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Monday, May 26, 2007

In Memoriam


Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

                                                                      Mariner's Hymn

Almighty ruler of the all
Whose power extends to great and small,
Who guides the stars with steadfast law,
Whose least creation fills with aweŚ
Oh grant Thy mercy and Thy grace
To those who venture into space.

                                                                        Robert A. Heinlein




I got up on time this morning, had breakfast, and went for our usual 1.8 mile walk on the streets here with Roberta and Sable. Then Niven came over, and we went to the top of the hill, 4 miles round trip with an 800 foot climb. I was slow, but I made it to the top.

We then went to lunch, and I came back and crashed. Got up in time to put the column together, went to dinner, sort of -- leftovers from lunch -- and here I am, about ready to go back to bed. At least I know I can do it. We even got some plot work done on the new Big Things Hitting The Earth book. Now that it's likely that I'll live long enough to finish the book, we can start work on a proposal and get a contract for publication.

The column is up. There were only two parts to the May column this month, but together they make up as much as I used to do monthly for BYTE, so I don't feel that I have shorted the subscribers. Weekly is good, but I don't promise weekly until I get over CRF; and that, alas, can take months. But I'll continue to do as much as I used to for BYTE, plus this daybook, plus the letters here, and the mailbag at Chaos Manor Reviews. Surely that's enough? I sure hope so. I need those subscriptions.


Given my strenuous physical schedule today, I'm turning in early. Go read the column. And I will post some mail.

Has anyone heard of this? 

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Tuesday,  May 27, 2008  

Freeman Dyson: 'In other words, if you disagree with the majority opinion about global warming, you are an enemy of science. The authors of the pamphlet appear to have forgotten the ancient motto of the Royal Society, Nullius in Verba, which means, "Nobody's word is final."'


-- Roland Dobbins

Dyson reviews two books on Global Warming. His analysis takes close reading -- I am astonished that anything that technical was published as a book review -- and is well worth your time.

His first essay is a review of an economist's model projected out 100 years. The analysis doesn't look at the science: it takes the "science" as if it were true and looks at economic impacts of various policies, including Kyoto and Gore, in comparison with "business as usual" which means "do nothing."

The results of the economic analysis are interesting: the Gore strategy is a disaster. The Kyoto strategy doesn't actually have a lot of effect -- which astonishes me. Most of the effects are lost in the noise.

There is another highly interesting result of the economic models: although Dyson doesn't say so, to a first approximation the optimum policy is the Bayesian strategy I have long advocated, namely, finding out more about what's going on, and just what real effect CO2 has on global temperature, then tailoring our response to what we learned.

We can also infer another optimum strategy that isn't discussed: coming up with massive new sources of energy that don't need burning carbon. Nuclear power comes to mind. Nuclear is, of course, a temporary strategy: we'll run out of uranium if we don't find a lot more and mine it. Of course there are alternatives: breeder reactors, and nuclear energy research into such processes as the U-233/Thorium reaction (although Thorium in recoverable concentrations is more rare than Uranium on Earth).

And there is Solar Power. Solar cells are getting more efficient and cheaper, and ground based solar can be economic in some areas; but the Sun still doesn't shine at night, or in the rain, and the days are short in winter, and nothing we can do will change that. In Earth orbit the Sun shines almost all the time, and it never rains. There are conversion and transmission costs, but those are efficiencies: we start with "free" energy once the capital costs of getting the collectors up there (including the R&D costs) are paid. Therewith my recommendation for a first step toward solving the Global Warming problem: Put up a $12 billion dollar prize, tax free, for the first American company to send down 1 megawatt of usable electric power for one year. (We can quibble over the terms, but does anyone doubt that it would be worth $12 billion to have that capability?) Note that prizes cost essentially nothing unless the result is achieved.

The economic models include strategies that would require China to slow its growth and condemn present generations to poverty so that their descendents would be more wealthy. I do not believe the cost of the war that would be needed to force the Chinese government to adopt this policy has been included in the analysis. Apparently the assumption is that diplomacy will prevail. Dyson's essay doesn't include this observation, and I note it only in passing; this is not intended as a criticism of Dyson's excellent review.

Dyson takes a very positive view of technological progress. Given the empirical validation of Moore's Law, this is more than reasonable.

As sample of Dyson's essay:

The science and technology of genetic engineering are not yet ripe for large-scale use. We do not understand the language of the genome well enough to read and write it fluently. But the science is advancing rapidly, and the technology of reading and writing genomes is advancing even more rapidly. I consider it likely that we shall have "genetically engineered carbon-eating trees" within twenty years, and almost certainly within fifty years.

Carbon-eating trees could convert most of the carbon that they absorb from the atmosphere into some chemically stable form and bury it underground. Or they could convert the carbon into liquid fuels and other useful chemicals. Biotechnology is enormously powerful, capable of burying or transforming any molecule of carbon dioxide that comes into its grasp. Keeling's wiggles prove that a big fraction of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes within the grasp of biotechnology every decade. If one quarter of the world's forests were replanted with carbon-eating varieties of the same species, the forests would be preserved as ecological resources and as habitats for wildlife, and the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be reduced by half in about fifty years.

It is likely that biotechnology will dominate our lives and our economic activities during the second half of the twenty-first century, just as computer technology dominated our lives and our economy during the second half of the twentieth. Biotechnology could be a great equalizer, spreading wealth over the world wherever there is land and air and water and sunlight. This has nothing to do with the misguided efforts that are now being made to reduce carbon emissions by growing corn and converting it into ethanol fuel. The ethanol program fails to reduce emissions and incidentally hurts poor people all over the world by raising the price of food.

There is a lot more. You will not regret reading Dyson's essay.

Discussion in Mail


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and you recently got some acknowledgment of a subscription, then what happened is that your pdf copy of Strategy of Technology was rejected; alas, this wonderful system does not tell me to whom the mail was sent, so I can't send you a direct notice.  I would myself think this "Sieve" system not worth a lot.

It may be DSLEXTREME.com since I sent a message to an address there, and I am not sure I have ever done that before. In any event, if you got a subscription confirmation at patron or platinum level, and did not get a copy of Strategy of Technology, this is why.




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Wednesday,  May 28, 2008

I have decided to send Orlando, my t42p ThinkPad, to IBM for repair. The experience on the phone with the IBM repair people in Atlanta was pleasant as usual. They're sending a box. I may have to pay for a new hard drive, but that's fine. The IBM warranty people are always pleasant to deal with.

Went to bed early last night. Every day I feel just a little better, so it's pretty clear I am recovering from the tumor. I still don't have a lot of energy or initiative: being fatigued all the time can wear you down. But that too will end, I think. Now all I have to do is catch up, which may take a year for all I know, because not only do I have to keep up this place, do the columns, work on my fiction, plan a new novel with Niven, but also build the new system, play with new stuff (which used to be more fun when I had more energy) -- and in addition to all that, just keep up with household maintenance, paying the bills, and just keeping things going.

I must say I never understood just how much I used to get done until now when I have to think about what I will use whatever energy I have today to get accomplished. I used to just do it all, and not think about it. Now I have to put things in priority, which means thinking about them, which means I get overwhelmed.

Once again, thanks to the subscribers, I keep my head above water as I start to hew away at this enormous pile of work I have to do to get caught up...

There is a discussion of Dyson's essay in mail.


There is a discussion of the Texas Child Abusers in mail. Incidentally, statistically it is quite likely that at least one of those children now in a foster home will be abused, either by another foster child, or by an adult who gets access through the foster home.

Will there then be a mass response, with every foster parent in the system accused? The resulting law suits will be amusing in a horrifying sort of way.


There will be a discussion of the Texas Child Abuse case tomorrow.

We also have a rather definitive history of climate as presented by an Australian climate scientist. Look for both of those tomorrow.







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ThursdayMay 29, 2008

The debate on the Texas protection of the children continues in Mail.


One more definitive summary of temperature and CO2 over the ages:


This will take you some time to read, and it's full of data; if you have a refutation or know someone who does, please tell me. What I do not understand is how, in the face of such evidence, the Global Warming Hoax continues. I would at least like to hear an argument.

Incidentally will we now have laws taking children from their parents because they are being taught that the UN Global Warming Position is not true? How can we allow the heresy that humanity is not causing Global Warming? How can anyone oppose the cap and trade bill (which will enrich a number of people and wreck the economy for no discernible purpose)? How can you allow people to say things that will harm the Earth?


Gallup Poll now says that Americans want domestic drilling. Drill here. Drill now. Drill a lot. Domestic oil production won't save us by itself, but it can get us through a crisis while we come up with more energy sources.


Discussion of the Muslim Student Union and other matters at UC Irvine continues in mail.



It's allergy season. Here is where to order your nose pump. Recommended.




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Friday, May 30, 2007

La Scala to present Opera based on Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth


Maybe by the time this happens, 2011, it will be cold enough to have it be seen as a comedy.

sns-ap-al-gore-opera,0,310738.story ,

Bob Holmes

Hoo Hah!


1240: Fiction today. My head seems full of cotton wool and the tinnitus is worse today. Not sure why. Also sleepy. What I really want to do is go back to bed, but there's work to do. We managed our 1.8 mile walk, I have taken my pills, and it's time to get to work...

corner of inferno & purgatorio



 Heh. I missed seeing that when I was in Florence, but it hardly astonishes me that there are those streets....


A Modest Proposal for US Education

I had a thought while walking.

Our education system says that we must mainstream the disruptive, the crippled, the stupid, the uncaring, and the undisciplined, lest we condemn someone among them to a life of perpetual discrimination. The practical effect of this is to devote most of our educational resources to the left side of the bell curve in the hopes of getting everyone up to some average; while, of course, neglecting the right side of the bell curve.

It is as if a gemologist were required to polish coal up to some standard shine even if that meant giving only a cursory tweak to the garnets in his collection (not to mention the diamonds and rubies). This is probably not a very good analogy, but I think it's pretty clear what I mean. The future of civilization depends on getting the most out of the bright kids, so we have devised a system that insures that the bright kids will be neglected in favor of those who don't want or can't absorb an actual world class university prep education. Does this make sense?

I have a modest proposal: we spend about $10,000 per child per year in our education system. Could we have schools in which we will spend only $6,000 per child? The rules are: both teachers and pupils are volunteers. The budget is fixed; if this requires two grades per classroom so be it. Teachers and principals have full disciplinary authority including the authority to send disruptive and unresponsive students back to the mainstream. No one has a "right" to be in these schools, which are, by definition, "inferior" in that there is less spent per pupil here.

Principals have real control over which teachers are retained in these schools. There is no "tenure". Teachers who are removed from these schools go back to the "mainstream" schools.

Pupils who flunk out of these schools go back to the mainstream.

Parents and PTA and so forth are free to augment what's spent on the schools by fund raising.

The point is that we provide "inferior" schools for our bright kids; but it's voluntary. You don't have to go to these "inferior" schools; indeed, you have to compete to get into them if there are more applicants than spaces for them.

I recall that for my first 8 years in school, 1-3 in Catholic school, the rest in Capleville consolidated in rural Tennessee (half an hour on a school bus to get there in the morning), we had two grades to the classroom and about 30 pupils per grade. We also had strict discipline and fairly strict standards. In my case, I didn't get a lot of attention from the teachers, but I did get some from the librarian, and no one bothered me if I read a book during the half of the time when the teacher was concerned with the other grade.

Now I am sure we can do better than that for $6,000 per pupil, but my point is that if it were that bad it would still be better than what we have now.

Or have I lost my mind?


It is of course possible to muck anything up.

Lunar X Prize

Bob Cringley has a very interesting post on the iron law of bureaucracy and the fellows running the Lunar X Prize.

In Summary - micromanagement, rule changes, too many rules, some of which make no sense...the iron law in action it seems. So Team Cringley is going to the moon without Goggle's prize money and plans to do so profitably to boot!


Jim Coffey

I thought of forming a Lunar X-Prize group, but it was pretty clear to me from the beginning that the rules were not likely to be conducive to making the effort. Cringely's solution, to go it alone without reference to the X Prize Foundation, is probably correct, and using media money expectations for finance source makes sense.

I can recall way back in the 50's that the first earth orbiting satellite could have been done as a Disney special effect -- that it, the Minimum Orbiting Unmanned Satellite Earth (MOUSE) could have been financed and built as a private venture, but it would have taken some technology releases that government was unwilling to do, and while negotiations were continuing the Russians sent up Sputnik.  But it wasn't impossible, and it might well have happened.

Rocket science is public. R0cket technology tends to arcana. Combustion chamber geometries are tricky. And so forth.

I haven't done the costing for soft landing a package on the Moon, but my first WAG is that $5 million is not enough unless you start with a company with considerable experience. John Carmack has spent about half a million a year for some time now and has learned a lot about rockets. There are other private companies (other than the Big Guys, who can't even write a proposal without spending $5 million) with some relevant experience.

We know the delta-vee for getting from here to the Lunar surface, and we can figure the mass ratio given the payload size. Indeed, I recall doing some of that back when we were doing some rough designs on Pilgrim in the 60's. (We also looked at preliminary design descriptions for hard landing supplies directed to a beacon.) It seemed marginally possible then with kerosene and LOX, and we have better guidance and control now; but I think it likely that the costs are going to be a lot higher than the estimates I have seen.

What I would really like to see is a $10 billion private effort to build a Lunar Colony. It could be the Microsoft Lunar Research Facility. There was a time when I was certain I could make that happen: not that I know so much, but those who can do it would work for me.

I said a long time ago that the philanthropist or statesman who successfully takes mankind to space will be remembered when Columbus and Isabella the Great are long forgotten...

Alas, I'm a bit old to take on such responsibilities now; but if anyone wants to go down in history and has the money, I could arrange to make it happen. I still know the people who know how to do it.


And now it's time to go help Rick organize Roman Marines and do some navy stuff on Tran...


About 700 words.



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Saturday,  May 31, 2008

Not a great day. Sleepy most of the day. Did get some exercise.

I have enough ideas for a column. What I don't have is a lot of mental energy for writing it. Or anything else.

But I sure do have lots of thoughts for fiction. If I can get past the lethargy I ought to get a lot of work done.




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Sunday,  June 1, 2008


Unqualified Reservations

If you're not reading this guy, you really ought to.

Example: http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/

Fortunately he posts infrequently, or I could never keep up.

-- Tim of Angle

He calls himself Mencius Moldbug, and in fact, I had not seen any of his writings before. The author insists that he is a Jacobite, and the enemy of progressivism. He is certainly familiar with a great deal of history. I have not previously read any modern essay that made reference to Defoe's The Shortest Way. A couple of sample paragraphs:

Adjusting the rules of war in this way is an excellent strategy for the 21st-century antimilitarist. He does not have to actually express support for the insurgents, as his crude predecessors of the 1960s did. (As Tom Hayden put it, "We are all Viet Cong now.") Today anyone who can click a mouse can learn that the NLF was the NVA and the NVA were cold-blooded killers, but this knowledge was controversial and hard-to-obtain at the time. The people who knew it were not, in general, the smart ones. "We are all al-Qaeda now" simply does not compute, and you don't hear it. But nor do you need to.

* * *

There was a funny article the other day in the Times. It seems Kuwaitis have noticed that they have democracy, that Dubai doesn't, and that the latter seems to be rather better off for it. (Don't miss the pictures of Kuwait's "financial district" - sidesplitting.) Not that Kuwait has much democracy. It's a constitutional monarchy. But Dubai is an absolute monarchy, and the difference is, um, remarkable. Especially since Kuwait has way more oil than Dubai.

He is, I would contend, a very strange kind of Jacobite, in that it's hard to discern just who should be the legitimate pretender. I infer that in 19th Century France he would have been called a Bonapartist, but perhaps I have not read enough. In any event, the cited article is not short, and it will take an hour or so to read; some of you will regard that as a wasted hour, and some will find it a great investment of time. If you begin reading and have any interest in the matter, read enough to be sure of what you are seeing: he winds into his subject like a serpent and it will take a while before you realize what he is doing.

I don't know any real Jacobites. It would be interesting to learn more about 21st Century Jacobism.

Wha wadna fight for Charlie?
Wha wadna draw the sword?
Wha wadna up and rally,
At their royal prince's word?
Think on Scotia's ancient heroes,
Think on foreign foes repell'd,
Think on glorious Bruce and Wallace,
Wha the proud usurpers quell'd.

Rouse, rouse, ye kilted warriors!
Rouse ye heroes of the north!
Rouse, and join your chieftain's banners,
'Tis your prince that leads you forth!










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This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending.  (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If  you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.

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