Pledge Drive Ends. Office 365 Problems. Grandmaster Larry Niven. When did we begin to see blue? and more.

Chaos Manor View, Monday, March 02, 2015

It has been a long day. The Internet sort of went down – it was very slow – and that played hell with my programs. Office – including Outlook and Word – wouldn’t work on the Surface Pro 3 because Microsoft couldn’t authenticate Office 365;  this because we weren’t connected to the Net. Well, we sort of were, but apparently not well enough. If Office – Word, Excel, Outlook, – is at all critical to your operation this would be a good time to consider alternatives. They intend to stop selling it one day, and they will only rent it, and if you cannot get on the Internet to authenticate you are dead. I have my own copies of Office on the Mac and my big machine, but doubtless they will die off as this trend continues.

Office worked once I got the Internet back, although I had to authenticate each program I had attempted to open.  Apparently once a program learns .  If you have the program running and lose networking capability nothing happens other than you access to the cloud; you Office 365 works, at least those programs that have authenticated; but new ones don’t.

I think that’s going to cost Microsoft a lot of money, but perhaps they will reconsider.


I fell down on the stairs trying to go up and reset the cable modem and router, but all’s well. Later Eric was over and by then things worked after reset upstairs (which I didn’t do; Roberta won’t let me go up there)

It’s dinner time. Back later.

OK, back. Also watched the season finale of Downton Abbey.

It is now public that Larry Niven will receive the Grandmaster Award at the next Nebula Awards ceremony.  It’s long overdue in my judgment. I have not vigorously argued in favor – Past Presidents have a part in choosing who gets it – for obvious reasons. I won’t say it’s about time because there are other deserving candidates, but wasn’t designed to be a competition but rather an honor deserved. Robert Heinlein won the first one.


No one could see the color blue until modern times  (BI)

Paulo Philippidis / flickr

This isn’t another story about that dress, or at least, not really.

It’s about the way that humans see the world, and how until we have a way to describe something, even something so fundamental as a color, we may not even notice that it’s there.

Until relatively recently in human history, “blue” didn’t exist, not in the way we think of it.

As the delightful Radiolab episode “Colors” describes, ancient languages didn’t have a word for blue — not Greek, not Chinese, not Japanese, not Hebrew. And without a word for the color, there’s evidence that they may not have seen it at all.

How we realized blue was missing

In the Odyssey, Homer famously describes the “wine-dark sea.” But why “wine-dark” and not deep blue or green?

In 1858, a scholar named William Gladstone, who later became the Prime Minister of Great Britain, noticed that this wasn’t the only strange color description. Though the poet spends page after page describing the intricate details of clothing, armor, weaponry, facial features, animals, and more, his references to color are strange. Iron and sheep are violet, honey is green.

So Gladstone decided to count the color references in the book. And while black is mentioned almost 200 times and white around 100, other colors are rare. Red is mentioned fewer than 15 times, and yellow and green fewer than 10. Gladstone started looking at other ancient Greek texts, and noticed the same thing — there was never anything described as “blue.” The word didn’t even exist.

It seemed the Greeks lived in murky and muddy world, devoid of color, mostly black and white and metallic, with occasional flashes of red or yellow.

Gladstone thought this was perhaps something unique to the Greeks, but a philologist named Lazarus Geiger followed up on his work and noticed this was true across cultures.

He studied Icelandic sagas, the Koran, ancient Chinese stories, and an ancient Hebrew version of the Bible. Of Hindu Vedic hymns, he wrote: “These hymns, of more than ten thousand lines, are brimming with descriptions of the heavens. Scarcely any subject is evoked more frequently. The sun and reddening dawn’s play of color, day and night, cloud and lightning, the air and ether, all these are unfolded before us, again and again… but there is one thing no one would ever learn from these ancient songs… and that is that the sky is blue.”

There was no blue, not in the way that we know the color — it wasn’t distinguished from green or darker shades.

Geiger looked to see when “blue” started to appear in languages and found an odd pattern all over the world.

Every language first had a word for black and for white, or dark and light. The next word for a color to come into existence — in every language studied around the world — was red, the color of blood and wine.

After red, historically, yellow appears, and later, green (though in a couple of languages, yellow and green switch places). The last of these colors to appear in every language is blue.

The only ancient culture to develop a word for blue was the Egyptians — and as it happens, they were also the only culture that had a way to produce a blue dye.

If you think about it, blue doesn’t appear much in nature — there are almost no blue animals, blue eyes are rare, and blue flowers are mostly human creations. There is, of course, the sky, but is that really blue? As we’ve seen from Geiger’s work, even scriptures that contemplate the heavens continuously still don’t necessarily see it as “blue.”

Russell Mondy/FlickrIs the sky really blue? What does that mean?

In fact, one researcher that Radiolab spoke with — Guy Deutscher, author of “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages,” tried a casual experiment with that. In theory, one of children’s first questions is “why is the sky blue?” So he raised his daughter while being careful to never describe the color of the sky to her, and then one day asked her what color she saw when she looked up.

Alma, Deutscher’s daughter, had no idea. The sky was colorless. Eventually, she decided it was white, and later on, eventually blue. But it wasn’t the first thing she saw or gravitated towards, though it is where she settled in the end.

So before we had a word for it, did people not naturally see blue?

This part gets a little complicated, because we don’t exactly what was going through Homer’s brain when he described the wine-dark sea and the violet sheep — but we do know that ancient Greeks and others in the ancient world had the same biology and therefore, same capability to see color that we do.

But do you really see something if you don’t have a word for it?

A researcher named Jules Davidoff traveled to Namibia to investigate this, where he conducted an experiment with the Himba tribe, who speak a language that has no word for blue or distinction between blue and green.

Vidipedia/Himba color experimentNamibian tribe member participates in a research project.

When shown a circle with 11 green squares and one blue, they couldn’t pick out which one was different from the others — or those who could see a difference took much longer and made more mistakes than would make sense to us, who can clearly spot the blue square.

But the Himba have more words for types of green than we do in English.

When looking at a circle of green squares with only one slightly different shade, they could immediately spot the different one. Can you?

Vidipedia/Himba Colour ExperimentWhich square is the outlier?

For most of us, that’s harder.

This was the unique square:

Vidipedia/Himba Colour Experiment

Davidoff says that without a word for a color, without a way of identifying it as different, it’s much harder for us to notice what’s unique about it — even though our eyes are physically seeing the blocks it in the same way.

So before blue became a common concept, maybe humans saw it. But it seems they didn’t know they were seeing it.

If you see something yet can’t see it, does it exist? Did colors come into existence over time? Not technically, but our ability to notice them may have…

For more fascinating information about colors, including information on how some “super-seeing” women may see colors in the sky that most of us have never dreamed of, check out the full Radiolab episode.

I think I would never have thought this possible, but having thought about it, the argument is reasonable, perhaps compelling.


SanDisk Squeezes 200GB Into a Tiny microSD Card (BT)

Stop for a second and take a look at the fingernail on your baby finger. That’s roughly the size of a microSD card that can now hold a whopping 200GB of data thanks to SanDisk. Remember when USB flash drives with a full gigabyte of storage were mind-blowing? We were so foolish back then.

Available sometime in the second quarter of 2015, the new microSDXC card uses the same technology that SanDisk developed for the 128GB microSDXC card it introduced last year, but with an improved design allowing the company to increase storage capacity by 56 percent. The new card also boasts transfer speeds of up to 90MB/sec, but once available its $400 price tag might be a little hard to swallow—even if the card itself isn’t.

Too bad there’s no slot for it in the new Galaxy S6. [SanDisk]


Google AI Now Self Learning (gizmodo)

Google scientists and engineers have created the first ever computer program that is capable of learning a wide variety of tasks completely independently, in what is a giant leap towards true general artificial intelligence.

The AI, or as Google refers to it the“agent”, has learnt to play almost 50 different retro computer games, and came up with its own strategies for winning completely without human input. The same approach could be used to control self-driving cars or personal assistants in smartphones.

This research was conducted at a British company the Google acquired a few years ago called DeepMind

Demis Hassabis, who founded DeepMind said:

“This is the first significant rung of the ladder towards proving a general learning system can work. It can work on a challenging task that even humans find difficult. It’s the very first baby step towards that grander goal … but an important one.”

And continued to draw comparisons with IBM’s DeepBlue chess computer.

“With Deep Blue, it was team of programmers and grand masters that distilled the knowledge into a program. We’ve built algorithms that learn from the ground up.”

Google have provided a video (below) that shows DeepMind learning to play a classic Atari game

(source Guardian)


Wonderful to see you fit and in full voice on TWiT Sunday evening (tis on late – 23:00 here in the UK). Do hope Leo has you on again in the near future. You two both agree and disagree on many things and Leo doesn’t often get called out so you’re a refreshing guest on the network.
I note the extensive Q&A here on Iran, Israel, Saudi, etc. and thought I’d add my 2pence.
Having just returned from a 12 month long technology consulting job in Kuwait, and before that spent two years in the Magic Kingdom and traveled all across the region I can say that things look different from the inside than they perhaps do from the outside.

The struggle had long been painted as a Israeli v Palestinian conflict and now is pitched as a very complex hydra headed Sunni v Shia conflict. I see it as a simpler situation. It now boils down to an old fashioned regional battle – a Riyadh v Tehran power play – with each side employing proxies of various stripes to fight their battles. All these troubles in a post-Saddam world are due to the main two protagonists in the region. It’s not about religion. It’s about regional dominance.

Rather than ‘NATO boots on the ground’ we should be using all our soft power to knock heads together in the two respective power centers and force them to smoke the peace pipe and to call off their dogs. And if that fails, we should at least be talking up the conflict in public to make it clear where the problems actually lie.

The furor over Bibi’s speech to Congress is one big distraction and has nothing to do with the real issue at hand.

Again, great to see you’re well again.
Best regards,
Jeff Wolfers

Thanks for the kind words.


Net Neutrality, Feb 27, 2015

What if the normal mode of business competition in public utilities is sabotage? I am attaching a contemporary picture of the Battle of Havant, a right-of-way dispute between two English railroad companies in the year 1858.

Source: [Cuthbert] Hamilton Ellis [1909-1987, Fellow of the Royal Society of Art, Associate of the Institute of Locomotive Engineers], _The Pictoral History of Railways_, 1968, p. 17

A utility company’s plant, like that of a railroad, is inherent extensive, in the sense of being distributed over the landscape, and being practically impossible to guard. They already have problems with metal theft, ie. druggies (meth-heads) stealing things like manhole covers and selling them for scrap. Fierce competition might very well translate into paying the Bloods and the Crips to put the rival network out of action.

Andrew D. Todd


The pledge drive is over, but you can still subscribe.  I won’t be bugging you about that for a while


Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




Pledge Week ends. TWIT this Afternoon. Interesting Week

Chaos Manor View, Sunday, March 01, 2015


Pledge week ends tonight. Thanks to all of you who subscribed. Of course you can subscribe anytime, 


Subj: It’s going to be an interesting week

I’ve been wondering what Bibi Netanyahu was planning to say during his address to Congress this week. I had assumed that his purpose was to take an appeal for aid to the American people, bypassing a President whom he know will ignore him, and what he believes is the existential crises of ISIS and Iranian nukes staring him in the face.

Reading the article about this leak, another thought gelled: knowing that the Obama Administration had leaked every plan Israel has formulated for the past six years to attempt to stop the Iranian nuclear program, knowing the relationship that the Obama administration has maintained both towards Israel and towards Moslem groups in the Middle East, knowing the intense opposition that the White House is bringing to bear against Bibi’s speech, is it possible that Bibi is aiming higher:

Is it possible, perhaps even probable, that Bibi’s objective is to reveal the international crimes of the Obama Administration, of the White House and Democrat leadership, in a way that even the rank-and-file Democrats of the House and Senate cannot ignore or wish away. Is is possible that Bibi’s objective is to lay the case for Obama’s impeachment that the Republican leadership refuses to touch, because there is no way politically that they can bring the Democrats to consider impeachment if they bring the charges.

All I can say is, we’ll see.

Unlikely that sort of bombshell, but Israel is in a pickle. We are fast approaching a point where the only to stop the Iranians from acquiring Hiroshima bombs – several of them – is air power, and there is some question of whether Israel can accomplish that – at least without nuclear weapons. The White House is sure they cannot; some in the Pentagon are not so sure.

It is definitely going to be an interesting week.


Subject: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel

A major conflict in the Middle East remains beyond U.S. interests.

The talks with Iran indicate this. Israel has, for years, wanted pre-emptive strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities — much like it did with Iraq. The main problem with this policy is that Iran’s infrastructure is well dispersed and well-protected. Not only can we not guarantee that a strike will disable the capability, it seems likely that such a strike will not accomplish this objective.

Thus, we need a process to slow down or handicap the capability since we cannot be certain that we will disable it and a failed attempt could create the scenario we wish to avoid in disabling this capability. Hence, the Geneva talks — or so the story goes. Other factors drive the United States to these talks e.g. a resurgent Russia. Whether U.S. interests exist in Ukraine is irrelevant, certain policy makers see U.S. interests in this and they’re positioning accordingly and I maintain this also drives an interest in the Geneva talks. Other factors also influence this impetus.

An Israeli media source ran with the story that Obama threatened to shoot down Israeli airplanes if they were to attempt an attack on Iranian facilities.

I suspect U.S. policy makers assume that Israel would fly over Iraq to make these strikes. What if they flew over Saudi Arabia?


[Saudi intelligence and defense officials] had asked for a private meeting with Pardo [Head of Mossad], at which he was offered the reassurance that the Chinese rockets that Israeli spy satellites had spotted in Saudi Arabia’s desert were only there to protect their country from an enemy they both shared — the Republic of Iran.

Prince Bandar added they both knew that their countries shared concerns which at times put them at odds with the United States. The crown prince felt the Iran threat had reached a stage where it must be handled.

That began the start of several meetings which had taken Pardo to Riyadh and Amman to meet with both the royal princes and senior Saudi military officers. By November, a mutual cooperation had been agreed that Israel could use Saudi air space to launch air attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities and for Israeli drones, rescue helicopters and tanker planes to be positioned over Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea and have refuel facilities at various Saudi airfields.


The situation in the Middle East just got a lot more complicated and, perhaps, more rides on these talks than we might suspect. What would the Middle East look like if Israel attacked Iran with Saudi help?

After all, the House of Saud are not the natural rulers of Saudi Arabia; their dominance is a historical fluke.

So, what happens if Israel moves forward and fails? What does Iran do? What does Saudi do? What does Turkey do? What do the rest of the world do? Matters in the Middle East look more interesting with each passing day.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo

The Hashemite King of Jordan is the most “legitimate” pretender to Arabia – although he does not pretend to the position.  Turkey abolished the Caliphate in the 20’s, and the last Sultan has died, although there are pretenders.

ISIS has a qualified pretender to Caliph (he is from the right tribe) but to rule by that reasoning he must make all Shiites apostates, worthy of death.  That’s a lot of apostates. He also


Leonard Nimoy, RIP.


Roland Dobbins

I never knew him although I did know Roddenberry. I’ve nothing to add, except that we know the young man who is to have the part of Spock in the Star Trek opera – but I know nothing about that, either.


I will have more after TWIT. Good afternoon.


Running cars on water

A real quick Chem eng analysis suggests the aluminium route to hydrogen in a car is not going to fly.
Converting aluminum oxide to aluminum metal takes lots and lots of electricity – Wikipedia says the best plants use 46MJ/kg, but the chemical energy of aluminium metal is only 31MJ/kg. (67% efficient)
Then in the on board step
2Al + 3H2O -> Al2O3 + 3H2 the aluminum has chemical energy of 1675 kJ/mol (converted to mol terms from weight terms earlier), but the 3 moles of hydrogen released only has 857kj of chemical energy (50% efficient). To make matters worse the other 50% will be released as heat in the liquid bath. A typical car uses ~20kW of actual running power, so at 50% efficient there will be another 20kW that needs to be removed from the water bath, which makes quite the kettle.
Multiply the two steps together and the process is only 33% efficient at turning electricity into hydrogen.
I’m pretty sure that the liquid metal really is mercury. It’s why they don’t let you take mercury on planes. The issue will be that now you have alumina contaminated with mercury that I doubt any aluminium refinery is going to be happy to have to deal with.
The upside is the energy density is not bad – roughly 8MJ/kg with perfect conversion and no boiling losses – compared to gasoline at 50MJ/kg not great, but most batteries are well under 1MJ/kg.

Jesse Huebsch

Running on Water

Hello, Jerry –

The original post on the subject almost certainly referred to the use of gallium with aluminum to generate hydrogen.

Jerry Woodall (then of Perdue, currently UC Davis) made a splash in 2007-2008 with his announcement of the use of a gallium/indium/tin alloy for this purpose. A good example of his recent thinking is , although a somewhat less sanguine appreciation can be found as part of a 2010 DOE report

I was introduced to the reaction during an evening spent with John Campbell in the fall of ’68, so the idea has been around for a while.

Woodall skips over a few problems:

1) His process will not operate reliably below 10 degrees C (he depends on the alloy, which has melting point of 10 C, to maintain a supercooled state for lower temperatures), and completely ignores the problems associated with keeping water from freezing below 0 C, which would seem an obvious difficulty for any vehicle operating north of the Mason-Dixon line.

2) Per the DOE report, recycling of the spent aluminum would require an expansion of US aluminum refining capacity by roughly an order of magnitude if all vehicles in the US are converted.

3) The mechanics of replacing the spent aluminum oxide with new aluminum is less trivial than one might think, given that the alumina is in the form of sludge and scum, rather than a nice, solid brick or ingot, while the GaInSb alloy will form a puddle in the bottom of the reaction vessel.

But it is an intriguing idea, and has the virtue that the materials involved are not terribly toxic (as opposed, for instance, to mercury).


Jim Martin

Which tells us about as much as we can know from this distance,


Good night.  TWIT 499 is up.  Live long and prosper.



Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




Net Neutrality; Space Access; Run Your Car on Water?; Robots

Chaos Manor, Friday, February 27, 2015


The FCC seized control of the Internet yesterday. Many cheered.

John Fund gives the political right view in NRO but they don’t permit quotes.

A Libertarian view on Net Neutrality comes from Forbes. Recall that the Interstate Commerce Commission clung to its regulatory powers long after highways and airports made most of its work irrelevant. When it was abolished few noticed. Some regulation was needed in the days when railroads were the only means of fast transport, (see The Octopus as a fictional view) but it continued long after highways and airlines which it could not regulate changed the whole transport picture. Its meeting Room with thrones for the Commissioners (who were full time regulators) became a subject of scorn. David Friedman argues persuasively that it hindered competition.

The FCC no longer has Ma Bell, as many other communications organizations emerged, but now it claims the Internet as its own. Adam Smith said ““People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” They do this by having government make rules about entering their business…

The Forbes essay comes close to my own sentiments. It is months old.

= = = =

Am I The Only Techie Against Net Neutrality?

If you watch the news, it seems just about everyone is in favor of “Net Neutrality” legislation. Despite being a tech-addicted entrepreneur, I am not. No, I am not a paid shill for the cable industry. I am no fan of Comcast or any other ISP I’ve ever had the “pleasure” of dealing with. I’m skeptical of large corporations generally and dislike the fact that in this debate I appear to be on their side. While I have no problem with net neutrality as a principle or concept, I have serious concerns about Net Neutrality as legislation or public policy. And since a false dichotomy is being perpetuated by the media in regards to this matter, I feel an obligation to put forth a third point of view. In taking this stand, I realize I may be the only techie, if I can aspire to that label, opposed to Net Neutrality and that I open myself to accusations of killing the dreams of young entrepreneurs, wrecking free speech, and destroying the Internet. Nevertheless, here are three reasons I’m against Net Neutrality legislation.

I Want More Competition

Proponents of Net Neutrality say the telecoms have too much power. I agree. Everyone seems to agree that monopolies are bad and competition is good, and just like you, I would like to see more competition. But if monopolies are bad, why should we trust the U.S. government, the largest, most powerful monopoly in the world? We’re talking about the same organization that spent an amount equal to Facebook’s first six years of operating costs to build a health care website that doesn’t work, the same organization that can’t keep the country’s bridges from falling down, and the same organization that spends 320 times what private industry spends to send a rocket into space. Think of an industry that has major problems. Public schools? Health care? How about higher education, student loans, housing, banking, physical infrastructure, immigration, the space program, the military, the police, or the post office? What do all these industries and/or organizations have in common? They are all heavily regulated or controlled by the government. On the other hand we see that where deregulation has occurred, innovation has bloomed, such as with telephony services. Do you think we’d all be walking around with smartphones today if the government still ran the phone system?

The U.S. government has shown time after time that it is ineffective at managing much of anything. This is by design. The Founders intentionally created a government that was slow, inefficient, and plagued by gridlock, because they knew the greatest danger to individual freedom came from a government that could move quickly–too quickly for the people to react in time to protect themselves. If we value our freedom, we need government to be slow. But if government is slow, we shouldn’t rely on it to provide us with products and services we want in a timely manner at a high level of quality. The telecoms may be bad, but everything that makes them bad is what the government is by definition. Can we put “bad” and “worse” together and end up with “better”?

I don’t like how much power the telecoms have. But the reason they’re big and powerful isn’t because there is a lack of government regulation, but because of it. Government regulations are written by large corporate interests which collude with officials in government. The image of government being full of people on a mission to protect the little guy from predatory corporate behemoths is an illusion fostered by politicians and corporate interests alike. Many, if not most, government regulations are the product of crony capitalism designed to prevent small entrepreneurs from becoming real threats to large corporations. If Net Neutrality comes to pass how can we trust it will not be written in a way that will make it harder for new companies to offer Internet services? If anything, we’re likely to end up even more beholden to the large telecoms than before. Of course at this point the politicians will tell us if they hadn’t stepped in that things would be even worse.

If the telecoms are forced to compete in a truly free market, Comcast and Time Warner won’t exist 10 years from now. They’ll be replaced by options that give us better service at a lower price. Some of these new options may depend on being able to take advantage of the very freedom to charge more for certain types of Internet traffic that Net Neutrality seeks to eliminate. If we want to break up the large telecoms through increased competition we need to eliminate regulations that act as barriers to entry in the space, rather than create more of them.

I Want More Privacy

Free speech cannot exist without privacy, and the U.S. government has been shown to be unworthy of guarding the privacy of its citizens. Only the latest revelation of many, Glenn Greenwald’s new book No Place To Hide reveals that the U.S. government tampers with Internet routers during the manufacturing process to aid it’s spying programs. Is this the organization we trust to take even more control of the Internet? Should we believe that under Net Neutrality the government will trust the telecoms to police themselves? The government will need to verify, at a technical level, whether the telecoms are treating data as they should. Don’t be surprised if that means the government says it needs to be able to install its own hardware and software at critical points to monitor Internet traffic. Once installed, can we trust this government, or any government, to use that access in a benign manner?

While privacy and freedom of speech may not be foremost on your mind today because you like who is running the government right now, remember that government control tends to swing back and forth. How will you feel about the government having increased control of the Internet when Republicans own the House and Senate and Jeb Bush is elected President, all at the same time?

I Want More Freedom

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. – James Madison, The Federalist No. 51

Many of us see the U.S. government as a benevolent and all-knowing parent with the best interests of you and me, its children, at heart. I see the U.S. government as a dangerous tyrant, influenced by large corporate interests, seeking to control everyone and everything. Perhaps these diverging perspectives on the nature of the U.S. government are what account for a majority of the debate between proponents and opponents of Net Neutrality. If I believed the U.S. government was omniscient, had only good intentions, and that those intentions would never change, I would be in favor of Net Neutrality and more. But it wasn’t all that long ago that FDR was locking up U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps and Woodrow Wilson was outlawing political dissent. More recently we’ve seen the U.S. government fight unjust wars, topple elected democracies, and otherwise interfere in world affairs. We’ve seen the same government execute its own citizens in violation of Fifth Amendment rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Simply put–I don’t trust the U.S. government. Nor do I trust any other government, even if “my team” wins the election. I see any increase in regulation, however well-intentioned, however beneficial to me today, as leading to less freedom for me and society in the long term. For this reason those who rose up against SOPA and PIPA a few years ago should be equally opposed to Net Neutrality.

What Instead?

Internet bandwidth is, at least currently, a finite resource and has to be allocated somehow. We can let politicians decide, or we can let you and me decide by leaving it up to the free market. If we choose politicians, we will see the Internet become another mismanaged public monopoly, subject to political whims and increased scrutiny from our friends at the NSA. If we leave it up to the free market we will, in time, receive more of what we want at a lower price. It may not be a perfect process, but it will be better than the alternative.

Free markets deal exceptionally well in the process of “creative destruction” economist Joseph Schumpeter championed as the mode by which society raises its standard of living. Although any progress is not without its impediments and free markets aren’t an instant panacea, even U2’s Bono embraced the fact entrepreneurial capitalism does more to eradicate poverty than foreign aid. Especially in the area of technology, government regulation has little, if any place. Governments cannot move fast enough to effectively regulate technology companies because by the time they move, the technology has changed and the debate is irrelevant. Does anyone remember the antitrust cases against Microsoft because of the Internet Explorer browser? The worse services provided by the large telecoms are, the more incentive there will be for entrepreneurs to create new technologies. Five years from now a new satellite technology may emerge that makes fiber obsolete, and we’ll all be getting wireless terabit downloads from space directly to our smartphones, anywhere in the world, for $5/month. Unrealistic? Just think what someone would have said in 1994 if you had tried to explain to them everything you can do today on an iPhone, and at what price.

Update 6 February, 2015: Today, it was revealed by FCC commissioner Ajit Pai that the proposed Net Neutrality plan the FCC is considering is 332 pages long. It will not be released to the public until after the FCC has voted. Pai claims this regulation will give “the FCC the power to micromanage virtually every aspect of how the Internet works.”

The one certainty is that it will be years in courts, and will enrich many law firms.


A year or two ago I read about a technique for using aluminum, wetted with a room-temp liquid metal, sitting in a tank of water. I forget which metal they used, other than it not being mercury.

Aluminum is unique in that it’s very unstable, instantly oxidizing, but, very *stable* because the oxide layer is incredibly durable. This is why it’s so difficult to solder.

By wetting it with the layer of liquid metal, it’s unable to form its oxide layer. Instead, the oxide is shed into the water, as it combines with the “O” from the H2O, liberating the H2, which can then be used to drive a fuel cell, or, an internal combustion engine.

Because the hydrogen is stored in water, which is on par with the stability of the aluminum block, the supply can be stopped by lifting the block out of the water, creating an on-demand hydrogen system, obviating entirely the question of storage. (When the aluminum block is fully converted to a pile of aluminum oxide, it can be quickly replaced

– “five minutes” not being an unreasonable guess — and the oxide returned to the “fuel refinery” to be reduced to metallic aluminum (with the oxygen byproduct utilized to help improve the efficiency of the process).

I wonder if Toyota is using something like this? If so (and even if not

so!) I have to wonder why they’re going the fuel cell route rather than simply piping it to one of their engines. If I were a betting man, my money would be on politics rather than technology. It’s hard to conceive of a hydrogen/fuel cell/electric motor system having higher efficiency than a hydrogen/engine system. (In either case, the “exhaust” would be the same: water.)


I remarked that efficient and reliable energy storage would change the world. I got this reply:

Yup. For some, a change for the better; for others, a change for the worse (I’d hate to be deeply vested in an oil refinery if cheap water-to-hydrogen becomes practical.)

As an aside, I have to wonder if those tales of “The inventor who created a pill that let him drive his car on water” were more of a practical joke than “invention.”

I can easily see some wag rigging his car with a pile of aluminum shavings, wetted with mercury, and placed in his empty fuel tank — a tank rigged so that the fuel line was at the *top* of the tank rather than the bottom. When the witnesses verified that the tank was “empty”

(no liquid), and that the water was indeed water, he would pour the water into the tank, and then, with great fanfare, drop his “invention”

into the tank (in reality, an aspirin), and then wait a few minutes, then start up his car and drive it, to the amazement of the spectators.

Assuming that any of the apocryphal tales are true, it was inevitable that nothing would come of them, since the premise — a Magic Tablet — was pure hokum.

I know of no reports of progress in making fuel out of water without putting in a great deal of energy, It makes for great science fantasy though. And really efficient batteries would do wonders. But my experience with hydrogen is that it really wants to be free.





Pete Worden is leaving NASA at end of March. Readers of NEO News will remember that Pete has been a consistent supporter of NEA studies and planetary defense, in the Air Force where he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, in several policy related positions in Washington, and for the past nine years as Director of NASA Ames Research Center (and my boss).

In the early 1990s Pete invited several of us (including Gene Shoemaker) to visit Falcon Air Force Base and discuss the observations of bolides being made by surveillance satellites, and he organized one of the first meetings on planetary defense in Erice, Sicily. This meeting included astronomers who were calling for the Spaceguard Survey, Edward Teller and others from the nuclear establishment who favored experimenting with nuclear deflection, and a few representatives of the public including Lori Garver (later NASA Deputy Administrator) and Bob Parks (long-time writer of the weekly blog What’s New for the American Physical Society). Pete basically locked us all up for a week in a monastery until we agreed on a joint statement about the NEA impact hazard and planetary defense.

Back when II was active in politics, Then Col. Pete Worden was my (and General Graham’s) candidate to head a big X-project. We had some chance of success, but politics got in the way. Alas.


Henry Vanderbilt’s space conferences are among the best gatherings of this sort you can possibly attend. An announcement:

The announcement is that we (finally!) have a site nailed down for our next Space Access conference – Thursday April 30th through Saturday May 2nd, at the Radisson Hotel Phoenix North, three intensive days on the technology, business, and politics of radically cheaper space transportation.

Full conference info is at (I’ll attach a copy

also.) We should have first-pass agenda details up in a week or so – as usual we’re putting this all together on a just-in-time basis, and the agenda will evolve (and improve) right up through the conference.

Henry Vanderbilt

SA’15 Conference Manager

I keep hoping I will be up to going.


Will robots reduce the demand for labor? I am perhaps skeptical. Consider that in the 1980’s Apple computers were assembled in highly automated factories in the United States – now they are assembled by hand in Asia by armies of workers jammed into shacks like battery hens using jewelers screwdrivers. Your clothes were sewed by hand, your fruits were picked by hand¦ If wages are down it’s not because of automation, but the population explosion and all that cheap third-world labor. I mean, if robots are making human labor obsolete, why are the rich in the United States so adamant that they simply must have immigration to expand the size of the labor force? Answer: it is supply and demand, not automation, that drives down wages.
Sure, there are processes like making nails or weaving simple textiles where machines are so efficient that no matter how cheap labor gets nobody will ever use human labor again. There are also some processes, like precision welding, where machines are simply more repeatable and precise. But for many other tasks, in Bangladesh you can get a human for 50 cents an hour, with no up-front capital costs, no maintenance costs, no retirement costs. Simple, cheap, disposable (plenty more where they came from). Whereas a machine could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars up front, maintenance contracts for industrial machines are not cheap, and you can’t just throw away that kind of capital investment if the need for the machine goes away.
Historically automation does not cause low wages – rather, because automation is so expensive, automation is a reaction to high wages. I mean, if automation caused wages to fall we would see more robots in poor countries, and that’s not the pattern, is it?
I think the big question ultimately will be capital costs. A robot could surely be made to pick strawberries faster than any human being. But how much is it going to cost? A million dollars? Or 5000? That I think is the issue, not the theoretical ability of a robot to do human work.


I commented on this yesterday. I can only point to tasks that robots and AI do routinely that not long ago were considered peculiarly human. I would not bet heavily against the robots; and the Asian sweatshops won’t be there forever. How long before you can print a special purpose robot?


It’s still pledge week.  If you have never subscribed, this would be a good time to do it; and if you haven’t renewed in a while, right now’s a good tome to do that.


Government Food Cops Are Out to Lunch

Dietary guidelines look nothing like how people really eat. Maybe that’s why they don’t work.


Cheryl Achterberg

The classic American sandwich is about to get a radical makeover. Forget about roast beef or cold cuts. Red meats and processed meats are out. A slice of cheese is permissible, provided it is low-fat and low-sodium. Skip the chips, even if they’re baked. Dinner needs an overhaul too: Less pizza, fewer cheeseburgers and casseroles, or change their recipes to make them healthier. At mealtime, water is the preferred beverage of choice—unless you are an adult, when moderate alcohol consumption is acceptable.

That, at least, is how the modern American family should eat, according to recommendations submitted this month to the federal government by 15 experts in nutrition and health—the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Every five years the committee is formed to advise the government on how to update its Dietary Guidelines for Americans according to the latest “scientific” data. I sat on the committee in 2010.

To fulfill its task and complete its 571-page report, the committee “developed a conceptual model based on socio-ecological frameworks to guide its work.”

If government committees of experts will tell you what you ought to eat, why would you suppose experts in mental health will not tell what you ought to have available on the Internet?


After net neutrality vote, an uncertain future for the Internet (WP)

By Larry Downes February 27 at 8:00 AM

Thursday, during a rancorous meeting of the Federal Communications Commission, the agency voted 3-2 to impose public utility regulations on Internet access providers, resurrecting a 1934 law known as Title II.

According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s comments at the meeting, this milestone decision, which undoes nearly 20 years of bipartisan “light touch” regulation for the Internet, was necessary to provide the agency with the authority it needed to pass enforceable Open Internet rules, or what is sometimes known as “net neutrality.”

Two previous efforts over the last decade were rejected by federal courts, who held that the FCC had failed to make the case that Congress had ever authorized the agency to police broadband, regardless of the agency’s best intentions.

So Wheeler decided to turn back the clock to a time when Congress had given the FCC broad power over an earlier communications technology — the monopoly phone company of the early 20th century.  Through a legal fiction the chairman referred to as “reclassification,” the Internet will be redefined as a telephone service. The agency can then regulate broadband using laws passed to oversee Ma Bell, treating it the way it does the old (and now nearly dead) copper phone network. Those laws, or some uncertain subset of them, will now apply to the Internet.

The Iron Law at work. It needs regulating. What must we do to make that happen?



Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.