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.

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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.




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