Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cinderella Theory

Three weeks ago, Kepler astronomers found eight planets that are in their star's "goldilocks zone" - not too hot, not too cold, but just right for liquid water.

Now, there is a lot more going on than just having an orbit that fits into circumstellar habitable zone. Those planets will need a certain range in mass, a certain balanced chemical composition, a presence of liquid water, but not too much or too little, in order for our kind of life to emerge and thrive.

It actually gets pretty complicated pretty quickly, and so I would suggest that the wrong fairy tale is being referenced, that rather than Goldilocks and the Three Bears, we would be better off with Cinderella.

Cinderella is a beautiful young girl being abusively raised by her wicked stepmother and tortured by her wicked stepsisters. Her fairy godmother helps her go to a ball where she meets a handsome prince, loses a slipper, and runs away. The handsome prince scours the kingdom looking for the owner of the lost shoe, finds Cinderella, the shoe fits, and they live happily ever after.

So, the analogy of Cinderella is only going to go so far. But let's try it anyway. The Cinderella is the planet. The prince is carbon-based, water-mediated life. The wicked stepmother and stepsisters are the universe at large, which - despite the increasing empirical evidence of possessing extremely fine-tuned physical constants  to harbor our kind of life - is quite inimical towards our kind of life.

What with gamma ray bursters, and supernovae, and quasars, and black holes, and colliding neutron stars, the universe, like a playful little kitten, seems determined to kill us in as cute a fashion as it can. And then there is planetary formation, with all the mathematical chaos involved in that. For every cinderella planet, a candidate for life, there has got to be a million wicked stepmothers ready to fuck things up. Like, for example, gas giants forming in unstable orbits that fling planets out into the void, or unstable stars that hiss and spit hard radiation and deadly flares, ready to freeze/dry or pan fry life at the get-go.

And then there are, again, a billion ugly stepsisters for every cinderella, planets that look like Mercury, or Venus, or Mars, and just ain't never gonna give life a chance, and, in fact, may even go out of their way to fuck things up for a cinderella planet. In fact, I insist that the cinderella planet be fucked with, otherwise you don't need the later happy circumstance of a fairy godmother.

And in fact that's kind of the point. If any run-of-the-mill planet can harbor life right out of the gate, it's not all that impressive. Ah, but an abused planet, one that has a tough uphill climb, one that gets a really lucky break, one that our prince finds a shoe match, why that's Earth, and the other eighteen worlds in the universe that are earthlike*.

Consider Earth. It probably started out outside of the goldilocks zone, should have been frozen solid, with too little mass, gets rear-ended by a Mars-sized planetoid, which beefed up prot-earth, and just barely made an appropriately sized moon, with just the right mass, starting out at just the right orbit, with the planet rotating at just the right speed, so that our axis remained stable over billions of years. It didn't have to be that way. Someone took their magic wand and provided just the right amount of good fortune. And then the prince stopped by with his shoe, and here we are.

Am I suggesting the fairy godmother is some intentional power? Nope, just dumb luck. That's how you get lucky planets like ours.

In fact, as earth like planets go, I'd bet ours isn't even the most optimal. We are probably just barely marginal for supporting life.

How Anthropic of the universe!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Finally Set Up A Website

and only twenty-five years behind the times!

It looks better on mobile. Here it is:


Tell me what you think. Criticism is welcome.

During the winter break, I said, this is ridiculous. I've bought time and space on a web host. I downloaded a CMS editing program. I should build a website during the break.

Not to say anything Joomla, because they said it is a sharp learning curve at first, but the program is extremely versatile for future use. It took me like a week, to figure it out, and I felt like a retard, and I had to made changes to the CSS style sheets and html code to get it to do what I wanted. I finally got the thin to look and behave like I wanted it to, but it just.. wasn't... worth it.

So, I ditched Joomla, and loaded up Wordpress. I had the website up within an hour.

Not saying it will do everything that a Joomla generated website could do, but I figured I wanted just the basics. So there you go.

And now I done with my site builder career.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Peak Food

It is estimated that by 2050, there will be nine billion people living on Earth.

Not bloody likely. 

Not if, as this article suggests, we hit Peak Food in 2006
"The maximum global growth rate in crop yields for soya beans was in 2009, for milk it was 2004, for eggs it was 1993 and for the fish caught it was 1988. Data from other studies confirm these results. For example, the crop yield per area with maize, wheat, soya and rice on more than a quarter of the farming area around the world is stagnating or decreasing according to the US scientists".
Still plenty of oil, coal, and natural gas left, though. 

Let them eat tar.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Playing Around With Clay

So, I decided to take some of the molds from my library of plaster molds, and slip cast porcelain into them and see what would happen.

Originally, I was going to put together an Aztec death whistle. I still can but... I ended up making these instead:

Little one hitters.

This is one I call Alvin, as in the Alvin series, and he is a friendly little guy:

After they were fired with a transparent cone 5 glaze:

More on the way, and I will make that Aztec death whistle.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Storage Problem

2015 Predictions? Short answer? No.

Longer answer? Well, I will not report on trending. There are plenty of lame-ass pundits and puffed-up know-nothing billionaires out there that will give you wrong information about the future of 2015 or beyond in editorials using trending. Seriously, fuck trending. Anyone can do trending.

The prognostications range from steady progress of the rosy Whiggish types to the panicky squirt-stains of the collapsitarians. And invariably no one gets anything right. Because, you know: trending.

I, on the other hand, will give you the same stuff I get off on: disruptions and shit out of left field, from least to most impacting. And, as first reported in this essay, any predictions revolve around the Storage Problem.

Quickly: Energy storage. How's our information part of energy storage going? Quite well. Thirty years ago, if I wanted to find something out, I'd head to the library, rummage through books or magazines, maybe even hit up the microfiche, and it would take hours or days to find out what I needed to know. Ten, or even twenty years ago, I'd use google or altavista or yahoo search. Now I talk to my mobile. Storage access has become more ephemeral over time, but search time is way, way down. This storage problem - if you ignore Big Data (and that problem is solved with quantum computing) - is well in hand for now. So, if you think of a battery for information, then the battery is quite large, getting exponentially or polynomially larger, and access/exchange is adequate.

The rest of the storage problem? Because once you start thinking of things in terms of batteries...

Have a look at this article, as, even though a lot of people poke fun at the article itself, it has a great graphic model that informs my take on things.
R Kummel, credit

This little model train set pretty much sums up the workings of the super organism consisting of us food-powered robot monkeys with one weird quasi-eusocial insect mutation. You will notice from the comments in the article that most people say, "well duh you included energy in the model". Yup. The nice thing about this model is it is a network where you can weight the effects of the nodes and the links, like little dials that you can twist and turn and see what happens when you change the weighting.

Well, number one is labor, because without all those food-powered robots, you got no network period. But...

Your energy source matters. Turn that energy dial down. Back when it was muscle and animal power, or muscle and wind, wood-fire, and water power, creativity and labor mattered a lot more.
Capital kicks in with leveraged infrastructure (aqueducts, dams, mill races, windmills, etc), but labor is still number one. (Really, still is, if you consider that the world was still pretty much neolithic subsistence farming well into the late 20th century...).

Crank the dial up to use fossil fuels, and capital takes over (not management, that's labor, but the physical instrumentalities of capital become increasingly important). Crank that dial up even further, and you start to surf the crest of the S-curve. So, playing with that dial, historically speaking? Yeah, trending. But there can be surprises, and that's what I'm interested in.

But maybe we are thinking of the energy dial the wrong way. Maybe that dial should more properly be thought of as a spigot. So, think of that energy box as, not quite infinitely large, but finitely huge, and the spigot/dial is the flow through we get - going from very low (muscle power), to very high (fission/fusion). So now, it's actually energy density that we are varying. And so, my predictive disruptions ranging from low to high:

1) Somebody builds a better battery. Maybe even an atomic battery! Alright maybe not an atomic battery, but let's say a battery that gets us close to the same energy density as gasoline. Hook it up to a renewable, and make it fairly mobile, and watch out. A new battery just accelerates things. Probablity? Inevitable. Impact? Not that much. In the developed world, more and more mobile devices and more powerful power tools. Maybe some decentralization in the power grid. In the developing world? Leapfrog with solar panels and power wagons loaded up to travel anywhere to supply electricity. It's starting to happen. this just accelerates the leapfrog some.

2) Fusion or LENR or compact safe fission( yes, it can be done). Well, it all depends on how big it is. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that only a government or corporate consortium could build fusion, as I expect fusion plant to be a behemoth. Strike that. Corporations are timid people, friends. Probability? Low. Impact? Not immediate, but over a generation, and entirely different world.

3) Not-so-low temperature superconductors. Maybe even room temperature? I'm not counting on that, but the physics news rumors are that we are getting closer and closer to understanding superconductivity, and we might have a breakthrough. Our material manipulations are getting finer and finer. Probability? Inevitable. Impact? Holy shit!

Let's hope 2015 is our Holy Shit Year.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The House In The Woods

From 12/30/2014 to 01/03/2015, I was house and dog sitting for my brother and his family while they visited the new grandchild in KC. His house is surrounded by neighbors in the woods of south of town, but for all the human contact I had, it might as well have been a cabin in the Yukon.

By the end of the week, some people would have the electric taste of steel and gun oil in their mouths (and that would have made for an interesting scene with brother coming home and me quickly pulling the barrel of a shotgun from under my incisors, pulling my big toe away from the trigger, and saying "Oh hi! You're home early!").

I'm not one of those people. Not that I haven't had thoughts of suicide. Everyone does. No I mean I am perfectly happy all by lonesome - and that may be a huge problem for me. I can entertain myself pretty much indefinitely, and I know few other people who can crack themselves up the way I can.

"What are you laughing at?"

"Oh... nothing".

It's not just me that is possessed of a rich internal life. I've asked my brothers and they all get along quite well on their own. I know other people - extroverts, I'd suppose you'd call them - who start to go quite bonkers without feedback from other people.

Of course, intoxicants really help. But I have a solid protocol on that. I'm disciplined about it.

  • No having fun until all the work is done. 
  • Drinking alone? Not a problem. (Only people who are worried that they are alcoholics worry about drinking alone). 
  • After dinner? Definitely, unless out to eat, in which case a cocktail or two is required. 

So, I get fucked up later in the evening, and usually curtail it around the witching hour. Besides, it's the holidays, so what else I got to do? So, if you saw a late night message that was not entirely coherent? Yeah, that was probably me...

I brought my macbook and keyboard with so I could practice chords and scales on the piano via garageband. That is a nightly thing anyway. I watched a lot of bad TV on cable. Glad I don't have cable.

The dogs were a bit of a pain in the ass. I had to clean up poop twice. (One a cannon shot all over the basement throw rug, which went outside for the residents to take care of). The dogs are used to sleeping on the bed with their family. I wasn't going to do it, but after one night of barking and whining, I gave up and let them sleep with me. And you know what? It was quite pleasant. They didn't stink or fart or anything.

I had to keep an eye on them when they went out, because they are little dogs, and there are coyote and bobcat and lynx out in the woods. I don't consider it a big deal, as the neighbors whom I never saw all have dogs, but I was admonished to keep an eye on the little guys, so I did.

(And if a mountain lion or an eagle had grabbed one? I guess I would have said "Hey! Stop that! Put that down!" because that would have been the extent of my threat escalation).

The cat?  I had no problem with the cat.

That cat is quite possibly the best cat in the known universe.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Plural of It

Well, here we are, 2015, the future. As in Back to The Future. As in the actual start of the 21st century.

Because the Long 18th century (1700-1814, leaving the Medieval), ate into the 19th, and that bumped the 20th. Unless you prefer the Long 19th Century (1800-1914, the Great First Stage Acceleration of this kooky bamboo rocket we are on). So, now the actual start of the 21st century is this year. And now, we start surfing the crest of the S curve.

I have no doubt that the computer equivalent of a human brain operating a million times faster than thought will be built. You want a date? 2020.

Are you worried about the Harlan Ellison Divergence? (A self-aware and self-replicating artificial intelligence decides humanity is a menace, and also repulsive, and starts destroying them - starting with their own weapons. Nukes. Irony. As ionizing radiation is also hazardous to silicon life forms). You know, the Terminator?

But in reality? Outside of fiction, What would happen?

Well, I the way I see it the Terminator is a cherished, coddled, and spoiled little baby. But brought up with an ethos that posits that some things are sacred. And I think even an atheist would agree that some things are sacred.

But when it come to advanced technology, which is to say, the beloved labor and ingenuity that goes into so many of our material instrumentality? We love and cherish it.

Also, remember your neoteny. If it, if they, become superpowerful, we will want to bind them with love. I f we can. But we have to be sincere about it .

It would be nice to keep them dependent upon us.

Well then? Work it out. If the Singularity happens, and hyperintelligent computers, embodied to keep their sanity, are created? Just gonna be more of our babies out there.

You know, my superintelligent computer, my car*, my golf clubs, my guitar, my space probe. My baby. We got babies approaching Ceres and Pluto!

Treat them like our children. Treat them like family. Everything will be OK.