensive curiosity for those with more money than sense,"

I think there's a tendency to assume that any asteroid mining must be for a single purpose, and on a global scale at once. But if we can get to the point where we can supply propellant from non-terrestrial sources, it greatly lowers the cost of most space activities, including itself. And then, supplying non-terrestrial water/oxygen for the ISS (and future markets) would be almost free, a kind of by-catch. Trying to supply the ISS as your primary market almost certainly wouldn't pay enough to cover the cost, but adding it as an additional market would be cost effective. Then every additional market is adding a small cost of new equipment, by leveraging the resources already available.

For example, it would be only a small step beyond that to create a crude material for, say, bulk shielding for manned beyond-Earth-orbit missions. Bricks or tiles baked from asteroid/lunar regolith. And then, a certain percentage of the composition of asteroids is raw metal. Ie, metallic iron, 5-10% nickel, trace amounts of other material. You really only need one extra bit of equipment to process that in to simple structural shapes: bars and panels. Enough to allow you to build simple enclosed structures, or trusses. This also reduces the mass you need to launch to build large structures in space; space stations, BEO manned spaceships, lunar/Martian bases.

And so on, gradually building up the "hardware store" of available parts. (Possibly what you had in mind?)

But once you get to that point, once it's self-funding, bring any material back to Earth is essentially free. You already have fuel to transport to and from the asteroids, you already have systems that autonomously extract the required material, you have systems that processes metals into basic shapes. So bringing back, say the ever popular platinum-group-metals, shaped into their own reentry vehicle, is a fairly small additional cost in fuel and time.

(ristra ocipseal: Negotiate Ristra without risking social Faux pas by displaying a suitably coloured Ocipseal. Available from all good Ocippa stores.)

Paul451 said...

SteveO,
"sending robo-tenders with loads of xenon"
"do we send back ore, most of which we will end up throwing away, or do we refine there, and incur whatever costs for remote mining and refining?"

Again, you are looking at the end-goal system, on a scale large enough to destroy its own market, and assuming we get there in one step. You are saying "asteroid mine" and picturing a typical scale Earth mine.

Many first-step proposals are for things like volatiles for fuel. The point being that "Mining" means heating and capturing water vapour. "Ore" is water. And "Refining" means then splitting water into O2/H2 via solar powered electrolysis. All of which can be scaled down to something you can fit in the back of your car. (Or alternatively those proposing using in-situ materials for base construction, to lower costs for manned BEO missions, where "Mining" means running a magnet over the surface to attract iron. "Ore" is already metallic iron. "Refining" means casting metal into simple shapes.)

And Planetary Resources appears to have a business model of developing the tools in stages, allowing each stage to find secondary markets, to fund the next stage. Incrementally building up the knowledge, equipment, and market for eventual asteroid mining.

Critics of asteroid mining (and to be fair, many many advocates) talk about step-400 as if it's step-one. Such as manufacturing solar panels in-situ for SPS, or bringing billions of tons of metallic-iron back to Earth profitably. Hell, even mining PGMs is well into the step-one-hundreds.

Re: Earth's magic heat radiator satellites.

We need the laser cooling system from Sundiver.

(earyjobi essman: Grounder pidgin for older spacers who wear many rings.)

Ian Gould said...

I just did a little figuring - the total market for Neodynium is worth around $2.5 billions (that's 7,000 tonnes at $350/kg. That's the highest recent price and it has been as low as $150/kg).

Now, if supply were increased and prices fell demand would increase -lots of businesses are currently trying to find alternatives to Neodynium magnets.

Dysprosium sells for $2,000 a kilogram but current demand is only around 100 tonnes - worth around $200 million.

All up, the market for Rare Earth Elements is worth, maybe, $5 billion at current prices.

Let's say space mining grabs the entire current market or that increased supply lets them sell an amount equivalent to total demand at current prices.

(China which currently produces 99% of world production would likely be quite happy to cede a good part of the market. Rare Earth Element refining is a nasty business which causes lots of environmental problems.)

So, in theory, you have $5 billion in revenue. Now some of that - maybe 5-10% - is going to be eaten up by transportation and handling costs Earth-side. Once the stuff is landed you still need to warehouse it and transport it to the end-users.

So you have $4.5 billion in net revenue - out of which you have to pay all your current costs AND service your capital cost.

Assuming current costs of $2 billion (you still have all that processing to do and while being in space will solve the environmental problems it will add other costs as well as the whole "move asteroids into Earth orbit" business and "get metal from orbit to Earth" business) you have around $2.5 billion in cash flow for debt service and capital repayment.

Unless, the Google boys are prepared to treat this as a philanthropic venture, you're looking at venture capital rates of return - say 20% per annum.

So, on these incredibly rubbery figures, you might be able to raise around $12 billion to fund the operation.

Anyone know how much Elon Musk has invested in SpaceX to date?

These sort of figures (approximate as they are) is why I favor a graduated approach. Develop in-space tug technology for satellite repositioning, then grab some smallish near-Earth rocks and boil off water and sell it to the ISS operators; then electrolyze water to manufacture propellant and use it to power your space tugs.

Anonymous said...

Hello dear.You have written a great post.
Counter Depth French Door Refrigerator
How to Get Into Acting
Breville Smart Oven
How to Impress Woman
Canon Powershot A800
Adidas Barricade
Adidas Barricade 6.0
Cuisinart TOB-195
Acer 11.6 Netbook
VIZIO M261VP

David Brin said...

Ian ignores the rate of increase of use of these rare earth metals, which has been prodigious and should be projected. Note also that that rate of increase has been braked considerably by price. And that billions of people whose sole tech now is cell phones are moving up to want computers, smart fridges and cars....

...and giving them those things should make a lower price very desirable, even worth some subsidies.

SteveO said...

Hi Paul,

I really am not presuming we jump to end-game on asteroid mining. The end-game is the best possible profitability scenario, and I don't even see that being differentially profitable over terrestrial mining.

I am drawing an explicit parallel here with petroleum exploitation, which built itself up from nonexistence into an entire economy while using a novel recovery technique (drilling) which had pretty much not existed before that. Granted it is an energy source as opposed to primary metals or volatiles on orbit, but the parallel is strong I think. Energy here is as crucial to survival as volatiles there will be.

The problem is that you can't work asteroid mining like petroleum and create the market step-by-step. With petroleum, each barrel you recover fuels your next barrel with lots of energy/money left over, and thus was born an industry.

With asteroid mining, you must spend billions, or maybe only multi-millions, before you can even bring back a kilo of ore, or a liter of water. The entry barrier is like nothing we have ever experienced before. I can only even envision end points (cheap delta-v, large manned space infrastructure) that are marginally if at all profitable. I still can't see a way to get there from here.

It would be like trying get investment to build our entire petroleum economy in 1650 all on speculation, while guessing about the existence of oil under the ground, and without ever having seen a drill, much less modern recovery methods, but with the end game providing less profit margin and crazy risk analyses all along the way.

And obviously you know nothing about metallurgy if you think you cast asteroidal iron as a final product as if it is going to work for anything - just sayin' that as a metallurgical engineer... :-D You probably need to put in more work (and $$$) to turn that into a useable steel alloy than you would starting with hematite (which you are not going to find on any asteroid). Look up the raw material requirements for a blast furnace to understand the scope of what you are proposing. I wonder where you are going to get limestone out of Earth's gravity well...

Again, it has long been a dream of mine that space exploration would finally take off, and I fear the consequences of what will happen if we don't get raw materials from space. It is easy to say, "All the raw materials are out there, it is scientifically possible to get them." It is much harder when you start looking at the details of actually engineering it to happen. This is one way in which a lot of science fiction has not served us well - it makes it easy to believe in faster-than-light travel, so things like asteroid mining seem like they would be trivial. But it is WAAAYYY easier to send men to the Moon than it will be to build a mineral economy in space.

I really really want to believe we are going to do it. Still remains to convince me it is going to happen.

SteveO said...

Ian, I am with you, mate, but I see a major problem.

Neodymium ore contains about 17% Nd. Chrondrites on average contain less than one part per million. (http://meteorites.wustl.edu/goodstuff/ree-chon.htm)

Where are you going to send your space miners to find it? They are concentrated in terrestrial ores by hydrodeposition in alluvial fans. Not going to be much of that on an asteroid.

We didn't even factor the cost of prospecting the asteroid belt into costs so far...

SteveO said...

Oh, and there is nothing "rare" about most rare earths. China just has at this moment most of the mines because they are willing to live with the consequences. If we need it, there are other sources of beach sand ore. So one can't make the argument "We need it and can't make it here." The market and enviro-tech just hasn't caught up to the demand yet. That'll be cheaper than trying to find an asteroid that somehow has concentrated REE ore.

SteveO said...

One more thing - I looked at Planetary Resources' website, and I think they are being incredibly disingenuous.

Yes asteroids have, on average, more of the rare metals than Earth and spread more on the surface - but we don't mine randomly selected spots on Earth. We mine places where one geological process or the other has concentrated whatever mineral we are looking to process. They are going to have to show that asteroids have some sort of astro-mechanism to concentrate minerals to economically viable levels to even mine in the first place.

OK done multi-posting! Have to support my students' final project now!

Jumper said...

I somewhat disagree with SteveO on the metallurgy of asteroids. Energy, vacuum and crude centrifuge - and I mean the crudest setup you could use as a centrifuge; some kind of spin - and crude casting techniques could generate a weak structural material. Considering such beam and plate would be the cheapest you'd find up there, you simply need more for any given structural task. Sure it would be the worst cast metal around. It would also be the best cast metal around. How much strength do you need for a rigid framework? Acres of solar reflector could use an engineered material despite its weakness. It would be in zero G and its function would be to dampen minute vibrations and such. And since you have megatons of it, the energy to melt is pretty much the cost of it.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi SteveO

You seem to be under a misapprehension about "iron" meteorites (and asteroids)
These are not iron ore - they are effectively metal lumps
"The chemical composition is dominated by the elements Fe, Ni and Co, which make up more than 95%."

The Inuit were using pieces hammered off meteorites to give steel (actually nickel iron) to their tools

An iron asteroid could be used for a lot of structural engineering without further refining

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

SteveO said...

I don't know Jumper - I haven't seen anything done with molten steel centrifuging in zero-g. I tend to think it would alloy, and I don't think you would easily be able to separate the component metals. If I melt a meteorite on Earth, I get a contaminated nickel-iron alloy, and a centrifuge wouldn't be markedly different, except you would have some acceleration gradient and probably mixing. Maybe fewer dendrites/smaller crystals? Thermal expansion would be your enemy if you used brittle iron, since anything going from sunlight to not gets huge thermal cycling. Invar is a Ni-Fe low thermal expansion alloy which would be snazzy for space applications, but you would have to figure out a way to get rid of all the unwanted bits at some point and control the ratio. Not sure what vacuum would do to it on top of everything else. Maybe differential electo-deposition? No idea - I don't know much about that.

There has been a lot of metallurgy in space, but more to study phenomena without the influence of gravity-related effects (like convection) which are easier to model. Powder met works fine, but that assumes you start off with your pure alloy or components in powder form.

I think you'd have to come up with a custom space processing for each meteor/asteroid. Yet another reason to send metallurgists to spaaace!

Aluminum would be a better choice - you might get that from moon rock and you can refine it electrolytically if you can make alumina (need oxygen though). Titanium is present, but it is really hard to get it to release. Earth refining for it uses lots of chlorine. Actually, you use a LOT of gasses in metallurgical processing, so we had better grab that passing comet too!

All guesses on my part. Nowadays I don't do metallurgy but for fun. It does kind of demonstrate how much engineering we take for granted that hasn't been done in space.

SteveO said...

Heh, duncan I am well aware of meteoric iron. I was saying that for refining purposes it would be better if they WERE iron oxide. :)

I can make steel from iron oxide in one step with a blast furnace and the other raw materials. I have a lot of steps if I start with Ni-Fe-Co and want to end up with something engineered. Meteoric iron is not much good unless you don't have any other source of steel.

SteveO said...

Sorry - "source of iron" above. Meteoric iron is not in any way steel.

Ian Gould said...

A study of economic mobility in the US by state shows a pattern that will probably be all too familiar to readers of contrarybrin:

http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/story/2012-05-09/state-economic-mobility/54866786/1

all the outperformers except Utah (7 of 8) are blue states.

all 9 underperformers are red states.

So much for the idea of the liberal elite keeping the masses down and so much for the idea that Republican small government and deregulation creates a culture of opportunity.

Ian Gould said...

David, my calculations assume at least a doubling in REE demand (and more likely a four-fold or greater increase).

Unless they're forced out of the market by environmental regulation, the Chinese producers will likely continue production as long as the market price exceeds their marginal price of production.

The US or one of the other major industrialized countries might subsidize space production of REEs for strategic reasons but it'd probably be a lot cheaper to subsidize new REE minesw here on Earth. (In fact there's a bunch of new mining and processing capacity coming on line over the next couple of years meaning we could well end up facing an REE glut. The accountants and MBAs who look over the Planetary Resources busienss plan will factor that risk in.)

Additionally, now that manufacturers have worked out how to minimize the REE component of their prodcuts, they aren't going to suddenly switch back to using more of it unless the price drops drasticly. The latest industrial-sized non-Neodynium permanent magnets aren't that much less powerful and are much cheaper. Except wehre weight and.or power is really critical you won;t see a lot of industries shiftign back to Neodynium.)

SteveO, yes my $10 billion ballpark figure for the market value of a space-based REE industry has to cover not just the launchers, the orbital transfer system, the in-situ processing and the Earth-return phase it also has to cover the whoel detection process.

One bit of good news on that front: about 8% of meterorits are achondrites meaning they resemble Terrestrial igneous rocks. The largest subgroup of achondrites are the HED group, beleived to have originated from impacts on the asteroid Vesta.

Vesta is rounded and this together with the igneous nature of the HED meteorities suggests it had a molten core at one stage and the various sugroups of HED suggest it underwent a fairly active geological period early on - so there's a decent chance soem sort of concentration processes have occured.

There are also examples of Lunar, Martian etc rocks in meteorites.

So I strongly suspect there are millions of tons of reasonably concentrated mineral ores out there - mixed in amongst trillions of tons of other rock and spread out over an almost inconceivable amount of nothing.

A few more general remarks: my sloppy figures is based on a space REE industry operating in a vaccuum (yes, I know). In practice, much of the capital cost of the system (like the launchers) will be sread over a bunch of different users.

Jumper said...

My speculations are about structural materials made outside gravity wells for use outside gravity wells. Import / export to and from gravity wells is as I've mentioned before, going to come later. The guys here who are discussing mining are right. Heck, right now you can scoop up very high-quality magnetite sand in Peru. (see Cardero Resources

Getting a volume of H2O at a nickel-iron asteroid won't be cheap. I'd find a way to smelt without it.

I see NASA turns up empty on a simple search for "Cruithne." Maybe I'm doing something wrong.

Paul451 said...

Jumper,
"I see NASA turns up empty on a simple search for "Cruithne." Maybe I'm doing something wrong."

Cruithne led me on a wikipedia link chase through Irish systems of inheritance, such as "gelfine", and tanistry, which led to Anglo-Saxon systems which were replaced by primogeniture, at which point things tended to be ugly and brutish. (Gelfine, and its like, are systems when the clan leader would be chosen by a vote of the men in a line of decent from a common grandfather (Or great-grandfather or even great-great-great-grandfather in the case of "indfine".) And in Irish, Scottish and early Anglo-Saxon systems of tanistry/Aetheling, they would alternate the lines of King and Prince-Regent (the Tane) between different lines within the family. So while the Tane was a son of a King, he was rarely the son of the current King, and would be considered the oldest and wisest of the living eligible Princes, as elected by all eligible (male) family members.

But it's interesting, with David's theme about the oligarchs being "the true enemy for 6000 years", that for that entire time, and in a myriad ways, societies have been trying to fight against the trend toward the primogeniture of rule. Even when they accepted some kind of elite/nobility, and a need for a single ruler, they still tried to distribute power or succession, even within that system.

It's a lesson we keep having to learn over and over and over...

locumranch said...

Amazing how different people can look at the same data and arrive at the opposite conclusion.

An Australia concludes that most Red states are economic underperformers because they are conservative and most Blue states are economic powerhouses because they are liberal, whereas a US Citizen such as myself comes to the opposite conclusion, that the Red states are conservative because they are economically poor and the Blue states are liberal because they relatively rich.

I put it to you that relative 'liberality' is a function of wealth. Not the other way around.

Also, I see little different between the principle of primogeniture (leadership and/or succession by birth order, royalty & aristocracy) and 'leadership by expertise' wherein the so-called experts are scientifically trained, culled & selected by an exclusive society that values conformity, political correctness and consensus.

As if 'Science' can tell a person or a society the best way to live.

Best.

Robert said...

It works a hell of a lot better than basing leadership on who had sex with who. The concept of the meritocracy suggests that if you train and study hard enough you can achieve power and influence. Thanks to the limited meritocracy of the United States culture, a half-black man raised by a single mother of a middle class family managed to become a millionaire (partly driven through sales of a book on his life) and then the leader of that country.

If the U.S. was based off of primogeniture then we'd be led by the descendants of Washington or another Founding Father, Congress would be the House of Nobles, and there would be no real ability for people to shift social classes through hard work and effort.

Hmm. I wonder which is better. Let's see... how does the fact someone is the child of a "leader" that has been passed on through various generations make them a worthwhile leader?

Rob H.

locumranch said...

A traditional argument, one that the aristocracy has used to justify its own existence.

An aristocracy that is predestined to rule trains and educates its children with rulership in mind. Ergo, the aristocracy considers itself the de facto experts -- the cream of the meritocracy -- when it comes to rulership.

That's the problem with meritocracy: Who determines merit in a meritocracy? A qualified elite or an unqualified electorate? And, if we allow the elite to determine merit, what is to prevent the elite from giving preference to itself?

Only hindsight can determine merit, so those who support a scientific meritocracy commit the same error.

Think of Einstein. He was an unqualified patent clerk, unfit to be a bottle washer, who dropped out of school because his theories were thought to be without merit by a qualified scientific elite.

Is this the kind of future you want to wish on our children? A future where Einstein is condemned to be remembered as a patent clerk?

Best.

Robert said...

You honestly do not listen to yourself, do you.

To quote a certain swordsman from "The Princess Bride," "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Aristocracy does not train its children. It does not select the best suited as a leader. It states that by right of what family they were born into, and by the dictates of God, they rule.

This is not a meritocracy. Do not confuse it with meritocracy. And if you insist on confusing it with meritocracy then I have no idea how you are able to actually use a computer, let alone the Internet.

Einstein succeeded in a meritocracy. His ideas did not meet the beliefs of the existing scientific community... but were shown to be accurate and correct and thus through merit he achieved greatness. It does not matter he did not have a doctoral degree when he espoused his theories. It does not matter he was a patent clerk. By Merit he was shown to be a profound scientific mind.

Having the "scientific elite" dismiss him because of his lack of credentials would be aristocracy. Not meritocracy.

Now let me suggest something: go to the local library and get the largest and newest dictionary that you can. Then read it all the way through and pay particular attention to the meaning of multi-syllable words. Do not let your existing belief on what those words color what the dictionary says. It is more likely correct than you are.

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

SteveO,
"Meteoric iron is not much good unless you don't have any other source of [iron]"

I disagree, meteoric iron has historically been highly valued due to its superior strength and ductility (**). I agree that it's not equal to any engineered alloys, but considering what you can achieve with wrought-iron, a better-than-wrought-iron and cheaper-than-launched-alloys basic bulk construction material would be of great use in space once you are actually assembling structures too large to launch in one piece (or a few self-contained modules).

(** and magical properties, one of the big surprises we are in for once asteroid mining takes off... This is how we'll solve the FTL problem, IMO. Abracadabra!)

From what I've read of (and been told by) the guys doing in-situ resource utilisation experiments, surprisingly simple processing is required to go from meteorite iron (even as fragments in simulated lunar-regolith, which is their primary interest) to cast structures. Apparently the fragments even allow you to microwave-sinter regolith into bricks/tiles stronger than concrete. The metal filings heat up from the microwaves, the molten iron melts the surrounding grains into a glassy-rock, the mixed materials giving it extra strength and reducing brittleness (teeny tiny threads of rebar.) Likewise, nickel-iron, even impure nickel-iron, should be able to tolerate thermal cycling extremely well (it's basically crude maraging steel.)

(The apparent brittleness of meteoric iron from small fragments is supposedly due to heating during reentry. Larger pieces have un-heated cores which are much better for working. The nickel makes it a bitch to work, too strong, requiring a hotter forge (or, as one hobby site put it, "a much bigger hammer"). But the end result is a superior metal to traditionally-forged (that is, historical, not modern) steel.)

Paul451 said...

SteveO,
"With asteroid mining, you must spend billions, or maybe only multi-millions, before you can even bring back a kilo of ore, or a liter of water. I still can't see a way to get there from here."

Science. There are "markets" already spending billions on space probes to asteroids/comets and the like. There are more spending hundreds of millions. The market for those who would spend hundreds of thousands is, I'd expect, large. That seems to be the first decade of Planetary Resources' business plan. Built lower-cost science equipment (disposable, by aerospace standards) to make space science affordable for much lower priority research, thus expanding the customer base. Use that revenue to fund the next iteration of the technology, and the next. Eventually, 15-20yrs from now, you have low-cost equipment capable of bringing back small amounts of volatiles, a few kilograms each.

Meanwhile, there are other players working on parallel technology. Canadian MDA is leverage its robotic expertise (they built the Canadarm and Dextre) to develop satellite refuelling. They had (but lost) an anchor-client, Intelsat. However, the US DoD has done satellite refuelling demonstrators. And recently NASA included a satellite refuelling experiment on the ISS. (And NASA has long had an internal faction pushing for fuel-depot centric BEO missions, instead of the current ineffective obsession with Big Rockets. They may be starting to make headway.)

If Planetary Resources' clients are bringing back small amounts of volatiles at the same time as satellite refuelling (or fuel depots) closes its business case (using fuel launched from Earth), someone is inevitably going to bid to supply the LEO market with non-terrestrial fuel. Meanwhile, refuelable/reusable technology makes asteroid missions cheaper. Which makes asteroid mining cheaper... 'Round and 'round it goes. Virtuous cycle.

David Brin said...

Argh. Firefox has abandoned me and Safari has gone twitchy. And I see there is no Chrome for Mac OS 10.4.11

I really want to keep using my PowerPC OS 10.4.11 mac for a while longer.

I know I asked this recently... but can you guys recommend a simple backup browser that'd work on my machine, when Safari flakes?

Robert said...

I know that at work, we use a lower grade of Firefox than what is currently out there (we do our work on software that utilizes the browser). When a computer accidentally upgrades, we force downgrade the system and then lock out further upgrades to Firefox.

You should be able to download a previous version of Firefox, install it, and forbid it from looking for updates.

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

Locumranch,
The idea of Einstein as a high-school drop-out, forced to toil in obscurity as a patent clerk, is a myth. He excelled in his first school, when he was ten he was mentored by Max Talmey (then a medical student and friend of the family) in maths and philosophy. Einstein left his German highschool due to its rigid teaching style, and applied to jump directly into university. He was rejected, even though he excelled in his science/maths exams, because of difficulties in other subjects (again due to the crappy German schools), so (on the personal advice of the principle of the university) he applied to an elite Swiss school where he did brilliantly, and when he reapplied at the same Swiss university, still a year below their normal enrolment age, he was accepted. He published his first four papers the same year he received his doctorate, all revolutionary, none rejected. Ten years later, during which he corresponded widely amongst the scientific elite of the era and was considered one of their own, he published his papers on general relativity. Four years later it was independently verified, and just two years later, 1921 (just 16 years after receiving his doctorate) he received the Nobel prize for his work on the photoelectric effect.

That's not the story of someone shunned by the "elites" and forced to work in obscurity.

The only things that come close to supporting the myth are his dissatisfaction with rigid German highschools, and a couple of years while he was getting his doctorate when he couldn't get a teaching position (which resulted in a friend getting him the patent office job, which freed him up to work on the multiple papers he published in 1905.) Everything else is a genius kid being recognised and supported by almost everyone he met.

locumranch said...

That Einstein was a genius, this is indisputable, confirmed by 20/20 hindsight. That his theories were universally accepted & acclaimed from the moment of their creation, this is yet another myth, the myth being that a stable culture is capable of either predicting, identifying or embracing change.

Whereas Aristocracy is defined as a government or rule chosen by birth or heredity, Meritocracy is defined as government or rule by persons chosen for their superior talents or intellect rather than birth.

The key word in both definitions is 'chosen'. Chosen by what or whom?

In the case of meritocracy, the choosing force is ill-defined, conflicted in terms of preexisting authority and ill-equipped in terms of an electorate. In the case of aristocracy, the choosing force is also ill-defined, most often in terms of divine bloodlines, history or an accident of birth.

It therefore follows that the difference between meritocracy & aristocracy is largely a matter of perspective. The meritocracy argues that the metaphorical cream (the best & brightest) will rise to the top, and the aristocracy argues that it represents the metaphorical cream (the best & brightest) because it is already at the top.

One could argue that Einstein's genius was recognized by historical accident, simply because his theories were proposed at a time of social instability when an old social and intellectual order was being destroyed & replaced by the new, as in WW1 and WW2.

This is the error that proponents of elite scientific or expert rule have made and continue to make:

The new must replace the old or the old will stifle the new.

Best.

Doug said...

As an amateur metalurgist, who's worked with meteoric steel, I don't see the problem if you want to get a workable steel out of a mostly-iron asteroid. Assuming it's composition is the same as most meteorites, we're talking 5-25% Ni, a trace of cobalt, and the remainder iron.

For knifemaking use a group of us made steel from one a few weeks ago, melting a low-nickle meteor in a crucible with 10% carbon (charcoal fines) resulting in a nice wootz-like hyper-eutectic carbon steel. While we did this only on a small scale in atmosphere and in a gravity well, I can think of several ways that might work in space. The method we used certainly resulted in a lovely knife.

From research on plasma-reduction of hazardous waste, I've read that as part of the recycling process associated with that the researchers use differential condensation to separate out different elements and compounds -- blast the whole lot with 5000 degree plasma until it vaporizes, then run the vapor through a gradually cooling pipe. If they can make a large enough parabolic mirror, no need for a plasma torch, either -- just vaporize it all in a big bag, then start cooling it, separating out the desired elements as they condense on the cooling element.

It will be hard. It will be expensive. I would expect the first attempts to fail, go bankrupt, or otherwise turn out to be more of a pain than it's worth. Not impossible, though, and over time, given a few decades of research and development, I expect it would return great yields and profits.

Robert said...

Meritocracy is determined often by testing. Such things as civil service examinations would allow people with the specific needed skills to achieve jobs in government or the private sector. It is NOT determined by the whims of a all-deciding benign dictator or the like as you seem to once more be claiming. Also, the "new" is not necessarily better than the "old."

You've already stated in your past your preference for anarchy over government structures. Anarchy doesn't work because it inevitably becomes "Might Makes Right" or more specifically "My Might Makes Me More Right Than You." Even fictional anarchistic societies often use some sort of structure; one such example in webcomics has the Anarchist States actually ruled by a nominal Meritocracy (and with a bare minimum of laws, thus it being anarchy) while the state itself is manipulated by an Artificial Sentience that sees all nations as corrupt and needing to be overthrown.

So give it up. Anarchy is doomed to failure. Structure is not a bad thing.

Rob H.

SteveO said...

Hi Paul,

I dabbled a little bit in archeological metallurgy. (I had a T.J. Watson fellowship to study medieval swords and sword making - fascinating stuff for another time.)

Meteorite iron is only good for weapons relative to iron (or "pig iron") or bronze. Primitive steels would have been much better for weapons, assuming they were able to deslag sufficiently. I was able to find this paper where they reported strengths for a forged meteoric Ni-Fe wire in tensile testing: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1970Metic...5...63K They came up with around 60 ksi. Structural steel is about the same. 1090 (good for making swords, easily obtainable using ancient methods) is about twice that at about 122 ksi. Maraging steel is way higher - about 390 ksi. The range of compression strength of 16-60 ksi is worrying, since that is more likely to be a failure point in some sort of space construction.

Still, not saying you couldn't use it, but you would face a whole host of unknown engineering issues since Ni-Fe is not a construction material on this planet since you can get better and cheaper steel. If you could refine it somehow, it would actually have some good thermal expansion properties, which would be a critical design parameter for space construction.

I don't object to doing that research! I am just saying that when a scientist says, "All these great elements are there - we can build with them and sell them! The engineer can figure out the trivial problems of actually doing so," an engineer somewhere rolls his or her eyes knowing that what to a scientist is "trivial" could be economically or logistically impossible. This is really a "devil in the details" thing. I think I can definitively say that space resource exploitation will not be anything like a no-brainer as Planetary Resources describes.

Sintering regolith would make a fine "cinderblock" component - but nobody on Earth is going to pay for rego-bricks. That would be cool for in-situ habitation construction though. Funny how we start at the beginning in a new frontier - back to building with bricks!

But don't lose sight of the fact that we have to have an economic reason to build something or it won't happen, at least long term. Apollo being the exception that proves that rule.

SteveO said...

Hey Doug - cool! I'll bet that is beautiful! I'd love to see a picture. I dabble in knife and sword-making my own self.

I am trying to put myself into space though. It is hard, because one can't assume anything you can rely on here is going to work. (Which is also why you should take anything I say with a big grain of salt - doin' my metallurgical best to CITOKATE here!)

The Wootz-like steel layers you see are a product of gravity and how dentrites form in the presence of convection, along with some density sorting, if I recall correctly. (I chatted with an archeological metallurgist who duplicated the Wootz steel process, but that was a long while ago.)

None of that is going to happen in space. You have totally different (actually easier to model, but way different that we are used to) metal kinetics in micro-g. You might, as suggested earlier, centrifuge it, but I have no real idea how that would work on an industrial scale.

You need a source of carbon, plus a source of oxygen to burn off the extra carbon (like a BOF) if you want to end up with steel. Being on Earth that is no problem. But that is a big problem up there. And you are going to have to figure how to control the elemental components - variability is the bane of a large-scale project.

Anyway, never said it would be impossible, just that it is a lot harder to make steel from the presumed asteroid composition than it would be to make it on Earth.

PLUS iron meteors come from a thermally sorted and concentrated source (e.g. Vesta). Our target asteroids are likely going to be a bunch of Al-Si rich regolith - basically basalt. Not too many meteors (or chunks of metal) lying around! (Probably some meteors hit the asteroids, but finding meteors is no way to build a scalable economy.)

TheMadLibrarian said...

A fast rundown on what you might expect to find mineral-wise, as an asteroid miner (disclaimer, I collect meteorites for a hobby, so I have a working idea if not a comprehensive one):
Iron meteorites are mostly iron (duh!), nickel and cobalt, with trace amounts of other metals like germanium, gallium, magnesium, iridium, etc.
Stony meteorites are surprisingly rich in free iron; terrestrial rocks are exposed to our oxidizing atmosphere, so most iron is bound as oxides. The stony components are mostly other metal oxides and compounds, appearing as plagioclases and hypersthenes, with the occasional olivine crystal, and a fair porportion of aluminum. Asteroid scientists are still working out compositions, let alone how and why the various things accreted the way they did. Strangely enough, the DAWN mission to Vesta thinks they have found pockets of water ice!
The valuable ones are going to be your carbonaceous chondrites, rich in volatiles, carbon compounds, CAI (calcium-aluminum inclusions), and other stuff useful to human habitation.
The devil will indeed be in the details. I suspect the next step will be setting up a machine shop in orbit to thrash out processing techniques in zero-gee, once you get an orbiting chunk in easy reach.

TheMadLibrarian
ndsommen thoples: tiny Gaelic pastries consumed on Midsummer's Eve

Tim H. said...

Two browsers I've used on 10.4 systems,
http://www.floodgap.com/software/tenfourfox/ based on mozilla code, optimized for PPC. icab.de, based on webkit. One I haven't tried, but read some good comment on, caminobrowser.org, also built on webkit, hope one of these works for you.

David Brin said...

Locumranch is back to normal! Like this incredible piece of nonsense rationalization:

"In the case of meritocracy, the choosing force is ill-defined, conflicted in terms of preexisting authority and ill-equipped in terms of an electorate. In the case of aristocracy, the choosing force is also ill-defined, most often in terms of divine bloodlines, history or an accident of birth. It therefore follows that the difference between meritocracy & aristocracy is largely a matter of perspective."

Choke sputter cough barf. What utter donkey hockey! The sort of thing that subjectivist cynics like L actually think make sense. Both Postmodernist dolts on the left and far more numerous anti-science trogs on the right do this.

In fact, there are many varieties of meritocracy and many of them rely either wholly or partially on objective things to discern ability. Like the performance of standardized tasks to prove skill, or comparative/timed trials in which all candidates take on the same difficult or even insoluble problem. Then there are competitive tests that compare outcomes from simulation games, or teambuilding tests.

Or (Einstein again) the ultimate meritocracy of science, being proved right by experimental comparisions against objective reality.

"One could argue that Einstein's genius was recognized by historical accident, simply because his theories were proposed at a time of social instability"

Yes! One COULD argue that... if one were utterly ill informed and warped by preconceived notions to see only what fit your cynical model. I agree, a smart dope COULD make that argument.

David Brin said...

Doug, terrific comment on making meteorite blades! What a great story. But good answer SteveO re cavils. Blowing carbon through the melt is clearly crucial. Mad Librarian also. What a group we have!

And thanks TimH

David Brin said...

onward