Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Space Exploration, Methane Blurps and Podcast Rants

 A couple of hurried announcement-notes, then a quick-drafted thought on methane blurps and cycles of history:

1) With the help of a techie-camerawoman (for whom I feel considerable fondness), I've begun recording and posting some brief (for me) monologues on YouTube.

SpaceExplorePart1Space Exploration Part 1: Planning our next steps in Space  

...followed by...

Space Exploration Part 2 - Mining the sky: Are there economic incentives for exploring space? Can space exploration pay for itself? More space-related postings will go up soon, as well as another on the notion of "cycles" of falling civilization.

2) See a thought provoking snippet from the Globalist: "In the 1980s and 1990s, workers from China, India and the former Soviet bloc contributed 1.47 billion new workers to the global labor pool — effectively doubling the size of the world's now-connected workforce, bringing little capital with them. Even Marx knew that the capital/labor ratio is critical. The more capital each worker has, the higher their productivity and pay. A decline in the global capital/labor ratio shifts the balance of power as more workers compete for working with scarce capital."

This ratio of scarcity explains some of the strong position of capital today and even (perhaps) the present hard push toward revived oligarchy, restoring the normal human governance model, recently displaced by the Enlightenment.  That push may be all the more intense because new capital is forming at a furious rate, especially in Asia. Hence the ratio should correct itself within a couple of decades, especially as population levels off.  The would-be restorers of that ancient pattern may feel they only have a little time.


For years I've prophesied that the biggest shoe in the climate mess had yet to drop... the potential (and possibly sudden) release of vast stores of methane that had been sequestered, either in permafrost or in hydrate ices under polar arctic seas.

imagesJohn Barnes also wrote of this possibility in his fine novel MOTHER OF STORMS (1994). Now come signs it has begun."The amount of methane currently coming out of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is comparable to the amount coming out of the entire world's oceans," said Shakhova, a researcher at UAF's International Arctic Research Center. "Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap." Earlier periods of rapid climate change have been associated with sudden releases of methane from the seabed.

If this proves to be a true tipping point event, and if dire consequences ensue, it will require re-adjustments on all sides. On the right, it will mean eating crow and admitting they were wrong - something no conservative ever does without prying the words out of him, with a crowbar of facts.  It might also be time to hold the top leaders of the Denialist Cabal accountable in civil court, if their tactics involved deliberate obstruction of informed palliation of harm, as in the Tobacco judgments.

But the left will have to adapt, as well. And one thing they must surrender is their monomania that Global Climate Change can only be dealt with at the demand side -- through conservation, energy efficiency, sustainable development and almost puritanical self-control.  Hey, I am in favor of much of that, as shown by my novel EARTH (1990)  But clearly, liberals may also have to suck it up and accept the need for measures that address global warming directly.  For example via a suite of methods called Geoengineering.

I know some workers in this field.  Many of the schemes are presently impractical -- e.g. giant sunshades to reduce light levels striking the Earth.  Others have potentially dangerous hysteresis effects or are inherently hard to control, like sending plumes of sunlight-scattering aerosols into the upper atmosphere.  Certainly, any prudent attempts at geoengineering should start with things that

1) have no overshoot potential
2) emulate natural processes
3) are easy to stop, cold
4) have side benefits.

Hands down, that means going back to experiments in ocean fertilization.  Earlier attempts, dumping iron dust into the sea, had mixed results and resulted in some worrisome acidification. My favorite alternative would be to create tide-driven bottom-stirrers... as depicted in EARTH -- that simply emulate the natural process by which ocean currents raise nutrients from the ocean floor in some regions, stimulating plankton to draw CO2 out of the air, and also turning sea-deserts into rich fisheries. This possible win-win seems worth a few more-than-tepid experiments.


Finally, I was cued onto a cogent and well-written "big perspective" by Mark Rosenfelder - of the kind that I am wont to spin off, now and then. It can be seen at the zompist site, and though written in 2000, it reads as if written yesterday. Rosenfelder addresses contemporary ironies, like "If liberalism won all its battles, why is it retreating?"

The general topic that he tries to cover is one that I call "What ever happened to the can-do, problem-solving spirit called modernism?"  Way back in 2005, I penned a 20 part series about this, exploring the question from many angles, then waited for some journalist to come and offer to expand it into a book (!)

Among many things I like about this essay -- Rosenfelder distinguishes (as I do) between Liberalism and The Left, two very different movements that are often allies toward particular goals, e.g. civil rights, but that are at-odds over their fundamental models of both human nature and how a better society might unleash human potential. Other topics... (no time to address them all)... he dallies with "two dimensional" political spectra... none of which are as good as my own (naturally ;-) But decide for yourself.

But at least he shares my contempt for the current, absurd (and French) "left-right" axis. His appraisal of the bestiary of American politics is interesting and insightful, though here I diverge in several ways.  For example, I think I have a better explanation for the right's abortion fixation. (The "Jesus Problem.")  His analysis of libertarianism, while hilariously on-target, misses some core points, like the way I challenge libertarians to tell me who was oppressing freedom in any decade, on any continent, across the last 4,000 years. Read Adam Smith, and then tell me how you'll prevent the recurrence of feudalism. All told, a fascinating romp by a fellow who truly qualifies as an open-minded, contrary-ornery wiseguy.

===Misc stuff! ===

Neil de Grasse Tyson on the space elevator.

Brilliant, if true.

What has happened to the Atlantic, though!  Formerly a cesspool of grumbling, anti-future maunderings, it now runs vigorous articles appraising the future, from Nicholas Carr’s dyspeptic but interesting ”Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” to this recent piece by my fellow hard-charging modernist, Jamais Cascio, “Get Smarter.”  Go look. 

Another prediction from EARTH (1992) -- Tidal power is taking off, in Europe. (Now a further prediction.  These “snakes” will also be designed to stir bottom mud and fertilize currents. )

Further articles about my opposition to METi - or “Message to ET.” One ran in the New York Times, another in the New Scientist.

See a wiki about a fun, mind-stretching concept by the renowned singularitarian John Smart.

World’s weirdest animals!  I knew of maybe half of these.  The rest?  Eewww!  Use em as aliens in a scifi pic. 

“A two-year-long interview with Slawek Wojtowicz” the Polish SF scholar.  Mostly for a Polish audience of readers.  


Acacia H. said...

Once again, I am going to start to beat that tired old drum of a Lunar Base. However, I've more than old scifi dreams and traditions behind this interest in returning to the Moon, and a means of using the Moon to help encourage international cooperation.

There is another Moon Race starting to form. China, India, Russia, and other nations are eying the Moon and considering landing there... and establishing a permanent base there. Of them, China is probably best situated to establishing a Lunar base, followed undoubtedly by India. The thing is, this is wasted effort. Having several nations individually attempt to go to the Moon and build bases will be a waste of resources and will undoubtedly result in some fatalities from cutting corners and rushing things. And it doesn't matter that we already went there. It doesn't matter that the U.S. may decide to go elsewhere. Other nations will go to the Moon... and there will be a cost paid for this.

The answer is currently floating in space above us. While the International Space Station was in some ways a waste of money, it did help to unite several space agencies and encourage cooperation between them to build this base. Now that it is pretty much complete (except for spare parts), actual science can commence, and we may even see some benefit come out of it.

Imagine now if a global cooperative effort between NASA, ESA, Russia, China, and India worked to send people back to the Moon and establish a permanent base? Instead of each nation squandering a lot of money to build individual bases and risk lives through cut corners and the like, each nation can contribute toward an International Space Agency that utilizes shared technologies (perhaps starting with the Saturn V system; it is an older system but the systems in it did work successfully, and should not raise any real stink from conservatives in the U.S. who fear China gaining accurate missile technology or the like). Working together, the ISA can then send an international team to the Moon to establish a base that is part American, part Chinese, part European, part Russian, part Indian... and part any other nation that wishes to contribute resources and money to the project.

The amount of money that the U.S. would have to pay toward this would be significantly less than going it alone to the Moon. And in the meantime? We can continue to shoot for the stars. We can send expeditions to the asteroids and more robot probes to Mars. And the Moon will not be claimed by any one nation... but instead by all the nations of the Earth, working together.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

TwinBeam said...

The article David references is pretty thin on details. Here's a better one, IMO:


Acacia H. said...

And on a different technology note... Tron: Legacy has trailers out and looks to be released a week before Christmas. It seems that the special effects technology have finally caught up with the original concept.

Rob H.

TwinBeam said...

Robert - we don't even need to go to the moon, to go to the moon...

Remote controlled robots, with less AI than those cars that drove themselves across the desert, should be more than sufficient.

Teams of tele-operators on Earth would control a swarm of robots, costing far less and being much more productive than humans in awkward spacesuits. They could build lunar infrastructure around water mining and fuel production and delivery.

We should aim for a "profitable" lunar program - with the profit lying in cost reduction for other space missions, based on lunar fuel production and delivery.

Human missions in space, if we do them, should stay out of gravity wells for the next 20-30 years. There's plenty to do out there besides planting flags and making footprints.

Acacia H. said...

And on the clathate front, the Deniers will latch onto their claims that Global Warming is a natural process and that man has not and cannot influence the climate. Thus there is nothing that can be done, and we need to just suffer through it. In fact, since the environment is going all to hell, they'll say we shouldn't be trying to save the wolves and all these other endangered animals. Mother Nature is going to kill them anyway, so let's just develop and pollute as we want because it's God's Will and we can't stop it.

Naturally, the very rich will have their neo-castles built to withstand the worse of the environmental problems, with the lion's share of clean water and fresh food, while the rest of the world starves and suffers, but that is the right of Nobility, of which they are the rightful heirs. And if their resources are impinged upon? They'll send their mercenary employees to go out and drive people from their resources and take over that region instead.

Rob H., who has a very cynical view of the oligarchy these days

Stefan Jones said...


You should have "CAB" add her user name to the tags for your videos. Just another way to link them together into a coherent "channel."

I'll post those around a bit.

And, HEY, don't let this blog and the video channel get in the way of finishing that OTHER project! I really want to know what happens next . . .


Acacia H. said...

@TwinBeam: You misunderstand why I'm saying "go to the Moon." The governments of India and China are eying the Moon and intend on sending people (rather than machines) there. This may spark a new Space Race to establish bases there, and there will be inevitable pressure by some in the U.S. for our own piece of the pie. Thus resources that should go to mining asteroids and going to Mars will end up going to the Moon with a half dozen programs to do so.

If we can't stop these other nations from going back to the Moon... then let's unite them. An International effort to go to the Moon is not meant to return the U.S. to the Moon. It is meant to encourage international cooperation in space, sharing resources and money, and eliminating the need of certain groups in Congress from derailing NASA from its new mandate and drag it on a collision course with the Moon.

In short, we use a limited amount of resources and work together with the rest of the spacefaring nations on a united goal. And once we get to the Moon? Might not this united front continue... and through shared money and resources we might end up mining asteroids and exploring the solar system? It's not about the Moon. It's about cooperation on an international level, which may in turn help the geopolitical situation in turn.

Rob H.

Stefan Jones said...

I'm afraid I agree, Rob H.

Conservatives will never admit wrong, and never agree to fix things in a way that costs them anything.

They might go for geoengineering projects that allow their pet corporations to get cost-plus contracts.

But more likely they'll let things go to hell and instead get their jollies machine-gunning climate refugees.

David Brin said...

Daggatt's latest


Patricia Mathews said...

What's interesting is that I used to read Harpers and ignore The Atlantic completely, but got more and more disappointed with Harpers and more and more inclined to pick up stray copies of The Atlantic. At last it came to me: Harpers (at the point I changed) was addressed to the feeling side and The Atlantic to the thinking side.

This tells me both magazines underwent some sort of change some time in the last decade.

Now they've taken Virginia Postrel ("The Future and ite Enemies") on board.

David Brin said...

For years, Harpers and Atlantic took turns, every 7 years or so commissioning a big slander piece to slag and demean science fiction.

John Kurman said...

Regards the political mapping. I've always thought the attempts (Pournelle, Nolan, politicalcompass.org, etc.), akin to sophomoric sketches of spectral cliques in high school, or Cosmo magazine quizzes, and taken as such in a spirit of fun. Kind of like horoscopes. Nevertheless, I would like to point out that the map is a projection of a flat earth. The earth is clearly round. I suspect there exists an unknown continent at antipodes to the Centrist axes, and I propose an expedition to explore this unknown land.

Acacia H. said...

I'm not sure if I've bandied this thought here yet. I've an idea for a "universal" health care that will help with the health of the poor and middle class, while not significantly impacting upon the profits of health insurance companies. Basically, have the Federal Government create a universal health care policy where everyone is mandated to go to the doctor's office once a year for a physical, and are required to go to the Dentist twice a year for cleanings. These visits will be paid for by the Federal government, along with antibiotics (if needed) and dental fillings.

Meanwhile, health insurance companies will pick up the rest. They will cover more significant problems (dental insurance can work on tooth replacement, bridges, implants, and the like) including emergency visits, broken bones, and so on. By not having to cover basic medical and dental visits, this eliminates a significant drain on resources. What's more, by requiring (and paying for) doctor visits, health problems such as obesity, hypertension, skin cancers, tooth decay, and other problems can be caught early and hopefully dealt with by less expensive methods (laying off salts and high-cholesterol foods to keep blood pressure down before it becomes a problem, increasing exercise and lessening food intake before obesity becomes a major factor, and of course catching cavities before they require root canals or tooth removal).

By encouraging preventative measures, people will need less medical intervention which will cost the insurance companies less. Doctors won't have a significant loss of revenue as emergencies will always occur in any event.


Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

I would shy away from mandating yearly and bi-yearly medical visits. Instead, just establish a national plan that people can bill one doctor's visit and two dentist visits, plus minor things like fillings, etc., and you won't need to worry about mandating it, since people rarely pass up free stuff.

Acacia H. said...

Except there are people who hate doctors and who hate visiting the Dentist. They would not go, and be a burden to the insurance and medical systems, and in turn drive up insurance rates as a result of their illnesses. In addition, legal immigrants may also avoid going to the doctors because of cultural reasons or from a lack of knowledge about what they are allowed.

I did think of a means of mandating the visits without making it mandatory: insurance companies can up your rates if you don't take advantage of the yearly checkup and dental visits. (Obviously, if you don't have teeth left then you'd be excused from the dental visits...)

Rob H.

Rob Perkins said...

Make it a full-blown income tax credit, with the usual dollar limits and graduated reductions for high incomes, and you'll not have to even establish a national plan. Just have the doctors generate a unique identifying code for the creditable visits, which the taxpayer can file in April and the doctor can file in November or whenever business/employer filings take place.

And then you win.

That is to say, Medicare and Medicaid can already cover paying for people without large incomes, the wealthy don't need it, so this kind of thing can cover the middle class, which can "float" $500-$1000 bucks for a year, or factor it into wage withholdings; that kind of thing.

Actually, now that I've typed it out, it seems like a really, really good idea to propose if somehow the Obama-supported ideas don't pass this year.

Acacia H. said...

The tax refund idea wouldn't work. It sounds good on paper, but consider someone who is barely making ends meet while in the middle class, either because of debt or because of child support or the like. They can't afford to go to the doctor or the dentist, even though they get "reimbursed" with taxes at the end. So they skip going to the doctor and it's a wasted effort.

In order for this to work, you have to negate payment (or at most have a minimal payment like $10, though even a minimal payment method would likely have people unable to go because of tight finances) on the consumer's end. I'm not quite sure how to charge for it on the doctor's end; different doctors in different areas would charge different amounts, due to rent differences, cost of living, and so on. Setting a flat rate would be damaging to some doctors while allow others to make out like bandits (relatively speaking). But undoubtedly it could be worked out fairly easily.

And there's no need to wait for Obama's plan to fail or pass. The Public Option isn't going to go through. So offer this one instead. (I'm not sure how much less health insurance companies would be required to charge for not paying for doctor's visits though... that also can be worked out in the bill.)

Rob H.

obillish: what happens when you get the Obelisk in 2001 drunk

JuhnDonn said...

@ Rob H.

Prevention? Are you MAD?!!! We're 'Merkins; We react, we don't proact!

But yeah, basic preventive care is so much more effective for dollars spent the treatment afterwards. If only there was a basic saying that could be used to help people understand this concept...

Oh yeah, here's an optimistic SF anthology; Shine Anthology. Not out yet but sounds interesting.

From the website: This is a badass SF anthology for the good.

It's not out yet so no idea of writing or stories. Just found site and haven't had a chance to go through it.

If already posted, sorry for repost.

Rob Perkins said...

The government isn't going to be able to make people go to the doctor. Ever.

Negating payment is behind the entire health care crisis. It's part of the problem, not a solution to it. People who show up in front of another person to receive their time, talents, and service, should be fully informed about the costs.

But a tax credit looks like money in the bank to a Tea Party patron. This silences them. It leaves them free to choose whether or not to see the doctor. That silences those who hate government coercion.

It leaves them free to maintain or change their own lifestyles, which no free government can directly influence.

It leaves the doctor free to maintain his small business, which he wants to do, and to set, within reason, a market price, which he also wants to do.

It leaves the AMA and other associations free to market the living daylights out of the idea, the way car dealerships over-marketed "cash for clunkers".

It could be combined with Company-sponsored HSA's or FSA's, or even brokered through an employer, with the tax credit accruing to the employer.

A co-pay is certainly a very good idea, but frankly, insurers and the government are already quite used to adjusting cost ceilings for different regions, so that's not really an obstacle.

And hey, if they did nothing more than made health insurance premiums fully tax deductible, and/or required employers to account for health care spending on pay stubs, well, those would also encourage the saving of money.

Tacitus2 said...


There are a variety of ways in which preventative care can be encouraged, and some serious limitations on collecting the societal benefits from same.

As has been mentioned, some people hate going to the doctor and it is hard to make 'em do it. In theory, those on various forms of assistance Medicaid, Medicare, gov. pensions could be forced to show documentation of "a clean bill of health" before they get their check, but this would be regarded as offensive.

What has been done comes at it from the other side. Back in my primary care days we got a higher captitation rate for medical assistance families if they met certain benchmarks for childhood visits and immunizations. I assigned a diligent, happy worker to the task and she made sure they got in. Or if they were in for something else, made sure they got needed immunizations. This was cost effective for our clinic.

But not all preventative care is equally good, in a societal sense.

Childhood immunizations, sure, Lets keep vaccine preventable cooties from staging a comeback, as there are always a few old enemies sneaking in from third world places or through immunilogical blind spots.

Blood pressure and cholesterol control, yes, but..

Lowering cholesterol from 300 to 250 helps big time. 250 to 200, prevents some events. 200 to 175, statistically insignificant improvements in stroke/MI. So its not all equal, and the testing, meds, follow up visits, costs are skewed to the lower end, as these scenarios are more common.

A case study. Lets say precancerous skin lesions called actinic keratoses will be screened by dermatologists. Over time, 5% will turn to low level cancers, and if these are left untreated for quite a few years, maybe a handfull become life threatening. Visits every six months with local freezing is the general policy.

Is skin cancer preventative screening worth it to society? Assume you have X numbers of dollars to spend.

I would put immunizations first, and some special cases like colon cancer screening further ahead in the list.

Bottom line is that preventative care can certainly avoid some bad events, but is not "cost effective" unless you are prepared to take a very hard look at the science.

And be prepared to harden your heart to tragic anecdotes.


TwinBeam said...

Robert -

International space cooperation won't save money for, or otherwise encourage, going for Mars and asteroids. It'd be used as an excuse to NOT do Mars and asteroids.

Put the money we'd blow on an "international flags and footprints on steroids" mission, into something that might actually give a real return on investment, in terms of reducing the cost of access to space - robotic lunar development.

Since we'd already be "doing the moon", any pressure to send humans into space "because China is doing it", could be directed into support for developing a capability for long distance missions, where speed of light lag makes a human presence more critical.

Acacia H. said...

Is there documented evidence showing that preventative medicine is not cost effective, Tacitus? I'd be curious as to what research shows that, and where the funding for that research came from. I'll admit, tossing out the 'skin cancer' bit was just brainstorming for various things that could be determined through physical exams, but it seems fairly logical that by catching potential disorders before they grow out of control, you can reduce costs over the long term. (Sort of like cancer; if you catch it in the very early stages, in all likelihood you can eliminate it... while if you wait until it metastasizes then you've a much lower chance of survival.)


@TwinBeam: At some point in the next 20 years, at least one nation is going to try and return to the Moon. If that nation then tries to lay claim to the territory around its base, we'll see multiple nations starting to send expeditions and whatever plans the U.S. has will be knocked off course as frantic politicians try to minimize the perceived damage from another nation "claiming our Moon." What's worse, we may even see armed conflicts break out over lunar bases in a worse-case scenario.

That's why I suggest an international effort. This can eliminate competition and potential conflict and allow for a pooling of resources. At the same time, it allows NASA to work on new propulsion technologies and for the U.S. program to aim for something beyond the Earth/Moon system.

Rob H.

Ian Gould said...

As far as throwing out ideas for health care: here's a barebones approach to address the problem of medical bankrupcy.

1. Establish a means-tested maximum for annual out-of-pocket expenses. So, for example, a family on the basic wage might be caught once their combined spending was $5,000, a high-income single individual might be caught once they passed $10,000.

2. The government picks up the excess.

Ian Gould said...

Posted too soon

3. The government recovers the money it spends via a small income tax surcharge on the affected taxpayer (say a graduated scale from 1-5% depending on income). This is subject to a lifetime cap of, say, $50,000 with the government simply wearing the cost above that point.

It's not an deal or comprehensive solution but it would pretty much eliminate the problem of medical bankruptcies.

Even without the clawback it would be comparatively cheap because it only affects a small number of people each year. Hell charge a moderate rate of interest on the money advanced and it could be close to self-funding.

If the Republicans were serious abotu coming up with a health care plan of their own, this is the sort of thing I'd be looking for.

Tacitus2 said...


Politifact is a fairly honest source of info on "truth" in politics. i.e. I detect a certain sample bias in what questions they take on, but once they set themselves to the task, they are honest. Here's their take on preventative medicine via CBO and David Brooks (two more fairly honest sources).


The issue of preventative medicine is closely related to screening issues. You mention cancer. Here's something to chew on.

Not all cancer is the same. Different kinds vary a lot in frequency, and in behaviour. To do effective screening/early care (lets presuppose risk reduction measures first) you would need to target the commoner types. An effective screening program for a cancer which occurs 6 times a year in the US is worthless. So lets talk colon, lung, breast, skin, prostate, pancreatic, lymphoma.

A couple on that list spread early and lack effective treatments (pancreatic, most lung) so its difficult to impossible to find them soon enough for a surgical cure. All such efforts to date have failed, but research is ongoing as it should. We have palliative care for quality of life and some prolongation of same, but get your affairs in order asap.

I mentioned skin cancer, as an entity that in most cases is pedestrian enough that a delay in detection, at least for a while, does not alter outcome.

Then you have prostate and breast cancer, which have extreme variability in behaviour especially with the smaller, earlier cases found with aggressive screening. Certainly with prostate, likely with breast, some of these tiny lesions would never have caused a problem. Treating these increases health costs and decreases quality of life.

But these are highly politicized questions, just try saying the word cancer, especially cancer affecting body parts of disproportionate interest, and all logic leaves the building fast.

Its very hard to find non treatment control groups for breast and prostate cancer studies.

Colon cancer is one area where more screening should be done. Prognosis is directly linked to stage at diagnosis, and it progresses in a steady, but not wildfire fast manner. Costs of colonoscopies need to come down. And if you are on the receiving end, ask for versed and fentanyl!

Tacitus 2

hope the link works. If not I will retry in a second post.

David Brin said...

A chinese/indian race to the moon would be for prestige. "we've arrived." Make it international and they lose all interest.

Let em race. They'll increase their space capability. We should stay FAR from that boondoggle and aim efforts somewhere both more challenging and more rewarding.. Also, "we came in peace for all mankind." That plus the Antarctic and space treaties make such territorial claims very unlikely.

And they'd claim... what?

TwinBeam said...

Robert -

Next 20 years? If we started now, we could have the first robot there in 4 years, and possibly make the first fuel shipment back to Earth orbit as soon as 8 years.

So if anything, we would be likely to trigger *them* to get in on the robotic moon-rush, as they realize they're being held back by their human-based approach.

The most sincere international cooperation is *trade*. If they do send humans, we can sell them water, and maybe they can repair our robots (a good, shirt-sleeves environment job for humans on the moon).

Ian Gould said...

Grdi energy storage is often seen as oen of the keys to making intemittent power soruces like solar and wind viable.

So I was surprised to stumble across this on wikipedia:

"Hydroelectric dams with large reservoirs can also be operated to provide peak generation at times of peak demand. Water is stored in the reservoir during periods of low demand and released through the plant when demand is higher. The net effect is the same as pumped storage, but without the pumping loss. Depending on the reservoir capacity the plant can provide daily, weekly, or seasonal load following.

Many existing hydroelectric dams are fairly old (for example, the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s), and their original design predated the newer intermittent power sources such as wind and solar by decades. A hydroelectric dam originally built to provide baseload power will have its generators sized according to the average flow of water into the reservoir. Uprating such a dam with additional generators increases its peak power output capacity, thereby increasing its capacity to operate as a virtual grid energy storage unit.[18][19] The United States Bureau of Reclamation reports an investment cost of $69 per kilowatt capacity to uprate an existing dam,[18] compared to more than $400 per kilowatt for oil-fired peaking generators. While an uprated hydroelectric dam does not directly store excess energy from other generating units, it behaves equivalently by accumulating its own fuel - incoming river water - during periods of high output from other generating units. Functioning as a virtual grid storage unit in this way, the uprated dam is one of the most efficient forms of energy storage, because it has no pumping losses to fill its reservoir. A dam which impounds a large reservoir can store and release a correspondingly large amount of energy, by raising and lowering its reservoir level a few meters."

Sounds liek the obvious solution.

Stefan Jones said...

Tacitus's analysis is informed and welcome, but there's a whole OTHER sort of preventative health care measures that doesn't involve hospitals or doctors or even dieticians.

I'm talking environmental measures.

There's a lot of evidence that particulate pollution leads to or exacerbates heart problems and asthma.

Certain plastics might be screwing up our endocrine systems.

If further studies confirm these links, it would be utterly irresponsible to not tighten emission standards and ban offending plastics.

Rob Perkins said...

So if I could put an active air filter in my home's central heating system, my health would improve?

What are the chances for a 50% tax credit rebate on something like that?

Stefan Jones said...

Does your heating system pump out all that much soot?

Rob Perkins said...

I'm thinking of one of those allergen filters, the kind you clean periodically.

No soot, but the system takes in 50% fresh air as part of the cycle. The filters we use don't get rid of all the pollens.

David Brin said...


Well... I never actually knew Massa. I knew his brother. He SEEMED ideal... geez.

On the other hand, he seems to have befuddled Beck.



sociotard said...

An interesting read on existing problems educating the public on scientific matters.

The Unpersuadables

Corey said...


Well... I never actually knew Massa. I knew his brother. He SEEMED ideal... geez.

On the other hand, he seems to have befuddled Beck.


The comments page is almost as amusing as the article itself as it gets swarmed by right-wing attack dogs, most of them expressing outright panic over the notion of the passing of a health care bill that almost kinda sorta (but not really) catches us up to the rest of the industrialized world.

Oh, and regarding the methane feedback, Real Climate's David Archer
wrote an article addressing the subject essentially saying there's little to get alarmed at with such methane emissions at the moment, because they only represent a tiny feedback as things stand.

Acacia H. said...

Actually, much of what Dr. Brin suggested for Mars is also applicable for the Moon as well. Creating an automated harvesting base to mine water ice at the polar regions and then sending it into lunar orbit would be useful for any trip to the asteroids or to Mars; it would be less expensive over the long run than to ship up fuel from Earth. In fact, by creating the fuel processing plant on the Moon itself, you have the fuel needed to ship it into lunar orbit (unless you use a mass driver as I envision; it would probably take far more resources to build a mass driver on the Moon than a modular refinery, however, and would also probably raise fears of "weaponizing space").

So, we return to the Moon... but we send robots with a specific job; to mine the water ice so it can be used to fuel our voyage further into the solar system (with either manned or unmanned ships). In fact, a mining station on the Moon would be beneficial to sending robot probes to other planets. Envision instead of using gravity assist to slowly travel the solar system that chemical or ion rockets are used in further accelerating the probe toward a specific planet... and then turn the engines around to decelerate and slow the ship for insertion in planetary orbit. The probe could even have sufficient fuel resources left over to alter its course further if something catches our eye, like an unexpected moon or the like.

Ultimately, we'll be doing the same with some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn; smaller icy moons can be used as sources of additional fuel, both for probes and for any manned expeditions that go that far. This assumes, of course, that we are unable to create an efficient nuclear engine for use in the solar system where radiation concerns are less of a problem.

Rob H., who would love to see a probe sent to Pluto that then stayed in orbit and did long-term research of our ninth planet... and who will always think of it as our ninth planet no matter what certain individuals claim

David Brin said...

The principal value of ice is where you find it. To use for life support or as rocket fuel THERE. SHipping fuel to other places is exactly the problem we want to avoid. So using lunar ice mostly makes sense if there are other reasons to also go to the moon. SHipping lunar ice to Mars makes only a teensy bit more sense -energetically -- than sending it from Earth. And the cost of building the infrastructure makes it obscene.

Just one lunar resource makes it seem possibly valuable. Helium 3 accumulated in the regolith? Only if harvested on a truly MASSIVE scale by huge machines. An ambition for our kids' kids maybe.

Same might be said of asteroid riches. Except there are so MANY asteroid riches

Acacia H. said...

The thing is, it takes much less energy to move fuel from the lunar surface to lunar orbit than from the Earth's surface to Earth orbit. Admittedly, the most efficient method would be to find a small asteroid that may be lurking in one of the L-points of the Earth/Moon system and harvesting them, but we don't know what is there or what value such small bodies would have. Once we move beyond Earth orbit, then we've issues with time delays and the like; this is one of the good things about the Moon. It's close enough that the time-delay is minimal. If we're using robots on an asteroid and a volatile mass is exposed and starts igniting or ejecting (and imparting added momentum to the asteroid body), we won't know for up to a minute (or more) and precious time will be lost in attempting to real-time deal with the issues.

(This is one of the reasons I'm an advocate of manned presences on the Moon and the asteroids and Mars; if something goes wrong, you have someone close to immediately determine what's wrong and then deal with the problem. Time delays can easily result in mission failure because we couldn't act quickly enough.)

Also, having a robotic mining presence on the Moon would allow the U.S. to remain viable on the lunar front. If China and India are ready to go to the Moon, then there is an answer to those "frantic" neoconservative congressmen who will claim we need to get there "first." Not only did we beat them by four decades... but we've now an automated base that is doing something to expand our presence beyond the Moon. Thus there's no reason to waste money and resources to "beat them back."

Rob H.

mulant: the tragic attempt to genetically combine mules and ants

combinatorialimplosion said...

The whole reason reason helium 3 is enticing is that the main He3 fusion reaction is aneutronic, side reactions do put out some neutrons but far less than you would get from the main reaction. The fewer neutrons, the less your fusion plant becomes radioactive the way fission plants do (not to mention other problems like neutron embrittlement). What you are doing is trading off added difficulty in getting the He3 for far less neutronicity (~.05 versus .8 for Deuterium-Tritium). Here is the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_fusion (feel free to consult a more authoritative source than wikipedia, if you want).

The problem that I have with this is that if you are going for a harder to do reaction, you might as well go for proton-Boron fusion which has a lower neutronicity still (~.001) AND has the extra added advantage of not needing to mine the Moon for a very diffuse resource. While space geeks (like yours truly) might like the idea of having an economic driver for utilizing the Moon, I think the folks who will be paying for the fuel are going to want to avoid having to get it from the Moon, if they can.

TwinBeam said...

Have to disagree with you David - it should be very useful to manufacture fuel on the moon and deliver it to LEO.

Private launch companies should eventually "just barely" achieve affordable low earth orbit for humans.

But LEO is only "halfway to anywhere", and unfortunately to get the rest of the way would take a LOT bigger rocket than they'll be capable of, if they have to launch everything from Earth.

Fuel from the moon breaks the back of that limitation, allowing them to keep going.

JuhnDonn said...

@ Robert

I'm not sure why anyone would have problems with nuclear powered craft outside of LEO. Call them pulse ion drives and be done with it.

In other news, just found out (shows how much I'm out of the loop) that Sandia is developing a small scale, economically efficient nuclear reactor that could be mass-assembled in factories and supply power for a medium-size city or military base.

These are liquid Sodium reactors and not quite the sealed household size units Hitachi and others are talking about. Sandia engineers are projecting a manufacturing partner being able to build 50 of these a year on an assembly line type of setup and have easy installation in semi-remote areas. These are are still real power plants with lots of land/buildings/equipment/employees required but having the generating part of the system being easily built and installed, can speed up new power plant setups quite a bit.


Jumper said...

I'm with you David, on the better payoff from comet / asteroid exploitation.

I wish you'd pull back on the unrealistically hyped space elevator thing, though. The higher the cable, the larger diameter must be used. Any material has a finite self-supporting length (i.e., a cable that holds 20,000 kilos won't lift anything more than itself if you have 20,000 kilos of cable).

Even using the theoretical maximum strength of buckytubes, such an elevator would have to be KILOMETERS WIDE at the top, even considering the gravity at the top being counterbalanced by both distance and centrifugal forces. To launch that much carbon from earth is not do-able, and damn near impossible even from space resources.

Ian Gould said...

@Gilmoure: I really hope the Sandia team have cracked the difficulties of working with liquid sodium. This is what has effectively killed every commercial breeder reactor to date.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Have you guys heard anything about the Coffee Party? It seems to be a broad-spectrum response to the Tea Party, obstructionism, and the general lack of accountability and open, civil discussion and problem-solving. Fairly new, but they've got a lot of support pretty quickly, and are planning to have national gatherings across the country tomorrow.

This is still fairly new on my radar, and it's too new yet to say for sure where it's going to go, but it seems to be the level-headed and mature counter-part to the Tea Party, and at least its stated intentions, goals and basic operating procedures (mature and civil discourse, etc.) seem reasonable enough.

Acacia H. said...

I'll have to create a Cream and Sugar party as a halfway measure for both the Tea Party and the Coffee Party. While I normally take my tea straight up, I can't handle coffee without cream and sugar so... ^^

TwinBeam said...

Jumper - your space elevator "kilometers wide" is way off the mark. You may be remembering estimates made for elevators made using steel.

If nanotubes could be used in perfect/pure form, they'd start out as a very thin ribbon, and at GeoSynch would be a somewhat thick ribbon.

We can't make perfect nanotubes thousands of kilometers long yet, but work continues.

BCRion said...

@Greg: You are correct, aneutronic fusion would be nice, or at least being able to use DD with a much softer neutron spectrum. I hope I am wrong, but we will likely never get DT to be economical because of neutron damage. As for p-B11, that's going to be very tough (another order of magnitude) compared to D-He3 because of the cross section peak being at higher energy, not to mention the Z-squared effect of Bremsstrahlung losses in designing a reactor.

@ian Gould: Sodium can be problematic, and you can point to specific examples of failures (Superfenix and Fermi) and also successes (EBR-II). Really, what killed sodium reactors was cheap uranium from mineral abundance, HEU from decommissioned warheads, and existing enrichment infrastructure.

A new design (based off of previous work) that uses fission fragments in a plasma reactor to provide propulsion:


TwinBeam said...

Oh - and comets have the problem that they're moving at high relative velocity - creating delta-V requirements much higher than Lunar surface to Earth orbit. They're too massive to slow down, and they swing closer to the sun than we might wish to ride them, and then before long they're gone.

Near Earth Asteroids would be nice - but I really doubt we'll find any sitting in the Lagrange points. The Ln points are too unstable and too hard to get into without having enough velocity left over to shoot right on through. And once there, the solar wind and sunlight would slowly accelerate them back out. Still - worth taking a look.

That probably leaves NEAs that are only "near" in the sense that their orbit is close to Earth's. They only swing near Earth every few decades - meaning you can't send dumb teleoperated robots, the way we could for the moon today - you need really smart robots or human beings on site.

So asteroid miners would be in for a decades-long ride, or only get a shot at the asteroid every few decades for a relatively short period, or else we'll have to wait several more decades for robot AI to mature.

And that assumes the NEAs will have usefully dense hydrogen fixed in some form that the sun hasn't long ago boiled away - where we now KNOW the moon has water.

NEAs are worth going to visit, but I'm not convinced we'll be able to exploit them as easily as the moon - unless we find a really tiny and richly endowed one whose orbit we can safely and affordably change into Earth orbit. But what are the odds of that?

combinatorialimplosion said...


Actually, NEAs are "near" in another, critically important, sense. In terms of delta-V and particularly (the all important) return delta-V NEAs are about as close as you can get. Here is an AIAA article making mention of 4660 Nereus having a return delta-V of 60 meters/sec (my _car_ has more delta-V than that):


Even with the 450 sec Isp from H2 and O2 you can get a massive return on the propellent you send there. With an engine like Vasimr, that can crank to 30,000 sec, if you find a small enough asteroid with a similar return delta-V you can take the whole thing back with you. With the fission fragment engine BCRion was talking about (Isp ~ 1.5 million sec), you don't need a particularly small asteroid to be able to bring the whole thing back.

Acacia H. said...

I prefer mining asteroids from a safe distance. I keep being reminded of the background setting of one fictional story in which an asteroid impacts on the Earth because mankind was trying to alter the trajectory of a NEO so to capture it in Earth orbit to mine it. All we need is a pocket of volatiles that end up uncovered at the wrong time for the asteroid's new orbit to be disturbed and it smacks into the Earth. Or even that it breaks in the atmosphere for less of an effect, but still results in billions of dollars of equipment (and even lives) lost along with the will to take such a risk again.

Rob H., who admittedly prefers mining the Moon because we're not going to budge its orbit to cause an Earth-destroying catastrophe...

Ilithi Dragon said...

@Robert: Wasn't blowing up our own moon through over-mining part of the plot of the last Time Machine movie?
} ; = 8 P

If we're going to bring a NEA back to mine, I don't think we're going to park it anywhere close to Earth, relative to the distance to the moon, for just those reasons. Park it somewhere, say, half-way between the Earth and the moon or so, and you'd have plenty of reaction time to adjust its trajectory should something go wrong.

Acacia H. said...

I'm embarrassed to say I've not seen the last Time Machine movie. Then again, considering the utter trash that Hollywood tends to turn science fiction stories into, perhaps I shouldn't be embarrassed to avoid movies. ^^;;


I found an interesting article by a former Republican congressman who is urging his brethren to vote for the health care bill. What I find interesting is all of the Republican measures that have been incorporated into the bill that he considers a good thing. And if this is the basics of the bill... then it becomes more evident that the Republicans are whining because the American People dared elect a black Democrat as president instead of an old white man with a completely inexperienced and honestly dangerous female VP. (Or for that matter, a nice black Republican, but sadly Colin Powell hasn't shown any real interest in running; he'd probably make a fairly good President.)

The latest tactic on the Republican front? From what I hear, they came up with a comprehensive, balanced, and fair Immigration Reform bill. The Republicans have stated that if Health Care gets passed? They will ensure that Immigration Reform does not.

Which is why they should vote them all out. Fresh blood is needed. Hopefully enough of the fresh blood will be dignified enough to avoid the corruption that has filled the current Congress.

Rob H.

combinatorialimplosion said...

Rob H.,

I applaud your respect for the colossal energies possessed by asteroids, but with such respect we should be able to utilize NEAs and still minimize the risk of bombarding the Earth by mistake. First off, let me point out that having the capacity to bring a whole asteroid back here in one piece does not dictate that we have to do it that way. Then, if we do decide to move the whole asteroid, there are ways of reducing the risk of a catastrophic Earth encounter.

To expand upon what Ilithi Dragon said, we can insist that a primary criterion in selecting a destination for the NEA be that the trajectory needed to get there is different enough from an Earth impact trajectory that a small bit of delta-V from outgassing or the like won't put the asteroid on an impact trajectory. I don't have any detailed analysis backing this up, but I suspect that bringing the NEA to a Lagrange point in the Earth-Moon system will probably do the trick. L1 is close to where Ilithi Dragon was suggesting, it is between the Earth and Moon but is closer to the Moon.

Another point is that what is usually considered a "bug" of most high Isp engines becomes a "feature" in this context: most high Isp engines have very modest amounts of thrust available, at best. It is almost literally like you trying to move a mountain. Many high Isp engines don't produce any more thrust than you or I could produce by shoving on something and an asteroid can be as massive as a mountain. As a result, the characteristic acceleration you will get is probably not even in the mili-g range, we are probably talking micro-g (one millionth of the acceleration of Earth's gravity) or less. I say that this is a "feature" because nothing happens quickly. Unlike the kinds of burn you get with chemical rockets, where there is maybe a hundred or so seconds of massive thrust, everything happens slooowly where there is plenty of time to verify the trajectory and make adjustments if necessary.

A final point is that getting used to moving asteroids for mining purposes provides us with the technology and experience basis so that when we do find an asteroid "with our name on it" (as briefly seemed the case with Apophis) we will be able to do something about it. No fuss, no muss, no Hollywood-style crash programs needed, just employ the same methods you have already used on other asteroids. I think the thing we really need to think about how to do is minimize the danger that someone will purposefully try to put an asteroid on an impact trajectory. That seems a much more plausible concern to me than accidental bombardment of the Earth, much as it saddens me to have to say so.

WRT "The Time Machine", when I saw that scene where the Moon was being destroyed, I decided, at that moment, that I did not need to see the rest of the movie. We could explode the entire world's stockpile of nuclear weapons, as they were at the height of the Cold War, on the surface of the Moon and what would be the result: another crater that a layman would find indistinguishable from the pre-existing craters. I don't think you missed much.

LarryHart said...

Rob H:

The latest tactic on the Republican front? From what I hear, they came up with a comprehensive, balanced, and fair Immigration Reform bill. The Republicans have stated that if Health Care gets passed? They will ensure that Immigration Reform does not.

Which is why they should vote them all out. Fresh blood is needed.

I'm with you until that last conclusion. Republicans are obstructionists, so vote out all the Republicans AND Democrats? Especially since, in the real world, voting out all the incumbents from the current congress means there will be MORE Republicans in the next congress.

My conclusion is that Republicans should be treated like the Holnists in David Brin's "The Postman". Political enemies should band together against them whenever one is spotted. But that's just me.

In any case, how can the Republicans credibly threaten to obstruct legislation IF the Dems pass healthcare. As opposed to the obstructionism they've been doing all along? Seems to me they've shot their bolt with that threat.

sociotard said...

Transparency Watch

Parents Angry Over CCTV In School Toilets

Acacia H. said...

Off on another tangent for a tiny bit, Martha Wells' novel The Ships of Air was highlighted at a museum exhibit of Texan Scifi/Fantasy authors. As Martha Wells is one of the writers whose work I particularly enjoy, this is a pleasant surprise and I'm quite tickled for her. ^^


As for voting them all out... I was kind of hoping that the voting-out would happen in the Primary Election stage. Admittedly, if a largely-Republican congress was elected but the congressmen were willing to work with Democrats instead of obstructing everything, I'd be quite happy as well. But then, I've not stopped being a conservative at heart (or as I like to think of myself as, a social libertarian). I just feel the Republican Party has betrayed their fiscal conservative roots; considering the flip in the party after Teddy Roosevelt, however, this is just par for the course with Republicans.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Sharing a quick little rant on Ayn Rand that I burst out to a correspondent:

...Rand was wedged in more ways than anyone could count. Like Marx, she knew nothing about evolution, biology, or physics, yet opined like an expert. Worse, she could point to no events in human history that correlated with her view of human nature.

Oh, sure, there were many correlates with the first part of her story. History shows countless cases of dynamic men aggressively seizing power and proving their superiority, innovating and rallying bands of followers, taking what they could and reaping the rewards of wealth and power. That part she portrayed vividly, with the lustful eagerness of a woman with a powerful hypergamous surrender reflex.

What is that? It is a reflex -- exhibited by all of her heroines -- to surrender utterly to a male. But only to THE topmost super-alpha male. No other will do. In fact, all others are beneath contempt. Hypergamy is actually pretty common. It has some pretty strong evolutionary underpinnings, but it can also get pretty darned crazy, at the fringes, In ancient times, hypergamous females would go knocking on the door of the palace. Poor Ayn was forced to live it out in fantasy.

(Just to be plain, I do not claim this is a normal or healthy sexual orientation. I do not extol surrender reflexes. Especially ones that are historically and psychologically obsolete.)

In fact, it is likely that her entire edifice arose out of this sexual drive. To surrender herself to a super-uber demigod/slan, whose brilliant ruthlessness validates her choice like a force of nature. Her entire philosophy is designed to smooth the way for him and justify his (and thus her) absolute power. And, of course, many libertarians fantasize about being the Guy. Hey, it's understandable... if puerile.

The rub comes later. Alas, this experiment has been run a million times and Rand ignores what happens after Joe-Uber-Superman establishes his harem and orsonScottCardian dynasty.

Wait a few decades and this always leads to top-down oligarchic cheating by fat-slob grandsons of the uber-male. Cheaters far far worse that all the socialist bureaucrats who ever lived, combined. SOB's who quash independent creativity and libertarian competition ruthlessles.

But she never turns her eyes there, because if she does, the edifice falls apart.

Acacia H. said...

Actually, if you look at human nature, we instinctively seem to desire to be ruled in a benign dictatorship. We want a God-Emperor to have complete and utter control, and to be noble and decent enough not to abuse that power and trust. What's more, we want this so that we can avoid the responsibility and deliberation needed to be in charge.

Hell, look at the government of Ankh-Morpork in Terry Pratchett's Discworld. The "greatest city" of the world is ruled by a benign despot who is able to through trickery and intelligence remain in power and ensure those that want to seize that power for themselves fail in their endeavors and look foolish. The Patrician is the ultimate in the fantasy of the benign despot who seems almost an incarnation of the Trickster of many different mythologies.

For a more accurate depiction of what happens, you have the literal God-Emperor from the Warhammer 40K setting, where the Despot-God is a puppet (and trapped, ultimately) by the oligarchy utilizing faith and belief in the Despot-God to maintain their own power. What started out as a Benign Despot was cast down and made a prisoner, while those who abuse power used his efforts to gain an ungodly level of power.

Religion itself shows this need in humanity for some uber-entity to have Control, both over humanity and over reality itself. Not only do you have the Divine, but we even have in several religions the need to have an Anti-God who is responsible for all that is bad in the world (since the Benign Despot would never destroy). I've read such spiels as Darwinism, Nazism, abortion, crime, war itself, as being facets of Satanism. Literally, there is a global conspiracy and everything that is evil and vile is a result of the Devil making people do it, and anti-God people invoking the Anti-God that is the Devil to cause otherwise-innocent-people to do these "horrible things" because God's Creation (mankind) would never do anything horrid on its own.

Literally, it's a denial of responsibility by certain people for any and all choices. Anything that man does that is decent and noble? God made us do it. If we do anything horrid and vile? The Devil made us do it. There is no Free Choice. There is no personal Responsibility. There are only puppets dancing to the whims of the Benign Despot and his Dark Counterpart. And surrender to the Benign Despot is desired, because responsibility? Is scary and thus to be avoided.

Rob H., who thinks too much at times

David Brin said...

on to next posting...

Rob Perkins said...

Rob, you're using examples in fiction to describe real human behavior, which seems backwards to me: The fictional accounts are themselves based on one person's perceptions of human behavior.

Are there any historical examples to offer? (I'm sure there are.)

Jumper said...

I see I made some errors, and only several hundred tons, at maximum, would be required to make a reasonable cable using reasonable buckytubes. Interesting.



gih said...

That's good Ian, I follow on that too.

Hank Roberts said...

"There is no evidence that humanity likes science or the burden of responsibilities that pay out decades in the future. Humanity does not mind playing with some the end products of both, like consumer electronics or the body of modern medical knowledge, but humanity really doesn't like either science or the responsibility of the very long view."

Found here:

Linda said...

I think we should aim for a "profitable" lunar program - with the profit lying in cost reduction for other space missions, based on lunar fuel production and delivery.get your ex back !venapro reviews