Friday, December 16, 2022

Lifting our gaze to... the Moon? And beyond?

 I have some way cool space news to report below. But first a familiar rant. While I disagree with this White House white paper on USA efforts to colonize the Moon, I understand the reasons for issuing this statement.

 “It’s very clear that this (the Artemis mission to rush US astronauts to a footprint ritual on Luna) is not just about the research and the science, but it’s also going to be about the economic prospects from the moon,” explained Namrata Goswami, an independent space policy analyst. “Until now, the US has been very reticent to so clearly engage in a manufacturing use of lunar resources.”

Except for one problem - there are no 'lunar resources' accessible in the near future except some deposits of polar ice. And lots of poison dust.

Well well, let me qualify that. I am all in favor of US active leadership in lunar science and robotics!

At NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program - (NIAC) - we have issued grants to begin studying all sorts of lunar possibilities! Like far-side radio telescopes and nuclear power units, and using regolith to lay bricks for structures and exploring the 'skylight' caves that are presumably lava tubes. (These could offer likely the best sites for future human habitats.) And robotically accessing some of that polar ice. 

(Please don't talk to me about 'lunar resources' like titanium and 'helium three.' It only reveals utterly clueless ignorance. Stop using incantations to substitute for facts.)

So sure, lunar science and robotics, great! And yet, someone has to be the grouch who continues pointing out that there is no real utility to the US/NASA repeating Apollo, planting symbolism footprints on a pretty much useless plain of poison dust.

 HUMANITY is going to do that, as Chinese, Indian, billionaire and other tourist Apollo-wannabes rush for their national rites-of-passage - or bar-moonzvahs. And don't they deserve their own moment without the elder sibling stealing the moment? Like the scene grabbing older sister of a bride? WHY should we race to snatch away their moment, only stirring resentment?

What we should NOT do is get suckered into a symbolism-drenched "joint mission' with Earthly rivals, that would only mean transferring a lot of western technologies to those rivals. 

FAR better? Go go ahead with earlier plans to and make a laboratory + hotel orbiting the moon! Rent out hostel rooms and landers for the tourists. We can then help advance lunar stuff while making a profit off the sightseers! Heck, if they rent our landers, we can keep one ready to rescue the tourists, if needed! Welcome honored guests. Welcome to our moon.

If actual self-interest and progress were the goal, instead of frippy symbolism, we'd lift our sights to farther horizons, where the wealth and resources and true opportunities await, like at 10,000 asteroids that are vastly richer and easier to get to, robotically, than the useless lunar plain

YOU may be complicit in this mistake, cheering on the insanely expensive and obsolete Space Launch System, a series of billion-dollar throw-away dinosaurs in an era of re-usable rockets, whose whole real purpose has been to feed old Shuttle contractor-parasites. Recognize a scam when it is so blatant.

I am not alone in protesting the scam. My NIAC compatriot Edgar Zapata reviews the recent memoir, “Escaping Gravity: My quest to transform NASA and launch a new space age,” by former Deputy NASA Administrator Lori Garver, who fought (and about half succeeded) to shift NASA away from expensive and futile trough for fat contractors  into a leaner and more vigorous agency that stimulates innovative endeavors in spaceflight and science, starting with buying launch services at competitive prices, instead of living to serve cost-plus dinosaurs. An interesting and well-written read. 

Don't let any of that be a bummer!  We still should aim high and go. We just need to lift our gaze even higher!

== Addenda! More space Distractions? ==

Here's amazing footage by Mars Express of the little moon Deimos passing in front of Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede, followed by Jupiter, and Io and Callisto. Um talk about depth of field!

One of the coolest recent projects we’ve funded at NASA’s Innovative & Advanced Concepts program – (NIAC) … drawing oxygen from the thin Marian atmosphere through a simple, efficient cycle of adsorption and release. It looks like it'll work!

The Federal Communications Commission has a plan to minimize space junk by requiring low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to be disposed no more than five years after being taken out of service. About time.

After a journey of five months, the first tiny cubesat to fly and operate at the moon has successfully arrived, orbiting within 3,000 km of the lunar surface. 

Just as the Bush Administration blocked satellites to study atmospheric CO2, the Trumpists did everything possible to protect super-polluters of methane. Now, finally, we are getting to see who is responsible for one of the foulest crimes in the history of our species. Methane ‘Super-Emitters’ Mapped by NASA’s New Earth Space Mission.

Relative to carbon dioxide, methane makes up a fraction of human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, but it’s estimated to be 80 times more effective, ton for ton, at trapping heat in the atmosphere in the 20 years after release. Moreover, where carbon dioxide lingers for centuries, methane persists for about a decade, meaning that if emissions are reduced, the atmosphere will respond in a similar timeframe, leading to slower near-term warming. 

Want the real future? An online discussion group is dedicated to discussing asteroid mining and related subjects. 


Is human hibernation possible? We all recall how Kubrick and Clarke solved the problem in 2001: A Space Odyssey, with ‘sleep pods.’ Here in this article authors describe the current state of hopes for human hibernation, which could, in theory, truly open up the solar system and beyond.  


At NIAC, we did issue a phase one study of the ‘logistics of torpor in crewed missions,’ or how to support/care for astronauts who have been chilled/sedated into the range that medicine now thinks remotely plausible, well short of what’s done routinely by bears and arctic squirrels, each winter. The study was not encouraging. But the researchers persevere.

== And not space... but spaced-out! ==

Lagniappe. Seriously, the very next day after Donald Trump's astonishingly/howlingly self-satirical "NFT trading cards" announcement, came... came this really weirdmovie trailer.  Oh, look at it. Or better yet don't. Oy.

And hence, in the name of my late colleagues Greg Bear and Octavia Butler and especially Arthur Clarke, I have to ask the managers of this simulated reality... 

...seriously? Are you even trying, anymore?


DP said...

There are basically six places in the solar system with the necessary raw materials to industrialize space and terraform the planets:

Mercury - whose metallic body can be hollowed out like an ant hill to forge the metal needed to create the thousands of solar power satellites that can make up a Dyson Swarm and provide the energy needed to transform humanity into a Kardashev 2 civilization.

Venus - whose massive CO2 atmosphere can be mined by floating cities to create enough carbon fiber (stronger than steel) needed to build thousands of space craft, industrial facilities, O'Neal cylinders and Bishop Rings to create thousands of orbital habitats.

Luna MAY have economical metal deposits.

"There's more metal on the moon than we thought. NASA's prolific Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) found rich evidence of iron and titanium oxides under the surface of the moon, which may show a close connection with Earth's early history."

NASA believes that rare earths (KREEP - potassium, rare earth elements and Phosphorus) MAY be economically mined. What we need to do is send a dozen cheep prospector rovers to Luna and have them travel around the surface performing mineral surveys and deep drilling samples just to be sure.

Phobos is far more valuable than Mars as a "Panama Canal" for interplanetary space travel.

Given its low gravity a simple space elevator made of ordinary steel can be built from Phobos to the surface of Mars with an extension of its tether to allow for cheap planetary orbital boosts to the outer solar system. (Luna can also have a space elevator made of ordinary steel.)

Mars itself is essentially an economically worthless ball of poisonous irradiated dust.

Dwarf planet Ceres - mined for water ice for life, breathing and fuel.

Psyche the second largest asteroid - essentially a big ball of iron that could provide thousands of years of steel production.

Together, Ceres and Psyche make up 40% of the mass of the asteroid belt. All other asteroids are incidental and/or sources of rare earths, etc.

Triton - whose atmosphere is a source of nitrogen for all artificial atmospheres and terraforming.

Titan's value lies in its natural heat sink which would allow for the construction of massive computer systems on its surface:

Also mine Saturn's rings for all the ice water you could ever need.

In fact, Saturn might be better for colonization then Jupiter with its massive magnetic fields that could fry a human without heavy shielding.

So all the placed that SF wants us to go (Luna, Mars, Jupiter) aren't very valuable.

After mining and industrialization has begun in earnest (mostly performed by robots and drones - no human need apply) we can begin colonizing.

Start with lava tubes on Luna and Mars, mining tunnels on Mercury and Ceres, floating bases in the upper atmosphere of Venus. Then expand to para-terraforming followed by true terraforming.

In a thousand years or so you have a K2 level civilization powered by a Dyson Swarm with industry stretching from Mercury to the Jovian moons and humans living on a half dozen terraformed worlds, thousands of rotating space habitats and mini-artificial worlds like Bishop Rings.

After that? Ad Astra!

scidata said...

If rogue planets are as plentiful as some theorize, then we may have stepping stones all the way out. It's almost too easy. [insert IT'S A TRAP! joke here]

duncan cairncross said...


Why use Mars at all? - it has raw materials but they are at the bottom of a gravity hole

Why not just use Phobos and Deimos? - 100 Trillion tons of material and all available by means of a simple mechanical throwing arm

Mars would be useful mainly as somewhere to aerobrake when traveling from Earth to Mars orbit

We don't know how much "gravity" is needed for health - in space with spinning habitats and tethers we can enjoy 1G

The SMALL bodies are going to be the most valuable (small as in millions of tons) for the next few hundred years

Larger bodies like Ceres have too deep a gravitational hole - 500 meters per second - and they spin so your power source moves

Better off using the smaller bodies - and Trillions of tons should keep us happy for a while

The larger bodies will be valuable EVENTUALLY

If we are filling a bucket then a small pond is just as much use as an ocean

Alfred Differ said...

There is an exercise going on off shore. Gotta keep crews trained as people come and go.

Alfred Differ said...

I gotta smile every time I see people talking about the future space economy as if we already know how it must turn out. Sorry. We don't and the argument showing this is pretty easy to lay out.


1: I'm skipping over the important phase where we build engineering knowledge that gets us rudimentary know-how regarding processes and assay information.

2: I'm assuming the goal for our analysis is to industrialize outer space such that it becomes an extension of the Terran 'global' economy. [I'm not saying what that extension will involve, though.]


The ONLY customers for commodities, goods, and services right now are on Earth. That means the market is here. Transactions occur here ranging from investments to futures contract deliverables.

Time costs money. ALL future income is treated as Net Present Value (NPV) right now by working backward using a reasonable Internal Rate of Return (IRR).

How it Works-

Want to mine platinum at Psyche? Cool. Unless you intend to sell it here on Earth, though, you will receive no commercial investment. Making it work goes like this…

Platinum sold on Earth is sold before we dig it up and refine it. Mostly. That means you go short a futures contract. Someone plops money on you and expects you to deliver X ounces of platinum at time T in location L for price P. The contract has a few other details discussion quality too. Between now and T the price of platinum might change, but your contract stays what it is. Your job is to deliver X on T at L and accept P for it.

With that obligation, you now have a future value for the platinum you bring to L at the right time. Can you do it? Depends how much capital you can muster in the present to make it happen. If your 'mine' and related processes are perceived as risky, your investors will demand a high IRR to compensate for the chance that they will lose their entire investment when you can't deliver and must instead close your short by purchasing a long contract. Whatever that IRR is, work backward to the NPV and that's the absolute most they will consider.

Real projects face another hurdle if the NPV is a large fraction of the capital investors are willing to risk at all. They MUST diversify to stay alive. If the entire industry risks no more than $150M on wild ideas, don't bother asking for large fractions of that. They won't take your call.

Alfred Differ said...


The Real Problem-

Space is a big place. Project delivery dates from asteroid mines involve years to start and are slow to respond to market forces once a stream of a valuable resource is on its way to market. Remember that IRR is a compounding interest rate and typically lands near 50% or higher for really new ideas. Try it out for yourself. Run that interest rate backwards for a few years and you'll see NPV's are tiny. They are usually too tiny to fund anything. That fact shows up in the value you get going short on the futures contract too. It's not worth the price you receive to accept the obligation.

That leaves you as a wildcat miner thinking your platinum will sell. You'll go short a contract later once the platinum is almost home. In the meantime, your investors won't have offered much of anything up front in exchange for most of the value you'd get selling it.

The problem is that the numbers just don't work yet. Imagine if Columbus had been told by a time traveler of great riches in gold in the Sierra east of where two great rivers meet and was shown a map of what became known as Alta California. It took a while before European powers got around to that side of North America let alone with sufficient cargo capacity to haul back the gold. They didn't have hydraulic mining techniques back then, so they'd have needed an army of people with pans to capitalize on some of what Columbus was told by the time traveler. Wouldn't happen, right? Well… not right away. Knowledge of Alta California would have been worth the NPV related to the gold's future value. The IRR would HAVE to be high because of all the technology development that had to occur first.


Because customers are on Earth right now and time costs money, we have little choice but to develop outward incrementally. It doesn't matter whether Luna is a rich source of resources. It matters that it is CLOSE. Whether it's worth developing any of it for any industrial purpose is… unlikely, but we don't have the engineering processes we need to leap to places that AREN'T CLOSE and that will drive IRR high enough to kill present values.

This all changes if location L in a futures contract is somewhere out there. Extend the market somehow and the mission clock matters less. For example, someone sitting at the Earth-Sun L2 position with a few large tanks that can hold volatiles might accept deliveries from any direction and sell them to restock vehicles. That extension saves time for resources coming back from the asteroids and means IRR matters a little less.

Establish ANY market out there is a necessary step for industrialization of the solar system. It MUST be done first.

DP said...


Forget about immediately going to the stars, the real action may be happening in the space between the stars.

Difficult to see due to their lack of self illumination, brown dwarfs are being discovered using infrared telescopes and their masses accurately measured for the first time. They may account for the universe's missing mass, the dark matter needed to explain the gravitational models of the universe's expansion. Since 90% of the universe's mass is unseen, there may be vastly more brown dwarfs than stars. What if space is littered with these failed stars, scattered between the bright ones like an interstellar Polynesia, making interstellar travel a series of short hops, rather than a single gigantic one?

Instead of just being convenient refueling stations for voyages to other solar systems, brown dwarfs could be the hubs of mini-solar systems of their own. The first picture of an extrasolar planet is of a planet orbiting a brown dwarf. While brown dwarfs give off little in the way of light, they do generate heat. Enough heat to make life possible on the planets orbiting them.

In addition to the Oort Cloud, there is the Kuiper Belt the home of Sedna, Quaoar, and Pluto (which should be classified as a Kuiper Belt Object instead of a planet. There may be dozens or hundreds of mini-solar systems between Sol and Alpha Centauri. With the discovery of brown dwarfs, free floating planets between the stars, and extrasolar planetoids like Sedna, future space explorers may find plenty to keep them occupied in our own solar neighborhood for centuries to come. While not the galaxy spanning empires and federations of science fiction, it would be enough for our species to explore far into the future without the need for exotic starflight technologies.

There are certain organisms that use infrared here on Earth for photosynthesis (like purple and green bacteria that contain bacteriochlorophyll that absorbs in the infrared). Absent competition from other forms of photosynthesis, there probably isn't any major obstacles to life derived from infrared instead of the visible spectrum. In fact, we may find one day that life based on visible light photosynthesis is the exception rather than the rule and infra red based life dominates the galaxy. Perhaps we'll find that our kind of life, based on visible light spectrum photosynthesis, is the rare oddity and infrared based life far more common.

Now if Brown Dwarfs turn out to be scattered by the dozens or hundreds in the space between the stars (and if most of them have mini solar systems capable of supporting life because enough heat is generated by the BD to allow liquid water and photosynthesis based on infrared frequencies), then the old galactic space operas become as obsolete as dinosaurs on Venus.

Since these solar systems are a stone's throw away, they can be reached without exotic warp drives or hyperspace. Simple laser sails or nuclear rockets will do just fine. Exploration missions can visit and return in a matter of years, instead of centuries or millennium.

Interstellar "empires" and "federations" can be created using slower than light space travel. Maybe Capt. Kirk and Obi Wan Kenobi wouldn't be impressed, but a BD federation would consider Alpha Centauri to be as far away as Capt. Kirk considered the Andromeda Galaxy.

DP said...

duncan - I agree Phobos and Deimos are far more valuable than Mars.

But if we don't like our available planetary choices we can always make our own.

A rough estimate of the available carbon fiber that could be processes from the atmosphere of Venus (which we have to get rid of anyways to terraform the planet) is truly staggering:

4.80E+20 kg total mass Venus atmosphere
96.50% percent CO2 4.63E+20 kg total mass CO2

44 molecular weight of CO2 12 molecular weight of C

32 molecular weight of O2

1.26E+20 kg total mass of C

2.00E+03 kg / m^3 density of carbon fiber

6.32E+16 m^3 volume of carbon fiber

And we would want to remove as much carbon/CO2 as possible for the side benefits of terraforming.

What to build with all that carbon nanofiber?

How about Bishop Rings, space structures that make O'Neal Cylinders look like tool sheds? With a radius of 1,000 km and a width of 500 km it creates an inner surface are equivalent to the land area of India or Argentina. Raised side walls only 3 km high contain the atmosphere (it does not need top containment, so the interior of the ring is open to space).

1.00E+03 km radius 6.28E+03 km x circumference 5.00E+02 km width = 3.14E+06 km^2 area

Assuming for radiation protection, rugged long term durability and resistance to tensile forces created by its gravity inducing spin the wall thickness is a solid 10 meters. We could build 0ver 2,000 of them:

3.14E+12 m^2 area x 10 m thick = 3.14E+13 m^3 volume

6.32E+16 m^3 volume of carbon fiber / 3.14E+13 m^3 volume = 2,011 each

Together, they provide the equivalent total living area of 12 new Earths

5.10E+08 km^2 earth surface / 6.32E+09 km^2 bishop rings total area = 12 each

That still leaves you with a massive atmosphere of mostly oxygen (put up the "no smoking" signs) just right for a massive dump of frozen hydrogen to create world spanning oceans.

However, that still leaves us with a mostly nitrogen atmosphere 3x denser than Earth's total atmosphere. But since nitrogen = fertilizer the next stage can be a seed dump of genetically optimized plants, algae, etc. Or send the nitrogen to Mars or the artificial atmospheres of artificial worlds via rail gun payloads.

Also save some carbon fiber for a partial sun shield at the LaGrange point and orbiting mirrors to create an artificial day/night cycle.

100 years ago both science and SF pictured Venus as a wet swampy planet. Ironically, mining and seeding would terraform Venus to look just like that - though it would take over a 1,000 years to finish the project.

DP said...

Alfred - "I gotta smile every time I see people talking about the future space economy as if we already know how it must turn out."

That's why I paint in broad brush strokes and speak in generalities.

Aside from all the energy from Mercury's Dyson Swarm, there is very little that can be mined or made in space that will have a market on Earth.

Space industrialization will be almost exclusively for the benefit of space colonization,

But space colonization can't occur without space industrialization.

So we have something of a Catch-22.

Would the Spanish have bothered to build a New World empire if there was no gold or silver to ship back home? Would the other Europeans have bothered with the Americas if there was no sugar, no tobacco, no cotton, no furs?

Probably not.

So the key is the one commodity that will always increase demand back on Earth and is unaffected by the transport costs imposed by a gravity well - beamed energy from the Dyson Swarm sent back to Earth.

Everything else would be initially mined and manufactured in space to benefit the construction of the Swarm. Carbon fiber habitats from Venus, steel and mining equipment from Psyche, water from Ceres, nitrogen from Triton....

At some point the feedback loops become self sustaining as the mining and manufacturing operations expand in size and become colonies in their own right and also need their own carbon fiber, steel, heavy equipment, water and nitrogen (plus energy from the swarm) and take off is achieved for our interplanetary economy and civilization.

DP said...

P.S. In addition to infrared based life, Cornell researchers have modeled methane based life forms that don't use water and could live in the liquid methane seas of Titan. Methane based life forms by themselves are a fascinating concept. But ironically the potential "Goldilocks" zone for such life is far greater (extending across the range of Jovian worlds out to the Kuiper belt) than our narrow zone for water based life forms. However, the slow chemical reactions of such cryo-life forms may be such that an intelligent example may take thousands of years to finish a single thought.

So "life as we know it" based on water and the visible light spectrum photosynthesis may be the rare exception in a universe dominated by methane based life and life that utilizes infrared photosynthesis.

scidata said...

Alfred Differ: I gotta smile every time I see people talking about the future space economy as if we already know how it must turn out.

I gotta smile when horizon go/no-go decisions are supposedly based on IRR, NPV, percentages, and prudent due diligence.

Here's how it works: oddballs walk out of Africa, or launch tiny rafts into the wide Pacific, or walk from Italy to China, or start an electric car or reusable rocket company (Musk wasn't the first, he was the first to succeed). Most don't do it because they're savvy entrepreneurs. The big majority of them freeze, starve, get eaten by natives (you're right about space being big and unknown), or just die alone and broken hearted. But before they shuffle off this mortal coil, a few of them draw maps or pen stories. Then comes the next wave, better prepared and better informed. Then the next, then the next. And presto!, you have real estate grifters in the big apple. And it starts over again, but on a bigger stage with more players and higher technology.

Also, it rarely happens with the full blessing and sagacious oversight of stable governments or commercial enterprises. It's competition, in its raw form. Planting flags or securing one's posterity (like Columbus) come first. Elbows and brains - that's human history.

Most importantly, we learn as we go. When I said "It's almost too easy", I meant easy for this species, which seems to do almost nothing other than explore and exploit. The AI's 'virus' soliloquy near the end of THE MATRIX was right and true. But of course we'd rather be Morpheus than Agent Smith. Frog and scorpion at worst, the hope of the galaxy at best. I liked Asimov because he was brave/foolhardy/optimistic enough to choose the latter. A neat trick for a non-romanticist humanist scientist. Almost eye-of-the-needle level stuff in a realm of delusional fashionistas. I'm looking at you, Francis Collins.

Unknown said...

Interesting that both Asimov and Rand were Russian emigres, but developed radically different outlooks on humanity (excepting an absence of religion).

I follow Charles Stross, who is notably upbeat about the potential for interplanetary development while being very skeptical of interstellar development sans the invention of Traveller - style technologies, which may actually be impossible in this universe.

How long will it take for any off-earth community to become self-sustaining? It's easy to imagine waves of interest on the part of Earth's decision-making entities leading to some development out of our atmosphere, followed by cost-cutting or outright abandonment due to economic turmoil and/or warfare within our biosphere. I used to be more upbeat about this myself, but history is going to follow us into space, and Clio is a stone bitch.


Unknown said...

My POOMA forecast is that you'll need at least a century of *uninterrupted* investment to get self-sustaining interplanetary activity, and the danger of a hard reboot over that time frame is very high.


scidata said...

Re: Clio is a stone bitch

Been watching THE PERIPHERAL (spoiler alert). The protagonist (Flynne) figures out how to thwart the antagonist by forking into an alternate reality (misnomered as a 'reboot'). She has this last chat with a friend:

Friend: Are you ever going back to her reality (antagonist's)?
Flynne: Uh huh.
Friend: But why? You'll finally be free and safe from her.
Flynne: I'm gonna kill that bitch.

The ending of the movie HEAT is similar. Rational actors are boring.

matthew said...

That Deimos footage is utterly killer. Thanks for the link.

Paradoctor said...

My take on space:

Space is for robots, not us, at least at first. Maybe they can go ahead and build safe habitats for humans to do telepresence from. Telepresence robots on the Moon is a way to explore it without going there.

Who needs hundreds of square kilometers of fragile mirrors if you have a fusor? Dyson swarms are for the inner solar system; out far in the big dark, there's plenty of water, rock, and metal, but it's cheapest to make your own sunlight.

Put a habitat inside a dirty snowball, and rockets on it, and you can go wherever you want to, including rogue planets, if you take the time.

David Brin said...

100 years ago both science and SF pictured Venus as a wet swampy planet. Ironically, mining and seeding would terraform Venus to look just like that - though it would take over a 1,000 years to finish the project."

I assume none of you have read my Venus story "The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss? If not, WTF am I even bothering to show up here?

DP Luna has no ore “metal deposits’ that could be useful in any near term. Maybe some scattered meteoritic iron. The rest sank into the core long ago or floated as very tough-to-refine oxides. The rest is pure arm-waving fantasy. I mean it. Under the blather is a thick layer of utter bullshit dealing in parts per million or billion.

Phobos MIGHT be valuable. We need missions there.

Mars is worthless as a source of materials for elsewhere. if there are extensive lava tubes near accessible ice, a station might grow.

Psyche is TOO solid and too far out. plenty of iron remnants closer and easier to refine.

I’ll settle for a K1 civ and leave to them what goals to pick next

SCIDATA rogue planets mat be the reason IS travel is impossible,

Paradoctor said...

Technical question for you:
Which has greater power density, sunlight or solar wind? In the asteroid belt, if you caught a square kilometer's worth of solar wind and fused what you caught, would that be greater or lesser power than a square kilometer's worth of sunlight?

duncan cairncross said...


I don't know the answer but I suspect that a square kilometer of lightweight mirrors would be a lot lighter and a LOT cheaper than anything that could collect solar wind

scidata said...

I'm guessing that a lot of the energy in solar wind is kinetic and magnetic, which would be unused in a simple 'catch and fuse' process.

Tony Fisk said...

Asteroid belt stretches from 2.2 to 3.2 AU, which corresponds nicely to an inverse square reduction in incident radiation flux of one fifth to one tenth what it is on Earth. That is about 1kW/sq.m, so let's say a mid-point like Ceres would provide 150W/sq.m.
A hypothetical square kilometre array would have about 150GW available.

Solar panel efficiencies are improving, but it's a more complex issue than a Sunday morning's musing can accomodate.
So, assuming that a 30% efficiency is economically achievable by the time we're in a position to do this exercise for real, that gives you about 50 GW from a square kilometre solar array.
Somebody else can consider the solar wind (I think DP was thinking of fusion, as well as kinetic)

David Brin said...

The momentum of the solar wind can be 'caught' partially by an array of charged wires.

Tony Fisk said...

Re that hypotherimia research, I'm surprised they don't mention James Lovelock's efforts involving golden hamsters.

Turns out Lovelock could freeze them solid, and figured out how to safely thaw them out again (warm the heart first, using microwaves). However, he concluded the process didn't scale up to humans.

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

As any fan of the Expanse knows, Beltalowda should colonize Ceres instead of Mars.

The dwarf planet Ceres – long believed to be a barren space rock – is an ocean world with reservoirs of sea water beneath its surface.

Ceres actually is a better place to colonize than Mars for several reasons: easier to get to, lower gravity, and lots of water. Its launch windows are actually more frequent than those for Mars.

Ceres' gravity (3% of Earths) is great for space transport and trade, greatly reducing energy and fuel costs, and it lies at the heart of the asteroid belt with all of those raw materials.

You can compensate for low g by building ring habitats that rotate with people living on the outer walls (the 3% of g pulling them downward would feel like a downhill direction, something you can get used to). Or you can shape the spinning habitats like gently curved bowls whose radii change with height, so no matter where you stand the combined gravity and spin vectors makes you feel like "down" is locally perpendicular through the floor/wall.

It's surface area is about the same as Argentina, plenty of room for any conceivable number of colonists.

It has got more going for it than Mars as a place to colonize.

DP said...

Dr. Brin - "SCIDATA rogue planets mat be the reason IS travel is impossible"

So it's possible that a starship traveling at 10% of c would slam into a rogue planet before it could adjust its course, or be thrown off course by the rogue planet's gravity well?

Ok so travel a little slower, say about 1% of c and interstellar travel takes centuries instead of decades. Or use the rogue planets as convenient way stations, light houses, refueling or colonize them as well. Make them really stations for lasers that can propel or decelerate laser sail spacecraft.

The stars will still be there.

Such a slow colonization is called "crawl-onization"

We still spread through the galaxy like a virus - just a bit slower.

WilliamG said...

I'm betting the Trump NFTs were generated by Dall-E-2. Why pay artists when you can maximize the grift?

scidata said...

Re: TrumpNFTs
I'm reminded of the TOS episode "Plato's Stepchildren" wherein Kirk and Spock are subjected to farcical/brutal humiliation and extortion and someone asks, "How can you let this go on?"

Re: Rogue planets interstellar travel hazard
Probably no worse than the rocks and shoals that early sea explorers faced. And they had no radar, gravimetry, photon torpedoes, or laser blasters. Remember Atari Asteroids?
FTL ships might raise concerns. As in wits, scared out of, Captain sir.

David Brin said...

"We still spread through the galaxy like a virus - just a bit slower."

Actually, you are describing the spread of say photosyntheic bacteria into a new patch of ocean. EXISTENCE. is about how that contrasts with a 'virus' which relies upon already-present life to spread through.

Rogue planets aren' great 'way stations' since you'll have to match velocities with them. If you do, you are staying for a long time to replenish.

locumranch said...

Lots of conversation fodder in this weeks thread, the 'rogue planet' topic bringing to mind the recent rebroadcast of 'Dark Star' (circa 1974) on west coast cable.

But, the most important by far is Alfred's criticism of the nascent Space Economy or, more specifically, the extreme LACK OF a justifiable Space Economy, as all those billions of tonnes of untapped asteroid resources out there are just the kiss of death for each & every one of our earthbound scarcity models.

As a matter of example, take the so-called Midas Asteroid that supposedly contains "$700 quintillion dollars in precious heavy metals", the successful harvesting of which would literally devastate the earthbound heavy metals market, reduce the scarcity value of gold to zero & result in a massive net loss of investor capital.

This is daunting task as we would have to come up with an entirely new plenty-based economic model in order to justify what David desires most, the dream of space travel & unlimited material resources.

The time is ripe for such an endeavour as our world approaches a huge economic inflection point -- the collapse of our everything bubble -- unless we can come up with an economic system that overcomes scarcity's effect on supply & demand.

Many science fiction authors have attempted this, but none have succeeded as of yet.

Is it time to give up?


David Brin said...

Carumba. the silliness MUST be deliberate. Plenty of things that used to be scarce are now plentiful and economic activity simply moved to other scarcities.

If we can stop tearing into Mother Earth under brutal working conditions, leaving poisons from mining and refining, because space provides all the formerly scarce metals, etc., then the only losers are the owners of that poisonous production line on Earth, who are motivated to use bribed politics to slow our push for those space resources...

... e.g. by diverting the US/NASA into a frippy, useless symbolism junket moondoggle.

Humans are competitive. There will be other scarcities. We invent new ones, proved.

Indeed, crushing all systems of flat-fair-creative competition IS the top agenda of today's oligarch-led mad right.

DP said...

Dr. Brin - "Rogue planets aren' great 'way stations' since you'll have to match velocities with them."

Then they become "spaceships" in their own right, provided they have a molten core or fissionable materials that can provide the energy for a crew/colony getting a piggy back ride on them.

duncan cairncross said...

Ceres is still too large - escape velocity 1800 kpm - gravity is too low to be useful and its still spinning meaning you can't use nice huge light mirrors and solar power

Ceres is for the second generation of utilization

Start with the easy ones like Phobos and Deimos

Here on earth we are concerned with compounds - like water
In space with abundant solar energy we will be concerned about elements
There is copious Oxygen in almost anything out there - and enough Hydrogen

Der Oger said...

There will be other scarcities. We invent new ones, proved.

We are already facing one: A scarcity of skilled labor. Some can be replaced by robots (requiring another kind of skilled labor), others not so easily.

Arable Land, and areas with stable environmental conditions.


DP said...

duncan - agree with a lot of what you say.

Still if mankind needed an emergency back up planet the only choice is Ceres.

Tony Fisk said...

Alfred's scholarly take on space economics v scidata's is a bit like comparing the outcomes of statistical mechanics with the outlier effects that lead to evaporation.

Alfred Differ said...


My criticism is aimed at certain fantasy notions for how humans do things. It's not that we can't get out there on the fumes of fantasy, though. It's that we won't. Underneath the fantasy believers will be people who do the smart things and make it work.

This is daunting task as we would have to come up with an entirely new plenty-based economic model in order to justify what David desires most, the dream of space travel & unlimited material resources.

Pfft. We've already done it, but you want to chase arguments about peat as causal explanations for momentous changes.

Small example… look at the cost associated with producing 'artificial' light. By that I mean anything not sunlight. Candles and campfires count. Humans can create quite a bit of light at night by burning down the country side, but that messes with our food supply. So… focus on controlled production of light and ask what the price trend has been for a single candle's worth of light of the course of history.

1. Candles as we know then today are a relatively recent invention. A few millennia most likely. Before them it would have been oil lamps.

2. A shift to candles in Northern Europe occurred after Rome fell and trade routes for olive oil got closed.

3. There are a number of ways to make candles and competing sources of light with various pros and cons. Tallow production is kinda gross. Beeswax requires a lot of bees. Etc.

Dig through the history of producing light and you'll find it was expensive for a long time because resources were scarce. Industrialization changed all that and now we don't use anything remotely like wax. A scarcity model gave way to a plenty model and now artificial light is practically given away. It's so cheap to produce now we waste it in giant quantities making our cities easily visible from space.

Did we come up with a new plenty-based economic order? Yup. We've done it for textiles too. Clean water used to be pretty scarce too, but a lot of people can get it now without spending the vast majority of their yearly incomes.


A space economy (extension of our global economy) will work out a number of currently scarce resource problems and supply them in plenty. In doing that we'll likely discover other scarcities upon which these processes rely. It is HIGHLY unlikely that scarce resources today will remain so or remain relevant. Markets focus attention on such things by offering high prices.

Candles are cheap by modern standards because they were once expensive and drew attention. Some of the tech developed to compete with them (LED's for example) would have been hideously expensive a few centuries ago IF anyone had any clue as to how to make them. We do now, though, and that kind of innovation will happen again in space as long as people remember what humans do. We trade in our markets.

Alfred Differ said...

Tony Fisk,

I'd VERY much like to see in my lifetime more and more evaporation. There are sensible ways to make it happen making use of the resources of stuffy bean counters. I'm certain of it.

scidata said...

@Tony Fisk

This trio has tormented me for half a century: Boltzmann, Planck, and Asimov.
And maybe throw in Turing, although he brings more joy than torment.
There is a danger in a simpleton pondering genius.
My gravestone should read, "killed by statistical mechanics" :)

Unknown said...

Yeah, when Asimov explained in one of his early store compilations his method of studying (read the textbook once, never look at it again, get an A in chemistry) 14 year old me realized I would NEVER be that smart.

Doesn't mean you can't do well what you can do. Reach, grasp, heaven, find the right grindstone to fit your nose. Math ain't mine, can tell you that. 's why I was only a jackleg meteorologist, fluid thermodynamics is the core of that field.


P.S. I want to see us offload some of our eggs into other baskets in my lifetime and don't think the tech isn't there or developable. I just remember the huge engineering projects prior civilizations littered Earth with that are now picturesque ruins. If our decision-makers are going to be megalomanic dictators or sociopathic CEOs*, that is what we may end up with - tourist sites for alien visitors ("come see the Great Unfinished Solar Refineries of Mercury!")

P.P.S. and way OT: Just finished Chapter 2 of a fantasy story** - using what I know (DnD) to kickstart the juices. Weirdly, Kipling Girl is kibitzing and giving useful advice online; I finally contacted her after that exchange last thread. She is happily married and doing well.

* or vice versa. Or por que no los dos?

** vampire murder mystery

locumranch said...

While it's eminently true that "Plenty of things that used to be scarce are now plentiful", this in no way changes the human process of EVALUATION, insomuch as our economic models judge plentiful items as cheap & relatively worthless and scarce items as relatively precious & expensive.

At least on Earth, this Supply & Demand dynamic renders asteroid wealth functionally worthless as sudden excess availability would cause the price of these once rare minerals to collapse, as in the case of the so-called Midas Asteroid whose "$700 quintillion dollar" price tag assumes a set gold price of about $1800 USD per ounce, but is worth zilch, nada & nothing if the price of gold plunges to negative numbers due to oversupply.

Asteroid minerals only become valuable under the assumption that they REMAIN IN SPACE, then their assumed value could include the (real or imagined) earth-based price of mining, refining & lifting such an item up from the bottom of our gravity well.

Whether we're talking about candles, peat, whale oil, petroleum, hydrogen fusion or any other means of producing light & heat, the so-called value of any such commodity relies on its supply -- its availability & scarcity -- relative to its demand. Period.

Those science fiction writers who have chosen to explore these our facile economic assumptions, they are numbered amongst the great & have names with which to conjure by.


And, speaking of 'other means of producing light & heat', Winter_is_Coming in just a few days and I expect the price of energy to double & redouble along the wide-faced shores of our moral superiors who are already warming themselves with 'more coal than ever before, new (CNN) report shows'.

They're fair weather followers, these climate change cultists. LOL.

Tony Fisk said...

Meanwhile, South Australia sustains itself on renewables for a week.
Even exporting some.
Granted, this is a fairly small economy in Summer, but the differences to worst case are not 'orders of magnitude'

David Brin said...

So... there's no intermediate zone where the Earth price of asteroid metals remains high enough to make bringing SOME prfitable? Alas, L just spouts incantations, never thinking it through. 2-D dichotomies. Never 3 & 4-D spectra

David Brin said...

re computer/AI replacing professions. How about lawyers?

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

AI replacing professions. How about lawyers?

That was part of the backstory of Vonnegut's Player Piano. Not even a plot point, but something that had already happened in the story's past. It was presented as if "Of course lawyering could be automated."

Alfred Differ said...


…Supply & Demand dynamic renders asteroid wealth functionally worthless as sudden excess availability…

This is a mental exercise at best since there won't be sudden excess availability. Anyone heading out there to mine anything will be observed doing so. Markets adjust early to anticipated futures. In fact… that's the whole point of futures markets.


That's not true though I'm generally in favor of them remaining up there so transactions occur up there. It is very likely there are alloys we'd like to use here on Terra that cannot be produced here. Even foamed metals would likely have uses that might justify the price of acquiring them from out there.

…relies on its supply -- its availability & scarcity -- relative to its demand…

Not exactly. The so-called value also depends on the values for equivalent substitutions. For example, there once was a time when tin cans were actually tin. Refining aluminum at lower costs became possible, though, and aluminum cans now dominate. Glass, plastics, and various metal alloys form a substitution set such that prices for one can affect all the others. One can pitch that as demand for one depending on multiple variables, but I think it's wiser to treat the set as the 'commodity'. It's supply vs demand for the set and then relative prices within the set.

The nit-picky point I'm making is that space-sourced metals are parts of sets. Right now they are ridiculously expensive, but so was refined aluminum not long ago.


Space-sourced metals aren't the likely low hanging fruit out there. It will be volatiles that are most valuable at first and for them you are exactly right about them being worthless if brought all the way back down to Terran markets.

duncan cairncross said...


The most valuable at the start will be Oxygen - not for breathing but for fuel - if you don't have to land down a deep hole then Oxy-Hydrogen would be the best fuel and Oxygen is 88% of the mass

Just about everything out there is an oxide of some type

If you don't have to go down a hole you can store Hydrogen gas in an envelope (and oxygen in another) - and you can use a small rocket and low acceleration so the envelope does not need much support

Darrell E said...

In his Heechee Saga Frederik Pohl introduced an AI psychotherapist, named Albert Einstein, who evolved into a major character. Given the typical outcomes of psychotherapy to date, AI psychotherapy strikes me as pretty damn plausible.

Doing a quick search to refresh my memory I discovered that Gateway, Pohl's first Heechee novel, almost got made into a series by SyFy in 2015 with many of the people who made Battlestar Galactica 2.0. That didn't happen, but in 2017 Skybound Entertainment optioned Gateway, actually all five novels I think, and so perhaps a series will eventually happen.

Which brings to mind, I'm still waiting for someone to bring Startide Rising and The Uplift War to the big screen. I'm thinking Denis Villeneuve could probably do a good job of it, and I think movie making technology is now up to the task.

Tony Fisk said...

Unfortunately (?), after the Dune sequels, Villeneuve is tagged for Rendezvous with Rama.

Speaking of movies The Way of Water is, in some ways, more of the same.*
To some extent, it's got to pick up the momentum lost in the twelve years since Avatar, so... OK. That said, it rhymes more than it repeats (Quaritch repeating his introductory speech has a wry, self-deprecating twist to it), and there are a few threads which I look forward to seeing developed in Seed Bearer.


* One money shot, looking up through about 40 feet of alien ocean: thank goodness the screen was reinforced!

David Brin said...

Darrell thanks. Can any of you think of sci fi wherein AI JUDGES or LAWYWERS are depicted as other than evil?

duncan cairncross said...

Dr Brin

John Varley's "Eight Worlds" has the AI Judge as "not evil" - more compassionate than the humans

Tony Fisk said...

While professions aren't specifically stated, the Matrix: Regenesis portrays AIs as not intrinsically evil. Often quite supportive.

Unknown said...

The Culture's AI shipminds left room for people who took satisfaction in creating or working to do so, fabricating a replacement part for instance, even though the AI and its robotic 'hands' could do the job faster and more efficiently. It made people on the AI's ship happier, which I assume was a key element in the AI programming after human safety. Banks' work dealt more with the Culture's interactions with other societies, though, because even he had trouble with the issue of "what do people do when there isn't anything they NEED to do?"

Tony Fisk said...

The AIs governing the 'Polises' in Greg Egan's 'Diaspora' maintain a 'charter' by which virtual citizens are expected to abide. Any who come into conflict may choose to leave for a more accomodating Polis. An 'evil' AI might choose to restrict exodus, but that is never explored, beyond mentioning that the Polis that created the protagonist Yatima, when he leaves it, dispassionately concludes that the genomic pattern that gave rise to them is not beneficial to its charter's intent, and excludes it from future use.

It occurs to me now that such actions would tend to enforce culture, and perhaps cause it ossify it over time.

This possibility is very much on the mind of the AI running Clarke's eternal city of Diaspar, and is why it cultivates the maverick 'jesters' and even the occasional 'unique'.

Neither of these examples are specifically legal in nature, although they certainly have executive power th at deprives from legislation.

DP said...

As for AI lawyers, see Vice News fascinating hour long special on The Future of Work:

(start about 22:30 for the segment on contract reading algorithms)

Rote intellectual work (most of what is done by lawyers and accountants) can be performed better by algorithms.

Rote physical work can also be done by robots (see the segments on robot long haul trucks safely cruising down the interstate and Amazon warehouse workers whose "boss" is basically a software program).

What's left? Jobs that require creativity (engineering, architecture, design) and the human touch (medicine, most services, etc.)

Larry Hart said...


What's left? Jobs that require creativity (engineering, architecture, design) and the human touch (medicine, most services, etc.)

In Vonnegut's Player Piano, managers and engineers were the elite who still had high paying jobs. Many of the plebes were forced into the army or the corps of Reclamation and Reconstruction ("reeks and wrecks"). In real life, there will probably always be jobs for the army and police. That AI that Dr Brin posts about which does magnificent creative drawings demonstrates that creative design probably won't escape replacement, but I suspect there will always be a place for the likes of the Brownshirts.

You are correct that there will continue to be a desire for the human touch, but the big money players have little incentive to provide such, except as a boutique service for their premium customers. For us little people, I suspect that human kindness will end up being traded in a sort of underground economy, much as Dave Sim imagined a female underground economy in gossip after gold had been removed from Estarcion's economy in the Cerebus comic.

reason said...

Larry Hart - re South Australia - but South Australia is especially well suited to using renewable energy supplies (solar and wind). It sits next to a cold ocean and has a large area that is very dry (and sunny). It only uses a small fraction of the available renewable energy resources. It is not a good base to extrapolate from.

reason said...

oops Tony Fisk.

Tony Fisk said...

That's OK reason. I think you'll find similar conditions exist along the western US coast.
And start thinking HVDC power distribution networks.

duncan cairncross said...

Tony Fisk

When the conditions are not right for Solar - they are normally good for Wind

Then we will need
Pumped storage - we have the best Hydro sites already in use - we have not scratched the surface for Pumped Storage
Demand control - smart meters and smart pricing
Battery storage (short term)

And simply overbuilding! - when wind and solar are cheap its easy to overbuild - and see if some smart people can come up with ideas for the surplus

Tony Fisk said...

The trick, as was pointed out in the Zero Carbon Australia report, is to spread your inputs.

scidata said...

True, the moon is barren and changeless (dead). That's a good reason to ignore it. But it's also a good reason not to. No erosion, weathering, recycling of rock-magma-rock. Any trace of alien visitors is long gone on Earth, but possibly not Luna. Swarms of cheap pico-probes could do a survey without sidetracking the main task of solar system exploration/colonization. Perhaps projects like the Copernicus Initiative. NASA is a terrible thing to waste.

David Brin said...

scidata the plot of Clarke's "The Sentinal " (later 2001) was such alien presence on the moon.

Larry Hart said...

At least as far back as 1953 (Player Piano), speculative fiction imagined a US presidency as a kind of celebrity show-biz position. But as far as I remember, the idea of such thinking was that the real power was centered elsewhere, less transparent and less subject to the public, and that the show-presidency was a distraction for the masses. OTOH, Ukraine's President Zelenskyy, a former actor, seems to leverage his skill in service of garnering actual support for his country.

As a former actor, Zelenskyy knows how to put on a show. In addition to the photo ops, his address to Congress was delivered in English and was full of references to U.S. history (especially the American Revolution). As is clear in the pictures, he also wore his "wartime leader" wardrobe. The Ukrainian has also studied the U.S. system of government, and so threw in a few nods to the Republican Party and several references to the need for bipartisan and bicameral support. It's going to be a bit harder for Republican hardliners to oppose aid to Ukraine after this performance. Or, perhaps more importantly, it's going to be easier for Republican supporters of Ukraine to hold the line and continue to back Zelenskyy.

scidata said...

Zelenskyy reminds me a bit of Seldon. I think his father is a big-wig in cybernetics.

Had a wedding banquet earlier this month with some Star Trek set design & engineering peeps in attendance (friends of my daughter-in-law). We had a discussion at one table about how to prevent AIs from enslaving humanity. I used FOUNDATION'S TRIUMPH as an illustration of the 'just let them fight each other' strategy. It may not be what OGH intended, but it effectively allowed little old Seldon to win in the end.

Alfred Differ said...

Completely unrelated to anything… I’ve been in California since ‘83 and today is the first day I’ve set foot in San Diego. Polar vortex burp pushed a light of flight plans around. Now I get to cool my heals in an airport… that kinda looks like all the others. 😏

Unknown said...


Ha! My never-completed Traveller novelette about a ex-Imperial scout bumming around the galaxy in a junker starship started with the line that all starports looked the same, except the alien ones had different symbols on the restroom doors.


David Brin said...

Heh you seldon make so much sense!

Zelelnsky prob spent an hour a day on English lessons. It paid off.

Gaetz & Boebert sat in stony-angry silence.

Then there's Tucker Carlson's insane hate ramp at his master's enemy.

David Brin said...

Alfred, you didn't say hi while in town?

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Polar vortex burp pushed a light of flight plans around. Now I get to cool my heals in an airport… that kinda looks like all the others.

I don't know where you are heading, but you might be better off in San Diego. It's almost minus 10 in Chicago, and that cold snap stretches all the way to the gulf coast. My in-laws in Austin Texas are in the teens, and their buildings aren't designed for that kind of cold.

* * *


Zelenskyy reminds me a bit of Seldon.

With all due respect, what doesn't remind you of Seldon? :)

scidata said...

Larry Hart: With all due respect, what doesn't remind you of Seldon? :)

You're not the first to make that observation about me. And transistors, and Forth, and TOS...

matthew said...

We lost power at my place yesterday. Fell back on the fireplace to keep the house from freezing until the crews could brave the ice and get us back on line. Reminded me of my childhood in a bad way, no power and wicked cold in the house. Very happy to be back to carefree warmth this morning.

I taped a bunch of hand warmers to the bottom of my hummingbird feeders to keep them from freezing solid. I've never seen so many hungry, desperate little birds. As my house was dropping to nearly freezing inside, I was reminded that things could be worse. I could have been a hummingbird.

Stay safe y'all.

Larry Hart said...


We lost power at my place yesterday.

I forget now which part of the world you are in.

As my house was dropping to nearly freezing inside, I was reminded that things could be worse. I could have been a hummingbird.

You could be in Ukraine. Granted Kiev was warmer than Chicago yesterday and today. Warmer than Austin, Texas even. But then the power is on in both of those cities, not being bombed into the stone age by Tucker Carlson's favorite dictator.

Larry Hart said...


but we do have neo-Nazi white christian scum taking out our power stations.

Right. Someone needs to de-Nazify the Pacific Northwest.

David Brin said...

Someone needs to de-Nazify the Pacific Northwest.

Um I portrayed this being difficult.

Alfred Differ said...

David… thought about you as I flew over, but on the ground I focused on ensuring my wife and son got to eat. Paid off when we sat on the taxiway at the next airport for an hour surrounded be tired, cranky passengers.😏

I’m safe and sound now. I dealt with these burps as a kid when I lived in ND. Bundle up and hide for awhile… not that I did as a kid.

Unknown said...

Remember, peace on Earth to men of good will.


A.F. Rey said...

Cool, Pappenheimer, you got the translation right. :)

Larry Hart said...

...and to all, a good night.

David Brin said...

"Peace on Earth and good tall women."
-- Christopher Fry, 'The Lady's Not For Burning.'

Alfred Differ said...

Ho ho ho!
Merry Christmas!

scidata said...

Santa Claus reminds me a bit of Hari Seldon.


Larry Hart said...

Santa Claus reminds me a bit of Hari Seldon

Ok, scidata gets Post of the Day for that one.

And, baby, is it ever cold outside.

Unknown said...

Doubt there will be a "Christmas in the trenches" in the Donbas and in Crimea tonight, even though both sides have many conscripts who can speak each other's languages. Which is a shame, because most conscript armies are basically just a bunch of guys who want to go home. I wonder if Putin has read Machiavelli on leadership, or if it's just ingrained (engraved?) in Russian culture.


Der Oger said...

I wonder if Putin has read Machiavelli on leadership, or if it's just ingrained (engraved?) in Russian culture.

If so, then he has only read The Prince, and has forgotten about the text passage saying that it is better to be feared than loved, but should avoid at all costs to be hated.

What I have seen in many co-workers hailing from the former Warsaw pact states is that they seem to lean to authoritarianism. Following orders unquestioned, remaining silent on many matters, but also kicking down on people they believe to be below them. Also, while many are diligent and hard-working people, I have the suspicion that the tales about their productivity are somewhat exaggerated and that there is a talent of appearing to be productive. As in that old joke "They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work".


Happy Year's End Festivities to y'all!

DP said...

Merry Christmas!

Alan Brooks said...

A Christian asked me to pray today.
Will pray that Putin drops into a bottomless pit—if everyone prayed for this, the odds of it happening would increase immeasurably.

Larry Hart said...

Alan Brooks:

Will pray that Putin drops into a bottomless pit—if everyone prayed for this, the odds of it happening would increase immeasurably.

That's kinda the plot to the Neil Gaiman Sandman story "A Dream of a Thousand Cats".

Maybe if a thousand Ukrainians all dream of a world in which Ukraine is the dominant country and Russia is subservient, they can re-make the world.

Alan Brooks said...

But thinking about it, his successor might be worse.
They went from Lenin to Stalin in, what? Four years?

Larry Hart said...

Alan Brooks:

Will pray that Putin drops into a bottomless pit

Do people still pray for things and expect that God will do what they ask instead of what He was going to?

I'm afraid that, even as a skeptic about the supernatural, I internalized Dave Sim's notion that prayer belongs basically to one of two forms: thanks to God for His wonderfulness, and apologies to God for one's own failings.

Larry Hart said...

Alan Brooks:

They went from Lenin to Stalin in, what? Four years?

Well, we went from George W Bush to Trump in eight years.

Unknown said...


Re: "Do people still pray for things and expect that God will do what they ask instead of what He was going to?"

Pretty sure they still do. I was shown the "Answers to Praise" book as a yute. Not sure how the theology is squared - he was planning on doing the miracles anyway, but you have kiss his fundament first?


P.S. Twain's little story where "prayers of the heart" and "public prayers" have to be reconciled by the requisite heavenly bureaucracy is a savage gem of insight

Alan Brooks said...

The faith/hope is:
that what someone asks of the deity will dovetail with the deity’s own plan.

Tony Fisk said...

As the consummate futurist, Seldon realised that, without the Fat Man, the Sun wouldn't rise tomorrow.

Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk:

without the Fat Man, the Sun wouldn't rise tomorrow.

Well, at the North Pole, it won't.

David Brin said...



(and joy to all)