Sunday, October 15, 2006

The world has cool stuff...

Wish me luck. I can't tell you what for! ;-)

See a 360 degree view of me in my study... and... wait! Who’s that other guy! A ditto?...

A reprint of my article about life extension has been posted on the site of the Lifeboat Foundation:

The same site has posted a humorous and yet thought provoking essay by Anders Sandberg illustrating GALACTIC WARNING SIGNS - following the yeallow triangle motif - but dealing with biggie threats like antimatter, chaotic systems, black holes, bad-memes and so on. A cool ranking of potential existential dangers and way cool for game contexts.

Some of these predictions they got right, and some they ... um ...
didn't. On the other hand, there was some real wisdom in this 1950 Pop.Mechanix view of the year 2000.

Another cool item...
Interview with David Brin on Sandioego dot com’s web site..

Some Misc:

Denmark Has the World's Most Equal Incomes and Namibia the Least Equal

How rich are the rich? According to the World Bank's most recent databook, the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans received 29.9 percent of the national income. The comparable figure for Japan was 21.7 percent; some other examples include 33.1 percent in China; 28.5 percent in the United Kingdom; 25.1 percent in France; 22.7 percent in Germany and 28.5 percent in India.

The more formal measurement of income inequality is known as the Gini coefficient or Gini index. An index of 100 percent means a single person grabs all the income; an index of zero means the country divides its income precisely equally among everyone. Some cautions include: (1) the Gini index misses asset-based wealth such as land, and income not distributed in the form of money; (2) different surveys give slightly different results; (3) big diverse countries often look more unequal than small countries; and (4) rising inequality does not always mean worsening conditions. During the 1990s, for example, the American Gini index rose but the poverty rate fell, from 13.8 percent to 11.3 percent; since then the Gini index has continued to rise and poverty rates have also risen.

All this said, though, worldwide Gini indexes range from Denmark's egalitarian 23.2 percent to Namibia's very unequal 70.7 percent. Countries in between show up as follows:

• 23-30 percent: The lowest Gini indexes appear in egalitarian Scandinavia and Central Europe. Scandinavia's indexes are around 25 percent; Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Germany -- joined by Bosnia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania -- cluster around 28 percent.

• 30-40 percent: France, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Japan range from 32 percent to 38 percent; Canada and Australia are around 40 percent. India and some large majority-Muslim states -- Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia -- also appear in this range.

• 40-50 percent: Here we find the United States and China, at 47 percent and 50 percent respectively, along with the Philippines, Malaysia, and Turkey.

• 50-60 percent: Most of Latin America is in this range -- Argentina and Mexico are just above 50 percent, Colombia is at 54 and Brazil nearly 60.

• 60-70-percent: Southern Africa has the highest indexes, with South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe all above 60 percent.

Comparisons across time show mixed trends, but generally rising inequality. For example, the World Bank's annual World Development Indicators often lag behind current measurements, but seem to show income inequality rising in China, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, Japan, Russia, and the United States; remaining stable in Germany and France; and declining slightly in Mexico and Brazil.


A computer worm that spreads via AOL instant messaging is being used to build an extensive "botnet" of remote-controlled PCs. The goal appears to be to create a huge network of remote-controlled machines, known as a "botnet." Botnets may be used to send out huge quantities of junk e-mail or attack business websites, or create click fraud.

Our ability to empathise with others seems to depend on the action of "mirror neurons" in the brain, according to a new study of neurons in humans that fire when sounds are heard. In other words, if you hear the noise of someone eating an apple, some of the same neurons fire as when you eat the apple.


We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. ~Carl Sagan


Blake Stacey said...

OK, in keeping with the miscellaneous nature of this post, I thought I should offer this amusing bit which my daily comix bookmarks delivered to me.

Our gracious host has written before about Greek mythology. You can now experience similar thoughts in graphic form at PartiallyClips.

Rob Perkins said...

That's a picture of _Sundiver_, not _Startide Rising_!!!!!

Tho, an anthology of Jake Demwa tales would be fun, David. Don't ever forget that! :-)

CJ-in-Weld said...

I think the "food from sawdust" prediction came true. At least it seems so whenever I wind up eating at McDonald's.

Anonymous said...

I want my food from sawdust!

The question is … which was the ditto? ;)

Andrew Smith said...

Anyone know what the "Major SETI Institute Announcement" is all about?

Sidereus said...

More global climate change news:

Scientist Claim Study of Larson Ice Shelf Provides First Direct Link Between Global Warming And Human Activity

"The chunk that collapsed into the Weddell Sea in 2002 was 3,250 sq kms (1,255 sq miles), bigger than Luxembourg or the U.S. state of Rhode Island"

. . . 12,000 year old ice shelf

Woozle said...

"Botnets" or "Zombie computer armies" have been around for several years; using Instant Messaging to spread the trojan code is just the latest twist. See Wikipedia: Zombie Computer

(Yes! A short post, at last!)

Anonymous said...

China's Gini coefficient may be the same as America's, but:

1. Income distribution is openly discussed in China and steps are being taken to make it more equitable.

2. China's economy has been growing three times as fast as America's for over a decade now...even workers at the bottom of China's economy are seeing improvements...

On a side note...the only decade that America's economy came close to matching China's recent growth rate was 1935-1945...back when FDR and his lefties were running the show.

Anonymous said...

Aye, monkyboy, planning can be useful in the initial stages of growing a modern industrial economy, but the returns fall off fast. In 1935-45 we were just coming out of the worst depression in history, and had a war to arm ourselves for; there was nowhere to go but up. Some economists have speculated that the New Deal may have actually hurt our economic recovery rather than helped it... in any event, that period was the end of the American Republic; we bureaucratized and militarized ourselves into an empire, with no going back. Roosevelt saved America, but at what cost?

Anyway, China can grow at a ridiculously fast rate- when your PCGDP is a tenth of ours, there's nowhere to go but up. Squat +10% is still squat.

Andrew Smith said...

Re "Best of Brin", the chapter on programming languages should include this as a prologue (hee!) or coda:

The Evolution of a Programmer

I think humerously illustrates David's complaint about the state of Programming languaes in widespread use.

Anonymous said...

That sounds good nicq,

But an unbiased person looking at the available data would be forced to conclude that a command economy run by enlightened despots can run rings around a capitalist economy.

China's leaders face a real revolution (losing the mandate of heaven) if they screw up, so they are very motivated.

America's leaders, otoh, are sheilded by the false belief that we live in a democracy, as Dr. brin just pointed out...

Anonymous said...

@Andrew Smith:

Ha! All too apt.

Rob Perkins said...

Irony is, that "master coder" segment didn't include something like 750 lines of wizard-generated infrastructure stuff. OY!

Tony Fisk said...

I thought the COM stuff in the Master coder section was pretty close to wizardry!

'Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, they are subtle and quick to lead you down the garden path to where the fairies live...'

(COM is what you get when the lights are out!)

Anonymous said...

Good luck, DB! Don't know what for though...

And your 360 shows some good-lookin' cabinetry.

Out of context for this particular blog item, but since unauditable electronic voting has come up here before, I thought I'd mention the following memo which applies to California:


"... all county elections officials shall have an adequate supply of paper ballots, as determined by the elections official, available at the voting locations for use in the
event of a temporary loss of the ability to use electronic equipment, or if a voter chooses not to vote on electronic equipment."

Contrary Brin readers might want to check to see if similar provisions will be made in your state.

Blake Stacey said...

The "Evolution of a Programmer" piece is funny, but that site also has a more directly relevant essay, "A Very Quick Comparison of Popular Languages for Teaching Computer Programming". The author compares BASIC, C, Java and Python, based on how they implement a simple schoolbook-type exercise (reading two numbers from the keyboard and then adding them).

Anonymous said...


Tiny correction to the instructions on your 360-degree view:

Change "zoom our" to "zoom out".

Sidereus said...

Check this out:

Russian energy company to build floating nuclear power plant

"The plant would put two reactors on a barge that could dock and then be plugged into local power lines, providing affordable electricity for a part of the country where power is unreliable and expensive, according to Popular Science magazine."

Anonymous said...

"But an unbiased person looking at the available data would be forced to conclude that a command economy run by enlightened despots can run rings around a capitalist economy."

For a little while. All such systems have ultimately stagnated, however. Stalin's policies managed to rapidly industrialize the Soviet Union, only to see growth fall off rapidly under Brezhnev. Germany's recovery under the Nazis was nothing short of amazing- but, had the Nazis won, it's unlikely that such enthusiasm would have survived after the war ended; the Nazi miracle would have gone the same way as Russia. Even in a less sinister light, explain why western Europe, with an economy far more planned and regulated than ours, is struggling to maintain a growth rate half that of the US?

So the libertarians are right AND wrong- you can build a planned economy very rapidly, but the long term costs make it unsustainable. It seems that planning in the growth stages, followed by privatization and deregulation, is a better policy than descent into Soviet and Eurosocialist ennui.

Anonymous said...


China's economy has been growing at an annual rate of 10% or better for well over a decade now...and shows no sign of slowing down.

How much a government should spend is open to debate, but I think it's critical that what money it does spend should be spent efficiently and on the right things.

Roads, power generation and distribution grids, airports, etc. are good things, because they spur economic growth.

Wars and money funneled to corrupt cronies are bad things because they don't spur economic growth.

Anonymous said...

nicq said:

"Even in a less sinister light, explain why western Europe, with an economy far more planned and regulated than ours, is struggling to maintain a growth rate half that of the US?"

Economy isn't everything. Don't forget that the US economy is also the most polluting in the world.


David Brin said...

Nicq, while I agree with you that M is once again utterly clueless (sorry M! ;-) and incapable of noticing the long history of failures of GAR (guided allocation of resources)... you at times seem to tip into the other heresy of FIBM (Faith in Blind Markets).

All I can do is repeat "A plague on BOTH oversimplifications!"

Dig it. The ONLY markets that have ever thrived were markets that were thoroughly meddled-with by Enlightenment standards, with fierce determination to make the competition truly fair, instead of a zone for rapacious cheating (the natural human pattern).

If socialists governments are nightmares at doing anything more complicated than allocating cement to build a big dam, then what makes a small clade of elite corporate bosses - conspiring in secret - any wiser? Their only 'wisdom" arises by being sicced AGAINST EACH OTHER and in large enough numbers for market forces to actually matter.

We've been over this before.

more soon about my trip.

Anonymous said...

The 360 degree pan thing is very interesting.

I believe Dr. Brin's study needs a small stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling.

* * *

I'd love to see a parrot or Border collie or some-such bright non-primate critter engineered to have mirror neurons.

Anonymous said...

China's industrial policy is a little more advanced than simply "allocating cement to build a big dam."

One example:

1. The Chinese government signs a huge contract for Iranian natural gas.

2. They also pay for the importation of the knowledge and equipment that allows Chinese shipyards to begin producing liquefied natural gas ships to transport it.

These ships are rather high-tech, building them requires quite a few workers. They are also in very much in demand on the world market:

So, with a couple of deals, the Chinese government secures future energy resources and employs thousands of Chinese workers in an industry that is growing fast and has few suppliers currently (Japan, Korea, Sweden).

No American company, not even Exxon, could pull something like this off...too much money and too risky.

I'm hardly a socialist, but I recognize that a well-run Chinese government will crush many private American companies unless we come up with an update to our centuries-old business model...

David Brin said...

Much better expressed, Monkyboy! Wrong, but much better.

Here's a speech downloadable at LONGNOW.ORG that appears to support your argument. Orville Schell - "China Thinks Long-term, But Can It Relearn to Act Long-term?"

Yes, a hierarchical society that thinks wisely can make better decisions than a market economy that is led stupidly. But that is not a fair comparison. Most of the time, hierarchic control societies cannot help but act stupidly. Because their decision processes drift toward serving the interests of the oligarchy, instead of serving the people. ANd this is just ONE of the endemic failure modes that ALWAYS ruined such societies.

I reiterate. They had four thousand years... and all failed at progress and development. 90% even failed at maintaining the stauts quo!

Yes, WE are diving into some very similar failure modes tight now. But only to the extent that our leadership clade has managed to become hierarchical control oligarchs! To that EXACT degree, we have begun to turn our backs on foresight, venture and the feedback systems that make markets etc thrive.

Oh, and Nicq is right that it is apples/oranges to compare the needs of a developing economy to those of a flourishing tertiary economy. The former can exploit workers under veils of secrecy and tradition. It can order trainloads of cement to arrive on a dam site on pain of death. These prodigious feats are the very things that made many naive visitors to 1930s Russia say "I have seen the future and it works."

The human toll is overwhelming and inefficiencies abound. But dams can be built by fiat. And roads and even LNG tankers. But an ECONOMY that is capable of giving people rapidly improving REFRIGERATORS?

The Chinese are smart. That part of the economy is the part that they have loosened to the market. It is a balancing act that they learned hard, from the lessons of Stalin & Mao. Still, I bet they have yet more lessons to learn about the inherent problems of control.

Don Quijote said...

Even in a less sinister light, explain why western Europe, with an economy far more planned and regulated than ours, is struggling to maintain a growth rate half that of the US?

Which is undoubtly why Germany with a population of 80 million on a territory the size of California is the world's fifth largest economy , why France with a population of 60 million on a territory the size of Texas is the six or seventh depending on who's counting and this is despite having had their infrastructure totally destroyed by 1945.

Because they don't have a whole percentage point of their population in prison? Or a military-industrial complex that swallows 5% of GDP yearly?

Anonymous said...

As an aside (you know me, always going off on tangents ;)) tonight on PBS they had a special about the Internet and how quite a few industrialized nations have internet that has download speeds of 100 MB/sec for the cost of our current 1 MB/sec internet. Why? Because in the 1990s the BabyBells didn't upgrade their infrastructure after getting tax write-offs and the like in exchange for said upgrades. Instead, the phone companies and cable companies pocketed their new "profits" and thumbed their nose at the American people.

Whenever a municipality tries to put up its own fiberoptic network, the phone and cable companies yell "unfair competition!" and tie it up in the courts for years, while still refusing to upgrade the phone networks and pocketing money from their tax breaks (which are supposed to pay for the upgrades).

And now of course they're insisting on eliminating Net Neutrality to "pay" for upgrading the infrastructure for high speed internet. Um... isn't that what the TAX WRITE-OFFS were for?

An interesting point brought up in the PBS show was that internet is now an essential service for business, industry, education, and normal people. It promotes democracy (as can be seen in this very blog). It should be a public utility. We should be entitled to high-speed internet in the same way as we are entitled to water and electricity.

(Another interesting thing is how they described "deregulation"... or how it's not deregulation but rather "rewrite the rules to benefit the private corporations and line the pockets of government".)

Rob H., Tangents Reviews

Anonymous said...

I agree China's Commie government may stumble in the long run...but the short run is how long for them, exactly?

20-50-100 years, maybe?

I suppose the question is:

Would you prefer to live in a "rational dictatorship" where the leaders allow some fact-based debate on issues and then explain their reasons for the decisions they make...

...or an "irrational democracy" where the leaders make decisions based on their "gut" and then try to hide their actual policies behind a wall of secrecy and lies while spewing moronic slogans?

NoOne said...

Don't know where else to put this so here goes. Looks like we have a silent October surprise happening via voter purges.

More from the Daily Kos.

Blake Stacey said...

Around 2:00 this morning, I dreamt I was looking for shampoo in a supermarket filled with "David Brin & Co." toiletry articles: razors, toothbrushes and so on. I woke up thirsty, got myself a drink and went back to sleep. Some time later, I dreamt I was debating Eric S. Raymond's conclusion that science fiction is libertarian at heart. I queried how much stories about rogue adventurers in deep space have to say about society back on Earth. I cited the far-reaching influence of the Foundation series, where politics changes with the generations and only the psychohistorical equations are absolute; then I did a case-by-case examination of all the successes which brought SF out of the ghetto, or at least made it the ghetto where all the moneychangers live.

Star Wars is a throwback to feudalism, while Star Trek represents Enlightenment pragmatism (sometimes overdosing on "political correctness"). One glorifies our bloody past, while the other gives hope for our future. Neither sits neatly with blind faith in markets.

Every character in 2001: A Space Odyssey is employed by a national government, and besides, in that world we are only what the Monolith wired us to become. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is an escapist fable, whose only "politics" lies in the implication that a massive Government cover-up is a Good Thing. (Maybe Heywood Floyd was their chief consultant?) Jurassic Park implies that the rich kids trying to get richer by selling goods and services on their own private island will only get everybody killed.

And cyberpunk? What libertarian messages can be derived, asked my sleeping self, from a genre whose tropes are multinational corporations become government and rule all and the lone hacker hero is actually powerless to stop them?

I woke up thinking, the literature of change does not embrace a dogma, unless seen through blinkers and rosy-tinted spectacles of ideology.

The moral of the story: I really need to get out more and stop thinking about this stuff. Either that, or I need to find somebody daft enough to pay me for it, 'cause this is just ridiculous.

David Brin said...

Wow Blake! How can I refuse you post-of-the-day?

David Brin tootpaste? No wonder they are squeezing the tubes before they let people board planes!

(I do think you can drop a LOT of SF into half a dozen "slots". LeGuin PC tolerance fetishism is a kind of non-economic leftism.

Kim STanley Robinson's California Utopianism is ararchic and a bit pink, but vibrantly and utterly modernist in the spirit of Star Trek.

The vast mob of feudal fantasy authors who tend to be superficially leftist while deep-down feudal fascist.

and so on...

And of course tons of space cowboys.

And a few vicious-nasty racist SOBs like that Crosstime Engineer" author...

I don't mind axe grinding in novels but I wish they'd recognize it in themselves.

Even more than Robinson, I have political affinity with Eric Flint and his 1632 series. Highly recommended escapist SF with a brashly modernist tone that KNOWS the truth. That we are the revolution. The REAL revolution. We are, and always will be.

Andrew Smith said...

RE: October surprises.

Don't forget this one.

Southern California hispanics are getting letters telling them it's illegal for immigrants to vote. The letters are only in Spanish and sent to citizens and non-citizens alike.

Anonymous said...

You might enjoy this recent post by Ezra Klein talking about how things that are at least plausible are being dismissed as crazy conspiracy theories these days, Dr. Brin: