Nor a good week. And we’re headed over a cliff.

View 751 Wednesday, November 28, 2012 though Friday, November 30, 2012



Another day more or less devoured by locusts. I continue to think about the situation, in hopes of getting things in order.


Continuing to examine basic facts for rational analysis. Among them: the United States still leads the world in manufacturing, and is either first or second in total exports among the nations of the Earth. We also rank very high in agricultural production. What we don’t do is employ as many people doing all this as others do. We can expand all this, but it end unemployment because productivity continues to rise. Why, then, do we not compete with cheap labor. But that depends on what we mean by compete, doesn’t it?

We also import vast quantities of crude oil; but we also export vast quantities of highly refined petroleum products.


Federalist No. 62 – “It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow.”


Friday, November 30, 2012

Thursday I had dinner with Niven and we worked on Anvil, our latest attempt to save the world. Today I am still recovering from something between flu and a cold. I haven’t got much done today.


In part because things don’t make sense. It is difficult to understand what the President is doing. He had the Secretary of the Treasury approach the Speaker with a proposition that he well knew was impossible – $160 Trillion in new taxes. Rush Limbaugh is convinced that the President intends to let the new taxes and sequestrations happen. That will put the economy in even worse shape.

It is clear that whatever happens, it is time for intelligent people to take a number of precautions in case there is a new depression. A new Great Depression. That is difficult to prepare for, particularly since we have an enormous debt and a very great deal of paper money backed by not much. Inflation is possible – actually reoccurrence of stagflation, a shrinking economy, high unemployment, and inflation rates of 10% or more. That too is hard to prepare for.

Entertainment, including story tellers, generally do all right in such conditions: people want escape from their lives, and the prices of books adjust to rising costs of living. Some other occupations are safe enough. Many others are not. And the number of takers – people who have no choice but to rely on government for subsistence – rises. And of course those who have capital try to preserve it, not risk it on new enterprises that increase employment. This is all truism, but the truisms must be remembered. If the United States does in fact go over the fiscal cliff that looms larger every day, the results will be far reaching and last longer than you expect, even if it is corrected quickly thereafter. And of course Obamacare will happen whether we have a fiscal cliff or not.

It’s a lot to think about.


I have done enough research on polonium to be confidant that the Swiss laboratories have a good chance of finding evidence if Arafat was in fact poisoned. If he did, it is not automatic that he was killed by foreign assassins: there were plenty of domestic rivals and others within his own entourage who had motive to kill him. But I don’t know, and this is pure speculation not any attempt to follow breaking news. I’m depressed enough about the way the President is treating the financial cliff ahead without worrying about the consequences of complications arising from Arafat’s death.




Excuses, makers and takers thoughts, and SSPS comes up again

View 751 Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I am in the middle of developing my piece on survival in the new era, but there have been a number of distractions. Apologies. The weekend was spent with LOSCON, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society Convention, and the wedding of two good friends; and due to family reasons Roberta will be heading north to see her sister.

All of which is no excuse for not getting on with it, but it does explain why I am slower than I wish to be. Apologies.


Survival in a time of makers and takers makes for a theme, but it’s also simplistic. One of the examples that define injustice is treating unequal things equally, and among the “takers” there are many inequalities. One such is single mothers: they are not “just another tax taker”. Of course there are many inequalities even among that group. The ability to discriminate – to see inequalities – is one of the major requirements of correct analysis, rational debate, intelligent behavior…

In the case of single moms, the motivations are and very much should be quite different from those of many of the other ‘takers’, starting with some of the most basic of human motivations that have kept the race alive through the ages. A mother with a hungry child will do damn near anything to correct that situation – some of the great literature of both Eastern and Western civilizations operates from that premise.

There are many other categories of ‘takers’ which any feasible political scheme must provide for. Even in the darkest days of Malthusian survival in Medieval times this was well understood.


Any rational analysis must also take account of inherent differences among people. Like it or not, half the population is below average in intelligence. Fortunately below average does not mean stupid; but now divide the ‘below average’ into groups, and –

If intelligence is distributed in a bell curve – that is, if the Normal Distribution is anything like an accurate picture of the reality of the distribution of intelligence – certain hard facts fall out. As a rough cut, think of the way the military sees things. A modern army consists of persons of IQ 85 to as high as it gets. It doesn’t really have much for those under 85 to do. Moreover, in general you’ll find that non-commissioned officers will fall among the IQ 105-120, and officers about 120 and above. There are always exceptions, but comparing those numbers to the Bell Curve can be instructive: what kind of education and training do you give to new recruits? Clearly you won’t give the same to all. Training the IQ 90 recruit for officer candidate school makes no sense. On the other hand, you have to find something to train him for: something you need done, and that he/she is capable of doing.

OK for the military. Begin to apply that to the population and education in general. The outlines of an essay begin to form…


It’s dinner time. I’ll try to get a mail bag up soon. I also need to discuss something Keith Henson brought up to me at LOSCON (and which in fact I had used in some of my early stories): build a solar power satellite with chemical rockets. Now use the power from that to power a laser launch system to put the rest of a Space Solar Power Satellite power generating system into orbit. The first SSPS is bloody expensive, because of the launch costs, but once the power is essentially free the next SSPS is cheaper, and the third can begin generating power you can sell at a profit. You can be a capitalist or a government. If you are a government you can be one that speaks English or some other language like Chinese. If you speak English it may or not be US or English English. They speak English in Bombay, too.

Anyway the concept needs exploring. The technical stuff already exists. More later. I really do have to get to dinner.


And the radio is telling me they have dug up Yasser Arafat. I don’t do breaking news, but I sure want to follow that story. They are looking for cause of death. Polonium?


Had dinner with Niven and we worked on our book on – well, it’s sort of on survival. We need viewpoint characters. And it’s late and I am tirted, recovering from this flu like cold or cold like flu. More another time. What’s important it to understand that America is very rich. We are also very diverse. That diversity gives some strengths, but includes many who need well designed training to become part of a thriving economy – and not only will not all of them profit from what Gates once said all deserve, a world class university prep education, but in fact trying to provide this to all means that very few will actually receive it, while forcing everyone to be exposed to a world class university prep education will mean that many spend their time in useless activities that do not contribute to learning what they can actually do. Skilled work goes looking in vain for those who can be trained to do it, while those graduating in some of the useless arts find they know how to do nothing that anyone wants to pay for.

These matters affect the story we are working on. We have twice struck the Earth with large objects in our fiction. Both books sold well, The story of survival in disaster is an interesting and useful story. Unfortunately since the last time we worked on these things, the education system has become worse, and seeks diversity rather than excellence. This never works.  The best education brings each student up to something close to a real potential. That generally takes hard work for all at all levels. No wonder it is not often done.

But the incapable cannot be allowed to control the process, to soak up resources needed to train the hone the excellent.

It’s late. The problems are difficult. They are not insoluble. There are still more good people than bad in these United States,







View 751 Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wishing you well on Thanksgiving Day.


And despite the election we have much to be thankful for. God reigns and the government at Washington still lives. We endure.


Part of my day was taken up with a vain attempt to make a good brown gravy from gluten free baking flour. There are many varieties of gluten free flour. The one I tried would not brown after considerable time in a fryng pan with Imperial margarine; then started to turn black. I got all that out of it and decided to try again, this time without an attempt to brown it. It ended up a mass of grey when, when I put the pater in, made for lumps. I got rid of the lumps with a blender, but the result tasted a bit like caramel; apparently gluten-free general purpose baking flour contains some kind of sweetener. After about an hour of this I threw the whole mess away.

We saved an appropriate amount of the turkey drippings for Roberta and I used Wonder flour to make a regular roué brown gravy, which the rest of us could eat. If anyone knows a good gluten free turkey gravy recipe I’d be grateful to have it.


Alex and his wife Dana were over for Thanksgiving. The other kids are fine with their families. I seem to be recovering from a not too severe cold. Felt rotten yesterday but in the recovering feeling state today. Tomorrow I’ll go down to LOSCON, the LASFS proprietary convention down by the airport. I should be over being contagious by then.

And happy Thanksgiving Day.


Just an idea, my grandmother used to brown flour for roux in the oven before she added it to the fat/oil. Of course it was regular flour, might work for gluten free, worth a try anyhow, just throw a layer of flour in a pie pan or something and toss it in the oven for awhile (I’d guess 350 degrees) and check it every once in awhile. Or if you want you could try browning it on the stove top, again just put the flour in a pan over a moderate heat, you might need to stir it from time to time.

I don’t know if cornstarch has gluten in it, but that can also be used as a thickener. Tapioca flour as well, but again, no idea on gluten content for those.

Hope that helps.


Cornstarch thickens nicely but doesn’t brown and has no flavor. But if you make a gravy with lots of the juice from baking a turkey, and it comes out thin, then a teaspoon of cornstarch in a small amount of cold water added to the gravy will thicken it nicely. It will also make it a bit less salty if somehow you added too much salt anywhere along the line. It’s certainly gluten free. But alas it won’t brown.


re: It’s Time For A New (Old) Kind Of University

I read the blog you referenced with interest. I noticed in it that the author stated that costs at some universities had increased at a rate of 3X inflation for the past 20 years.

I was laid up for a week of post-op recovery in a hotel far from home earlier this year and I became (extremely) bored. At one point I went online and researched the student handbooks from Georgia Tech (my alma mater – IE ’78)) and I plotted out the costs of tuition and fees from 1976 to 2010. I made normal adjustments for the switchover from quarters (which I thought were highly sensible) to semesters that the institution made in the 90′s. I also plotted the annual costs versus inflation across that period.

My findings were that annualized tuition/fee costs across that period actually have increased at 6X inflation. At the same time, they actually (it seems to me) cover less core ground in their engineering curriculums than they did in my day.

This can’t go on.

Happy Thanksgiving


And the number of administrators and staff has risen exponentially as well. As well as the number of new courses and departments, most of which do not seem to teach anything useful for getting a job or adding to the economy. And it continues unabated.


I was digging up material on the van Allen belts, and came across this discussion of, of all things, the theory that the moon landings were impossible because the astronauts could not get through the van Allen belts an live.  Therefore they didn’t go and return. For some odd reason I went to this site and found it a reasonable discussion of the subject. It will, as it notes, tell you more about the van Allen belts than you really wanted to know…


And finally while cruising through my Firefox open windows – a device I use as a reminder that I should post or comment or something or another – I found a number of them with interesting material that I will probably never get time to comment on, and they are piling up. So here, in no particular order, are some places where you might find something interesting, but which I probably won’t get to and most likely will clear out to make room for more.  tsunami in Geneva!






Reactionless Drives: Dean, Shawyer, and Yang; notes on Makers and Takers

View 751 Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The reactionless drive appears again.

Propellentless Space Propulsion Research Continues

Aviation Week & Space Technology Nov05, 2012

<> , p. 84

David Hambling


Chinese academics say they have perfected the EmDrive thruster

Chinese scientists appear to have validated a propellentless space propulsion technology previously branded as impossible. Based on earlier British research, it is averred that the EmDrive concept provides sustained thrust at low cost and weight, but this has yet to be accepted even as a workable theory by the wider propulsion community.

. . .

Shawyer’s EmDrive does not have any exhaust, according to its inventor.

Credit: Roger Shawyer

This appears to be a violation the law of conservation of momentum. However, Shawyer says net thrust occurs because the microwaves have a group velocity (the velocity of a collection of electromagnetic waves) greater in one direction than the other and relativistic effects to modify the Newtonian mechanics. Shawyer compares the EmDrive to a laser gyroscope, which also looks like a closed system but is actually open and works thanks to relativistic effects.

Shawyer’s analysis was challenged after the EmDrive was featured in a science magazine in 2006. John Costella, a researcher in relativistic electrodynamics, described the EmDrive as a fraud and argued that even with relativity there can be no net thrust.

Shawyer built demonstration EmDrives to back his claims, including a 7-lb.

version he said produced a thrust of 85 millinewtons (mN) with a 300-watt input. Skeptics, convinced of its impossibility, have not even tested the EmDrive.

A Chinese research professor, Yang Juan, professor of propulsion theory and engineering of aeronautics and astronautics at the Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xian, claims in a peer reviewed journal to have built a model that produces 720 mN from 2.5 kw of input power.

If that holds up, it is revolutionary. Professor Yang is at this time unable to answer questions about the device, and it is not available for inspection by Aviation Week or anyone else so far as Aviation Week can determine.

The Shawyer Drive was featured on the cover of New Scientist a few years ago. Its principles are available on line. The Wiki story is here.

A working reactionless drive – Yang’s paper is entitled "Net Thrust Measurement of Propellentless Microwave Thruster," and is in the June edition of the journal Acta Physica Sinica published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences – would be an astounding development. It would undoubtedly earn Shawyer a Nobel Prize as well as a great deal of money.

Nothing I have seen describes just how the thrust was measured, or what experimental precautions were taken to be sure that this is not some kind of reaction with the outside world. If it works we should all cheer. It is the key to the solar system, and possibly to the stars.


I have a considerable history of looking for reactionless drives. It began when I was at Boeing in the 1950’s, when Harry Stine saw the Dean Drive in action, and Editor John W. Campbell, Jr. featured it in Analog Science Fiction. The Dean Drive was said to be a system of mechanical counter-rotating systems out of phase with each other; the phase differential “converted rotary acceleration into linear acceleration.” The result was a device which, placed on an ordinary bathroom scale, apparently lost weight. The entire story of my experience with the Dean Drive (which happened in the fifties) is told in a previous View From Chaos Manor and need not be told again.

I have told my story of the Dean Drive for many years, including at least once in my BYTE column back in the glory days, and I have been approached by many with stories of a reactionless drive in the hopes that I will endorse it and help raise money for development of a working model. I have always replied that I have no ability to evaluate theories, but I would be glad to inspect a working model. I have several times been told that a working model is in development, and I should stand by. This got as far as a planned trip to Edinburgh to inspect a device, but as I was arranging some lectures to pay for the trip I was told there was a delay, then another, and then the entire conversation disappeared. Similar things have happened regarding groups in Mississippi, Bogota, and other places. I have even seen photographs of an object hanging off vertical when turned on, but I have never actually seen such a device.

It would be easy enough to use magnetic fields to build a gizmo that looks as if it has a reactionless thrust. All you need it a strong enough magnetic field on the device, and a large enough magnet somewhere behind it. (Obviously I exaggerate when I say ‘easy enough.’ Better perhaps would be ‘not impossible.’) Yang’s device uses a large magnetron. Since I don’t know how the 720 mN thrust was measured, nor anything about the chamber in which it is tested, and apparently neither do the Aviation Week reporters, we can only say, Wow! I hope she’s right!

I understand that Shawyer, having exhausted various grants and fundings, is raising money for continued experimentation. Boeing’s Phantom Works says it is not studying the Shawyer Drive.

I sure hope it works, but I’m not inclined to invest.


I have been a bit under the weather. I am working on the subject of survival in an era of Makers and Takers, with due regard to the dimensions of the question. Do note that on the subject of “Takers” there are a number of questions: as for example, who provides what is taken? It is one thing to hand out a negative income tax as a form of distributism. Milton Friedman was in favor of this method (note that he wasn’t a big advocate of redistribution of wealth, but if you’re going to do it, this would be the method that least influences the economy. It preserves freedom of choice.)

It is worth noting that any organization set up to relieve poverty will be a bureaucracy, and will be subject to the Iron Law of Bureaucracy. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the FHA come to mind, among others.

Anyway, I am a bit delayed on the work.


Another example, as a clarification: suppose we concede an entitlement to education. That can be provided by a state bureaucracy, or in out case, 50 state bureaucracies overlaid with the federal Department of Education. You can have the government determine who is allowed to teach and set qualifications, and establish departments of education. You can give the state a monopoly on accreditation and credentials. Nearly all of his is paid for through taxes, and run by unions and bureaucracies.

Alternatively, you can give every person entitled to education a voucher,  and say “Here’s your money. Go get your education. Good luck.” This is how some of the original GI Bill benefits worked. The Korean Veteran’s Bill was even more so.

Or of course you can combine those approaches.

The bureaucratic approach worked back when there was general agreement on what ought to be taught, and schools pretty well offered the national saga and encouraged patriotism. That system brome down in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, and produced a number of bureaucratic schools perpetuating ideologies sometimes antithetical to the beliefs of those paying the bills.  For some reason this is considered proper: to require ideological compliance in order to get a teaching credential, but to insist that the ideology one must comply comply with is one rejected by a majority of the population. Over time, of course, that ideology will become the majority view. Or perhaps not: there are those who argue that some ideologies so distort reality that they are doomed to fail, but they may last long enough to end the civilization that created them.

Enough: I wasn’t intending to write an essay on the subject, just to give an example of different ways to provide entitled people with what they are entitled to. The way preferred by bureaucracies is the creation of a bureaucracy. An alternative is simple distributism, giving out largesse to and adjusting inequalities, but not interfering with freedom – other than of course the confiscation of wealth that allows the redistribution in the first place.