Friday, March 25, 2011

Interesting Times: Lessons to Learn From a Flood of Changes

Remember the curse: may you live in interesting times? Oy! What a couple of weeks! This was what any given week of 1968 felt like... only 1968 was like this all year long without any let-up. (Example: my father was 40 feet from Bobby Kennedy when he was shot.) Well, at least the music was great...

Anyway, with all the news that’s hitting the fan, it seems a good time to unleash my torrent of pent up political observations and unconventional perspectives. Hang on, it’ll be a ride.


Here's culture war distilled to its essence. Saturday we are being asked to perform a pair of contradictory futile gestures, by sanctimony-junkies at both ends of the political spectrum. If I must choose between these gestures, I will hands-down pick the first of them. And so will any sensible person who can do the math. That is, anyone who can see that the planet can’t sustain eight billion greedy humans without some effort at efficiency, innovation, compromise and maturity on our part.

earthhourandglobalmapEarth Hour 2011: Turn off all lights at 8:30 pm local time Saturday. It's pretty much self-explanatory. A gesture. Our family plans to take part. Though this is not how we'll save the world.

In response, the Competitive Enterprise Institute organized Human Achievement Hour for the same time slot, urging us to keep lights, TVs & internet on "to show that you don't support efforts to curb energy use."

First off, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is one of those hilariously-named right wing orgs made up of people who praise Adam Smith, without ever having read him, who yatter about "competition" while sucking up to oligarchs, and who promote Human Achievement without having themselves added a scintilla to human knowledge or progress. They tout their response as "a celebration of individual freedom and appreciation of the achievements and innovations that people have used to improve their lives throughout history"...

...while ignoring the fact that nearly all the scientists, researchers, innovators, teachers, journalists and others who have made human progress happen utterly despise them and their treasonous "culture war." If we took a demographic survey of those turning off lights, Saturday night, vs those running around the house turning them on, I’d bet $1,000 the first group included a far higher fraction of people who became skilled and educated contributors to Human Achievement.

While activists on the left can sometimes be a bit smarmy and finger-wagging, even politically-correct sanctimonious, those on the right have gone entirely mad. They have inflicted upon us the War on Science and the war on every other caste in society that knows or accomplishes things. Me? I plan to turn off the lights for an hour and talk to my kids about how our ancestors lived. And how Star Trek won't happen by EITHER wasting it all, OR by shivering in the dark. It will come from assertively, confidently moving forward.


"The only foreign advisor we need is Google Earth."
-- a Libyan rebel officer, as heard in an interview on NPR's Morning Edition, 3/25/2011

Yipe! More on that soon.... But first...


How many people died with fully-charged, sophisticated pocket-radios in their hands, trying desperately to send a text message that said “Help! I am buried at _____”? How many more will perish, when calamity strikes, time and time again around the world, because victims find themselves trapped in a disaster area where the cell system has gone down?

FrailCellPhoneAre you satisfied with a system that not only can let you down in an emergency, but that is absolutely guaranteed to fail, at some time of dire crisis, when you need it most? If you aren’t satisfied with that prospect, what do you plan to do about it?

For fifteen years I hectored contacts at Defense, FEMA, Homeland Security and other agencies, urging them to at least study possible fixes to this brittle situation. One solution that I’ve pushed would cost almost nothing and might be (almost) trivial to implement. Simply require that all cell phones be equipped to pass along text messages on a peer-to peer (P2P-packet) basis, all the way to the edge of the afflicted zone, whereupon they can be sent on their way.

Predictably, the cell-cos hate the idea, but only for emotional reasons, since it has been shown that actual implementation would be easy. Nor need there be even a slight diminishing of revenue! (Phones that pass P2P texts can be pre programmed to report these transactions, for billing purposes!) Such a capability might even expand the company’s claimed area of coverage, since many “shadowed” or “last mile” regions could thereupon engage in texting.

Let’s be plain here. After refusing to even investigate this possibility, the companies and agencies who have refused to even look into such an obvious fix are culpable. The next time disaster victims suffer or die because they cannot use their phones to call for help, the word to describe these each of lazy executives will be “murderer.”

==See: Designed to let us down -- Our deliberately frail cell phone system.


WholeEarthLarge-filteredI consider myself to be one of the “techno-hippies,” like Stewart Brand, who have been pushing the “new nuclear renaissance,” I am not unaware of the drawbacks! But we believe the newest fission power designs are light years ahead of the kind of boiling water reactor that broke down in Japan, quake and tsunami ravaged northeast. With climate change, pollution, energy shortages and dependence upon unsavory petro-princes all in mind, these new designs still seem worth careful prototyping. Indeed, more than ever, so that the crotchety designs of 50 years ago can be retired.

Statistcs are telling. The number of people who have died, per megawatt-hour of power produced by each type of energy system, are by far highest for coal and oil... and by far lowest for nuclear power. Lower even than solar. By an order of magnitude.

Nevertheless, the terrifying situation in Japan is rivetting and compels an open mind to new thoughts. Some lessons leap out at us.

First, the horrific behavior of the Tokyo Power company, both before and during the crisis, is an archetype of what can go wrong when a single, monolithic institution is both in charge of critical infrastructure and responsible for its own accountability. This crisis was avoidable. Even in the face of nature’s unprecedented fury.

But the lies and shortcuts taken before the calamity pale next to those uttered during the aftermath. The lessons are clear:

* We should never, ever allow a single agency or company the power to issue reassuring “truths” without competing sources of verification and scrutiny. A demure, respectful society like Japan appears to be particularly prone to this failure mode. In contrast, these independent sources exist along the west coast of the US, in about a dozen of the finest universities on the planet... and hence, efforts by Fox News to drum up panic over a “Japanese radioactivity cloud” failed. (See this further example of top-notch journalism.)

* Likewise, any new nuclear endeavors... indeed all risky-bold new endeavors of any kind... should be surveiled and monitored by multiple independent groups that include the most devoted enemies of the program! True, these are the most irksome people to have around, when you are trying to get things done. But they are also the ones most likely to leap upon any potential failure mode and make absolutely sure that it is attended-to. Critics are the only known antibodies against the self-deception of bright guys, who all too easily assume they have got everything sussed.

Here are the twin principles of error-avoiding transparency:
1) Paranoid critics should be given full access to all information and full-voice to all of their concerns. They should then be part of the routine inspectorate that pokes at every complacency.
2) Once their concerns have been dealt with, those same critics must not be allowed to decide whether we move forward.

* Reiterating that point. While improving transparency and caution, we must return to being a people that willingly takes on bold endeavors and difficult challenges. Here is the one area where the left can be just as jibbering loony as the right. A plague of timidity will not help us triumph over the problems that we face. However it is rationalized, by dunces at both ends of the spectrum, cynical anti-ambition propaganda is a poison that may kill all hope.

* Clearly, the spent fuel rods that spend five years cooling down in pools next to today’s light-water nuclear reactors are more dangerous than most of us were led to believe. Hence, it is time to re-open the matter of Yucca Mountain. The U.S. needs a semi-permanent nuclear waste facility and the exuses given, for delaying this, are simply dumb. (For people who don’t give a damn about the world a century from now to howl about some hypothetical leak that might occur in 10,000 years is utter hypocrisy.

How about betting on our children? I am 99% certain that the cannisters stored in Yucca Mountain won’t have to last 10,000 years!. They will be withdrawn in less than a century, like deposts in a bank! By descendants who are far more advanced that us and who see those rare elements as unmatched resources for fabulous projects! Why is no one able to even mention this most-likely outcome?

Promise the State of Nevada a 5% royalty on everything and anything ever withdrawn from the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Resource Bank and Reserve. If they really can think in terms of deep time, they should leap at the investment.


* Canadian regulators announced last week they would reject efforts by Canada's right-wing Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to repeal a law that forbids lying on broadcast news. Canada's Radio Act requires that "a licenser may not broadcast ... any false or misleading news." The provision has kept Fox News and right-wing talk radio out of Canada. (This article is a bit florid. I’d love to hear more about it from a more neutral source. Will someone check and report in?)

* Congress has finally acted on global warming—by denying it exists. It’s in the grand lawmaking tradition of the Indiana state legislature’s 1897 attempt to redefine the value of pi.

* See a fascinating statistical analysis of the steep climb, over the last 20 years, in the average number of wives per GOP presidential candidate. For example, former House Speaker (and fellow science fiction author) Newt Gingich is one of four GOP prospects who has enjoyed three "traditional marriages" in his life. Indeed, an unusually high wives-to candidate ratio may be the most remarkable feature of the emerging Republican field. I really don’t have anything to add... except that I would love to see a similar chart for democratic candidates, who seem to have been - with the exception of John Edwards, a rather staid and boring bunch. (Let’s be fair. A couple of the candidates cited were widowers... still...)

* A CEO, a TeaParty activist, and a Union member sit at a table. In the middle of the table is a plate of a dozen warm, delicious cookies. The CEO takes 11, then wispers to the teapartier, "look out, that socialist guy wants to take a big piece of your cookie!"

*See a cute riff of Keynes vs Hayek. Somewhat biased but very thought provoking. And hilarious! (In fact, both Hayek and Keynes have been proved partly right. Hayek was correct that limited knowledge and personal bias stymie any small group from allocating well over the long run... though his followers seem to think this lesson applies only to government bureaucrats and not to a few hundred conniving oligarchic golf buddies engaged in cheating, interlocking directorates and insider trading! Keynes under-rated savings. But when you need him you need him. And he was right more often than not.)


On another list I've been discussing how Fox Mogul Rupert Murdoch and his Saudi partners manage to pull it off -- to make tons of money at Fox News, despite being hated by a majority of people. The answer is pretty simple. The OJ Simpson Effect says that you do not need to be liked by the majority, nowadays. An ample minority will do. (OJ will never pay for another meal in his life, even though 9% of Americans hate him.)

Blue America retains diversity and divides its attention in all sorts of directions, patronizing diverse news sources. Red America is cloned from the Olde Confederacy, where a single message was and remains the tribal motif. By radicalizing the message to ever-greater extremes, Rupert can demonize ALL other competing outlets and keep his base suckling at one and only one teat. His teat.

What a fantastic business model! That is... till the rumblings of a "Boycott Fox Advertisers!" campaign starts gaining traction. (It is one of several reasons I monthly dial in to get a dose of Beck. First, in order to stare in awe... and second to re-verify that he is truth-free... but third to learn what products NOT to buy.)

Someday, as happened in 1861, Blue America will awaken. Boycotting Fox advertisers will be the simplest way to end this.

You'll note that Beck is already immune. Many of his "sponsors" are other Murdoch-owned businesses. Clearly, Murdoch wants him on the air, period. (Ever watched “Network”?)

But the Fox& Friends show is another matter. When you finally get fed up enough, start contacting everybody on the list. Tell any company you find there that you won’t buy from them. Spread the word.


Ever miss the old Soviet loonies, back when the Biggest Lies and tallest tall stories came mostly from the commie left? Well enjoy this throwback old dinosaur.

Capitalism may be to blame for the lack of life on the planet Mars, Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez said.

More soon. And lordy, don’t let this be 1968.....


Acacia H. said...

Concerning Yucca Mountain... I think rather than resume work on this facility, we should take the Third Option. Fusion/Fission Hybrid reactors can utilize nuclear waste and generate power. It results in the elimination of 99% of the waste, which means our storage of nuclear waste is reduced to 1%.

From a New York Times article: The long-term future of nuclear may lie with a still-little-known third option: combining nuclear fission (atoms splitting) and fusion (atoms merging) in a single “hybrid” reactor. Indeed, without publicity, governments, agencies and research institutes are already moving tentatively in this direction.

Hybrid fusion was first proposed by the American Nobel laureate Hans Bethe to enable more widely available reserves of nuclear fuels other than uranium, such as thorium, to be used. Hybrid could become a reality within the next two decades — the Institute of Plasma Physics in China is planning to build a proof-of-principle prototype experiment by 2025.


I suspect that if the government put a billion dollars into this, we could get a working system in under a decade. Creating an Anti-Manhattan Project we could mass our scientific resources to find a way to eliminate nuclear waste. In time we may even start sending robots into Chernobyl and Japan's defunct reactors (assuming they seal them in cement) to harvest their radioactive content and start utilizing this material both to clean up the region... and generate some power on the side.

Of course the government won't go into this. Not with Republicans who seem to believe nuclear weapons are God's Gift to them and that they should be used, thus we need MORE plutonium and the like. But perhaps a couple of the more environmentally-minded billionaires out there could pool their resources and help jump-start this science so we can find a solution to this growing hazard.

And who knows. With hybrid fusion, in however many thousands of years in the future when a certain Robot decides to irradiate the Earth, those who are here might pull out the old plans and gather up the radioactive materials and use them for energy generation while cleaning up the planet once more. ;)

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Prasad said...

We should (each & everyone) all participate in earth our then only we can save a little bit of energy. If we can switch off our lights, fans, A/c's and other electrical equipments for at least one hour a week then we can so much of energy.

Patricia Mathews said...

Sorry, David. It's been 1968 for the past 3 years now. Hang onto your hat.

At last,a voice of common sense about both nuclear power and energy saving in tandem! The energy savers blogs I take are screaming "No nukes! Back to hand tools!" and the pro-nuke people are saying what you quoted above. Sigh.

THANKS for Faux News Boycott list! Girlcott beginning as soon as I print off -- uh, change the cartridges.

P.S. We should have a rule, though - no subsidizing technologies that haven't shown any results since Eisenhower was president. Yes, fusion folks, I do mean you. 60 years of no progress = trying to birth a 4-month preemie. Can't be done.

KevinDV said...

You take on Fox is spot on! through now it seems CNN is taking the same track.. the episode of Nancy Grace (you tube -

is just amazing ..lok forward to hearing your thoughts on this..

Tony Fisk said...

Wait for legislation making it a federal offence to promote man-made climate change as a fact.

The mixed feelings you're currently experiencing over Fukushima are precisely what I felt about Chernobyl. Gut rules.

Still, while there may be a few(!) differences of opinion, nuclear is not the biggest enemy of renewable energy. Coal is.

Paul said...

Re: Yucca mountain.
This won't replace cooling ponds. The spent fuel still needs to be stored in cooling ponds until the short term radionuclides decay enough for the rods to cool enough to be put into permanent storage.

Re: Earth-hour
I've always shunned it, because of the "sitting in the dark" metaphor, combined with the apparent fact that efficiency gains don't reduce carbon emissions. But if the other lords of darkness are going to try to paint my non-participation as active counter-participation... Well, shit. Support well meaning idiots, or evil monsters.

matthew said...

Keep hammering on the emergency peer to peer cell phone texting protocol. I write to my congressman about the idea at least once every six months.
Does anyone know of any advocacy group (outside of this blog community) that is working the issue? Could this be as simple as an android app?

logra: mothra's brainy brother

Carl M. said...

If you want to prove your environmental cred, turn your heat down to 40 in the winter and wear long underwear. Residential lighting is a rather small part of overall energy use.

As for nuclear, I'd like to see some money aimed at the liquid Thorium Fluoride idea. Unlike fusion, this idea has worked in the past. It's not waste free, but neither is fusion.

Tim H. said...

Peer to peer texting implies a loss of revenue for the telcos, and a hallmark of this generation of Mammon worshippers is dogged refusal to give up any money. Still a great idea.

BCRion said...

Some centralized spent fuel repository really is a good idea. Storing the stuff at 100+ separate sites is a bad idea, and most nuclear professionals have been saying that for decades.

While, yes, a repository does not remove the need for spent fuel pools, it does reduce the total radioactive heat load available for a potential radiological release. Many utilities now use onsite, outside air-cooled storage for the older bundles. Moving them to a more secure location is a good thing. Also, newer designs should harden their spent fuel pools.

Dr. Brin is correct that what we see as "waste" today will likely be seen as an asset by our descendents. If nothing else, there is an incredible amount of energy locked away there not utilized for primarily economic reasons today. For the foreseeable future, the cheapest way to get uranium will be to dig it out of the ground. This will change eventually, probably long after we are all gone.

I do think much of this does indicate that when it comes to nuclear, we need to start building smaller as there is less total energy to remove. Also, we do need to move away from light-water technology and its inherent risks. There are plenty of alternatives that are not susceptible to the fuel melt failure modes. Unfortunately, the NRC has a model that caters exclusively to large, light-water reactors, effectively putting up nearly insurmountable man-made barriers to getting off that technology. This will need to change.

BCRion said...

Dr. Brin, agree that transparency is the key to success in any technical endeavor with high impact, low probability events and therefore poorly defined risk. Thankfully, the US probably does that better than anyone with INPO and laws regarding transparency of anything non-security. With INPO, your competitors get to come in and review safety-related measures and get a full chance to make you, a plant owner, look bad. Admittedly, the system is not perfect, and we should look for ways to improve it.

Robert, as a once fusion enthusiast turned engineer, I can tell you that fusion will remain a dream for anything useful in the near future. Even if we get the physics problems of confinement resolved, the materials engineering challenges may be insurmountable for D-T fusion.

Tim H., molten salt thorium reactor is one option. It has a few enthusiasts that make me nervous because they seem to be quite one-track with this technology -- the "everything is great, I promise" attitude bothers me. Other options are gas-cooled prismatic reactors, pebble beds, liquid metal cooled (sodium, NaK, lead-bismuth, take your pick). I suspect these will all be better than light-water from a radiological risk perspective, but all will carry their own challenges.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Discussing with DH about implementing the P2P texting issue for emergency communications. First, there may need to be an overhaul of how the passalong is powered. Every passthrough would suck a little bit of power from the passing-along entity. It might be negligible, but would add up over a couple of days without the ability to recharge. Nextel used to have the walkie-talkie function on their cell phones, but their entire network was a. analog, and b. set up with that function in mind.

Another issue is privacy. There would need to be measures to keep the texts from being sniffed as they were handed off. One more point for a privacy breach to be inserted by the unprincipled.


aphorcr -- "We don't enforce nothin', no way, nohow!"

Tim H. said...

Hmmm, thought I'd commented on PtoP texting. There was a comment over at "Charlie's diary" a week or so ago talking about molten salt thorium reactors and a proliferation threat, specifically U233 production. On future energy, I still favor Space based solar, and think the folks working on Bussard's follow-up to Farnsworth's electrostatically confined fusion are worth some investment, it'd be less than we've pissed away in Libya.

Unknown said...


Agreed about 1968. We are in a focal moment, but Obama acts more like Herbert Hoover than FDR. No leadership ability whatsoever...

As for nuclear power, I don't have your optimism. Human beings being what we are, it's too dangerous to operate safely, and you can tell me about coal all day long, but when the coal mine goes bad, the coal miners die, but the citizens surrounding the mine do not. Here, we have oodles of radiation leaking all around the plant.

I am surprised by your sanguine attitude considering you live relatively close (as I do) to San Onofre....:-)

David Brin said...

CarlM said: "If you want to prove your environmental cred, turn your heat down to 40 in the winter and wear long underwear."

Um... Carl, I live in San Diego. How does turning up my air-conditioner/cooler all the way, in late winter, prove my enviro-cred?

Carl, it is easy to make fun of the loons on each side. They are easy targets. My complaint about present day conservatism and libertarianism is not that they contain loons, but that they have allowed their loons to run both movements!

If that happens to liberalism... we will be so so so so screwed.

Tim said: "Peer to peer texting implies a loss of revenue for the telcos..."

That's where it is so foolish. It is easy to see how you program the phones to REPORT to the cell-co all traffic so it can be billed! If your text gets passed p2p to the world, you pay. If your phone passed the text along, you get a small credit. People living at the edge of coverage zone would LEAVE their phones in a charger cradle turned on, so as to pick up and pass along texts from the shadow zone!

TheMadLibrarian worries about privacy of p2p passed messages. I figure encryption is possible. But the sender can also be warned that p2p is less secure.
Also, the whole p2p system can be turned OFF whenever a phone senses a working cell tower!
Shayna, I drive past the Dolly Parton Memorial (;-) with serene faith that it is safe.... We got worse worries.

ell said...

Maybe Bill and Melinda Gates will fund peer-to-peer transmissions during emergencies if billing is the problem...

chroniclast said...

1968 the Prague Spring and the end of the dream, beginning of the grind.

William T said...

Must be something wrong with your cellphone networks... In Christchurch the network was fine all through the earthquake. Actually, it was loaded - people were asked via radio / tv to avoid unnecessary traffic and especially voice calls in order to reserve capacity for emergency calling from the disaster area.

Unknown said...

I probably saw your father then..... Was watching it live when it happened...

I've always felt that moment was one of the most influential seconds in mankind's timeline. If I remember right, Gene might have been my first choice, but maybe not. Damn, that seems like a long time ago but then again, only yesterday.

In hindsight, Vice President Hubert Humphrey probably got a bum rape. And the election of Nixon was probably one of the worst things to happen in American politics. What we see today is probably his legacy.

Even in 1968, the world was a much connected place..

Ian said...

"Hybrid could become a reality within the next two decades — the Institute of Plasma Physics in China is planning to build a proof-of-principle prototype experiment by 2025."

followed if all goes well by the first commercial plant in 2035 and widespread adoption circa 2045.

Not exactly a quick fix.

BCRion said...


I think you are neglecting Deep Horizons and the Kingston Coal Flyash spill into your calculations. While I'm not saying radioactive release is no big deal, there are things far worse in fossil fuels in terms of human health/property destruction. Look at the Kleen Energy plant for a catastrophic natural gas failure. Then there are dam breaks that kill hundreds or thousands in one fell swoop. Even solar photovoltaic is not innocent if you look at the manufacturing processes in China.

That said, your basis for your assumptions are rooted in what you have seen in older designs. Many of the problems we have seen in Fukushima have already been mitigated in the US at existing plants (the Japanese apparently did not follow in many cases, much to everyone's peril) and in new designs. I'm not saying the same cannot happen here, but we can continue to make progress to make such problems unlikely.

Certainly, humans are imperfect. However, you are drawing arbitrary lines as to what is "too dangerous" without considering the broader human enterprise.

BCRion said...


I think the Chinese announcement is overly optimistic, quite frankly. Look at the fusion proclamations going back to the 1950's. Ever since then, we've heard the fusion song about "X number of years away". Until I hear some very specific reasons as to why they are suddenly overcoming all the practical engineering challenges of a fusion reactor (hybird or not), I'm taking this with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Tim H. said...

"In hindsight, Vice President Hubert Humphrey probably got a bum rape."
Yes, I'm sure he thought that. And a lot of us thought that about being stuck with Nixon.

Robert said...

I agree 100% about needing a safe storage site for nuclear waste - precisely because we can _use_ the isotopes, and not always 100 years for now. But Yucca Mountain is much too far in the "squirrel it away for 100,000 years" direction for this. I'd go for multiple guarded above-ground warehouses, with nice thick walls, lead-lined if necessary. Maybe put one in each Congressional district?

Hypnos said...

Do we really need nuclear? Wind is already competitive - with gas! - and solar PV has reached residential grid parity in Italy (2020 target achieved NOW, 8 GW installed in 18 months), and by 2020 will have reached grid parity for both residential and wholesale consumers in most of Europe.

The cost of new nuclear is astounding and it inevitably blows its budget - it happened even in Finland. For the cost of a new 1.6 GW nuclear power plant you could get twice as many wind farms. Without decommissioning costs, uranium mining, anything.

The situation at Fukushima is still not stable. Actually, it's getting worse. The government is suggesting an evacuation zone of 30km, 10 more than before. The sea is heavily contaminated. Tokyo tap water is already an hazard for the most vulnerable. That is 35 million people right there. What if they have to evacuate them?

Not worth it. Simply not worth it. Especially considering we have the alternative available NOW, not in some far off future.

Renewable energy + demand side management + storage + efficiency + massive reduction in consumption.

It's doable. It might even improve our lives. But we have to WANT to get there - and wasting untold billions on nuclear energy is simply not the right approach.

Ian said...


The hybrid proposal essentially uses nuclear fusion as a neutron source to stimulate fission in subcritical masses of fissile material.

It isn't necessary for the fusion process to be a net energy generator, provided the fission process can feed part of its energy output into the fusion process and still produce sufficient net energy to be viable.

I can see a lot of advantages to this - innate safely since any failure would cause the fusion process to stop and the fissile material to stop fissioning.

You should be able to scale this down and to use far less dangerous material that the current fuel rods.

But it's much more complex than the current designs and it's probably too soon to assess final costs.

I wonder if there are other ways to provide an external neutron source to induce fission?

Rob said...

Amateur radio operators should be thinking about emergency peer-to-peer communication. And, yes, it is possible with an android app and some clever hacking. But perhaps it's more possible with a little bit of Civil Defense activism on the part of, say, 100% more people than currently involved.

For myself, I'll hope to attend the operator license classes this fall. My church hosts them each year.

Stefan Jones said...

Plan to read by solar-charged LED lights during "Earth hour" went well until 9:15 or so. The lights, a Christmas decoration set, flaked out . . . now, it's lit up again! Fewer LEDs in a directional unit would have worked better.

Ian said...

My principal concern with Thorium salts reactors is whether in a shutdown they'll have the same problem as the liquid-metal-cooled breeder reactors.

If fission stops you have to pump energy into the system to prevent the liquid Sodium from solidifying and trashing your cooling system.

Super-Phenix, the French breeder model was down for so much of the time that it generated no net power.

Tim H. said...

Why nuclear? I'd say it's balancing the possibility of a radiation release against the certainty of carcinogenic chemicals with burning coal. Also, industrial processes require uninterrupted power that this generation of Alt. power can't do well. Residential power would be another matter, much more easily adaptable to inconsistent power, might be a renaissance for methane gas powered refrigerators, otherwise, what we've got now, with larger UPS systems, more heavily insulated and only slightly dimmer.

BCRion said...

The operators of EBR-II, a liquid sodium cooled reactor, when on the verge of shutdown, did some loss of flow experiments. This is essentially the issue with the reactor cores at Fukushima from having no offsite power. The results confirmed the theory that you get a power transient, followed by natural circulation bringing the power to a stable level: the fuel does not reach a condition where it can melt.

You bring up a valid point about solidification in the cooling system. Off the top of my head, I don't have an answer. Likewise, I don't for the molten salt fueled one either since I'm not a nuclear safety expert. If you would like, I could ask around. Again, I would like to see actual experiments with molten salt shutdowns before I would be convinced.

Superphenix, like Fermi-I, had a design made subsequent operation problematic. I would hesitate simply using past failures for new technologies as an argument because such are good learning experiences.

Corey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Corey said...

Hm, 2025 huh?

EMC2 is looking to have their full-sized commercial Polywell prototype producing power by 2020.

I think all ideas need exploration, but I think the virtue to fusion power is that it liberates orders of magnitude more energy for the fuel spent than fission does (though how that balances with consuming a lot of that power to continue the reaction, I don't know).

Paul said...

"Some centralized spent fuel repository really is a good idea. Storing the stuff at 100+ separate sites is a bad idea,"

Why? For years I've heard this simply stated as a fact, but it's never justified.

Especially when you also wrote, re: reactors, "when it comes to nuclear, we need to start building smaller"

Why is a single mass dump(**) appropriate for waste, but large, actively-monitored reactors are not?

(** "Repository" my ass.)

We had a call for a low & medium level waste "repository" (cut and fill burial in the desert) in Australia awhile back, and the same claim was also made without justification. From smoke detectors and other low-level sources, through to bulk material slightly contaminated with higher level waste. From liquids (such as bio-markers) to potentially contaminated gloves. Why should disposal be exactly the same, and why should it be centralised?

(munukaok: Polynesian god of above ground nuclear testing.)

Paul said...

BCRion, Re: Reactors.
"your basis for your assumptions are rooted in what you have seen in older designs"

We only have old designs! That's the problem! You said so yourself, you can't get new designs past the regulators.

I see this over and over. Local nuclear lobbyists (and supporters) use the power costs for fully amortised 40year old 2nd Gen plants, the build costs of 3rd Gen PWRs (usually AP-1000s), the theoretical safety of 4th Gen research reactors, like peddle-bed, and the fuel use of 5th gen thorium. You can't have them all at the same time.

And that sort of game-playing is why the general public is so distrustful of the industry. Look at the "it was a minor event, but things are under control now" messages we got from Fukushima over and over, even as it got worse and worse.

I like the idea of nuclear power. But I dispise the industry and it's supporters. And I wouldn't trust them to replace a lightbulb.

Paul said...

TheMadLibrarian, Re: P2P texting

"Nextel used to have the walkie-talkie function on their cell phones, but their entire network was a. analog, and b. set up with that function in mind."

Do you mean "Push-to-talk"? My understanding was that PTT was bounced through a base-tower, even if you were two feet away from each other.

Re: Power drain.

It seems reasonable that the intervening handset owners get to choose pass/don't-pass. In an emergency, most would choose "pass" without hesitation. For routine edge-of-network use, people would choose on-charge-only.

Paul said...

Has anyone seen a chart of the price of solar power over time? (Especially compared with other forms of power.) I'm curious if there's a Moore's Law exponential curve, given it's similarity to chip production.

Google suggests a halving of price over the last ten years, but I don't know if that's been consistent. If so, then if a country like Australia went nuclear it would take at least 20 years, by which time the price of solar would have quartered.

And you don't have to evacuate half the state when a PV array goes wrong.

(It's like encryption. People say, "Breaking this code would take 1 million years...", but computers get 1000 times more powerful every 15 years (until Moore's Law fails.) So it will take 31 years. Step one, wait 30 years; step two, buy a new computer. If Australia wanted to invest in nuclear power, it would be better putting that money in an interest earning account for 20-30 years, then spend it all on then-current solar power.)

Paul said...

Sure, nuclear power is dangerous, but we should ask ourselves "Is it dangerous enough?" And I think you'll agree, the answer is no. That's why I'd like to see Toroidal Magnetically-Confined Uranium-Plasma Reactors. You know it makes sense.

Here is a robot bird:

Stefan Jones said...

Paul notes:

"I like the idea of nuclear power. But I dispise the industry and it's supporters. And I wouldn't trust them to replace a lightbulb."

My position is just a tiny bit less strong than that. I think we're going to need reactors for purposes of resiliency and balancing loads. But the whole technology is going to get passed by if it doesn't come to terms with its legacy and real problems. Solar thermal, which provides both a means of generation and storage, stands in the wings.

Freeman Dyson wrote a great analysis of the nuclear power situation; it's available in Imagined Worlds. Simply put, he thinks that the industry, and its products, are Too Big Too Fail. They get cut too many breaks and are too invested in a clunky and antiquated design. This has held back the evolution of the industry, and introduction of new designs.

David Brin said...

Did some of you have trouble ordering e-book copies of The Transparent Society overseas? It now looks as if folks in the UK can order it on Kindle, so I think it’s been released throughout the world. Would some of you folks in Asia/Australia/Europe please check and report back? Thanks.

rewinn said...

It seems to me that multiple-site storage of radioactive waste increases the security problem significantly. I've never figured out why (but am very grateful that) terrorists don't seem to have figured out the easiest way to set off a dirty bomb would be various types of attacks on above-ground spent fuel rod storage. The Japanese disaster may have made overly evident.


Speaking of which, West Seattle For Japan is a great example of rapid community action enabled by modern communiation tech (sort of like "Tinkerers"?) which I urge you to consider for your town.

Tony Fisk said...

Q: How long would it take to develop thorium reactors vs commissioning and installing the current crop of LWRs?

Haven't heard much about synroc of late, but a quick glance at wikipedia suggests it is quietly working its way through the acceptance system (part of my Masters thesis showed synroc was able to incorporate cesium!) .

rewinn said...

As for why old smoke detectors should be stored securely, I'd suggest reading about David Hahn The Radioactive Boy Scout or at least the short version here (and note the photo near the end)

BCRion said...


I do not appreciate being called a liar and an incompetent. I understand it's easy to forget that there are real people with actual feelings behind text, but please try to remain civil and I shall do the same.

The reason we have only old designs right now are because of two reasons: Only having large and expensive designs and regulatory barriers stifling all innovation. Look, the nuclear power industry (actually a fossil industry with nuclear holdings is more accurate) is bares some of the blame for this. We need reforms in how the fee structure of the regulation is done, not the rigor of the regulation, to try and get new designs certified.

Just to be clear in what I'm advocating, I want a steady push for building new designs (Gen III+ in the short term, which should solve many of the problems seen at Fukushima) as we phase out old ones. Meanwhile, we must get smaller and move away from light-water technology. The first step to doing so is changing the regulatory fee structure, for without doing that, no progress is possible.

BCRion said...


I agree with you largely. The industry has largely trapped itself in the large, light-water reactor arena. I don't think this is necessarily anything nefarious. It was expedient to use the military nuclear programs that favored uranium-fueled light-water reactors as a springboard. In the 1970s and beyond, a ratcheting of regulation occurred that institutionalized the status quo. Since the industry was fine with what they had, they did little to fight this.

Now we are effectively stuck. It is becoming increasingly apparent that, at very least, we need to go to smaller light-water reactors. The behemoths just are not financially suitable, except in rare circumstances, in many marketplaces. Unfortunately, while we have all the technical expertise in the world to make it happen, actually licensing the design and regulating the plant is too expensive because the fees the industry must pay are the same regardless of power production.

Removing this barrier will not solve all problems, but it is a necessary step.

C. Keith Ray said...

I just tweeted a challenge to other programmers: "Peer-to-peer cell-phone txt network would save lives in disasters. Cell-co's won't do it. Can you? Please RT" Please retweet this challenge.

Programmers like to route around blockages (like phone monopolies) challenge them to implement peer-to-peer texting. I imagine bluetooth & wifi might work.

Programmers will implement multiple solutions, but that is better than no solution.

Acacia H. said...

Again, I state we should work toward a Fusion/Fission hybrid reactor as this would utilize radioactive materials and use it to generate electricity. It could even be used in tandem with normal fission reactors to break down radioactive materials generated from nuclear power and thus create a safer nuclear system.

Or to put it in terms that may be more easily understood: Clean Nuclear. But rather than sequestering the radioactive materials much like is the plan with Clean Carbon systems, we break apart the radioactive materials while generating additional electricity.

The best thing of such a system is that it would destroy the very materials that terrorists could use to make dirty bombs, which makes Clean Nuclear (ie, fusion/fission hybrid reactors) a matter of national security.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Wow C Keith Ray. Sure, try it underground. COuld back the govt & cell-cos into a corner where they have to implement themselves.

Tony Fisk said...

P2P mobile challengees will get a boost from mesh potatoes, and the Serval Project:

Ian said...

"Has anyone seen a chart of the price of solar power over time? (Especially compared with other forms of power.) I'm curious if there's a Moore's Law exponential curve, given it's similarity to chip production."

No quite Moore's Law - the price nearly halved over the coruse of 10 years.

But government subsidies pushed up demand drastically and there was a shortage of poly-silicon in the mid-decade caused largely by events in the computer industry.

Ian said...

Deep borehole disposal seems like a good option for disposing of radioactive waste.

Tim H. said...

Deep borehole might come close to satisfying the "Purer Than Nature" folks, but I have confidence they'll think of something.

Acacia H. said...

Here's a little something to toss out for consideration: members of Congress (in the House and Senate, and probably in the Executive branch as well) should undergo yearly I.R.S. audits to ensure there is no conflicts of interest or illegal behavior going on. When you consider more and more members of Congress are being found in tax violations, it seems counter-intuitive for such a program to be in place.

Think of it. If Congresspeople know they will be audited each year they are in office, they will not deliberately cheat (or they will try to bribe the I.R.S. auditors which has a chance of being detected and is a true ethics violation that can get them tossed out of office). And it makes sense that if someone is in a position of power, they should be held to a higher standard by including constant I.R.S. audits to ensure their behavior.

Rob H.

Paul said...

"I do not appreciate being called a liar and an incompetent."

I just reread my posts, and while they're "shoutier" than I intended, I can't see where I said that. Can you point out the part which offended you?

Paul said...

Re: P2P text
Two problems with bypassing the telcos. 1: They will hate you for it, and do everything they can to stop you. (Even if it doesn't hurt them, just on principle.) 2: You can't legally access licensed frequencies, as you could if they'd authorised it, limiting you to short-range highly contested open frequencies.

Re: Deep borehole disposal.
The problem is that once you drill into impermeable rock, it ain't impermeable any more. And you don't want high-level radio-nucleotides in your water table.

Judges, lawyers and politicians are notorious for being loose with their interpretation of tax law.

(Or most laws. One local case where a senior judge did jail time for lying in a statutory declaration to avoid a $200 speeding fine. And he apparently had a history of doing it, which is why he was investigated.)

I don't think audits will change much. And, of course, it's something that would have to be introduced by the very people you want audited. What's their incentive?

(autrai: A small Austrian kangaroo.)

Abilard said...

Re: P2P

The Internet's phlogiston layer seems to have consumed my earlier comment on this topic. I would not attempt to implement it using the telco network which, as Paul points out, is locked down. Rather I'd use the Android SDK to write an app that can setup an ad hoc WiFi network and IM along it.

Neither corporate nor government permission would be required. People would need to opt-in, however, so it would be necessary to attract users to download, install, and run the app. Such community-wide networking would need to be made attractive (games? WiFi PTA? CERTBook?).

One downside I can see is that powering the antenna for all this open or encrypted traffic could present hardware challenges (and drain batteries).

David Brin said...

Abilard... do most people have handsets that are powerful enough to do that? I thought one problem with p2p was the weakness of most cellphone transmitters.

Abilard said...

Well, either way (telco or wifi) you are using your own juice to run the network. The purpose is for the phone to run when the cell phone towers (ie telco routers) are down, so you are turning phones into routers either way.

Some obvious disadvantages to the WiFi approach:

1. Limited to smartphones, forever.
2. Likely limited to Android phones for iteration 1 (currently 25% of smartphone market, but climbing) unless Apple blesses you with permission.
3. Range limited to current battery/transmitter capabilities.


1. No permission is required from telcos or governments, so you can prove the concept.
2. People can choose to participate, globally.
3. Gets dev started now so that when phone hardware catches up you are good to go.

Just my off-the-cuff thoughts.

Rob said...

WiFi, without a good directional antenna, has an effective line of sight range of about 100 meters. One football field including end zones.

If you can get people to string out 80 meters apart, then the concept is provable. Once proven as a concept, an extension to its use on cell frequencies (ranges from 500 to 1000 meters) is direct, and all arguments against it relatively specious.

Does anyone have $3 million handy so I can quit my job to research it over the next 10 years? ;-)

Brian Claymore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BCRion said...


The portion in bold is where I think you overgeneralized implying a lack of ethics or competency for anyone who happens to support the industry broadly, as I do:

"But I dispise the industry and it's supporters. And I wouldn't trust them to replace a lightbulb."

Look, I've been a critic of the industry, and particular supporters, where I feel it is warranted. Certainly, some individuals irked me and did a bit of harm, I feel, by being overly optimistic even after data indicating the disaster was much worse than initially revealed. I think, among many other professionals, that TEPCO also did a terrible job at providing all of their information early on that led to much of the problems.

I do think the bulk (unfortunately were not the most vocal) of the nuclear professionals in the US have been pretty evenhanded on this incident, admitting its severity once it became clear it was so. Reality is that early on we all had limited information that painted a far rosier picture than we should have. Also, we are dealing with a complicated system where snap judgments must be made on limited information, so some mistakes at the facility are inevitable.

Paul said...

(I posted a longer explanation, but Blogger is being especially painful.)

I apologise if you took the comment personally. It was aimed at "them", not you.

I hate the industry itself because I like the idea of nuclear power.

But it feels like the "older kids", through clumsiness or selfishness, broke all the coolest toys before I could even get to play with them. Nuclear, GM, "terraforming", spaceflight. And it pisses me off.

Paul said...

(Okay that seems to be sticking, I'll try a bit more...)

When nuclear advocates talk about nuclear power being the best solution to climate change, they are technically right. But it will never happen. The public doesn't listen to the Green anti-nuke hysteria because it's the loudest, there are plenty of other fringe shouty issues that people don't listen to, such as extreme animal lib. It is because the industry (and by extension its "one-eyed" supporters) has lost their trust. Completely and irreversibly.

So the public looks for the next group that sounds knowledgeable about nukes, hello Greens. And the Greens prove themselves trustworthy by criticising the industry.

Paul said...

(Lucky last...)

And then it gets worse, at least locally. Climate-denier politicians on the right use nuclear power as a taunt. Whenever climate change gets attention in the press/polls, some back-bencher brings up nuclear power.

Two obvious lies: One, it's a "solution" to a "problem" they don't believe in. So you know they are being disingenuous. Two, when in power for 12 years, they didn't do a single thing our country would need to do before building commercial nuclear reactors. (Even decisions that were forced on them, such as replacing a research reactor, they chose the option that would give us the least new experience at reactor design & operation.)

So they don't believe in the problem and they didn't do anything that would suggest they were serious. It means they are only using the "threat" of nuclear power as a distraction, a way of stopping any useful debate over climate change. A shitty nasty stupid game.

Do you see why I'm angry?

Brendan said...

Alongside the folks that Paul mentioned above, in Australia the loudest proponents of nuclear energy are the mining industry. Now it is obvious they don't really care what energy we use - they are just as loud about coal. Anything that allows them to rip stuff out of the ground to sell at a profit is a good thing.

I can see their hypocracy so why should I trust a single thing that come from their mouths?

Ian said...

"Deep borehole disposal.
The problem is that once you drill into impermeable rock, it ain't impermeable any more. And you don't want high-level radio-nucleotides in your water table."

Paul the plan is after you store the waste you pump down a plug of impermable material several hundred metres long that fuse with the surrounding rock under the heat and pressue.

And very few aquifers 5 kilometres down communicate with the surface anyway.

Tony Fisk said...

I don't paint all pro-nuclear folk as villains (eg for all his spleen venting against renewables, I still have some time for Barry Brooks, if not his camp followers)

quylant: any quaint word that appears in green text (as this did! Mmmm!)

Stefan Jones said...

Paul notes:

So they don't believe in the problem and they didn't do anything that would suggest they were serious. It means they are only using the "threat" of nuclear power as a distraction, a way of stopping any useful debate over climate change. A shitty nasty stupid game.

Thank you for bringing this up.

I've seen this disingenuous smirking point used in many on-line "arguments" about global warming. ("I don't believe in global warming but if the people who believe in global warming were serious they'd be for nuclear power but they don't so either don't believe in it or THEY ARE TO BLAME for global warming because they hated nuclear power to death in the seventies.")

Have any of these smuggers ever thought through what it WOULD HAVE TAKEN to prevent global warming from taking hold by going all-nuclear back in the seventies? It would have meant adopting electric cars, replacing all of the oil and gas home heat and hot water systems with electrics, trashing all of the gas lawn mowers and ATVs and so on.

Can you imagine the smuggers actually advocating that kind of radical make-over NOW? Because if THEY are serious about using nuclear power as a solution to global warming, that is what we are going have to do.

I'd like my nuclear power advocates to come to the table with some perspective and humility, like Stewart Brand and Freeman Dyson do.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re – Nuclear Power Industry

I agree with Paul and BC that they appear to be a lot of goons, then I look at the actual results of their goonishness ,

The dust has not completely settled but it looks to me like an elderly nuclear plant has been hammered by an earthquake, a tsunami and some degree of managerial incompetence.

With a resultant casualty list that may well be less than one!

Goons possibly – some competent people definitely yes

Danger from spent fuel rods

They need cooling- yes – but not heroic cooling

If they were emitting megawatts of heat they would have been left in the core to make power (and money)

They are emitting kilowatts of heat – enough to slowly evaporate the ponds – so a water supply is needed – big deal!

Yucca Mountain, deep bore disposal,

To David’s point we will almost certainly want this material in a few years (decades) so deep bore is a bad idea

A better idea is to use one or several Air Force Bases store this stuff, most of them are big enough to allow for a base within a base to store this material.

This would give protection against terrorists or other interference for free

All that would be needed would be an inner perimeter far enough away from the store to protect the airmen from any radiation

Overall nuclear has a superb safety record – better than coal, oil, hydro,

I suspect much better than small scale generation – how many people have fallen off roofs installing PV – I bet worldwide its more than have died from nuclear power!

Despite this I’m not sure if I would be in favour of more nuclear power stations –

I think the real differences will come in when electric cars become common, when there are hundreds of thousands of 30Kwhr storage units (AKA cars) the whole electricity generation and distribution system will become a generation storage and distribution system

At that time wind, solar, tidal and wave power will be able to be fully utilised

David Brin said...

So far, the Libyan rebels appear to have been militarily brainless at every turn, saved only by western air power. It is claimed that they have almost no communications with coalition powers, with no advisors or even laser designators to guide in smart bombs. (This I tend to doubt.)

What will show that this has changed? That either they found decent leaders or else started taking advice?

Easy. Bypass Sirte (Surt).

Let Ghadafi pour in troops, then go around. Theres a convenient road just 20km south of Sirte. Go "liberate" Waddan and threaten Misrate. Sure that exposes your expedition's flank. So? Nothing will dare venture forth to chase you, with coalition air forces overhead.

Just blathering... late night arm chair generalship. But seriously, under these conditions... your enemy has better ground weapons but you utterly control the sky... you do NOT lay siege to your foe's home town. Go move through the open countryside and dare him to come out.

Ian said...


yes a quick look at a road map suggests that that's the case but the reality on the ground may be far different.

Fro starters, there may be any number of small towns on that inland orad which are too snall for inclusion but were government troops could hole up in close prxomity to civilians.

Or the road might simply be lousy.

Ian said...

"Yucca Mountain, deep bore disposal,

To David’s point we will almost certainly want this material in a few years (decades) so deep bore is a bad idea."

Not really, fission-fusion reactors can probably run as easily as U233 or Thorium.

You don't NEED nuclear waste, it's just a convenient way to dispose of it in the absence of better alternatives.

Tim H. said...

If reprocessing is allowed again, ways may be developed to reclaim fissionables not available now. If the anti-nuclear folks (Unwitting stooges of King Coal?) hadn't been so successful in sandbagging the industry, we would now be producing fewer greenhouse gasses, but it would have not been the stated reason back then, only a bonus. 35 years ago electric vehicles were available, though purpose built ones were not much more than golf carts. We've lost a generation in deploying non-carbon power, but anything built now will be better than what could've been done then.

Jonathan S. said...

I kind of like Pournelle's idea for storing nuclear "wastes": dry them, mix the dried wastes with concrete, and pile them in some otherwise-useless spot in the desert - a former nuclear-bomb test site, say. Put a Quonset hut over them (the frakking things seem to be nigh-indestructible), and surround the site with a high fence topped with concertina wire. Every ten feet, put a sign on the fence reading, in at least three languages (for legal reasons), "Cross this fence and you will die." Guards become optional at this point; so long as the materials are useful to potential vandals, they're also lethal to handle.

You might need some sort of surveillance system to alert authorities in the unlikely event someone should actually arrive with the tools to handle radioactives; said tools are bulky and slow to move, so you still don't really need anyone actually on-site all the time...

grophy: nickname for the annual Clinton Award for Most-Blatant Sexual Misconduct By a Public Official. "Berluscioni is up for a Grophy this year!"

Tony Fisk said...

I think the Libyan rebels use google earth, which would definitely show the lay of the land.

re: nuclear disposal. Synroc is intended to store nuclear waste in a stable crystal matrix based on titanium dioxide* (read: unlike amorphous/porous materials like glass and concrete, it doesn't readily leach, or break down over time)

* add impurities like magnesium and barium to get minerals like perovskite and hollandite. The latter forms large tunnels in the matrix which is where large atoms like uranium can be stored.

I think that David is referring to 'things we haven't thought of yet' when he talks of our descendants wanting to retrieve said waste.

Paul said...

Jonathan S.,
The problem with storage of radioactive material in any conventional container is... well, alchemy. High energy alpha and neutron bombardment changes the very elements in the container into different ones.

So your sealed, solid, water-proof, rust-resistant container is slowly speckled with bits of soluble, rusting, flaky crud.

Synroc vitrification is supposed to be immune to that process, but it's been soooo slow to be accepted, it makes me suspicious that it's been oversold.

Was it Larry Niven who suggested turning nuclear waste into large denomination coins. Keeps the cash circulating, encourages electronic currencies, and makes cash-based crimes their own reward.

David Brin said...

U.S. preacher declares end of world May 21 at 6 p.m.
2% of population to be raptured

Guys, when posting a long url also do this

Damn blogger

David Brin said...

Now if they were REALLY clever, retreat is the way to lure forces into the open.

But nah. Not THIS much retreat.

Tony Fisk said...

Matthew 24:11: "And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many."

I take it you don't think blogger is going to be enraptured?

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin said: Damn Blogger

Come to the WordPress side, Dr. Brin. We have cookies. And ease of use. ;)

Paul said...

Tony Fisk,
"I take it you don't think blogger is going to be enraptured?"

Is that where the missing comments go? Teh Rapture.

Tony Fisk said...

You may well say that. I couldn't possibly comment!

Tim H. said...

The sort of folk who vanished might tell something of the nature of God, or if the rapture was reward, or pest control.

Tony Fisk said...

... or both? (Depending on which side of the grab you were)

Tim H. said...

Topeka would be thankful.

David Brin said...

Tim I was definitely thinking along those lines. Those "left behind" would stand a real chance of straightening things out and making a civilization of apprentice creators who would make Him proud, that is, if he isn't the BoR maniac.

All depends though. Their image of the raptured varies. The extreme version is just 144,000! Not enough ro make much diff. Also, morality shift. Used to be that babies baptized by YOUR faith had a chance of rapture, but no others. LeHay... I believe... had all pre-sexual children taken. Wow, that's millions... and also a hint so strong that it seems unlikely you'd have any sinners left!

Acacia H. said...

When you think of it, ultimately, isn't that what happened in "Childhood's End"?

I always hated that story and the fact humanity's potential was stolen by an alien race that felt threatened by us.

Tony Fisk said...

Writing a little homily on Clarke's death, I did describe Childhoods End as being one of the first 'left behind' novels. That's where being in the predictions business gets you!

Having devoured most of Clarke's other tales as a youth, I finally got around to CE, and found it left a distinctly sour taste in the mouth!

Clarke was certainly not a rapturist! Strongly influenced by Stapledon's writings, I think he was just proposing a cosmic-scale scenario where humanity had a finite lifespan, and other things might have designs on it.

Even so. Getting 'harvested' at its peak was a bit much. Ask any wheat plant.

remnons: last man standing

Ian said...

Actually, in this very odd set of circumstances, getting the Gaddafi loyalists to go on the offensive is good - because it makes it far easier for the west to justify attacking them and it separates them from civilians making them easier targets.

Ian said...

According to wikipedia, at least back at the start of the month, the front line rebel force consisted of no more than 500-1,000 men.

If that's still the case, their performance against a trained military force is actually pretty impressive.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin passed along:

U.S. preacher declares end of world May 21 at 6 p.m.
2% of population to be raptured

Again? Seriously?

I haven't read the article yet, but wasn't this sort of thing discredited after it didn't happen on that date in October 1997?

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

Writing a little homily on Clarke's death, I did describe Childhoods End as being one of the first 'left behind' novels. That's where being in the predictions business gets you!

"Childhood's End" was probably the first sci-fi novel I ever read, which makes it hard for me to judge objectively. I was hugely impressed with the writing at age 15, not just with the sci-fi aspects but with the little human touches that made it totally believable (i.e., the throwaway mention of a political cartoon in teh Chicago Tribune depicting Karellen as a millipede).

I kinda/sorta share the disappointment that it was about the end of humanity, but it was my first exposure to the concept, and after all, it IS sort of telegraphed in the title.

Coincidentally or synchronistically enough, I'm currently re-reading Clarke's "Imperial Earth", which is nothing LIKE the title suggests. It was Clarke's tribute to the 1976 American bicentennial, and takes place in 2276 with a visitor to Earth from the colony on Titan.

Not sure what (if any) the general consensus on this book is, but it's one of my favorite "feel-good" books of all time. Although, the way the main character, Duncan, reacts to the thoughts of his old unrequited love--well, it was painful enough to read (as in "That's hitting too close to home!") 30 years ago, and it still is. It's just funnier now.

A prediction that seemed so obvious back then that Clarke mentioned it in both "Childhood's End" AND "Imperial Earth", but that he actually got wrong: There was no "final assult on Cape Town" necessary in the overthrow of South Africa's apartheid regieme.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin said:

Tim I was definitely thinking along those lines. Those "left behind" would stand a real chance of straightening things out and making a civilization of apprentice creators who would make Him proud, that is, if he isn't the BoR maniac.

Can you imagine? A world without tea-partiers and science deniers?

That might be the greatest win-win situation ever. The "raptured" would be deliriously happy, and the "left behind" only slightly less so. As the Talos IV guy told Captain Pike back in the original Star Trek pilot:

"[They] have [their] illusion, and you have reality. May you find your way as pleasant."

(Ok, that's not an exact quote, but I trust you get the idea.)

Tacitus2 said...

In an era where the visuals on CNN count as much as the troops on the ground I don't think you can make a "strategic retreat" out of the rebel retreat in Libya. More than likely there was an ill conceived "strategic advance" to coordinate with recent Pronouncements from Western Leaders.

No, this was the rebels administering a good swift groin to the knee.

As will happen in the course of any campaign operated with more than a mayfly attention span.

I do hope that: A: we have a large number of special forces from western nations on the ground aiming those smart bombs. B: the Egyptian army is starting to draw up plans to "rescue" their many stranded citizens. and C: our commander in chief did something more to prepare for this than watch old Rat Patrol episodes.


Anonymous said...

Oh, blogger won't seem to make the link at the footer, but for a less political look at my world

Detritus of Empire

we shall see if that works.


LarryHart said...

From the May-21-Rapture article:

After 70 years of studying the Bible, he claims to have developed a system that uses mathematics to interpret prophesies hidden in it. He says the world will end on 21 May, because that will be 722,500 days from 1 April AD33, which he believes was the day of the Crucifixion.

An April Fool's joke, mayhap?

The figure of 722,500 is important because you get it by multiplying three holy numbers (five, 10 and 17) together twice.

Well, that proves it then.

"When I found this out, I tell you, it blew my mind," he said.

Something must have.

Paul said...

"U.S. preacher declares end of world May 21 at 6 p.m.

What time-zone?

David Brin said...

Ghadafi's forces found a new trick. Avoid tanks and use vehicles each too cheap to waste a missle on.

Could be surprised when the c-130 gunships arrive... if wimpy commanders are willing to risk them in daylight.

Tim H. said...

The AC-130's predecessor, the AC-47 (Puff the magic dragon) was said to be able to place a 20mm round in each square inch of the target area. Marine aviators beat me to it, but "When it absolutely, positively has to be destroyed overnight" .

David Brin said...

Arab spring: an interactive timeline of Middle East protests

David Brin said...

David Brin said...


rewinn said...

Can we agree, at the least, that any new nuclear fission plant should be designed to "fail-safe" ... that is, a complete loss of power would result in an orderly and safe dispersal of fissionables to a configuration that does not melt, burn or otherwise release bad stuff into the environment?

It's really difficult to find a location on earth that isn't subject to tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquake, volcanoes, 100-year-floods, or disasters as yet unknown. Therefore the dispersal should be powered by the one source of power we can count on: gravity - if that goes, radioactivity won't really matter.

On the rapture, the standard joke goes that it already happened, and the creationists got Left Behind.


It might not be entirely surprising that the Libyan rebels are having such mixed fortune on the ground. A really effective Evil Dictator keeps potential rebels from learning advanced tactics. I not a military expert nor do I play one on TV, but I can't see how a party of amateurs can pry a determined professional fighting force out of cities, so long as the rebel's air allies are (properly) unwilling to really mess up the cities.

I do think our leadership has given this a bit of thought but I have no idea whether they've come up with a solution, or whether the Arab Spring will go thus far and no farther. While I would hope it would become universal, I have a cynic's faith in the power of the carbon sheikhs to buy off whoever they need to. But I may be wrong.

Acacia H. said...

I thought some of you might be interested in this article in National Geographic on the discovery of electricity-based fire suppression. This could in theory be used by next-generation fire extinguishers in large buildings, using electric fields to suppress fire (or at the very least keep fires from going into ceilings and roofs and thus impede its spread).

Rob H.

Marino said...

Re: Chavez, capitalism and the end of life on Mars... funny. Maybe he had just watched that old Soviet sci-fi movie, Aelita. Or ERB's John Carter. Anyway, to be fair, he didn't blame end or lack of life on Mars on Terran capitalism.
(btw, most sci fi novels featured Mars as ruled by city states, feodalism or God/king cum hydraulic despotism, not capitalism. More in general, alien politics seems either primitive, naively utopian or dystopian. I wonder why)

rewinn said...

FYI - I was surprised to learn that several states have created de facto "debtors' prisons" in which individuals too poor to pay their fines or court-ordered obligations are incarcerated without being represented by counsel. The United States Supreme Court will decide in a case called "Turner v. Rogers" whether these individuals have a right to counsel. The Constitution Project is hosting a discussion that should transcend traditional left/right divides.

JuhnDonn said...

Cringley said... In this nuclear accident the situation is complicated by an extra party — Tokyo Electric Power Company — with its corporate personality and internal agendas. TEPCO is embarrassed by this accident. Embarrassment, either corporate or personal, is a huge deal in Japan. It’s not like they can just give up their corporate face for a few weeks or months while necessary things get done. I saw a similar unwillingness to squarely face reality at General Public Utilities back at Three Mile Island in 1979. In both corporate cultures there was too much emphasis on political damage control — emphasis that often comes at the expense of good engineering.

There are right now two plutonium remediation technologies on offer to the Japanese government and TEPCO that I know about — one from Russia and one from the USA. One approach uses nanotech and the other uses biotech but both are novel and unique. Both have been offered to the Japanese through government channels and in both cases the Japanese government or TEPCO have yet to respond.
I know about these technologies because the Russian one is represented by a friend of mine and the American one comes from a Startup America company so I took it straight to the White House myself.
I think it would be smart for TEPCO to adopt both technologies in case one works better than the other. But my sense is that if an answer ever comes from Japan it will be months from now and will probably be “no thanks.”

Think about this as you read about that plutonium-contaminated water, because it is going to be in the news for years to come. If only there had been a technology available to clean up that stuff early in the crisis, the pundits will say, lives could have been saved. There was such a technology available — two of them in fact.

David Brin said...

Actually, I sympathize with Chavez about past ruination on Mars. But it wasn't capitalism. It was us! Think. We yearn for an hour longer day... just one more hour! We yearn for lighter gravity. We are FROM a place with both!

JuhnDonn said...

@DB: Piper would agree!

Paul said...

"On the rapture, the standard joke goes that it already happened, and the creationists got Left Behind."

David Mitchell (half of British comedians Mitchell and Webb) had a similar response to Pascal's Wager. What if there is a heaven, but you only get in if you're an atheist.

His Soapbox rants are quite clever.

LarryHart said...


David Mitchell (half of British comedians Mitchell and Webb) had a similar response to Pascal's Wager. What if there is a heaven, but you only get in if you're an atheist.


And, I can easily reconcile that with the traditional view. "Heaven" is living here on earth after the troublesome fundies have been taken up.

Acacia H. said...

You know, Dr. Brin, never mind uplifting dolphins or chimpanzees. I think there's another critter out there which would prove quite easy to uplift to a scary level of intelligence with only a little bit of work... the crow.

Rob H.

sociotard said...

Yeah, I always thought it would be nice to see a bit in teh uplift novels about a race between people uplifting Corvids and people uplifting Psittacids.

Tony Fisk said...

Ummm... see 'Gubru'
(and anyway, do keas/galahs/cockatoos *need* uplifting??)

oumbris: a medidative state of mind in which one might say: 'I'm enlighteneder than you are!'

Marino said...

David Brin wrote
actually, I sympathize with Chavez about past ruination on Mars. But it wasn't capitalism. It was us! Think. We yearn for an hour longer day... just one more hour! We yearn for lighter gravity. We are FROM a place with both!

LOL! like humans in the background of Beam Piper's Paratime novels, or in that old British movie, Quatermass and the Pit?

re: aliena and politics... well, sometimes I think we need politicians with the same humor of your Tymbrimi and the hardcore rationality of the Vulcans...

sociotard said...

Uplifted Cockatoos would be awfull. They'd spend all their time designing AIs that could flatter their vanity. One of the few things I learned working in a pet store: You have to spend a lot of time telling those birds they're pretty or they get depressed and sick. I have never seen such a vain animal.

But yes, I should have said "Psittaciformes". Wrong word on my part.

Does anybody remember what Brin used as the "species" standard for Uplift? If they aliens were using our defininitions, Clan Human could have had many cetatceans and apes.

ell said...

"I wouldn't trust them to replace a lightbulb."

It's the burned-out warning light in the control panel you have to worry about. I hope those control panels have some sort of lamp test.

Also, boreholes: I worked on the Deep Sea Drilling Project for the better part of a decade. Those drillers know how to plug a borehole. If the slightest whiff of natural gas or oil came out when we were drilling for fossils, that borehole was plugged right away. It was considered an emergency. Of course, among the Glomar Challenger's scientific staff were petroleum geologists from the big oil companies, so the location was probably noted for future exploitation.

David Brin said...

Go Daddy CEO videotapes himself killing an elephant

Paul said...

ell, re:boreholes
"Those drillers know how to plug a borehole."

It's not the hole itself. Proposals for most nuclear waste "repositories" are into impermeable rock (like granite.) Problem is that the best rock is brittle. Drilling itself causes stress changes, which can fracture the rock. And fractured brittle rock is particularly permeable.

There's an article on NewSci about using salt deposits because the salt becomes plastic under pressure and slowly seals any gaps. Salt's flaw is that they don't know how the heat from the waste affects the water in the salt-layer.

(Nuclear waste is hard. It generates continuous heat and emits radiation capable of changing the elements in whatever you pack it in, and can do so for longer than your civilisation has existed.)

"If the slightest whiff of natural gas or oil came out [...] that borehole was plugged right away."

<Gulf of Mexico mutters something rude.>

David Brin said...

Well well... if it is true...

Then it changes everything.

Only.... might their mysterious satellite be cassini?

In fact, upon reading the article, I get a real bad smell.




David Brin said...

Oh feh!

Got me!

April fool.

Tony Fisk said...

Someone'e been reading 'Footfall'!

Always like the anecdote Pepperberg told about storming into her office after a rather unpleasant meeting. Alex, looked at her and told her to 'cheer up'.
From my encounters with them, keas need no uplift whatsoever. If they ever were (and it would be *so* like the Tymbrini!), the various human underworld syndicates would be having to move over awful quick!

teddises: what Gollum went to sleep with after hobbitses tricked him of his preciouss.

TwinBeam said...


Interesting proposal to suppress bribery.

Sounds outrageous at first, but maybe we're just more eager to punish cheaters, than to prevent cheating?

David Brin said...

TwinBeam gets post of the day!

I'll add it to my soon-next blog

David Brin said...

Ooog.. under the "if only it weren't an April fool's day joke" department:

“Star Wars Prequels Unreasonably Dangerous and Defective, South Carolina Federal Court Finds”

David Brin said...