More Educating the Starborn; and other matters.

Chaos Manor View, Monday, July 27, 2015


I’m still working on fiction, and although it wasn’t in the plot we conceived for our new novel, the education system for an interstellar colony in a slower than light travel universe turns out to take a lot of work; even though you’ll see little of it in the finished product.

We have a population of a few aging adults who were born on Earth but will never see it again. Most were asleep for the whole trip.

The rest are Starborn: either conceived on their destination colony, or on earth to travel as frozen embryos and be born on the colony. There are more of them than of adults, but they are growing up.

Science and technology are no problems; but culture and literature? History? The history we know was of a place they will never see. The only literature is of a place they will never visit. Their only literature was written a century before they were born on a place 14 lightyears away.

Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Macbeth. Hamlet? Of course all the works are available; most of the works of mankind are available. We teach only one culture, which is roughly Americanism as seen by the Framers, and we need to teach some history to go with that.

Racial equality is a fact: at least in intelligence, health, these are descendants of the best we have without regard to race or color.

Consent of the governed.

But I ramble, and it’s late.


The news is sufficiently depressing that I remind myself often that despair is a sin, and it’s really early days before 2016. The one guy getting attention is Trump. The Republican establishment seems bent on finding someone Hillary can beat – hard to do – but then they found Bob Dole, the only guy Bill Clinton could beat, to run in ’96. They are really working to repeat that triumph. Maybe – no. I won’t speculate.


Educating the Starborn

Answering your question is a complex issue. It seems you have two problems to solve — developing and inculcating a culture that makes sense on Avalon while also maintaining identity with the people of Earth. The former is important because the purpose of culture is to provide a common framework for survival and growth in a given environment. The latter is important lest Earth’s first colony eventually becomes Earth’s worst enemy. Of course, since there is no bidirectional travel between Avalon and Earth for the foreseeable future, evolution will ensure species divergence between Avalon and Earth. When bidirectional travel does become possible, the two populations may not have much in common physically or culturally.
So who are the people of Avalon and what do they wish to become? They came from the stars; will they be happy with just one planet or do they wish to continue the diaspora? Will they see value in colonizing the entire Avalon system, or will they be happy to pound dirt? These kinds of questions beg answers that inform about culture. That should then inform about education.
You do not ask about HOW the star-born are to be educated. What should an Avalon school look like? How should it operate? How will education be measured? This is an opportunity to provide a glimpse into an idealized educational setting…
No answers, but perhaps food for thought.

Kevin L Keegan

You save me a lot of typing by asking some of the questions I am dealing with. Of course this novel is not about an education system; but we need to know much of that before we can start.


What the Starborn should know

Dr. Pournelle,
I’ve been thinking about your posts on starborn education while reading “There will be war” III and IV. I assume that you are working in the Avalon universe, but I cannot remember the complete “historical” background for the stories. From your responses to other correspondents, I think that you are more concerned with curriculum than mechanics, format, class(room) sizes, or learning environment.
I’ve been speculating on the kind of multi-year course I could design on social/government theory and politics using 19-21st century science fiction. Perhaps selecting a theme (e.g. “Mars”) one could probably create a complete master’s level course — an incomplete list might include comparisons between Wells, Heinlein, Arthur Clarke, Bradbury, Burroughs, Niven, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Andy Weir along side actual historical and scientific observation and exploration in the authors’ contemporary context. Or course work on ethics and technology could include Shelley, Swift, Capek, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Wells, Orwell, Crichton, Kipling, P. K. Dick, Spider (the other) Robinson.
In other words, given the chance, I’d design a curriculum the same way you’ve developed anthologies — pick a theme that illustrates the desired lesson, and pull in the last two centuries’ worth of fiction for allegory, example, and analysis. I’d provide editorial comment to support the analysis. I’d extend the lists above to other media — Orson Orson Welles, Fritz Lang (perhaps even Walter Lang), George Lucas, Rod Serling, even Stan Lee.
I think that the Avalonians have some history in common with us now, in “real” life, as well as some idea of politics, sociology, philosophy. It seems as if the parents would design their teaching to follow those ideas and themes. I don’t see how or why they’d be constrained to choose from the literature and entertainment available to our parents’s teachers.
If I am correct and you are working on an Avalon collaboration, modesty (or suspension of disbelief?) may prevent you, Niven, or Barnes from including your own real world works in starborn course work, but I’m sure the Universe’s “book” and your combined critical reading and insight can determine what the starborns’ parents want them to know as well as how to provide it to them.
IMO the short answer to your question “what would they have read?” should begin with at least Clarke, Heinlein, and Asimov.


Educating the Starborn

Dear Dr. Pournelle,
Great topic. Couple thoughts:
I’m thinking technology training won’t be a problem for a few generations at least, since it’s unlikely that a huge portion of any interstellar colonists won’t be high-end tech geeks. If mom and dad spend their days laying Hobartium cables along the colony’s perimeter to power the Repulsor Array, and are recognized and honored for their labors, enough little Janes and Johnnies will want to follow suit – and will have the environmental (and genetic!) prerequisites to do so.
Establishing and maintaining a civilization, on the other hand, will be a HUGE challenge and problem. The at-rest state for human culture is barbarism and tyranny. Republican Democracy, with human rights and the outrageous notion that the wisdom of the nation lies in its people, not its leaders, is terribly anti-entropic: Falling into barbarism is as easy as falling down. That’s why Harry M’s comments about the necessity of storytelling is the right idea.
Putting the above together: the Geeks will assume they are the smart ones, and therefore naturally ought to be in charge. And, in fact, when the major pressing problems are all engineering problems, they may even be right. People being people, they will get used to the idea that the engineers ought to be in charge – less work for them, and the oxygen keeps coming and the lights are on, after all. Pournelle’s Law will quickly kick in, and the geeks who like power will get it. And then the colonists are oh so screwed. (If you’ve ever worked in a company where the Geeks are in charge, you’ve seen a minor vision of how this will work out. Just imagine throwing adulation and real power into the mix. Gasoline on an open flame)
One nice side effect of needing to have lots of engineers: I would expect graded classroom education to die the death it has long deserved, as the ‘luxury’ of warehousing kids for a decade or more for their parents convenience will not be affordable – you need the talent in the field. I’d expect apprenticeships at a young age, with something like guild training, to accompany the storytelling so essential to civilization.
One last amusing thought: resource allocation will be the underlying challenge for just about every colonial project. Could it be that boring finance types like myself would be needed in space, to do the cost/benefit analysis from a more general perspective? Heck, you might even need some internal marketing types to make sure the message gets out correctly. And the geeks will have to listen to those people! Space just might turn out to be like working in the Valley. Thus, even for geeks in space, wherever you go, you bring your hell with you…
Joseph Moore

We certainly will not have traditional high schools; we probably will have fairly traditional early grades; because learning some self discipline is important. And the Earthborn are certainly aware that the women are strong, the boys are good looking, and all the children are above average. And we do have tools for systems analysis, and no credentialing bureaucracies, at least not yet. But don’t forget the Iron Law.



Not an analysis per se, but a clarifying thought:

What is the risk to the Starborn of “studying war no more?”

A ship of pacifists who never learn the meaning of interpersonal conflict will have neither the emotional constitution or the cognitive ability to deal with warfare if it becomes necessary – and may be hampered even with dealing with less personal crises.  Or the occasional headstrong individual.

Conversely, a ship of warriors will undoubtedly find internal conflict leading to casus belli which may compromise the mission.  (cf. Orphans of the Sky.)

In the final analysis, I come back to Terence, as I usually do:

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

Teach them everything.  And give them the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights – the no loopholes version, with notes on how even those venerable documents are subject to social decay – as their guides to self-governance

Jim Woosley

They learned in the first book that there are monsters. And yes, I think the Framers and their logic are essential.


The Iron Rule writ large? —

Dr. P,

This would seem to take the cake for a bureaucratic cover-up. I apologize for the lengthiness of the excerpts, but it is too complex to fit in a sound bite:

Missed Calls

Is the NSA lying about its failure to prevent 9/11?

By James Bamford.

July 21, 2015

On March 20, 2000, as part of a trip to South Asia, U.S. President Bill Clinton was scheduled to land his helicopter in the desperately poor village of Joypura, Bangladesh, and speak to locals under a 150-year-old banyan tree. At the last minute, though, the visit was canceled; U.S. intelligence agencies had discovered an assassination plot. In a lengthy email, London-based members of the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, a terrorist group established by Osama bin Laden, urged al Qaeda supporters to “Send Clinton Back in a Coffin” by firing a shoulder-launched missile at the president’s chopper.

The same day that Clinton was supposed to visit Joypura, the phone rang at bin Laden’s operations center in Sanaa, Yemen. To counterterrorism specialists at the National Security Agency (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland, the Yemeni number—967-1-200-578—was at the pinnacle of their target list. They monitored the line 24/7. But at the time, the agency now claims, it had no technical way of knowing who was placing the call. The culprit, it would later be revealed, was Khalid al-Mihdhar, one of the men bin Laden had picked months earlier to lead the forthcoming 9/11 attacks. He was calling from his apartment in San Diego, California.

The NSA knew about Mihdhar’s connection to bin Laden and had earlier linked his name with the operations center. Had they known he was now reaching out to bin Laden’s switchboard from a U.S. number, on the day an al Qaeda-linked assassination plot was planned, the agency could have legally obtained an order to tap the San Diego phone line. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in fact, approves eavesdropping on suspected terrorists and spies in the United States. By monitoring Mihdhar’s domestic calls, the agency certainly would have discovered links to the 9/11 hijackers living on the East Coast, including Mohamed Atta.

It’s likely, in other words, that 9/11 would have been stopped in its tracks.

A decade and a half later, that call and half a dozen others made from the San Diego apartment are at the center of the heated debate over the NSA’s domestic surveillance activities—namely the agency’s collection of the public’s telephone metadata, which George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s administrations have claimed was authorized by the 2001 Patriot Act. (That law expired this June and was replaced with the USA Freedom Act, which states that, without a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the NSA will no longer have access to telephone metadata records.)

According to Michael Hayden, the NSA’s director from 1999 to 2005, the failure to realize that the man phoning Sanaa was located in San Diego was evidence that mass surveillance is vital to U.S. national security. “Nothing in the physics of the intercept, nothing in the content of the call, told us they were in San Diego,” Hayden told Frontline in 2014. “If we’d had the metadata program … those numbers in San Diego would have popped up.”


After 9/11, Thomas Drake, a member of the NSA’s Senior Executive Service, was assigned to provide an overview of what the agency knew at the time of the attacks to a Senate subcommittee during a closed-door hearing. In his research, Drake discovered the transcripts of the calls from Mihdhar to the Sanaa operations center. “We essentially had cast-iron coverage on that safe house at least since 1996.… People don’t realize how much NSA actually knew about the network,”…

When Drake heard Hayden’s denial that the NSA had the technical capability to determine that Mihdhar was calling from San Diego, he completely disagreed. “Not true. That’s an absolute lie,” he said. “Every number that comes into that switchboard, if you’re cast-iron coverage on that switchboard, you know exactly what that number is and where it comes from.… You know exactly—otherwise it can’t get there.”

Another problem, according to Drake, was that before the 9/11 attacks, the NSA didn’t share what it knew with other federal intelligence agencies—and it has sought to cover up its negligence after the fact. Drake put this in his report for the subcommittee, he said, but the document was rejected by his boss at the NSA, who subsequently removed him from the hearing’s roster of participants.


      Bill Clardy
“Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” — John Gardner


Overpriced and Underperforming F-35
Good morning, Dr. Pournelle,
I saw this article via Ace of Spades, and thought you might find it interesting:
Personally, I think that the real reason for this Dodo is to enrich the vendor, who hires a lot of ex-military types after they retire. Everyone wins except the people who may have to fly and maintain this junker, and the taxpayer.
Regards, and my wife and I are praying for your continued recovery.
Don Parker


Travesty in Education

I hope this does not become a pattern:


Virginia Tech is reportedly requiring professors seeking tenure to pass a sort of litmus test when it comes to “diversity” and “inclusion.”

When it comes to applying to for tenure at many universities, scholars academic work and teaching are usually what falls under the microscope. This is no longer the case at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), which recently released new promotion and tenure guidelines.


◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo

Over the past twenty years the universities have become very much alike. The Iron Law at work.


90+GHz Photonic Emitters On-chip (EE Times)

Nanopatch plasmonic antennas beat lasers

R. Colin Johnson

7/27/2015 05:00 AM EDT

PORTLAND, Ore. — Forget trying to integrate lasers on silicon chips for optical computing; instead use nanopatch plasmonic antennas (NPAs) for emission of telecommunications infrared signals at speeds up to 90 GHz now and maybe terahertz tomorrow.

“We want to speed-up in emission rate to build an ultrafast and super-bright light emitting diode,” said Duke University Assistant Professor Maiken Mikkelsen. “This will involve using conducting materials to bring electrical current to the quantum dots to create enhanced emission from same plasmonic structure.” “Such a device has the potential to operate at very low power levels — at a few attojoules — which is critical to transform future information processing and communications, currently limited by heat dissipation,” said Mikkelsen.

The whole semiconductor industry has been trying to convert from electrons to photons as the signal medium for computing on silicon chips. Every kind of silicon photonic devices have been demonstrated, except the emitters. Unfortunately, lasers — the standard communications emitter — are incompatible with silicon, though a thousand methods are being researched to solve that problem. Now Duke University electrical engineers say forget lasers, but instead use their NPAs coupled to quantum dots to communicate 90-GHz and up on-chip or between them at a radiative quantum efficiency of over 50%.

“Typical emitters such as molecules, quantum dots and semiconductor quantum wells have slow spontaneous emission with lifetimes of 1–10 nanoseconds, creating a mismatch with high-speed nanoscale optoelectronic devices such as light-emitting diodes, single-photon sources and lasers. Here we experimentally demonstrate an ultrafast (<11 pico-seconds) yet efficient source of spontaneous emission, corresponding to an emission rate exceeding 90 GHz,” Maiken Mikkelsen’s group at Duke say in the introduction to Ultrafast spontaneous emission source using plasmonic nano-antennas.

To achieve their high-speed switching rate, the researchers use plasmons (free electrons on a surface that oscillate together in a wave) as nano-antennas consisting of silver nanocubes coupled to a thin gold film (20 atoms thin) separated from the substrate by a thin polymer spacer layer with a colloidal core of shell quantum dots. This structure increases the spontaneous emission rate by 880-times while simultaneously enhancing the fluorescence intensity by 2300-times while maintaining a high efficiency.

“We have demonstrated an ultrafast spontaneous emission source with an emission speed exceeding 11 ps from a hybrid system consisting of plasmonic nano-antennas coupled to ensembles of colloidal quantum dots,” Mikkelsen and colleagues say in their research paper.

As a extra bonus, the frequency of emission can be tuned to the precise telecommunications frequencies in use today by controlling the dimensions of the nano-cubes and the gap thickness of the insulating dielectric. Plus NPAs coupled to their quantum dots are much lower energy in operation than lasers, allowing photonic chips to run cooler and mobile devices to have longer battery life.

For the future, the researchers want to excite the plasmonic nanoantennas (which for the proof-of-concept demonstration used lasers) both optically and electrically so as to enable both the methods to thereby solve the last remaining obstacles to integrating photonics with traditional electronics. The team also hopes to more precisely place the quantum dots so as to boost the fluorescence rates to closer to the terahertz range.

Funding was provided by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Oak Ridge Associated University’s Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award, the Lord Foundation of North Carolina, and the Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program.

Get all the details in Ultrafast spontaneous emission source using plasmonic nano-antennas published in Nature Communications (under 6:7788 | DOI: 10.1038).

— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times





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




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