Thursday, September 22, 2016

Tech Advances and really interesting angles on science

Every advanced nation on Earth – and many developing ones – have rapid, convenient, economical high speed rail systems linking major cities, allowing millions to bypass congested airports… except the U.S. Now some rays of light. California is plunging ahead with an HSR line – though funding from Bakersfield to Los Angeles will have to wait.  And the Obama Administration has found a way to bypass the laziest Congress in American history by lending Amtrak 2.2 billion dollars to upgrade some eastern corridors to 186 mph with comfortable, modern WiFi rich trains. 

California’s battle to get high speed rail is like LA’s desperate fight in the 1990s to get metro subways and trains. Right wingers fought it hard... and now we know life would be impossible there without the efficient and economical mass transit system.  Seriously, look 50 years from now. The very notion that there would NOT be high speed rail or tube transit up between SoCal and the Bay area is simply absurd. 

The question for sane folks is how? I am willing to listen to arguments that normal, world class high speed rail is obsolete! Maybe we should leapfrog the rest of the world! As Africa is leapfrogging copper wires. In which case, the most valuable part of the California project is clearing the rights of way.

Troglodytes, this will happen. We are a modern, technologically advanced, scientific nation. Get used to it.

== Tech miscellany! ==

UCLA neurosurgeons used ultrasound to “jump-start” the brain of a 25-year-old man from a coma, and he has made remarkable progress following the treatment. The technique, called “low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation” (LIFUP), works non-invasively and without affecting intervening tissues.  

What is a "Weapon of Math Destruction”? It must be opaque to its subjects, harmful to their interests, and grow exponentially to run at huge scale. This is a clever re-phrasing of the intelligencia’s fad concept of 2016 — otherwise referred to as the Tyranny of the Algorithm. Take a look at Kathy O'Neil's new book: Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increased Inequality and Threatens Democracy, reviewed on Boing Boing.

Are there still folks who watch fox-rants that "humans can't affect the Earth"?  A record-tying earthquake in the edge of Oklahoma’s key energy-producing areas rattled the Midwest from Nebraska to North Texas on Saturday, and likely will bring fresh attention to the practice of disposing oil and gas field wastewater deep underground. 

== Evolution in action ==

An almost sci-fi level of weirdness in this ant colony that’s been discovered inside an ancient, Soviet era bunker, in Poland. Atop the bunker, a normal colony of wood ants does their thing, but occasionally, workers accidentally fall through a pipe into the bunker and must make do in (to them) an apocalyptic, hopeless wasteland.  They produce no queens, no males, and no offspring. The massive group tending the nest is entirely composed of non-reproductive female workers, supplemented every year by a new rain of unfortunate ants falling down the ventilation shaft. The sheer numbers of dead bodies they’ve carried to the periphery suggest that this orphaned wood ant nest has been active for many years.  Shivering, I can imagine so many stories…

In this stunning research video you witness - decisively -  evolution in action. You’re watching living things facing down new challenges, dying, competing, thriving, invading, and adapting—all in a two-minute movie that makes vividly clear how bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics. But especially that evolution is very real, going on around us, in real time. 

A teensy silver lining to catastrophic climate change.  Scientists probing a newly exposed, formerly snow-covered outcropping in Greenland claim they have discovered the oldest fossils ever seen, the remnants of microbial mats that lived 3.7 billion years ago.”  (I have a scene reminiscent of this in EARTH.)  If confirmed, this would push the established fossil record more than 200 million years deeper into the past, with many implications. 

A triplet fossil: A well-preserved fossil of a snake that swallowed a small lizard that had eaten an insect, some 48 million years ago. I don't know why she swallowed that fly...

== The nature of reality ==

Is there an objective reality? Plato and so many others have posited that our subjective worlds are unreliable – iffy senses delivering warped impressions to a brain that’s a muddle of murky memories and chaotic or compulsive emotions. Paul Simon summed it up – A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest. Knowing this, sages have tried various ameliorations, some (like fiercely accountable experimental science) more successful than others (priestly declarations or Randian ‘objectivism.’)

Of course, science fiction has always danced along the margins between the subjectivity of art and human experience vs. the objective reality that Science keeps saying lies beyond Maya's veil, beyond Plato's Cave.  

We have to believe science because the results of experiment and of math are both so consistent!  And yet, the veil is always there and art - especially speculative literature - lets us poke at it in ways that science cannot.

Now cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, suggests that our problems perceiving the objective universe may be rooted in evolutionary biology. "Given an arbitrary world and arbitrary fitness functions, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but that is just tuned to fitness."

For many of you in this brainy community, that sentence already makes surprising sense.  For the rest, there’s the linked article or else Dr. Hoffman’s famous TED talk.  But it gets more interesting. “Hoffman then builds something even more radical out of his broken link between objective reality and evolution. He calls it conscious realism and it's based on the premise that "circuits of conscious agents" are what end up defining experienced reality. While there clearly is a world separate from us, Hoffman says, evolution does not give us access to that. Instead, he claims, it's our interactions as conscious agents that give shape to the reality we experience.” 

== Tech Advances ==

Innovation: Stanford researchers have invented a version of polyethylene — kitchen wrap—  that can beincorporated in clothing that allows infrared energy to pass straight through, while being opaque to visible light. (For clothing, duh?) A second issue: polyethylene does not permit water to pass through, was also fixed. The new material allowed a surface to cool more than a cotton garment by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, suggesting such coatings might save up to 45 percent of the energy required for cooling inside a building.  

One of two dozen tech zones where, if early promise comes true, we may change the whole game.  How about a long-lasting, safe, zinc-ion battery -- water-based, using cheap but safe, non-flammable, non-toxic materials, compared to expensive, flammable, organic electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries that cost twice the price. It could help communities shift from traditional power plants to renewable solar and wind energy production, where electricity storage overnight is needed.  

Google is developing a quantum computer in a 48-qubit grid that it believes will outperform the world’s top supercomputers.  

Fujistu Semiconductor Ltd. has become the first manufacturer to announce it is mass producing a new RAM that boasts 1,000 times the performance of DRAM but stores data like NAND flash memory.  The new non-volatile memory known as Nano-RAM (NRAM) was first announced last year and is based on carbon nanotube technology.  Because it uses power in femtojoules and requires no data clean-up operations in the background, as NAND flash does, NRAM could extend the battery life of a mobile device in standby mode for months

Episode two of Popular Science’s new sci- featurette show Future First is titled "Artificial Intelligence: Your Tutor and Nurse," features Ben Goertzel, and takes a look at artificial intelligence and its potential applications for education, health, and more.  A topic I’ve been talking about a lot lately. (It feels like a sudden wave.)  Oh, Episode number four will feature me as a head talking about SETI and METI and the Fermi Paradox.  You know. All that.

This fellah took the original schematics for the legendary CURTA hand-cranked calculator (1940s) and refined tolerances to produce a 3D printed version.  And now that he’s done it, that means YOU will be able to do stuff like this, within the decade. And as I have been saying for 30 years… we are entering the Age of Amateurs, when no truly good thing will ever again be lost.  We’ll, if you don’t count Nature….

A kewl and fun video about the Commodore 64! Which my son and I bought later in original packaging for 75$ (you can’t do that anymore) in order to solve a real problem which I describe here: Why Johnny Can't Code.  And this followup.

And finally... 

Here's an appeal to the group mind.  Someone have a look at this series and report back to us? This series from Terrafiniti addresses important topics… but also may be a be New Agey: Towards 9 Billion addresses the critical issues that face our planet in the 21st century, from business and economics to sustainable energy and technology. I love its wide-ranging intelligence, lucid prose and interdisciplinary approach to scoping a new economics for our age.”  Topics include: What’s the Point of Capitalism? And 21st Century Natural Philosophy.  Yet, these are important topics. The books are free to download and – according to Joss Tantram: “consist of analysis and big ideas for how we might evolve our systems of value and production for a sustainable, equitable future. They also include discussion on the challenges of communicating unpalatable truths and the rise of truthiness rather than scientific method.” Okay. So let’s see which endeavors actually uplift the conversation.

Huh! New research suggests that most teens aren't vaping nicotine at all, but using "sweet and fruity flavors" like strawberry, chocolate cake and bubble gum. 

Wow. So you're going for all of the "cool" of smoking with (little? none?) of the suicidal-addictive parts? I keep telling folks - the next generation is smarter than us! (Though empowered by technology.) 

Mind you, it's still irritating to be near one of these rude "vaping" twits.  But teens have a right to be rude twits - a bit, some - I guess I was! Meanwhile though, this is much smarter and less noxious. 


Anonymous said...

My Sister-in-law told me that while working on her Masters of Public Health, she was exposed to a study that said that Vaping wasn't healthy. I'm afraid I didn't read it myself so consider this extremely weak evidence. Vaping may not be all that great. That said, I find Vapers MUCH more pleasant to be around. So if you are going to smoke or Vape, Vape away.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Conversations from the previous thread I was about to post before I saw the onward message:

LarryHart said...

What gets me is...I always thought standing for the national anthem was a show of respect for the country, not specifically for the military. I can see some overlap, but the notion that a protestor is disrespecting the armed forces is kinda weird to me.

But then there was comics writer Frank Miller who seemed to think that "Occupy Wall Street" was somehow supporting al-Queada, so it shouldn't surprise me that right-wing authoritarians have no cognitive acuity. It often does, though.

I never really understood it, either, to be honest, though I don't really think it stems from authoritarian cognitive dissonance. I suspect it has to do with two separate reasons. First, there is the pragmatic/utilitarian use/abuse of the political capital of "OMG YOU INSULTED THE TROOPS!11!!" accusations, etc. This is especially a favored tactic of the political right in the US because support for the troops is a "traditional" party platform (and as Dr. Brin has noted on various occasions himself, very much a strong reality for the common conservative/right-leaning citizen, even if the party leadership rarely acts on policies that actually favor us). Second, I suspect the "disrespecting the nation/national traditions of courtesy/etc. = disrespecting the troops" logic among the average joe conservative citizen comes from the conservative cultural understanding/belief that the maintenance and existence of our liberty is sustained by our military, and the men and women who volunteered to serve in it, making them almost sacrosanct heroes of freedom who deserve respect and honor even when they screw the pooch. In that mindset, disrespecting concepts of freedom is tantamount to disrespecting the people who defend that freedom.


Regarding Summers, etc., as others have noted (including Dr. Brin), the issue taken with your posts on this sub-topic are not because you have bad points, or are even necessarily wrong - even Dr. Brin noted you have valid points. The issue is how you presented yourself and your argument/position. Instead of saying something along the lines of "Dr. Brin, you're wrong/incorrect/this is suspect because of X, Y, and Z logic, evidence, and reasoning" you launched into a "screeching rant," as Dr. Brin called it, that contained far more vitriol and ad hominem than actual discussion content. One of the things that I've always loved about this community is that the classic tone of internet argument is strongly discouraged, and even weird, obscure, off-the-wall, or totally-out-there ideas and theories can be and have been discussed with earnest and civil discourse. You might not change anyone's mind, but if you keep it civil, any point or argument you make will at least be listened to.

It's also worth noting that clout and power granted by wealth (especially international clout and power) follows more of a logarithmic scale rather than a linear scale once you get much past the meat of the middle class (or perhaps the whole thing is just one, big, exponential curve?). Someone worth some $20 million is only 1/100th the financial net worth of someone worth some $2 billion, which is a substantially larger fraction than the difference between someone worth some $100,000 (1/200th), but the difference in political clout of the person worth $2 billion vs the person worth $20 million is FAR more than the absolute difference in their financial net worth. The larger sums of money, and concentrations of power that their assets give them, allow them to play games and throw influence around at much higher levels than the $20 million person. The difference in circles of power the billionaire is able to operate in vs the millionaire is far greater than the difference between the millionaire and the meat of the middle class.

Ilithi Dragon said...


Not really knowing you, I can't be absolutely positive, but I am about 95% certain that you have never actually spent time in the military, and probably never much, if any time around the military. There are just certain words and phrases, ways of speaking and speaking about, that people who were in the military use that people who weren't don't, and vice-versa. People who were in who criticize the military also tend to have specific complaints, or at the very least complain about a specific range of things regarding the military. Even people who were only in for a short time before getting disqualified or kicked out and feel jilted by the service tend to complain about a specific set of things, in identifiable ways. You've demonstrated none of them, and have expressed several words, phrases, and ideas used by people I've known who have had utter contempt for the military, and usually no actual experience with it.

I can also say that how you describe the military and life in the military, especially the US military, is absolutely wrong. It is so fundamentally wrong that I don't even really know where to begin describing what is wrong with it.

You seem to be under the impression that we all live the life of a mindless drone, following rote procedures and obeying orders without question or thought, doled out mindless entertainment to distract us from our enslavement, like some bland, gray, dystopic 1984 scenario.

It sounds like you're mistaking the standardized uniforms, the structured hierarchy, and the strong chain of command for a total repression of the individual, a total repression of or blanketing of thought and freedom. That's... not how it works.

Yes, we all wear the same uniform. That's important, because it creates a sense of unity, which is absolutely essential for any organization or agency whose success fundamentally relies upon its members working together towards a common goal. It also creates an image that one can be proud in, and the strongly encouraged maintenance of one's uniform and appearance not only instills important life skills (building the habit of maintaining one's appearance is an essential skill to successfully interacting in just about any social group), it also instills and builds upon habits of upholding a high standard (and also serves as a visual cue to others as to the quality of the person next to you - sailors with sat uniforms are usually (though not always) are sat sailors who hold themselves and their conduct to high standards, where as sailors who don't bother to maintain their appearance and grooming standards tend to by lazy and/or slack off or take short cuts in their daily work).

Uniforms are also important because they help identify rank and the chain of command, which is absolutely essential. ANY group or organization that engages in high-risk operations, with very real dangers and hazards, ESPECIALLY when the failures, mistakes, or hesitations of even a single person can result in disaster, up to and including the death of everyone in that group, operates with a strong chain of command.

Ilithi Dragon said...

For example. The torpedoes that we use are propelled by an internal combustion motor, which is fueled Otto fuel II. Otto fuel is self-oxidizing, meaning that if it catches on fire, the only way we have to put it out is to cool it below ignition temperature with water fog. Fires on boats are bad. Fires on submarines are really bad. Self-oxidizing fires on submarines are really, REALLY bad, but that's peanuts compared to the REAL danger of an otto fuel fire. See, when otto fuel burns, it produces hydrogen cyanide gas. It's toxic enough that, in almost every possible circumstance, by the time we detect its presence, we've already inhaled a fatal dose, and we'll have seconds to minutes to live. I am trained and expected to carry out several actions to alert the rest of the crew, minimize the spread of the toxic gas, and combat the casualty despite the fact that at that point I am probably a walking dead man, and despite the fact that even if I have not already received fatal exposure, carrying out those actions will almost certainly give me a fatal exposure. Even if I am not in the space at the time, as a torpedoman, I am expected to run into the torpedo room and combat the casualty without hesitation, even though doing so will very likely result in my death (we have emergency breathing systems that are isolated from the regular compartment air, but any real casualty involving an otto fuel fire or torpedo hot run will likely involve high enough concentrations of HCN that mere skin absorption will provide a fatal exposure).

We are all trained and drilled to charge into danger to combat casualties, even when doing so means facing probable or even near-certain death, with little or no hesitation, so that we can save the ship and save the rest of the crew, and continue to fight the ship if we are in combat.

Even outside of casualty situations (which we train and drill extensively for), the discipline, command structure, and esprit de corps that comes with military structure and training is absolutely essential to our successful operations. Another example, driving the boat. The watch station that I stood most of my recent deployment was that of a helmsman/planesman. I was literally driving the boat. The planesman are trained to respond to orders changing course and depth without hesitation, and we are trained to work together as a formal and professional team, because the orders from the Officer of the Deck or the Diving Officer of the Watch often have direct impacts on the ship's safety and the performance of our mission. Failure to respond to orders can result in collision or grounding, or can send us off course or off depth, disrupting or delaying our mission. The crew is an integral part of the submarine, and it is essential that we perform our jobs flawlessly, otherwise the whole system starts to break down, and not only is our ability to perform our mission impeded, the whole boat is put at risk.

Ilithi Dragon said...

On the flip side, while we are trained to follow orders without hesitation, and to respect the chain of command, we are also trained and encouraged to question and challenge those orders if we see something we think might be wrong or dangerous, or that we know is wrong or dangerous. It's that "watch team back-up" that I talked about in a previous thread. If we're traveling North and the OOD orders a left turn with a ten-degree rudder angle, to steady up on course East, we're trained to carry out the order without hesitation, while repeating it back, and then immediately report, "Officer of the Deck, sir, long way 'round." If we are given an order that violates operational parameters or safety envelopes, we are trained and encouraged to question and challenge it, and under the right circumstances, even encouraged to delay in carrying out the order, or even actively refuse to do so.

No successful military will require and enforce its personnel to be mindless automatons. Even the best officers and chiefs and leaders have their derp moments. Everybody makes mistakes. People get tired. People forget details or operational or safety restrictions, or get distracted in a high-stress, high-pace environment that requires them to know, be aware of, monitor, track, and consider dozens to hundreds of pieces of information simultaneously. Those mistakes can cost lives just as much as a lowly seaman failing to carry out an order promptly, or stopping to debate with the OOD or the Captain, sometimes even more so.

The food does kinda suck, but overall it's not bad, and submarine chow is generally a cut above regular Navy chow, which is generally a cut above the chow in the other branches (except the Air Force*). Largely it depends on the quality of the cooks making the food. It's still not great food by any measure (though sometimes the CS's manage to pull off miracles), but considering that they prep food for 160 people in a space smaller than most bedrooms, and that they're doing so while we're operating submerged, unable to resupply for weeks to months at a time, it's really not that bad.

The whole intangible work, programmed education, and software entertainment bits are also just nonsense. The work is very tangible, in terms of day-to-day. Most of our work involves regular maintenance to keep the ship running, fixing anything that breaks, and operating the ship's equipment as part of whatever watch station we stand. The work that the whole boat is doing is also very tangible, but I can't tell you about any of that, because it's all classified. The education is no more programmed than any other education. Most of it is on-the-job training, coupled with a culture of "the books and tech manuals to qualify this or learn about that are on the boat; I might tell you which book the information you're looking for is in, or help walk you through a system or operating procedure, but it's up to you to learn it for yourself."

I don't even really understand what you mean, or what criticism you are leveling with the whole "software entertainment" bit. Do you have a problem with video games or movies/TV shows as a form of entertainment? Do you count my tablet and phone allowing me to bring dozens of novels underway with me that I otherwise wouldn't have had room for as software entertainment?

Ilithi Dragon said...

Regarding Vaping:

Vaping has become VERY popular on submarines, in no small part due to the fact that smoking is now no longer authorized aboard ship. For many of the crew, it's a full-fledged hobby, that has caused otherwise non-science-interested people to learn about electrical resistance, voltage, material properties, etc. to better build custom coils and pair them with different battery modules. Some chemistry is also involved, for those who are mixing their own vape juice.

I personally don't vape, and have no desire to (and find getting a face full of vape cloud as annoying as getting a face full of cigarette smoke), but it is more pleasant to be around than smoking, and while I highly suspect that it is not completely harmless by any measure, it is clearly far less toxic and hazardous than regular smoking. If nothing else, it's progress by degrees.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin - "donzel, your unwillingness to consider that US & Western oligarchs would funnel money to Russian ones UNDER the table is utterly naive."

I had been responding to Hadend's comments about PUBLIC funding (specifically, hundreds of millions of dollars through USAID). That's nonsense.

I think you misread that as my arguing that private funding was never provided, a claim I did not make (and logically, that would be the opposite of the claim I did make - that Russian insiders used arbitrage deals to sell commodities subject to price controls in Russia onto a global market at global prices - and then pocketed the difference to buy out Russian productive assets - that claim requires someone to be present on the other side of the deal, and that would include American and European buyers).

The naivete here is assuming that something that has persistently arisen for 6000 years could not possibly arise in Russia without American "help." Error is blaming Bush for that help (what, in the 2 weeks after the funds were authorized in October 1992, he rebuilt Russia against their will? Really? Gosh, why didn't he dispatch some of those super-powered advisers to handle other crises...)

David Brin said...

Ilithi Dragon’s missive about submarine life and generally the US military was both enlightening and proud-making. It’s a glimpse into several parallel universes in which I am now retiring from the same branch of the same service.

Only let me add that the US military is culturally different than many in history, even most, and even the pre-WWII era. There has always been an official policy that American soldiers have a right to gripe - proof of a citizenship they’re fighting for. But the notion of implementing processes for subordinates - even enlisted - to criticize superior officers is a hard one for human warriors to implement.

I know I oversimplify when I give credit to this maturity to George Marshall (who should have been Time’s Person of the 20th Century.) But this culture was born of very very sober and serious grownups like Marshall, Acheson, Truman, Eisenhower who were desperately concerned that the rising Pax Americana not repeat on the mistakes of its predecessor empires.

Among other things, the Pax power must innovate as if it were the underdog. But that’s another topic. What is fundamental here is that the noncoms and ratings who Ilithi describes are not drones. They are citizens who - in some stupid sci fi dystopia scenario would NOT obey orders to attack fellow citizens at home.

Anonymous said...

It was the modern, technologically advanced, scientific man Najeeb Halaby then chair of the modern, technologically advanced, scientific FAA who in the modern, technologically advanced, scientific nation America did once claim that, I quote,

"The supersonics are coming−as surely as tomorrow. You will be flying one version or another by 1980 and be trying to remember what the great debate was all about."

Yet the modern, technologically advanced, scientific nation never did build that modern, technologically advanced, scientific plane, and (thank goodness) those commercial planes are history. Get used to it. So why should resources be wasted on high speed rail? Why not less expensive low speed rail that goes more places? What is your obsession with shaving a few seconds off of a commute? This is one reason why your stroads are so very deadly, by the way, all those seconds saved (for the car-sitters; us pedestrians get beg buttons to press).

Oh, and where are your flying cars, by the way? If not for those meddling neocons, you surely would be flying, right?

Tacitus2 said...

My point on high speed rail was that you need to get past how inherently cool it is - and I had a great time riding the French bullet train some years back - and look at the totality of its costs now and in the future. Also of course at the benefits to society both by doing and not doing it. Money spent there can't be spent elsewhere. I will settle for "lets look at all options". But here in Wisconsin the project that was touted so highly had extremely suspect numbers. I am in favor of trains. They make sense in some places and not in others. You may be correct in thinking a leapfrog would be a better plan. Are we so far off from autonomous vehicles with designated high speed lanes?

Ah, but I promised something fun.

Each year FIRST Robotics has a challenge. Some vexing competition that makes teams sweat over how to get their robots to go over, under, around and through things while shooting baskets and for all I know dancing the Macarena. This time of year they put out a "Teaser Video" that gives hints of what is to come. It came out yesterday...

Obviously this gets scrutinized down to the pixel level. Kremlinologists never spent so much time analyzing and speculating. There were earlier hints that Science Fiction would be involved. So I think the superficial Steam Punk theme is a ruse.

My pixel level scrutiny shows an asymetric robot. Many gears. A slightly ominous ticking sound. There is at least one tiny "mini bot" peeking out....

Jerry Pournelle....your Watchmakers have broken loose!*

*this may be the only audience out there that will get the reference right away!

locumranch said...

Occam's Comic (last thread) confuses stroad feature with bug when he implies that the US highway system was modernised in 'error'. With or without malice aforethought, it's effects were deliberately designed to guarantee full employment, force infrastructure development, and encourage private vehicle ownership, commuterism & conspicuous consumption in an attempt to prevent a post-WW2 'Hoover Town' (style) economic collapse stemming from insufficient demand & excess industrial capacity.

Also known as the 'Levittown', this Suburban American Dream was cynically sold to the greater globe in order to dramatically INCREASE industrial waste, material inefficiency & frenzied economic distraction:

In response to David's insistence that "we cannot turn our backs on the highways and let them decay", I therefore ask "WHY NOT?", especially when this American Dream (which, according to George Carlin, "you have to be asleep to believe") has led to such profligate waste, environmental despoilation & CO2-mediated climate change??

Likewise, high-speed trains are NOT the answer, especially when they encourage rampant commuterism.

@Illithi_D: My military experiences are limited to peacetime military hospitals (that reeked of purposelessness) and post-conflict military casualties (who have been made purposeless), whereas you still find purpose & succor in your youthful idealism. My 'entertainment, software' and 'education, programming' cracks were oblique references to education & entertainment as behavioral conditioning modalities (BF Skinner on coercion).

@David: Odd & grouchy I may be but, much like a consonant-altered 'Drumpf', I prefer to think of my arguments as 'Trollery' ;)

@Anon-the-stroad: Those beg buttons at the intersection? They don't do anything.

My eye, Tacitus. My eye.

David Brin said...

Blithering dope version of “Anonymous” has not a clue how an advanced civilization works. It does not depend on any one individual being all-wise. That’s YOUR method, fool. And it worked great for 6000 years (not.)

The fact that you’d reflexively assume that’s what we vastly more advanced types are doing is only natural, since you are mired in medieval ways of thinking. But that’sn’t what the enlightenment is about at all.

We KNOW that all human beings are delusional. On average, smart people who know a lot are smarter and know more than people who are dumber and know less. One should not have to say it. But the mad-jibbering confederacy is asserting the opposite.

Still, every smart person is delusional about something. Najeeb Halaby, for example. But unlike the kings and priests you yearn for - dope - we do not count on any one person being right about any one thing. Even in the military, as Ilithi Dragon so eloquently just described.

We use reciprocal accountability, criticism, negotiation (!) which the Republican Party and Fox etc have done everything in their power to destroy, in order to get both smart and average people pointing at each other’s mistakes, piercing delusion, as it was never pierced in the past.

In a sense it is not your fault that you are congenitally unable to understand or even parse what I just wrote. But it does blare out “this is an imbecile.” And we are tired of what imbeciles like you have done to our republic.

David Brin said...

Locum our current economy depends upon functioning infrastructure. If the highways are to be abandoned in must be in ways that ease us into other modes gracefully, not by Letting some of the most magnificent bridges and viaducts and constructions since Roman times collapse with busy commuters and tradesmen and shippers on them.

I oft tell in postings (like this one) about trends in local making, manufacturing, and food production that might lower costs and carbon footprints while delivering fresher goods quicker and livening localism. These new techs may help to save us all, so what are you yammering about?

People still need to get places. Both cities and suburbs may become more human as folks localize. Land use may decline along with carbon. But to envision a year 2076 without high speed rail or tube links along major urban corridors is just being dumb or dystopian.

BTW HSR is NOT about "commuterism." it is about letting people get about their lives efficiently and well.

BTW, Infrastructure spending also happens to get us jobs with high velocity money, both of which were deliberately sabotaged by an evil evil evil and extremely evil Republican Party. Especially since it can be done virtually for free.

donzelion said...

Tacitus - "My point on high speed rail was that you need to get past how inherently cool it is"

Whoa, hold on...who said it was 'cool'? Japanese bullet trains are over 40 years old. Riders on those trains seldom ponder how 'cool' they are: they curse the trains, and dream of a day when they can work from home, or near home. Most people will always curse the freeway, the sewage system, the power lines, their water supplies - and piece of infrastructure.

I recall the Tea Party supporter in the high desert after one of the two recent fires there, thanking the same government that saved his home even as he curses it. A widely shared sentiment.

Still, if you're counting the costs, factor in who benefits most by RAISING those costs to prevent a piece of infrastructure from coming into existence? We have scads of local interests erecting every roadblock they can to prevent any travel conduit from being completed EXCEPT the one that benefits them the most. Always have. Always will.

That crowd is in large part responsible for America's lack of rail infrastructure relative to other, more centralized democratic governments. Once upon a time, urban Republicans fought tooth and nail against rural Democrats to get the roads and railroads in place (and it's no accident the first Republican president had been a "railroad lawyer" before becoming a politician). Nowadays, the parties have flipped, but the fight is otherwise the same.

"I am in favor of trains. They make sense in some places and not in others."
Agreed. But when they do not make sense, quite often that is more a matter of "who chose to prevent them from making sense" - and less a matter of "what is the cost/benefit analysis?" With a few billion dollars, one can finance quite a few lawyers to block the rights-of-way, raising the cost of any infrastructure immensely (even if the lawyers lose every challenge, the challenge delays the project). We might 'leapfrog' over many obstacles, but we'll never alter the fundamental truth that power seeks to deploy power to amass greater returns at the expense of the non-powerful.

Alfred Differ said...

DavidWerth said... The last time CO2 was 400 ppm sea level was over 20 meters higher than it is today. It will most likely take several centuries for that much rise to happen but it could be a done deal.
…As James Hansen recently pointed out there have been non-linear sea level rises of several feet in the past. While there is less ice to melt now than in the past if something like the West Antarctic Ice Sheet goes into a catastrophic collapse we could have sea level rise measured in feet in a decade. Chances are that won't happen but it can't be ruled out.

I know I’m late on the topic, but this is worth pointing out because it shows the kind of communication that gets us into trouble with people who are somewhat less than rabid deniers. It shows an attempt to make economic policy based upon extreme possibilities when the economically correct thing to do is make insurance policies. Insurers would spot the flaws in the worry listed above and their understanding would be reflected in policy prices.

For example, the last time CO2 numbers were above 400 ppm, there was no Isthmus of Panama diverting an equatorial current and there WAS an isthmus connecting South America to Antarctica preventing a circumpolar current. The current circling around Antarctica today traps a lot of cold air down there, thus traps a lot of ice. Panama’s existence, on the other hand, diverts a lot of warm water north in the North Atlantic basin removing ice from Europe. Two geographical facts shape an important constraint on what is possible when it comes to ice melts in both hemispheres. Antarctica is going to remain ice-locked until we block the circumpolar current or drive CO2 much, much higher. Arctic and Greenland ice are going to melt if we even look at them cross-eyed.

Sea level projections must focus on what is possible for the next century if we are going to have a chance of convincing fence sitters to do the right thing now. Scary Antarctic melts might make for good science fiction, but using them for current economic policy now simply helps our opponents by making us look imprudent when we want to send exactly the opposite message. The science has to be right for us to succeed, but the stories we tell with our science have to be plausible too. Twenty meters of sea level rise without astronomically high CO2 levels isn’t plausible. It is bad science fiction. If CO2 gets that high, the level of the sea will be one of our more distant problems.

Alfred Differ said...

@Ilithi Dragon: Thank you for the glimpses into submarine life. I do IT support for the Navy right now, so it a very distant way, I get to help. Every fleet story helps make sense of some of the odd things I see. 8)

For example, one of my peers was a former sub guy and he told me of the non-24 hour day he had to stick to and the constant training schedule. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the idea of a 16 hour day (or whatever it was) because it seemed to me that biology would ensure a high mistake rate. He told both stories together, though, and I was able to see that one required the other and that the non-standard day made it much more likely people would act as they had been trained to act. You’ve added the watch team back-up layer, though, and that makes the method clearer. Errors will get caught because you all plan for them being caught.

Constant training does not make one a mindless drone. (The truly mindless folks don’t cut it for long.) It makes it possible to do complex things with a variety of real human beings. The method is hard to portray in movies, so I doubt most Americans know how important it is.

My peer’s stories also convinced me my father was correct to steer me away from military service. He put in a full cold-war career with the USAF, but didn’t want his first son following him. He wanted something else and I obliged him. One of his granddaughters (through my brother) just joined the Navy, though. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: In reference to high speed trains making sense in some places and not others…Agreed. But when they do not make sense, quite often that is more a matter of "who chose to prevent them from making sense" - and less a matter of "what is the cost/benefit analysis?" With a few billion dollars, one can finance quite a few lawyers to block the rights-of-way, raising the cost of any infrastructure immensely (even if the lawyers lose every challenge, the challenge delays the project). We might 'leapfrog' over many obstacles, but we'll never alter the fundamental truth that power seeks to deploy power to amass greater returns at the expense of the non-powerful.

Yah. I was taught this at my last job in terms of the utilities and the rights of way for the power grid infrastructure. NIMBY is what they get the local voters to believe (if they don’t already), but what market participants (public and private) actually want is for their preferred options to be chosen. Money gets spent strategically to arrange market advantages.

For the current disadvantage faced by rail, I was taught one must look back far enough to see how cars and trucks (and then airplanes) were seen as a way to break the corruption/over-regulation associated with rail. Every road built or expanded and every airport built competes with rail in some form or another and government subsidy slowly changed the landscape. Passenger rail vanished (except for subsidized forms) for a reason having only a little to do with the preferences of most citizens.

Alfred Differ said...

I'll admit my interest in high speed rail between LA and SF is low, but if the price is right I'd substitute it for driving in order to recover a few hours of my life each time.

What I'd rather have is high speed rail between LA and Las Vegas. I'm willing to drive up onto the desert to pick up the terminal in Victorville if there is too much politics to bring it down the slope. I'd like to be able to visit my family without taking my life into my own hands on I-15 on weekends. Yah. The folks in Barstow and Baker wouldn't like that, but how much can they really lawyer-up? 8)

Ilithi Dragon said...


The Navy shifted subs away from the 18-hour day (6 hours on watch, 12 off), and to a 24-hour cycle (8-hours on, 16 hours off), precisely for the biological reasons you noted. Researchers have known about circadian rhythms for a while, and in recent years enough studies had been conducted that documented the effects of maintaining a 24-hour cycle vs not that the Navy opted to switch to 8s from 6s. A lot of the older guys, who grew up with 6s, hate 8s and prefer the 6-hour watch cycle, but having experienced both, I personally prefer 8s. You stand a couple extra hours of watch each day, but you get 4 extra hours off watch, plus each watch cycle is a full day, so it both makes time go by faster, and makes it easier to wrap your head around what day it is. The downside is that the mid watch guys always have the mid watch, etc., and the mid watch and evening watch sections get short-cycled for training events that are run during the "day," and we always get the raw deal when getting underway or pulling into port. (But, then, submariners also often tend to take a certain masochistic pride in being the guys who shoulder the extra work load, regardless of how much we gripe about it.)

That change is actually one of the other reasons why I really like the Navy, and proof that they're not some dystopian slave regime system thing. The Navy CHANGES. It learns from its mistakes, and it changes and adapts to new information. It doesn't always do it perfectly, and it usually takes it a few iterations to get it right, but if you can show Big Navy that it's doing something wrong, or that the way things are are causing problems, it will change. Another big example of the Navy changing is the opening up of enlisted submarine rates to female sailors last year. My boat will never see female sailors; I'm on a third-flight Los Angeles class, and we just don't have the berthing space to support gender integration, but the Ohios, our Ballistic and Guided Missile subs ("boomers" or BNs/GNs) and the Virginias (our new Fast Attack sub) will see them (and they already have female officers).

Always glad to hear about new recruits to the Navy. I'm still pretty junior myself (I got a late start), but I've advanced enough to the point where I'm training guys under me, taking up leadership positions, etc., and it's always awesome to see new people coming in. Do you happen to know what rate she's going into?

David Brin said...

I don't understand why the Vegas casinos don't subsidize the LA-to-Vegas HSR.

The SanFran to LA to Diego route will take a decade or more and immense aggravation. And the HSR may be replaced or have to compete with a hyperloop or something using the same right of way. But that's the point. Rights of way are the hardest part.

Once we have HSR, there will be a side effect. Towns like Fresno will boom.

Ilithi send me that library gift address some time. And tell other boats.

Robert said...

Okay. Recopying what I'd started in the previous thread seeing that it ended prematurely ;)

Off on a brief aside. I've been having fun indulging in thoughts of how technology could create "superheroes" (in the case of the story-world I'm crafting, to deal with an interdimensional invasion by creatures made of what appear to be solid shadow).

Given what we do know of technological innovations and research into nanotechnology and the like, what somewhat realistic abilities do you think could be granted through nanotechnology and biotechnology?

The biotech could probably allow such things as improved vision (better night vision for one), improved hearing and smell, perhaps improved reflexes, and the like. And of course the Genies could be discriminated against because their abilities bred true and some folk will find any reason to discriminate.

What might nanotechnology allow? Could it help improve strength? Maybe increase the toughness of muscles, tendons, and bones so that muscles can be used to a fuller extent? What abilities do you think could be enacted by nanotechnological engineering of the body to become more efficient?

And what about actual cybernetics? What directions do you see cybernetics going in? What could be done that seems at the edge of science fiction but in fact is within the realm of what could actually be done?


Tacitus's response was interesting about increasing strength and problems with strengthening one area but not others (which I actually had alluded to in talking about nanotechnology increasing the toughness of tendons and muscles - I've read somewhere that muscles are actually capable of far greater feats of strength, but risk ripping from the bones or ripping apart entirely, thus we have "circuit breakers" in our minds not to overdo things).

I actually wasn't thinking about flying or laser beam eyes. ;) I tend toward more mundane aspects when thinking superheroes.

And Occam's comic included a link for nanomedicine:

and a book by Bob Freitas, "Nanomedicine basic capabilities" at

He also mentioned using video tattoos as an interface with internal nanobots, holding breath for a hour, very enhanced immune systems. Essentially some of the things alluded to in the webcomic "Always Human." :)

Rob H.

Jumper said...

The human brain is too weak. It needs nano-strengthening to reduce concussions.

I don't think abandoning right of way is useful. Better to change sections of it to clean vehicles including bikes and rail lanes. Rails should be steel with a non-load bearing Al bus bar. Likely sheathed in Nomex with a long continuous slit for each car's power contact as it moves along.

hadend said...

Ilithi Dragon, yeah I probably should have been more civil, I was trying to get under the skin of everyone who was arguing 'Larry Summers isn't that bad' (which pissed me off and which is a pretty hard position to defend and leads to people saying stupid things), but doing it that way was tactless. In my defense, while I was flippant and argumentative about a lot of the things being said, I wasn't spewing vitriol.

Back to the bad man...
I'd say that someone doesn't have to be a billionaire to represent their interests, just like someone doesn't have to manufacture weapons for a living to represent the interest of defense contractors. IMHO, Summers has always represented the interests of Wall Street, including during his stint in the Obama Administration, and has been rewarded handsomely for his loyalty. A tiny fraction of the population will ever attain his level of wealth and as far as I can tell, most of his wealth has come through Wall Street (i.e. rents and interest). The class he belongs to, the 0.1%, is almost entirely comprised of bankers and CEOs and I think he shares their outlook, interests, and general worldview much more than he does with someone in the professional class, like say a wealthy surgeon.

Also, I think it's simplistic to think power is just a linear function of net worth. Being a billionaire in and of itself gives a single individual more power than anyone should probably be allowed to have, but that doesn't mean they're omnipotent. If the Koch brothers wanted to destroy the EPA tomorrow, they couldn't just flip a switch. It still requires building political alliances, appeasing or defeating opposing factions, paying lobbyists, etc. Summers represents, IMHO, a lot of blood-soaked corporate and financial interests, and is valued by them precisely because he can lend an air of academic respectability to their political maneuvering.

Tony Fisk said...

"Every advanced nation on Earth – and many developing ones – have rapid, convenient, economical high speed rail systems linking major cities, allowing millions to bypass congested airports… except the U.S."
Add Australia to the exceptions (and maybe NZ, given the Greymouth-Christchurch service keeps 'West Coast Time' ;-) Oh, we have extensive urban lines, and Victoria does have a high(ish) speed service linking the rural centres. However, while there are freight and passenger services between the capital cities, given the Melbourne-Sydney run is ~11 hours...
Moves are periodically made to put a high speed service in place, but it's the old tale of infrastructure as overhead (real pity). One day.

I don't recall them being in it, but those poor ants would fit right into Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" (which does allude to places other than London Below)

I don't have any military service background, but my Dad's tales of British Army life during WWII back Ilithi's comments about following orders while questioning them. He contrasted them with the German Army, who had a somewhat more straitened approach with the maxim "Befehl ist befehl" ("Orders are orders")

David Brin said...

Although the quasi apology for style is appreciated... and let me avow that any liberal who more than toyed with Chicago neoloberalism in the 1990s - as Summers did, has a lot to answer for. Let me still say bull. The 0.1% is NOT bankers. That is almost dizzy levels of inability to think. the top thousandth are professional caste folks like top end medical doctors. Professors who spun off a small company to use their patents. Slightly bigger than small business owners.

Shift the decimal TWO points - not one - to get to your finance-hedge-banker category. And even there you have a majority who are merely semi-large business owners or tech-patent developers who have played no significant role in parasitism.

Before going half cocked, think... it... through.

hadend said...


Here's an interesting quote from "Clique-Run Organizations and US Economic Aid":

[the reformers] work closely with HIID’s Moscow-based, aid-funded program, also known as the “Harvard Project.” HIID has received $40.4 million from USAID in noncompetitive grants for work in Russia and stands to receive another $17.4 million, according to USAID

Here's another one from the great journalist Matt Taibbi:

Did USAID help propel Chubais into top positions in government? Wedel quoted AID official Thomas Dine as saying: “As an observer, I would say yes.

Other programs, like Chubais' voucher program, was underwritten by USAID to the tune of $58 million.

The standard operating procedure was to award USAID grants to a small cluster of think tanks like HIID, all of them chaired or influenced by Chubais or Chubais surrogates. He basically had his hand on the spigot and used that power to secure a slew of powerful political appointments. Basically, those non-competitive grants funded Chubais' political machine.

You're not going to find a check written to: ANATOLY CHUBAIS signed: JOHN Q. TAXPAYER just like you won't find an entry in the 1996 USAID budget report called CHUBAIS SPENDING MONEY.

donzelion said...

Alfred - in terms of the downfall of rail, and corruption generally, I get the narrative of rail as moving from "inadequately regulated" to "over-regulated" to "captured regulators" (if the regulators weren't always captured from the beginning). That's a factor, but probably not a sufficient cause, largely because regulatory capture, endemic corruption, and extravagant waste have played their parts in air, sea, and auto travel as well.

What is different about roads is how political pressure operates. NIMBY is always and everywhere a factor, BUT the NIMBY complaints are compounded for roads and freeways, and still got overruled. Politically though, only a handful of senators or congressmen would benefit from a rail network passing through their districts or states - there are only so many places where rail links make sense - but MANY more of them benefited from roads in their home district. The political incentives outweighed the national interest here.

Ask 48 senators from outside California "how important a priority is the LA-SF high speed rail link to you?" and many of them will say, "yes, it's quite important." But ask them how high a priority it is, and they'll get back to you...some day...when they head the Department of Transportation...

But Dr. Brin's bigger point about failing infrastructure is only partially a result of political deadlock (though THAT is a very big part). From the 40s-60s, road bonds were easily financed, and a staple of conservative investors seeking a steady 5-8% return without any work (and that was back when they were taxed at greater than 50% on the interest!). After the '80s though, and particularly as securities evolved (esp. mortgage securities), those same investors found ways to get 8-10% with a tax deduction. Priorities shifted in response: why bother with a road bond when you can get an asset that 'always increases in value' (unlike roads)?

raito said...

Ah well, blogger ate my post, and I'm tired.

High-speed rail is outmoded, but my version won't happen.

Why Johnny Can't Code is extremely stupid.

And the C64 video is 404.

That's the short version.

donzelion said...

Hadend - First, the HIID is the "Harvard Institute for International Development." Grants to the "HIID" were noncompetitive, because the university undertook the program at cost, using mostly existing resources. As a result of the grants, several hundred U.S. researchers got entry into Russia. It's a fairly typical illustration of how USAID spends its money: on U.S.-based firms and universities, whenever possible.

Second, a $40-50 million grant for this sort of work (through Harvard, rather than Chicago, and most of which was paid out under Clinton, rather than Bush) is a far cry from the 'hundreds of millions of dollars' you referred to yesterday.

I would not question Thomas Dine, and acknowledge that it is quite conceivable that USAID helped Chubais establish himself. He had already been a known dissident in Leningrad, already served in a senior city-wide position, and when Yeltsin moved from mayor of Moscow to President, it is quite possible that the USAID ties helped him pick Chubais as an adviser, seeing as how most of the established economic advisers had been purged.

But that's a totally different world than claiming "USAID underwrote the voucher program." Really? USAID claims to have spent the money trying to estimate costs, revenues, and likely economic outcomes from undergoing the voucher program or any other reforms. You're suggesting they lied about that, transmitted the money to Chubais, and helped set him up. Perhaps you've mispoken.

In any event, Chubais had been advocating privatization since the early '90s, long before the oligarchs took root, and could even point to two 'relatively' successful efforts (Czechoslovakia and Hungary). It's possible that it was Harvard-trained economists who misled him after that - but more probable that he tried something that could have worked (but-for the fact that the world is a lot bigger, and some Russians figured out a great way to game it).

Paul SB said...

Ilithi Dragon,

You have garnered a lot of attention and cast a lot of pixel here of late, and given that you are on a military schedule and could be out of contact at any time for any length of time, that only seems fit. As my colleagues in special education sometimes say, what is equal for all is never fair for those whose needs are different.

But given that your time here is limited, you might not want to spend too much of it on our designated trolls. Obviously how you use your time is your choice, so this is just a friendly suggestion. Nothing you, nor anyone else, say to them will move them in any useful way. Persuasion is wasted effort. For my own part, I prefer not to feed the trolls - even the self-identifying trolls. The shock and disbelief of reasonable human beings is steak and potatoes to them, outrage crab or lobster. Even mild puzzlement is an ice cream cone with sprinkles.

Silence, however, smells to them like Goat.

Enjoy your leave while you have it. I grew up in a military town, with military family and friends. Though I didn't think that was the life for me, I can at least say I have an inkling of it.

Did you get Tacitus' "Watchmaker" reference, and Loci's response?

donzelion said...

Hadend - "You're not going to find a check written to: ANATOLY CHUBAIS signed: JOHN Q. TAXPAYER just like you won't find an entry in the 1996 USAID budget report called CHUBAIS SPENDING MONEY."

At one point in time, I worked for a federal official who had been a controller for a fairly large chunk of USAID money (several hundred million dollars, actually) for over a decade. He explained what it was like in roughly these terms: "The Democrats appoint a set of controllers, the Republicans appoint a set of controllers; both are convinced everything the agency does is hurting America, and both are searching out every penny misspent. For some projects, more is spent on the accounting for the project than ever reaches the project, simply because the intensity of oversight is so intrusive."

That was in 1999, by the way. In 1863, Congress passed the "Lincoln Act" creating qui tam actions against anyone discovered 'defrauding' the government: if one had evidence of wrongdoing by the government (and giving uncontrolled spending money to Chubais would ABSOLUTELY have been precisely the sort of wrongdoing that the act was intended to prevent), then one could recover the losses. Meanwhile, that sort of whistleblowing would earn approval from whichever party was not in power, while making you rich enough to retire. And it would only take one "honest" official - in a pot of money monitored by many, many such officials. Every last one of them (including any who leaked information to the press) 'knew but did nothing.' Plausible?

I will not say that is impossible, so much as an extraordinary claim, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You haven't provided it yet (rather, you've gone from hundreds of millions in a lifeline that empowered one person - to around $50 million, or maybe a little more if Harvard was uncharacteristically generous to someone outside their university).

David Brin said...

raito I would happily bet $$ that you could not paraphrase the "Why Johnny Can't Code" argument with any accuracy.

A bit of advice. The "basic" assumption, when reacting negatively to an influential writing by someone known to be smart is to at least consider the possibility that the error was in the reading. Paraphrasing is the foremost method to eliminate that possibility, moving on then to the substance of disagreement. And if you did not understand this paragraph, I promise that it contains real and important wisdom. Read it a couple of times.

Oh, BTW... I, too, might be wrong.

dozel the amounts described herein under "USAID are chickenfeed. They would never have financed the share buyout conspiracy that collected shares of state companies from Russian citizens.

Kal Kallevig said...

Rails should be steel with a non-load bearing Al bus bar. Likely sheathed in Nomex with a long continuous slit for each car's power contact as it moves along

This sounds right to me, but the structure of the rails is not the first consideration. The main point he made was that small autonomous vehicles on rails are far more efficient than conventional trains except for those situations where there is fairly long distance between stops and the occupancy rate will be high. My preference would be for grade separated rails with solar panels above. This class of vehicles is often known as Podcars. The 10th annual Podcar City Conference wrapped up yesterday in Antwep, Belgium. Conference proceedings should be online soon.

Both Podcars and trains would be a lot more efficient than buses or cars, autonomous or not.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Damn it, I had a nice, long, eloquent response to Paul, and trying to get Google logged in on my phone made it go away....
} : = 8 \

Ah, well. I at least saved the part addressed to Locum.

Locum, our systems and treatment for our wounded and damaged veterans, while far and away better than nothing at all (one of my aunts, who served in the army, would have been straight up SOL without VA support, despite its problems), is still utterly abysmal and downright appalling. Those are very poor representations of how the military proper functions. You're also going to be seeing a lot of very broken and damaged veterans there, people who are suffering from PTSD and the struggle, frustration, and despair that comes with living with any major illness or disease, especially if that is crippling and/or disfiguring. You are seeing broken combat veterans at some of the lowest and darkest places in their lives, who often aren't getting the support and help that they need, let alone that they deserve.

I want to talk with you about this some more, but there's not much time left in this bus ride (I'm off to shoot machine guns for qualification and proficiency). I'll post more on the ride back or when I get home, and maybe some pictures or video, if I can get any good ones.

Paul SB said...

Ilithi Dragon,

The joys of technology! Oh well, I've been there too, as have many of us. I have report cards to do this weekend, so I may or may not resist the temptation to keep coming back here anyway (but I'll find you in the archives, if worse comes to worst).

Sad news if no one has heard, we have lost one of the bright stars in the Monty Python pantheon. Terrence ("Mr. Big Nose") Bayler, who I hadn't realized until now was a Kiwi.

In the interest of journalistic balance, my local radio station announced the shocking $8000 anonymous donation to a local animal shelter (now that's worthwhile anonymity!). Though I can imagine Dr. Brin's chagrin that the wads of $20's were shoved in the donation depository they call the "Cat Box."

Okay, I'm a little weird this morning.

Darrell E said...

Regarding Donald Hoffman on evolution and the nature of reality, I was a bit disappointed. I didn't see anything new. He does seem to have invented some new labels, at least they are new to me, but no new insights. I don't think the new labels are of any benefit, but rather the opposite.

The idea that an organism need not be able to perceive reality accurately in order to be successful has been around for some time. Given what we know about human perceptions and cognitive abilities so far this is obviously accurate to at least some degree.

But, a couple of things. 1) If you wish to show that therefore humans can not model any aspect of reality to any degree of useful accuracy, all of your work is still before you and ultimately you will reach a point where you are reduced to making a value judgement about evidence that, by the nature of the claim, can not ever be unambiguously conclusive.

2) Natural selection (what fitness functions model) is not arbitrary, just the opposite. That it is purposeless in the sense that no agency is involved, and in the sense that specific organisms are not a goal of the process should not be confused with arbitrariness. Changes in allele frequencies within populations over time. Alleles that get reproduced at a higher rate become more prevalent in the population, and so do the organisms that carry them. In other words, if the change improves the organisms' reproduction success rate it is conserved. Not arbitrary.

LarryHart said...


Sad news if no one has heard, we have lost one of the bright stars in the Monty Python pantheon

It always strikes me when I realize how long ago Monty Python was. Somehow, it brings to mind the Tom Lehrer quip, something like "It's humbling to think that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for three years."

Jumper said...

I think surely the language with which we describe reality is heavily swayed by simian instincts at very fundamental levels. (Such as the word "fundament.") Of course psych 101 students learn about the neurons that do edge detection, horizontal motion but not vertical, or vice versa, etc. in vision.

I will contemplate whether a dog has Buddha nature now and get back to you.

Robert said...

Far too often of late, Dr. Brin, stories (especially science fiction ones) tend toward a pessimistic view of the world or the universe. I thought you might appreciate this last page of Starpowered with a more uplifting message. In some ways? This is reminiscent of the Star Trek Federation. And while there is still criminals, there are still groups who seek to gain power, a group of species, in a time of peace... including humanity... have come together. And they extend their hand to a tyrant, telling her that once she has paid for her crimes, they will offer her full citizenship.

It was fascinating because through this storyline the story of Agent Polgar's interrogation with the tyrant Countess Nurak-Nor included teasers of her swaying him to her worldview or the like. Yet at the very end? This was subverted with a message of hope. While I kind of doubt the Countess will accept this offer... it was still a fascinating message to see. And given our current political atmosphere, stories like this are needed to remind us that yes. We can still hope.

Rob H.

Rob Sitze said...


David, wondering if your presentation to MS that we need BASIC for our kids produced results. If so -- a huge thank you!

Last year (October 2015) Microsoft released "Small Basic" which works nicely on Vista, Win7, 8.1 and now Win10. There's also a repository of code samples available.

If you won't mind links:

Download Small Basic 1.2:

Library of code samples, tutorials etc:

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin - "the amounts described herein under "USAID are chickenfeed. They would never have financed the share buyout conspiracy that collected shares of state companies from Russian citizens."

Indeed. There's a wacky conspiracy line that claims that U.S. government financed the creation of the oligarchs. Hideously unlikely, as doing so implies a level of corruption that requires a vast number of people to have acted to empower them to take over. I'm not a defender of USAID, but to the extent anyone has found "corruption" there, it's been the fact that nearly all the foreign assistance budget stays in America, and so little goes abroad to fulfill the agenda they're supposedly created to achieve (actually, many countries' 'foreign assistance' operates similarly, which is one reason so little of it achieves anything abroad...the conspiracy theorists keep thinking that so many billions of dollars are being spent, but cannot point to a single account).

Logic and evidence weigh more heavily in favor of the 'commodities arbitrage' theory, since hundreds of Russians played that game to grow rich; seven of those who grew rich on that trade (starting @'92) had the connections to become oligarchs (for a decade or so - most of that original group lost what they'd gained under Putin). Since Chicago is a global commodities trading hub, it's quite likely that some financiers in Chicago helped make that happen. It could have just as easily have been Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, London, Switzerland (my bet would be that the bulk of the arrangements were made in Switzerland, for a number of reasons, with each of the hubs playing a lesser role at one level or another).

But none of that is really linked to the Chicago School of economics (which...come on...there's a lot of good thinking that came out of the reason to disdain them, any more than any other university, where some professors advocated political causes that are occasionally disagreeable). Harvard was a little more overt anyway.

David Brin said...

Darrell E of course there are trite aspects to Hoffman’s TED. Still it raises thought about a problem that has perplexed us since Plato’s Cave. (And BTW I despise Plato.)

Lacking time to write a separate missive about Objective Reality, I'll paste in here an excerpt from an essay in my short story collection OTHERNESS:


Who among us hasn’t noticed the effect of subjectivity in daily life? The illusions others are prone to, and those (if we’re honest about it) that we ourselves nurture or allow? In fact, awareness of this problem has been around for a long time. Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Buddha and countless other mystics, in countless cultures, have preached the same thing -- that we all exist amid a blur of uncertainty. That one can never know complete truth about physical reality via our senses alone.

Much is made of the differences between their systems... Socrates teaching reason, Buddha urging meditation, and Jesus prescribing faith. But what they all had in common was far more important. Each of those sage-prophets worried that the power of human egotism tends to make us lie to ourselves, leading to error, hypocrisy, and all too often, the rationalization of evil actions.

Moreover, each of these great savants offered a variant on the same cure.

“Give up,” they preached. “Don’t bother trying to figure out how the flawed world works. Perfect knowledge is to be found only within the mind, the soul, or perfect detachment. Seek your own private salvation then, apart from the world, and don’t bother getting your hands dirty trying to piece together the nuts and bolts of God’s handiwork.”

Before Galileo, very few philosophers in any culture dared question this near-universal, dualist mysticism, which almost always was accompanied by top-heavy hierarchies of magicians, shamans, priests, or art critics. Or Jedi masters.

Only from time to time would a rebel dare counter:

“I may not ever be able to be certain what is absolutely True... but I sure as heck can work to find out what *isn’t* true! Moreover, I can improve my model of the world, by slowly, carefully finding out what is truer than what I already know.”

In other words, by slowly, carefully testing the things you and others believe, through a process of elimination, you can falsify, and get rid of, a lot of wrong ideas – even ones you cherished – until the resulting picture, imperfect as it is, lets you see the world a little more clearly than before.

This is the second half of the declaration, the manifesto, of a new revolution... one that began to take hold only a couple of centuries ago and is still tentative, uncertain, incomplete, yet it has already achieved wonders. To the problem of imperfect knowledge, it suggests a new and unprecedented solution -- honest work.

To ever come close to what’s really going on, I must learn to double check, to experiment, and even consult and cooperate with other people. Mutual deliberation, or giving of “reality checks,” helps us agree on common ground, and criticism is the only anodyne human beings have ever discovered against error.

This helps us agree on common ground. I don’t know if what you call “red” is identical to what I experience, but we can expect enough overlap to agree on rules for traffic!


to see more, get OTHERNESS! ;-)

raito said...

This may take a couple posts, as I'm likely over the limit...

Dr. Brin,

I read that article when first published. My opinion really hasn't changed. And that's coming from a prehistoric version of the BASIC generation (BASIC on a mainframe, because they wouldn't give us a FORTRAN manual, well before even the 8-bit home computers)

Let's start with a couple definitions.

Ignorance is when one doesn't know what one couldn't or shouldn't be expected to know.
Stupidity is when one doesn't know what one could or should be expected to know.

Take it as however a slight measure of respect as you please that I called the article stupid, because you should have known better. And at 10 years old, it's absurdly out of date.

As for paraphrasing, I did that in my original (eaten) post. And probably better than I'll do it now.

You paraphrase your thesis in the follow-up:
"denouncing the disappearance of basic, introductory coding languages from our personal computing devices"

I'll add from the original:
"I just wanted to give my son a chance to sample some of the wizardry standing behind the curtain"

your conclusion appears to be '(without this) we have lost (or are losing) thereby'.

But I, too might be wrong.

I think your thesis and conclusion are both wrong, and that you should have known better, even 10 years ago.

Let me make one point clear. I don't think it's about BASIC, per se, even though you seem to think it's ideal for the task. I disagree on that point.

Look, I'm one of those who does believe in exposing all students to procedural programming (I'm not sadistic enough to suggest other paradigms). But not because they'll need to write code as an adult. Because, like algebra, music, and art, it changes the way one thingks. And I believe that that particular change is a positive.

Most of your facts are correct. A few are not. And we differ in some opinions. Let's work our way through...

"Most of these later innovations were brought to us by programmers who first honed their abilities with line-programming languages like BASIC."

I'm not even sure what you mean by line-programming language. A search doesn't help much. wikipedia says that it might be a language in which an end of line ends a statement. Which, I'll point out, was not exactly true for many of those BASICS you tout. They also allowed multiple statements with the use of semi-colons or colons.

"today’s best programmers"

There have been a number of generations in computers. The first were engineers. The next matheneticians. The next electronics guys. The next were the BASIC guys. The next, Nintendo and other video games. After that were the Web guys. And finally, the phone generation.

In 2006, most of the original engineers were gone. But the next 3 generations were out in force. My opinion would be that the first 2 of those were producing much better stuff. But if the generations were equally producing, the BASIC guys still wouldn't be in the majority.

raito said...

"But today, very few young people are learning those deeper patterns. Indeed, they seem to be forbidden any access to that world at all. "

Not true then, and even less true now. Demonstrably so. 2006 was the tail end of the Web generation. And by that, I mean the guys who started their trek by writing HTML. For which an argument could be made that it was more socially useful than BASIC, as it allowed those who really wouldn't have done any BASIC in the first place to create something on the computer. And those who wanted more generally got into the back end, using PHP or javascript or the like, before moving on to anything more hardcore. One huge advantage the web generation had was that their creations could be seen by the world.

"Those who want to (like Ben) simply cannot."

Not really true. Even in 2006, if I needed BASIC (which I occasionally did for various archaic programs tha tusually diddled some firmware file or such and hadn't been moved forward), I'd boot into DOS and there it was. Yes, by 2006 all those Ataris and Commodores and their MS basics were gone. And Windows and OSX were predominent. But the internet existed. And copies of DOS (and hence BASIC) were easy to acquire. Couldn't say what the Mac and or Linux crowd were doing.

I'll agree somewhat with your comments regarding having TRY It IN BASIC entries in textbooks in 2006, and fully agree that removing those misses the point.

"The “scripting” languages that serve as entry-level tools for today’s aspiring programmers — like Perl and Python — don’t make this experience accessible to students in the same way. BASIC was close enough to the algorithm that you could actually follow the reasoning of the machine as it made choices and followed logical pathways."

This leads me to believe that you've never actually used Python. I'm no Python fan. It's a wretched stupid language whose only current saving grace is that too many misguided people have written useful packages in it. And my paycheck currently depends on it. But I'd hardly characterize it as a 'scripting' language. If I were to pick the new BASIC, though, I'd choose Lua.

And closer to the algorithm? That makes me think you've never programmed in Python. For those TRY IT IN BASIC programs, the source would be nearly identical, with each line performing exactly the same function. But you're right about PERL...

I have trouble with you're idea that 'IT' has anything whatsoever to do with soldering an Altair, or even DBASE. BUt that's more terminology than anything. Unfortunately, you perpetuate the idea that 'IT' = computers, much the same as many think tha ttechnology = computers. Not only was Information Technology a thing prior to computers, even decades before a significant amount of the usage of computers couldn't be classified as 'IT' with a straight face. What I do is not 'IT'. Nor is what most are doing with computers, even back in the 70's.

By 2006, I'd seen thousands of software guys' resumes. And interviewed hundreds. And one question I'd always ask was what got them into software. The responses were a lot more varied than you might expect.

And by 2006, I saw a lot of younger folk trying their hand at programming. Not in BASIC, but other languages. Certainly more than in the 80's when BASIC was king. More households had computers. More had the internet. And children's curiosity had them doing things with those computers.

raito said...

So, your basic thesis that 'languages aren't available' was incorrect. From booting DOS and running BASIC from there, to all the free software languages available, to the idea that BASIC is somehow a superior language for the task of introduction to comuting, is wrong. And you should have known better.

And your conclusion that 'it's hurting us' was also wrong, and you should have known better.

By 2006, there were more children than ever involving themselves in learning what the capabilities of the computer are. And working towards using those capabilites.

And you really should have known to boot to DOS and use the BASIC there, as I don't doubt that you'd done that when it was the only way to use a PC.

So where are we today, and why does it make your original article obsolete?

Computers and the internet are now even mmore ubiquitous than they were 10 years ago, even given the rise of phones and tablets. The idea that someone doesn't have access to computing resources is becoming increasingly rare. At the last elementary school science fair I went to, several of the students had their physical displays, sure, but their presentations weren't only on computer, but on the web for anyone in the world to see.

The rise of 'makers' (a term I despise, even while loving that I can get bits and parts much more easily), the advent of programs lie FIRST robotics, etc. gives our youth better opportunities than I had to learn those lower levels of what computing devices and the associated infrastructure do. I'm fairly unreasonably jealous on that point. In high school, my senior electronics project was attempting to build a processor out of TTL gates, with nothing more than a 6809 manual and a binder full of 7400 series data sheets. Today's kids are living in a paradise (one that I hope I helped to make, even if only alittle bit).

There's also student latops to be considered. While I really don't like the idea of textbooks on computer (becaise I think that knowledge is better absorbed through paper books, though that's a different discussion), from what I've seen they're chock full of software. Most tends to be either Python (for programs run manually) or javascript (for things running in a browser). And that beats TRY IT IN BASIC except for the exercise of actually typing it in (which I do think has value).

And finally...

The rise of emulation. Want a C64? There's an emulator. Want an Apple 2? There's an emulator. Want an Atari ST? There's an emulator.

Want DOS with BASIC? There's an emulator. Grab GWBasic and you're done. And have what you should have had in 2006.

Re: Your advice

Calling yourself influential and known to be smart smacks of appeal to authority. I find it to be a bit unbecoming.

My original paraphrase was much better, I'll admit. When my post was eaten, I cut to the chase.

Please understand, I agree with the sentiment of the article. But its thesis and conclusion are wrong, and continue to be so.

Emotionally, your advice amounts to 'shut up and listen to your betters'. Was that really the impresison you wanted to make?

donzelion said...

And back to the original premise - infrastructure.

"Once we have HSR, there will be a side effect. Towns like Fresno will boom."

Perhaps. I find it more probable that the booms will be felt in the inner regions of cities that house the main terminals - Anaheim, LA, SF - and that the losers will be strip mall operators and 'big box stores' along freeways. I say that thinking analogically from other towns that exist primarily as freeway hubs with through-traffic working there, but few people residing there. The beneficiaries are not only those who are 'geographically' blessed with easy access, but more importantly, those cities who make some place "desirable" to live somehow - where they coax higher end wage earners to reside, raise families, contribute.

Fresno & Bakersfield MIGHT become such places. It's within their power. But they'll have to act to overcome the head start that LA and SF already enjoy (for commerce), and Anaheim (for recreation). Honestly, the only times I've been to either town were as stopping points for gas on my way to the Sierra Nevada.

David Brin said...

Rob Sitze thanks. But your phrase "can be downloaded" proves that you did not read or understand my essay "Johnny Can't Code."

Don't feel bad. The concept is incredibly simple. Yet I have not found more than a dozen people so far who have paused in their reflexes long enough to actually, actually grasp what I was talking about. And please, I must repeat. You do not. Even remotely.


One person did and set up a way to access Basic that does not require steps or downloads, and that can thus be assigned by teachers to any student, any time. Instantly turn-key available. see

But still, it is no solution.

David Brin said...

In case you are interested in getting personally involved in helping spread programming education to kids, see the White House sponsored effort here

Also see

None of them, alas, get the Low Hanging Fruit that is available. All want to do "programs of outreach to kids" when all that's needed is for high school and Jr High teachers of physics, chem, math to have textbooks that have simple programs they can assign, the way we could in the 80s and early 90s.

But there seems to be a mental block. As raito unintentionally displays. I'll follow about that.

raito said...


I chose aluminum for several reasons. I wouldn't advocate for steel for several reasons, too. Aluminum is more plentiful, and plenty strong enough (in the right alloy) for the purpose. It also melts at a lower temperature than steel, which is useful for any number of reasons.

Kal Kallevig,

Don't put words in my mouth. :) My system has no exceptions as such for distance or occupancy.
If higher speed than normal is necessary for long distances, I'd have booster vehicles as part of the ad hoc 'trains'. Since we're going to have these be autonomous, it wouldn't be all that hard. Not even all that hard to have dedicated short-distance boosters to get individual vehicles up to speed so they can join a train.

David Brin said...

raito’s wrath and antagonism ensured that his attempt at paraphrasing would slip into the bizarro version, which is called “strawmanning.”

“I don't think it's about BASIC, per se, even though you seem to think it's ideal for the task. I disagree on that point.”

Bullshit. Go ahead and disagree with a fantasy concocted out of thin air.

“I'm not even sure what you mean by line-programming language.”

Bull. Of course you do. You are being deliberately obtuse.

“Even in 2006, if I needed BASIC (which I occasionally did for various archaic programs tha tusually diddled some firmware file or such and hadn't been moved forward), I'd boot into DOS and there it was.”

Proving without a doubt that you either did not read my article or did it in a fury that prevented you from paying the slightest attention to what I was saying.

Seriously, I thought there might be something in your rant that was even worth answering. But your rage has so blinded you to the essential concept that you are off in your own world, screaming at something that you see in a foggy mirror. It ain’t me.

The fact that you aren’t even remotely curious about what I ACTUALLY said is indicative of what a waste of time this is.

donzelion said...

Speaking of HSR - here's the latest update from the folks building it.

Two bits stand out:
", a family in Los Angeles paying a visit to Yosemite National Park must spend the better part of a day in their car before finally reaching their destination. But when high speed rail is there to zoom them up to Fresno, they will then quickly board a bus for a ride into the park, making the complete trip in just over two and a half hours."

Plausible! From my home to Yosemite takes about 5 hours (if I leave by 5 am and beat the traffic), or 8+ hours (if I don't). But I like how they're assuming intermodal transportation that factors in multiple additional means of travel depending on purpose.

They also list the major California infrastructure projects - the Golden Gate Bridge, the California Viaduct, the Hoover Dam, the I-5/15/10/etc. - each of which was "criticized as too expensive and not needed."

They don't list how the Hoover Dam, like many (most) infrastructure projects, was originally backed by Republicans, fought by rural Democrats, and eventually named after the least popular president in generations. We could well see the parties switching sides yet again on infrastructure, in another generation.

David Brin said...

For the rest of you... and for the record ... I will append a rephrasing of my argument for why instantly one-click access to several introductory programming languages should be standardized (trivially) by Apple, Msoft and so on.

The campaign may entice the top 10% of students into tasting programming. But the next 40 percentiles will only nibble it if it is assigned as homework, the way it was in millions of textbooks in the 1980s.

Striving one more time to make the point to the (in this case deliberately) obtuse, here's a different approach. A comparison of two eras:

The 1980s &1990s
Teachers used to assign simple programs as homework, not just in AP classes, but in regular math, physics, chemistry, biology... even in Junior High. Those simple, ten line assignments gave millions of students at least a little exposure to what a program is... how pixels move because of algorithms. And millions did it. Because it was homework!

Today, teachers only rarely assign creative programming homework. What changed?

The 1980s &1990s
Teachers of physics, chemistry, bio, stats and so on could assign simple coding homework because the assignments were included in textbooks, with support explanations and teacher guides.

Today, almost no Middle School or High School physics, bio, chem or math textbooks contain coding problems that illustrate concepts from the previous chapter. What changed?

The 1980s &1990s
Those textbook publishers knew only 50% or so of kids had a computer at home, but most schools at least had a computer lab the kids could use for simple assignments.

Today, almost all kids have immensely powerful computers of many kinds, yet textbook publishers long ago stopped including coding examples/assignments, because students are LESS able to follow such simple assignments than they were in the 1980s and 1990s! They haven't the tools! What changed?

The 1980s &1990s
Every kid who had a home computer -- or access to one at school -- thereby had access to the same, simple programming language. BASIC. It was so universal that textbook publishers were confident that most kids and teachers could find a way to get some simple example assignments done. "Try it in Basic."

Today there is no common, shared lingua franca introductory programming language. Very few home computers, laptops, tablets, game boxes or phones carry one at all! Or it is buried deep (e.g. under DOS) and hard to find. Or it must be downloaded from the web along with complex instructions for installation and activation. A bewildering array of languages, variations, implementations and instructions has left only truly dedicated young people able and willing to plow ahead.

Sure, for those enthusiasts, it is a golden age, a cornucopia! CSforALL will do well by those kids. But dig this well. Each STEP in getting access to the programming language will lose you 50% of the students. Each... step.

But no textbook publisher will issue assignments amid such a maelstrom! And what most of the folks doing CSforAll forget is that those old homework assignments were what exposed millions of young people to at least a taste of programming! Homework assigned by teachers NOT of CS but teachers of physics, chem, stats, bio and so on!

==> more

David Brin said...


(After reading my "Johnny" article, a fellow created a One Step access top useful BASIC, online, called It works. And if every textbook assigned problems using that site... well... it would be better than today. But this is no solution. Nor is a return to BASIC, though it could be one of the 5 standard languages.)

Hence my complaint about CSforAll. It tries, admirably to develop FUN(!) ways to attract smart young folks into CS! Yay! It should work great for the 80th to 99th percentiles.

But there should be CS for those in the percentiles 50-to-80, as well. And those kids will not do it unless it is assigned, in small chunks. That happened in the 1980s and 1990s! It could happen again.

How to fix it? The following could be done rapidly, at almost zero cost.

1. Convene a meeting of just six parties: Apple, Microsoft, Google, IBM, RedHat, Dell. (Okay some more.) Armtwist them to agree to offer 3-5 standardized educational programming languages on all platforms. Using perhaps 0.001% of their available memory capacity. Python, LEGO, BASIC... Let them figure it out with advice from educators.

COST: Almost nothing for the meeting. Armtwist them to meet. Almost nothing for the companies to implement - maybe two FTEs each for 6 months. Could be done before the President leaves office.

2. Then convene a meeting of textbook publishers. Apple, Microsoft, Google, IBM present the 5 standard languages. Armtwist textbook publishers to include "Try it in Basic" (or python etc) exercises in physics, chem, stats, bio books, so teachers will then assign simple, fun homework, exposing millions to a light does of programming.

3. That's it. Period. No followup needed. No institutions or budgets or follow-through. No way Congress or anyone else can sabotage it. That's.... it.

It is now exactly ten years since my "Why Johnny Can't Code" article challenged folks about this problem. Ten years.
...and four years since this followup:

...and it is so frustrating that the blatantly obvious just isn't. Maybe it's me.

Rob Sitze said...

I think you and I need to agree that we disagree on what a reasonable requirement might look like to put the tools that teach children to think logically into their reach. And saying I did not read your ten year old article is a disingenuous defense for standing on your outdated opinion. I did . . . and while the "BASIC" idea has huge merit, I suspect you want to wind the clock back and have BASIC be a native component in Windows/et al. That's not likely to ever happen.

As an IT consultant, I do not want BASIC to be added to any workstation as a default component.

As a parent, I want to have some control over what my children access on their computers.

Downloading and the VERY simple install (which is exactly what you get with Simple BASIC) is very easy to do, is a one time act on each machine, and lets me vet what my children use in advance. It's not a complex process and is well within reach of non-technical parents and (pretty sure) BASICically easy for most teens. :D

Once installed, it requires no Internet connection at all. That's a plus for many parents today.

I don't know what else I can state that might persuade you to change gears from a model over 30 years old.

By the way, if you have not already discovered it: teaches modern programming concepts in building block style, or raw Java to children of all ages. It's engaging to modern iPad generation kids, works on any platform, and adapts to skill levels very nicely. You should check it out.

Jumper said...

Aluminum is weaker and more expensive. One might better say rails should be brass. But it wouldn't be true either. Aluminum would be superior to lead. Or rails made of sausages.

Rob Sitze said...

RE: Convene a meeting of just six parties . . .

Done - or very close to that. I mentioned earlier. If you look at their materials it's a collaborative effort between, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and several other institutions that are concerned about the low levels of programming education in the US and globally. The educational outreach is slowly getting into K-6 schools, and has been rolling out to coding summer camps sponsored by local school districts. See

What needs to happen still on your list is the support from grade school text book publishers. That's turning out to be a very difficult battle. Perhaps you could help?

Alfred Differ said...

@Ilithi Dragon: I’m not sure where my niece is heading yet. I only heard a few weeks ago that she joined up and don’t check FB all that often anymore. I thought she was going to nail down the college degree first, but she’s smart, so I’m sure there is a reason. 8)

I’m glad to hear they do sane watches now. People do odd things when sleep deprived. Weight gain, family trouble, and lack of foresight are common enough that I’ve seen them. Hooray for change!

David Brin said...

It's too bad, Rob Sitze, that you care so little about what you are arguing against that you insist on retaining a strawman version, even after you have been told that it is a strawman, inaccurately reflecting the other person's actual, actual, actual argument. It truly is a pity since you seem other wise to be a sapient and decent and intelligent person.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin - had to rewatch Dr. Hoffman's TED Talk to recall his argument more clearly, but I'm thinking his claim is a little distinct from what you've represented. It's not that "our problems perceiving the objective universe may be rooted in evolutionary biology" - so much as direct perception of the actual objective universe is itself actually a 'problem' (at least in terms of evolutionary fitness).

Which makes sense, and is very close to the point of the Plato-Aristotle debate (Plato, esp. the neo-Platonics, coming out on the side of 'time/space/causality' driving all of our perceptions, Aristotle on the side of 'perceptions' driving our concepts of time/space - Kant splitting the difference by suggesting our own mental constructs build our notions of the external world but are themselves present in that world - and cognitive science jumping off from there to figure out how that brain thing works without Cartesian hat tricks).

I like the conclusion of his Ted Talk as well: 'it's all about making babies.' How Freudian! (that's a joke - a cognitive scientist would disdain Freud about as much as you do Plato).

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi riato

Where do you get - "Aluminium is more plentiful than steel?"
There is a slightly higher percentage in the earth's crust - but as far as usable ores are concerned it's the other way around

Aluminium would be a terrible material for rail tracks!

A better use for aluminium would be as a long term store for surplus electricity as the power required is the main cost in making aluminium

Jumper said...

Makers create "epi-pencil" do-it-yourself emergency epinephrine doser. Info and video:

David Brin said...

donzel interesting. And yet, I do believe we make imperfect models of the world - delusions - as a set of processes woven into our natures, that help us to passionately pursue certainties. That passion is the thing propelling reproductive success. ... but it could kill us all.

raito said...

Dr. Brin,

Wrath? Antagonism? Rage? Fury? I'm not the guy swearing. I felt none of those as I wrote. Though I suppose I ought to feel slightly flattered that you think that if I could only control my emotions, I'd see your brilliance, instead of being to stupid to understand. On the other hand, I do see you often accusing others of rage or anger when they disagree with you. I guess it's just my turn. The only thing that gets me even mildly worked up is your assertion to know my mood, which you did twice. And in neither case were you correct.

"Basic, per se"

You, yourself, write "basic, introductory coding languages" (note the small b). So it's not about the language, according to you.

"line-programming language"

I was not being deliberately obtuse. I even searched the term, and cam up with no exact match. Tee most likely candidate appeared to be the widipedia article on 'Line-oriented programming language'. But a language that uses end of line to separate statements didn't seem quite right. And most BASICS of the time seemd to allow multiple statements per line with colons or semi-colons. Maybe a language where you type in your program and run it? That didn't seem right, either. Line numbers? That would be a bit silly. Interpreted? Not that, either. About as cloase as I could get was 'like BASIC', but I really couldn't figure out which parts of the language itself you were referring to. Thus my lack of surety, and it follows that suggesting alternates would likely not fit the criteria (whatever they are).

I understand exactly what you were saying. What else do you imagine I meant by '(without this) we have lost (or are losing) thereby'? I even say just a few lines later that I do think all students should be exposed to procedural programming. Why would I be curious? From what I see, I got your point. And I still think you should have known better.

Additionally, if I were curious, all I'd have had to do is wait (and you'd never know whether I was curious or not.). You usually state your point.

raito said...

It seems to be that the largest hurdle is NOT what language gets used. As long as the language looks sufficiently like English, a printed program can be typed in and understood. If it's an assignment, most of the students aren't going to go further anyway. But it does leave out APL. The problem seems to me to be appropriate short programs in multiple subjects. That is one thing that I think we both agree on, that doing so will point out how programming is useful for nearly any subject, and that it's not an end in itself (usually).

So I think that the best way to deal with it is to bypass the government and the big corps, and go to the educators in the first place. Provide a programming environment that works equally well standalone and online (not the easiest thing to do, nor is multiple platform support). Get a community together composed of software people and teachers. Have the software people teach the teachers. Have the teachers produce the programs. Provide the environment and the programs. Distribute it.

Heck, from what I've seen here, 90% of the programs could be covered by the good Dr.'s readers.

As for language, I advocate for Lua. It's syntax is quite BASIC like, in a good way. It looks a lot like English, and the parts that might not wouldn't be parts used in any of the sorts of programs we're speaking of. It's extremely portable. Seriously, it's one of the best pieces of code I've seen. Its internals make Python's look like a nest of snakes. It's relatively fast. And, utterly unlike any BASIC I've seen, it supports many modern language features, which again wouldn't be used in the sort so programs we're talking about, but would be available to those students who want more. Though 'modern' is a bit of a misnomer, as what's considered modern these days almost always had its introduction in the 60's at the latest.

If it's considered that the actual typing in of the program is essential to it's understanding, have the teacher hand out hard-copy of the latest. Unless you want the student's learning of the beauty of cut and paste.

raito said...


More expensive now, yes. But it's smelted using electricity, and I'd hope to see dedicated solar for its production.

Duncan Cairncross,

Yes, I based part of it on crust percentage, but not all of it. I'd hope that some of the processes not currently used might have some hope of smelting some of the currently intractable ores.

But I could be swayed off of aluminum depending on where all the numbers eventually came to rest. Mostly, we'd need to figure out how many miles X lanes of roads would be replaces with miles X lanes of track and how much material that is.

The auto industry would howl at being disturbed. But I think that these days they'd howl more for show, and get down to producing the new vehicles. Those corps are much larger these days, and much less wedded technologically to their products.

David Brin said...

Baloney raito. Yes, I assumed too much calling your intemperate rush to strawmanning “rage.” But the fact that I imputed anger is data, sir. And I’ll bet I’m not the only one.

Line-programming? Your quibble is utter bull. You know that some programming languages use line-by-line coding as in Basic and Fortran and that is the only interpretation that was even remotely conceivable from my article. There are some that are more object oriented or that use graphic manipulation of program elements, even iconic or geometric. Your obtuseness is so spectacular that I am right to credit it as likely deliberate.

Your second missive tried to address the issue ALMOST as if your understood my point. But then not at all. You claim that a stand alone programming environment OUTSIDE of computers and devices could accomplish the same thing as putting standard languages on all major devices that students might use.

1) This is exactly what I accomplished by inspiring a fellow to put up QUITEBASIC online, which would seem to allow any kid today to an least do those old TRY IT IN BASIC exercises in those old textbooks. And sure, I hoped word would spread and voila, textbooks would contain such exercises again.

It did not happen. Perhaps if a national program made uniformly understandable web sites available.

2) But the key element is the textbooks. If TRY IT exercises are there, they will beassigned. And if they are assigned, TENS of millions of students will learn what programming is a bit about, instead of maybe half a million at best, under the White House program. And the simplest way is to just get Apple, MSoft and the others to make 5 simple languages standard, using minuscule portions of their giant OSes.

And you still show zero sign that you comprehend any of that.

Kal Kallevig said...

raito, Jumper, Duncan,

There is a Podcar startup in Mt. View CA named SkyTran that I believe uses aluminum rails, but they also use maglev so rail wear is much reduced. As I understand it their first round of funding was consumed and they are looking for more. Their press says they have finished initial development and testing.

A few fixed route driverless electric vehicle systems now exist, Heathrow and Dubai come to mind. 2GetThere has a similar small bus. No campus or municipality has yet committed to the concept sufficiently to leverage the potential transportation benefit. One of the big efficiencies would happen when there is a network of these vehicles in place such that a station would be available anywhere within maybe 3 blocks walk. As with a computer network this would provide multiple paths to any objective making it possible to move between any 2 stations rather easily. And since all stations can be bypassed when not a destination, even fairly slow travel will provide quick transit. Of course dedicated guide-ways would be required.

Efficiency comes from light weight vehicles, low friction rolling, and no needless stopping and starting.

Bureaucrats and elected officials tend not to be big risk takes and all interested parties really want to be second or third.

Paul SB said...


The sad truth about Mozart is that when he died, at the age of 35, that was pretty average for his time - a tragedy for his wife and young son, but altogether ordinary. Everyone learns history in school, but few history teachers make it clear (or even know themselves) just how different the world was a mere century and a half ago. Foolish, romantic notions propagate very well through widespread ignorance of demographics. One of my personal missions as a science teacher is to rectify that, at least in my one little classroom.

Darrell E,

Your second point about natural selection being purposeless but not arbitrary is right on the mark, though it is a concept a lot of people probably will have a hard time wrapping their minds around, partly because of language and partly because of deeply held animism of the Universe. Still, it was a pretty good way to explain it.


On dogs and Buddha nature, I think it was in the Heart Sutra that it is explained that all animal life (and I have been told that more "advanced" Buddhists can detect in vegetable life and even rocks) have a Buddha nature. All are on the Path of Samsara, and any one can escape that path. However, I very much doubt any of the dogs in my neighborhood are making that effort. Many nights I wake to their howls several times at irregular intervals. That certainly isn't doing my journey around the Wheel of Kharma much good.

David Brin said...

You mean the Wheel of Dog-ma, right?

hadend said...


It's hilarious to see you enthusiastically adopt Citizens-United-like conception of corruption whereby everything but the most overt influence peddling is considered above board. Weird how once you narrow your def of corruption that much, nothing seems to be corrupt anymore. Also funny to see someone ironically put scare quotes around the word 'corruption' in reference to 1990s Russia. That's kind of like saying "to the extent that there's 'drought' in the Sahara Desert".

USAID (and other US gov't bodies) dispensed billions of dollars in aid to Russia (yep, that money went to Russia). I mentioned in previous comments how i thought the way it was distributed was corrupt, anti-democratic, and contributed to the rise of the oligarchs. I'm not gonna keep arguing about the details with you - If anyone is really interested, they can google it themselves or read the articles I mentioned above. Your MO seems generally to be to mention a ton of irrelevant details before you just disagree with something I've said. I say, hey Chubais was a corrupt asshole who remained in power in the late 90s because US advisors employed economic threats, here's a quote from a USAID official who agrees. You say, Chubais, who was a city-wide official, a scorpio, and who's favorite color is blue may have gotten a little help from USAID in the beginning.

The part where you argue that most of the foreign assistance budget stays in America makes no sense to me, it's not really foreign assistance then is it? Are you saying that overhead costs are higher than actual grants and loans dispensed? Or are you saying it goes to US-based NGOs or something? Even if true, why does that mean it can't be corrupt? HIID was based in the US and received USAID money and It was involved in a huge corruption scandal for insider trading. (As an aside, can anyone guess who stepped in (and also pleaded the fifth) to protect the corrupt trader from losing his position at Harvard? If you guessed Larry 'mildly well-off' Summers, you're correct!)

You've got a creative definition of arbitrage to say the least. Here's a hypothetical: if a mobster gives a warehouse security guard a thousand bucks to step outside for a few minutes, loads up a truck with high-end electronics and then sells them for $50k on the black market, is that arbitrage?

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: Hmmm...Hoffman's view appears to be that we 'reconstruct' - not an 'imperfect model' so much as a 'hack' or a short-hand model (at least assuming his Ted Talk accurately reflects his views). Like an Australian beetle, that defines 'female' as "brown and has dimples" - which works quite well for millennia, up until someone produces beer bottles that are also brown and have dimples (and refuse to mate with the beetles, even as they go crazy trying to make it work).

It's a very plausible theory, and very much fits with my understanding of cognitive science (though I come from a philosophy background, and again, it seems much more Kantian than Aristotelian or Platonic).

For some reason, that image of beetles masturbating on beer bottles makes me think of Donald Trump, and how some Americans could actually make him a contender for the presidency. Lots of passion...yes, it could indeed kill us all.

donzelion said...

Hadend - I don't adopt any specific conception of corruption, save on that requires evidence before believing it to exist. For corporate corruption inside America, you'll find me asserting fairly broad means by which oligarchs enrich themselves. The same applies in foreign countries (where I've spent much of my life, and where I've worked professionally for some time handling the outgrowth of corruption in forms that are rather uncommon in America these days, though they played their part decades ago).

"Also funny to see someone ironically put scare quotes around the word 'corruption' in reference to 1990s Russia."
You've misconstrued my use of quotes as ironic. The commodities trade from Russia was entirely illegal under Russian law. It was also illegal to deny employees their salary, and illegal to deny pensioners their basic support, and illegal to shut down schools and power, and illegal to do a lot of things that were very much the reality in Russia. For the commodities trade from Russia (which is well-documented, though precious metals and gems were also prevalent - diamonds in particular were widely distributed outside the De Beers cartel, as they're easier to ship than oil or minerals) - the fact that it occurred is well-documented, and since it was illegal in nearly all cases, it was 'corrupt.' But in a lawless framework where numerous basic laws are unenforced, breaking the law isn't exactly 'corrupt' in the same sense as, say, in America where legal mechanisms operate.

"USAID (and other US gov't bodies) dispensed billions of dollars in aid to Russia (yep, that money went to Russia)."
You haven't looked through their budget lately, have you. You can review every dollar of U.S. foreign assistance (other than intelligence agencies and Pentagon funds): it is the most tightly monitored budget in the entire federal budget.

Giving money to the Harvard development program was 'anti-democratic.' Every university is, at the end of the day, a very strange creature, with non-democratic structures at work in all the departments.

Which claim are you referring to where Larry Summers (or someone else) pleaded the 5th? I can think of one or two where he refused to comment, but none where he was called to testify and took such an action.

"The part where you argue that most of the foreign assistance budget stays in America makes no sense to me, it's not really foreign assistance then is it?"

LOL, it makes no sense to you because you haven't read through the budgets yet and don't know how they actually operate. This isn't a novel observation; it's how the system was designed to function.

But bear in mind, USAID and the American Red Cross operate somewhat similarly (and share a remarkable overlap in their personnel, though USAID has a far greater degree of budget scrutiny, by people with strong incentives to attack them, while the Red Cross has immense prestige). The Red Cross can spend $500 million or so rebuilding Haiti - and have almost nothing to show for it - without ever investing a penny into corrupt Haitian government officials. There are very straightforward explanations for how it works, even if the outcome is ultimately fairly shocking.

Perhaps the same amount of money spent in Russia is more effective, because Russians are so much easier to manipulate than Haitians (and Egyptians, Somalians, Sudanese, and so many other recipients of U.S. money). More likely, the whole story of American control and setting up oligarchs is simply inaccurate.

Paul SB said...

"You mean the Wheel of Dog-ma, right?"
- That's rough, Dr. Brin! Really ruff!

Paul SB said...

I wrote a fairly long missive on instinct & human nature last night just before going to bed, and it's not there now! That's one of the few places where I can actually say I know something. Computers are such fun! I'll try to remember what I wrote and do it again, once I've managed to blink the sleep out of my eyes. 8 [

Jumper said...

My comment on dogs was more about their perception of the world compared to ours. Hoffman is a bit of a hustler, I think. I always joke that everyone bases their reality on death, or pain. How so? "Oh, you wonder if that rock is really real? Well IT'LL KILL YA IF IT HITS YOU IN THE HEAD!" Or at least Johnson's stubbed toe. Then sure enough Hoffman mentions standing in front of a train. Perceptual filters are old hat. Plus there doesn't seem to be any evolutionary disadvantage in "accidentally" perceiving something correctly. (Define "correctly" - yeah, yeah; I know...)

I haven't tracked down Hoffman's computer code, but I suspect he set it up to prove his hypothesis by charging each entity for perception. Still I'd like to see his code.

If we expand our definition of life, matter itself evolves. There was no platinum early on; it took some time and complexity for it to become present in the universe. So rocks with an agenda? Why not?

Jumper said...
Hoffman's simulations

I have little respect for the crowd who keep asking what reality REALLY is.
It's infinite regress no matter how they kick and cry that it can't be so.

On the polyethylene clothing, I worked with a guy (Fisher is his name) who invented fabric containing carbon fiber, which transmits heat quite well from the inside of a garment to the outside. He put a lot into testing and development but couldn't sell his technology.

Also, what if there was just one big city? How big?

Paul SB said...


"So rocks with an agenda? Why not?"

- Because you're pushing it, going from one loony extreme to the other. Nucleogenesis is a process that follows from basic physics, and the fact that we have atomic nuclei today that did not exist in the past is simply taking biological evolution as a metaphor for other changes too literally (reification error).

I'm an ontological realist but an epistemological relativist. You can't just wish that rock flying toward your head away, but how you perceive the intention of that flying rock is entirely a result of the 3 lb. squishy mass between our ears. Objectivity is not really possible in any pure sense, it is more of an ideal to strive for, and a standard to measure all our mental models by. The rock agenda fails that test badly. Even though most cultures around the world still retain some vestiges of primitive animism (Buddhists are especially bad about that), we've been touting the logic-deductive method for long enough now that you kind of have to be really stupid or schizophrenic to take seriously the idea that rocks are alive and have agency (or else be a Biblical Literalist, which is just about the same thing).

raito said...

Dr, Brin,

Not anger. More disappointment, if anything.

'line programming'
Thank you for the clarification. And I can see why I found it confusing. It was just way too obvious, and I figured it must have some particular meaning that I was missing. Had you written 'text based', for example, I would have understood immediately. Non-text programming languages would likely be difficult to express in a written text. Though I'd caution against using the term 'object oriented' to describe a language whose source form is not expressed in text. That term has an actual meaning in academia and industry (or more accurately, there's a box that can be drawn around it -- people still argue on exactly what it is). I apologize for the confusion. It seems to be one of those things that would have been cleared up close to instantly if we were face to face.

Don't think that I don't comprehend because I don't agree. That's a fairly dangerous trap.

What I claim is that availability is the key, as you also seem to. Where we disagree is on the form of the availability.

What you claim is that it needs to be in the text to be assigned. While we agree that the exercises should be assigned, I disagree that they need to be in the text, and particularly that they need to be in the text provided by textbook publishers.

Even 10 years ago, the availability of instructional materials was changing at a great rate. It is even more so today. And because of that, it isn't necessary, nor probably even the simplest way, to involve the textbook and computer corps.

I have 2 children in public elementary school. And I'm pretty active in the district, as parents go. The older one, in contrast to my experience at the same grade level, doesn't even have textbooks for her classes (except for readers). Neither did my wife. She's younger than I, but the timeline seems to show less reliance on the textbook over time. My children's teachers are pulling in materials from all over the place. The district actively seeks out those materials. That is the current reality.

The younger uses computers in his education. The older regularly assignments that must be done on the computer.

Today, right now, in their high school, laptops are issued to each student. And the student is >required< to keep them updated. This is important. They are required to keep them current. The district makes this pretty easy. They do their update (which can be done at home online, or at school in the lab), and it does the rest. New assignments, text errata, schedules, teacher feedback, etc. All there. And required. And likely to be the same for middle school students in the next few years. (As a slight aside, sure I'd like to see those updates be automatic, but there's a few technical and infrastructure problems with that at present).

Thus, there is no difference whatsoever to the high school student in my district between what the manufacturer provides and what the district provides. When they get the laptop, it's already been prepared for them. Unless they have used other computers (which they probably have), they'd never know the difference.

What I do say is that those same resources that the student would receive on their school laptops ought to be available outside of that environment. Because better coverage is always better.

As for QUITEBASIC, well, word doesn't spread itself. And that's true for any subsequent system, even one that I'd like to see. That's about the only upside to getting those corps. involved. But I wouldn't characterize getting their support as 'simple' in any way. And that's from my own experiences.

LarryHart said...

Apologies for the off-topic political statement, but I just had to read this into the record before Monday's debate.

People on my side of the aisle are misdirecting their outrage at Donald Jr's "skittles" tweet, acting as if they are offended by the fact that he compared human beings to candy. This completely trivializes the real point of his remark.

His point being that if even a small number of Syrian refugees are terrorist, it is better to exclude all of them as a safety precaution rather than let them in and take the risk. Scott (Dilbert) Adams, who normally seems more sane than this, once made the same point, saying that you have to do cost/benefit analysis, and if (say) even 0.1% of Muslims are terrorists, and you let 100,000 Muslims into the country, you have to be willing to accept 100 terrorist attacks as one of the costs weighed against the benefits. Mathematically, both Adams and Jr are correct, but the outrage should be directed against their implicit assumption that Muslims in particular bring with them a certain percentage risk of danger.

What I mean is, if one is willing to consider the argument that "If only 354 of white Christians would commit mass murder in 2015, should we exclude white Christians from the country just to be safe?" then I'd be willing to credit the whatever percentage also pertains to Syrian refugees. Me, I'd feel safer in a U.S. neighborhood of Syrian refugees than in a neighborhood of Donald Trump supporters. That was not a flippant remark, but meant literally.

Paul SB said...

............SPOILER ALERT..........

I am extremely close to the end of my second "reading" of Glory Season. I was able to get far while convalescing on Wednesday. and I am now near the end of that long denouement. I like that long denouement. Ever since I learned what that word meant in 9th grade Honors English I have always felt that most modern stories (be they written or filmed) are weakened by hitting the climax, then ending too abruptly. While a huge section of the book is frenetically paced, Glory Season coasts to the end, and I am enjoying the ride. Well, as much as I can, when every time I cough it feels like my brain is being smashed against the top of my skull.

Your faked death hypothesis does make sense, but it would depend on Renna being able to find a place he could lay low safely for what could be a very long time, until the whole mess blew over and he could use the Former to create a new launch vehicle. Or else he would have to resolve himself to striking out on his own and becoming a hermit for the rest of his life. In either case, the sequel potential is there. Personally, I was far more moved by Maia in terms of desiring a sequel. I thought she was too cool a character, too realistically portrayed, with her obvious resourcefulness and charming, adolescent inability to wrap her head around her self, to just leave hanging there.

I was just chatting with my daughter and she had brought up Phil Foglio, and my mind just did a double-take on what it would look like if Foglio wrote a sequel to Glory Season! It would be funny, to be sure, but to quote the immortal words of Bill the Cat: "Oop! Ack! Ptooey!"

One flaw in your faked death hypothesis that I noticed is that the AI on Renna's ship seemed convinced of his death. If Renna had a few days with the Former before he was found out, it would make sense that he would have knocked out some means of communication with his ship and told it of his plans, if only so when he did manage to make his way to orbit, the AI would let him on board and not blast his ship out of the sky. You would have to explain why he kept his own AI - the only entity around he could truly trust - in the dark.

LarryHart said...


I like that long denouement. Ever since I learned what that word meant in 9th grade Honors English I have always felt that most modern stories (be they written or filmed) are weakened by hitting the climax, then ending too abruptly.

You're singing my song! The first one I noticed was (the original 1980s) "Karate Kid" in which the protagonist's luck goes from bad to worse to even worse right up until like five minutes before the end, then he has his one victory, and the movie ends. I much prefer the pacing of Arthur Clarke's "Imperial Earth", with many little resolutions as the book winds down.

I'm a fan of Vonnegut's attempt at a Master's thesis, in which he described stories as being graph-able as a function of "good fortune" vs "ill fortune" (y-axis) over time (x-axis). I especially liked his conclusion that the essential Christ mythology graphs identically to that of "Cinderella".

Treebeard said...

Hey Larry, if you like Syrians so much and are so afraid of Trump supporters (who are your local rank and file people who keep the streets repaired and policed, fight your wars, etc.), maybe you should move to Syria? What's with the relentless demonization of white Christians by your kind? There are many nations where there aren't many of them around that you can move to if you are so afraid of them. Do you have travel plans for after the election yet?

LarryHart said...


If I said in 1939 that I was more comfortable living among Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany than among American bundists, would you respond that I should move to Nazi Germany if I like them so much?

Of course you would.

Jumper said...

I'm sorry, it was ME that kept the streets repaired. All the Trump voters were intent on ripping off the city by reneging and cheating on their contracts. And every one who ever crowed about their Christianity were the worst thieves who tried to steal from me. So go away, Tree.

LarryHart said...


Hey Larry, if you like Syrians so much...

Because "not being terrified of someone" equates to some sort of philia.

and are so afraid of Trump supporters (who are your local rank and file people who keep the streets repaired and policed, fight your wars, etc.),

Heh, slant much? Seriously, you think good American citizens all look and vote like you.

I'll cop to maybe being unclear what I mean by "Trump supporters". I'm not afraid of a guy who votes for Trump. I'm afraid of the Hitler Youth that beat people up at his rallies. "Afraid" for much the same reason you are afraid of Syrian refugees, with many more facts to back me up.

What's with the relentless demonization of white Christians by your kind?

You're totally making my point, even though you're too obtuse to realize it.

We don't demonize white Christians, even though the number of them who kill is dwarfs the number of Syrian refugees who do. We treat each mass shooting by a white Christian as a lone wolf "bad apple" for which it is absurd to blame anti-abortion or anti-gay rhetoric by Republicans. And yet, we do demonize Syrian refugees.

Instead of presuming that I do want to exclude white Christians from the country, recognize that your argument against doing so applies to other groups as well. That's what makes America great.

Why do you think America is not great now? Why do you hate America? Why not go back to Russia?

Treebeard said...

Larry I'm not from Russia and I don't want to “go back” there. But it was you who started this a while back, suggesting I move there, so I was just returning the favor, and offering one possible solution to your fear of white Christians. I'm not afraid of Syrians or Trump supporters personally, but I was frightened of a lot of people when I was more of a beta male.

This stuff about "Hitler Youth" is just hysteria that suggest some kind of cultural pathology. When's the last time one of these Trump supporters attacked you or someone you know? Maybe you are watching the wrong media, or living in a reality tunnel?

David Brin said...

Larryhart I agree that there are far worse (Junior) Trumpisms than the skittles comparison. A better analogy is: “if there’s one poison candy and you don’t know which kind, in the continent, among 300 million bags of candy… would you give up candy?”

Notice how our ent is enraged illogically. LH was showing how vile it would be to do to White Christians what they were doing to other categories of fellow humans. Um, find two neurons to rub together?

BTW after decades attacking unions, be prepared for some surprises when goppers take working class whites for granted.

Go back to Fanghorn Forest!

David Brin said...

raito: “Don't think that I don't comprehend because I don't agree. That's a fairly dangerous trap.”

I wholly agree with that. Where I accuse someone of strawmanning is when they are clearly disagreeing with things I never said, or than were minutia exemplars having no real bearing on the main point…

…which they are repeatedly ignoring.

“What I claim is that availability is the key, as you also seem to. Where we disagree is on the form of the availability.”

I congratulate yuou at last on attempting a genuine paraphrasing. Tho a stunning oversimplification. I argue that certain types of availability encouraged textbook makers to include programming exercises to illustrate points of physics, chem, bio or math… and thus teachers could - with some sense of career stability and support - assign homework. Homework then done by 30 million kids instead of 0.01million.

“What you claim is that it needs to be in the text to be assigned. “

Bull. But at least you paraphrased so we could dial in. Sure the ASSIGNMENT should be text since that is what teachers and students READ! But if one of the 5 standard programs set up by Apple, MSoft etc is a graphical stacking of LEGO blocks like in Mindstorms, then fine!

So teaching is becoming more eclectic? Again you create a delusion of rigidity on my part that is entirely hallucinatory. For “textbook publishers” replace “creators of eclectic educational materials.” Sorry. Our disagreement is about personality, not substance. Specifically your personality, sir.

David Brin said...

PaulSB I hope you are feeling way better. And thanks for the kind remarks on Glory Season. I do have notes for a sequel somewhere. I did leave all those possibilities (and some others) open.

LarryHart said...


Larry I'm not from Russia and I don't want to “go back” there. But it was you who started this a while back, suggesting I move there, so I was just returning the favor,

Maybe you're too young to remember the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but it was fairly routine for your compatriots in those decades to rhetorically ask of anyone who thought America could do better at living up to its ideals "Why do you hate America" and to demand that we "Love it or leave it" and yes, specifically "Go back to Russia". So I'm just returning that favor, but with a rhetorical purpose. To demonstrate that you and your fellow Holnists seem to think that your criticisms of America are justified, but no one else's are. You condemn people who protest at football games as un-American and un-patriotic, yet don't think twice about a candidate whose slogan insists that America is not (currently) great.

Why is that?

and offering one possible solution to your fear of white Christians.

Sigh. For the millionth time, I'm not afraid of white Christians. The same reason I'm not afraid of white Christians also applies to many other groups as well.

I'm not afraid of Syrians or Trump supporters personally, but I was frightened of a lot of people when I was more of a beta male.

That explains a lot. The thing is, I was a coward at age twenty as well. We seem to have grown out of that in different ways. The Smallville/Gotham City divide perhaps? Your parents taught you, bleeding to death on that alleyway, that the world only makes sense if you force it to?

This stuff about "Hitler Youth" is just hysteria that suggest some kind of cultural pathology. When's the last time one of these Trump supporters attacked you or someone you know?

Did you actually watch the footage of the rallies Trump held earlier this spring, when the primary race was still going on? The beating up on black guys and women? Throwing someone out into the snow and Trump going "Don't give him his coat"? The ones who were actually seig-heiling him?

Maybe you are watching the wrong media, or living in a reality tunnel?

I know you are, but what am I?

When did a Syrian refugee, or any terrorist for that matter, attack you or someone you know? My city of Chicago is more likely to be a target than yours. Why is it that residents of red states are in such cowardly fear of terrorism, when the residents of the places that would actually be threatened--New York, California, Illinois, for example--are exemplars of the true American spirit in the face of adversity?

Your serve. :)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

I agree that there are far worse (Junior) Trumpisms than the skittles comparison. A better analogy is: “if there’s one poison candy and you don’t know which kind, in the continent, among 300 million bags of candy… would you give up candy?”

Very well put, sir.

Depending on how much good one thinks immigration is for the future of America, one might even replace "candy" with "food" in the above.

donzelion said...

Jumper: "I have little respect for the crowd who keep asking what reality REALLY is. It's infinite regress no matter how they kick and cry that it can't be so."

Show me a mathematician who made a contribution to the queen of the sciences, and I'll show you someone who at one point asked - obsessively - about the nature of reality. Such folks merit at least a modicum of respect. ;-)

There's the folks who 'ask' without really specifying the meaning of the question, and the folks who 'ask - then search.' Since this is an old question, and one that is not resolved through democratic 'me-too' bandwagoning, it's remarkably difficult to add something worthwhile to the body of literature that exists, and any such contributions can reshape 'reality as we experience it' (even if they don't change 'reality-as-it-is' all that much).

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

PaulSB I hope you are feeling way better. And thanks for the kind remarks on Glory Season. I do have notes for a sequel somewhere. I did leave all those possibilities (and some others) open.

I'm glad to hear that, because (as a comics reader), it just seemed to obvious to me that...someone...survived the blast, even though it was never stated in the story.

BTW, Paul is not the only one currently re-reading a book of yours. I'm into my third reading of "Existence". Three is usually the limit of how often I can read a book and still be surprised by plot twists. At the moment, I don't remember whose point of view the italicized chapters on autism come from. I think it was one of two characters, but don't remember which. Also, I'm going to pay special attention to the depiction of the meeting in Switzerland, because I've read your statements on what that meeting is about, but don't recall it being clear in the actual narrative. This time, I'm reading for comprehension.

David Brin said...

"Why is it that residents of red states are in such cowardly fear of terrorism, when the residents of the places that would actually be threatened--New York, California, Illinois, for example--are exemplars of the true American spirit in the face of adversity?"

What he said.

Out of all the moral virtues that Red America claims, only one stands out... a higher fraction of their males step up to the enlisted ranks of military service. The same martial spirit that gave the Olde Confederacy its one and only moral grace -- fierce valor on the battlefield. Beyond that, we have heard so many screeches proclaiming and claiming moral superiority over city-college-blue America... and every single one of them is not just false, but staggeringly and blatantly false.

As proved by every statistic about teen sex, teen pregnancy rates, STDs, domestic violence, dropouts, obesity, gambling addiction, other addictions and alcoholism, and on and on.

But the real proof came on 9/11, when New Yorkers stood on the rubble, faced east and said... (everyone together this time?)... "Iz dat all you got?"

And when Bostonians and Chicagoans on United Flight 93 said "let's roll" and charged the cockpit, bringing down the plane they were on, lest it be used as a weapon against their country.

Sir, you haven't the right to begin to mention such people, let alone disparage them. Compared to them, you are no ent. You are an ant.

donzelion said...

LarryHart - "...yet don't think twice about a candidate whose slogan insists that America is not (currently) great."

Republicans have a weird notion of patriotism. Kill a few thousand troops, refuse to fund housing for them, but fly a flag and build a tomb? Patriotic. Stop the killing of the troops, build housing, but fail to salute once (when you're not even obligated to salute)? Unpatriotic.

White Christian man says "God damn America!" - he's a hero (so long as FoxNews says he is). Black Christian man says "God damn America" - he's unpatriotic. Muslim says "God damn America" - he's a terrorist. Same words.

For such a crowd, there is no right or wrong, no principle whatsoever - just situational relativism and defense of one's own tribe. Or rather, the only principle that exists is "the other guy (or gal) broke the law, so I'm excused so long as I hold them accountable."

But the beauty of hypocrisy is that it drains energy. We all fall into it occasionally, but the energy loss renders those who build their house upon hypocrisy far less important in the scheme of things: they'll scream and shout and judge, and for a season, dictate orders - but they'll be swept aside by clarity in due course whenever a crisis emerges that threatens things which are actually cherished.

donzelion said...

Treebeard: "When's the last time one of these Trump supporters attacked you or someone you know?"

Last night in a bar, actually. My friend's been a bartender up there for 20 years, and was accused of being an ISIS agent (doubtless, part of the 'alcohol-serving' contingent of Islam). That said, the regulars (who were overwhelmingly Republicans) subdued the pair of yokels (my friend's had run ins before when he tried to kick out folks bringing guns into the bar - but that's rural California for ya).

donzelion said...

Treebeard: "if you like Syrians so much and are so afraid of Trump supporters ... maybe you should move to Syria?"

Been there, done that, don't really care to go back, but the folks who want to make America more like Syria (albeit with more crosses than crescents) ought to go see for themselves what the fruit of their beliefs looks like.

"What's with the relentless demonization of white Christians by your kind?"
Christian tradition REQUIRES demonization of hypocrisy wherever it arises. Jewish and Muslim tradition are a bit more nuanced in that regard.

Many white Christians perceive Jesus as a gun-toting anti-immigrant crusader protecting the property of the wealthy. That they believe in this monstrous parody is a blasphemy that demonizes Christianity far more than any words uttered by non-Christians.

hadend said...

You haven't looked through their budget lately, have you

Why no I haven't - anything I've learned has mostly been through books, newspaper articles, and people I've known. That's a cute argument tho, it's kinda like the ole' grad school trick where you waive whatever fashionable book around like it's Scripture, telling whoever you're arguing with, "if only you had read X, then you'd understand". It's also a favorite of every libertarian who tells you that you need to read Road to Serfdom if you don't think food stamps are creeping totalitarianism. No one's every done it to me with a government budget report though, so I guess that's a new experience! Imagine telling someone that they can't understand or criticize the Iraq War unless they read every Bush-era Defense spending report...

But bear in mind, USAID and the American Red Cross operate somewhat similarly (and share a remarkable overlap in their personnel, though USAID has a far greater degree of budget scrutiny, by people with strong incentives to attack them, while the Red Cross has immense prestige).

Nope - just nope - they absolutely do not operate similarly. USAID is an arm of US foreign policy, aimed at economic development and policy that is conducive to US interests. That's also putting it pretty charitably, IMHO. For example, WaPo (NB: WaPo covered the story before I get conspiracy theory scare quotes from you) broke a story about USAID spending two million to help the PLO against Hamas in Palestinian elections. To me, covertly influencing foreign elections falls outside of economic aid and development. Pando Daily had a great story too, The Murderous History of USAID, that goes thru a number of dubious USAID projects, most recently in Cuba.

American Red Cross as part of the Int'l Red Cross, do not represent US government - they distribute aid as a neutral party.

hadend said...

Also, what are you referring to when you talk about people with 'strong incentives to attack them'? Are you referring to Republican politicians or something?

Alfred Differ said...

@hadend: Heh. Well... you SHOULD read Road to Serfdom, but not because it shows food stamps are on the path to totalitarianism. It is more useful in helping to understand a dangerous path we would prefer not to walk. It describes a sociological pattern we can avoid if we pay attention.

My friends who froth about food stamps are probably more concerned with the sociological danger behind them. Learned dependence. Food stamps are just one possible way to adopt that meme, but not a guaranteed way. The way to put them in their place is to put the evidence in front of them.

hadend said...

Lol, learned dependence, that's some funny shit Alfred. Always love to hear garbage humans explain why people deserve to starve to death in a multi-trillion dollar economy using the rantings of a crusty old European aristocrat. I guess the greatest consolation I have is that despite the fact that a group of eccentric billionaires have spent tons of their own money promoting that goofy ideology known as libertarianism, it remains laughably unpopular in the good old USA.

David Brin said...

hadend you are relatively new here. So please. Get used to the notion that we operate at a higher level, here. With a few exceptions, this comment community is one of the oldest and most mature on the web and generally non-dogmatic. Sure, we tend in the current environment to be most of us opposed to the right-wing madness currently clawing our civilization, especially the US. But there are republicans here who - though re-evaluating and in pain - are of the older, calm and reasoning kind.

Most of them.


David Brin said...