Friday, April 10, 2015

Solar Storms, Solar Cells, the Origin of Life and more...

It's been a while since I've posted a science roundup.  But I figure you all are tired of my socio-political rants and could use a break!  So... (while other authors are obsessing on the suddenly volcanic "civil war in science fiction")... let's dive into the "biggest" scientific news...

The Milky Way galaxy may be at least 50 percent larger than is commonly estimated, according to new findings that reveal that the galactic disk is contoured into several concentric ripples.  These - in turn - may have serious implications re past extinction events, as I prophesied in a long ago Analog Magazine article "The Deadly Thing at 2.4 kiloparsecs."

== Origins? ==

In a step forward toward illuminating the origin of life, some chemists report that a pair of simple compounds, which would have been abundant on early Earth, can give rise to a network of simple reactions that produce the three major classes of biomolecules — nucleic acids, amino acids, and lipids—required for the earliest form of life to get its start. The team created nucleic acid precursors starting with just hydrogen cyanide (HCN), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and ultraviolet (UV) light. Conditions that produce nucleic acid precursors also create the starting materials needed to make natural amino acids and lipids.

I noted long ago that this was already true of the molecules based on adenine....

Of course it gets frustrating. Each time we take a step forward on the long trail of “solving f(L)” (the Drake Equation term for the fraction of water worlds that might develop life), it just shows that there’s a next step, and a next one!  True, every step revealed so far has proved to be very, very easy for nature to have achieved, on the ancient Earth.  

But those who deny evolution always backpedal, move the goal posts and shout “well the NEXT one after that will prove too hard to achieve just by chance!”  Is it any coincidence these folks overlap so much with the other - much more dangerous - climate denialist cult?

Okay then? Go ahead and keep moving the goal-posts. We’ll just keep marching downfield.

== Solar Tech =

In only five years of development, hybrid perovskite solar cells showed the same power conversion efficiencies that took decades to achieve with other types of top-performing materials.  

Notably, I had a hunch about this mineral form, which is not plentiful here on the Earth’s surface, but that makes up a large portion of the planet’s mantle layer. I speculated… in my 1989 novel EARTH … that some forms of perovskite would be found to have high temperature superconducting properties (and some research suggests this may be so) and semiconducting properties, like those that make them good candidates for solar cells. 

Okay, it may be too soon for the predictions registry. (Pages about my novel EARTH track such predictions. And the climactic events in EARTH ... that make very very large scale use of these perovskite properties... may be low probability.)

Meanwhile...the utilities industry and its fossil-fuel supporters are waging a determined campaign to stop a home-solar insurgency that is rattling the boardrooms of the country’s government-regulated electric monopolies.  e.g. an Arizona utility voted to impose a monthly surcharge of about $50 for “net metering,” a common practice that allows solar customers to earn credit for the surplus electricity they provide to the electric grid.

Yes, it is true that the shared grid must be maintained and has real value. We need a conversation how to do that.  But there is pure guilt-by-association, here.  So long as this campaign is pushed and financed by carbon barons, we can safely assume that the utilities’ excuses are feigned and that they have chosen alliance not with us or our children, but with the devil.

 == Technology and the Future =

A ground-breaking super-fast 3D printing technique, Carbon3D, can grow elastic objects from resin -- using a process called Continuous Liquid Interphase Printing, or CLIP. 

Watch the TED talk: What if 3D printing was 100x faster?

Next up: Turning smartphones into personal, real-time pollution monitors. 

Want to see this extended magnificently?  Follow the Tricorder X Prize program! The medical examiner /director of this pioneering venture -- Erik Viirre -- has his office two doors down from mine at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UCSD, where the test tricorder modules will arrive in just three weeks!

A recent study by University of Waterloo researchers suggests that smart phone users who are intuitive thinkers tend to use search engines rather than their own brainpower.  

Will cyborg beetles fly into danger zones to help with search and rescue?

Are the “vaxxer” types always wrong? Right and left, they do share with the rest of us an instinctive feel that more eyes should be looking for problems that just the “establishment.’  I agree with that!  Take this example, where states with fluoridated water might – (possibly preliminary-maybe) – feature higher rates of ADHD.  Eyes open!  But also… um… it does no good to discredit yourself when you wage war on science itself.

(LATE NOTE: Apparently, the anti-flouride study reported in Newsweek was authored by two psychologists. It was published in Environmental Health Journal, a for-profit, advertiser-supported journal that charges authors $2,020 per article. Looks like more decline in journalistic professionalism. But yay for our community of commenters (e.g. David Galiel.))

== Solar Storms ==

Wow, I am not sure I know what to make of this video, Magnetic Storms, Solar Eruptions. At one level it seems a vastly multilayered "weather report" that starts with the sun and moves through almost every look at Earth that can be packed into five minutes of distilled instrumentation data, gorgeously rendered.

 Sure, alarm bells went off when the narrator seemed to correlate some things that... well, linking solar coronal holes to earthquakes in the Caribbean stretched my credulity.  On the other hand, this site does illustrate the truly vast amounts of information that science is starting to give us directly, as citizens, to collate and interpret as we will! Isn't that the way things ought to be?

And so, what this guy is doing will become ever more common, and reciprocally competitive. Moreover, that an amateur compilation should weave together so much pro-data is... well... tasty to this coiner of the term "Age of Amateurs."

There is an over-arching lesson. All of the people who created these wonders are declared enemies by the Murdochian cult, that yammers at American conservatives that they should and must hate science.

So boys? Then show us your smartest people. James Imhofe?  Ted Cruz? Sean Hannity? The fellow who illustrates how low libertarianism has fallen -- Rand Paul?

Oh, I believe you.  They probably are.

And Finally...

This video is wonderful! Hermit crabs line up to exchange shells. Nature is amazing and here’s proof that mutual benefit can be compellingly practical.  (But after watching the cool video, read the whole article, all the way to the end.) 


David Galiel said...

The anti-flouride study reported in Newsweek was authored by two psychologists.

It was published in Environmental Health Journal, a for-profit, advertiser-supported journal that charges authors $2,020 per article for the privilege of appearing in the journal, under a Creative Commons license.

The first and primary expert source quoted in the Newsweek article, identified in the article only as "a physician and epidemiologist at Harvard University", just happens to be... the Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Health Journal.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

David G.,

Way to go tracking down the metadata! That's exactly what we need. Soon we may have those smart mobs Dr. Brin had in Existence. How old are these guys? The fluoride conspiracy is something I only ever heard of from much older friends and associates. I thought it had pretty well been forgotten.

To make perovskite economical we are going to need one hell of a big drill! The thinnest part of the crust, around 2 miles, is at the bottom of the ocean, where water pressure makes it pretty unlikely. However, the Sea of Cortez isn't too deep. Perhaps...

Treebeard clearly thinks in very simplistic terms about complex literature, and its implications for life.

David Brin said...

Thanks Mr. Galiel... article is revised. PSB perovskites exist on the surface and aren't too hard to make artificially....

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Okay, I thought perovskites, like kimberlites, were pretty rare up here on the crust. But if they are easy to create artificially, we don't need the giant dentist.

Did you read some of the drivel in the comments section on the origins article? There were a few reasonable, well thought out responses and a whole lot of bleating. I'm glad I found this place of relative calm in e-space.

David Brin said...

I remain quite amazed at how little I am bugged by the modern-cyber equivalent of fleas. Heck, locum is relatively polite and well-mannered and articulate. Our little corner, one of the oldest and best on the Net, has a lower population than some of the fashionable guys' blogs. But the level of discourse and (99%) adult behavior is unmatched.

Laurent Weppe said...

From before:

"Also, speaking of stupid politically motivated naming games, how about The Gabby Giffords?


At least she got shot at, which is way more than most glory-seeking armchair grand marshals can claim.

Tony Fisk said...

Surprised that perovskites are rare on the Earth's surface, given that the basic matrix (TiO2 aka rutile) isn't.

Tony Fisk said...

...Then again, I shouldn't be surprised since rutile is a very stable structure and so would not tend to incorporate other substances under 'normal' STP conditions

Jumper said...

The plan to charge "infrastructure costs" to solar users would be fair if those who don't have solar power also pay the same. Apparently the Arizona legislation only targets the solar users. Actually they should pay less, as transformers run a bit cooler and thus last longer when current is reduced.

DP said...

"The Milky Way galaxy may be at least 50 percent larger than is commonly estimated, according to new findings that reveal that the galactic disk is contoured into several concentric ripples."

So the Fermi paradox just got 50% bigger.

DP said...

Listened yesterday to a very interesting NPR report on why roof top solar has become so cheap:

Basically its a result of Chinese overproduction reducing material costs, easy snap on installation reducing labor costs, and creative financing making it easier for Joe Homeowner to save some bucks (not save the planet).


Solar and renewable energy will always remain limited in that it is produced when it is available, not when it is needed. So while rooftop solar is a perfect auxiliary/adjunct to the main power grid - the main power grid will always be necessary to provide baseline steady electrical power.

So some sort of fee will have to be paid by all homeowners to maintain the grid, even those who heavily invest in rooftop solar.

Jumper said...

"Always" is pretty long. There are several interesting technologies that will offer better storage. Obviously batteries, but also ice pools, heat pumps, compressed air, fuel production from water and or CO2.

DP said...

Perovskite solar cells is another nail in the coffin of Red America. As I mentioned before, there are no Red or Blue states.

There are only Red rural areas and Blue urban areas. So northern Michigan (the home of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVie) is just as Red as deepest Alabama. And cities like Houston and Austin are Blue urban islands in a vast sea of Red rural counties.

Red America is a resource based economy (oil, coal, agriculture, ranching, mining). Its an economy that is based on wealth extracted from the ground - a “dirt” economy. These are economic activities that physically can only be performed in rural areas.

Blue America has a knowledge based economy (communications, high tech, software, biotech, genetics, renewable energy). Its an economy that is based on wealth extracted from the human mind - a “brain” economy. These are economic activities that are best performed in urban areas.

So cheap solar is a threat to the livelihoods of most people living in Red counties and it goes a long way to explain why the voters of Oklahoma elect Sen. James "Snowball" Inhofe and Kentuckians elect Mitch McConnell. These men are fighting tooth and nail for the oil and coal industries and the economic well being of those who live in their respective states. ("Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be" - Luke 12:34)

So the voters of these oil/coal areas - as well as their representatives - go into deep denial both emotionally and intellectually on the subject of climate change and global warming. Because, if they had to accept that AGW was true, they would have to accept that their way of life and the prosperity it generates for them is morally wrong. Nobody is ever willing to accept poverty, even if it means destroying he planet.

So between cheap rooftop solar ending the need for coal to generate electricity, advanced batteries making electric cars practical and ending the need for oil for transportation, and vertical farming ending the need for vast areas of farmland - Red America has no economic reason for existing.

So while they fight rules and regulations, unstoppable technological advances ensure their doom.

And all of Red America will one day resemble the poverty stricken former coal mining regions of Appalachia:

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Daniel, this is all very true and sensible, and very infrastructural. Even the quote from Luke has a very infrastructural sensibility to it. But if you look at it another way, it looks like an economic form of natural selection (though this, too, is largely infrastructural).

Adapt or die. Some rural people are getting it. Farmers in some places are turning over more and more of their farmland to wind farms. More ranchers are relying on cloned animals, and more farmers are going to universities to learn genetics, a field which even in its most primitive stages of selective breeding has always been largely about agriculture. So some are adapting.

When I was an undergrad, there was a church from a nearby small community that would send members of its congregation to protest the university. They would carry signs proclaiming that all college students and professors are fornicators, masturbators and homosexuals and we were all doomed to burn in Hell forever. There was nothing specific they came to protest, just the fact that we were getting an education, and education, according to their stereotypes, is evil.

That sort of thing is lessening. Hopefully one day it will disappear altogether. Those who are smart enough to adapt, will. They may remain rural, but financially they will be leaving the rest far behind. I doubt, though, that they will swing over to the "liberal" side entirely. The meme pool is already shifting.

But when you look at the numbers, you see that the populations of the rural areas cannot account for all the votes garnered by the Reds. There are plenty of Red memes floating around in the cities to keep the movement alive for a long time. I live in a metropolitan region of over 10 million people, and I run into rabid, racist right-wing hate mongers all the time, and few of those have rural roots. They consistently vote against their own economic interests. So while the infrastructural argument makes good sense, I don't think the Red mentality and its political bedfellows is going to go away soon.

LarryHart said...

Laurent Weppe:

"Also, speaking of stupid politically motivated naming games, how about The Gabby Giffords?


At least she got shot at, which is way more than most glory-seeking armchair grand marshals can claim.

I have nothing against the congresswoman, but naming a warship "Gabby" anything does sound kinda weird.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

As I mentioned before, there are no Red or Blue states.

Not as the terms have been hijacked or metaphor-ized, no.

But in the terms' original usage, a "Blue State" is one that is so certain to give its electoral votes to the Democratic presidential candidate that there's no point spending time or money campaigning there, as you're not going to change the outcome. Ditto for "Red States" and the Republican candidate.

"Red State" and "Blue State" are not so much a comment on the population of the state as on the campaign strategy of amassing the necessary 270 electoral votes to win a presidential election.

DP said...

At some level I believe Red America knows that it is dying. The fact that the heartland of the Tea Party is based in Appalachia with its dead and dying coal towns explains both their desperate extremism and incoherent rage.

DP said...

"But when you look at the numbers, you see that the populations of the rural areas cannot account for all the votes garnered by the Reds."

No doubt there are Red "Archie Bunker" urban dwellers and Blue rural organic food hippie types. But for the most part Red America has to rely on crooked gerrymandering and racist voter ID laws to remain politically relevant.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

But for the most part Red America has to rely on crooked gerrymandering and racist voter ID laws to remain politically relevant.

I certainly agree that the Republican Party works both of those underhanded strategies to their advantage.

But they also benefit from the perfectly legal fact that the lowest population states--sometimes having fewer people than a mid-sized city--have two US Senators, one US Representative, and three electoral votes.

David Brin said...

Re solar. I want a vast-long solar-cell roof to run along the California aqueduct! Shading it and reducing evaporative loss. And running the power lines along that right of way would be trivial. Kill three birds with one cliche.

Re agriculture. (1) We’ll really turn the corner when urban vertical farms grow algae and then veggies along south-facing walls. (2) vat-grown meat - if tasty and efficient - will alter everyone’s karmic calculations. Eating death will go out of style, saving much of the planet. (3) Californians are considering chasing cattle out of state, because of the drought.

Red America will be great for farming vacation B&Bs.

Sorry, a red state is one that has given its soul over to gerrymandering cheating without a glimmer of revolt by citizens who are revolted by cheating. And yes, there a still some blue cheaters like Illinois and Maryland.

When the moderate-enlightenment revolution comes, there will be just ONE Dakota. And one KansBraska.

Jumper said...

First we take the aquaduct - then we take I-10.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

It seems to me that the Reds might fare better if they lay off the state's rights mantra and switch to counties. The whole idea behind House representation being proportional to population but Senate being the same for all states was to keep the big states from stomping on the little ones. That makes some sense, but it is more of a rural/urban divide today (something the Founding Fathers did not really foresee) then a change might be in order.

Archie Bunker is a great archetype for urban Reds, but most of the younger generation won't know the name. Does anybody remember the name of the colonel from District 9? He reminded me a lot of the gun-obsessed xenophobes I grew up with. Maybe somebody will have a better suggestion that our younger people would recognize, as I'm not very up on popular media figures.

The solar roof shading the Aqueduct is a great idea, assuming they go with the flexible-type panels, not anything covered in glass. The maintenance costs would be too high. They are going to have to cover the Aqueduct with something eventually, given how much water is lost to evaporation. Those flexible solar panels might also be useful for clean-energy cargo transportation if you cover the upper surfaces of dirigibles with them.

Jumper, I am guessing you are not a native Californian, based on your use of the term "I-10." My associates from deeper in the continent scoff at the Californian tendency to put the definite article in front of highway designations ("The 10" instead of I-10). I remember one complaining about Hollywood writers using this linguistic pattern in scripts that take place in parts of the country that haven't picked it up. People will complain about anything!

DP said...

Vertical farms on now viable businesses in Tokyo:


And Chicago:

The price of vat grown meat has fallen 99.9%, and continues to improve in both price and quality:

California leads the world in water conservation and recycling:

Though Israel leads in desalination:

locumranch said...

Daniel_D's comments about the Red States (being 'resource-based') and the Blue States (being 'knowledge-based) recapitulates the British Colonial Economic Model as evidenced by the capture of colonial resources for cheap, the obligatory processing of said devalued resources by the knowledge-based colonist, followed by the re-marketing of said processed 'value-added' resources back to a captive resource-producing class.

It also illustrates the true reason why decentralising technologies like the once 'free internet', solar (pv) panels and digital (3D) fabrication models struggle to gain a foothold in modern society:

They are UNWANTED by (and ANATHEMA to) the current Blue Urban colonial economic model that has monetised the capture & exploitation of Red Rural resources.

More & more, it appears that urban centralisation is a thing of the past, marginalised by the decentralising influence of the same type of homespun technologies that Gandhi used to destroy the British Colonial System & textile monopoly, and Balkanization (more & more) appears to be the way forward.

In the Great State of California, we shall this drama played out in microcosm as a sort of 'Grapes of Wrath' in reverse. Precipitated by worsening the drought, California Blue Urbanites will use their vastly superior 'knowledge' to secure Red Rural water resources for their toilets, golf courses & lawns, leaving the Red Rural areas barren & dry, followed by the collapse of Almighty California (Red Rural) Agriculture which, in turn, will allow the knowledgeable Blue Urbanites to celebrate their total victory with glasses of sand & diploma sandwiches.

This, then, is the fate of the Blue Urban States, for it is the fate of the parasite who forgets that their lives are inextricably linked to the lives, well-being & success of their Red Rural hosts.


DP said...


"They are UNWANTED by (and ANATHEMA to) the current Blue Urban colonial economic model that has monetised the capture & exploitation of Red Rural resources."

Vertical farming, Teslas, Perovskite solar cells, etc. are INVENTED by Blue America. Resistance to their adoption comes from the old Red State coal and oil industries.

"This, then, is the fate of the Blue Urban States, for it is the fate of the parasite who forgets that their lives are inextricably linked to the lives, well-being & success of their Red Rural hosts."

Parasites? Apparently you haven't heard that Red America get far more from the Federal government than Blue America does. In fact, the federal government serves as a mechanism for transferring wealth from productive, innovative Blue America to parasitic Red America. From the Wall Street Journal:

Delaware residents, who voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama in 2012, get 50 cents in federal funding for every $1 in federal income taxes they pay.

Mississippi — 55.5% for Mitt Romney — cashes in with $3.07 in federal funding for every dollar paid in income taxes.

Those findings come from a new analysis by WalletHub. The personal finance social network crunched returns on taxes paid to the federal government, federal funding as a percent of state revenue and the number of federal employees per capita to conclude that Red States “are altogether more reliant on federal funding than Blue States.”

And its Red America that has a bleak future, when Blues American technology advances make traditional oil, coal, farms and ranches obsolete. The future has already arrived in Appalachian coal country, AKA "The Great White Ghetto". From the National Review:

Thinking about the future here and its bleak prospects is not much fun at all, so instead of too much black-minded introspection you have the pills and the dope, the morning beers, the endless scratch-off lotto cards, healing meetings up on the hill, the federally funded ritual of trading cases of food-stamp Pepsi for packs of Kentucky’s Best cigarettes and good old hard currency, tall piles of gas-station nachos, the occasional blast of meth, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, petty crime, the draw, the recreational making and surgical unmaking of teenaged mothers, and death: Life expectancies are short — the typical man here dies well over a decade earlier than does a man in Fairfax County, Va. — and they are getting shorter, women’s life expectancy having declined by nearly 1.1 percent from 1987 to 2007...Like its black urban counterparts, the Big White Ghetto suffers from a whole trainload of social problems, but the most significant among them may be adverse selection: Those who have the required work skills, the academic ability, or the simple desperate native enterprising grit to do so get the hell out as fast as they can, and they have been doing that for decades. As they go, businesses disappear, institutions fall into decline, social networks erode, and there is little or nothing left over for those who remain. It’s a classic economic death spiral: The quality of the available jobs is not enough to keep good workers, and the quality of the available workers is not enough to attract good jobs.

P.S. Anyone notice that I used two right wing publications to make my point?

DP said...

Demand for water in California will drive up prices and trigger Blue American innovations in desalination and water management technologies to compensate for the climate changes caused by Red America's CO2 emissions.

LarryHart said...

Paul Shen-Brown:

My associates from deeper in the continent scoff at the Californian tendency to put the definite article in front of highway designations ("The 10" instead of I-10). I remember one complaining about Hollywood writers using this linguistic pattern in scripts that take place in parts of the country that haven't picked it up. People will complain about anything!

I don't see that as "complaining" so much as "quality control". Hollywood should seek out proofreaders from the localities they are attempting to portray. Heck, I could have told them that Harry and Sally weren't going to get to New York by driving north on Lake Shore Drive. Unless they were planning to circumnavigate the Great Lakes on the way, that is.

LarryHart said...


In the Great State of California, we shall this drama played out in microcosm as a sort of 'Grapes of Wrath' in reverse. Precipitated by worsening the drought, California Blue Urbanites will use their vastly superior 'knowledge' to secure Red Rural water resources for their toilets, golf courses & lawns, leaving the Red Rural areas barren & dry, followed by the collapse of Almighty California (Red Rural) Agriculture which, in turn, will allow the knowledgeable Blue Urbanites to celebrate their total victory with glasses of sand & diploma sandwiches.

You spin a good yarn, but it's not consistent with reality.

Your fellow Republicans also like to imagine that inflation and high interest rates have been just around the corner for five years. Again, not too difficult a proposition to believe in advance, but it just isn't happening.

Despite your desperate need to convince yourself that civilization is about to collapse like a house of cards in an Ayn Rand novel, it's just not working out for you.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"I have nothing against the congresswoman, but naming a warship "Gabby" anything does sound kinda weird."

It would be Gabriel - in writing with Gabby as a nickname

Just like the "Bellerophon" became the "Billy Rough One"

And its still better than the USS Ponce
(An effeminate man,a man who lives off a prostitute's earnings.)

Laurent Weppe said...

"Parasites? Apparently you haven't heard that Red America get far more from the Federal government than Blue America does"

Oh for fuck's sake please: the rural/urban pseudo debate isn't simply boring: it's infuriatingly stupid: "We Feed You!" versus "We invented and manufacture your tools!" pissing contest between groups accusing each other of parasitism and trying to dominate the other was already tiresome in the early days of the Roman Republic.

If anything, funding rural areas is not only logical but necessary: even assuming vertical agriculture becomes efficient enough to feed cities by itself, using self-sufficiency as an excuse to remake cities into prosperous ghettos sneering at the villani stuck outside would be immoral and disgusting, turning the urban population into little more than a collective of hubristic manor lords.

That doesn't mean that I'm against vertical farming, on the contrary, first because the urbanist in me can't help but giggle at the inherent Fucking Badass Coolness of such projects and second because I'd love to see french authorities use vertical farming as a way to revitalize impoverished surburbs (Alas, France being, well, France, it's unlikely to happen before several decades).

David Brin said...

Locum never ceases to be hilarious. Latest strawman? That Blue America opposes the decentralization trends typified by — dig it — distributed sustainables like solar and wind and by the grow-local movement and expanded gardening…. hm. But ain’t those BLUE desiderata? And aren’t the resource extractors the biggest… er… Republicans?

As for California, it is urbanites who have spectacularly cut water use and waste. Farmers have been lazy but if the cattle biz exits there’ll be plenty for the short term. Actually try… facts.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Hi Larry,

My friend who complained about that linguistic pattern being out of place was a Mensa Club genius with enough of a background in linguistics that he tended to notice things like that (and I did not find out about his Mensa membership through boasts - not his style at all - it was on his CV, which I caught a glimpse of at the office we worked in). I agree, though, that any writer who makes mistakes like that is not doing the homework. Script writers may be more sloppy in this regard than novelists, due to the different emphases of their respective markets.

Laurent, that rural/urban pseudo debate is as old and dry as you suggest, but SOMEBODY keeps bringing it up. I don't blame others for taking him on, but it is pretty clear that this one is immune to persuasion. That makes answering his posts somewhat futile.

Having said that, though, vertical farming may represent a technology that will ultimately depopulate rural regions, rather than turn them into slave states. Rural areas have been emptying out since the end of WW 2 anyway. If urban farming makes urban communities self-sustaining, traditional farms will simply cease to exist. Growing local cuts out transportation costs, even if people are in denial about the carbon issues. That will make it hard for traditional farms to compete, in much the same ways traditional utilities will lose out to distributed power technologies. There is an irony in US politics that the party that loudly proclaims its allegiance to laissez-faire capitalism consistently uses big government intervention to prop up old industries (and agriculture) to artificially maintain competitiveness in the face of change.

David Brin said...

Vertical farming may help RE_populate rural states, by making small cities attractive/viable, and freeing up land for way-cool kinds of "ranching."

Ioan said...

I am going to disagree with both Paul SB and our host here.

First is Paul SB. The rural area population has remained at ~50 million since the early 1900's. This is despite that parts of the rural areas have become suburbs. Now, this indicates that the rural areas have stagnated, but are not emptying.

For our host, I have yet to hear why farmers have been lazy w.r.t. water reduction. I am aware that 80% of California water use is used in agriculture, but this could actually be the theoretical floor for the crops grown. I'm curious as to what % of farms DON'T use drip irrigation, for instance? I have read anecdotes, but have yet to see a number. Now, I do have problems with a lot of the crops grown in the area, but that's another thing altoghether.

Treebeard said...

“Hubristic manor lords” – perfect.

The motto of Homo Hubriati:

“Everything is under control; we have the world on a string, we create all value, civilize the savages, end history, bury religion and build the Federation, ‘cuz we’re ENLIGHTENED, SCIENTIFIC and PROGRESSIVE.”

I’m sure late Rome was full of this species. Like Easter Island, monuments to hubris are often biggest before the Fall.

LarryHart said...


The motto of Homo Hubriati:

“Everything is under control; we have the world on a string, we create all value, civilize the savages, end history, bury religion and build the Federation, ‘cuz we’re ENLIGHTENED, SCIENTIFIC and PROGRESSIVE.”

Up until "bury religion", how are you not describing the Republican platform?

David Brin said...

Har! LarryHart you are right. What drivel. Feudalists had 6000 years, during which they always declared they had things under control, and 98% of the time ruled with such drooling incompetence that we got the litany of horrors called Human History.

ONLY the progressive enlightenment promoted the very habit of reciprocal criticism that

1) lets us pierce delusions and find mistakes and

2) lets dopes like Treebeard imagine they INVENTED criticism, instead of parroting a mynna bird version.

Tacitus said...

Firstly, you go out on a limb predicting the demographic rise or fall of rural or of urban America. Smart folks here, sure but the nature of things is change, and that can't always be predicted. In 1915 could you have envisioned air conditioning that makes living in places like Atlanta palatable? In 1955 could you foresee the possibility of telecommuting? Its fun to speculate but until you can, for instance, anticipate practical cold fusion power, or where the next oil fields are, or whether wheat pathogens will become problematic or....a hundred other things, well, you are just guessing.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

and on another point....

Alfred Differ said...

My experience in northern and southern California suggests adding the article in front of the freeway number is a southern CA habit. Up north we usually just referred to the roads by their numbers. I occasionally hear 80 mentioned as 'the 80', but it was very rare. Hearing 'the 50' for US-50 was a bit more common. I spent a lot of years in the Sacramento area, so the Bay area might be different.

Regarding solar cells and net metering, I'd make one comment in defense of share-holder owned utilities. It's not right that home owners should be able to force utilities to buy back electricity they generate at retail prices. It should be at wholesale prices first of all and it shouldn't be forced second. The right way to do this is for home owners to aggregate their production behind a community generation co-op that sells the power on the market just like the generating utilities do. That price will be wholesale and auction determined here in California unless the markets are further opened allowing customers to engage in direct contracts with these co-ops. I'm not defending what is going on in the article, but I really DO think a public debate is needed on this. Some of the share-holder owned utilities are being robbed by voters who can cheat the rules.

Regarding red vs blue, it looks to me like comments made against Daniel's original one are refinements on a basically true idea. Part of my father's family moved out of Appalachia at the start of WWII in pursuit of work. They were all Dems because FDR basically saved them from starvation, but the ones who moved to Baltimore became 'blue' in the modern sense. Intensely blue. I can see some of Daniel's story in my family history, so I'm sympathetic.

Alfred Differ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: The 'bury religion' thing probably comes from classical liberalism's history of being anti-clerical. Churches are centers of power and in continental Europe they were highly wrapped up on political institutions. Opposing the feudalists meant opposing a 'church' in many places.

I know quite a few Christians who extend the opposition too far to being anti-faith. I know many others who revel in pointing out an apparent historical hypocrisy when they show many old-school liberals were people of faith. Both groups like to fabricate a 'truth' about liberals being inherently atheist when the truth is that only some of us are. Both errors come from not knowing our history and what modern surveys show about us.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re Irrigation

It's not so much of a problem here,(NZ)
We are using recent groundwater - most places are re-charged every year
Farmers use spray irrigation - When I was with the local council I tried to have them irrigate at night to reduce evaporation losses

But town water is still wasted - we lose over 50% to leaks - and that is unfortunately a "normal" number for a town system

The Ozzies do seem to do this quite well their town water usage/head is a fraction of ours and they don't allow you to irrigate your lawn during the day

Tacitus said...

The matter of federal spending per capita by state has always puzzled me. So I did a bit of looking about. Pew is a generally reputable source, here is their worthwhile analysis:

Federal spending is made up of several elements. The largest is retirement benefits. This would tend to skew the numbers to nice warm places for retirees. MS, AL, SC..not sure why WV and Maine are so high though. Next biggest category is non retirement benefits of which medical assistance makes up 2/3. Southern states really are highest on this, it probably does reflect poverty...or is it also skewed by less generous state benefits? Next category is grants, of which half is medicaid grants to states. This seems evenly distributed geographically. Vermont, AK and again Maine are high. The last two categories, Federal Contracts and Federal wages skew heavy towards places near D.C. or places with military presence. So for instance VA's status as the number two state for Fed largess is simple proximity to Foggy Bottom and the growth of Fed government.

Various things pop out of this rather worthwhile link.

The only category clearly on the rise is retirement benefits. Are any politicians discussing entitlement reform?

Some very large states of varying colors are below average somehow in Fed spending. CA and TX near match. IL with what I suspect are atrocious hidden pension obligations ranks 45th in Fed spending???

I found it an interesting be clear this was not strictly a per capita comparison but looked at fed money as compared to states GDP. It is helpful because of the breakdown of the fed money.

As to the demographics issue, so long as you have freedom of travel, such that bright young people want to head off to the Big Cities and those of us with aches and pains start to hate northern winters, there will be a southward skew of at least retirement benefits, the biggest and only expanding category.

Not sure where ag subsidies fit into the graph, maybe just not consequential compared to the Big Stuff.

Per capita info should be easier to access and study, I was surprised at how few sources came up on a quick search..


Paul Shen-Brown said...

Hello Ioan, we haven't heard from you in awhile! As soon as my vacation is over, you probably won't be hearing as much from me for awhile, though I confess the conversation has become something of an addiction for me. This may be splitting hairs a bit, but if the rural population has stayed roughly the same for the last century while the world population has doubled twice, that would be a depletion in relative terms. More to the point, though, rural families tend to be much larger families than urban families, so what we are seeing is huge numbers of people who were born into rural families leaving their rural roots to make their living in the cities and/or suburbs. This is a clear indication that K was reached a century ago, though as Dr. Brin suggests, new technology could change that. (People who deny progress are basically missing that whole transition from prehistoric gathering, with a very low K, to historic agriculture, with tis much higher K. Human technology has raised the carrying capacity on a number of occasions.)

Tacitus, of course the nature of the future is change, which is never entirely predictable. But it is pretty basic human to try to do so, anyway. We get out of bed in the morning because we predict, based on past experience, that failure to do so would jeopardize our livelihoods. Without predictive power, we have no motivation to do much of anything. Prediction informs choices. But the further out the prediction goes, the flakier it gets. That's why we need Plan B's, and the maturity to admit when we are wrong, rather than "stay the course."

Nice analysis of available data, btw (that's cyberquack for by the way, right?). Ironic that the most impoverished places have a tendency to vote against their own medical interests. It would be interesting to look at job growth rates for any correlations. Would you expect to see higher job growth in those warmer states to serve the retirees? That would start moving the younger populations toward those states, seeking employment.

I grew up in a town in Colorado that is largely a military retirement community, and by no means a mild climate, but my experience is likely an exception rather than the norm.

Anonymous said...

Alfred, net metering in California doesn't mean that utilities pay retail rates. The two components (both of which utilities are trying to reverse) are:
1) payment based on annual net usage.
2) in the rare case where annual use results in net power generation a small credit is given which can be used against fixed charges.

To put the magnitude of that credit in perspective, last year I was a net producer and the rate paid for excess kWh was roughly 15% what the utility paid me on the 4 "reduce your use" days (days of very high activity where the utility is so stressed it pays all customers a credit for using less than their hourly AVERAGE use). So the utility is getting my power at roughly one seventh the market rate (at least looking at days of highest market demand).

The total "credit" I received barely covered the fixed fees the utility charges and I was providing excess power during the hours of highest demand. The same hours for which business customers on time of use payment schemes would be paying higher rates (but that time of day difference in rates is not part of the net metering calculation).

locumranch said...

I would not attempt to dispute Daniel_D's statistics on state-by-state US federal spending, GDP or multifactorial productivity as they are undoubtedly true but entirely irrelevant BECAUSE they are the product of circular argument.

Industrialised urban centers (by virtue of being 'industrial' and heavily populated) show a higher levels of INDUSTRIAL productivity, GDP and labour density than the rural unindustrialised areas. This is a matter of definition. We also know that heavily populated urban areas also possess a larger tax base, too. We also know this by DEFINITION. Big whoop.

How many tonnes of coal per capita does urban Manhattan produce when compared to rural Kentucky? What is the 'wheat productivity' of East St. Louis as compared to central Kansas? How many acre feet of water do the ecologically thrifty denizens of urban Los Angeles manufacture as compared to mountainous Colorado? Zip. Zero. Naught. The same as their long-term chance of survival in a decentralised economy.

Interestingly enough, the late great British Empire made the self-same INDUSTRIAL assessment of their Indian Colony: They thought the natives lazy, uncivilised, inferior and unproductive, so they looted their cultural treasures, exploited their natural resources, paid them a pittance and worked them like slaves, all for their own good, until those lazy good-for-nothing natives forced those Imperial Brits out, simply by BOYCOTTING British goods, which now allows the sun to set on the British Empire at the same Greenwich Mean Time every day.

Now, I love the idea of self-sufficient cities. I also love the idea of vat-grown beef, vertical gardens, desalination plants and energy efficient buildings. They are all fine and noble ideas which MAY have some value someday but are currently worth squat.

Remember that when you divert water to urban non-agrarian uses, when you use less but still produce nothing of material value and when you load up those expensive SUVs of yours and head east, hoping that those rural reds will overlook those many years of exploitation and treat the fleeing Calif. urbanites with the respect that they deserve.

Here's hoping that you perfect that Urban Self-Sufficiency thing very, very soon.


As evidenced by Anon's experience with solar, the central power bureaucracy (which controls the flow & allocation of said resource) sets the value of that resource low so they may profit by selling high, meaning that Anon can only get a fair deal from the central bureaucracy by going off-grid and BOYCOTT.

How long, do you think, would it take the Red States to organise a boycott of Bluish goods?

Ioan said...


If the Red states wish to boycott Blue states, let them. Most goods Blue states make are sold in Blue states or in other nations. Red states are a very small part of their economy. As for agricultural goods, there's always Australia, Argentina, Brazil, etc. to make up for any loss due to Red states refusing to sell resources to Blue states. Now, Red states can decide to sell to China instead of Blue states, and that is a stable configuration. In other words, both Red states and Blue states could substitute international trade for trade between each other with minimal economic pain, so any threats by boycotts from either side are useless.

Laurent Weppe said...

"In 1915 could you have envisioned air conditioning that makes living in places like Atlanta palatable?"

Yes, because:
1. Air conditioning has existed since the antiquity (hell, the Babazouk, my hometown's historical center is one giant climatizer that's been around since the 1500's)
2. Modern electrical air conditioning had already been invented in 1915.

Tacitus said...

On the way to work, again, so no time for posting at length.

Regards an analysis of per capita federal spending, it is a sneaky question.

The Wallethub link is a good example of a new phenom...'explainer' sites. They need to be regarded with a degree of skepticism, it is too easy to massage the data. And as we head towards more political times there will be a LOT of that going on...


Tony Fisk said...

First we take the aquaduct - then we take I-10.

Like this? (in S Korea)

Tony Fisk said...

I agree the grid is necessary, until viable small scale storage becomes available (which won't be long). Even then, the grid remains a useful trade route.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

I've already mentioned here that I think that grid-tie systems without battery (or other) storage are both stupid and dangerous. They are fine until some long-term problem happens with your section of the power grid. In addition to having no standby power at all whenever the grid is down, something like a nearby lightning strike can fry both the appliances in your home and your solar inverter since everything is connected together. So a simple lightning strike can leave you with no utility power, no solar power to sell back to the grid when grid power comes back on, and lots of damaged electrical equipment in your home.

I can think of a few alternatives that make more sense to me.

(1) Install one of the breaker boxes commonly used with smaller standby generators that puts critical items on a different circuit from the rest of the house. Have the "critical items" circuits connected to whichever power source is most reliable (solar or utility). Your power usage is automatically split. That way, your utility power bill is reduced year-around. (There is no danger from having two different electric sources since they have to be properly grounded together and phase-synchronized even for a grid-tie system. One nice thing about modern solar inverters is that they are capable of being phase-synchronized to any other AC source.)

(2) Have enough solar capacity that you can use your solar power system for all normal operations. Keep utility power as a standby in case your solar equipment fails or becomes suddenly inadequate. This will involve paying a small standby fee to the utility each month, but you will normally not be buying any electric power from them.

(3) If you have natural gas available at your location, install a natural gas generator. These are now very small and quiet and generally cost less than $4000 depending upon the size. Use a standard transfer switch to switch between solar and generator power. (You will nearly always be on solar if your system is large enough.) You now have two independent power sources. Then just disconnect from the electric grid completely.

We are entering a time, though, when the entire power grid needs to be re-planned from scratch. We probably need to have generation, transmission and distribution all owned by different entities in most cases.

Jumper said...

Tony, thanks very much for that link! That's the concept. I should point out for those who didn't realize it, I-10 goes from Jacksonville, Florida to Los Angeles, Ca, running through the "sunbelt" (and at some 3000 miles, I can say most people are not calling it "the I-10") AND it's a hell of a place for electric transportation and a brand new DC high-voltage transmission line. Existing right-of-way is a vast resource we own already.

Electrical control systems for the home keep coming down in price. Smart circuit breakers keep improving.

1000 Quads a year of solar is a big project. Do some research on how much power that is. All we have to do is do it. The combined acreage of suitable rooftops added to over-the-highways areas, added to all parking lots already in existence, means zero ecologically damaging new area needs to be dedicated to it.

I do think bio-fuel is a bad strategy. Photosynthesis is not efficient in converting sun to energy. I prefer its use for food. I like food.

If we could just start arresting a few people for flushing various poisons down their toilets, we'd really be accomplishing things. The wastes would be far better for use in agriculture if that were the case. A new breed of sensors exists that could do this cheaply, but I suppose people would protest they have a right to flush motor oil, pharmaceuticals and who knows what.

Jumper said...

Storing power (and it's close to "the I-10!")
You don't have to use the gas turbines; that's just what they are going to do there. Also in the sunbelt is this one:

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

@LarryHart: The 'bury religion' thing probably comes from classical liberalism's history of being anti-clerical.

I was willing to grant "bury religion" and "build the Federation" as being things to complain that liberals want to do. My point was that everything else in Treebeard's screed against progressives was actually the stated platform of the Republican party.

DP said...

Dr. Brin - "Vertical farming may help RE_populate rural states"

Rural areas area depopulatiion long before the advent of vertical farms. Its a end that has been going on for over a quarter century:

OVER the past two decades a strange phenomenon has become clear in much of the center of the United States: people have almost stopped having children. Several factors may explain this. Much of the Baby Boom generation has finished having children, and its successors, known unimaginatively as Generation X, have delayed having children and chosen to have much smaller families. These facts, which apply to the country as a whole, acquire ominous dimensions when considered alongside the "rural flight" away from the Midwest which began in the 1930s and continues today. The problem is far from just local: the area suffering from this reverse baby boom comprises 279 counties in six states, totaling nearly 470,000 square miles. Included are Wyoming and Montana, most of North and South Dakota, three fourths of Nebraska, and more than half of Kansas. In the past ten years 16 percent of the lower forty-eight states has seen barely one percent of the nation's births.

The region is already underpopulated. As a whole, the 279 counties average only six people per square mile, according to the 1990 census. Even this average would be lower were it not for a few comparatively populous places, such as Hall County, Nebraska, which is served by an interstate highway and is thus a center of trade; in 1990 it had ninety-one people per square mile. In that census half the counties had fewer than four people per square mile and nineteen counties had fewer than one. In contrast, New Jersey has nearly 1,100, and three New England states taken together average more than 750. This area can ill afford the economic and social consequences of a lost generation of unborn children. When it comes time to pass the torch to the next generation, too few hands will be waiting.

With fewer children, schools will be closed and consolidated. As the population drops, the Postal Service will close post offices. Government at all levels will reduce staff. Elks Clubs and American Legion posts will close, as will movie theaters and barber shops. Churches with dwindling memberships will be unable to support a pastor. In many towns the clinic or hospital will close, owing to a lack of patients and an inability to retain doctors. The effects of reduced economic input will ripple through the local economy -- particularly in rural areas, where people depend on one another. As the cutbacks continue, the value of real estate will plummet. Adding to the problem, in fifteen years Baby Boomers will begin to retire. Many will move to Omaha, Wichita, Denver, or even Texas. WOOFs (well-off older folks) will seek easier climes, and houses in many small towns will go begging. A similar fate awaits commercial property.

The colleges throughout the region will also suffer from declining birth rates. College and university enrollments will be high over the short term, because of the comparatively large number of children born during the "echo" years. In recent decades college towns have been insulated from the ebb and flow of the economy. By 2010, however, enrollments will decline substantially.

Without doubt the decline in births will gradually drain the life out of the region. Children are the key to holding society together. Any village, town, county, culture, or other social unit is just one generation from extinction. Without more children, the aging social fabric will fray and finally fall apart.

Alfred Differ said...

Thank you anonymous. I used to work for the CAISO, so I saw things from their perspective. One thing I learned is that not all market participants are equal. We got the most hassle from the public-owned utilities who felt little to no urge to pay attention to the needs of a market. The share-holder owned ones had to be watched for conflicts of interest, of course, but they could be motivated if you understood them. It's been awhile since I worked there, though, so I have no idea what the current climate is like.

The pricing abuse you describe is part of why I think home owners should aggregate behind co-op producer entities. We were watching some of what was happening in the PJM market regarding aggregation of stored power in the passenger car fleet. It was interesting enough to me that I wanted to learn more and try to imagine how it might work in our market. Unfortunately, the financial meltdown happened and I got to find work elsewhere. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Our host is mentioned on the front page of the LA Times today. They did a bit more than mention his privacy and reciprocal accountability points in passing too. It wasn't real deep, but it did look to be fair.

Alfred Differ said...

@Tony Fisk: You'll need a bit more protection for the assets than I saw in those S Korean pictures. I've driven through enough of the US to know that many of our road signs are bullet-ridden. Considering the current political climate, I can see a few problems ahead.

The CA aqueduct has the advantage of being harder to reach for most of us. There are parts of it that pass near major roads, but adding robustness at these points wouldn't be as expensive as protecting the entire path.

locumranch said...

As an expression of protest, disfavour and a means of coercion, Ioan thoroughly underestimates the effectiveness of the Boycott as an insidious economic tool for distorting the Supply & Demand value curve (as does Daniel_D).

Essentially, boycotting (abstention) is an Act of War that utilizes the principles of 'passive resistance' (Gandhi again), yet what is most remarkable about this tactic is its very social omnipresence. The urban centers use it to drive down resource prices; the unions use it to secure better wages; industries use this technique (which they call 'outsourcing') to drive down labour costs; and the average consumer uses it when they select one product over another.

It exists everywhere; it is the silent hand of the competitive marketplace; and, if our local Schadenfreudean Daniel_D pulled his head out of his posterior and looked around, he would see it in the Red States, stifle his gloat and be very, very afraid.

The urban centers have been too successful at driving down rural resource prices and, as a result, rural residents are voting with their feet and walking away from their farms & ranches. Fields are increasingly fallow; consumer agricultural prices remain fixed while the costs of production increase; fruits & veggies rot in the fields due to a shortage of agricultural workers; and the average age of the typical farmer (worldwide) is 60.

Think of it. The very future of the Blue Progressive Agenda is balanced on a knife-edge, entirely dependent on a collection of doddering old farmers, ranchers & would-be pensioners who are mostly self-sufficient, possess little of value, and have absolutely nothing to lose in the coming Democalypse.

Prepare yourselves for the ultimate in agricultural boycotts.


Jumper said...

You don't actually know any farmers and never have, right? Or know anything about farm equipment manufacturers, or Cargill or ADM?
Around here there are thousands waiting to get their hands on the family farm and quit their professional jobs.
But no, we're to get our drawers in a knot and shiver in fear.
Bah. I'm headed back out to the garden. I have squash, tomatoes, cukes, and am going back for more next week. I can live on 100 lbs of corn a year making my own masa, and butternut squash. All the other produce is just gravy.

David Brin said...

Los Angeles Times ran an excellent run-down on this year’s status of camera and surveillance tech, showing how the trend is accelerating. Oh... and this front page article features yours truly, in the first sentence and last... and much in between.

“Now, I love the idea of self-sufficient cities. I also love the idea of vat-grown beef, vertical gardens, desalination plants and energy efficient buildings. They are all fine and noble ideas which MAY have some value someday but are currently worth squat. “

I love the idea of cities that subsidize rural electrification, farm assistance bureaus, water distribution systems, health systems, schools and interstates and universities that would end the grinding misery we saw in awful photos of rural life in the 1960s. They are all fine and noble ideas which MAY have some value someday but are currently worth … oh, um… yeah…

…all of those stuffs already happened, subsidized by the bright sons and daughters of farmers, who moved to the cities. Ah, but that stuff is taken for granted by bozos. When “vat-grown beef, vertical gardens, desalination plants and energy efficient buildings” happen, ingrates like this will shrug them off, too.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

A boycott by rural communities might actually help drive cities to greater self-sufficiency. If cities find themselves short of foods and raw materials, that would stimulate both private industries and governmental organizations to both invent and innovate, adding more financial resources to the problems. This could help reduce our species' overall carbon footprint, as vertical farms and cloned meat tanks spring up all over, dramatically reducing transportation costs from rural farms and the huge caloric and water needs of livestock.

I predicted that cattle and other meat animals would disappear from the future to be replaced by cloned muscle tissues in a story I wrote 15 years ago. (Ironically, I had more time to spend in life-affirming creative pursuits when I was in grad school than since I have become a professional teacher.) There is no doubt in my mind that the cities of this world have tens of millions of people who are much smarter than me, with both imagination and training in creative fields like engineering and genetics who could work wonders if the right stimulus were provided. Some are doing so on their own, simply expressing that natural curiosity that is a hallmark of intelligence, and those social genes and memes that makes humans so different from the rest of the animal kingdom. Likely more good than harm would come from a boycott. That might drive the nails into the coffins of small communities everywhere, but that happens anyway as times change, technologies progress and centers of power shift. Getting vindictive about diachronic variation is like getting mad at the wind that blew your house down. Bad wind! Bad!

Jumper said...

The one who gets rich will be the one who successfully clones and vat-grows a cows stomach.

Jumper said...

All of them.

Tony Fisk said...


The need to protect infrastructure from vandals and 'entrepreneurs' (aka copper thieves) isn't new.

Solar panels are actually pretty tough: built to last 30 years, and withstand nature's buckshot (hailstones)

Treebeard said...

Yeah Larry, homo hubriati is bipartisan, no doubt; I never claimed otherwise (for the record, I consider the GOP a joke).

The main problem is that homo hubriati has been over-promising and under-delivering for quite a while now – it’s what they do. I remember all those articles about the future in Wired from 20 years ago, and very little of it has come to pass (smart phones being about the only exception). Or go back further, to the era of the Jetsons and John von Neumann predicting weather control, AI and nuclear fusion were just a decade or two away, the “Man Will Conquer Space Soon!” articles, etc. Imagine what people from 1970 would think of our efforts in space over the past 45 years -- what a total fail!

There seems to be a dangerous tunnel vision and ignorance of human nature among the hubriati. Notice that futurists never predict something like ISIS – the idea that people could use 21st century technology in service to a 7th century theocratic ideology is just too far outside their reality tunnels to consider. But reality is like that – it is always surprising us and has a way of realizing our worst fears.

This whole TED-talk mentality is little more than mega-church preaching for the hubriati -- it’s religion, not reality. So I should clarify that the hubriati don’t want to bury *all* religion, they just want to replace other religions with their Religion of Progress, or totally emasculate them so they no longer pose a threat to the hubriati priesthood. But like all priesthoods, if their gods fail to deliver on their promises, eventually people lose faith and abandon them.

Tony Fisk said...

"I'm not paid to be right, just interesting." - D. Brin

"The alchemists of old sought to turn lead into gold. Today we have penicillin instead. Which would you prefer?"
- A. C. Clarke

Futurists look for trends, and propose scenarios describing where those trends might lead.
Some of them are employed to inform corporate decision making. Some of them seek to entertain and spark the imagination. They are well aware of how inaccurate their forecasts are likely to be.

The correct term for someone with the 'hubris' to imagine they own a crystal ball is not 'futurist', but 'charlatan'.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"The main problem is that homo hubriati has been over-promising and under-delivering for quite a while now"

IMHO the problem has not been the technical/science/engineering side but the political/economic side

If the rich had not bought the political power such that almost all of the fruits of the last 40 years of productivity improvements had gone to the top 0.1% we would all be a lot better off
The US median wage would be nearly three times it's current value
How well off would you feel with three times your salary?
How much more money would have been spent on the poor?
Would there be any unemployment with all of that extra power in the economy?

David Brin said...

I love how these fellows don't even notice how utterly duuuumb they sound. Oooh we don't have the JETSONS so we were over-promised! He bemoans while having all of rapidly-accelerating human knowledge at his finger tips, having never once been hungry and having the ability to choose to fly anywhere on the planet within 14 hours...

...while every year science slices away and eliminates one or two more ways to sicken and die... out of a very long list, but we never promised it would go faster than that..

Above all... never ever ever ever compare to the 6000 years of wretched, vile, cheating delusional feudal lordships who represent the other attractor state of governance... ALL of whom, put together, never accomplished as much, across 60 centuries, as we do , in any given year.

And we would accomplish more, if it weren't for sullen, cynical twits dragging at our ankles screaming as the lowest form of human life -- ingrates.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin

We would achieve a bit more without
"sullen, cynical twits dragging at our ankles screaming"

But we would achieve a LOT more without the rentier class creaming the top off all the time!

Ingrates are a pain
The others are like an almost mortal wound

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Courtesy of the Skeptic's Dictionary, say hello to Negativity Bias.

Logic would dictate that we evaluate the positives and negatives of any situation on a case-by-case basis. Humans, however, are not usually very good at doing this. Rather, we tend to create heuristics - quick rules of thumb - and use them as shortcuts to actually working things out. Negativity Bias ensures that most of us will tend to create mental templates that connect with strong aversions. It's one of those cases where our Pleistocene hardware matches our Anthropocene environment rather badly.

Knowing about these things can help us overcome them. I have tended to be rather cynical for much of my life, but knowing that this is a misplaced instinct, I correct myself and reevaluate my feelings on a regular basis. Thus I am less a prisoner of my instincts the more I learn about them (Don't trust your feelings, Luke! That meme is ridiculous!). People who find the cloud in every silver lining are rather pitiable creatures, forever slaves to the instincts that feed their egos.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Duncan, I would agree, except that the ingrates play a big role in promoting the others' hegemony. : /

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. I remember 1970. While I'm sad I can't buy a ticket to stand on the Moon yet, I don't blame it on the people who have been trying. In hindsight, I can see the vision sold to us was a bit of a Cold War con game. Since I'm rather happy to be alive with the Cold War over, I'll briefly sniff and shed a tear over loss of that young man's vision and get on with my life. I've already tried a couple of start-ups and learned a few things not to do. I've already got another idea lined up.

I don't have a ticket to the Moon, but I do have access to the tools that are liberating billions. I consider it a fair trade. One vision for another. If I never stand on the Moon, may the next generation give it a try.

Besides, I DO know of a group that predicted something like ISIS would happen. Their warning regarding the civil war in Syria wasn't specific, but this was one of the likely paths into the future.

Tony Fisk said...

It so happens I was born at a time when man had barely managed to get things to stay up in space. Now, we're nearly at a point where we've visited all the planets in the Solar System.

As for the renters, they've played their hand and were, for a while, *this* close to winning. But I think the moment has passed, and they are now in the sordid process of losing, badly.

Jumper said...

"21st century technology in service to a 7th century theocratic ideology" How unthinkable! Like TV preachers, hmm? OMG

i_/0 said...

So sorry to butt in again, but, some of you were bringing up the question of voting.

I'm not smart like you guys, I saw this story of a strange statistical 'signal' in recent US elections and I humbly wondered if one of you could take a look and parse the data for me? Frankly, I'm not capable of evaluating the stats.

"Statistician sues, seeking voting machine paper tapes"

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re - "statistical anomaly"

Does NOT surprise me at all
This is why we (NZ)still use paper ballots

And don't go "we are too large to..."
The bigger the population the more counters you can employ

Also we try and count ALL votes
At the end when the results are read out we have "spoilt ballots"
There are normally only a tiny number - in the tens not hundreds

It always amazes me that you guys put up with such blatant cheating

Tony Fisk said...

The 'statistical anomaly' referred to is that the *percentage* of the Republican vote has been seen to consistently increase with the size of the precinct (ie number of voters) One would expect the percentage to be unaffected by number of voters involved
eg: if 60 out of 100 voters leant Republican in one region then, in another similar but larger region, I would expect 600 out of a thousand, not 650.

As was discussed a while ago, the electronic voting machines in use are closed in their operation and are supplied by companies with a fairly strong political bias. The presence of a back door to allow for subtle tweaks is not out of the question.

I think open source electronic voting systems will eventually become the norm, but not this batch. Meanwhile, like Duncan, paper does for me.

Laurent Weppe said...

** ""21st century technology in service to a 7th century theocratic ideology" How unthinkable! Like TV preachers, hmm? OMG"

I for one would argue that the TV preachers, who belong to the grand fellowship of wealthy dynasts' apologists and lackeys are in fact using modern technology in service of a 37th century BC ideology.

i_/0 said...

Many thanks. So, the basis of democracy is currently disfunctional? Leaving aside the 'two horse race' model in it's entirety.

raito said...

Mr. Duffy's comment seems mostly accurate in my state, Wisconsin. Madison and Milwaukee tend towards the blue, and the rest of the state tends towards the red. Except in presidential elections, where WI voted for the Democrat 5 of the last 6 times.

Amusingly, the places where such economic recovery as there is are the places that did not vote for the current regime (and as far as the next presidential race is concerned, I'm sorry that you'll have to deal with our governor. I'm sorry I have to deal with him now).

And as an anecdote on solar fuedalism, one very talented engineer friend looked into putting in solar. The local utility would have charged in $75K for various 'studies', etc. related to allowing him to connect to their grid (which is required). The ROI being non-existent, he put up the panels anyway, but did not connect them to the grid (mostly used them to charge his home-built solar truck). Every year for years, MG&E would send him ominous mailings, insisting that he had to pay to have their people 'inspect' his system. He ignored them.

Maybe my own utility is a bit easier to deal with.

Also note that in 2008, WI passed some state statutes making it impossible to block solar installation for any reason other than safety, and preventing anyone from building in such a way that blocks sunlight from existing installations. And they grandfathered it, so that my 2007 restriction requiring permission to install solar is not void and unenforceable. There's some similar verbiage for wind.

I'm considering it.

locumranch said...

"And we would accomplish more, if it weren't for sullen, cynical twits dragging at our ankles screaming as the lowest form of human life -- ingrates."

So, for all our host's talk of enlightenment values, 'fair-open-competition' and 'Win-Win games', this is where he leads us to, a zero sum corporate feudal system with inescapable surveillance, a rigid 'scientific' hierarchy, inflexible rules, mandatory participation, an enlightened winner class that believes as he believes and an inferior imbecilic loser "ingrate" class that deserves to be cast aside, an exemplary social model in all respects that only lacks compulsory progressive party memberships, re-education camps & gulags for racially inferior imbeciles (and/or deviants) with which to complete the circle.

Thankfully, this noble social vision of his is doomed to failure, not by either revolution or directed disobedience, but by inaction AND the previously-described red state democalypse which will selectively eliminate the elderly, conservative & much-maligned 'imbecile class' that had chosen to feed, protect, coddle & create an entire generation of spoiled-rotten entitled demanders.

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

Jumper said...

Thanks, i_/0
This is of interest to me, and I am going to spread this story around the internet. I hope others can do the same.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Although I agree with much of what Daniel Duffy has said recently, much of what he has said about Rural America is also filled with extremely misleading generalizations.

I grew up on a wheat farm in the southern Great Plains. I hated living out in the middle of nowhere, and I couldn't wait to move to a mid-sized city outside of the Great Plains region. (I don't like living in large cities, though.)

Daniel's statements, and especially the Atlantic article that he references, generalize in a way that would lead one to believe that Rural America is everywhere the same. I think that you will find Rural America to be profoundly different east and west of the Mississippi, although I have little personal knowledge of the East. In particular, mining is quite different from farming, and the reasons for the changes in each industry are profoundly different.

The principal reason for depopulation in the Great Plains, especially the wheat growing regions, is greatly increased efficiency in farming. This has a lot in common with the disruptions in other areas of the economy caused by great increases in efficiency. This dramatic increase in efficiency actual began in grain farming long before it did in most other industries.

Wheat, in particular, has always been very much of an international commodity. Wheat farmers have produced overwhelming surpluses since the end of World War II. Even when I was a young child on the farm in the 1950s, our wheat was primarily regarded as a commodity for the overseas market. Our reference price in the Great Plains was always the price at the "Gulf" because we knew that most of it was bound for overseas markets. That continues to be the case today.

I've never heard a discussion before of Rural America considering staging a boycott of their products. In the case of wheat, this would not be a boycott directed at America city-dwellers, but rather foreign countries.

Since the early 20th century, most American wheat farmers have purchased their bread at the local grocery store, so withholding their own products from the market would just be increasing their own costs for food.

I don't know if the claim by Locumranch that the average age of a farmer is 60 is correct, but it is very much in line with my own limited personal knowledge. Most farmers that I know of are not having children because the farm wife is past menopause.

Dave said...

While glancing at Paul Shen-Brown's link, I noticed a reference to an article with the interesting title, "Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology". (

David Brin said...

When his strawmen are merely blatant signs of his own delusional insanity, I just smile and shrug off locum.

This time, I issue to him a direct warning. When you do what you just did, analogizing me with gestapo and KGB bastards hauling people away, I am right to call you what - at least at that moment - you are... a goddamn, lying bastard of an asshole.

And on probation. I will trash your next three postings if you do not behave and yes, apologize.

That you cannot tell the difference between calling you an ankle-biter ingrate and dragging you off to jail is simply you being stupid. We are used to that.

That you accuse me, host of one of the oldest and most open, unmoderated and collegial communities on the web, a gestapo-thug?

Go say it elsewhere. That's your right and I would not stop you. But not in my home. Twit.

David Brin said...


Jumper said...

"That you cannot tell the difference between calling you an ankle-biter ingrate and dragging you off to jail is simply you being stupid."

This arose in a good conversation I had the other day with a friend. Her sentiments towards nuts like this were almost identical. I concurred. Thanks for distilling it.

David Brin said...


Jonathan S. said...

"It would be Gabriel - in writing with Gabby as a nickname

Just like the "Bellerophon" became the "Billy Rough One"."

Or the nicknames my father-in-law told me about for some of the ships he served on or alongside, like the USS Kitty Hawk (Shitty Kitty, Kitty Litter), USS Ranger (the Good Ship Lollipop), USS Belleau Wood (Ghetto Hood, Dead Wood), USS Bon Homme Richard (Bonnie Dick)...

Jonathan S. said...

On the topic of the definite article in freeway designations, here in western Washington we generally append the "I-" prefix to short numbers (I-5, I-90), and a definite article to three-digit numbers ("the 405" for I-405 from Tukwila to Snohomish County, "the 512" for State Route 512 from Tacoma through Puyallup).

David Brin said...


i_/0 said...


A pleasure, my friend.

In having a distinguished and exalted long view, fixed nobly upon what we can ultimately achieve, I sometimes worry that my much appreciated and esteemed betters miss just how hard it is for some of us right here and now. I've had a shit life, relatively less shit than many billions before me, I get that. But some of us are really struggling with the way things are. Now.

David Brin said...


David Brin said...


siska said...
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