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Mail 527 July 14 - 20, 2008
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|This week:||Monday July
Dr. Pournelle, I am a very very slightly smarter than average person and probably your stupidest reader. I failed Algebra in 8th grade, and think that I might be able to give a different perspective than most of your readers would be familiar with. Algebra was difficult because the manipulation of variables seemed arbitrary. May God smile upon the people who decided to fail me. The second time around, I believe several things enabled me to succeed where I had failed. First, I had an amazing school that dropped me into a "remedial class" for one period a day until I showed that I was capable of keeping up. Second, My parents and peers both communicated clearly to me that doing well in Algebra was both in my control and possible. Finally, I was blessed with a chemistry course which made the abstract ideas of variables and simple operations applicable to real life (Fe2O3 + 2 Al = Al2O3 + 2 Fe + WOW! is a great way to teach math).
All of this bodes ill for Los Angeles. LA has schools that run the whole range of horrible to pretty bad. Parents and peers of students with trouble in any subject are more likely to provide excuses and hopelessness than positive reinforcement. I also think that the chances of students being shown any science with a built-in WOW! are very very very low.
My guess is that they are either going to fail to put the resources into remedial skills development for those children who fail or they will fail to fail the students who do not learn Algebra. In the first case they send the message that if you cannot do this, you cannot be taught and are useless. In the second, they send the message that ability is unimportant, and math is just something that people do not have to know even though they pretend.
Am I correct in concluding that Fred, the Hampden-Sydney alum, is none other than Fred (on Everything) Reed. I graduated from Hampden-Sydney in that late 70's; our paths never crossed. At that time the course requirements had already started to be watered down. I still remember chats I had with Professor Ned Crawley of the English department about how English majors should be required to take Calculus (I was a Physics major taking his Shakespeare 401 class). Of course, that was back in the day when attaining a Liberal Arts Degree meant you had acquired some familiarity with a broad spectrum of academic subjects, and some mastery of at least one.
To answer Fred's question, what happened is that colleges and universities have become money-making machines.
Students in = money out
More students = more money
The problem is, there is a limited pool of potential students who can comprehend Calculus and/or the Wasteland. The easiest way to expand the pool is to lower requirements.
The letter was signed 'Fred' so I have no further comment on that. I agree that modern universities have little to do with education. California tried to change that: build the University system on the European research university model, with small college for undergraduates but mostly as graduate schools; and build the California State Colleges on the Hochschule model, as undergraduate teaching facilities. Of course the faculty Senate of the State Colleges insisted they were just as good as the Universities and had the right to have graduate degrees, and how dare you discriminate against us, and now we have what you see here.
Universities are no longer education institutions. They are money machines.
Dear Doctor Pournelle,
I found"Fred's" comments on college education for his class of 1970 at Hampden-Sydney College to be illuminating.
My experience at the University of California, Irvine ten years after him was actually comparable. As a history major, all of my major classes were taught by professors (with the exception of one summer school class taught by a brilliant post-doc who was leaving at the end of the session to take up his own professorship at another school),
Remedial classes for English and Mathematics (or anything else),as best I can recall, were unknown at UCI at the time (1978/1980).
Eledtives were about 50/50 as to whether they were taught by a grad student or professor. I noticed that in the humanities and sciences it was almost always a professor, while the Social Science electives were nearly always taught by a Graduate Assistant. I suspect this had some correlation with the nature of the Voodoo sciences, I have my opinions, but since they are relatively uninformed, well, who knows?
In those Social Science classes (sociology and Pyschology, primarily) I first learned the power in the hands of "authority" the statement "What kind of study has been done to prove that (fill in the blank with some commonsense statement such as "boys and girls are different") has to quash argument and assert domnance.
That actually was and is one of the most useful things I learned at any school in my entire life, by the way. Anytime someone starts talking about "studies", I start listening very carefully to what they are NOT saying.
RE science and math: I was required to take several (three or four) science and/or mathematics classes. T he science classes I took, while meant for Humanities students and other unwashed "outsiders" to the various departments were really quite challenging, often taught by full professors. Indeed, in one class I submitted a paper in which I took a fairly harshskeptical look at the pioneering Gravitational Wave research done by Dr. Joseph Weber, University of Maryland.
I was chagrined to find a small note next to my grade of "A", that my professor for cosmology (Dr. V. Trimble), wrote next to Dr. Webers name in the title "Currently on sabbatical at UC Irvine, and married to Dr. Valerie Trimble".
She was rather good-natured about my paper, all things considered. But think about it: a Humanities student takes a course in Cosmology designed for non-science majors, he picks an obscure field of research (well,. certainly obscure to anyone who is not a physicist) as his subject for a paper, and, lo, discovers the lead researcher in that field is just one degree of academic (and personal) separation from his teacher. That's the way it ought to be, and was. The "Two Cultures" (C. P. Snow was quite prescient) were still talking at that time.
Then there was the observational astronomy class I took. I had no idea who was teaching it when I signed up, it just seemed like a fun class. You know, what nerdy Heinlein reading boy doesn't like telescopes and all that?
Turned out the teacher was Donald Goldsmith. The fellow who wrote the scripts and book for "Cosmos" with Carl Sagan. This was the year before "Cosmos" came out, and I spotted Rick Sternbach in the class. I later realized he must have been there in order to bone up on his astronomy for the art he was to do for "Cosmos", for which he later won an Emmy.
Then I took a class, again for outsiders, in Nuclear Physics, where they taught us to actually write out the formulae for various nuclear reactions, such as when particles breakdown into smaller particles in radioactive decay. I found it simple, fascinating, and that it proved that JEP had written a few years before in "A Step Farther Out" about nuclear "waste" not being a long term problem was absolutely true. It was right there, figured with pen and paper by my own handsl. If only a few policymakers had had such an experience. It ought to be required.
I wonder if UCI still offers this sort of education? I sure hope so, but I don't know. I have not been on the campus since I graduated.They did offer it, though, as recently as 1980. Well, it seems recent to me!
For those with more interest in CP Snow and the Two Cultures, see my The Voodoo Sciences.
--- Roland Dobbins
Astonishing! I have seen the disk -- they were not so tender about allowing it to be examined back when I visited Greece and spent a week with Marinatos on Santorini -- but my photographs are all 35 mm K2 done without enough light. Sigh. I never suspected it, nor have I met anyone who did. Lady Vronwy Hankey and I discussed it when I met her at Villa Ariadne. (She was no fan of Marinatos).
This certainly simplifies things if true.
Just read the latest column.
As I've mentioned before, I have read a dozen of your books (and a dozen others) on my Palm Treo.
I just upgraded this weekend to the new iPhone 3G... and, among other things, it's an incredible book reader!
As good as the Kindle? Maybe, maybe not. Smaller screen... but sharper text. Selectable fonts (I hate reading sans serif for any length of time). As-good-as-infinite storage (if you don't fill your iPhone with music and video, 8 gigabytes is a LOT of text). Wireless connectivity... I'm using BookZ to download texts from the Gutenberg Project, and even without Wi-Fi, it only takes a few seconds.
And... as you've said about cameras and laptops... the best ebook reader is the one that is always with you!
I think that that, more than anything else, is going to hurt the Kindle. A Kindle is another thing I have to remember to bring, and keep charged, and etc. But I'm surgically attached to my cellphone... and with a screen as good as the iPhone, and with the third-party applications floodgate now open, I can see it swamping Kindle for ebook applications.
My two cents' worth.
I think the next generation of Kindle will BE a phone. I can live with a Kindle sized phone. I do agree that having to carry too many electronics is a pain. Still -- I tend to do it. I love the iPhone but I would not care to read books on it.
Letter from England (and California)
I started writing this letter near the San Francisco International Airport on Tuesday. We came from England to spend a few days at Squaw Valley, and noticed the smoke as we flew into San Francisco. On the ground, it was really bad. That's a risk of warming--I believe California went through a prolonged drought during the medieval warm period, and this may be a repeat.
In America, there were efforts made starting in the 1950s to keep good math teachers in the schools; that wasn't done in the UK, so the situation was allowed to get out of hand. Most university students here hate math with a passion, so the UK has to import people with numerate skills. American colleges make a attempt to teach intermediate or advanced math concepts to people who need them for their work. but not interested in a math or physics degree, but that isn't done in the UK. The underlying problem seems to be cluelessness about how to teach math to the general population. A lot of learning math has to do with skills rather than understanding--I run into the same problems with students in computing and programming. 80% of learning anything worthwhile involves not giving up.
About Darwinian evolutionary modeling and the rhodopsin photoreceptor:
Most of the computational models of evolution *do* use Darwinian models. I
have quite a collection of books, many by John Maynard Smith, that explore
the implications. Rhodopsin is very old, used as a photoreceptor in
unicellular eukaryotes (see <http://physiologyonline.physiology.org/
The hard problems in the emergence of life involve the evolution of the cell membrane and of the citric acid cycle <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citric_acid_cycle > and its associated feeder pathways. How the cell membrane evolved is still quite speculative. The citric acid cycle is better understood, since it seems to run in reverse in high CO2 partial pressure. Interestingly, the DNA/RNA codons for the various amino acids seem to be topologically related to the locations in the citric acid cycle (etc.) responsible for producing them.
-- "an academic who listens to pleas of convenience before publishing his research risks calling into doubt the whole of his determination to find the truth." (Russell 1993) Harry Erwin
National Council on Teacher Quality on Teaching Math to Teachers
|This week:||Tuesday, July
self publishing update
Here is the self-publishing update I promised:
First of all I've concluded that there are limitations associated with Print on Demand (POD)that have made themselves apparent in recent months. The Xerox television commercial is right; anyone can publish a book now, and that is both a blessing and a curse. Most of what is published is dreadful, not just in content but physical execution. iUniverse and the rest of the firms that offer POD and related services are in the business of fulfilling the lower level of demand; the simple desire to see one's name on a book. They have a million or so customers, most of whom have about fifty books; hence their claims to have published fifty million books.
So it becomes a matter of goals; having a book with your name on it to show people is one thing; having one that will get reviews and sell is quite another. Amazon has taken a very aggressive stance towards the POD business lately, demanding that the books they sell directly be produced by their BookSurge subsidiary so that their orders can be fulfilled quicker. While this demand is made in the name of better customer service, the real agenda is to capture business away from the biggest and best POD printer, Lightning Source (LSI). LSI's printed books are so close to regularly printed books that most people can't tell the difference, and they have options for producing hardbounds with jackets as well as the usual trade paperback model. Their pricing is right on their web page, so that you can run the numbers without getting a bid. Amazon Booksurge, like most Amazon.com functions, are mysterious and bureaucratic and take time to get answers. Moreover the various departments are little fiefdoms that do not talk to each other. In short, they are a real pain in the ass to deal with. LSI is very responsive, and they are the distributor for all the e-books I published back in 2004, which are still available at many online bookstores.
There are quality problems rumored with BookSurge produced books. Their reputation for quality is mixed, at best. I got one of their public domain content books once and it was not up to my expectations as a physical product. I buy a lot of books. Cheap bindings with excessive glue and misaligned pages are not acceptable to me. The biggest task I have is to get people to read the book. Once they do that, I'm going to make the sale. Some Amazon.com features like "Search Inside the Book" enable that. (One paranoid writer suggested that it also gives them a perfect way to produce pirated copies in their fulfillment centers) and others like their sales rankings, tend to work against small press books that have just been introduced. Quality is key to customer satisfaction. A badly produced book will not be blamed upon the printer who made it, but the publisher. In this case, that's me. Branding is more about word of mouth than anything else. A satisfied customer is always the goal and you don't get that if the the book itself is physically unappealing. (more on that below).
Amazon provides their own version of an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) to it's BookSurge and CreateSpace customers. However, to enter the "brick and mortar" spaces where most books are still sold you must have a ISBN issued by R.R. Bowker. I bought a thousand of these when I set up the electronic publishing company and still have more than 800 left. (Amazon.com, despite their pretensions to the contrary, only sells about ten percent of all the books sold in this country. Airport bookstores, which only deal in best sellers, sell about thirty percent.) If you have your book produced by BookSurge or CreateSpace, or for that matter Amazon Kindle, you will get an Amazon,com generated index number and not one that other bookstores can use to order the book. You can provide your own number from Bowker, but they may "forget" to use it in their system. LSI insists that you have have a Bowker ISBN, but they are part of Ingram and they sell into the brick and mortar space. If you book is in their system any bookstore, including Amazon, can order it They may even stock it on the shelves. Amazon.com has tremendous advantages that allow it to exploit the Long Tail of the distribution system very effectively. In rural areas, they are the only bookstore possible and they use that convenience to sell a wide range of low-velocity products that brick and mortar retail stores of all kinds, not just books, no longer stock. I buy foot powder there.
In researching this, I found some things that run counter to current expectations. Independent book stores are not dying. More than a hundred new ones opened last year. Most are small and lack the space to stock everything the way Amazon does. They have less than a few thousand titles usually. Their total exceeds that of the big chain outlets, but those get the better locations because they have the economic muscle to pay higher rents. When an independent bookstore dies, it is usually the landlord who deals the fatal blow. The big chains pretend to have an abundance of titles, most of which are called "wallpaper" in the trade because they move slowly, if at all. The main business is the best sellers produced by mainstream publishers, who also provide them to every other possible channel, including the local grocery store. You really have to understand how the entire book distribution system works to be an effective self-publisher.
Self published books are at a severe disadvantage going in. Most publications won't review them. Reviews are reserved for best sellers and brand name authors and even some of those don't get ink. As a former reviewer for the Los Angeles Daily News I can tell you that book editors and reviewers get many, many times more books, unsolicited, than there is space for reviews, even online. Yet, reviews are an essential part of building "buzz" or interest and excitement about the book. Review copies are given away. Copies sent to book store managers who want to see the book are given away. Books to members of your team (editor, illustrator, cover designer, webmaster, etc) are given away. This is a cost of doing business and I do it cheerfully. What I do not do is give them away to friends and relatives. Them I expect to pay full price. This has to do with branding and the perception of the book's value. If you give it away, then you are saying that it is worth little or nothing and may not be even worth reading. But there it is; even with POD you need about a hundred copies yourself for reviewers and sales samples. If you have a "virtual book signing" program the way I do, double that. (See BrassCannonBooks.net for details.)
If you produce your book with someone other than BookSurge, there is still a way to get it into the Amazon system, but they charge you for it. An annual fee and you consign at least five copies. They make money even if none of them sell. If you're just trying to get a book out and don't understand business, then this may look like a reasonable path, but conventional offset has a much lower unit cost. My book, produced POD by LSI would cost about $7.40 a copy. My offset cost is $2.95 but I had to buy 2,200 of them, I have a neighbor that produced what he thought was a nifty guide to the Wine Country in Northern California. He ordered 5,000 and still has 4,800 of them in his garage. He failed to find distribution and tried to go to bookstores directly, which is not how it's done. You need a big distributor, but the way to a big distributor is to find a smaller one that feeds their system and will warehouse the books for you. Amazon also provides this service. I use Pathway Book Service, a small outfit in Gilsum , NH that sells to both Amazon and to Ingram and anyone else I can get to stock the book. The sales effort is up to me, which means I will be doing a lot of book signings in the year ahead, because this is how you get your book stocked when you have little brand equity.
Your cover price affects how much money you will make. The distributor break is 55% of retail and bookstores that buy direct get 40% off. (There are variations of that). That means at $18.95 the net Pathway gets is either $11.37 or $8.53. They get 12 percent of that. If my cost is $7.40, that leaves me very little to work with to compensate for all those free copies, and the continuous cost of promoting the book. If my cost is $2.95 then I have room to maneuver and perhaps even make a profit. Moreover my breakeven point is below a thousand copies sold on the print run. My goal is, of course, much higher than that. Having gone this far, I would be remiss if I didn't try to make "The Shenandoah Spy" a best seller.
I am always looking for the volume order that will send me back to press. I contacted the airport bookstore chains. One of them sent an interesting response. They don't do self-published books; they only do best sellers, so they won't order it at this time. At this time. That means they read the copy I sent and understand that it could become a bestseller. The cover sells the book and the book, both as a serial on Amazon Shorts and in the current incarnation, has five star reviews. The only legitimate interest a bookseller has in a book is whether or not it will sell. As a self publisher you have to compete on every level with the big houses. In content, in presentation, in marketing, and in continued persistence to find and open new channels of distribution that will effectively sell your book.
Why did I decide to go this route rather than with a conventional publisher? I actually, at one point, had an offer from a publisher and turned it down. The contract was a really bad one that gave them a piece of the other rights far in excess of their contributions. Publishing a new book is like a game of chess; you have to look at the whole board. Film rights are an important part of my end game. So are the books in the series that will follow. I have not been able to get this before a regular publisher of any note who would pay a big advance and do a proper job of promoting it because I have been unable to find an agent to represent it. Agents want an exclusive look, have too many submissions and take months to respond if they bother to do that at all. They are interested only in what will sell, and having sold, I understand where they are coming from. But agents have too much power and I ran out of time and patience. I'm 63 years old and have health problems, so the question became , if not now, then when? And given that I have the skills and can produce a quality product, why not, when I also have the financial resources. It certainly looked like a better bet than the current stock market. (I made more money there last year than I even did in any year as a writer, but that was then and this is now.)
Like any other business, this is real work. Writers who fail to understand that are at the mercy of agents and publishers and marketplace forces. I am currently setting up my own book tour along the road to Leigh's family reunion and the WorldCon. None of this is rocket science. Just hard work.
Thank you. That will take a while to digest. Fortunately I have more demand from publishers than time to write; but I do have some works that may be candidates for self publishing.
Subject: Species conservation
I'm glad the Pope is planting 50 acres of Transylvanian forest. It is well known that a species needs a minimum amount of habitat to not go extinct. I don't know how much Transylvanian forest vampires need to survive but the 50 acres won't hurt.
Absolutely! But I understand they may want to ring the forest with garlic fields and crucifixes...
Midnight in the kindergarten of good and evil,
Spengler is at it again, this time with Midnight in the kindergarten of good and evil:
Quite interesting. Tidbits:
"When the [today's crop of would-be moral philosophers] speak of "consciousness" and "transcendence", they approach the matter as handworkers: whatever their instruments can measure is what comes to their attention."
"[M]ost hideous crimes against humanity on record have been committed not in the name of faith, but in the name of science - Karl Marx's dialectical materialism or Adolf Hitler's race science."
It is fashionable among academic intellectuals to champion atheism on the grounds that religion is responsible for a majority of deaths throughout history. Of course those people know no history: , Mao, Stalin, Hitler were all atheists and promoted atheist societies, and managed to rack up more casualties than all the religious wars in history. But then no one learns history.
Its not just the folks who took out loans they couldn't afford or the folks who didn't understand the limits of FDIC coverage.
Its also every pension plan--public and private-- that invested in the allegedly safe pools of mortgages. The folks running the plans should have known better. The average employee doesn't know what their pension plan owns and has little control over it.
With an IRA or 401K you have some control but you would have to carefully check the holdings of every fund offered. And fund managers tend to clean up their portfolios before each quarterly report.
Thus the hard working folks who got a job with a pension and saved what they could on the side may find themselves with less than they planned on. And will be voting for politicians who promise to raise Social Security payments to cover what they lost. Where that money will come from is anyone's guess.
Its a shame when the folks who save and pay their bills and live within their means will suffer for the mistakes of others.
My mom and dad bought a place in L.A. for $66,000 in 1967. Its on the market for $1.4 million. And new owners may want to tear down as much as the historical overlay zone will allow to rebuild it bigger. There are enough sales of properties each year at well over their Prop. 13 values that some counties can count on higher property tax collections even in a time of falling values.
Come now. The purpose of modern government is to take money from the folks who save and pay their bills and live within their means, and use that to hire government workers; and to keep their power by using the money to buy votes from those who do not save and pay their bills and live within their means. And of course the money comes from those who work and save and pay their bills and live within their means -- who else will have any money for the government to take?
Or am I unduly cynical? But you ain't seen nothing yet. Wait until we have President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Senate Leader Reid. Then you'll see a lot of new laws, all designed to help you. Maybe it's not possible to be unduly cynical.
Thin-film dyes boost solar cells
Scientists in the US have shown how to multiply the power output of photovoltaic (solar) cells by up to ten times using organic dyes to concentrate sunlight. They say that their work could be scaled up to make solar cells competitive with fossil-fuel power generation.
A little light at the end of this dark tunnel we all see coming?
(In case you hadn't seen it...) Alas, we probably won't start in time to avoid serious pain Regards; Bill Beyer
Definitely worth your time.
Too real to be funny
I don't know if you've seen it, but if a US Attorney General ever took it seriously...:)
As you say...
On Software Piracy
"If you try to deprive me, I will take it from you."
- Roland Dobbins
E-Book Readers: Paperless at a Price - Kiplinger.com
No surprise here. They biggest barrier to e-books is the price of the devices and the e-books themselves. I think we are past the "early adopter" phase of the market. That means either the price comes down, the way that the Apply iPhone did recently, or the products will fail.
I fully expect the Kindle to be under $200 by this time next year, and half that a year later; and eBook prices to fall. I actually expect an eBok price structure of about $10 as now for the first 6 months of the book's life, then a fall to half that. But those are wild guesses, and I don't have a lot of facts to defend them with.
Global Ocean Wind Energy Potential from JPL
From NASA's Earth Observatory
The web page has seasonal maps of the energy density. There is a link to the abstract of the paper.
Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE
"Wind energy has the potential to provide 10 to 15 percent of the world's future energy, according to Paul Dimotakis, chief technologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Once windmills are installed, wind can be converted to electricity inexpensively. But not everyone likes wind farms. The giant collection of whirling blades mars scenic views and can kill birds and bats, particularly if located in a high-traffic flyway. To minimize these risks, one solution may be to place wind farms in the ocean. Wind tends to blow stronger over the ocean than over land. The ocean presents a smooth surface over which wind can glide without interruption, while hills, mountains, and forests tend to slow or channel wind over land.
But, as any sailor could tell you, wind over the ocean isn't consistent. In some places, the air is still, while in others, the wind blows fiercely. To identify potential wind farm locations, NASA scientists Tim Liu, Wenqing Tang, and Xiaosu Xie, all at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, mapped out average wind intensity over the ocean between 2000 and 2007. They created their maps from data collected by NASA's Quick Scatterometer (QuickSCAT), which measures wind speed and direction over the world's oceans...."
Ten to fifteen percent isn't the earth, but it's enough to help with prices...
Fire in Sequoia National Forest from ISS
Picture of the fire south of Lake Isabella... <http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/NewImages/images.php3?img_id=18086>
Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE
"July 16, 2008: Danish troops in Afghanistan are complaining that they have been kept out of combat since March, when five Danish troops were killed in action against the Taliban. The Danish government denies any such order and points out that the 600 Danish troops in Afghanistan are under the command of the larger British contingent. But the Danish troops are getting tired of nothing but guard duty and convoy escort for the last four months, and are openly talking to reporters about it. NATO troops who don't see combat (on the orders of their government) are looked down on by NATO contingents that are fighting. Then again, the Danish troops are stationed in a combat zone, where guard duty and convoy escort can be dangerous.
In the last 14 months, 14 Danish troops have died in Afghanistan. Most of those were in Helmand province, where most of the fighting has been taking place and where most of the Danish troops are. Denmark is currently considering getting all their troops out of Afghanistan in the next two years."
NATO isn't nearly as useful as it was a quarter century ago, and more of the members are essentially freeloaders or worse, but there are still good guys out there, and the Danes are trying.
Morsels from Space Industry
Student satellites: encouraging trend or a sign of panic? http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1170/1
>>What seems to be happening is that, as usual, when faced with a failure of government, people and private businesses are finding ways to get around the problem. First and foremost they are teaching themselves: home schooling is bigger than ever, and clubs and informal self-education groups are taking the place of old-style establishments, as are on-line universities. In the space industry amateur rocket clubs are growing and now student satellite projects are becoming ever more common.<<
>>Last year, global revenue from commercial- and defense-related space ventures grew 11% to $251 billion, according to the Space Foundation. About 69% of the space industry's 2007 growth came from commercial activity.<<
Dissident NASA engineers moonlight on alternative to Ares rocket family http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25678645/
>>HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - By day, the engineers work on NASA's new Ares moon rockets. By night, some go undercover to work on a competing design. ...<<
Subj: AIAA does eBooks
From a recent EMailing from the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics:
[begin quote] AIAA eBooks offers the most comprehensive selection of aerospace titles available in e-book format anywhere--*100+ titles available now*, with about 120 more becoming available by October 2008!
*Includes hard to find and out of print books*--from classics in aerospace to current groundbreaking research published in the /AIAA Education Series/ and /Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics/ series.
*Available at both the chapter level and as a complete
book.* Read online or download in PDF format made accessible through the
free Adobe Reader software. No proprietary software and hardware needed!
: NASA renegades, and a travelling ISS...
You have probably already seen this, but apparently a group of NASA scientists is proposing a launch system that would reuse a large part of the shuttle infrastructure. Here is the link to the proposal:
I haven't read the whole thing, nor do I have the background to judge the validity of the approach, but a common-sense first glance says this will save time, money, and risk by making use of something we already have working. Any comments/thoughts? Of course, NASA does seem to like starting all over from scratch, so this probably won't go anywhere....
On a different but related note, here is a proposal to send the ISS to the moon - I foresee more than a few challenges, but it's an interesting idea.
Best regards, Monty Hayter
Evolution and The Devil
Interesting piece about an apparent rapid evolutionary response to an extinction threat in the Tasmanian Devil population.
Title IX Quotas and Science Education
"Until recently, the impact of Title IX, the law forbidding sexual discrimination in education, has been limited mostly to sports. But now, under pressure from Congress, some federal agencies have quietly picked a new target: science."
Note the important paragraph:
"But the institute found that women with physics degrees go on to doctorates, teaching jobs and tenure at the same rate that men do. The gender gap is a result of earlier decisions. While girls make up nearly half of high school physics students, they're less likely than boys to take Advanced Placement courses or go on to a college degree in physics."
Not that facts will stop the investigation...
A matter of some concern.
Government Employees? on an escalator
Could these be the prototypical Government Employees on this escalator?
Isn't satire wonderful? Wouldn't it be nice if our presidential candidates understood that? The "New Yorker" certainly does.
Your statement in Tuesday's post implies actions that Fannie/Freddie did not take: "Like the chap who is losing his house in Anaheim: he paid $480,000 for a house, but his income is about $700 a month, and now he's facing foreclosure. Big surprise. Add enough instances of this and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own a trillion dollars worth of unsalable housing. Unsalable at anything like the amount loaned on it, anyway."
This statement implies Fannie/Freddie made sub-prime/inappropriate loans. They did not. Strict regulation of their lending practices required documentation of income and assets, and prevented them from making sub-prime loans. The reason that they are in trouble now is that with the housing market dropping, some "good" loans that were made with 20% down have negative equity. If the owners get into financial difficulty, or just choose to walk away from the loan, Freddie/Fannie are left holding the loss. Yes, they were as guilty as anyone in the whole real estate industry in perpetuating a bubble, but they did not initiate it or even fuel it inappropriately.
Paul Krugman had a good op-ed piece in the NY Times on Monday describing this: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/14/opinion/14krugman.html
He points out clearly that while Freddie/Fannie were not drivers of the sub-prime crisis, they by no means were without culpability in the overall housing debacle, particularly given the way they lobbied Congress to their benefit. However, the vast majority of their loan portfolio is sound, unlike that of subprime lenders who faced unprecedented losses from bad loans.
Greg A Philadelphia, PA
You miss the point. Because of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the loan brokers had tons of money to lend and to pay huge premiums to loan officers who put people into bad loans. Without the US Government's injection of all that money into the real estate market -- done with the best of intentions, of helping the poor to own their own houses just like anyone else -- there would not have been all that money to loan. Furthermore, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bought a lot of bad paper from the sub prime lenders, bundled that in with good paper, and sold the lot in order to increase their assets -- meaning that they then had money to loan.
Thrusting all that money into the market inevitably made prices rise. When too much money chases goods, the cost of goods rises. If you inject enough money into the system you create a bubble. If Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who lobbied hard for the right to treat their mortgage packages as assets so they could loan out more money -- if their managers did not understand that they were creating a bubble they ought not have their jobs. But of course they did know.
Sure, the worst loans were created by unscrupulous loan brokers, some of whom put people into negative equity loans because they got higher premiums for doing it; but they could do that because Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae stood ready to buy up mortgage packages and inject even more money into the bubble.
Hi Jerry Hope all is well following the Xrays. Doesn't seem to have affected your writing too much !
I have followed your account of the Kindle with great interest and mounting frustration. Over the months I watched as there was a shortage of stock in the US, then there were plenty to be had, but still no sign of any stock for the UK.
To me it beggars belief that the Kindle still isn't available in the UK, where I am sure there are many like me who would like to try this out. I am allowed to buy Kindle battery chargers and car power adaptors, but no Kindle.
Contacting Amazon about this raised a ridiculous call centre response along the lines of "this item is out of stock - check with the supplier" - errm isn't Amazon the supplier ?
I am planning a couple of vacations later this year, and I really wanted to take a Kindle along with a couple of dozen books to read, but there doesn't seem to be any chance of that, so I'll be adding to the carbon footprint by lugging real books around the world!
I am faced with an Asus EEE PC 901 and some pdf ebooks at the moment, unless you can find out from the strange people at Amazon just why they won't sell in the UK?
On the subject of the Asus EEE, I agree with Ron Morse - this is the best Computer to Have With You at the moment, (assuming you can't afford a MacBook Air) and you can run either Linux or Windows XP on it.
I used to use the Psion Netbook (running EPOC)and later the Psion Teklogix Netbook Pro, which is similar to the NEC MobilePro 780, but has a great keyboard and a better screen.
Regrettably Psion didn't continue with this form factor, which was ideal for authors or journalists. The battery life was great, and the keyboard absolutely brilliant. I also have an HP Jornada 820, which is similar in size to the Asus EEE, but runs Windows CE and is a bit slow nowadays.
All the best for a speedy recovery, and keep up the column.
Regards Andy Brimble
Regarding today's mail entry about California wild
fire images; there is a good collection of them from NASA's Earth
NASA has been using their Predator aircraft to take pictures. Some pretty impressive technology and pictures that are helping out the fire fight.
Regards, Rick Hellewell
Attack of the Italian space pod parachute babes
"Farnborough So far at Farnborough, we've brought you news on all the mainstream, humdrum pieces of sky-tech: stealth superfighters, supersonic jumpjets, tiltrotor plane-copters for the rooftop penthouse dwelling billionaire in your life. By now, many of you will have been saying to yourselves, "That's all very well, but it's a bit mainstream. When oh when are we going to hear about the inflatable foam space re-entry pod/pant module and associated all-female Italian skydiving team?""
I wasn't expecting the Heinlein reference, after that start.
July 17, 2008
Knowing your interest in Pascal, I thought you might be interested in this: Free Pascal at http://www.freepascal.org.
I found out about it on Steve Gibson's Security Now podcast last week.
According to their web site: "Free Pascal (aka FPK Pascal) is a 32 and 64 bit professional Pascal compiler. It is available for different processors: Intel x86, Amd64/x86_64, PowerPC, PowerPC64, Sparc, ARM. The discontinued 1.0 version also supports the Motorola 680x0. The following operating systems are supported: Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X/Darwin, Mac OS classic, DOS, Win32, Win64, WinCE, OS/2, Netware (libc and classic) and MorphOS.
The language syntax has excellent compatibility with TP 7.0 as well as with most versions of Delphi (classes, rtti, exceptions, ansistrings, widestrings, interfaces). A Mac Pascal compatibility mode is also provided to assist Apple users. Furthermore Free Pascal supports function overloading, operator overloading, global properties and other such features."
I have not tried it - I'm not a programmer, but after 20 years of documenting poorly coded software, I agree completely with your arguments in favour of strongly typed languages.
Sound great. I will have to download that and try it. Given my medical situation that may take longer than I like, so I invite readers with a bit more time to give it a try and let me know. Pascal was never intended to be a production enterprise language; it was designed for teaching. It has since been modified and may well be good for applications: certainly Borlan Turbo Pascal was good enough for a lot of excellent programs.
I don't know about manuals and such any more. I lost track of the literature, and I need to investigate what the best books on using Pascal are now. I seem to be hopelessly out of date.
I do intend to follow this up, but I no longer make time-dependent promises.
Skype Doesn't Trust Paypal
I've come across an interesting situation. I have been using Paypal and Skype for a few years. I don't use SkypeOut too often, since with my cell phone plan, there isn't much point, except for overseas calls. Earlier this week, I tried to buy $10 of SkypeOut credit. Then it popped up and asked me for a credit card number. I checked my Paypal account and there was $40 in it. I tried again and it still asked me for credit card or debit card number again over on Paypal again.
At this point, I did my usual problem solving procedure and started Googling around and found this statment over on Skype forums.
The present situation is that in order to use PayPal as a payment option to purchase Skype services your PP account needs to be linked to a credit card. This is required by PayPal as ID and as a back-up funding source (if necessary).
This appears to be driven from the Skype end. None of my other recent Paypal transactions have this and the comments in the Skype forums seem to indicate that it was a policy change at Skype late last year.
The explanation appears to be bogus. Why do they need a backup funding source since they won't credit my account anyway until the transaction clears Paypal and I can't SkypeOut once I use up the credit? I've had a account with Skype for years: Now they want me to show ID?
The whole point of Paypal, is that I can do minor Internet transactions with total strangers without risking more than the petty cash I have in the Paypal account. Having my Paypal account tied to my debit card or credit card defeats the whole purpose.
The kicker is that Skype and Paypal are both owned by Ebay. Is Skype paranoid or do they know something we don't?
I suspect growing pains. Paypal eventually gets things right, although sometimes it takes a while.
Subject: APS turns around
Undoubtedly others have informed you that the American Physical Society has reversed its current policy and is acknowledging that a significant number of its members disagree with the IPCC conclusions on climate change: http://www.aps.org/units/fps/newsletters/200807/editor.cfm
The dissenting paper they are hosting is at:
In another matter that is probably of interest to not just me: I thought that you had mentioned that Inferno and the new book, Escape from Hell, would be offered as a special pair by the publisher. Perhaps in hardback? I would like to have a new copy of Inferno along with the new book as I'm afraid to even open my old paperback edition of Inferno. In fact, it is the only paperback version of the efforts from the Pournelle/Niven team that I have. The balance are hardbacks and are standing up over time better.
Big Science begins to act like scientists.
Inferno I is available for pre-order on Amazon
Escape from Hell comes out early next year (January I think; we're gearing up for promoting it).
Hi Jerry, the reporting in strategy page on the Danish troops in Afghanistan which was sent to you, is not quite correct.
Due to heavy infantry fighting in the Helmand region in Afghanistan, where the danish troops are stationed, a specially equipped and trained combat regiment was sent to Afghanistan. As they are older and more experienced troops, the British command has chosen them to perform local liaison and rebuilding work - much to the troops dismay. They are now complaining loudly to any reporter they can find, about the lack of combat. The other danish troops, are still performing search and destroy missions against the Taliban - so they have not been redrawn, nor protected from active combat.
There are currently no discussion in Denmark about getting out of Afghanistan (except from parties on the fringe of Danish politics, representing less than 10% of the votes), not now, not in two years, nor in any foreseeable future. Some are talking about the mission to last 10 years or more. Recently the mission has been reinforced with more troops, heavy tanks and observation helicopters.
Bo Andersen, Denmark.
Good to hear. The few times I have worked with the Danish armed forces I have been impressed with their professionalism. Of course being descended from Frenchified Danes to begin with I start with a certain prejudice in favor of my relatives. (Poul Anderson used to contend that the Danish monarchy was the rightful monarch of most of the world, since the Norman Conquest only reestablished the empire of Bluetooth, Swen Forkbeard and K'nut the Great...)
LAUSD Dropout Rates
I still think the rates they're reporting are too optimistic.
-- Roland Dobbins
So do I.
Algebra accounts for a good third of the dropouts.
Trying to bridge the grade divide in L.A. schools: Lincoln High students have candid ideas.
Extreme Computer Cooling Strategies
I've tried a couple of those myself on a hot day.
From Wikipedia: " The Post-WWII hyperinflation of Hungary holds the record for the most extreme monthly inflation rate ever - 41,900,000,000,000,000% (4.19 × 1016%) for July, 1946, amounting to prices doubling every fifteen hours. "
By accident, I found the article below. Note how the Clinton administration was promoting China's entry into the WTO as a way to reduce the bilateral trade deficit. Didn't quite work out that way.
A good example of the kind of logic that seems to prevail now. We can see the consequences.
Dear Dr. Pournelle;
In your recent mail post you said... "Mao, Stalin, Hitler were all atheists and promoted atheist societies, and managed to rack up more casualties than all the religious wars in history." Now even though you are a certified genius, and I am a lowly IQ 140, I must disagree with you on this point. While Mao, Stalin, and Hitler were athiests in their ideals, were they not deities in their own minds, and did they not foster the religions of Mao, Stalin, ...Hussein? I believe this qualifies all the deaths attributable to these "gods" as religious....
In which case words have no meaning, and there is nothing to discuss. If every monomaniac is somehow a theist because you say so, how can we have any discussion about organized religions and history? Surely you do not equate the Pope -- even a Counter-reformation Pope - or the Emperor Ferdinand who would rather rule a desert than prosperous heretics -- with Hitler and Stalin? Or perhaps you do, in which case I don't see how we have any grounds for discussion.
Discrimination among things which are different is the essence of intellectual reasoning, is it not?
While we are on the subject, Joanne Dow points out that the Moslem-Hindu riots during the end of the British rule in India were religious in nature and the numbers killed vie for recognition. And of course prior to the Brits coming to India, Tamerlane managed to stack a fair number of skulls in the name of religions.
My point was that Stalin and Mao in the name of science managed to do very well also. Fanaticism need not pay homage to any god, and in using the Crusades and Inquisition as a stick to beat Christianity one needs a certain sense of proportion.
The Roman persecutions were mild -- almost trivial -- compared to the modern persecutions of those who oppose the state religions. The West sort of had done with that sort of thing after 1648 (except perhaps in Ireland.) Excuse the frivolity: I am in a hurry since I have to go get my MRI in half an hour.
"Consider the case of Colleen Leduc, a single mother of an autistic eleven-year-old girl in Barrie, Ontario. On May 30, she left her daughter Victoria at her elementary school. Leduc was soon called back to the school urgently, and confronted by the principal, Victoria's teacher, and a teacher's aide (educational assistant, or EA). Puzzled and alarmed, Leduc asked what was going on. The group told her that they believed that Victoria was being sexually abused. They had contacted the Children's Aid Society, a case file had been opened, and her daughter might be taken from her "for her own safety."
Leduc was shocked by the explanation: "The teacher looked at me and said: 'We have to tell you that Victoria's EA went to see a psychic and the psychic asked her if she works with a little girl with the initial V. When the EA said yes, the psychic said, 'Well, you need to know that this girl is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'" The EA reported it to the teacher, who then went to the principal, and so on.
Because Victoria is autistic <http://www.livescience.com/health/080401-bad-vaccine.html> , the child couldn't speak for herself about the alleged abuse. Leduc didn't believe the psychic's allegations, and said they could not be true since her daughter did not even come in contact with any men of those ages. Furthermore, Leduc could prove it: Because of Victoria's disability, Leduc had equipped her daughter with a GPS tracking system and a continuous audio recorder. A review of the audio proved that at no point was Victoria sexually abused in any way by anyone."
Hmm, spectral evidence, that sounds familiar for some reason. Wasn't there some discussion about that on this side of the border?
Spectral Evidence. Psychics. But what we have to worry about is allowing any alternative to Darwinism being taught in schools. After all, spectral evidence is only "controversial"; there are plenty of precedents. How many were hanged as witches on spectral evidence? Plenty of precedent.
An EA went to a psychic. And that is to be taken seriously by the police.
I had not intended to start today's mail with this, but I find it very disturbing.
Oil prices going down sharply but it's TOTALLY NOT SPECULATION OK???
So oil prices are starting to go down, and apparently they're going down faster than anyone expected.
So I guess this means that there are massive new sources of supply reaching the market, right? Because we've got all those smart people telling us that prices can't POSSIBLY be driven be speculation. It's IMPOSSIBLE for there to be an energy bubble, because all those smart people tell us that oil price is entirely a function of supply and demand. And these smart people are very smart indeed, far smarter than you or me. Just ask them.
-- Mike T. Powers
Speculators help even out wild price swings. The best way to bring oil prices down right now is to reliably announce new supply. It will work like magic. But of course our political leaders don't seem to understand this or much of anything else. Certainly Gore doesn't.
Demand goes up; if supply isn't seen to be following the prices will rise.
Since we are talking about oil, I suspect that the advent of THAI is hardly known as yet. They have had a very successful field test on deeper tarsands near Fort McMurrey.
The real importance is that it can be used everywhere difficult to recover reserves are available, although they quite rightly are focusing on the easy stuff.
Simply put a directional production well is drilled along the floor of an oil reservoir typical of horizontal drilling now universal. A second vertical air injection well is drilled close to the 'toe' or end of pipe.
Thereupon air is injected under some pressure until combustion is initiated. This develops a burn front that also absorbs the combustion gases and all the heat. The combination of pressure, heat and steam serves to induce a reforming of the feedstock into higher quality oil which flows to the production pipe with a fifty percent water cut.
They are working with gravity 12 or less and recovering gravity 15 or better. Far more important is that recoveries of in excess of 70% is been reported.
This burn front is sustained for the years required to retreat back to the heel of the production well. This methodology alone will liberate most of the Canadian tar sands with very little environmental issues.
It just does not end there. Every depleted field that can be dried out is a prime prospect for this technology. A reservoir retaining its fifty percent plus of unrecoverable oil can now be tackled. The combination of reforming and the natural injection of hot CO2 into the oil in place will bubble most of it out. and only a little is actually burned.
What this all means is that we have now added several trillion barrels of known oil to global reserves recoverable at under $20.00 per barrel.
It may take another couple of years for this shoe to drop but we can all wait for it.
It sounds like you are on the mend.
I know nothing of any of this. If it's true surely it will happen?
I've been reading the alternative energy discussion with great interest, but I note that no one has mentioned a very simple item: solar water heating. I live in South Florida, and my electric bills dropped over $25 per month once I junked my electric water heater.
Would this not be a small, positive step for most folks in the southern part of the country to take? I imagine that there would be some benefit even to those who lie in the Great White North (to me, anyone living north of Tallahassee).
I do understand that this is a very small step; but we have to start somewhere!
Best wishes for a full recovery,
Roof top pool and bath heating is very cost effective in some regions.
Will Amazon eliminate both the agent and the publisher? If so will this help or hurt authors?
It is something to think about. Clearly she found the right investment formula.
Spam book promotion will I think have diminishing returns and rather rapidly at that. Of course if you have enough friends who will not reject your mailing as spam...
Even the greens ask, "Is Al Gore nuts?"
Al Gore’s call for a US commitment to a crash program
to convert all power generation to 100% renewable energy sources similar to
JFK’s call to “land a man on the moon” gives one man pause
Nuclear power always gets short shrift in these articles, but I’m glad to see at least some acknowledgement that transmission capacity and red tape are problems that need attention if we are to keep up with increases in demand, let alone shift the entire energy infrastructure of the nation.
Best wishes for your continued recovery,
Well, I can guess the answer to that question....
Climate scientist changes his mind
You may find this article from today’s ‘Australian’ of interest:
‘The evidence was not conclusive, but why wait until we were certain when it appeared we needed to act quickly? Soon government and the scientific community were working together and lots of science research jobs were created. We scientists had political support, the ear of government, big budgets, and we felt fairly important and useful (well, I did anyway). It was great. We were working to save the planet.
But since 1999 new evidence has seriously weakened the case that carbon emissions are the main cause of global warming, and by 2007 the evidence was pretty conclusive that carbon played only a minor role and was not the main cause of the recent global warming. As Lord Keynes famously said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"’
Best wishes for a speedy recovery from Queensland
A well financed consensus is hard to retire.
More climate science
More on (bad) climate science. Well worth the read.
The Declining Value of Your College Degree
Here are a couple of excerpts:
----- College-educated workers are more plentiful, more commoditized and more subject to the downsizings that used to be the purview of blue-collar workers only. What employers want from workers nowadays is more narrow, more abstract and less easily learned in college." -----
A variety of economic forces are at work here. Globalization and technology have altered the types of skills that earn workers a premium wage; in many cases, those skills aren't learned in college classrooms. And compared with previous generations, today's college graduates are far more likely to be competing against educated immigrants and educated workers employed overseas.
The issue isn't a lack of economic growth, which was solid for most of the 2000s. Rather, it's that the fruits of growth are flowing largely to "a relatively small group of people who have a particular set of skills and assets that lots of other people don't," says Mr. Bernstein. And that "doesn't necessarily have that much to do with your education." In short, a college degree is often necessary, but not sufficient, to get a paycheck that beats inflation.
Economists chiefly cite globalization and technology, which have prompted employers to put the highest value on abstract skills possessed by a relatively small group, for this state of affairs. Harvard University economists Lawrence Katz and Claudia Goldin argue that in the 1990s, it became easier for firms to do overseas, or with computers at home, the work once done by "lower-end college graduates in middle management and certain professional positions." This depressed these workers' wages, but made college graduates whose work was more abstract and creative more productive, driving their salaries up.
Our bloated education system has a long response time...
Subject: Fred on AIPAC and Congress
By far Fred's best work in a long time.
More Squid Ink From David Brooks
Your remarks sometime ago concerning the conundrum of a universe of rising entropy producing such entities as Carl Sagan and Shakespeare reminded me of something I read long ago in Durant's "Story of Philosophy." I found it just today (it's from the section on "Mind and Brain", and is part of the discussion on consciousness, free will, and materialism):
If the present moment contains no living and creative choice, and is totally and mechanically the product of the matter and motion of the moment before, then so was that moment the mechanical effect of the moment that preceded it, and that again of the one before ... and so on, until we arrive at the primeval nebula as the total cause of every later event, of every line of Shakespeare's plays, and every suffering of his soul; so that the somber rhetoric of Hamlet and Othello, of Macbeth and Lear, in every clause and every phrase, was written far off there in the distant skies and the distant aeons, by the structure and content of that legendary cloud. What a draft upon credulity! What an exercise of faith such a theory must demand in this unbelieving generation! What mystery or miracle, of Old Testament or New, could be half so incredible as this monstrous fatalistic myth, this nebula composing tragedies?
-- rick grehan
Fairly close to my view. I just don't believe that the primordial cloud was destine to perform Swan Lake...
David Blume on Alcohol Production
Hi, Jerry - David Blume was on Coast last night, making the case for alcohol fuels. It made for a decent show; Blume is a compelling speaker, and seems to have a firm grasp on the topic.
He's right when he claims that alcohol is a cleaner fuel than gasoline; it does burn far more completely, and releases virtually nothing into the atmosphere. It has a lower energy content than gasoline; this means that fuel tanks powering existing engines have to be about 15% larger. However, it has a higher octane rating. Blume claims that engines designed to take advantage of this fact (with higher compression ratios) can realize a net gain in miles per gallon, when compared with gasoline engines.
There are a couple of problems with alcohol as a fuel. First, the government heavily regulates distillation, with the result that home distillation of alcohol is next to impossible to achieve legally. Blume claims otherwise, and bears the scars; he's been arrested for illegal alcohol production. Still, Blume claims that there are legal mechanisms that can be used so as to allow the individual to distill alcohol for use as a fuel. (In Canada, it seems even tougher; my limited research shows that there are so many hoops to jump through, that it would take a team of lawyers years to satisfy the demands. I suspect that was the intention.)
I would also point out that there are many people that make equally strident claims that there is no legal reason to pay income tax; and there are a lot of people behind bars, because they believed those claims. Before you start distilling alcohol at home, I would suggest you check with an attorney.
But the biggest problem is that alcohol as a fuel doesn't scale well. Blume claims that he can make alcohol for about 30 cents a gallon, using discarded donuts from the local bakery. All well and good, and he probably can do it; but how many discarded donuts are there? Enough for all of us? I rather doubt it.
Blume also claims that homeowners with acreages can channel their raw sewage into what are essentially open cesspools, in order to grow cattails which can be harvested for alcohol production. I suspect that cattails will grow quite well in an open sewer. So will cholera, and a few billion other nasty things. I cannot endorse this plan, given my current understanding of his intentions.
Do the numbers scale well? Sadly, when we look at the production figures for alcohol crops, we find that they do not. Blume claims that a field of sugar beets can produce 1,000 to 1,200 gallons of alcohol per acre. If so, it would take a new agricultural area roughly equal to the state of Texas, in order to supply all the motor fuel we need. This ignores the fact that not all of Texas is prime agricultural land; and that some of it is actually already being used for other things. Dallas and Houston come to mind.
The ValCent Vertigro system that I reported on earlier can achieve the same thing, using only 2.5% of the area of Texas; it's obviously a much more efficient system. The good news is that bacteria exist that create alcohol as a byproduct; were the Vertigro technology to be adapted to produce alcohol, we could probably create sufficient alcohol to meet the fuel demands of the country. Failing that, a conventional distillation process could probably also work.
I like the general philosophy and direction of Blume's work; but it's important that we keep at least one foot grounded in reality. We drastically need a new, potent, abundant and renewable source of energy that is created entirely within the United States; and we need it now. To this point, closed loop hydroponics as a mechanism of generating energy rich plants, seems the best method of achieving the goal.
Such a method will provide abundant energy for all of us; not just those few of us lucky to have the peculiar combination of resources necessary to distill alcohol.
Best wishes, Charlie
I heard the broadcast. I was struck by the fact that -- he reports, and I guess I believe it -- Brazil imports no oil, and has a rapidly growing economy.
As to immediate technologies, we know how to build nuclear power plants, although we might have to imprison some lawyers and demonstrators. If France and Japan can do it, why can't we?
You think there might be some connection there?
Scientists didn't burn witches. The church burned witches and the civil authorities burned witches, based on what religion taught them.
So now science is held in lower and lower repute every year by average people. Probably not one non-scientist in a thousand can define the Scientific Method, and you wonder how they can accept crap like psychic evidence?
And you're not helping by defending the whackos who are pushing intelligent design, or whatever they're calling it this month. As you must know, there *is* no alternative to evolution, or perhaps I should say that there is no scientific alternative. As you must know, evolution is as well-established as any other scientific theory, and better than most. And, as you must also know, a theory in the scientific sense is the next closest thing to a fact.
-- Robert Bruce Thompson firstname.lastname@example.org
Spectral evidence was accepted in Massachusetts, but a number of civil authorities rejected the whole notion. There's a lot of literature on the subject -- and all of it irrelevant in the present case.
You contend that suppression and censorship are a better way to defend what you are calling the scientific method than rational discussion.
Your theory, carried to its logical end, says that what I think and what you think are irrelevant, because it's all determined, just as the Big Bang Stuff would inevitably perform Swan Lake and generate Carl Sagan; to which I can only say if you believe that you have the faith that will move mountains.
What is usually put forth as the theory of evolution is generally not well presented, and inconsistent. There may be plenty of experts who really understand what they are saying, but I never get to meet them. The people I meet eventually resort to censorship as their best means of discussion.
Reductionism has been responsible for as many ills as any faith, and for about the same reason. The unexamined life is not worth living, and unexamined theories are not worth propagating. But that's an old fashioned Thomistic view of the world, and quite lost to nearly everyone.
The Church (Catholic Church) tried suppression and censorship, not once but many times, with pretty bad results: bad for the Church.
Censorship and suppression can work, for a while, but it takes a totalitarian state, which is pretty hard to maintain in this modern age.
July 19, 2008
Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject (under Tar Sands):
Toe to Heel Air Injection (THAI) This is a very new and experimental method that combines a vertical air injection well with a horizontal production well. The process ignites oil in the reservoir and creates a vertical wall of fire moving from the "toe" of the horizontal well toward the "heel", which burns the heavier oil components and drives the lighter components into the production well, where it is pumped out. In addition, the heat from the fire upgrades some of the heavy bitumen into lighter oil right in the formation. Historically fireflood projects have not worked out well because of difficulty in controlling the flame front and a propensity to set the producing wells on fire. However, some oil companies feel the THAI method will be more controllable and practical, and have the advantage of not requiring energy to create steam.
Advocates of this method of extraction state that it uses less freshwater, produces 50% less greenhouse gases, and has a smaller footprint than other production techniques .
This is a good example of why I don't conduct an open forum, and why I try to limit the scope of discussions here.
I have no expertise on the THAI process, and I don't know anyone who does. I certainly wouldn't invest my money in the technique. On the other hand, there are dozens of processes out there for extracting fossil fuels from difficult places. I am not likely to have an opinion worth much on which ones ought to be used, but I don't have enough faith in Wikipedia to invest much money on that site's say-so either.
What I have done is since 1972 I have warned people that the US faces an energy crisis. An energy crisis is an economic crisis. I have said since 1972 that the US has the technological ability to get out of the problem by producing more energy. There are a number of ways to do this, and we know most of them. If I were able to pick the one that would become the most important then I could speculate on that and probably get rich. I've never been tempted by that.
I do have enough technical knowledge to understand that nuclear power is a safe bet. That brings us to:
As nuclear energy is once again receiving attention, I thought to ask about waste disposal. In short would it be feasible to launch spent fuel toward the Sun? Broadly speaking, I am asking only about the physics, assuming the economics are are given?
Thanks and glad your health continues to improve.
nuclear, alcohol, and venezuela
Hi. Jerry - of course, I'm with you 100% on nuclear power plants. There are two, perhaps three, objections to nuclear. First, nuclear power plants don't provide a source of fuel for transportation. Second, nuclear fuel is a finite resource, and will eventually deplete just as certainly as oil has. Third, depleted nuclear fuel needs to be stored, carefully, for very long periods of time.
None of these is a reason not to build nuclear power plants.
We need electrical power to run our homes and buildings, and nuclear can provide that. Nuclear fuel will run out; but not for a long time, and will allow us to switch over to a sustainable fuel at a much more leisurely pace. Finally, all fuels pollute; the difference with nuclear fuel is that the pollution is all nicely contained in one point, rather than spread throughout the atmosphere (Chernobyl notwithstanding). And as Robert Heinlein once pointed out, we might find something very useful to do with depleted nuclear fuel in 50 or 100 years.
It is, however, important to recognize that nuclear will NEVER solve the transportation fuel problem. We need a portable, stable, high energy density fuel that we can make cheaply, and in abundance, right here in the USA. Alcohol / Ethanol / Methanol are the best candidates going.
It is also possible that once we devise a mechanism for the rapid and cost effective production of Alcohol, it might actually be cheaper to run a thermoelectric plant from alcohol rather than uranium. I would make such a decision based on TCO rather than hysteria, and I will confess that I haven't examined the numbers; but an alcohol burning plant must be orders of magnitude cheaper to build, maintain and decommission, than a uranium burning one. An alcohol burner would probably release less total pollution as well, if you consider the depleted fuel as pollution. I'm not sure it is; but whether or not it is pollution, its safe and guarded storage is certainly expensive. That ongoing cost must also be considered.
But, I haven't examined the numbers; this is just speculation. However, whether or not we replace uranium with Alcohol, we still need cubic miles of cheap alcohol right away, to fuel our vehicles. So it makes sense to focus on that technology immediately.
Re Venezuela: they have a population of about 26 million, in an area roughly twice the size of California. According to the US Census bureau, California has a population of roughly 36 million people; so, very roughly, Venezuela has about 1/3rd the population density of California.
Of those 26 million, it's important to note that only about 12 million work. (CIA World Factbook.) Roughly 38% of the population is below the poverty line; and the country is experiencing a CPI annual inflation rate in excess of 18%.
I wasn't able to determine how many Venezuelans actually drive vehicles. But given these numbers, I suspect that car ownership is no where near as prevalent in Venezuela as it is in California. It's also worth noting that Venezuela has MUCH more solar energy to exploit, than we enjoy in North America. This means that the average Venezuelan probably doesn't have a space heating bill, and has much more opportunity to make use of solar water heating. It's also true that agrifuel crops will grow much more abundantly than would be the case in many areas of North America. Even low technology approaches to agrifuel production will yield bountiful results, if you pour enough solar energy into the mix. In the USA, we will have to be considerably more scientific, and employ a lot more high technology. Fortunately, we have the ability to do that.
I am loosely aligned with David Blume from a philosophical standpoint; but I fear that he approaches alcohol fuel more as a lawyer, than a scientist. That is, he enters the room with a pre-existing point of view, and then works persuasively to make his case. I suspect the situation in Venezuela is not as rosy as he would have us believe.
Be well, my friend - Charlie
First, nuclear waste is a non-problem. The simplest method of dealing with them is to encase the stuff in glass (actually make a glass with the waste as ingredients) then take it to the Mindanao Trench and drop it overboard. It will eventually be carried into the depths of the earth where it came from in the first place. End of problem.
What most people do not seem to know is that while "nuclear waste" is in fact radioactive for thousands of years, after about 600 years the only radioactivity remaining is from the actinides, and those are what caused it to be fuel in the first place; after about 600 years the residuals are less active than the original ores mined in the first place.
And if we don't like dumping the stuff in the Deep (where we can't retrieve it if we suddenly wish we had it) then again make glass of it, and stack it in the Mojave desert. A square mile of the Fort Irwin maneuver area would do for many years to come. If you really doubt the stability of glass (which is pretty near eternal) build a superdome over it. Put a triple chain link fence topped with razor wire around the site with a notice that anyone crossing the line is fair game for the Army, but you'll probably die before we can kill you. Have a nice day.
As to renewability of nuclear power, we haven't tried very hard to find new nuclear resources; and how much you find has always in the past depended on how hard you look. I don't think that has changed much. Moreover, we have half a dozen breeder techniques for expanding the amount of nuclear fuel, and they are neither as environmentally hazardous nor as expensive (saving legal costs) as petroleum technologies for stuff like oil shale.
Now: I give you a general principle: given enough energy we can do anything. Electricity is useful. We haven't worked very hard at finding ways to use it for transportation; we haven't even looked at how countries with lots of hydro-electric power have done it. Some transport is fairly easy to convert over a 30 year period: railroads, much of long-haul trucking. It requires messenger wires and trolley receptors, but that's a known technology. Some transport is pretty simple: we already know how to make pretty good electric cars with a range of 100 miles, and most people drive far fewer than 100 miles a day. Those are known technologies; requiring new distribution systems; conversion will take some years, but if you don't start on something you will never finish it.
T Boone Pickens is absolutely right: we can't go on transferring a trillion a year to the middle east. On the other hand, we used to be the creditor nation of the world, as well as the manufacturing nation. We gave that up voluntarily for regulations and a regulatory state. Whether his conclusion, that we ought to convert to wind power, is correct is another matter. It doesn't look as useful as nuclear, but there are fewer envir0nmental fanatics opposed to wind. I suspect that energy economics is more determined by law suits than by engineering.
As to your observations about Brazil, I am sure you are correct. The last time I was in Brazil they were just coming out of an enormous inflationary spiral. I used to have a ten million cruziero note that would about have paid for breakfast. They have recovered from some of that, but I doubt they have completely recovered, and I don't think of Brazil as an example for us to follow.
Like you I am impressed with Blume's enthusiasm, but I don't have the means to check his factual assertions. What I do know is that there are many ways out of our energy crisis (when I wrote about this in the 70's I said our looming energy crisis, but it's no longer looming; it's here). We still have a population willing to work and some of the best technology available. What's needed is to free the American people of entangling regulations. Let a thousand flower bloom. We are, after all, capitalists, or so we assert. Perhaps we ought to try capitalism again.
Now of course some regulation is needed; but it needs to be set up with the Iron Law in mind. We need to understand that we can't afford what we are doing now.
I am now reading Flynn's 2007 book "What is Intelligence" and finding it easy and interesting reading. I don't remember seeing any review or comment. While I think I might find him taking my bet that, within 10 years we shall know with certainty that the genes of some or all of the Arctics are sufficiently different from those of most tropical people to ensure that the former have a significantly higher average native cognitive ability than the latter do, I can see some justification for his view that the intelligence of the currently ill-favoured in the mental department will have greatly increased. (He puts it down to the Industrial Revolution and its consequences leading to a more scientific and abstract rather than concrete way of thinking).
Whatever else the book is a useful primer on the Flynn Effect.
One clever bit of exposition is his explanation of the difference between (Flynn Effect) growth of IQ scores on some sub-tests compared with others. Thus 2% for Information, and 4% for Arithmetic, compared to 24% for Similarities which he regards as functionally more akin to scientific thinking. His point is that the g factor is not in a constant ratio or relationship amongst the sub-tests but varies over time with social context. (Chris Brand: is this teaching grandmother to suck eggs?) It is interesting BTW that the increase on Raven's Progressive Matrices, 24%, doesn't correlate at all well with increase in the Arithmetic sub-test.
Flynn proffers the analogy of a person with what he calls a high g for athleticism or, because he is referring to the Decathlon g(D) . The 100 metres will probably be the most g loaded and the 1500 metres the least. One would expect the high g "athletic" man to beat average men at all 10 events and one would expect the level of performance to improve over the years. But it would not be at all surprising to find that the rate of improvement in the glamour event ("fastest man in the world") the 100 metres was markedly greater than for other events, though the hurdles might be close and also the long jump. To me an even more striking case could be made for the big money getting much bigger improvements from the professional golfers and the lawn tennis players than the squash or Court Tennis players over time. I think I get Flynn right when I say he makes the point that the statistical relationships don't imply constant or any functional relationships.
Towards the end (where I started dipping into the book) Flynn nominates 9 SHAs (for shorthand abstractions) which are employed by the intelligent and educated today as well as a number of ersatz ones whose avoidance I suppose is the criterion. I shall copy here a list I sent to a friend in answer to his gloominess about civilization.
"Here is a lateral approach. Have a look at James R. Flynn's "What is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect". (The Flynn Effect is what Flynn discovered in the early 1980s, namely that IQ had steadily increased in the developed world over the 20th century). Not only does he give interesting explanations of how and why that happened and what it might mean in practice but he discusses other dimensions of possibly improved mental performance (I am not quite sure to what extent he was also attributing some of the rise in scores on IQ tests to these). Amongst them are the idea of markets (Adam Smith); Percentage (1860: mathematics); Natural Selection (Darwin); Control Group (1875:social science); Random sample (1877:social science); Naturalistic fallacy (1903:moral philosophy); Charisma effect (1922: social science - similar to the results of the management experiments at the Hawthorne plant); Placebo (1938: medicine); Falsifiable/tautology (1959: philosophy of science); Tolerance school fallacy (moral philosophy: 2000 - he is decidedly no po-mo "my truth is different from your truth" type). Those are what he calls the SHAs or Shorthand Abstractions and he has a list of ersatz SHAs."
I will incorporate my take on the Flynn Effect when I finish my essay on intelligence and education.
|This week:||Sunday, July
HP shatters excessive packaging world record,
HP shatters excessive packaging world record. 17 boxes to protect 32 A4 sheets:
UK boffins roll out video periodic table,
An excuse to explode sodium in water - the video periodic table:
I remember my chem. Teacher doing this in high school. I remember in college buying a big hunk of sodium and . . .
Brilliant 'UFO' Controlled Remotely by SMS,
Home-made UFO takes flight in Gdansk:
I recommend this as a cure for despair and the blues:
I take away from it the thought that our planet is one beautiful place, as are a lot of the people.
American Physical Society
I read the APS articles on global warming.
"I recall when the APS published its views on ballistic missile defense. It made 81 errors, every one of them in the same direction...APS positions on anything other than pure physics; and those were always predictable, anyway: give more money!!"
I noticed this mindset is now chiseled into their policy page in a few paragraphs, so far as it's possible for HTML to imitate chiseled granite. 1. Against SDI. 2. For more DoD funding for physicists. At first I found it irritating. Then I just started laughing. A mouseclick and they're gone!
That's probably not the right response to evoke in someone (me) they're actively trying to recruit for membership.
I have created single file HTML and then Mobipocket (Palm, Kindle, Cybook etc. compatible) versions of all of Rudyard Kipling's prose that was available at the University of Newcastle (Australia)'s whitewolf site, a site which has fallen off the internet in the last 6 months or so.
You can download some or all of them from here
The HTML format versions are merely the intermediate
format to the .mobi and not necessarily the easiest to use/read. If you want
to read Kipling in HTML may I recommend Ghostwolf (
There are a few volumes that still need work. 1) the Non-fiction Irish Guards in the Great War, The, Vol.1 and Irish Guards in the Great War, The, Vol.2 are missing their maps and photos 2) The Just So Stories likewise (this is more important IMO) 3) I need to recreate my "Full Stalky" volume with all the Stalky stories in it.
Share, Enjoy and please give feedback
PS One problem - I note that my version of FBReader (a linux ebook reader program) doesn't seem to do the word wrap right on these files. Since I don't use FBReader for much except testing I'm not sure if this is a bug in my conversion of in FBReader.
-- Francis Turner
dingus at @di2.nu
My parents just came back from a planet where the dominant life form had no bilateral symmetry, and all I got was this stupid FShirt.
I'll put this up again next week. Thanks. I have found that .mobi works just fine for Kindle.
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