Thursday, December 30, 2010

What if the Sun Erupts in 2012 in the Way it Did in 1921?

SolarFlare NASA

What would happen to electrical infrastructure on Earth if the sun passes through a period of massive solar flaring as occurred in 1859 or 1921?
On Earth, power lines, data connections and even oil and gas pipelines are potentially vulnerable.

An early warning of the risk came in 1859, when the biggest CME ever observed unleashed red, purple and green auroras even in tropical latitudes.

The new-fangled technology of the telegraph went crazy. Geomagnetically-induced currents in the wires shocked telegraph operators and even set the telegraph paper on fire.

In 1989, a far smaller flare knocked out power from Canada's Hydro Quebec generator, inflicting a nine-hour blackout for six million people.

...Recurrence of a 1921 event today would fry 350 major transformers, leaving more than 130 million people without power, it heard. A bigger storm could cost between a trillion and two trillion dollars in the first year, and full recovery could take between four and 10 years. _Breitbart
Here's the scary part: if government leaders follow through on their threat to install a "smart grid" in order to facilitate "green energy", the power grid will become up to 100 times more vulnerable to solar flares, EMP attacks, and computer hacker attacks. Think about that at your next Sierra Club outing.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Singularity University Class of 2010

Singularity Hub presented a wrap-up of 2010's Singularity University second summer session. The wrap-up was a close follow-up of a comprehensive video look at the full range of projects undertaken by SU's students this summer.

Students were busy working on energy projects, water projects, food projects, space projects, and "up-cycle" projects -- a focus on sustainability. It sounds as if this summer's projects may have been focused upon the problems of the third world -- which calls into question the entire idea of naming this endeavour "Singularity University", if it is only another "appropriate technology" approach to saving the third world from its own idiocratic nature.

The Singularity is about mind-blowing, futuristic advances that happen so quickly as to be unpredictable and untrackable.

Wait and see what happens next year, I suppose. The phantom hobgoblins of overpopulation doom, carbon catastrophe doom, peak oil doom, peak water doom, and all the other scary story dooms that haunt the modern airwaves and electron-ways, may be too powerful to resist -- even if totally false. If so, pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and go go go to Brother Love's Salvation of the Earth Singularity Show, because there is no escaping it now.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Who Is John Galt?

Friday, July 16, 2010

We Are Marching to Utopia, Heaven Help Us!

...optimists and idealists -- with their ignorance about the truths of human nature and human society, and their naive hopes about what can be changed -- have wrought havoc for centuries....instead of utopian efforts to reform human society or human nature, we [should] focus on the only reform that we can truly master -- the improvement of ourselves through the cultivation of our better instincts. _OUP Review of "Uses of Pessimism"
Sure as I know anything, I know this - they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that. _Captain Malcolm Reynolds
There is something deep in human nature which has resisted change -- despite the best efforts of crusaders, utopians, religionists, and wishful thinkers -- for many [tens of?] thousands of years. After countless failures to reform the human spirit, most utopians are unfazed. If they can only grab enough power and control over how resources are distributed, they are sure that they can bring perfection to the land, under their own benevolent leadership. "The land will heal, the sea levels will begin to subside, and every man will say to every other man, you are my brother." And so on.

Philosopher Roger Scruton -- author of The Uses of Pessimism -- takes a somewhat more reluctant view:
The belief that humanity makes moral progress depends upon a wilful ignorance of history. It also depends upon a wilful ignorance of oneself – a refusal to recognise the extent to which selfishness and calculation reside in the heart even of our most generous emotions, awaiting their chance. Those who invest their hopes in the moral improvement of humankind are therefore in a precarious position: at any moment the veil of illusion might be swept away, revealing the bare truth of the human condition. Either they defend themselves against this possibility with artful intellectual ploys, or they give way, in the moment of truth, to a paroxysm of disappointment and misanthropy. Both of these do violence to our nature. The first condemns us to the life of unreason; the second to the life of contempt.

...In order to see human beings as they are, therefore, and to school oneself in the art of loving them, it is necessary to apply a dose of pessimism to all one’s plans and aspirations. _GloomMerchant
In another piece, Scruton presents a paradoxical recommendation for how to teach children to think for themselves, logically and clearly:
...children are drawn to magic...they spontaneously animate their world with spirits and spells...they find relief and excitement in stories in which the heroes can summon supernatural forces to their aid and vanquish untold enemies – these facts reflect layers of deep settlement in the human psyche. But they also remind us that, in the life of the child, belief and imagination are not to be clearly distinguished, and that both serve other functions than the pursuit of truth.

...humanists should wake up to this point, and be careful when they seek to deprive their children of enchantment, or to replace their spontaneous fantasies with the cold hard facts of empirical science. It could well be that religion is a better discipline than pop science, when it comes to shaping the rational intellect, and that [we can offer our] children more in the way of a solid foundation, by anchoring their imagination in sacred stories and religious doctrines, than they are likely to be offered by those “Darwinian fairy tales’” as David Stove has called them, which have gained such currency in the wake of Dawkins and Hitchens.

In response to a child’s metaphysical curiosity grown-ups can say that everything has a scientific explanation. But they will know that this is a lie. The proposition that everything has a scientific explanation does not have a scientific explanation – it describes an amazing fact about our universe, a point where reasoning falls silent. There are many such points, as anyone who has children knows: why is there anything? Why should I be good? What existed before the Big Bang? What is consciousness? You can wrestle with these questions through philosophy, but science won’t answer them.

Children have an inkling of this. They also recognise that behind these questions lies a huge void – an emptiness which must be filled with love and reassurance, if their existence is not to seem like an accident. _Art_of_Certainty
Utopians try so hard to purge their children's minds of falsehood and "error", to create the perfect children of rational thought, capable of seeing through all the corrupt fables of the past. Except...children will be who they will be. You cannot make boys into girls or girls into boys without destroying who they are. And you cannot make humans into angels without ruining the essence of what they are. And still the utopians continue to try -- until they finally throw their hands up in complete exasperation at and condemnation of the utter evil of those who do not think along the same lines as themselves, the utopians.
The disgusted dismissal of homo rapiens and all his works that we find spelled out by John Gray in Straw Dogs is not a form of pessimism. It is an attempt to dismiss humanity entirely, as a kind of plague on the face of the earth. That kind of misanthropic nihilism is of no use to us. It removes the ground from all our values, and puts nothing in their place. _GloomMerchant
At that point, they often begin to plot and fantasize the great dieoff, to cleanse the otherwise pristine Earth of the incorrigible human demons who infest the lands and oceans. Fortunately, utopians are as incompetent in planning the great dieoff as they are in most other aspects of their lives.

The point is not to resist all change or improvement of humans. But any lasting change for the better is likely to happen from the bottom up, not from the top down.

Nothing illustrates the different approaches to a better world than the contrast between the French and American revolutions of the late 19th century.
The primary difference in causes that led to the American Revolution and the French Revolution was based in the world view of the innate goodness or innate evil of man. _Hyperhistory
Not all utopians believe in the innate goodness of men -- sometimes they only believe in the innate perfectibility of men. But utopias born of such ideas all come to a bitter end.

Every child has to learn to think for himself, from the beginning. But he must have a beginning from which to start.
The need for foundations is quite clearly an adaptation, and these foundations must provide the promise of protection and love, if they are to fit the new organism for its brief time in the world. If that is so, you are not going to eliminate the need for faith: the best you can do is to withhold all objects of faith, so that a child goes hungry into the life to which he or she is destined. More often than not, a humanist education will leave a child exposed to massive and mind-clogging superstitions of the Harry Potter and Star Wars kind. But these superstitions contain far less in the way of insight than is contained in the first chapter of Genesis.

Religious stories are also the result of natural selection – though selection at another level: they have come down to us because they have fulfilled a moral need. They have survived refutation because they contain, beneath their superficial falsehood, the moral truths that people need, when they must order their lives by good examples. _The Art of Certainty
This is true not only of religious stories, but of all the mythology and lasting moral fables from antiquity. Children must have some kind of foundation that transcends deductive logic, because that is how minds begin. Then, later, when they choose to either reshape or reaffirm their beliefs, they will have a sense of having decided for themselves, and feel stronger for it.

Yes, humans can make choices that make them better. Improved nutrition of mother and child can make humans stronger, smarter, taller, and sometimes capable of clearer thought. But a power structure that attempts to legislate morality, to engineer the moral and ideological purity of the human souls of its citizens -- that power structure is morally bankrupt, and deserves to die quickly. If it is allowed to continue, its leaders will eventually decide that the recalcitrant citizens do not deserve the benefit of the leaders' great wisdom. Then, beware.

This question has been acquiring an ever greater urgency over the past century -- even longer. It is now coming to a head in the demographic and economic crises of many of the world's most advanced nations. A culture that has rested on its own laurels, that has comforted itself with mental images of its own progressive improvement, is soon to be reawakened to a coarse and unruly history.

Previously published at Al Fin blog.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

These Homes Will Last for Centuries

Well-made monolithic domes, as described in the video, are expected to last for centuries. As described at the website:
With the exterior protection of polyurethane insulation and the waterproof roof membrane, the steel reinforced concrete dome will not weather or decay. The life span of these buildings will be measured in centuries.
The monolithic concrete dome is probably the strongest building that can be built with a specific amount of time and materials. This means it has very high resistance to the natural forces of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. _dometech
Monolithic domes are also relatively safe in a wildfire, due to the fireproof internal thin-shell construction. The external foam is apt to melt or burn unless protected by layers of fireproof material, but you should be safe inside the shell.
Another type of long-lived concrete home is built by Formworks, an example of which is pictured above.
The Formworks structural life-span is rated at 200-1000 years. That is five to ten times the structural life span of most homes. Plus - depending on what external features are chosen, the Formworks homeowner can reasonably expect a reduction of ninety-percent (90%) or more of the maintenance that is required on a conventional home of the same size. _formworks
Some experiences of people living in Formworks homes

Here is yet another type of concrete home from Conrad'sCastles:
Low maintenance.
With poured-in-place concrete walls, there are no worries about rotting wood, termites, or settling problems that can cause a lot of interior damage. This means you have fewer headaches, more money, and more enjoyable weekends!
Strength and safety for your family.
Because of the concrete structure, these homes survive fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and even earthquakes. What more could you want for your family? This also means cheaper homeowner’s insurance.
Peace and quiet.
You won’t believe how little outside noise you will hear in a concrete home! Noise from traffic or the neighbors’ barking dogs is practically gone. _Conradscastles

An arched or domed shape provides strength and uninterrupted interior space. Earth sheltering on top of the concrete provides further protection from fire and weather, as long as proper water-proofing is used. Monolithic domes, for example, are strong enough to be buried beneath about 30 feet of earth.

Homes that can last up to 1,000 years may seem like overkill. Of course if you plan to live in a house the rest of your life, you may wish it to be practically indestructible.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Perennial Wheat

PULLMAN, Wash. –Earth-friendly perennial grain crops, which grow with less fertilizer, herbicide, fuel, and erosion than grains planted annually, could be available in two decades, according to researchers writing in the current issue of the journal Science.

Perennial grains would be one of the largest innovations in the 10,000 year history of agriculture, and could arrive even sooner with the right breeding programs, said John Reganold, a Washington State University Regents professor of soil science and lead author of the paper with Jerry Glover, a WSU-trained soil scientist now at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.

“It really depends on the breakthroughs,” said Reganold. “The more people involved in this, the more it cuts down the time.”

Published in Science’s influential policy forum, the paper is a call to action as half the world’s growing population lives off marginal land at risk of being degraded by annual grain production. Perennial grains, say the paper’s authors, expand farmers’ ability to sustain the ecological underpinnings of their crops.

“People talk about food security,” said Reganold. “That’s only half the issue. We need to talk about both food and ecosystem security.”

Perennial grains, say the authors, have longer growing seasons than annual crops and deeper roots that let the plants take greater advantage of precipitation. Their larger roots, which can reach ten to 12 feet down, reduce erosion, build soil and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. They require fewer passes of farm equipment and less herbicide, key features in less developed regions.

By contrast, annual grains can lose five times as much water as perennial crops and 35 times as much nitrate, a valuable plant nutrient that can migrate from fields to pollute drinking water and create “dead zones” in surface waters.

“Developing perennial versions of our major grain crops would address many of the environmental limitations of annuals while helping to feed an increasingly hungry planet,” said Reganold.

Perennial grain research is underway in Argentina, Australia, China, India, Sweden and the United States. Washington State University has more than a decade of work on perennial wheat led by Stephen Jones, director WSU’s Mount Vernon Research Center. Jones is also a contributor to the Science paper, which has more than two dozen authors, mostly plant breeders and geneticists.

The authors say research into perennial grains can be accelerated by putting more personnel, land and technology into breeding programs. They call for a commitment similar to that underway for biologically based alternative fuels.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Announcing a New Species of Human: Homo SubMarinari

Homo Submarinari is a species of human that is at home under the water. Submarinari will be born, raised, and make its life under the sea. Living in seafloor habitats, and traveling across oceans via high speed nuclear submarines, Submarinari feels more comfortable under the sea.
It is important that Submarinari be born into the water, and learn to dive and swim from the earliest days of life. Early training allows for rapid development of competence, confidence, and comfort in the full immersion environment.
External air supplies and re-breathers will be necessary in the earliest stages of Submarinari evolution, but simple genetic engineering of "neo-gills" will eventually allow Submarinari to dispose of technological breathing apparatus.
Homo Sapiens has already evolved into sub-species that are adapted to particular terrestrial environments -- the Innuit, the Andeans, Himalayans, various tropical strains . . . So there is nothing different about Submarinari in that regard -- except perhaps in the use of genetic engineering to solve problems unique to the undersea environment.

Expect similar speciation and subspeciation phenomena to occur as humans move permanently into outer space.

H/T ImpactLab

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How Quickly Can the World Move from Coal to Nuclear?

Elliott Morse takes a look at the issue here:

Table 1. – [IEA] Energy Projections, Current Policies
07-30 % Change
Total (MTOE)*
Source: IEA
* Million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE), is a standardizing measure for energy; one million tons of oil equivalent is the energy generated by burning 1,000,000 metric tons of crude oil.
To meet this growth in demand, fossil fuels (oil, coal, and gas) are expected to grow most rapidly. Coal use is projected to grow by 52%, with its share increasing from 26.5% to 28.8%, unless major policy changes occur. Under this scenario, the number of railroad cars loaded with coal leaving mines every day would increase from 225,687 to 343,044.

Table 5. – China Electricity, by Fuel, 2007
Electricity (GWh)
Share %
Production from:
- coal
- hydro
- nuclear
- oil
- gas
- wind
- biomass
- other
Total Production
Quadrupling its nuclear capacity would mean being able to produce 248,520 GWh per year. That increase, 186,390 GWh, would require increasing its capacity by 21GWe. Using US$2 billion as the GWe cost (some estimates for 1 GWe in China are as low as US$1.5 billion), this will cost only US$42 billion. This should be no problem for China.
But let’s consider something somewhat more ambitious: could China replace half its electricity generated by coal with nuclear? That would mean increasing nuclear production by 1,328,217 GWh annually. That would take an additional 151 GWe of capacity. At US$2 billion per GWe, that would cost US$302 billion. With a GDP of US$5 trillion annually, this investment would also seem feasible over a couple of decades.
The joint the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD and the International Energy Agency gave the impression that most of the concerns with nuclear are manageable. But there are extraordinarily complex logistical and regulatory problems that still must be faced. China is in a much better position to deal with these problems than is a democracy.

Source: SeekingAlpha

China has already begun building new nuclear reactors. But then, China finds it easier to deal with its trial lawyers and political activists -- it executes them if they cause trouble. In the US, trial lawyers and political / environmental activists can tie a multi-billion dollar project up in the courts for years, draining the resources of investors dry.

In other words, the faux environmentalists who are blocking nuclear power are making it necessary to continue mining and burning coal! But no one ever said "environmentalists" were very intelligent. Dogmatic, pompous, corrupt, self-serving, yes. Intelligent? Not so much.