Tuesday, July 29, 2008

LILYPAD: colonizing the open ocean

I don't have time to do this justice at the moment, but a Belgian architect drew up this plan for a floating city in the geometry of a LILYPAD.

It makes thousands of times more sense to colonize the oceans, the deserts, even the deep Antarctic before we touch Mars, or even Venus. Earth already has a breatheable atmosphere, plenty of water, surviveable temperatures and worst come to worst, we are not far from somewhere nicer.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Ice Age cometh

I noticed this over at "The Reference Frame" by the unmistakable Luboš Motl - and fortunately this is something I know little about.

It seems there is a real possibility of another cooling period being imminent - or in less-precise terms, another ice age.

The problem is this. For reasons we don't understand, when the Sun is active (Sunspots, Coronal Mass Ejections, and the like) the Earth gets warmer. We have just finished a very active sunspot cycle. But some years ago there was over a hundred years when there was virtually no sunspots at all. This was called the Maunder Minimum and the Spörer Minimum. Previous to this time, the Earth had been quite warm. The Vikings were colonizing Greenland and grapes and figs were grown quite farther north than they are now. But once the these Minimums started, things got quite cold. The Greenland Vikings died off, the River Thames froze over and so on. The Maunder Minimum was called the Mini-Ice Age.

There is actually very good correlation between solar activity and climate. It is the fact the climate scientists fail to properly acknowledge this that has been my biggest issue with Global Warming.

According to a new analysis, after our next sunspot cycle, there is a good chance we could enter into another sunspot minimum - and have a new Ice Age. But as each sunspot cycle is usually around 11 years, we have a while to wait.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Safety First: A disturbing culture of safety at any cost

In my hometown, which is really little more than a pothole without a stoplight, we know how to celebrate the 24th of July. For those who don't know, that is when we celebrate the Pioneers coming into the Salt Lake Valley. Typically, we would reserve the county fair grounds, gorge and feast on BBQ'ed hambergers and any dessert imaginable. But that is not all... we would top it all off with a rodeo. Sure, there is stuff for the little kids like chicken chases and mutton-busting, but there is more serious rodeo stuff too. In addition to standby's like barrel-racing, there is bullriding. The last time I was there, I got my girls to ride a calf.

(They refused, and were scared, and fell off and got hurt, and cried and swore they would never do it again and then a year later were anxious to try it again.)

But now it is coming to an end. I suppose the feasting part will go on, but no more rodeo. Since it is a church activity, they have to put a stop to it for liability reasons. Oh, I am not going to criticize the church for having to do this. The lawsuits happening these days are truly outragous. Right or wrong, it simply was not affordable.

This same legal atmosphere has reduced the fun of playgrounds of our childhood, with the dull plastic over-safe equiment now present. Nothing allowed unless there is an almost zero chance you could fall and bump your nose. (That is only a very slight exageration) Even if you are in the right, the lawsuits can be impossible to fight.

And we wonder why children don't spend time outside as much these days.

There was a great post over at 1000 Awesome Things about superiority of old playground equiment. Best comment - "You westerners are soft. When I was kid, my playground was broken T64 tank and we play hopscotch around anti personel mines!"

The question we need to ask is, is this over-concern for children doing them more good than harm? Is this part of the reason for the obesity epidemic? - outside is just too dangerous without being sterilized and neutered beyond recognition?

Is a safe world possible? Or are we just picking our poisons? Personally, I would rather have my precious little girls have a few good scrapes and broken bones than be sheltered from every pointy stick on the ground. They will meet those kinds of problems eventually anyway. I would rather that they be ready for them.

Friday, July 25, 2008

In the image of God: just how weird can aliens look?

I believe in aliens. Really, I do.

First from a scriptural standpoint, and secondly from a scientific - once given a foothold, life is just too adaptable. Bacteria, viruses, and even a certain dust mite, can survive deep space, so life is bound to have ended up elsewhere.

But merging those two agreements is giving me grief. On one hand, I want to say, all of God's children are in his image, so they must obviously look like us. There is some UFO evidence to support that (the so-called Nordics). But it strikes me as so fundamentalist and simplistic, I worry that I am over-literalizing the scripture.

Just what does "In the Image of God" mean anyway?

Does a kid with a birth defect life a cleft palette and lip count as still in the image of God?

What about something more severe? Like this from the effect of dioxins in Veitnam-

I was about to show a few more pictures, but I have not gotten around to eating dinner yet, so I am going to forbear. Just a google image search for "birth defects". Might be useful for dieting.

Now, with a case like this, we have two choices - either a child like this is not in the image of God (we can treat him like an animal) or he is in the image of God. I don't think we should treat him as an animal, but the corollary is that outward appearance is, to some degree, irrelevant. (That or God may have really bulging eyes.)

So then, if the worst birth defects, are still children of God, in his image, then what should we say about aliens? (No Senor, not the illegal variety, the extra-terrestrial sort)

Just what is the real criterion for "in the image of God" ?

Sci-fi has some pretty weird aliens.... What about the Giger inspired baddies from the 'Alien' movies? Is anything from Star Trek kosher? What about the Gou'ald parasites in StarGate? Can we keep Yoda?

Just where and how do we draw the line?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

And there shall be a new heaven and a new earth...

I get ideas stuck in my head sometimes.

Sometimes they really get stuck. And the only way to deal with it, is think it through until I realize how patently ridiculous my idea was, or usually is. At the moment, I am considering the terraforming of Venus. There are many reasons Venus has more potential than Mars ever will, but let's save that argument for later.

Really, Venus has all the potential to be a wonderful place to live, even with the puns it would engender. Of course at the moment, it makes hell look comfortable. The atmosphere is carbon dioxide, sulfer dioxide, with a pinch of sulpheric acid. If that is not bad enough, the atmospheric pressure, temperature and pure insane wind speed make mincemeat of the toughest probes sent there.

But the real problem, is that Venus has lost its hydrogen. Venus has no magnetic field of its own, so the solar wind just has its way with Venus, stripping away the lightest gases, namely hydrogen and helium. Hydrogen (and water of course) are the necessary ingredients for any kind of life we know of. Second, any hydrogen introduced would convert the carbon dioxide into elemental carbon or fix into a number of other solid forms. Once a sufficient amount of hydrogen were introduced, we could use Carl Sagan's idea (it was my idea too!) and use extremophile bacteria to fix all that sulferic acid and sulpher dioxide into some form that will not kill us. There are several other problems, but once we have dealt with this first one, those should (mostly) be easier.

Of course, we would need 4×1019 kg of water, which in case your math is rusty, is a whole freakin' lot. We have trouble getting the shuttle up to our 'space station'. How can we get that much water to Venus? This is how...

This is a video gallery of the LASCO telescope on the SOHO solar astronomy satellite. It is used to discover around 100 comets a year, many of them small comets that are called sungrazers. Of course, some of the best videos are watching comets bite the dust when they hit the sun.

Of course, this will increase the surface temperature in the short run, and it will leave craters, and their composition is a wildcard, but they do contain plenty of water and organic compounds.

The only tricky part, is first finding the comets when they are still quite far out, and then finding a way to guide them into an appropriate orbit to hit Venus... and miss Earth. I still like it here. Putting it that way, this sounds almost easy. Well, if not easy, certainly doable, given a bit of time and money.

Just a few pertinent links
Terraforming Venus
Maps of a Terraformed Venus - not the most serious, but what is dreaming if not fun?
Terraformers Society of Canada - I want to delve into this topic more- this site really looks good.
New Mars Society post on Venus
Sungrazer Comets

Finally, now I can stop thinking about it.

For now.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Patent System and the Singularity

The Singularity! the Rapture of the Nerds! The point where exponential growth in technology can begin to advance itself and .... well, life will be as different from now as water is from ice. Of course, we could talk about this for a very long time, but the main point is this - technology increases exponentially. So for a long time, it looks like nothing is happening at all, then the there is a gradual increase and then it simply increases like mad. That is the point we are almost at.

But does it make sense to have a patent office once we reach the Singularity? It is no simple thing to keep up with a exponential increase in technology. Insisting on patents and copyrights would eventually slow us down more than it could ever help us. So called "Intellectual Property: legistlation of any kind, would impose a limit to just how fast technology can develop without it either slowing deployment of technology, or itself becoming utterly obsolete.

In other words, the patent office itself would have to grow exponentially - at the same rate. Sure, it is easy enough when the curve is flat, as it has been. But once the increase is clearly exponential, the patent office would have to hire more people to handle and exponentially increasing demand, and an exponentially increasing amount of prior art to search through. In practical terms, that means a patent is more and more likely to be infringing in some way, on someone else's patent. Finally, we would reach the point that the paperwork and redtape would take more effort than the innovating itself would. This sounds like the absurd and extreme limit, but the whole issue of the singularity is- inventions as fundimental at the internet or the wheel finally happening at monthly, weekly, and finally, even a daily pace.

We are at a unique time in history - but our greed might just stop the whole thing.

Here is a brief discussion of Lawrence Lessig discussing this from the context of copyright.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blog Resurrection

Just like Dr. Frankenstein in a good lightening storm, this corpse is coming back to life. Hopefully it will last longer than the good Dr. monster did.

Just a few topics to look forward to:
Technology: the coming of the singularity.
Politics: so they are going to revoke the President's ability to declare war... wait, he never had it in the first place.
Politically incorrect: If they want to change the gender mismatch in science, the right place to start is the check book, not that Larry Summers was completely wrong either.

And even a bit about my coming book: 'The Meaning of Virtue' !

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll look look at every post with a mixture of disbelief and surprise... because it really is stranger than fiction.