Thursday, April 23, 2015

What about Alien Life?

== Other types of life? ==

A theorized cell membrane, composed of smaller organic nitrogen compounds and capable of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees beneath zero, might be the basis for “living” cells on Titan. The analogue to Earthly, water based liposomes (the basis of our own cells), published in Science Advances, shows the exact same stability and flexibility that Earth's analogous liposome does.  One component - Acrylonitrile -- a colorless, poisonous, liquid organic compound utilized in the manufacture of acrylic fibers, resins and thermoplastics -- is present in Titan's atmosphere.

Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, has an underground ocean that contains more water than Earth's. As of now, scientists estimate the ocean is 10 times deeper than Earth's oceans and is buried under a 95-mile (150-kilometer) crust made up of mostly ice. Researchers found that Jupiter's own magnetic field interacts with Ganymede's, causing a rocking motion in the aurorae. This motion is reduced by magnetic friction applied by the presence of Ganymede's underground ocean.

Shelley Wright, an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego who led the development of the new IR SETI detector instrument used at Lick  - NIROSETI (near-infrared optical SETI), will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed to for potential signs of other civilizations.  Because near-infrared light penetrates farther through gas and dust than visible light, this new search will extend to stars thousands rather than merely hundreds of light years away. “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said SETI scientist and optical SETI pioneer Dan Werthimer of UC Berkeley.

Lee Billings — now astro-editor at Scientific American — explores the implications of a recent search for Kardashev level-3 civilizations: Alien Super-civilizations absent from 100,000 Nearby Galaxies searched with the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). An important part of possibility space! (So to speak.) Here's the original paper. 

NASA's interdisciplinary NExSS Initiative will assemble teams across diverse scientific fields to search for signs of life on exoplanets.

A review article: The Search for Signs of Life on Exoplanets at the Interface of Chemistry and Planetary Science, by Sara Seager and William Bains.

 == Three Principles of Alien Life ==

It has been asserted that we should ponder our relationships with aliens based on Three Principles of Life that we have actually observed in nature.

1- Reproductive (Darwinian) self-interest. This principle is inherently competitive and often a zero-sum game… though cooperation is an emergent property. And indeed, the healthy ecosystem that emerges from species competing for survival can take on many traits of positive sum. (The “Circle of Life.”) Such layerings are important to consider! 

Still, this “life principle” is rough-edged. It drove past First Contacts between human civilizations and teaches a caution in dealing with aliens.

2 - Kinship based altruism. Reproductive self-interest leads directly to care for our mates and young, a trait that can sometimes spread outward a bit. Or even a lot. In the most “intelligent” Earth species – e.g. humans and dolphins – we see many cases where altruism becomes a propelling force in its own right.  

In our society, where millions of young people have had their lower Maslovian needs satiated from birth, curiosity and diversity and expanding the circle of inclusion have become quasi-religious imperatives.  So much so that it is assumed that all advanced life forms will eventually do the same thing. Indeed, super-aliens are deemed likely to have transcended all of the bad old reflexes, into states of true beneficence.  

Well... perhaps... if they have the underlying satiability-empathy traits of humans and dolphins.

3 - Quid pro quo. While altruism may seem “higher,” it is actually rooted in deeply self-interested reflexes – the caring for our young. Hence, indeed, it is the concept of fairness in exchange of favors that is truly the third trait. Even animals grasp this basic concept.

"I'll do something for you, if you do something for me."

There are complex dynamics among these three basic principles, bringing one... then the other to the fore.

The problem is that so many of our thinkers emphasize one, to the exclusion of others.  Liberal-progressive thought emphasizes the outward expansion of empathy and inclusion, in #2... which is laudable and admirable, but also conditional upon the present advanced and successful society in which satiability and satiation encourage the inclusion process. Which is also highly dependent upon the underlying response patterns of gregarious apes, for whom satiation DOES (sometimes) encourage horizon expansion... something that would not happen with, say, bears.

There is no guarantee that these conditions will last forever, or apply in many other places across the cosmos.

Similar myopia is seen in many (not all) libertarian circles, wherein trade and reciprocal benefit of markets  -- quid pro quo -- are seen as natural or fundamental laws of nature, when, in fact, markets were crushed and destroyed in most fearful human cultures, across 6000 years, in which tough cabals of strong men operated under principle #1 to repress competition from below.  Principle #3 only comes to the fore -- offering innumerable positive sum (win-win) benefits when #1 is quelled enough to see the self-interest that comes from trustworthy and reliable market rules.

Those rules can include mutual deterrence or other natural synergies... as we see when animals trade favors.  Or else carefully tuned market rules and regulations, without which cheaters and cartels swiftly ruin markets.

These three principal drivers can take innumerable forms.  But they have to be dealt with and the tradeoffs taken into account.  Preaching at them will not change them.  But we can mix and match and be better than we were.


Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: (from a previous thread yet again...)
As an engineer, I could not negotiate the improvements I new were necessary, but only for the first couple of employers. After that, I began to learn the trick of it. That consultant who let me in on the secret also taught me to develop my sales pitches. He explained one of them by trying to get me to imagine finding myself in an elevator when the CEO just happens to walk in. If the CEO is polite, they might ask 'What do you do?' in order to make small talk. I was supposed to have a 5 second answer, a 30 second answer, and a 5 minute version. The shortest one was supposed to roll into the middle one IF the CEO made eye contact, otherwise it had to stand alone. The next time I saw that consultant, he asked me if I had my short one. I offered it to him and he pointed out how lame it was. I was explaining to the CEO what I did as an engineer and there was no way they could know what goes on at that level even though they ran the company. He made me work it over until it came out as 'I support the people who support the people who make the money.' If eye contact occurred, I rolled on with '...and if you ever hear about what I do in detail, I've screwed up.' If that provokes a smile, the 30 second version might be appropriate, but it is more likely they'll just be curious what department you are in at that point.

I HAVE been able to negotiate my pay, but I've had to be prepared to fire my bosses too. If the managers above them realize my manager delivers more reliable services/widgets with me on the team, my boss doesn't have to defend himself when I demand a wage that reflects the value I bring to the team. I absolutely have to be able to explain that value, though, and do so in terms they understand. It works occasionally, but shouldn't work all the time. The simple truth is that some companies don't need to improve what I do for them to remain competitive. For what I do, I add the most value after a small lay-off causes other managers to have to make do with fewer people while still trying to meet previous goals.

I simply don't accept that other engineers can't do this. What I do accept is that they don't know how. As for the guys on the shop floor, they can improve their value too by learning how to collaborate with guys like you. Can't they? That value add could turn into wage improvements, but only if they can deliver the sales pitch properly. No coercion is needed if the company is smart. No coercion is justified if it isn't.

Alfred Differ said...

Principle #3 comes in four closely related forms that fit different social needs. One pair involves mediated exchange (barter with reliability reputation as the exchange medium, trade with money as the exchange medium) while the other pair involves gifting (altruistic vs. quid pro quo). The libertarian in my wants to point out that all four should be considered to deal with the ethical variances between Them and Us. That's how we do it, right?

The value of Reputation is an important thing to detect early when we meet them. That hints strongly at the value they place upon repeatable trade and the forms open to us.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

With kinship-based altruism there are a whole lot of different kinship systems among humans that define kin differently from how we do, it makes it very easy to assume that aliens would define kinship the same way we do, yet we may be completely wrong. Add to that things like sodalities and other forms of fictive kinship and you have an explanation for altruism that goes beyond what most biologists recognize. Dawkins, of course, puts everything into genetic terms, but thinking purely in terms of genetic kinship misses the cognitive aspects of kinship that might, for instance, prod a soldier to jump on a grade to same his fellow soldiers. While they are unlikely to be related biologically, they think of each other as a "band of brothers," making such a sacrifice acceptable. There are religions which teach kinship with all life on Earth (and other worlds as well, assuming they exist), extending altruism far beyond biological kin - and not necessarily a function of satiety.

Be careful about taking Maslow's Hierarchy of needs too literally. More recent work has shown that human psychology does not always follow it linearly.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Oops, I meant to type "... jump on a grenade" not on a grade! Fickle fingers!

Alfred Differ said...

Does anyone take Maslow's Heirarchy that linearly? The way I've always heard it explained involved a narrative explaining people will focus on the lower levels first, but they refer to them in the plural form as though people can do more than one thing during a day. 8)

The other thing the libertarian in me wants to point out is the role markets play in compressing information available to traders. We don't have to know the ethics of those we trade with if a market is well structured. We can tolerate variances as a result. This is powerful stuff that makes us what we are.

Alfred Differ said...

off-topic: Partisanship in Congress study. Some neat graphics and a conclusion that backs up some of what our host points out.

Alex Tolley said...

@alfred Fig 3c suggests that cooperation rapidly fell off in the 1990s,which seems to accord with Republican policy at that time.

Alex Tolley said...

@PSB there is even a hypothesis that suggests religion reinforces non-genetic kinship that increases cooperative behavior to ward off enemies. So yes, let us not forget social structures in this regard.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

I'm not sure that I want all engineers learning how to do the politics - the ones that do know how include a fair number that are useless at the engineering

And time/energy used to do that is not available to do their actual job

Anyway you understand that the "barriers" involved are not trivial

Why/how do you think the shop floor guys can do this??

And if they can't - there goes the "market"

Jumper said...
A mammoth achievement - wooly mammoth genome fully sequenced.

Alex Tolley said...

If ETI turns out to be machine, then the rules may be rather different. Even advanced, technological bio-life may be primarily meme driven, rather than gene.

@Jumper - even w/o trying a Pleistocene Park reconstruction, the sequence will be very informative when compared to modern elephants.

If the mammoth-elephant sequences are very similar, the opportunity to recreate a mammoth becomes much closer. I expect to read about attempts within the next 5 years.

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan Why/how do you think the shop floor guys can do this??

And if they can't - there goes the "market"

I don't think that is true, but it does introduce frictions. There is also the issue of employer collusion to hold down truly competitive wages. The most egregious, high profile, case is the recent Silicon Valley collusion between tech giants for top technical talent. But there are many other more anecdotal instances. But as Krugman has recently shown, wage rigidity is also evident, preventing wages from falling in a recession.

For most employees, employment with lowering safety nets does not result in a true free market in wages. That is a libertarian fantasy that adheres to crude, but tractable, economic models.
Frictionless free markets in labor are a fantasy, and only partly reflect reality.

matthew said...

As we find more and more possible channels for alien life to form, Drake's Equation looks more and more damning for our future. I think that the side discussion we are having about libertarianism and free markets also plays into the argument that the Great Winnower is yet to come, or more accurately, is here right now.

We know humans are among the most social animals on our planet. In order to prevent the rapid decline in the ability of our planet to carry life, we must learn to responsibly regulate our free market in such a way that the market prices externalities correctly or the free market will eventually see all carrying capacity of the planet destroyed.

What if most alien life is, as David says, more like bears than monkeys or dolphins. Solitary, selfish aliens would be like our libertarians, able to handwave away the true external costs of their presence in the market, pursuing individual success at the expense of the aggregate. This leading to environmental collapse and a retreat into more and more selfish behavior. A negative control loop.

Markets develop before the knowledge on how to regulate the market is created. This lag, combined with specie that are selfish and "bear-like" could lead to an absence of intelligent life in the universe.

So, libertarianism = a universe without intelligent life. ;-P

Rob Kim said...

Power asymmetry is what can compell the stronger to take from the weaker by force or any other means despite the detriment to the weak.
But even then reward must be worth the effort. What can powerful alien civilization likely gain from hurting human civilization? Earth? Oil? Water? Those are dime a dozen. Money? It's not even real. Our DNA? We share them all the time by shedding our hair and skin. Meat? There is bigger meat elsewhere.

It seems to me we are not worth the effort. Not yet at least. We should start worrying when we start hogging the entire energy output of stars in the galaxy or every drop of water available in our solar system.

Alex Tolley said...

@Rob Kim - cultural artifacts and history may be the valuable things we have. Fortunately most of that is transmissible as information, so there will be no need to send star ships to loot Earth.

PSB said...

That was an interesting comment about cultural artifacts as transmissible data. However, I wouldn't be entirely confident that it would not go any farther than that. Earth has its illegal antiquities markets, in which archaeological sites are looted to sell to rich collectors. Among them there are groups who want to loot artifacts of their presumed ancestors, meaning mostly Greek and Roman materials, as those cultures are perceived as sort of aboriginal Caucasians. However, there are also groups who loot artifacts from cultures they do not consider themselves related to, cultures they typically see as inferior peoples that their tribes have conquered. This makes them like intergenerational war trophies. I could certainly imagine a star-faring race doing something like this, though I would much rather they just collected things like music and literature, which could be transmitted.

(Lunch break's almost over, so I'll babble some more later.)

Alex Tolley said...

@PSB - when we consider the energy involved in star flight, it would probably be best to scan objects and print them back at the alien's home world. This isn't so different from the restoration work done today and the increasing use of digitization and virtual recreations. The techniques used will depend on the economics and methods of star travel. I assume c is absolute and energy is velocity dependent. That may not be true for advanced technology, but if not, we are back to the Fermi question.

Maybe the gift the aliens give us is not a star drive but a fast, cheap, replicator. (although we seem to be well on the way there ourselves).

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Heh. I’d rather the lame engineers learned the politics and left the engineering to more competent people. Yes… I know that would lead to upheaval. That’s what lay-offs and firings are for.

You are starting to get into the minutia with the rest of what you said. For example, if someone doesn’t take the time to learn, they aren’t really operating for themselves in the market, are they? If I arrive at a flea market with no clue what people like to buy and sell there, I am to blame for not doing my research. If I arrive in the labor market without taking the time to learn employable skills and grow with the years, I am to blame. One thing I’ll give unions a great deal of credit for is arranging for the training of their members. Unfortunately, many people get used to letting others do for them a task that is fundamentally theirs to own.

Regarding the shop floor guys, I’ve known a few who were quite talented. They needed a mentor to take it the next step. They needed something like the old master/apprentice relationship restored so they could be taught how the labor market works. Absent that, they are taught to sell themselves a bit like a slave is sold at auction. We can be more humane about this.

Alfred Differ said...

Only some of the Libertarians are solitary creatures. The Randians are like that. Most of us aren’t. What we are is very much opposed to enslaving ourselves.

Laurent Weppe said...

"But even then reward must be worth the effort. What can powerful alien civilization likely gain from hurting human civilization?"

Killing the potential competition when it's still in the cradle, before it has a chance of becoming stronger than its elders.

Jumper said...

The idea of intelligent bears is leading me to posit a species which has no socialization except between parent and offspring. All culture is transmitted this way, except for the all important matings. Language would be weird, with very individualized languages. If culture affects evolution, which it does, then the advantage of incestuous pairings would be greater due to easier culture transmission. But germline frailties would likely provide pressure for exogamy just as on our planet. The balance would be different.
Positive sum interactions would be resisted on gut-level basis far more than in our simian minds. Ursines would be far less likely to pick nits off each other upon being thrown together than monkeys who, I suspect, are willing to do this a week at most after meeting a stranger-monkey. With bears it likely just wouldn't happen.
Technology would be strange and slow, too, being transmitted only to offspring or a marriage partner. After a few tens of millennia individualized technologies might vary wildly. The stuff of science fiction. One family line might have metallurgy, another textiles, etc. A strong resistance to trade as a genetic meme.
With no genetic encouragement, discovery of trade advantages would be purely rational. Only mathematicians would see its attraction. John Nash bears.

matthew said...

Libertarianism is at it's heart a religion based on the self. Selfishness is the very highest of its' ideals. That's why it is so popular with social outcasts. I consider it a necessary balancing force to authoritarianism, but I do think that it may be contrary to the long-term viability of life.

Rob Kim said...

Laurent Weppe such zero-sum mentality would have been selected out by evolution long before a civilization was advanced enough to sterilize a planet at will.

If by any chance that kind of zero-sum strategy was actually sound and successful over time..we wouldn't exist. Because after billions of years of success killing potentially advanced life or machines in the cradle, they would eventually figure out they are simply wasting their time unless they went back in time and stopped big bang from happening in the first place.

matthew said...

It's funny. My totem animal, given to me in my coming of age ceremony (complete with ear piercing via a Hudson's Bay Awl) is a bear. Yet, in social terms, and in ideal of governance, I am far from being a grouchy bear in a cave. The healing, nurturing, and vengeful side of the bear as totem, absolutely. But bear the recluse? Not in the least. I'm much more chimp than bear in those regards.

I do like the alien race concept Jumper. That's a good one.

Tacitus2 said...


I like the concept, but quick, while you have he inside track...launch an online dating service for Alien Bears! They would totally need it!

Ugh, a shudder just went through me. Wondering what you would do for profits until First Contact I realized that you might find enough beings among us who would sign on and keep you going!

(who just had a bear live trapped by the DNR on the next block over. He did look lonesome...)

matthew said...

I am quite certain that an Alien Bear dating website could be a profitable enterprise before first contact. I can see quite a few humans signing up and waiting anxiously for their first "Marking Tree" scratch on their wall to indicate the presence of an interested Alien Bear. Takes all kinds, you know. And human variety is enormous and fungible.

David Burns said...

Mathew, being an alien bear, has broken free of such primitive human failings as ideology and bias.

matthew said...

No, I just think that libertarianism as it is currently being used in our political dialog is a very dangerous and selfish philosophical construct.

I like to poke fun at philosophies / religions that I think endanger the survival of not only our race, but the potential for future growth. And Alien Bears just make me laugh and laugh and laugh. Kinda like the Laffer Curve. Tax em if they can't take a joke.

Jumper said...

I worked with a fan of the Chicago Bears who lamented he felt alone. I know my metropolis and I suggested there was certainly a sufficient number of Bears fans here to fill a bar. He thought this a decent suggestion and mused perhaps he'd advertise for a "Bears club." A third guy pondered that for a moment and said "You want to be careful how you word that ad."

Alfred Differ said...

@matthew: As a registered Libertarian, I don't see this religion of which you speak. You are over-simplifying us just a bit too much.

If you only pay attention to the most vocal among us, you might reasonably conclude something strange is going on. If you look deeper, you'll find most of us are just classical liberals huddling away from all the folks who want the state to run our lives. It's not a religion. It's the Enlightenment philosophy.

Alfred Differ said...

@Rob Kim: I'm not convinced all zero-sum strategies would be selected out by the time an alien race became an interstellar civilization. If they are alien enough, they could simply fail to see us as anything more than animals... or intelligent devices.

Alfred Differ said...

Google search for 'cosplay bear images' to find your potential pre-Contact customers.

I don't know which scares me more... the people who dress up as Care Bears or the people who play dress up with live bears.

(Back to my amusements now. I never imagined I could know these things when I was a kid. What's that image? Eek! People do that?!)

PSB said...

Hello Alex,
Whether our hypothetical aliens will be satisfied with simulacra or will insist on having "the real thing" would depend a whole lot on how expensive/difficult interstellar travel turns out to be. In that regard we probably have barely a glimmering of what is possible or how it will be possible, but speculation is always fun.

What you wrote earlier about religion and non-kinship bonds has been around for a long time in the social sciences lit. It goes back at least to E.E. Evans-Pritchard, as far as I know. There turns out to be more to it than just that. Religion tends to reduce violence between members of the group, but increase violence between groups. However, even that isn't the whole story. If a group defined by a religion finds that its enemies are too far away, too difficult to fight or have simply stopped being a threat, they begin to turn on their own. As Claude levi-Strauss (not related to the blue jeans company) put it, when there is no longer a threat from an external other, social groups quickly create internal others to fight.

Think about the 1980s, when most of the young people in the U.S. stopped being very worried about the threat of Communism that haunted the dreams of the previous generation. Even before the Berlin Wall came down, people in this country were, for a short time, wearing Soviet paraphernalia as a fashion statement. It was about this time that churches started to focus more on the sin of homosexuality, and violent crime against homosexuals started becoming more prominent. When people started losing their fear of an external enemy, the churches had to find/create a new enemy for their congregations to loathe and fear. Of course homophobia has been around for centuries, so it is really a matter of emphasis.

This stuff gets me thinking about the conversations about bullying in the last thread, which I was too busy to participate in as much as I would like to have. : (

Alfred Differ said...

As I remember it, the violent crime increase against homosexuals coincided with a number of us extending our understanding of civil rights to include them. I'm not convinced the increase was due to social groups turning on their own members as a result. Some of us started pushing on people who probably thought they'd never have to fight that particular battle.

Alex Tolley said...

My understanding that what differentiated religion from strong in-grouping was that an afterlife reduced the fear of death and hence self-preservation in a violent fight. That conferred group survival value.

It is interesting that strong group identity does tend to demand conformity resulting in the group excluding non-conforming members, and that the conformity demanded gets ever tighter. Isn't this what the GOP is going through currently too?

Rob Kim said...

@Alfred I don't disagree. It's entirely possible that a Hitler-like figure somewhere in galaxy gained ironclad control of an entire planet and set its sights singularly on cleansing the Milky Way of all life that aren't one of their own because they really hate the idea of sharing. Extremely zero sum.

The dictatorship they came to be united under would actually be quite conducive, maybe even essential for successful completion of a hugely resource intensive project like interstellar travel.

Ideally at this point they would see it's in their best interest to play nice instead of trying to take over the galaxy.

i_/0 said...

"A mammoth achievement - wooly mammoth genome fully sequenced."

It's bitterly ironic that we might be in a position to clone a mammoth in the near future, but are apparently incapable of preventing the looming extinction of elephants and rhino's.

Daniel Duffy said...

Lots of other potential types of "life". For example, Warm Jovians or even Brown Dwarfs (Dr. Brin, can't you use your influence in the astrophysics community to make them come up with a cooler name, like Dark Stars?) that give off infra red so that an orbiting moon can have liquid water - even around Brown Dwarf's located between the stars.

It's easy to imagine life based on infrared photosynthesis on moons orbiting brown dwarfs which give off heat but not light. Not just imagine it, we already know of such life here on Earth, green sulfur bacteria. And if Brown Dwarfs floating between the stars greatly outnumber suns, then visible light spectrum based life may be the exception instead of the rule.

Methane based life forms (instead of water based life forms) on cold worlds like Saturn's moon Titan are a fascinating subject. Would they be slower due to the colder temperatures slowing the chemical reactions that make up their metabolism? Would intelligent methane life take years to form a single thought due to slow chemical reactions? Ironically the potential "Goldilocks" zone for methane based life is far greater (extending across the range of Jovian worlds out to the Kuiper belt) than our much more narrow zone for water based life forms.

So "life as we know it" based on water and the visible light spectrum for photosynthesis may be the rare exception in a universe dominated by methane based life and life that utilizes infrared photosynthesis.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Matthew, I completely agree with you that libertarianism as it is currently being used in our political dialog is a very dangerous construct.

So it would be helpful if you would stop promulgating the new definition of libertarianism as it is currently being used on our political dialog.

It is true that there are many people to go to libertarian gatherings who are also promoting this new bogus definition of libertarianism.

Perhaps those of us who have used the term for decades should now just realize that the word has now been successfully stolen from us, and its meaning has been greatly altered through recent widespread misuse.

Both the true libertarian F.A. Hayek and the quasi-libertarian Ayn Rand intensely disliked the term libertarian. Perhaps it is time to concede that both of these people were right all along. We need a new word to describe classical liberalism.

About the word libertarian, in The Constitution of Liberty Hayek said, "It may be the answer; but for my part I find it singularly unattractive. For my taste, it carries too much the flavor of a manufactured term and of a substitute. What I should want is a word which describes the party of life, the party that favors free growth and spontaneous evolution. But I have racked my brain unsuccessfully to find a descriptive term which commends itself."

Perhaps one of us can rack our brains successfully for such a term. Just because Hayek was a great economist and thinker doesn't mean that one of us (especially our host) cannot be successful in this one area where Hayek was not.

Jumper said...
Hayek, think tanks, and factory farms.

PSB said...

Alex, you wrote:

It is interesting that strong group identity does tend to demand conformity resulting in the group excluding non-conforming members, and that the conformity demanded gets ever tighter. Isn't this what the GOP is going through currently too?


Alfred, you may be putting the cart before the horse here. The AIDS crisis provided some of the impetus for targeting that particular group. Gay-bashing got to be epidemic long before we started hearing much about gay rights, which largely became mainstream after the Matthew Shepard murder in the 90s (which was a media sensation largely because any murder was uncommon in Wyoming. In my hometown I knew of quite a few gay murder victims at the time)

Alex Tolley said...

@Jumper. Very interesting article. The raid on the pirate station was likely the inspiration for the Danger Man episode "Not So Jolly Roger" (1966).

Alex Tolley said...

Comments on the Adam Curtis article (thanks Jumper).

1. The Linda Whetstone slip is interesting. She is actually wrong, issuing statements that directly contradict economic history, but play into the hands of those who wished to do nothing. But interestingly her "climate" for employment is really just the same as the "Confidence Fairy" that is invoked today for doing nothing other than keep interest rates high for he rentier class. It is almost hard to recall the depths of despair Britain went though in the 1970's and early 1980's. Britain was aptly named "The Sick Man of Europe".

2.Smedley and teh EU. Obviously it took more than a decade of France (De Gaul) keeping Britain out before Britain entered. Food rationing had only ended 5 years prior to his speech. The EU agriculture policy ended up with huge food surpluses by the 19870's, much of it stored, or destroyed. But at least the EU wasn't going to be food limited again due to poor harvests or other disruptions.

3. Factory farm chickens. Now we are getting the backlash against these practices. They have also become the source of disease outbreaks and the overuse of anti-biotics.
The naivety/propaganda of the methods used is quaint. At the time, chicken was expensive in Britain, so it is no wonder these methods came to dominate. Now that we have cheap food, we can reassess the practices.

3. Hayek and price signaling. While the basis for much economic theory, we know that this is inadequate by itself. Austrian's, like Hayek, have no useful models when the mechanism fails. The Road to Serfdom was published at a time when the western capitalist system was in deep trouble and as a reaction to the rise of communism. It has regained recent popularity in response to mouthpieces of think tanks that want to undo the social safety net and restore "freedoms" of the gilded age.

4. Tony Benn. One of the few intellectual politicians. He was very persuasive when he talked, but I always found myself thinking "wait a minute" after he finished speaking. Whatever one's views about his politics, he seemed consistent and honest. He was also a good counterfoil to the rise of Thatcherism in the 1980's.

5. IEA clip. Nice piece on conservative views and monetarism. Keith Joseph was a Tory hardliner and almost messianic believer in the free market and control of money supply. A "Friedmanite". He and Norman Tebbitt were the ugly face of "tough love" Conservatism at a time when Britain had horrendus unemployment and their advice was "get on yer bike" and find work down south. IMO, this is the best clip in the article by far.

6. Thatcher. The mess of industrial Britain is quite evident. The obvious lack of empathy for the unemployed is obvious. For a good feel of the times, I recommend watching "Boys from the Blackstuff" by Alan Bleasdale. First episode here: Popular phrase: "Gizza job". Thatcher denying monetarism - about as disingenuous as you get. Interesting that this may have been an early implementation of "disaster capitalism".

Paul451 said...

Re: Aliens motivation for hurting humans.

To take our not-too-cold, not-too-hot planet. Either for direct colonisation, or to convert to mass bio-engineered farming for feed-stocks for their industry.

To stop our RF transmissions because it attracts an even worse threat.

For fun.

To kill off a potential rival. Either as a general policy or because we have a specific trait that caused problems in the past. We remind them of someone who went rogue.

Because there's lots of civilisations and it only takes one, once you have relativistic travel.

Paul451 said...

Teh randoms:

Tesla is going to offer people battery packs in their homes which (in the absence of solar) charge up from overnight off-peak power for use during the day. They've apparently already been offering them to SolarCity customers on a trial basis. The packs cost $13,000, but some power companies are already talking about subsidies, as it makes their power demand-curves less peaky, saving infrastructure costs. (Others will, of course, fight it to the death; as we're seeing with solar.) The packs in the trial are about 3x2.5x1ft. About the size of an instant-heat water heater. Picture of one being installed.

Bees may prefer the taste of nectar contaminated with neonicotinoid pesticides. Researchers think it might have an addictive quality at lower concentrations. Hence colony-collapse syndrome (linked to neonicotinoids) may be caused by not just poisoning, but drug addiction.

Police in Philly held a suspect over an 18th floor balcony and threatened to drop him to make him hand over his smart-phone password during an illegal search.

Alex Tolley said...

To take our not-too-cold, not-too-hot planet. Either for direct colonisation, or to convert to mass bio-engineered farming for feed-stocks for their industry

Much easier to do with a Dyson swarm around the home star. Why travel interstellar distances to do so?

To stop our RF transmissions because it attracts an even worse threat.

maybe. But our transmissions may attract predators away from the aliens, acting as good decoys. If we and ETI are well separated in space, why bother stopping our RF transmissions?

Advanced ETI destroying us depends on being capable of doing this relatively cheaply, just like maintaining an empire with asymmetric force projection. Without cheap, FTL travel, the economics and time restraints make no sense. A lot can happen to a technological civilization in a few thousand years. Hidden, malevolent aliens may be out there, but I don't find the idea particularly compelling given the [lack of] evidence.

Rob Kim said...

Simple math tells us that on average a straight male's chance of reproductive success would increase with increase in number of gay men. Therefore gay bashing by straight males seems counterintuitive.

Is gay bashing behaviour by straight males correlated to some missing factor? Possibly presence of female? ie. Look how straight I am! Now let's have sex?

Alex Tolley said...

Police in Philly held a suspect over an 18th floor balcony

A good case for protective video life logging. Had this been recorded and data streamed to the cloud, the cops would have been caught in the act. Either they would have to try a different approach, have laws to protect their actions, use jammers, or just remain constrained to their legal actions. Given the recent video wins against police actions, recording all actions may be the way to go. Still scary for the individual, so it also needs strong laws and punishment for wrong doing by the authorities.

How long before stories about police destroying/confiscating cellphones to stop recording become history as ubiquity makes this impossible to achieve. Or will it always become an arms race?

Alex Tolley said...

@Rob Kim - doesn't gay bashing show that one is part of the heterosexual in group, and therefore removes sexual ambiguity, thus increasing assumed sexual success?

I think one needs to extend the behaviors of in-groups beyond just sexual orientation to understand it better.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

If you only pay attention to the most vocal among us, you might reasonably conclude something strange is going on. If you look deeper, you'll find most of us are just classical liberals huddling away from all the folks who want the state to run our lives.

My formative years were in the 1960s, back when the earth was still cooling. So I will always associate liberalism with the hippie "Do your own thing, man!" attitude and conservatism with "law-and-order" authoritarianism. Thus, I am continually mystified (and somewhat awed) at the right-wing's successful re-branding of the two sides to mean almost the diametric opposite.

In my twenties, I thought of myself as a "libertarian", but what I meant by that was much closer to "liberal" than to the Ayn Rand/Tea Party monster that "libertarian" has become.

So yes, I am totally on board with not wanting institutions to run our lives, aside from those interactions with "the system" which are unavoidble or mutually beneficial. I would caution, however, that at least in the modern-day west, I find corporate control of our lives to be more of an immediate threat than state control. So where I see Libertarianism going wrong is in its tendency to argue for the weakening of the state, and therefore for the ability of the wealthy and powerful individuals and corporations to exert the very control you wish to mitigate.

LarryHart said...

@Robert on the "bullying" thread...

Wow, I don't know what to say. Because the whole bullying thing is one of my pet peeves as well. It's why I despise the Chris Christie wing of the Republican Party, which appeals to its base by targeting out-groups and being mean to them. My stated reason for supporting Democrats over Republicans is that the latter seems bent on protecting the freedom of bullies rather than freedom from bullies.

So I'm not unsympathetic to your position, nor to your observations that bullying is alive and well in certain circles, especially, I presume, in online communities (which did not exist when Dr Brin and I were growing up) where anonymity allows bullies to act with impunity.

I just don't see Dr Brin's responses to you as examples of bullying the way you take it to be. If anything, I believe he was appealing to you to see that progress has been made and to take heart from that that further progress is possible.

locumranch said...

It seems obvious to me that what David describes as 'Three Principles of Life' are really only extensions of a singular biological principle:

First, we start with 'Reproductive (Darwinian) self-interest', defined in terms of the pursuit of individual genetic interest, selfishly, without regard to the genetic interests of others.

Second, we extend this first principle to 'Kinship altruism', which is not 'altruism' in a strict sense, but merely the projection of first-degree Darwinian self-interest to second-degree genetic relatives.

Third, we abstract this second principle and extend it to all (or select) members of the human genome as 'Quid pro quo', an exchange of favours between our most distant genetic relatives, a situation which is often paraphrased as the biblical injunction 'an eye for an eye'.

It does not follow, however, that this so-called universal (organizing) principle is infinitely extensible to either other non-human terrestrial species or even extraterrestrial ones, as (1) it has it's origins in extreme self (selfish) interest and (2) it tends to self-reduce into the more biblical principle of mutually-assured destruction.

And, just as all our current relationships (with either humans or non-humans) tend toward toward the exploitive, it becomes increasingly unlikely that a more advanced extraterrestrial civilisation would contact us by choice, not because they are better or more 'altruistic' than we are, but because they are at least as equally SELFISH and would have nothing to gain by aiding or 'uplifting' us ...

Excepting the possibility of 'quid pro quo', an eye for an eye or mutually-assured destruction.

Could this be why David doesn't want SETI to actively yelp for help?


matthew said...

I reject the argument that libertarianism has been hijacked to mean something other than what the "old" libertarians meant by the term. Modern libertarianism is more extreme than that existed when I first started talking to libertarians about their beliefs, oh, 40 or so years ago, but it is the same basic belief system.

Libertarianism has always meant the worship of private property, including one's self, at the expense of everyone else. There has always been a "do what you want, except when it damages another" basis for it, but, even in theoretical discussions, the "except..." clause is the one that gets trampled. I've known many, many libertarians; I've never met one that makes the second part of the clause the most important part. Yet, if we are to continue as a species, on a fully-functioning planet with the potential to grow life capable of self-uplift, the second part of the basic definition of Libertarianism must be the primary clause.

And I describe libertarianism as a religion because it follows all the symptoms of a religion: magical thinking (see Laffer Curve or the economics of Hayek for example), rabid worshippers, and an extreme reluctance to use what we call CITOKATE to find internal flaws in its' own reasoning. Plus schisms, purges, and pogroms.

That being said, I still prefer it to some other modes of political thought. As David has said, libertarianism can be an honorable enemy, to which I add, if you ignore the bat shit crazy.

Until our world agrees on what is meant by "protecting the commons" and acts on that definition in accordance with the severity of the threat to the commons, libertarianism remains an existential threat to continued life on our planet.

I'm proud to be a liberal, advocating both social justice (even playing field and starting line) and cooperation through democratic means to achieve societal goals. Goals like, you know, like continued existence on a nursery world. That continued existence requires a universal loss of property rights from time to time.

Because property holds little significance when compared to memory. Experiences matter more than possessions. Until the world embraces the preceding statement our collective outlook is bleak.

Rob Kim said...

I agree with your point about kinship altruism and 'quid pro quo' being higher order manifestations of principle #1. However I value the #3 'quid pro quo' concept differently and more in line with Brin.

In fact, 'quid pro quo' between less complex microbes resulted in emergence of complex cells, which is considered a milestone in evolution of life.

It is a simple concept that unshackled life from endless circle-jerk between the genetic kin and made possible the emergence of ever more complex systems that resulted in net fitness (survival+reproductive) benefit for those who dared to cooperate.

I don't see how this concept cannot be universal so long as origin of life is bottom up.

Jumper said...

Land ownership is the cornerstone of libertarianism. Without it, there is nothing else. In a libertarian world there are no commons, everything is auctioned off, and all torts decided by whomever pays (someone like a sheriff is postulated but it's never clear) private dispute corporations who survive on reputation. Or something. The road you walk on is owned by a private individual who can forbid you from stepping on his road, whether that damages his own economic positive-sum gains or not. Of course he would not do that because he has the legal right to be considered rational until proven otherwise. Apparently there would be gunslingers.

PSB said...

Larry, although we seem to be about a decade apart, I think we have had some similar experiences, and have reached similar conclusions. I can see a tie-in between what you are saying, Alex's words about gay bashing as a way of indicating in-group membership, and what Rob H. wrote in the last thread about being targeted if you were unwilling to join the bullies. Homosexuals were the scapegoat du jour of that time, but the principle is the same regardless of who the internal- and external others happen to be. That's how segmentary opposition works: groups are defined by who they are against, but alliances and enemies shift. As long as a group's superstructure requires enemies to unite the in group, the group will always need to find new enemies. Radical Islam has taken some of the heat off the gay community. But this enemy can be seen as both internal and external, as there are millions of Muslims living in Western countries. Most of them are not radical terrorists, obviously, but I know a whole lot of people who assume they are, completely in keeping with the law.

My own observations (one more datum) on bullying is that the physical bullying is less than it once was, though the verbal bullying has not changed at all, except that it seems to have become taboo to go after people who have mental handicaps, including autism. ironically, though, they seem to use the term "retard" much more than "fag" these days. And bullying on social media is pretty prevalent. There are geographic differences, though. The first school I taught at was in South Central LA, and the kids there were much more like the ones I knew growing up, especially in terms of physical violence.

A few months ago I heard a news story about the lessening of violent crime in LA (and by extension the nation). They interviewed a sheriff's deputy who said that when he was younger the streets were full of young men looking for fights. Now when he patrols the streets there aren't a lot of angry young men looking for fights, but he hears the sounds of video games wafting out of the windows of every residence. The virtual violence of video games os replacing real violence, so I guess there is something good about video games.

LarryHart said...

PSB (is that Paul?):

Larry, although we seem to be about a decade apart, I think we have had some similar experiences, and have reached similar conclusions.

Not sure whether you think you are ten years older or younger, but I was born in 1960 if that helps.

As long as a group's superstructure requires enemies to unite the in group, the group will always need to find new enemies. Radical Islam has taken some of the heat off the gay community.

The American Christian right has a bit of cognative dissonance when it comes to Islam being even more violently anti-gay than they are? Do they side with the Islamofascists against the gays, or the other way around? I'm not sure they know which group they despise more.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re - Tesla Home battery packs

I have heard 10Kwhrs (about 1 days worth)
But I don't expect $13,000 - that would be $1300/Kwhr!
I paid $400/Kwhr for my car over three years ago
(and that is as an individual)
If Tesla is expecting to move into that market I would expect less than $300/Kwhr
Which would mean $3000 per pack

Tesla sells a car with an 85Kwhr pack for about $80,000
If the pack is more than 1/4 of the cost of the car I will be amazed
(I bet its less than 1/10th)
That would be $20,000 for 85Kwhr
So $236/Kwhr at the most

Paul SB said...

Hi Larry, yes it's me. 1968, so close to a decade. As to the Christian Right, they do pretty well hating more than one group at a time. In fact, they pretty much hate every one that is not them. It seems that the progress made by some elements of society is not shared by others.

Both myself and one of the other biology teachers at my school noticed this year that we have not had hyper-religious kids trying to get us fired for teaching evolution this year. We have lots of apathetic kids who couldn't care less, but they couldn't care less about anything. Maybe the virulent hatred of evolution will become like gay bashing - a sport of the older generations that will go extinct with them. I like to think that I am getting better at presenting the material in a convincing way, but it probably has more to do with demographics. I try my best to show the relevance of the subject, going into things like antibiotic resistance and diseases of civilization, but to most teenagers the only relevance is gossip.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

The Christian Conservative Evangelicals don't stop at hating others. They also do a very good job at secret self-hatred.

For an outstanding example of this, see the Wikipedia article on Ted Haggard. It becomes obvious from that article where a lot of the gay-bashing that PSB saw arose.

Alex Tolley said...

have heard 10Kwhrs (about 1 days worth). But I don't expect $13,000 - that would be $1300/Kwhr!

That is correct.

Comparable battery storage costs

However you need to determine the cost over the total number of cycles before the battery fails. This is just like solar PV, it is the cost divided by the total lifetime power delivered that counts.

Given Tesla guarantees its car batteries for 8 years, I would assume that they are guaranteeing something of the order of 1000-2000 cycles, suggesting a $1.3-0.65 $/KWh cost amortized over teh life of the battery.

It is probably much better than that if the $15 monthly rental can pay for itself by charging at night and discharging during the higher peak rates during the day.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Regarding Hayek and Laffer: I admit to knowing very little about Arthur Laffer, but I am surprised to see his ideas lumped together with those of Hayek.

Hayek's main error (at least throughout most of his life) was that he did not consider the importance of the velocity of money. Problems with the velocity of money really didn't become apparent until the early 1970s.

The Laffer Curve itself was obviously correct, but it seems that people like John F. Kennedy knew how to make use of it much better than Laffer ever did.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Although I apparently do not exist, I will answer Matthew anyway.

In the late 1960s, I wrote a paper for a college class on ethical theory asserting that all human interactions must consist of mutually-profitable exchanges. I pointed out that this extended far beyond the exchange of property, and that many human interactions never involved the exchange of property at all, but the necessity that they be mutually-profitable still applied.

Human subjective values and wants and desires are ever-changing, so the measure of what is mutually profitable can be determined only by the values of those involved at the time of the interaction.

Many human interactions between two people affect others, so this mutually-profitable mandate must apply to others affected by the interaction (or, at least, the effect on others must be neutral).

The entire class of experienced philosophy students critiqued the paper. (I did not know at the time that by allowing the paper to be critiqued extensively by non-libertarians that I was violating a mythical libertarian mandate against such criticism.)

In 1970, a wrote a paper proving (using high school algebra) that mutually-profitable exchanges are always possible, even if one person (Mr. Able) is better at everything than the person that he is dealing with (Mr. Weaker). I will put that paper on the web as soon as I can find it. That was 45 years ago, and I've been looking for it recently. There are more than 4 decades of papers stacked on top of it, but I'm sure that it is around here somewhere.

Later in the 1970s, along with many other (apparently non-existent) libertarians, I became active in the L5 Society because of a belief that we needed to get as many humans (myself included) off of the planet as possible, and we needed to start using space-based solar power instead of fossil fuels. (According to others on this blog, the only reason for libertarians to become active in the L5 Society would have been to buy extraterrestrial real estate.)

Maybe I really don't exist. I just posted this several minutes ago. It was there for a while, then it was completely gone.

LarryHart said...


As to the Christian Right, they do pretty well hating more than one group at a time.

My point was that when they hate the gays, they're lining up with the Islamicists. Which can't be that easy for them to do.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alex

The cells I bought three years ago are Lithium Ion Phosphate
"expected" to last 3000 cycles

But probably not the way I am abusing them!
But that is a separate conversation

Why would anybody pay three or four times the current market price for cells that may be a little better?

Especially when Tesla were saying that they were going to be able to drop the price

There seems to be a left over idea that lithium batteries are very expensive
That article referenced $1000/Kwhr in 2011 when I could (as a single individual buying a small quantity) have bought cells for $500/Kwhr

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan - are they equivalent? Are there not other components needed, e.g. an inverter, etc.?

I would be a little surprised if Tesla/Solar City have seriously overpriced the battery given the competitiveness of the market.

Proper specification and life duty cycle data needs to be acquired to determine its true competitiveness. Can anyone find that data?

matthew said...

@ Jerry, to quote the Beatles, "We'd all love to see your plan."

But, some questions? Since libertarians are all about property rights and not being compelled to surrender their property, just how do you propose to PAY for all that spacefaring solar? Donations? A really big charity? Sell stock?

How do a significant fraction of 8 billion people leave Earth? And how do they pay for the privilege of leaving? All without being compelled?

And that is just a sideshow. How, without compelling other humans and impacting *their* property rights, can you protect the biodiversity of a nursery world?

I look forward to your alternative to the liberal model of taxation and regulation.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Matthew, you don't ask for much information do you?

The L5 Society existed from August 1975 until April 1987. In its latest years, it had about 10,000 members. All of the back issues of the L5 News are available at:

The original financing was to be done at one point by a private global positioning system called Geostar devised by Dr. Gerard O'Neill of Princeton. That idea bit the dust when the U.S. military's GPS satellite system was made available for civilian use.

Solar power from space was to be beamed down to Earth by microwave and sold to the inhabitants of Earth at a price that would undercut fossil fuels. The entire process was tested decades ago and shown to work. It would work even better now with more advanced solar technology and more advanced microwave and semiconductor technology. Few people doubt the concept, but getting direct investors has always been difficult because the initial cost would be so high.

Some people in L5 wanted direct taxpayer funding of solar power satellites. If all of the money the government has spent subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and fighting their wars had gone instead to solar power satellites, every fossil fuel power plant in the United States would be closed by now.

See the Wikipedia article on the L5 Society

Jerry Emanuelson said...

As for the question of how to get large numbers of people into space, make some comparisons with the airline industry.

How affordable would air transportation be if every airplane were completely destroyed after each flight, and another flight required a newly built airplane (or even spending a hundred million dollars or so to refurbish the old airplane)?

Affordable space transportation will require reusable rockets. Philip Bono was working on that extensively in the 1960s, and even wrote a book about it. Finally, it looks like Elon Musk will soon actually do it.

For the past two decades, if everyone boarding an airliner in the United States were permanently leaving the country, the United States could be completely emptied of every single human in only 6 months. If we ever just decide to do it, we can have a similar space travel capability before the end of this century.

Feel free to check my numbers on this. I haven't checked the numbers in quite a while, but I'm sure that airplane boardings are about as high as they have been over the past two decades.

The method we've been using to get into space was necessary in the 1960s, but it is ridiculous that we are still throwing rockets away (dumping them in the ocean) after each single use a half-century later.

No. I don't think that we will ever get space travel as cheap as airline travel. But here at the beginning of the first century after the first Wright Brothers airplane flight, more than 45 million passengers board commercial airliners from the Atlanta airport alone. That is just one single airport.

Once we have lots and lots of completely reusable rockets, getting into space will start to become cheap.

What SpaceX is doing is great, but look at this short video of what we did 20 years ago on DC-X Flight 8.

greg byshenk said...

David, have you seen this? It strikes me that Ecomodernism might align with some of your thoughts.

matthew said...

I know what the L5 Society is. I'm asking for your funding solution to maintaining a viable Earth absent taxation or regulation. You are being disingenuous.

I maintain that libertarianism is not an effective philosophy for a viable home planet because of the primacy of property rights. You are avoiding my point with a lot of hand waving about space resources without an explanation of how to achieve said resources absent taking away property from citizens.

I'm all for space resources, don't get me wrong, but space is not going to solve the tragedy of the commons. Certainly not with 8 billion independent operators.

Paul SB said...

Larry, you are right that in terms of homophobia, they are in the same camp with radical Islamists, but they won't see it that way, no matter how obvious it is. I was told on no uncertain terms back then that Muslims consider homosexuality a great honor. I have known enough Muslims - real Muslims from real Arab nations rather than African Americans who converted back in the 70s - to know that assertion was utter horse puckey. A mind welded shut is impervious to the obvious.

Jerry, the bit about Ted Haggard comes as no surprise whatsoever. I was often told that the most militant gay bashers are in denial about themselves.

I had a thought a long time ago about what might determine a person's sexual orientation, though it has been years since I have known anyone who was openly gay to talk about it. My thought was that sexual attraction is not just one thing. We are attracted to a great many physical features of other people (lips, shoulders, feet, noses) but not all of those features show a whole lot of sexual dimorphism. No doubt the genetic components of sexual attraction are polygenic, and polygenic traits are usually normally distributed. This would suggest that our orientation would be more a matter of how many deviations we are from the mean - 2 deviations in one direction would be strongly homosexual while 2 deviations in the other direction would be strongly heterosexual, with the mean able to go both ways comfortably (except that culture tends to categorize everyone, so we end up with huge cognitive dissonance - though many small-scale cultures recognize 4 genders instead of just 2). It also occurred to me that there might be an adaptive advantage to this for a social species like humans. If a person's only feelings about members of the same sex are that they represent competition, that person is most likely to respond to members of the same sex with hostility, if not outright murderous intent. But if you find yourself attracted to members of the same sex, even if only in a mild, not especially sexual way, you are much less likely to throw that spear, or pull the trigger or shove them in the gas chamber. I wouldn't think this would be a huge influence, but a subtle effect that helped individuals - especially males - overcome distrust long enough to form alliances and work together, especially in the ages before human ancestors had fully functional language. This is just a hypothesis, of course, and is probably not very testable.

David Brin said...

I wrote a long reply to just about everyone… and it vanished. Blogger's fault?

A few capsules:

1) Today's insane version of libertarianism (L'ism) focuses on property as sacred because that is in the interests of the would be lords aiming to reinstate feudalism. You can deeply embarrass any bright L by asking him if he ever read Adam Smith or thought about the drift away from what SHOULD be L'ism's core -- competition. Flat-open-fair. They get flustered. It is blatant that property rights must be protected UP TO A POINT, so that competition has incentives. But that beyond that point it becomes toxic and lethal to… competition.

Smith vs. Rand. Competition vs propertarianism. You gotta keep the memes simple. NEVER use morality in arguing with an L or a conservative, They will just smile and dismiss you as a sap. But pose those two contrasts and you'll corner them. THEY are the betrayers of Smith and of competition.

Gay-ness. Always puzzled me. But then, it's a miracle any woman wants to be with a nasty, hairy male. So obviously there is some kind of SWITCH that can get flicked. Ah well, vive les differences. So long as we are all polite about it.

Still I wonder about the "male bottleneck" about 15,000 years ago. If maybe gayness was a factor? We males were "feminizing" rapidly in order to stay tamer in denser groups…
Re Bruce Jenner. Dang the number of dimenssions is proliferating. So let me get this "straight." He is hetero male and likes sex with his wife and is not attracted to males... but likes womens' clothes and styles... I thought we already had a category for that! Remember Johnny Depp in Ed Wood? Isn't that old news? Does he (and he is willing still to be "he") have to then call himself a woman and change his name?

Yeesh, go ahead and dress however you like! It's 2015. BFD.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Matthew, I've been insisting all along that I am not one of those modern dogmatic libertarians. I completely agree that any form of dogmatism is not a viable philosophy for a viable home planet.

I believe that it is important to maximize human liberty and maximize the number of mutually-profitable exchanges among humans. That is precisely how positive-sum societies are developed.

If you insist that no one can be a libertarian unless they worship property, then I am not a libertarian because I do not worship at that altar (or any other). That is why I earlier said that we need a new, and very clear, name for what used to be called pragmatic libertarians.

If you are asking for my solution for funding the L5 vision, I proposed several, but they obviously didn't work (i.e. didn't convince the right people) or else we would have solar power satellites by now.

They should have continued the DC-X program with a conversion to a commercial package delivery service. As I told McDonnell-Douglas at the time, the DC-X commercial cargo vehicle could be used for flying cargo over the International Date Line for the package that "absolutely, positively has to be there yesterday."

That could have made a huge amount of money that could have been put into making space flight cheap. At least, McDonnell-Douglas did actually talk openly about that one.

All that I can do is offer ideas like that. The only realistic non-space solution for the climate change problem that I see is ever-cheaper solar power, even if it is just terrestrial. For other environmental problems, I'm afraid that the only solution that I see is cheap human space flight.

Tony Fisk said...

Not sure that human males suddenly 'gayed up', since the behaviour's been observed in just about every phylum in the animal Kingdom.

Alex Tolley said...

The L5 proposal vastly underestimated the costs of SPS. Even today, forgoing the colonies, just building the SPS and using realistically reusable launchers, the cost is well above baseload and would only work initially for niche markets. Very large SPS development might get us to baseload prices on Earth, and certainly not with a human built SPS housed in O'Neill's. SPS PV panels were quite crude in the late 1970's and would never have been commercially viable. There was also far too much hand waving about lunar resources and space manufacturing.

I certainly think SPS is the way to go for the future given its operational advantages, but it is clear that we still have a number of unknowns to research and cost estimates are just that, as we don't have good handle on likely future launch costs, which are critical to the concept being commercially viable.

matthew said...

Thanks for the clarification, Jerry. I was definitely missing your point regarding the re- branding.

Speaking of "when it has to be there yesterday" my first experience with being paid for science was back in my undergrad days when I was working on explosive welding of titanium aluminide to a copper- niobium alloy for Rocketdyne's NASP project. Didn't work, as the mechanism for explosive welding doesn't work on intermetallics, but it was a fun project.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alex

You need an inverter to convert the DC from the solar panels into AC
So a "home battery" to use with solar panels does not need an inverter - you already have one!

As far as performance and specifications for batteries with a home made electric car I am pretty up with what is available
a "home battery" is a much much less difficult task than a car

The best "hobby" lithium batteries are lithium iron phosphate LiPO4 these have advertised lives from 2000 - 3000 cycles and cost (to an individual) about $400/Kwhr

If you want to use a "home battery" to time shift your electrical demand then yes you will need an inverter
A household 5Kw inverter will cost about $5000
Which is IMHO a bit of a rip off as the 75Kw inverter I build for my car cost $600
(They are not the same but the expensive part is the power electronics)

A "home battery" would also have a system for matching voltages so that you are running at the correct voltage for the solar panels
This would be a switch mode power supply - and again its part of the inverter that you use with the solar panels

Hi Matthew
"Didn't work, as the mechanism for explosive welding doesn't work on intermetallics"

Can you expand on this a bit - please

locumranch said...

People like matthew make me sad. They are so quick to dismiss, condemn and mock the self-determinative rights of others, mostly because they forget that every human right comes from the same source, and they are so certain of their own moral superiority that they become bullies & fascists, believing that noble intent can justify any atrocity.

That said, matthew is correct when he says that a 'significant fraction of 8 billion people' will never leave this Earth, mostly because such a mass exodus is a pipe dream, and an unnecessary one at that, when the same purpose can be accomplished with a hundred thousand or less, yet he (and others like him) would attempt the impossible: They would compel with noble purpose; they would place their jackboots on the necks of the others; they would set the world to rights; and they would pay the biodiversity blood price with enthusiasm.

Idealists are a dangerous lot.

PS. The Bruce Jenner situation has nothing to do with gayness, only privilege, power and Cybeline ritual.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Alex, I agree that the L5 proposal vastly underestimated the cost of the whole project at the time.

Also, the Island 3 habitats would never have worked because they had vastly inadequate radiation shielding and far too much internal winds, especially at the windowshores. Bernal spheres, especially if they were made from captured asteroids, would work beautifully though.

Still, it would have been much better to start too early than too late. These projects take a very long time and technology changes rapidly and unpredictably while you are completing long term projects. Timing is everything for a successful engineering project where cutting edge technology is being used.

And Eric Drexler in the L5 Society was beginning to think about molecular nanotechnology during those days (what he now calls atomically-precise manufacturing). Difficulties in completing the original L5 plan might have caused a crash program to develop Drexler-style nanotechnology so that it would have already been done by now, rather than still being decades in the future.

Drexler's vision of nanotechnology still could completely change everything whenever it does happen, giving us simultaneously a solution to Earth's environmental problems and cheap access to space.

All this stuff is incredibly difficult. So was going to the moon, but we did it in a mere 8 years. It was only 42 years from Lindbergh's famous flight until Apollo 11, only about half of a human lifetime.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Re Bruce Jenner. Dang the number of dimenssions is proliferating. So let me get this "straight." He is hetero male and likes sex with his wife and is not attracted to males... but likes womens' clothes and styles... I thought we already had a category for that!

Wasn't there a Woody Allen line about "a lesbian trapped in a man's body"? :)

Paul451 said...

Many posts. Sorry.

Me: "To take our not-too-cold, not-too-hot planet. Either for direct colonisation, or to convert to mass bio-engineered farming for feed-stocks for their industry"
Alex: "Much easier to do with a Dyson swarm around the home star. Why travel interstellar distances to do so?"

Planetary chauvinism. How many people are obsessed with the idea of colonising Mars? To them it's "obvious" that Mars is the bestest, most Earth-likest place in the whole solar system, and that it's our destiny to colonise and even terraform it. Completely ignoring that the effort, resources and energy needed to colonise (or terraform) Mars, you could transform asteroids into thousands (or millions) of customised habitats. A rich eco-system of civilisation scattered throughout the solar system, culturally diverse and rich, immune from any catastrophe that doesn't sterilise the entire solar system. As opposed to a single settlement in a sterile, airless desert; trapped at the bottom of a hole.

Many ETs may turn to a more logical solution, either living within their means on their home world, or spreading through Dyson swarms. But if civilisations are common, there's bound to be at least one that would have a bug about living on Earth-like worlds.

Me: "To stop our RF transmissions because it attracts an even worse threat."
Alex: "Advanced ETI destroying us depends on being capable of doing this relatively cheaply, just like maintaining an empire with asymmetric force projection. Without cheap, FTL travel, the economics and time restraints make no sense."

Any relativistic mass would kill the Earth upon impact. Even a kilogram at high-9s would crack the mantle and resurface the planet. (Perhaps Venus was hit half a billion years ago when that planet was young and fertile and loud?)

Alex: "If we and ETI are well separated in space, why bother stopping our RF transmissions?"

You don't wake up the monsters. You just don't. Even if it means becoming a monster.

Paul451 said...

"But then, it's a miracle any woman wants to be with a nasty, hairy male. So obviously there is some kind of SWITCH that can get flicked."

Supposedly the closest researchers have come to "a gene for (male) homosexuality" showed that the same gene when present in women is strongly associated with hetero-fecundity (**) and/or sexual appetite. So: Gene evolves which makes woman irrationally want to bump uglies with nasty, hairy men. But, expressed in men, it increases the chance that they too find men sexually attractive.

Likewise, lesbians apparently have very similar fMRI brain structure and function/response as hetero men. Presumably due to a similar-but-different shared gene, set of genes, or methylation switches.

(** it was on my word-of-the-day app.)

Rob Kim,
"Is gay bashing behaviour by straight males correlated to some missing factor? Possibly presence of female? ie. Look how straight I am! Now let's have sex?"

There was a study of homosexuality in the UK on male prisoners, using penile tumescence sensors and various sexual images. The researchers studied the actual sexual orientation of prisoners contrasted with their self-identified sexual orientation, correlated with the nature of their crimes.

Violent and non-violent criminals generally self-identified pretty close to their actual sexual orientation, at least within the margin-of-error of this kind of test. However, there were two strong exceptions: Those who were in prison for violent non-sexual assaults against gays, and those in prison for same-sex rape. Both groups overwhelmingly self-identified as 100% heterosexual (including the same-sex rapists), yet both strongly tested as homosexual (or homosexual-leaning bisexual).

The theory is that gay bashing is a response to misdirected arousal. "You, flaunting your homosexuality simply by existing, make me think shameful thoughts, feel disgusting urges; therefore it's not me, it's all your fault; therefore I need to stop you/punish you/show you what a real man is." Throw in the weak impulse-control common in criminals, and bad things result.

(I've seen the same justification from some men when women complain about constant harassment on the street. "When I see an attractive woman I have to say something. It's just an urge within me. It's their fault for looking that way...etc." And I assume (heterosexual) rapists use similar justifications of external cause.)

And because they are so strongly, aggressively hostile to the presence of gays, they establish the dominant group-culture about homosexuality. Normal group-think psychology then reinforces their own prejudice. (You don't want the violently angry homophobe(s) in the group to think you might be gay, so you go along with the bigotry. ... You don't wake up the monsters. Even if it means becoming a monster.)

Paul451 said...

Jerry, who may or may not exist,
"According to others on this blog, the only reason for libertarians to become active in the L5 Society would have been to buy extraterrestrial real estate."

No, to claim extraterrestrial real estate. Without a commons, space is libertarianism's ideal case. No history, no existing populations, no competing claims, just raw, unimproved, unclaimed resources awaiting those with the will to take it, far from the perceived burden of traditional government. There's always been a strong overlap between libertarians and space-settlement enthusiasts.

[If you can't find your Msrs Weak/Strong paper, can you summarise the argument here? Assuming you exist.]

"The original financing [of L5] was to be done at one point by a private global positioning system called Geostar devised by Dr. Gerard O'Neill of Princeton. That idea bit the dust when the U.S. military's GPS satellite system was made available for civilian use."

Interesting example. GPS is so incredibly useful, and advanced to the point where the chipsets and antennas fit in your wafer-thin smart-phone which is already 2/3rds battery volume and LCD-wiring, because it was free & universal. A subscription service would not have developed so rapidly, nor so completely, therefore would never have been so useful and ubiquitous. (Without a large market for receivers, they don't drop in price, without the drop in price, they aren't bought by secondary users for more trivial things.)

"if everyone boarding an airliner in the United States were permanently leaving the country, the United States could be completely emptied of every single human in only 6 months."

Pedantically: The number of passengers to/from the US each year is 130m. If you were evacuating, the planes would be returning empty, so 75m. You could add domestic aircraft, of course, but most are not capable of intercontinental travel, so I doubt you could increase the number of available seats 8-fold without swamping the intervening airports with too many 50-100-seat aircraft trying to refuel. So 2-3 years, minimum.

[I suspect the original calculation didn't allow for actual aircraft range and airport capacity.]

Paul451 said...

Last one, I think:

Jerry agin,
Re: DC-X and SpaceX

The comparison is not as simple as you make out. Dig past the superficial similarities and DC-X research is not in any way related to what SpaceX is doing.

DC-X was part of a SSTO research project. (And part of a cluster of such projects that resulted in NASP and VentureStar, and the wasteful X-33 program.)

- F9R is a TSTO. It is not in any way intended to evolve into an SSTO.

DC-X was a bespoke research vehicle. It was entirely created for that program.

- F9R is the first stage of a working launch system. The Grasshopper VTOL test vehicle was a recycled first stage, the control systems developed for it fed back into the second version of the F9v1.1 expendable launchers, which then provided the core for Grasshopper V2. The recent barge landing attempts were all using "spent" stages from actual working (paying) mission.

DC-X was LH/LOx, with all the fragility and complexity that requires; and could not have used any other fuel combination due to the goal of SSTO.

- F9R is Kero/LOx. Simple, robust and (for aerospace) cheap. Even without reusability, F9 is revolutionising launch costs.

DC-X was 12m high and could barely lift its own weight. It had a range of a few miles.

- F9R is 45m high and launches a second stage and payload into space. It has a down-range up to 500 miles during a normal launch, and typically around 200.

The whole "build a little, break a little" philosophy is the only real comparison with SpaceX. DC-X was a good project, and it was done in a very very good way; I was a fan. But it had a very bad goal. And that goal killed the program as much as NASA/LM politics.

"They should have continued the DC-X program with a conversion to a commercial package delivery service. As I told McDonnell-Douglas at the time, the DC-X commercial cargo vehicle could be used for flying cargo over the International Date Line"

DC-1 maybe. DC-X didn't have the range to leave the county, let alone the continent, let alone carry a commercially useful payload.

Paul451 said...

"The number of passengers to/from the US each year is 130m. If you were evacuating, the planes would be returning empty, so 75m."

Heh. Maths.

Alex Tolley said...

@Jerry - unlike Apollo, SPS need to be commercially viable. Economics are important. O'Neill wanted them to pay for the colony development, a laudable idea, but it wouldn't have worked, and was industrially the wrong approach. The SPSs should have been first, with small habs supporting the construction crew. Then as the profits rolled in, the colonies (mining towns) would have followed.

Today, the most extensive work on SPS I have read is all about designs to reduce costs by reducing mass of the cells, manufacturing those cells on Earth, using economies of scale, using robot/self assembly to eliminate labor costs, and finding a path to scale up pilot SPS to full commercial application. I suspect a path will work commercially, but it will not support huge colonies on its back. Those need to come later when SPS and other industries require a large human presence in space.

AFAIK, the colonies would only have been able to handle a small fraction of the human race, and that is appropriate. The European expansion into North America only attracted a tiny fraction of the European population that was disaffected, desperate or adventurous. Most people will want to stay on Earth.

If I had to make a prediction, space industrialization will happen, but it will not be with astronauts for the most part, but with robots, both autonomous and directed from Earth. The enticing pictures of Bernal sphere interiors are great, but econom8ics will likely preclude them from happening, unless access to space becomes dirt cheap.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 - 65m. Heh, arithmetic ;)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alex
Re - SPS
Did you see the proposals for
"Soletta" and "Lunetta"

Orbital mirrors to extend the day or to provide "full moon" lighting to a city
(instead of streetlights)

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 Any relativistic mass would kill the Earth upon impact. Even a kilogram at high-9s would crack the mantle and resurface the planet.

But you miss the time effect. If the ETI is even more than a few thousand ly away, how will it even detect the rise of a competing civ until it is too late? If it is 1/2 way across the galaxy, 50,000 years is too late to do much in time, both to detect and to execute.

So you need FTL communication at a minimum to detect in time, and FTL ships to take and launch your relativistic projectiles at the target before they get too strong. Without that, there is no point. If you cannot do that, just hide instead.

I could see this as becoming a problem in mutually assured destruction quite quickly unless the aggressor is always guaranteed to be overwhelmingly strong throughout the encounter.

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan, yes. Lightweight mirrors offer advantages for certain locales and applications. But what we want/need is power, and that needs conversion to a transmission that is not affected by the atmosphere. That means microwaves that can be converted by cheap rectennas on the ground, or tuned lasers and conversion to energy on the ground. Microwaves look best from an overall efficiency standpoint. It is also easier to ensure that they cannot be weaponized.

My understanding is that lightweight, thin film PV is the way to go for SPS based on expected technology development.

But like everything else, we shouldn't be dependent on single solutions, and energy mixes are important while we are planetary bound. But SPS offer huge expansion in total energy supply, far greater than any other technology, even fusion (we cannot do better than the sun in mass and duration unless we want to burn Jupiter quickly).

To me, SPS opens up the solar system with beamed power, and that is where they will have a huge impact in space exploration and industrializaton.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alex
In space you have some advantages
The sun does not move
No rain/clouds/wind...
I suspect the best way will not be a thin film PV but mirrors concentrating on a smaller "converter"
Possibly a heat engine or even a high efficiency solar panel with active cooling to handle 1000+ suns incident light
That way the complex part is only a tiny fraction of the area and most of the collector can be very light very cheap mirrors - almost like a solar sail

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurent Weppe said...

"Much easier to do with a Dyson swarm around the home star. Why travel interstellar distances to do so?"

To spread, because at some point someone may say "you know, if all our civilization remains clustered around a single star, we'll still be susceptible to go extinct from a freak cosmic event, but if we're spread along 20-30.000 colonies or more, our civilization will become effectively immortal and have billions of years to figure out how to deal with the Heat Death" and manage to convince its brethren that one sun is not enough.


"Radical Islam has taken some of the heat off the gay community"

If only Radical Islam was the actual target. Problem is: Muslims are the new fashionable targets.
You're a devout Muslim utterly disgusted by Daesh and Al Quaeda methods and goal? Bigots will target you.
You're a lapsed Muslim who doesn't care much about religion? Bigots will target you.
You're not even muslim: you're a Christian or Atheist or Buddhist or whatever who just happens to have Muslims among his/her ancestors... Bigots will still target you.
You don't have Muslims ancestors that you know of, but you happen to be an immigrant with dark skin: guess what? You're still a fucking target for bigots.


"They interviewed a sheriff's deputy who said that when he was younger the streets were full of young men looking for fights"

Ironically, stopping young men from fighting is one of the reason modern police emerged in Europe: the early forms of police inherited from the late middle-ages proved to be utterly incompetent in stopping brawls that degenerated into outright murder in the expanding european cities (well, the early forms of police were little more than armed thugs on the lords' payroll, so they were utterly incompetent in most things, really): for instance, under Richelieu and Mazarin's rule, the amount of murder in Paris was staggeringly high (372 murders in a city of 500.000 inhabitants in 1643; by comparison France has 660 murders per year for a population of 66 million inhabitants nowadays) and most of it came from brawls or retaliation from brawls (from the late middle ages to the 17th century, these were the causes behind 75-85% of all murders according to the data available): the existing police, inherited from the feudal period and undermanned, under-equipped, and utterly corrupt (not to mention, divided between rival services, themselves inherited from the feudal system) was eventually dissolved by Louis XIV in 1667 and replaced with the "Lieutenance de Police": if you ever wondered where the police lieutenants came from, that's where.


"A mind welded shut is impervious to the obvious."

Or eyes are useless when wired to a blind brain (that may be my favorite arabic saying)


"I wrote a long reply to just about everyone… and it vanished. Blogger's fault?"

Welcome to the club

Rob Kim said...

Thanks all for the interesting discussions btw.

Paul SB said...

Laurent, you are absolutely right about the poor choice of targets. Violence and ignorance seem to go hand in hand. I had only been living in the Los Angeles Basin for a year when 9/11 happened, and I remember that the very first hate crime I heard on the news the next day was the murder of a Coptic Christian. Their traditional clothing looks similar to traditional Arabic dress (not exactly, though), so to an ignorant fool the guy must have looked like what they like to call a "towel head" or "sand nigger." It mad me feel ashamed to be American, but I'm sure you get this kind of ignorance and violence everywhere. You also can find wisdom and beauty everywhere too, if you look for it.

Paul451, thanks for pointing out the genetics (and/or epigentics?) That's just the kind of light we (as a species, I mean) need shed on these kinds of questions. I would point out that these genes must predate the human species, as bisexual behavior is quite common elsewhere in the animal kingdom. Our behavior is just part of a broader pattern of animal behavior, but we have our own twist on it. Since we operate in part on memes in addition to the genes that form our instincts, we have a tendency to think in boxes. As far as I know there are no other animals that are exclusively homosexual, but humans think in gendered categories that result in great confusion. It goes back to what Ernst Mayr called typological vs. population thinking. If a male hominid does anything at all that his culture defines as "feminine" then he assumes he is in the wrong box and must really be a woman, imprisoned in the wrong body (like the Woody Allen quote). Other animals just follow their impulses - we stereotype them.

Dr. Brin, how about Corporal Klinger in MASH?

As far as conservatives and libertarians looking at you like you're a sap if you make a moral argument, it sounds like what my mother used to call the pot calling the kettle black. I don't know a whole lot of libertarians, but conservatives tend to label themselves as God's chosen people, morally superior to all the rest of humanity.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

The reason that I liked the DC-X idea so much was that there were several paths that it could follow when it was scaled up. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the single-stage to orbit (SSTO) concept after Gary Hudson's Thought Experiment showed that SSTO could really be done with existing hardware.

Thought experiments aren't enough for most people, though. Most people don't understand things like mass fractions and specific impulse.

Somebody should have gotten out the original plans for the old hardware and grabbed parts from the museums and actually have done a single-stage to orbit using already-designed hardware. If the government was ever to do a space program, that SSTO demonstrator would have been exactly the one to do. The "existing hardware" SSTO wouldn't have been commercially viable, but it would have changed many minds about the boundaries of the limits of the technologically possible.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Regarding the difficulties in using a liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen system in DC-X: My local chapter of the L5 Society actually incorporated a company called Hummingbird Launch Systems at the same time as the DC-X development. It started after I presented the ideas of Gary Hudson to the local L5 chapter, which gave a lot of ideas to a fellow member who was a lot smarter than me (and is now working as a rocket engineer for XCOR).

The rocket was to be called Hummingbird because it could hover and fly backward. It would use a mixture of a heated highly-concentrated solution of ammonium nitrate mixed with nitromethane. (Both were dirt cheap, easily storable and easily obtainable at the time.) Another friend had the idea of using diethyl zinc as an igniter. We tried it using me holding a large hypodermic syringe with protective clothing and injecting it through a barrier to a test container of the proposed fuel. There was instant ignition and sustained burning, just as we hoped.

We made one small rocket engine, but never did any successful testing because we were all incompetent when it came to raising money. (Hummingbird was to be rather DC-X like, but to use a ring of much smaller engines.)

Unfortunately, our proposed rocket fuel was exactly the combination used in the Oklahoma City bombing. Even terrorists could figure out the very best extremely cheap, high energy density fuel to use. The laws of physics are the same no matter what you are doing.

After that, I decided that having a bunch of rocket-grade ammonium nitrate stored in my basement could make me a terrorism suspect. (I was, after all, one of those weird libertarians.) So I ended up using all of the Hummingbird ammonium nitrate to fertilize my lawn. I had a nice lawn for a few years, and XCOR got an excellent rocket engineer, but that was the end of Hummingbird Launch Systems.

LarryHart said...


However, there were two strong exceptions: Those who were in prison for violent non-sexual assaults against gays, and those in prison for same-sex rape. Both groups overwhelmingly self-identified as 100% heterosexual (including the same-sex rapists),...

It took me a long time to understand that there are two very different memes about "homosexuality" that are often conflated but are almost diametrically opposed.

The one I grew up believing is "A gay man is one who is sexually attracted to men (as opposed to women)." The other is "A gay man is a man who desires to be sexually penetrated (as opposed to doing the penetrating)". There are obvious overlaps between the two meanings, but they are not the same thing.

This is the only way it makes sense for guys like Larry Craig to assert with a straight face, "I'm not gay. I just like to have sex with other men." As long as he's the one doing the penetrating, he doesn't consider himself to be gay. The guy he's having sex with is gay, but not him.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Dr. Brin, how about Corporal Klinger in MASH?

Klinger wasn't gay, and strictly speaking, he wasn't even a real transvsestite. He was trying to get himself considered insane in order to get kicked out of the army. And it never worked, because of a Catch-22 situation--if you're trying to get out of the army, then you're clearly not insane.

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan - see this article about the Tesla battery in thy Guardian.

The cost to the owner is $1500 up front, and 10 years of monthly $15 payments. Total cost (undiscounted) = $3300
Then the battery is replaced. I don't know whether this is before or after the 50% PG&E rebate.

If it is true that power cost is a wash for the $15/month, assume 10KWh/day for 30 days delivery, this requires a power cost differential of: $0.05 between off rate and peak power. This seems reasonable to me.

California can have quite a few power interruptions that are very annoying, lasting from a few seconds to many hours. Being insulated from that would be a really good, even apart from the power smoothing. Battery technology has been the next big thing for residential solar, and this is a good early entrant. Costs are bound to decrease. This offers so much in terms of flexibility and helps overcome the "sun doesn't shine at night" issue of solar power.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

@ Paul451: The basic idea behind my proof that mutually-profitable exchanges are always possible was quite simple. Most people here could do it. Just take "Ricardo's Law of Association" (also known as the "law of comparative costs.") Apply it to every kind of human interaction. (David Ricardo only applied it to trade between nations.)

Then put the terms into equations of simple high-school algebra. Of course, you use inequalities ("greater than" or "less than" symbols) instead of equals signs. It is remarkably simple to do. I was sure that some economist with "credentials" would have done it by now, but apparently not.

I could re-derive it all, but I thought that the way I explained it in 1970 was particularly elegant, just something that popped into my head one day after I had been thinking about it for a while. I'm sure that I will eventually find the original. An acquaintance in Texas also knows that he has a copy, and has been recently looking for it. He has the same problem as me, though, it's underneath 45 years of other stuff in his garage.

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan - SPS - I suspect the best way will not be a thin film PV but mirrors concentrating on a smaller "converter"

Could be. The trade off is that you need radiators to dissipate the concentrated heat on the converters, which adds mass. Those radiators may also need to be kept shaded for efficiency. As always, economics of the different approaches will determine any outcome.

Even for SPS, the sun does move for GEO locations (unless you are thinking from the rectenna position). Either that or the beam must move to track the ground rectenna.
The main thing is nearly 24/7 operation and higher incident energy for Earth energy. Almost unlimited energy for ET operations.

Alex Tolley said...

@Laurent To spread, because at some point someone may say "you know, if all our civilization remains clustered around a single star, we'll still be susceptible to go extinct from a freak cosmic event, but if we're spread along 20-30.000 colonies or more, our civilization will become effectively immortal and have billions of years to figure out how to deal with the Heat Death" and manage to convince its brethren that one sun is not enough.

No argument there. It just has to be achievable. One risk is that your colonies become the new aggressor, especially as they are spread out in time. Now you need to keep your extended civ under some sort of control. Humans have never managed that. Your own species is always your toughest competitor.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

The Tesla battery is an incredibly important development. If I could afford it, I would disconnect completely from the power grid. The power grid has huge vulnerabilities.

I have read some of the recent Edison Electric Institute propaganda about the alleged reliability of the power grid. (EEI is the electric industry lobbying group.) Those people aren't even competent at lying.

Stuxnet reportedly made Iranian centrifuges spin at wildly varying rates, while reporting normal rotational speeds to the operators. Now imagine something like Stuxnet applied to the power grid. Variations in speed, phase and voltage in each of the 3 phases of the power grid could have errors that are not seen on the operators instrumentation. Transformers and motors, especially 3-phase motors, just slowly begin to overheat all over the country.

EEI also tries to completely ignore the possibility of something like the 1859 or 1921 solar storms ever happening again. In reality, such an event is inevitable.

The big 2003 outage proved that the electric grid can't even handle tree limbs.

We've also got more than 5 percent of all of the natural gas compressor stations in the country powered from the electric grid. Things are set up so that if the electric grid goes down, everything stops working.

Alex Tolley said...

@Jerry - Economists have shown that all transactions will result in optimal distribution of benefits to the participants (even if that is a power law distribution).

matthew said...

@Duncan -
Explosive welding requires the two dissimilar metals to be forced together at some small (~15 degrees, depends) incidence angle. As the shock wave propagates across the metals, a jet of the thin layer of oxide at the surface of the metals is created. This jet propagates ahead of the incidence angle and cleans the surfaces to the atomic level ahead of contact. The atomistically clean surfaces then bond with a metallic bond, free from any ionic bonding. The resulting weld is impossible to separate cleanly; subsequent fractures will follow along the weaker of the two metals, not at the interface. First seen in tanks during WWII where incoming tank rounds would weld to the armor of opposing tanks. Most commonly used to bond copper and aluminum or steel for use in preventing galvanic corrosion in ships, btw.

Trying to explosively weld an intermetallic doesn't work because they are held together with ionic bonds. We were using an alpha TiAL3 intermetallic where Rocketdyne suspected that it was a Ti+xAl-3x formulation and were hoping that there were enough free metallic bonds to make the weld bond. There were not, our results showed. This was pretty early in the science of both explosive welding and of the Ti-Al intermetallics. I was in my undergrad years and working for what was the then the Center for Excellence in Explosives Technology at New Mexico Tech. Mythbusters goes there sometimes when they want to blow something really big up. I was young and got to work with detasheet, detawire, and anfo. We also did a good deal of explosive consolidation work, mostly making diamonds or trying to find pathways to high-temperature superconductors. It was a fun time. Plus, cool science and wonderful math.

Jumper said...

I have an outlier's belief about "why" gay / homosexual people "are like that." Basically, by accident. What we call "imprinting" in animals is called "falling in love" or "falling in lust" or "developing a crush." There may be no real genetic link except for genes leading to imprinting itself. Maybe the human organism just decides to imprint one day early in life due to factors we don't understand. No doubt someone will implicate oxytocin as a component. Maybe non-genetic hormonal fluctuations due to chance while in the womb. Later, sometime from age 1 to 2 roughly: Boom - imprint happens, the brain does what it does, and there it is.

Alex Tolley said...

@Jumper - there is evidence that homosexuality is acquired during fetal development. This is well before any imprinting can happen. That doesn't rule out later cultural factors, but it does mean that there is a link that may be genetic, epigenetic or environmental, acting during development.

Jumper said...

Alex, what's that evidence?

Alex Tolley said...

@Jumper -

here's a Wiki entry as an overview to get you started

David Brin said...

re SPS… Look up Keith Henson, probably today’s paramount promoter of space-solar beamed power. The notion now is to build an initial system with one purpose… to then beam power to single stage to orbit hypersonic ramjets (that then use more beamed power to heat-expel propellant with no need for oxidizer). Those much cheaper launches then add to the sps system which then starts paying for itself with beamed power

Keith claims the cost figures chart positive with good margins, though the plummeting cost of earth-based solar is tightening those margins. The biggest hurdle may surprise and daunt you…

… it is NOx production from so many hypersonic launches. A very serious issue.


DCX had unexpected side effects… modern compensatory control systems, like in the Segway and octocopters, where machines now have animal levels opt balance and maneuver agility.

Jumper said...

I'll just say it's muddy, and leave it at that. De-culturalized outlook is difficult. There is this to ponder:

Alex Tolley said...

eith Henson, probably today’s paramount promoter of space-solar beamed power.

Henson seems to be going with the specialist niche approach - powering spacecraft and launchers. This seems eminently sensible, as the cost of energy for these applications is very high, and will justify the high initial up-front cost. I am particularly supportive of beamed power for deep space craft and even off-world outposts.

For those who grew up in Britain and read Eagle's Dan Dare comic strip, it was some sort of energy beaming that powered much of Spacefleet's ships. So we come full circle.

Paul SB said...

Larry, I thought the Catch-22 was well understood. The thing that got me was how Klinger was funny in the 70s, but in the 80s people started to complain, even though it was obvious he wasn't really gay. He was also Lebanese, which didn't seem to bother anyone at the time. When my daughter was much younger she used to watch the Lilo & Stitch cartoons, and I knew a lot of old fuddy-duddies (mostly engineers, I'm sorry to say) who had very harsh words about Disney generally and Pleakley specifically. I'm not a huge fan of Disney anyway, though I thought Lilo & Stitch was one of the best things they made. Even for conservatives who fear change, times change, and they change with it. Just don't point that out or they go ballistic.

Gator said...

If you take Bruce Jenner at his word, he is not a transvestite, "he" is transgender. There is a huge difference between wanting to dress as a woman and believing/feeling that you *are* a woman, just in the wrong body.

Instead of trying to fit transgender people into a box you created try listening to them, and believing them. I have a great friend who is a transgender woman. I can listen and try to understand how her life makes sense to her now that she is able to live as a woman... and it does make sense. This is something that has to be seen and experienced by knowing someone. It's the same as trying to understand anything human that's different from what we have experienced directly ourselves.

If you don't know any transgender people personally then just try to accept it as a postulate. "Some people are born feeling like they are physically the wrong gender." See what follows. It used to be no one in general society could accept homosexuality was possible. If one is hetero, it's hard to understand how anyone could be homo. Who chose who they are attracted to? It's not until you meet people who are homo that one can begin to understand that these are real people who are able to live satisfying and consistent lives. Same with transgender people. When you meet some you'll understand.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Matthew
Intermetalics are still "metals" and they still deform the same way
I don't see why they would not "splash" the same way and be weldable

I would expect to have to make some changes to the angles and to the propagation speed of the "explosion" - But I don't see why it's impossible to explosive weld intermetallics

Especially as the definition of "Intermetalics"
"as solid phases containing two or more metallic elements, with optionally one or more non-metallic elements, whose crystal structure differs from that of the other constituents."

Covers a lot of common metals including the materials used in tank armour

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alex

or $1500 down + 10 years at $15 = $3300

Which is it???

If it's the $15 month I want one!

Here (NZ) I pay $0.24/Kwhr but if I send back to the grid from my solar panels I only get $0.08/Kwhr

A 10Kwhr battery would enable me to "time shift" and fit enough solar panels to cut my bill by up to $150/month

Paul SB said...

It's funny how these conversations meander. We started off talking about alien life...

This got me thinking of just how alien some human practices seem to us, like the Brazilian men who believe they can only be manly by doing forbidden things, and since anal sex is one of the most forbidden things, they think they are being manly going to male prostitutes, or the Micronesian tribe who think that the only way to make boys grow up strong is to make them ingest the one thing that is uniquely male - semen.

So what if real aliens are very different from us? In "The Descent of Man" Darwin said that most of human intelligence arose as a result of sexual selection - big brains created art, probably beginning with song, in competition for mates. The best singers, the ones who could tell the most entertaining stories or paint the most interesting cave paintings impressed the opposite sex the most, passing more copies of their genes to the next generation. But is an alien species reproduced by budding or fragmentation then they would not have this venue for selective pressure to increase intelligence. They might evolve along a very different pathway than we did, and might truly be alien (not Star Trek alien, who act just like us and look just like us except for some odd ridges). That could be a real challenge to envision, and all bets would be off on there being universal rules we can immediately grasp.

Tim H. said...

Gator, transgender folk are one of the many things I will never entirely grok. I have talked to trans men, and feel it's their decision, which I must respect, but I don't truly understand. A case where cutting slack for others as you'd like it cut for yourself seems to be the way to go here.

Tim H. said...

Something of interest, if it's real and scales up:
It concerns a possible insight into warp bubbles.

Paul451 said...

Re: Eagle-labs and their warp bubbles.

Eagle labs guys are funny. They are deep into the woo-woo end of physics, but they are completely open to criticism, they seem to drink CITOKATE like mother's milk. It's as if they have no ego whatsoever, and yet Paul March spent 20 years virtually single-handedly campaigning for funding to create the lab - like precisely the sort of screaming monomaniacal obsessive who would not tolerate a trace of criticism.

Alex Tolley said...


$1500 down + 10 years at $15 = $3300
So your levelized cost of the unit is $27.50/mth (assuming 0% discount rate for borrowuing the $1500)

If I understand your situation, you create power from your solar panels during the day, that you sell back to your utility at that time for $0.08/KWh. You buy their power at $0.24/KWh at night when you need the power. This costs you effectively $0.16/Kwh net.

Assuming you use all the 10 KWh every day, that is worth $0.16x10x30 = $48/mth.

So on those terms, you probably should buy a unit of comparable cost and functionality.

Some things to consider, that are happening in teh US.

1. Utilities are trying to extract themselcves from the net metering. They certainly don't allow you to generate net power for profit, just reduce your bill to $0 annually.
2. Utilities are upping connection charges to "maintain the grid". Thus

This suggests that utility subsisidies for such batteries will disappear (as well as solar installations) and connection charges will rise.

My guess is that this will drive the technology and lower prices for batteries to do exactly what you want to do with ever more favorable results. The issue is going to be how far one can stay off the grid during the winter/rainy periods.

Alex Tolley said...

@Tim H.
Almost certainly they have not created a warp bubble. A few stray, misinterpreted, observations of a drive that doesn't even work as expected should not allow one to leap to that conclusion.

Alex Tolley said...

@PSB - even here on Earth we have different types of intelligences, e.g. the collective intelligence of the social insects. Interestingly they do follow the "3 principles" as DB has outlined. What they do not follow is our cultural evolution, which has so explosively increased our collective human abilities, which of course they cannot as the workers are effectively clones with the same genetic makeup. They would need colony to colony selection somehow, e.g. drones/queens selecting their mates based on prior colony performance.

No doubt the universe will show us some remarkable, and unexpected, biology that evolves intelligence in a way no terrestrial forms have. I wish I would be alive to see it.

Alex Tolley said...

@Tin H. transgender folk are one of the many things I will never entirely grok. I have talked to trans men, and feel it's their decision, which I must respect, but I don't truly understand. A case where cutting slack for others as you'd like it cut for yourself seems to be the way to go here.

As you say, just being non-judgmental is the best way to go. We don't have to understand everything, we just have to ensure that people who are "different" in some way are not put into targeted out-groups (unless there is a serious issue, like being a psychopath).

Tim H. said...

Paul451, the linked article did not mention "eagle labs", whoever they are, it claimed the anomaly happened at a NASA lab. And yes I know it's unlikely, but one can hope.

David Brin said...

Non judementalism is one thing. It is another to face relentless innovations in terminology and type parsing along with insistent demands that we pay attention to them. e.g. why on Earth should Jenner's re-labeling of transvestitism be viewed as anything other than an attention-seeking yawner?

Go ahead, fellah. As long as no one is hurt and you spare us the sanctimony.

Rob Kim said...

@Paul SB
Yes there must be as many types of successful lifeform out there as there are types of planets in existence. Ingenuity of life is only limited by laws of physics it seems.

History of life on Earth tells us high-level intelligence as unique to human is not a requirement for reproductive success or not planetary dominance. Eg. Bacteria, Dinos.

Then how did high-level intelligence as in uniquely human trait evolve on Earth? Maybe it was selected over time by females as you mentioned. We don't know for sure.

One we are pretty sure about though is all planetary life will eventually be subject to extinction by force external to the planet itself. Asteroids, death of a star, supernova nearby. I think we can safely consider those as 'universal' evolutionary pressure.

Something we observed repeatedly over time on Earth is called convergent or independent evolution. For example wings of bats and birds. Only thing similar between wings of the two is the function and survival advantage they provided in their respective habitat.

What I am getting at there is universal evolutionary pressure on all planetary life to evolve space travel and survival. How they do it is up to them, within the limits of physics.

Is high-level Intelligence one of the adaptation pathways to space travel and a planetary life's survival beyond its home planet? We don't know but it got us as far as recognizing the extra-planetary extinction threat and going to the moon.

We can only hope 'high' level intelligence (incl. ethics?) is a convergent trait required in space travel and that other space faring species possess it.

Paul451 said...

Sorry, I meant Eagleworks lab is the NASA lab that is doing work on the EmDrive and White's warp ideas.

David Brin said...

great discussions...



Gator said...

DB: "It is another to face relentless innovations in terminology and type parsing along with insistent demands that we pay attention to them. e.g. why on Earth should Jenner's re-labeling of transvestitism be viewed as anything other than an attention-seeking yawner?"

Now you sound like those folks opposed to gay marriage because "marriage is defined as one woman and one man."

Bruce Jenner is not a transvestite. Open your mind.

Anonymous said...

"Go ahead, fellah. As long as no one is hurt and you spare us the sanctimony."

Oh dear... Dr. Brin just put this picture into my mind:

Jenner in a dress standing on the ramparts of Notre Dame, holding something above his head.

"Sanctimony! Sanctimony!"

I think it might be some type of grizzly wearing a pair of Calvin Klines, obviously making it a Jeans Trender Bear.

Time to start reading a new thread....

David Burns said...

"That continued existence requires a universal loss of property rights from time to time."
Matthew, am I supposed to understand this without explanation or example? Are you talking about oligarchs confiscating ordinary people, or ordinary people confiscating oligarchs, or something completely different?

"Because property holds little significance when compared to memory. Experiences matter more than possessions."
False dichotomy. There is always memory, there is always property, but who owns it? Is it part of a distributed system, or a centralized bureaucracy? Is there competition or is "order" imposed from the top?