Solar Power Satellites and AI; Secrecy; Internet Regulation; Warmer than in a Thousand Years; Batteries; AND NASA DEVELOPS DEAN DRIVE


Chaos Manor View, Monday, March 16, 2015

I continue to recover, but I still don’t type fast. There is much technology news.


SPS and moon colonies

To quote you, Jerry: “But out of the first Space Solar Power Satellite we get a Moon Colony built on weekend and third shifts.”
It’s more fundamental than that. It’s probably impossible to make SPS pay, if all the materials have to be lofted from Earth – and, in any case, the sheer number of launches required might do horrible things to the upper atmosphere in general and the ozone layer in particular.
So the materials have to come from somewhere in space; the Moon is an obvious source, but asteroids work too. And to get those materials there have to be at least a small number of people there, at least with today’s technology. Which means a colony.
In other words, the building of a colony somewhere beyond Earth’s atmosphere is an integral part of the process for development of SPS – at least at any worthwhile scale. Most definitely not an afterthought.
By the way, one might argue that the process of mining the resources (and assembling the SPS’s) could be done by robots. The trouble is that doing this by telepresence from Earth, with a three-second lag, probably isn’t practical. And this means that doing the job with robots requires high-grade, possibly “strong” AKA sapient AI.
Of course, doing it that way would absolutely require a wait, of completely unknown duration. Strong AI is a problem we have barely even started on.
One doesn’t have to have watched all the movies about robots going amok, to imagine the possible problems that could be caused by having sapient robots in space and not being able to go ourselves. Does anyone really want Berserkers in charge of our power supply?

Ian Campbell

You raise interesting points. Fortunately they were examined closely already. The studies are old, but they are quite valid; and your point about requiring man in space lest we give the upper hand to robots and artificial intelligence is very much something to contemplate.

First, regarding pollution from the required launches, it is strictly necessary to launch polluting rockets from Earth for the first power satellite. After that the power will flow to Earth and can be used to generate hydrogen and oxygen from water; burn the hydrogen and the only pollutant is water.

The energy is large but small in comparison to events like hurricanes and volcanoes. To get 8 million tons to orbit with an Orion type ship (as calculated by Freeman Dyson and Ted Taylor) would take about 1080 bombs in the 10 kiloton yield range. That’s more than enough mass to build a city, and far more than solar power satellites need. For comparison, hurricanes have on average something like 8,000 megatons – 8000 one megaton bombs – worth of energy. Obviously they do not release all that energy in an event lasting a minute or so, but neither do rockets. Once the first Space Solar Power Satellite (SSPS) is operating, we do not need any fossil fuels at all to make rocket fuel. Even if – especially if – the CO2 greenhouse effect, the Carbon threat – manmade global warming is exactly true, SSPS does not change the atmospheric percentage of Carbon. If the global warming alarmists were self consistent they should, I think, be all for SSPS.

A long time ago I participated in a NASA study on using robots to colonize space. It took place under the administration of the University of Santa Clara at a resort on Monterrey Bay, and had many prominent people. My roommate at the resort was Marvin Minsky. We concluded that it was not possible to close the loop – yet. I did propose a Lunar Colony – it wasn’t entirely artificial, but it could be self replicating. The Administrator was not amused. I gave a fuller account of the conference in a column, but I may have lost it.

SSPS has the potential of generating enough renewable energy to run the Earth with everyone having as much power as Americans and Europeans do, with no pollution.

The full earth stands at our left hands
and the pale moon on the right.
All fire and steel, our Catherine wheel
rolls through the endless night.
The sun may burn at full astern,
as the power cells drink deep;
both day and night are in our sight
from waking unto sleep.

And we spin long light from the glory of the sun,
yes, we spin long light from the glory of the sun,
and the light gems glow on the earth below,
in the bright web spun from the glory of the sun.
The powers run from the brazen sun,
through the web of heaven’s height
to the opal world, like a clouded pearl
strung on a thread of light.
And we pace our turn from bow to stern
through the elfin summer field,
where the power cells like flower bells
drink all the sun can yield.

And we spin long light from the glory of the sun,
yes, we spin long light from the glory of the sun,
and the light gems glow on the earth below,
in the bright web spun from the glory of the sun.

The well paced blips of the factory ships
slide past our orbit’s brink
like a swarm of bees in the girder trees,
come to our flowers to drink.
And the earth is clean as a springtime dream,
no factory smokes appear,
for they’ve left the land to the gardener’s hand,
and they all are circling here.

And we spin long light from the glory of the sun,
yes, we spin long light from the glory of the sun,
and the light gems glow on the earth below,
in the bright web spun from the glory of the sun. Old but glorious.

And listen to her sing of the cost of space: ;

And if you are my age, prepare to cry.


A Police Gadget Tracks Phones? Shhh! It’s Secret    nyt


A powerful new surveillance tool being adopted by police departments across the country comes with an unusual requirement: To buy it, law enforcement officials must sign a nondisclosure agreement preventing them from saying almost anything about the technology.

Any disclosure about the technology, which tracks cellphones and is often called StingRay, could allow criminals and terrorists to circumvent it, the F.B.I. has said in an affidavit. But the tool is adopted in such secrecy that communities are not always sure what they are buying or whether the technology could raise serious privacy concerns.

The confidentiality has elevated the stakes in a longstanding debate about the public disclosure of government practices versus law enforcement’s desire to keep its methods confidential. While companies routinely require nondisclosure agreements for technical products, legal experts say these agreements raise questions and are unusual given the privacy and even constitutional issues at stake.

“It might be a totally legitimate business interest, or maybe they’re trying to keep people from realizing there are bigger privacy problems,” said Orin S. Kerr, a privacy law expert at George Washington University. “What’s the secret that they’re trying to hide?”

The issue led to a public dispute three weeks ago in Silicon Valley, where a sheriff asked county officials to spend $502,000 on the technology. The Santa Clara County sheriff, Laurie Smith, said the technology allowed for locating cellphones — belonging to, say, terrorists or a missing person. But when asked for details, she offered no technical specifications and acknowledged she had not seen a product demonstration.

Buying the technology, she said, required the signing of a nondisclosure agreement.

“So, just to be clear,” Joe Simitian, a county supervisor, said, “we are being asked to spend $500,000 of taxpayers’ money and $42,000 a year thereafter for a product for the name brand which we are not sure of, a product we have not seen, a demonstration we don’t have, and we have a nondisclosure requirement as a precondition. You want us to vote and spend money,” he continued, but “you can’t tell us more about it.”

The technology goes by various names, including StingRay, KingFish or, generically, cell site simulator. It is a rectangular device, small enough to fit into a suitcase, that intercepts a cellphone signal by acting like a cellphone tower.

The technology can also capture texts, calls, emails and other data, and prosecutors have received court approval to use it for such purposes.

: A Police Gadget Tracks Phones? Shhh! It’s Secret (NY Times)

And, of course, there is no way for terrorists to steal such a device and reverse engineer it…


None at all…

This isn’t ‘scanning’ or ‘tracking’ cell phones. It’s a cell tower that all phones in the area connect to (because it’s positioned to have a stronger signal than the real cell towers) and as such, all phones in the area go to it and it sees all the calls, texts, and Internet traffic from phones, tablets, etc. in it’s range.

At that point, the people operating the device need to throw away the data, not gather it.

David Lang


Obamanet’s Regulatory Farrago

Asked what the Internet ‘general conduct rule’ means, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, ‘We don’t really know.


L. Gordon Crovitz

March 15, 2015 6:11 p.m. ET


The Federal Communications Commission last week finally revealed the specifics of its plan to micromanage the Internet as a monopoly utility. In his dissent, Republican commissioner Ajit Pai explained the agency’s rejection of the open Internet after 20 years of bipartisan support:

“Why is the FCC turning its back on Internet freedom? Is it because we now have evidence that the Internet is not open? No. Is it because we have discovered some problem with our prior interpretation of the law? No. We are flip-flopping for one reason and one reason alone. President Obama told us to do so.”

Last year when the FCC invited comments about possible regulatory changes, only two paragraphs of an 85-page document mentioned the possibility of subjecting the Internet to Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. “To be clear, the deficiencies in the notice were not the product of incompetence,” Mr. Pai wrote. “Rather, they reflect the fact that the agency was headed in a different direction until political pressure was applied.”

Shortly after Mr. Obama demanded in November that the FCC treat the Internet as a utility, the commission’s Democratic majority stopped work on their less extreme plan and scurried to adopt the Obamanet approach, which the FCC had always opposed.

This explains why an independent agency could issue such a vague and slapdash 400-page order. For starters, the order lacks evidence of why the Internet, the greatest source of innovation in modern times, must now submit to rules written for the monopoly telephone system. The order doesn’t include basic market and economic analysis that courts demand to justify new regulations, especially when an agency reverses its own precedents.

Obamanet rejects the Internet’s key operating principle of permissionless innovation. Under the new rules, entrepreneurs must seek regulatory approval before launching new products and services—or beg for forgiveness afterward.

The order submits broadband providers to the Ma Bell “just and reasonable” test for utility pricing and practices. It sets a price of $0 for what they can charge bandwidth hogs like Netflix and YouTube. “Net neutrality” supporters wanted to break up the cable-telecom broadband duopoly. Instead the order suppresses new broadband competitors like Google Fiber by submitting them to requirements written for monopolists.

Besides broadband, the order covers virtually every activity on the Internet under a new “general conduct rule.” Asked at a press conference what this means, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler replied: “We don’t really know. We don’t know where things will go next. We have created a playing field where there are known rules, and the FCC will sit there as a referee and will throw the flag.”

We will continue to discuss net neutrality and the new rules as the week goes on. They have given themselves the power that we license our web sites.  Next the Fairness Doctrine?


In Battery Revolution, a Clean Leap Forward

Vacuum maker Dyson is investing in Sakti3’s energy technology


Christopher Mims

March 15, 2015 7:23 p.m. ET


Revolutions often have humble beginnings. And so it is that the world’s most sophisticated battery technology—one with double the capacity of the best cells currently available—will make its debut in a vacuum cleaner. That is, if everything goes according to plan.

Dyson, the maker of vacuum cleaners (and, lately, robots) is investing $15 million in Sakti3, a Michigan-based battery company whose investors include Khosla Ventures and General Motors. Led by former University of Michigan engineering professor Ann Marie Sastry, the seven-year-old Sakti3 has created a pilot assembly line for batteries unlike any before them.

Of course, many have tried and failed to revolutionize battery technology before, limiting the progress of mobile devices.

Since their invention, batteries have been filled with a liquid electrolyte. But Sakti3’s batteries are solid. And they are produced in a manner alien to battery technologists, but familiar to anyone who must make microchips or flat-panel displays. It’s a process called thin-film deposition, and it’s mostly been used for things that were, well, thin. That this process is so well understood, and the equipment for it so readily available, could be crucial to Sakti3’s success.

When and if production of these batteries reaches industrial scale—new battery technology is notoriously hard to bring to market—they have the potential to become even more ubiquitous than conventional rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which are already in things as diverse as cellphones and electric cars.

I asked founder James Dyson whether the stake his company is taking in Sakti3, which gets him an undisclosed portion of the battery maker, could someday be worth more than all of Dyson. He said yes. But he also seemed uninterested in the question, or in exploring the mind-boggling possibility that he might someday profit from a company that could sell millions of batteries a year to car makers.

Mr. Dyson, who is known for being passionate about the smallest details of his products, was more interested in talking about what he plans to do with the batteries, which will appear in Dyson products before they are sold to any other manufacturer. Within the next two years, he says, Dyson will launch 100 products in four categories that are new for the company.

As I have said, cheap, efficient power storage will change the world. This a serious effort to make it economical.


Global Warming Could Hit Rates Unseen in 1,000 Years

We are standing on the edge of a new world where warming is poised to accelerate at rates unseen for at least 1,000 years.

That’s the main finding of a paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change, which looked at the rate of temperature change over 40-year periods. The new research also shows that the Arctic, North America and Europe will be the first regions to transition to a new climate, underscoring the urgent need for adaptation planning.

“Essentially the world is entering a new regime where what is normal is going to continue to change and it’s changing at a rate than natural processes might not be able to keep up with,” Steven Smith, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said.

Historical records show temperatures have typically fluctuate up or down by about 0.2°F per decade over the past 1,000 years. But trends over the past 40 years have been decidedly up, with warming approaching 0.4°F per decade. That’s still within historical bounds of the past — but just barely.

By 2020, warming rates should eclipse historical bounds of the past 1,000 years — and likely at least 2,000 years — and keep rising. If greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trend, the rate of warming will reach 0.7°F per decade and stay that high until at least 2100.

clip_image003Global rates of temperature change in high and declining
greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Credit:Smith et al., 2015
Click here to enlarge

The northern hemisphere will be the first region to experience historically unprecedented warming. The Arctic, which is already the fastest warming part of the planet, will see temperatures rise 1.1°F per decade by 2040. North America and Europe will see slightly lower, though equally unprecedented, warming.

“With those high rates of change, there’s not going to be anything close to equilibrium,” Smith said, underscoring the profound potential impacts on both the natural world and society.

I do point out that the Viking Warm period was over a thousand years ago. We have been through this before. They do not bother to tell you.


NASA Quietly Tests Engine That Uses No Fuel And Violates The Laws Of Physics

  • NASA has successfully tested a new space drive that doesn’t use a propellant and shouldn’t work, at least according to the laws of physics, according to a story that broke in Wired.UK. The drive, called the Cannae Drive, worked in the NASA directed test, defying physics.

The Cannae Drive is based on the work of Roger Shawyer, a British scientist, who conceived what’s called the EMDrive. It works by bouncing microwaves in an enclosed chamber, thus creating thrust. Shawyer was never able to get anyone interested in his device, despite numerous demonstrations. His critics simply rejected the device entirely, pointing out that it violates the conservation of motion.

The Chinese quietly tested their own version of the EMDrive at up to 72 grams of thrust, which is enough to be a satellite thruster. This device has not yet been reported on in too many places and few believed it to be possible.

The Cannae Drive seems to have been developed independently of the EMDrive, though it works just about the same way. In the NASA Test, they demonstrated that on Cannae drive was able tp produce a thrust of less than one thousandth of the Chinese version. But it demonstrated definitively that it worked.

NASA explains:

“Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.”

That’s all just a fancy way of saying that we’re not completely sure. Wired speculated that the process involves pushing against a cloud of particles and anti-particles that are constantly popping in and out of empty space. And that’s about the point where this humble writer is lost.

The big question is: can these drives be scaled up and used in space travel? Maybe. More research will be needed.

I merely report; but I do note that if Petr Beckmann is right, and there is an aether formed by the gravitational fields in the local area, something of this sort is possible; or I think so. Of course with General Relativity there can be no aether.



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




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