Sunday, June 11, 2006

From The Battlefront of Ideas

I am pondering organizing a book of essays on the topic of The Devil’s Dichotomies... one of my persistent themes. (My co-editor and I will be inviting some of the "usual suspects"-- modernist futurist types) but if you know any famed-pundits (and their emails) let me know ;-)

Toward that end, I am thinking of beefing up my recent essay about Altruistic Horizons: Our Tribal Natures, the Fear Effect and the End of Ideologues.

What I need from some of you is a more critical read or that piece. Especially, any links or references to REAL ANTHROPOLOGY that supports (or doesn’t) the basic notion that confident tribes gather as nations but drop down to bickering clans, bands, even families, when times are fearful & hard.

Looking back at some other postings, about inter-human connectivity, I find that similar thoughts by others: a piece on Mark Pesce’s Hyperpeople blog.

A related knock-on piece offers thoughts on how people utilize e-connectedness to enhance their knowledge and ability by using the “Three Fs” -- Finding, Filtering and Forwarding. Very interesting and cogent observations.

And yet, as I point out in my Disputation Arenas paper, we actually do these things online, today, very badly! The three Fs are actually so primitive today that they suppress creative aggregate intelligence, almost as much as they enhance it.

Naturally, I think my new Holocene invention will change all that. Background info can be found at:

==More on Enlightenment Civilization==

REVIEWING MY OWN POSTINGS ON THIS MATTER... I just believe that there are many factors constraining our online ability to Help enlightenment civilization reach its next level.

1. Citizenship is hampered by the error of cynicism:
The Real Culture War: Defining the Background

2. ...and by a hidden conflict of professionals vs amateurs:
The Other Culture War: Beleaguered Professionals vs. Disempowered Citizens

3. ...and by failure of accountability for predictions:
Accountability for Everyday Prophets: A Call for a Predictions Registry

4. ... and by poor structure in the deliberation of opinion in the online world, allowing everyone to speak without any way for bad ideas to sink or good ones to rise:
Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competitiveness for Society's Benefit

5. ... or for extra capital resources to flow easily to big projects that stand on our urgent horizon: Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy

6. ... and a wave of caveman emotionalism that prevents people from calmly listening to those who disagree: An Open Letter to Researchers of Addiction, Brain Chemistry, and Social Psychology

7. ... and a seemingly deliberate effort to use the interface itself to suppress cogent discussion among the hundreds of billions of young people who go online to flirt and gossip, actually WRITING more words than any other generation, but unable to express anything more complex than "ROFL!" in clipped sentences:

8. But the biggest impediment is a cloud of secrecy that prevents markets and science and courts and public opinion from making decisions with efficiency and rapidity, leaving them less effective to serve as agile arenas for problem solving. Leaving us much too dependent upon high level government decisions in order to get things done. (Of course, the irony is that the chief defenders of this fog are the very ones claiming that they adore "market solutions.")

I do believe in hyperintelligence and hyperpeople! I just see far more impediments than most of the enthusiasts do. This irony is disturbing to me. Enthusiasts like Kurzweil downplay the obstacles while their opponents downplay the possibilities.

From the inimitable arch-neomodernist Cory Doctorow’s Boing Boing site: Patent Office Will Ask the Public to "Peer Review" Inventions -- (Boing Boing -- May 8, 2006) The US Patent and Trademark Office has launched "Peer to Patent," a community patent peer review project. The USPTO is overloaded with patent filings, so it does little or no investigation into patents before rubber-stamping them, expecting that the courts will sort out who invented what.

Naturally I approve, philosophically. It’s what I push... and yet I wonder, would it have made my own recently awarded patent easier or harder? Actually, I think it would have been granted a year earlier, and generated a lot more buzz! (I’ll be in DC late this month. Anyone know the masterminds of this program?)

==Smart Mobs and Citizenry==

Smart Mobs and Empowered Citizenship: Remember outsourcing? Sending jobs to India and China is so 2003. The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D.

An article on search engine accuracy suggests we need wariness about whether they turn out empowering everybody, or a few.

More on similar lines? An editor posted an article containing "Dogma of Otherness" Italian translation.

we-the-mediaRecommended reading: Dan Gilmor’s recent book, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People, which is about the relationship between mainstream media and this new citizen-driven, participatory journalism, Dan said he believes that "it is symbiotic, I hope, not confrontational. Certainly there will be competition, which is valuable. But I hope bloggers and other kinds of grassroots-media folks will become part of a larger ecosystem, not try to displace what already exists, because we need both. The possibilities are endless, and blogging is just one. Wikis, podcasting and all kinds of other methods will be brought to bear on the big and small issues of our times."

Does this mean that all information, no matter how democratically obtained and published is valid? Of course not. As Gillmor tells us, we all need editors. We the Media raises these and many more thorny issues that we must confront; the world of openness and collaboration is taking off, and technology leads the way faster than organizations, society, and law can catch up. These same arguments apply to government, and especially to departments and agencies that deal in protecting us (and our rights).

Openness is certainly an issue to deal with for these institutions; they have fine lines to tread as they find better uses for open source information which derives from this plethora of sources, often expert sources, and the vast army of citizens who would like to do their part in the post-9/11 world. Listening is a critical skill that must be mastered. Public-private partnerships will emerge. How we collaborate, with safeguards for privacy and security, can determine ultimately how secure we are and how well our basic freedoms are protected.” (Source, the Highlands Forum.)

And somewhat related, on the theme of infectious altruism...

. . . Tyler Carpenter, Rogue Academic writes: “Earlier today I was laying on my couch and flipping through my battered copy of "Otherness", trying to determine which story to re-read while I waited for my laundry to be done. By chance, I settled on "The Giving Plague," due to all of the 'Beware of West Nile Virus!' posters I've been seeing of late on the UC Santa Barbara campus. Later, I happened across an article link on, about research into an 'altruism gene'. The coincidence between revisiting ALAS and reading the article was too much to ignore. Maybe you'll find it interesting, maybe not - but I'd feel remiss if I didn't pass it on.

Finally... I am on my way to NYC, DC, Boston for talks about

1. How to escape from tall building (!)
2. Complexity and the difficulty of prediction
3. "Evil Genius" secenarios for terror attacks on the Homeland.

If any of you have citations or very quirky insights on these topics, feel free to comment here...

busy busy...


Blake Stacey said...

The URL to the Holocene chat is broken. It prepends "" to the actual URL of interest.

See you in chowder-town. . . .

Anonymous said...

David Brin said:
“What I need from some of you is a more critical read or that piece. Especially, any links or references to REAL ANTHROPOLOGY that supports (or doesn’t) the basic notion that[1.] confident tribes gather as nations [2.]but drop down to bickering clans, bands, even families, when times are fearful & hard.”

I don’t think that theory as you condensed it here fits the creation of Islam’s Arabic nation state as stated in the book “Understanding Iraq” by William r Polk. Or any other Nation that I know of. Part1 about confident tribes is wrong, because in my opinion nations are created to fix problems. IE Build large public works or Manage a irrigation system, or end endemic warfare between tribes, that no individual clan can do. Part 2 is partially right but misses the point that even in bad times a wise clan will realize they need a national government. Examples are in Egypt, China or southeast Asia were you need a government to manage water distribution for irrigation and safe transportation routes. The problem is that every clan wants to rule that nation once the old king is dead.

Your original post I thought had some good points. That persistent fear does cause the nation state to be weakened and fractured into tribes.

Anonymous said...

A surprise attack mentioned in a previous blog was Pearl Harbor.

The way I heard it, radar was a relatively new invention in 1941. The radar screen would often show spurious returns, which may have been flocks of birds, weather systems, or just plain malfunctions. The operators learned to dismiss such blips.

On the morning of December 7, the guy watching the scope for the radar near Pearl Harbor asked his supervisor what to do about the huge set of echoes on his screen. His supervisor told him to ignore it. Anything that big had to be a glitch.

Minutes later, a friend of mine was running for his life and jumping in a ditch as a Japanese airplane was strafing him.

The trouble with persistent false alarms is that we disregard true alarms.

Woozle said...

Does Holocene Chat include a feature to let you separate out different "threads" within a conversation? I probably need to do an interface mock-up to really get this idea across, but... if you can picture an online discussion between (keep it simple) two people. Person A says something with two angles to it. Person B replies to both angles. Person A replies to the second reply alone, and the conversation follows that thread; the important point raised in B's second reply is lost.

I picture a process something like this:

B sees that there are two parts to A's statement, so B highlights part of A's statement, right-clicks (or command-clicks or whatever you heathen Mac people do (-; ) and selects "create thread". Then B highlights the relevant phrase for the other part of A's statement, and does the same.

On both screens (A's screen and B's screen), A's original statement now appears in (let's say) a box, with two lines coming from it; each line leads to another box with just the portion highlighted by B in each case.

Each of these new boxes is a chat interface with essentially the same features as the original conversation had -- but now, when either A or B says anything in either of the new boxes, it is clear which point is being responded to. It also becomes clear when a point has been "lost", because it will stand alone with no replies.

I can also imagine there might need to be ways to flag these thread-boxes, e.g. for importance (crucial? side-issue?) or completion (was an agreement reached?) The software could then filter intelligently, if the screen got too cluttered -- "show only incomplete", or "show only crucial", or both.

This is a piece of software I've been wanting to write for years but simply haven't had the time. I haven't read the Holocene description thoroughly, so it may be that my chat paradigm won't fit within Holocene's paradigm... but I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts, either way.

Anonymous said...

Radar at Pearl Harbor...

Indeed, Radar was a new technology... the problem was that on the morning of December 7th, 1941, a squadron of B-17 'Flying Fortress' bombers was expected from the west coast. When told about the 'large contact' to the northwest, the 'alert center' remembered the incoming B-17 flight and assumed that the radar operators had mistaken the bearing (common problem) and that it was the American bombers flying in from the northeast...

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

Your book sounds like fun, but will yet another vague, academic tome peddled to the neo modernist echo chamber change anything?

Reading through your writings, I find you name three broad types of "enemies of the perfect future:"

1. Liars
2. Looters
3. Information hiders

How about naming some names first?

Top Ten lists are effective ways to communicate complex ideas to America.

Top Ten American Looters:

1. BearingPoint LLC
2. Halliburton
3. Dyncorp


The battle for the future is being fought now...when will our scientists join the fight?

David Brin said...

Sorry, the hasty posting (using active links!!) did a bad job with my new Holocene site, which is

Already people have been coming out of the woodwork... guys like woozle who are fed up with today's dumbing-down interfaces. One fellow, who downloaded the power point "guided tour" and pondered Holocene deeply, insisted that the real "killer app" is to transform IM. Which now only allows one-to-one and many-to-many and with no thread-following, no services to track the gist of a conversation, no prioritization functions and no way to make a useful community.

He gave us a writeup that really made this point cogently. Because he deeply wants Holocene to come to the rescue. (We also remember friends.)

Very similar problems apply to collaboration media, as woozle describes. Take the linear-serial commentary functions that wer are currently using right now on Blogger. HORRIBLE! Oh, the horror. I described better in 1987! I USED a better discussion interface with the Caltech Hyperforum in 1992!

I approve of Wiki in principle (in part because I predicted it.) But using a Wiki is impossible if you are a time traveller from a future era when such horridly inefficient approaches have long been bypassed. (Only sci fi lets you hurl such -- thought provoking -- insults!)

Really, on one wiki I came back weeks later to find that unattributed statements were now being spouted "by" me because authorship was still attributed to me at the topmost layer, but only nerds would dive deeper to see who had put new words in my mouth!

Elsewhere I yearn for "disputation arenas." But hell, for now I'd settle for decent collaboration ware!

None of which can happen until the discursive skill set covered by the Holocene patent starts being used by SOMEBODY! But the mere fact that I was ABLE to patent such a vast realm of conversational skill sets means that people are so trapped in Twen Cen mentalities - basically still thinking DOS - that they are unable to perceive what's missing even when you explain it to them!

Seriously, I have yet to meet a VC guy whose eyes don't glaze over. "That's so general, you CAN'T patent that." And when I answer "I have!" they then turn around and say "Well, nobody will ever need to do that."


"Um... yeah. But... well... people want avatars."

aaaaaargggghhh- gurrgle....

Other matters.

Monkyboy. You don't get it. It's YOU guys who aren't helping.

Scientists en masse hate the monsters, at the highest % of any group. (Affiliation with the dem party decreases with rising education, till you have a state college BA. Then is skyrockets as people become MORE educated. Rove said "there can be too much education.")

Yes, there has been a "Republican War on Science..."

But there has also been a left-wing "war on engineering." Name any truly ambitious undertaking and watch the reflex to oppose it. Experiments to fight global warming by seeding vast desert areas of the sea with nutrients to create new fisheries? Meddling with nature!!!!!

Face the actual fact that fission power plants make sense RIGHT NOW... and HERE where they would be properly criticized and supervised? NEVER!!!!!

The New Puritans (wastenot! save! conservation! sit and shiver in the dark!) are vastly more "conservative" than today's (spendthrift, adventurer, immediate gratification) Conservatives are!


Please keep thinking:

1. escape from tall buildings.
2. how complexity stymies prediction
3. evil genius scenarios

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

I disagree.

As I pointed out in another post, few Americans could name a single living American scientist.

If we still had any scientists of any stature, they could easily finger the evil-doers...and people would listen.

As far as TWEN CEN mentalities...your attempt to market your chat interface seems quite old fashioned, too.

If you really think it's all that:

1. Make some room on the client for advertising.

2. Make some provision for user-developed content.

3. Release that puppy for!

See: youtube, myspace, flickr and other 21st century successes...

Anonymous said...

" . . . HERE where they would be properly criticized and supervised . . ."

I'm going to play contrarian and point out that the recent noise about a new round of nuclear power construction comes with strings attached: The industry wants the government to suspend safety and oversight rules.

The old players in the nuclear power game were defense contractors, and had the bad habits of defense contractors. I'd like to see new players enter the race, ones that are not hampered by that legacy.

And, please forgive me, I really get ticked off when the same conservative pundits, Slashdot geeks, and think-tank flaks who were categorically denying that there was such a thing as global warming last year are now self-righteously smugging about how we wouldn't be in this fix if environmentalists hadn't rejected nuclear power.

These guys are speaking-in-talking-points. I don't trust their advice.

* * *


Something I've been recommending to visitors to NYC who have a few hours to dedicate to a non-traditional tourist exercise:

Make your way to Grand Central. Find the #7 "subway" line and get on the Flushing bound side.

I put "subway" in quotes because most of the run is above ground, through myriad neighborhoods, old industrial zones, the marshy hinterland of Queens, the ash-dump turned park Flushing Meadows, and finally Flushing itself, which deserves to be simply walked around in.

David Brin said...

It never ceases to amaze me how some people can glance in a direction, then blithely wave "I see what you are doing and it's junk"... then proceed to describe something totally different than what they "looked at".

This is EXACTLY the blithe attitude of self-assurance, despite contrary evidence, shown by the neocons.

Anonymous said...

Interesting story:

In short: Chinese of relatively modest means are having solar hot water heaters installed in their homes. It has become a status thing, and local entreprenuers are cashing in.

This is an excellent example of "leapfrogging:" use of high technology to give a developing country comforts and conveniences without having to install an expensive infrastructure or make environmental compromises.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

"From the Battlefront of Ideas"

I read all the papers you linked to.

Trust me, I get it.

Chickenhawk is a great term to refer to pundits who would never go fight a war but still advocate for it.

I think we need a term for futurists who advocate a shiny, high-tech future, but don't want to soil themselves by directly engaging popular blowhards and "experts" in debates...

How about "Futurehawk?"

Anonymous said...

David, what do you think about this statement by Robin Hanson:

I’d like to try and create some better web-based discussion, rather than the equivalent of mailing list and newsgroup conversations converted to web pages. In particular, on some issue I’d like to see two pages representing conflicting views in “reflective equilibrium”, where the author of each page has read the other page and can’t think of any way to improve his/her response to the points made in that other page.

I found it on his home page a while ago, and always thought it was important.

David Brin said...

No, in fact, I do not trust that you "get it." Although I do believe that you believe that you get it.

There is only one way past such an impasses.

Paraphrase what it is that you think that I think. I would be very interested in your version.

Ah, but since you have not donw so, it tends to indicate that you most definitely have NOT read what I have to say about this.

David Brin said...

Nevertheless... you are welcome here. We need goys like you.


Even guys who are wrong can give good citokate.

David Brin said...

agh! Did I type "goys"????


Anonymous said...


Good to know us heathens are welcome here.

Anonymous said...

"1. How to escape from tall building (!)
2. Complexity and the difficulty of prediction
3. "Evil Genius" secenarios for terror attacks on the Homeland."

I'll take a shot at this....

1. Efforts should be made to give the people in the building more time to escape. Variables: the nature of the threat, the length of the escape routes, the availability of those routes, peoples awareness of those routes, the availability of tools to escapees to fight the threat... Different approaches may be needed for different levels of the building. Of course, a warning given long before some catastrophic event happens remains the most effective.

2. I would suggest AI as a workaround if it weren't for complexity that there is no real AI yet. Maybe it's simply unavoidable to have many different (relatively simple) models for different levels of a subject, from macroscale to microscale, and have the predictors communicate with each other for effective CITOKATE. Cue Holocene :)

3. Sorry, no ideas come to mind right now.

Naum said...

First, before I respond to your query, a note that is not resolving or there is some other server snafu that is stopping me from perusing there… …I was looking forward to examining it, as your previous writing about the concept has always been vaguely worded, and I do have quite a bit of experience in crafting web discussion software…

>>1. How to escape from tall building (!)

Better parachutes — stored like fire extinguishers that can be launched form heights lower than present technology permits. Or expanding bubble-gel enclosures, again, stored in compressed form, waiting for a "break the glass" moment.

>>2. Complexity and the difficulty of prediction

Because the introduction of any variable can totally upset the entire fabric of any future speculation. Take this internet thing for example. I've been conversing and interacting on it long before the masses were, yet I am still awed by its power, that I believe is still in infancy. This weekend, we watched Good Night and Good Luck and there was a scene where Mr. Murrow asks his support staff to round up all the newspapers and scour them for any reference to a individual/topic to serve a answer/discovery query. Today with a few clicks, one can roundup a great deal of information. And every day brings more data. And now sound and video, increasing at an exponential rate.

I realize that for many that read your posts here, this is a no-brainer, but I believe that there are contingents that (a) take it for granted and/or (b) can't conceive of the collaborative power unleashed.

Yes, some were prescient enough to foretell its coming. Some even tasted its tantalizing power way back (for a good read of the pioneers in this regard, see JCR Licklider & the Revolution that Made Computing Personal. But how many truly contemplate the mustard seed
that is as a result of the ability of instant collaboration and feedback.

But new technology interacts with other advances in technology, sometimes in terribly twisted ways. Ubiquitousness of cameras and recording, along with a wired (or wireless connected) world smashes doors & fences with open windows. Except for the powerful & elite, who can opt out of being viewees, and are granted more viewer power, and you've addressed this even before it became evident to most.

Meanwhile, all of this wonderous technology is still being powered by ancient energy production. Just finished reading Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Future and it was a well written account of how our worldwide electricity demand is increasingly being met by coal, and how ignorant we are of this. And how this is how the lobbyists and power industry wants it.

3. "Evil Genius" secenarios for terror attacks on the Homeland.

Just a few off the top of my head…

* A truck strolling through a industrial zone in proximity to an metropolitan airport, loses its bedding and a portable SAM deployed to take out a few aircraft on their takeoff/landing descent.

* Destruction of any of those railroad bridges that allow that coal to be transported from the West to the East.

* Wholesale theft of SSN, credit card numbers from offshore IT personnel serving American customers. Expecting data security in countries where the power plant worker needs to be bought dinner or the lights may go out and where bribes are not just confined to corrupt Congressmen…

* Pipeline sabotage — in 2003, Arizonans lined up for ridiculous wait times and a majority of gas stations went dark when a Kinder-Morgan pipleline burst. It turns out that there are fery few entry/exit routes coming in, supplying a needed resource to a state of over 6 million.


Rob Perkins said...

The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D.

David, have you looked at Thomas Friedman's book, The World Is Flat? There are descriptions of companies in there like JetBlue, who use the spare time of Salt Lake City housewives to operate their call center. For one example.

I thought the read was very interesting. Friedman is a complex man, who treats the problems America faces regarding the shrinking size of the world, technologically, without jingoism or demagoguery.

As to actual anthropology regarding the rise of nations or their fall into tribes, clans, or bands, I wonder if sociological research into the makeup of inner city gangs, organized crime, or the messes in Sudan or Rwanda, or the like, would lend light on that subject. My first impulse is to look in that direction.

And my own question still stands, as to whether you or anyone agrees or disagrees with the conservative notion of "the family" as not only a basic building block of small societies, but also of very large nations like the United States or China. Is there a correlation between permission given for easy divorce, or the loss of stigma at an unwedded woman giving birth, that kind of thing, with the perceived disintegration of social unity in exchange for gangs and clans and tribes, on the rise in recent decades?

Or not? I'm genuinely curious about putting the screws to that range of ideas. Studies are quoted about the aggregate difference in docility and civility among children raised at home vs. raised by daycare providers, for example. What of those, and what debunks or supports them?

Anonymous said...

3. evil genius scenarios

I am not prepared to post any of my evil genius scenarios for attacks on any country on an open forum. Defence would be extremely dificult against a near-economic crippling and the offence would be really quite easy.

The fortunate thing is that people who use planes as guided missiles simply don't think the right way to find such methods. (To use the methods I'm thinking of, you need to be prepared to understand the systems from the inside out (or simply get very lucky)).

Damon TF Buckwalter said...

1. escape from tall buildings.

I have no good ideas for this, but here are some bad ones to spark more thought:

1.1. Internal pneumatic tubes with padded "shells" to protect people. The tubes would empty out into a subway station in the basement with cars to transport the people away.

1.2. Escape from the top (helicopter, zipline to other rooftops, parachutes)

1.3. Don't evacuate. Shelter in place in hardened pods with that could survive building collapse.

Anything else I can come up with are just variants on one of those themes.

2. how complexity stymies prediction

Obviously, chaotic systems with sensitivity to initial conditions will be hard to predict. However, beyond a strictly quantitative approach, I would note the complexity of overlays of systems (both simple and complex). Technological, political, and social systems overlay to create complex interactions. It usually isn't the layers that you account for that ruin your predictions, it is the layer you ignored.

3. evil genius scenarios

Bruce Schneier had a thread on his blog which explored many options.

The scariest ones don't involve genius, just the willingness to break social norms.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of escaping from tall buildings, be sure to check out

You have to sort the madness from the genius, but this has been addressed in detail there.

Anonymous said...

Evil Genius plot 1:

The Indian Point nuclear power plant, near New York City, is a potential target. Twelve to twenty guys with assault rifles storm the building, killing everyone in their path. By the time the SWAT teams arrive, it is too late; they have made their way to sensitive equipment and damaged it, causing a nuclear disaster.

Evil Genius Plot 2:

Remember the DC Sniper? Do that, over and over again, in lots of different locations. Cheap, easy, and scares the hell out of everyone.

Evil Genius Plot 3:

On the day of the New York City marathon, hijack a bus, ram the barricades, and mow down all the runners.

Evil Genius Plot 4:

Truck bombs on major bridges. Simple, really. There's only a few ways into or out of Manhattan, and a few bombs could shut them all down.

I suspect that the continental US isn't going to be attacked by Arab terrorists unless they come up with something more impressive than 9/11. From the point of view of the terrorists, 9/11 was mostly a propaganda piece intended to gather attention and support. Going from something that dramatic to a few random bombings would look pretty unimpressive, and they have all the targets they want in Iraq, anyway.

Anonymous said...

1: escape from tall buildings
I find it odd that more sky-scrapers aren't interconnected by bridges (It's not like they're DOING anything with all that space.)
Still, where sky-scrapers are densely situated, emergency "drawbridges" - perhaps controlled from neighboring buildings - could provide quicker evacuation from upper floors of threatened buildings. Elsewhere, cable cars could be a solution.

3. evil genius scenarios
Was going to carefully allude to certain possibilities.
...However, that movie-plot threat page has pretty much got it covered; both my ideas has been posted by someone named "Chris King".
I shall simply have to cross my thumbs and hope serious terrorists will ignore anything labelled "movie plot"...

I found the holocene ideas interesting; I much prefer forums, but there may be some "trickle-down effects" ;) (All forums I know of today are sadly lacking, IMO.)

David Brin said...

I am having no trouble getting to load from Netscape and Safari or Firefox. Anybody else having difficulty?

Rob interesting questions re decay of family... and indeed, moderate liberals - e.g. Clintonites - moved heavily away from 60s welfare and supported what seemed a harsh new approach to Welfare Reform” in the nineties... a reform suite of measures that verifiably DID address the longtime conservative plaint that “welfare destroys families.”

(How were they repaid for this flexibility?)

OTOH, there are limits. See statistics. Outside of Mormon Country, there is NEGATIVE corelation between Red State “values” and preserving family life. Divorce rates, domestic violence, teen pregnancy are all higher than in the “decadent” cities. Likewise the effects of pure absinence education vs Abstinence-preferred but with lots of knowledge and skills. is a great site! How come I never heard of it till now?

These guys could supply the “humor or what-if” portion of the magazine, if my Eye of the Needle Foundation were ever funded.

Anonymous said...

Glad that us Goys are still welcome! LOL, Hey we all make mistakes while typing don’t feel bad.

Evil Genius scenario that scares me 1. off Islamic Biologist re-sequences multiple versions of bird flu to greater than 1919 mortality and we find no vaccine. Osama’s gang is the only one with the cure. Trade comes to a halt millions die, millions more starve or are out of work as borders ports and airports are closed.
New strains keep being introduced for years later into migratory birds. Civilization goes into a new dark age as the fundamentalists and anti-modernists grab power. The Russians and Chinese use this as a excuse to seize territory and settle scores, and the world descends into Caos.

2.escape from tall buildings they actually have personal Parashoots you can buy but is so expensive/ difficult to use correctly that prevention seems the only real option.

By the way I still disagree with Doug S in the last post about wars as the only solution to Islamic [or other] fanatics. I don’t call the American civil war progress when you have 10 years of minor progress followed by 90 of regression, and a economy that was set back by at least 60 years. It was so bad that Hitler used the USA segregation policy as an example in is book Mine Kamph [spellchecker not working] of what he wanted to do in Germany. As for the ANC stopping apartheid you need to read a force more powerful were that point is exhaustively refuted. David: you may have to address this subject in a new way as a false dichotomy, because I think it’s a source of a lot of people dismissing your modernist agenda out of hand.

Mark said...

Holoscene: My initial reaction when I first saw this several months ago was "great, now my dislike for cocktail parties can translate to the internet." :-)

Seriously, though, I think the Achilles' heel of Holoscene is time. Looking at the example screens I can hardly tell what is going on because I can't tell what order things were said. I have to look at the transcript, which looks just like a normal IM window, to actually follow the conversation. Until that issue is solved I don't think this system will work that well.

Now transcripts and some of Woozle's suggestions can solve the long-term issue. For the short term I'd suggest making recently typed text bold and then slowly fade the bolding away. With the use of intelligent software you might be able to have the bolding/fading in synch with the actual conversation.

(BTW, I use IM every single day in the work place and so do many other people. I telecommute and find it very useful for one-on-one conversations in semi-real time. I don't find your disconnect between synchronous and asynchronous communication to be correct. Only the phone is truly synchronous. IM is a step less synchronous and email is a step further yet. It is really a serious of options along a spectrum. Even email can sometimes form threads that move along at a somewhat brisk pace.)

Escape from tall buildings: How about every floor has a set of harnesses with tethers that can attach to escape rails along the building or inside escape tubes inside the building. Friction and/or magnetic induction would be used to slow the decent. You would probably need a separate railing for each floor so you could attach safely from the inside and have minimal interference from those jumping from above.

How complexity stymies prediction: Or how about how complexity can make controlling the future easier? If you really understand the butterfly effect, have a sufficiently powerful computer model and plenty of data sources, and no one else is trying to do the same thing....

Evil genius scenarios: Say you have a loose nuke or two, where do you detonate them for the most damage? NY, London, Tokyo? How about Greenland and Antarctica? I bet a well placed nuke could start a chain reaction to melt and loosen some very large glaciers to cause the kind of global raise in sea level predicted in Gore's movie.

Anonymous said...

The late scientist who popularized the idea of seeding seas to increase CO2 absorption by ocean flora bragged that he could cause a new ice age with a tanker full of iron filings.

Maybe a mad scientist could do just that! A very low tech, under-the-security-radar form of ecological sabotage. Just ask the crews of fishing boats and tramp frieghters to dump cannisters of dust overboard sometime during their voyage.

David Brin said...

um... Holocene very clearly uses time effects upon the text. In fact, what is patented is the process of prioritization based upon a number of parameters of which time is one. Hence changes of type font/face are only the beginning. "gisting" allows extraction of low importance words, allowing the "gist" of earlier statements to remain on screen for much longer.

What I find astonishing is that people who are used to present day formalisms KNOW it could be better. Yet, NOBODY has pondered the efficiencey and gist-following tools we use in daily life, or how those tools could be brought online.
When I explain it, they say "you can't patent that." Then they say "of course it's obvious so it's already been done". Then they squirm and say "I'm doin okay without all that."

This kind of stuff is EXACTLY what happended to hypercard. People said "cool and obvious... but also obviously trivial and useless. Why would anyone want to "click" from one page to another?"

Ten wasted years. And almost EVERYBODY shared the blindness.

I guess I should be glad. I now own whose broad categories of interaction that people will be using, fully as broad as hypercard. But it shouldn't have been this way. We should have had better interaction software ages ago.

Mark said...

I'm glad to hear you think you have the timing issue worked out. It still isn't obvious to me you can tell the order things were said, but perhaps that's more obvious live.

One of the difficulties with these kinds of paradigm shifting products is you have to compete against the wonderful adaptability of humans. Many people have invented better keyboards but we have already adapted to qwerty. If you can get people to actual try Holocene I'm sure it will take off. I predict either complete utter triumph or total devastation with little chance of basic, mild success. :-)

For The Devil's Dichotomies is suggest you try Wes Clark. He participated on the"Championing Science" panel at YearlyKos last weekend and may have some interesting ideas.

Anonymous said...

Evil Genius Plot 1:
The Indian Point nuclear power plant, near New York City, is a potential target. Twelve to twenty guys with assault rifles storm the building, killing everyone in their path. By the time the SWAT teams arrive, it is too late; they have made their way to sensitive equipment and damaged it, causing a nuclear disaster.

Good. Now hit the oil depots as well - cripple the economy...

Evil Genius Plot 4:
Truck bombs on major bridges. Simple, really. There's only a few ways into or out of Manhattan, and a few bombs could shut them all down.

Sloppy, sloppy. There are far better ways to take out bridges than that (and take them out more permenantly).

Of course, the method I'm thinking of will take a few months to actually be noticed. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on your goals.

The late scientist who popularized the idea of seeding seas to increase CO2 absorption by ocean flora bragged that he could cause a new ice age with a tanker full of iron filings.

I've been thinking for a bit that the ecologists are usually on the wrong track - and what we need is not to prevent any sort of output so much as to actually take responsibility for this planet of ours and start managing the environment. (Yes, reducing pollutants is a good way to start - but I think we can and must do more to actually take control rather than just minimise impact).

I think the problems with the Holocene Chat site are ISP related rather than browser related tbh - I get told the site is taking too long to respond. From what's been said, I think it's a piece of software I've been looking for (my MSN conversations often spawn several sub-conversations in different types of bracket) but some of my aquaintances will detest. Oh, and blogger really is pathetic for multi-tangent conversations - you need a threaded system at the very least (which even Livejournal manages).

Anonymous said...

CONCERNING THE PATENT OFFICE: I ran the comment past a conscientous and overworked friend there and asked him to answer. He said he doesn't officially speak for the patent office but permitted me to give you his personal reply. It is:

Dear Pat,

Granted that the Patent Office makes mistakes, the part I've underlined is very
much untrue. We work hard to investigate, and when I think something is
allowable, I have to go over it with a supervisor who very often disagrees, or
at least requires further searching, consulting more people, etc.


Anonymous said...

avid Brin said "Outside of Mormon Country, there is NEGATIVE corelation between Red State “values” and preserving family life. Divorce rates, domestic violence, teen pregnancy are all higher than in the “decadent” cities."

It came to me that this is why they're clinging so hard to concervative family values - as a corrective to the problems that have always been with them. "It is not the well who need a doctor, but the sick."

David Brin said...

Patricia, As one who cannot help (human nature) but tout his own ideas -- I do believe that Horizon Theory explains Red State mentalities better than words like "conservatism"... especially in an era when Democrats are the "new puritans".

Alas, the left won't allow the Democrats to tout openly the fact that they have proved better at balancing budgets, reducing government, reducing crime, reducing secrecy, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing corruption, guarding borders, avoiding adventurism, and pushing Puritan values of "waste-not" efficiency. So monstrous illusions - expressed in Tom Delay's recent "retirement" speech - ("liberals always want more, especially government, and our sacred duty is to fight them") - continue to have cred that should have been demolished long ago.

No, "conservatism" has very little to do with it. If you take a pan-spectrum of attitudes across the weird neocon alliance, only one parameter seems to unite social reactionaries, Straussian platonists, kleptocrats, and blinkered libertarians... they all have much closer-in horizons ... of worry, time and otherness-inclusion... than today's urban-university culture seems to want from them.

Hyper-patriotism? Anti-environmentalism? Opposition to science? Jingoist demolition of alliances? Emp[hasis of actual war over readiness? Theft and bitter partisanship? And above all, exclusionary demonizing of half of the country in hate-filled, billious "culture war"? Horizons all over the place.

Even abortion, where the right has striven to seize a single-issue "moral high ground" (protecting helpless babies) boils down to this. I call it the Jesus Effect, because his sermons were relentlessly and passionately horizon-stretching (even to a degree that violated rational self-interest. The beaded hippie would certainly approve of most left-liberal causes... hence the need for ONE right-wing cause to cancel out all others. JC might lean left in all other ways, but he would never stand up for baby killers.

I do not mean to demean some of the sincerity behind some parts of the anti-abortion community... especially some of the non-hypocrites who have devoted resources to generosity at levels that the left often fails to notice or credit. Yes, the prosyletizing aspect of much Christian charity work shows that horizon/inclusion aspects are worth exploring, even there. But indeed, the left falls for its own strawman carricatures.

Moreover, by falling into Karl Rove's "culture war" trap, time and again, the left proves that it has its own horizon problems. (We should view CW as a mental health problem and do whatever we can to ease our countrymens' fears, helping their horizons to expand, not helping them to contract!


Finally, I would welcome Wesley Clarke into the anthology about Dichotomies. For balance, Newt Gingrich would be good, too.

Oh, regarding Newt, I had been disappointed in him... till news came out that he is considering a leap for the 2008 GOP nomination. Of course he hasn't a prayer. But this may explain why his criticisms of the monsters have been guarded. If this is true, then I withdraw the complaint. That is a very different kind of battleground, requiring different compromises. Filthy ones, but that's politics. We can only hope and pray and wish him luck.

Anonymous said...

Two topics: radar at Pearl Harbor and escape from tall buildings.

Hawker, thanks for the extra info on Pearl Harbor. It still amounts to humans not trusting true signals. In one version, the machine was not trusted. In the version with B-17s, it was assumed that humans had been confused about bearings.

David, when I think about escaping from a tall building, I inevitably think of sliding down a fireman's pole. This won't work -- without serious modification -- on much more than a few stories because of the heat or skin loss due to friction and because people can lose their grip. There may also be a problem with too much speed by the end of the slide. Some modification like a series of subway-style wrist straps might help, as well as multiple poles and angled slides as another person suggested. It would have to be fairly simple to accommodate panicky people.

Another possibility is manually operated dumbwaiters large enough to carry several people. Elevators are always discouraged in emergencies because electrical power can fail. This is not as fast as a slide and may not save enough people.

The airplane evacuation slide sounds promising, but will it work over hundreds of feet? Friction and snags may be problems. How about something like a playground slide? Any reasonable steepness would still be an E-ticket ride.

How about building future skyscrapers with balconies that can be cranked down to the ground, with sides that can be dropped to allow people to exit to the street and give a flat surface on which the next balcony can settle.

Anonymous said...

Pearl Harbor was one of those 'If Only' stories... no doubt 9/11 will also turn into a 'If Only' story also.
A month before the attack, the Japanese changed thier naval codes. The U.S. codebreaking team in Hawaii (Hypo) proceeded to break the new codes call signs (used to identify ships)... but for the first time, they couldn't find the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi. One of the Akagi's radio operators had a very distinctive style... if you heard him, you knew you were hearing Akagi transmitting, if you knew what he was responding to you would find out Akagi's call sign, and could make educated guesses about the call signs of the rest of the Japanese carrier force... but Akagi was silent. This silence was reported... but it was assumed that Akagi was operating with the rest of the fleet, heading toward the Philipines, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies...
On the morning of December 7th, 1941, the destroyer USS Ward spotted a submarine in a 'exclusion area' (NO SUBMARINES ALLOWED) off of the Pearl Harbor entrance. They challenged the submarine, and when the submarine refused to answer engaged it with guns. The submarine submerged, USS Ward dropped depth charges, sinking the sub. Ward made a contact report... the command center at Pearl, remembering that USS Ward had a new commanding officer and thinking that he was 'young and exitable' requested confirmation... by the time the message had been sent, recieved, and responded to, the Japanese were bombing.
There were other warnings, that if anyone was really looking... 9/11 will turn out to have the same things: FBI agents wondering why Saudis were taking flight training and skipping the class on landings, CIA ops intercepting messages, Treasury agents tracking money, etc.
The conspiricy theorists look at all this and assume that "it couldn't have all been missed on purpose!"... but never attribute to malice what can be explained by negligence and incompetence.

on the subject of 'mad genius', I spent too much time guarding navy bases and 'thinking of what could go wrong'. Nothing too fancy. Depending on our madman's resources and goals...

1. A 'Stinger' Surface to Air missile is designed to be used by one person, and you can fit 4 in the trunk of a mid-sized car. Park your car in the take off pattern of most airports...

2. Van full of explosives, NYC tunnel during rush hour... (any tunnel or bridge during rush hour, really)

3. Nuclear weapon, tramp freighter, you don't even have to get to the harbor... a surface burst off the west coast will cause radioactive rainfall inland.

4. Twenty men, twenty automatic weapons in malls in twenty states.

5. How much outrage do you want to cause? Van full of explosives, maternity ward/childrens hospital...

Anonymous said...

The tall buildings exist, so we have to find a way to evacuate them quickly.

The real problem is that we are building structures too tall. Real estate is expensive in major cities, so a developer has to get maximum value for his building's footprint, but how can anyone buy liability insurance for something that cannot be evacuated without major loss of life?

Are we really up against the limit where we have too many people and too little land?

Should we build lower, safer towers in Kansas, where the real estate is cheaper?

We need to stop crowding ourselves and develop a sane population distribution. Yes, economics and infrastructure will influence where people want to live and work, but crowding is diminishing our quality of life as well as our safety.

Why do building inspectors and planning offices approve structures that cannot be evacuated in a real emergency? 9/11 proved we underestimated risk.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

Your "Horizon Theory" states:

"The general trend seems to be this: the lower the ambient fear level declines, the more broadly a human being appears willing to define those tribal boundaries, and the more generous he or she is willing to be toward the stranger."

How does this account for alliances?

The correct move for fearful societies is to grow bigger to meet threats...and that means widening their horizons.

If you want some data to test your theory, I would suggest looking at the "Spring and Autumn" and "Warring States" periods of Chinese history.

These periods started with over 120 separate feudal kingdoms and finished with one empire.

No need to rely on anthropology, they were well documented by writers like Confucius and Sun Tzu.

Here's a good book to start with:

Anonymous said...

Naturally, I think my new Holocene invention will change all that. The web site is now tho upgraded(!) at

"The requested URL was not found on this server"

David Brin said...

Hawker said: “never attribute to malice what can be explained by negligence and incompetence.”

I agree when it comes to a court of law, or declaring Top Hypotheses. But that doesn’t mean we cannot contemplate as VERY plausible second tier hypotheses paranoid scenarios that PERFECTLy fit the facts.

Indeed, fitting the facts vastly better than mere incompetence. The most urgent of these hypotheses? That the utter destruction of America’s
* international standing and popularity
* international alliances
* budget and credit rating
* military readiness
* internal social comity and cohesion
* civil service morale
* leadership in science, technology... etc...

... and our relentless repetition of every single conceivable mistake from Vietnam...

... might have occurred as intended and deliberate consequence of some coherent plan. The alternative theory, that these were UNintended effects of monumental and gross incompetence by people who were COMPETENT in every art of seizing power? Well, it’s possible. But stunning and contradictory enough that we are behooved to keep other possibilities in mind...

... and follow those thoughts wherever they might lead.

(And if I vanish suddenly, redouble your suspicions! ;-)

Speaking of competence. Somebody, during the Soviet Afghan War, did something VERY competent! We supplied hundreds of stingers to Osama and his pals, back then. Not one of them has been used against us. There must have been chips. Very smart and excellent chips...

And yes, there are so MANY soft target scenarios. The conclusion? Either they can’t be trying very hard, or the heroes of UA 93 made that kind of terrorism obsolete, simply by their courage, proving that we aren’t decadent or afraid, after all.

Andrew Smith said...

I don't know who Hawker is, but Wikipedia says it's Hanlon's Razor.

I also like the Sagan-esque quote I once saw in a sig file:

Any sufficiently advanced malice will appear indistinguishable from incompetence.

reason said...

with regards to the evil genius - what are you actually looking for here? I think terrorists have actually tended to do spectacular but not very effective things (thank goodness)! I often wonder why they aren't better at what they do. Maybe the stereotypical evil genuis (beloved of Hollywood) is really a myth. It could also be the the sort of structures that support such people are not possible within Terrorist organisations, and so you would need an evil state with a leader who was tolerant of maverick intellectual sidekicks. Perhaps the psychological profile of the psychotic won't allow him to cultivate such a supporter, and vice-versa the nature of the evil genuis makes it impossible for him to build up the supporting structure he needs.

I'm no expert here - but is there a precedent for an evil genius? If not - why not?

Anonymous said...

This administration might be the perfect example of the Peter Principle in action...
(for those who don't know, the Peter Principle states that in any orginization a person will be promoted until he reaches a job that he is incompetent at... and then he'll STAY there, gumming up the works)
Just because a individual (or group) is great at the art of 'winning' elections (great? They almost lost the 2nd time, and won the first because of biased referees) does NOT give them any talent at the act of governing (or military tactics, or diplomacy, or fiscal management, or a dozen other things).

Taking it one at a time...
* international standing and popularity
* international alliances
Two aspects of the same thing, negligence on thier part. They really don't CARE about such things.
* budget and credit rating
Intentional, part of the Republican 1980's paradigm of bankrupting the government in order to shrink it... it didn't work for Reagan either.
* military readiness
Incompetence. It was not thier intention, but they really don't know what they're doing.
* internal social comity and cohesion
Intentional, but incompetent. "You're either with us or against us!". No loyal opposition allowed.
* civil service morale
Intentional and incompetent. Civil service types tend to take the long view, and aren't likely to make sudden changes in any party's favor.
* leadership in science, technology... etc...
Incompetence. They oppose science that contradicts thier desires (global warming, evolution, enviormental) without realizing that all science is linked... and science leads to technology.

IRT Stinger Missiles and Afghan war...
Like most weapons, Stingers have a 'shelf life'... any missiles more than 'x' number of years old can be assumed to be inoperable. Lucky for us, the Afghans were still on 'our side' when the missiles became too old to operate.

For the 'soft target' scenarios, I'm assuming that they aren't trying very hard. Why should they? They got what they wanted in Iraq...

To Andrew Smith...
I'm a nobody who should have indicated I was quoting someone else with the 'stupidity vice evil' comment. My apologies.

Anonymous said...


"Your "Horizon Theory" states:

"The general trend seems to be this: the lower the ambient fear level declines, the more broadly a human being appears willing to define those tribal boundaries, and the more generous he or she is willing to be toward the stranger."

How does this account for alliances?

The correct move for fearful societies is to grow bigger to meet threats...and that means widening their horizons."


There are different kinds of alliances.There's the "marriage of convenience" kind, where tribes simply (temporarily) unite against a common foe. One big fear overriding a lot of smaller ones. There's no real need to extend horizons for this kind of alliance, but if the tribes are forced to work together for a long enough time (and actually get to know and respect each other), real friendships may come from this.They may even build a humongous wall as a tangible manifestation of their newfound horizon. This is the second kind of alliance, where horizons have partly dissolved and partly merged. No longer is this a marriage of convenience but one of (for lack of a better word) love.


I don't think that the main factor for the emergence of the second kind of alliance is the presence of a common foe, but rather that tribes getting to know and respect each other is.


I do think horizons are self-reinforcing: they stop people from wanting to discover what lies beyond. The widening of horizons depends heavily then on courageous individuals who are willing to venture into the unknown and report back.(assuming brainwashing the populace isn't an option, but that would take an evil genius, wouldn't it? ;)

Rob said...

Doris asked:

"Why do building inspectors and planning offices approve structures that cannot be evacuated in a real emergency?"

I'm sure that they don't. I watched a bunch of shows on the History Channel about the World Trade Center buildings; the main reason so many people died in them was that the response to the disaster was uncoordinated. The buildings were based on a design that turned out to be less strong than the engineers thought; even so, they did stay up for half an hour or so after being hit. That would have been plenty of time to evacuate them, except there was a lot of confusion as to whether they even needed to be evacuated (and the stairwells that would have permitted the levels above the impacts to be evacuated were blocked, again partly due to the mistaken design). Some people from relatively high floors did in fact escape before the towers fell, because they immediately began leaving. This despite the building managers announcing over the intercoms that everyone should stay at their desks! Oops! A lot of the loss of life (I would even venture to say most of it) was NOT due to the buildings being so tall or the design being flawed (though it was flawed). It was because the response was confused, plans were not followed and bad decisions were made.

Here is a link to the "Preliminary Results from the World Trade Center Evacuation Study --- New York City, 2003" from the CDC: link

It's important to note that while 3000+ people lost their lives in the towers, 13000-15000 people successfully evacuated (despite the f-ed up response!). That's a tremendous success in my book, which doesn't mitigate the tragedy but needs to be kept in mind.

Rob said...

Woops, messed up the CDC link, let's try again:

Link to CDC report

Anonymous said...

Two topics: Encouraging people to evacuate promptly and evacuating the handicapped.

Rob, I already knew about some of the evacuation snafus. There will likely always be evacuation snafus. We have to overengineer a building to protect people from evacuation snafus, and some developers are unwilling to take on so much extra cost. So we are still up against the human factor snafus, and those should be addressed.

A local woman was in the WTC attending a seminar when the other tower was hit. The leader told them to stay put, but she disobeyed orders and left. She turned out to be the only survivor of the seminar. People are afraid to get in trouble with their employers, even at the risk of their lives.

I have worked in a couple of tall buildings, one of which had two actual fires while I worked there. We'd had regular fire drills, announced in advance. People knew they were drills, so they would finish what they were doing -- at least to a convenient stopping point -- and pick up their coats and purses and then leave in a leisurely manner. We'd also had several false alarms, and after several, people treated them as if they were drills. Then one day, the alarm rang and the lights flashed, and we started getting ready to leave -- ho hum, another false alarm. Then we smelled smoke. That put a whole new face on the evacuation. Perhaps future fire alarms could be rigged with a smoke emitter to encourage people to leave promptly. (Once people found out the smell was phony, however, they would become complacent again. Still, smells can affect people in ways harder to dismiss. It may be that smell reaction resides in a more primitive part of our brains.)

Second topic: How do we evacuate people in wheelchairs, on crutches, etc.?

In the same building that had two fires while I worked there, one of my colleagues had a badly deformed skeleton after an automotive accident. It took her about 10 seconds to walk 3 feet. When she insisted that we leave her behind and just get ourselves down the stairs, we insisted on picking her up and carrying her down the stairs. Fortunately, she only weighed about 90 pounds, but what are we going to do with a 300-pound quadriplegic in a wheelchair? Maybe those manually operated dumbwaiters I suggested before might help people in wheelchairs. If electricity to the elevators is cut off, do we want to experience the horror of deciding who gets to survive?

Andrew Smith said...

Hawker Hurricane said:

To Andrew Smith...
I'm a nobody who should have indicated I was quoting someone else with the 'stupidity vice evil' comment. My apologies.

Oh. That's one of my favorite quotes, and I thought David was making an attribution (not quoting someone on the blog). I never bothered looking it up until now.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the tempest over Stephen Hawking's speech about space colonization, and Chris Clarke's response? I can understand criticism that Hawking pretends that human-caused problems are unavoidable natural disasters; I can understand the criticism that moving at most a few thousand people off of Earth isn't a solution to the problems of billions. (For my part, I've written that it's analogous to personal rapid transit being used as a red herring against light rail.)

I thought you were kidding about "deep environmentalism", but no, people really do think like this. A few choice quotes.

Kathy McCarty commenting on Chris Clarke: "I think a massive HUMAN die out is, well, a BETTER option. If it can Save the PLANET and all the Other lifeforms !!! I am not advocating a TOTAL human die out. 80%-90% would be fine."

DeathToPonies commenting on Chris Clarke: "We need an extinction of the so called ‘human race’...the universe will breath a sigh of relief."

PoliSi on Pandagon: "Is the virus that humanity essentially is worth destroying not only this planet, but finding other planets to destroy?"

Sally on Pandagon: "There’s something vaguely imperialist about the idea that the entire universe is fair game for human settlement."

Anonymous said...


Good point about countries sharing/merging horizons.

When two tribes/countries come in contact, there is a rather limited range of interactions they can have:

1. Ignore each other
2. Peacefully coexist
3. War and Plunder

Each country/tribe has groups that benefit or lose from these options.

These profit and loss equations tend to change over time.

When guano was found to be an excellent fertilizer, countries actually went to war over bird poop covered islands (the U.S. still owns a couple). Now we fight and plunder for oil.

I agree with your point that it's hard to fight people once you get to know them.

Dr. Brin may have a romantic fantasy about the reluctant warriors of the Pentagon...maybe he watched Shane too many times.

I think America's violent and greedy isolated hicks elected a president who never travelled outside our country for a reason...

Rob said...

I was disappointed to see PZ Myers, a scientist who is usually a vigorous defender of rational thought, join in on the Hawking-bashing. To his credit, he does it more in a "this is a waste of time" sense than a "Hawking is nuts" one. Still...

monkyboy, the first thing I thought of when you said "when two tribes/countries come in contact" was Frankie Goes To Hollywood:

"When two tribes go to war
A point is all that you can score"

Memory is a weird thing. BTW I agree with you.

"Second topic: How do we evacuate people in wheelchairs, on crutches, etc.?"

This is one of the biggest issues to resolve, if not the top one. I think most large buildings have their own power generation systems now and they keep the elevators running even if the rest of the grid goes down; the reason they tell people not to use them is they want to reserve them for first responders (like firemen who are lugging around tons of equipment), as well as the possibility that they might be compromised by the disaster. So a "dumbwaiter" solution might not be necessary, just a very highly survivable powered emergency elevator for those who can't walk down the stairs. Yes 80 flights of stairs would be tough and presents its own problems of traffic flow and such; but they got 13000 plus people out of the towers with the stairs so they work at least somewhat well.

Lots of interesting other solutions; the emergency parachute idea is neat but impractical for 310-pound guys like me (who happen to be deathly afraid of heights to boot), never mind disabled folks; and what do they do for people on the 10th story, too high to just jump out and too low for a parachute to properly deploy? But that's just details.

Anonymous said...

I sent DB a few ideas RE evacuation offlist.

* Staircases are a simple, fast, and time-tested evacuation route. Make them as sturdy as possible.

* The battery-powered emergency lights you see in stairwells could be equipped with smoke detectors, loudspeakers, and short-range wireless links.

This would let them monitor the viability of the stairwell as an escape route; if the lights ten stories down register heavy smoke and 250 degree temperatures or if they go off-line, the units would strongly suggest that evacuees try another route.

* Evacuating the disabled: OK, this is seriously undignified, and probably uncomfortable, but it would be a lot more practical than chutes or parachutes or zip lines.

Imagine an inflatable stretcher, stored alongside fire extinguishers. After inflation it's flat on top with a slightly rounded bottom. The bed is equipped with velcro hold-downs, head supports, and sturdy padded handles for rescuers. The bottom has a rib of slick plastic.

The passenger is strapped down, two people grab the handles, and drag the thing down the stairs, over landings, and so on.

Again, not at all dignified, but it would let the disabled be quickly evacced down established routes by unskilled personnel.

Anonymous said...

Kathy McCarty commenting on Chris Clarke: "I think a massive HUMAN die out is, well, a BETTER option. If it can Save the PLANET and all the Other lifeforms !!! I am not advocating a TOTAL human die out. 80%-90% would be fine."

Anyone who makes such a statement is volunteering to be part of the 80%, effective immediately.

What a arrogant, asinine statement! Now, if she had said something like 'we need to use birth control to reduce the human population by 80%, that's one thing... but she seems to be asking for the death of 5 billion odd people as a solution to the problems of the enviorment... one has to wonder WHICH 80% she thinks should be eliminated...

And to Andrew Smith...
It's a favorite quote of my own, but I had no idea where I got it from (only that it is in no way original with me).

Naum said...

>>I am having no trouble getting to load from Netscape and Safari or Firefox. Anybody else having difficulty?

Must have been a temporary glitch at the time I posted my earlier comment as the is accessible to me now…

…after perusing, some initial feedback…

* in theory, sounds good, but in reading the prospectus and birds eye sketch out, I can't help thinking of Jef Raskin and other computing luminaries that toiled for years to build a better PC UI than the desktop/file metaphor that eventually became so ubiquitous that it rendered any superior solution eternally unapplicable. A oft used cliche in the software business is that **Worse is Better** and it's a recurrent theme from Unix to Windows, where cleaner and elegant computing solutions are frequently eschewed for LCD fare. In my 25+ year experience of programming computing machines, it's really sunk in that users can learn to use just about any software, given enough repetition and time to attain a certain comfort level. I trained secretaries (before they became administrative assistants!) to use Select word processor on Dec Rainbow CPM machines, and they became quite proficient at using a hotkey oriented editor. However, when something becomes so widespread that it becomes the norm, there is a near inpenetrable wall of resistance to change, even if the change is for the positive. This factor has multiplied in recent years, as the total complexity of using software has exponentially increased and general users DO NOT want to learn new tricks — preferring tried and true.

* …which leads into point #2 — users get comfortable with a paradigm of useability and then it becomes so ingrained, that once they don't have to think to do, then anything that challenges that truth, is met with resistance. Now, the discussion forum software in widespread usage today, is subpar in many respects, as you have accurately stated. But it's evolved (like driving or other mass public acceptance of technology) from earlier forms. Early web bulletin boards and discussion forums resembled Usenet, because that's what the folks who conducted online conversations were familiar with. That has evolved, but slowly IMV, with newer internet users preferring "flat" forums over "threaded", along with avatars and some simplistic markup. Not to say that a radical depature into a better mousetrap couldn't succeed, but that leads me into…

* …point #3, that for a new pardigm to succeed in this realm, it would have to gain widespread market saturation — that is, it would have to be an easy to install, open source, free software (at least the base product) solution, where it's usage can be experienced on web hosts all over the sphere. Two cases in point, come to mind quick, blogger here, where it's quite inadequate (and was never designed to serve such a function, just to let an author easily conduct "push button publishing") and phpbb, F/OSS that EVERY web user has had a chance to stumble upon and is quite familiar with.

Having said that, I must end by acknowledging that conversing on the web continues to evolve nevertheless, but I see models like and as more successful in taking shorter strides:

* better trust metrics, I find searching on and reddit (at least for programming topics) a whale more fruitful than google now

* increasing computing complexity means we do think in tag abstractions, bundling things into thier own tidy corners of virutal space

* serving as a web developer now, it still doesn't cease to amaze that customers and clients want spiffy graphics and snazzy art. but if you examine the most populous and useful sites, they're typically highly ungraphical, that it's more about give to me what I want to know in a click or two or three…

Late at night, hope these thoughts are coherent enough… …out…

Anonymous said...


The inflatable stretcher is a cool idea.

Cheap ideas seem most likely to be implemented given the number of tall buildings.

Or cities need portable solutions that can be taken to the stricken building.

Unless they curl into a ball, humans reach a terminal velocity of around 120 m.p.h. after falling about 32 stories.

These stuntmen just won an Academy Award for their new airbag for falls:

Looks like it would be easy to transport, quick to set up and give people a pretty good chance of survival...

Anonymous said...

Stefan Jones had some good ideas about monitoring conditions in stairwells and warning evacuees to take another route if there were smoke and heat lower in the stairwell.

There should also be a break-the-glass type intercom system so that lower evacuees can warn higher evacuees about rubble or structural damage on lower flights. Eventually hardware and software may be able to detect and warn about rubble, but it seems unlikely. Anything that damages the stairwell may damage a sophisticated rubble sensor. The break-the-glass intercoms should be both inside and right outside stairwell entrances.

The inflatable stretcher is also a good idea.

All such aids should be inspected regularly. Vandalism and theft of emergency equipment is much more common than you'd like to believe. My former landlord was in charge of maintenance for a university. Fire extinguishers were stolen and used by kids to chill their beer. Can you imagine a wheelchair user depending on an inflatable stretcher when somebody is using it as a raft in a swimming pool?

The airbag Monkyboy mentioned would have been welcomed by those who leapt from the WTC if only it were good for 1,000 feet rather than the 200 feet mentioned on the airbag website. Can engineers improve the airbag enough for really tall buildings?

Anonymous said...

Re: escape from tall buildings

The sad unfortunate truth is that any solution cannot add a considerable cost to building construction, or no one will implement it. The construction of skyscrapers is a financial leap of faith on the part of developers regarding occupancy rates, rents charged, etc. If the up-front cost of additional evacuation aids gets too high, no one will make that leap.

That said, I really like the idea of improving what's already there--reinforced stairwells, improved communications (GREAT idea on the smart sensors in the stairwells, by the way), and better methods like that inflatable stretcher to move disabled folks who can't handle stairs. If you want to add a human interaction element to that, put Big Red Buttons at every landing. If punched, the intercoms up and down the stairwell start announcing that "Floor NN has been declared hazardous--please find an alternate route".

Re: evil genius plan
Here's a scary one that could completely rock economies worldwide in ways no one can predict: engineer a blight that targets California Gold seed corn. Imagine the suffering that a decimation of a core food stock, biofuel source, plastic source, animal feed source, etc. etc. could engender. Corn is one of the worst monoculture crops in history; the vast majority grown in North America is one species--if it's gone we have nothing on tap to replace it and a lot of our food supply is chained to it. (It's used in most commercial animal feeds, for example. It's also the basis for corn syrup, used in a frighteningly large percentage of manufactured food and over the counter medicine). Another easy target would be North American red wheat, another monoculture crop.

Anonymous said...

Escaping from a building

Make the stairway access a long continuous spiral (multiple helices for redundancy).

Install railings at usual hand-height.

Install circuit in said railings - Green light is displayed if both railings are intact the whole way down, red if they are not. Approximate length of continuity can also be displayed in red. Temperature and smoke sensors can also be added to the "Green = Go" signal.

Create light, stackable carts that fit on the railings like rail cars. Include mechanical failsafe brakes that will not allow over a certain speed. Total weight <20 lbs. for ease of carrying.

In the event of an emergency, retrieve cart at stairwell storage, place wheels on rails, ride cart to bottom. Red light indicates you need to try another helix, or if all are blocked, ride down to the break, stop on the floor above, pick up cart and walk to another helix. (somewhat more sophisicated routines could even plot out the escape route with battery-powered signs showing where to go next)

Handicapped persons have a co-worker go ahead of them, and can be manually rolled to next helix if necessary. Injured persons the same.

If someone is handicapped, injured or unconscious and has stopped the traffic, the next person just has to get off a few stairs above them and can help them.

NOTE to Doris: I am betting drills using the go-carts will have a high percent participation. "Yayy! Another drill!" Zooooom!

This also would allow one individual to completely evacuate an entire floor of injured given the time and inclination.

Anonymous said...

grendelkhan: As far as I can tell personal rapid transit and light rail really are two possible solutions to a similar set of problems, have comparible expected costs, and would compete for the same pool of resources. The intense antipathy that personal rapid transit draws continues to astound me. It's implementation may be unlikely, but the people who think that an engineering idea should be attacked merely for being unlikely to be implemented seems to me to be analogous to the people who defend the war on drugs on the grounds that drugs are illegal (both groups really exist, no parody).

David Brin said...

Naum, excellent points.

As a Mac -Wordperfect user (The version of WP before they sold out to Word formalisms) I can tell you that I am painfully aware of the “inertia effect” you describe. It takes me one (logical) step to do what Word/XP users must use three or more totally illogical commands to accomplish. Yet they are USED to those commands and no longer think about how illogical they are. Result? I am the one who fumes and fusses and is thwarted, because I MUST use Word and XP... awkwardly and unfamiliarly.

Still, Holocene’s present version requires no client software other than a browser. That is the right direction. Make an attractive site and let them come.

Still, even to do that, we need a couple of programmer-years and a real leader / company builder. Someone from the 90s, maybe, who is sick of today’s uncreative inertia and wants to ground-floor the next hypertext? Frankly, I do not see any good coming from VCs. The unimaginative cowardice in that world is appalling and bodes poorly for a modernist civilization.

Yes, trust and reputation are vital components... and some of my IP covers THAT, as well. Believe it or not. What is awaited is a demo site that COMBINES all of the traits, persuading people that the leap is big and bold and useful enough to make it worthwhile sacrificing familiarity.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the detailed description, well I simply want to offer you a huge thumbs up for your great information.
Tableau Guru