Saturday, November 20, 2010

I feel your er...uh...pain?

The busiest travel day of the year is coming up this week, and all is not right at the boarding gate. When John Tyner refused to be groped by the stormtroopers from TSA before boarding a flight in San Francisco to visit family, his warning to them was, "if you touch my junk I'll have you arrested". That opened the floodgates and more stories are becoming public every day. Like the three year old girl crying because the TSA guy was trying to do what her mother told her was evil and not to be tolerated, he was trying to touch her junk, sick bastid. Or the nun being groped, or the cancer victim having to remove her prosthetic breast, to prove she wasn't carrying a bomb. People are on edge these days with money worries mixed in with the regular stress of trying to celebrate a BIG holiday while not feeling all that festive. President Obama finally chimed in with his best Bill Clinton imitation, as he said we are all unhappy about having to put up with this intrusive crotch grabbing at the airport. I really doubt he and Michelle got the old slap and tickle treatment as they boarded Air Force One for their round the world 'please help America' tour twice in the past two weeks. Will he let grown men handle his daughters under the threat of penalties for refusal. Somehow I think Uncle Sam is feeling something at the airport but it ain't pain.

Artificial Intelligence and Open Source

Via Instapundit, I came across this from the Foresight Institute:

Advances in electronics and spintronics will mean cheaper, more powerful computers, which will advance both computational nanotechnology and the development of artificial general intelligence.

This seems to conflict with Keith Curtis on development of artificial intelligence.  He says that AI needs to be open source, which it is not.  Here's a quote from his book After the Software Wars
Imagine 1000 people, broken up into groups of five, working on two hundred separate encyclopedias, versus that same number of people work on one encyclopedia?  Which one will be the best?  ..but it is exactly what is going on in artificial intelligence research today.  Some say free software doesn't work in theory, but it does work in practice.
 It may not be enough to have faster and faster computers.  The software is already behind hardware.  Perhaps those in charge of developing AI ought to consider open source software to fully exploit the hardware.

Politics Schmolitics

With all the housekeeping that I have been doing, I have inadvertently removed the reason why I use the term "Politics Schmolitics".  I use it because I am deeply skeptical of our political process these days.  To paraphrase President George Herbert Walker Bush (papa Bush), our debates generate more heat than light.  Too much energy is spent in generating heat, not enough to generate light.  In generating light, there is the chance that solutions can be found to problems.  In generating heat, you are fortunate if you don't get burned.  I'd rather have more light than more heat.  It's better to turn on the light than to curse the darkness.

Defunct pages

I have been doing some housekeeping.  I eliminated some pages and started using
labels to categorize posts.  The Future of This Blog page has been cancelled and
the posts are being transplanted to this post here and labelled so it won't be lost.
Here it is as follows (italics added for clarity):

I decided to add this page in order to keep up some content.  I want the home page to stay static though, because I want the post about the poll to stay on top.  In the meantime, I will post a little here.

Exploring Taegan Goddard's Political Wire Blog.  Some of the links are interesting.  Also, updated the thought experiment continued post by using two comments.  Had a math error.  I web browsed the technique of  telepresence.  This technique may be utilized in future space missions.  I was thinking that you could have the lunar workforce control the machines with this technique.  This would give a safety margin as the workforce could stay out of the harsh lunar environment by staying in the safer permanent lunar habitat.

Final post for today, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2000:  Bought a book and started reading it.  Actually, it is a Kindle version of a book.  It is called "After the Software Wars", by Keith Cary Curtis.  Curtis was a programmer for Microsoft.  I guess you can say he went over to the dark side, or maybe he went from the dark side to the good side.  All depends upon your point of view, I suppose.  I guess I am going to take his side and say he went from serving Darth Vader to serving the good side of the "force".   I am a bit tongue in cheek here.   Don't want to make too much light out of this.  This is serious stuff.  Something that can be generalized to new situations, like this one.  If there was a name for this project, I would call it the seed project.  What I am trying to do is to come up with a seed that can grow into a lunar community.  A child as it were of the parent civilization, meaning us here on Earth.

Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010:  I am brainstorming ideas for the seed project.  I want to encourage comments on this blog.  The proposed seed project can be open sourced like Linux.   In order to be open sourced, it needs a connection to the community.  The community here is anyone who is interested in this idea.  Everyone is encouraged to comment.  

As of now, I have eliminated 3 pages.  I will keep products page up.


Yeah, it's David v Goliath, me taking on Krugman.  After all, who the hell am I?  But an Army of Davids can take on the Krugmans of this world.

I'll coin a label for a phenomenon which I see from Paul Krugman who happens to be a Nobel Prize winner.  The problem I have with Krugman is not the general idea, nor the concept in general.  No, it is the indiscriminate application of that idea.  To be more specific, Krugman wanted the stimulus to be much bigger and bolder.  But I think it needed to more bold than big.  I am not against stimulus per se.  I am against abuse of it.

The stimulus was already very, very big.  It was also very, very ineffective for the amount of money spent in relation to results.  For that money, we should have gotten a boom out of it.  But we still have a bust.  The stimulus was not well thought out.  Just throwing a lot of money at a problem doesn't fix it.  We now have the biggest possible example of that: 800 billion dollars and what is there to show for all this?  Hence, the term Krugmanism.   I define it as the advocacy of spending money indiscriminately on the vain hopes that by spending very large sums in such a manner, one should expect great results from it.  But such hope is vain, because such spending will not be effective if it is not well thought out.

I am creating a new label, so anyone reading this blog can see all the posts in that category just by one click.   I have used that labeling technique already.  If you see an interesting label, like "Politics Schmolitics", then click on it.  You will see all the posts with that label attached to it.  The label is visible just below the end of the post.

Friday, November 19, 2010

House Divided

Not many years before the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made his famous House Divided Speech.  I fear that is the condition this country is heading into once again as the intellectual gulf between the parties appears to be widening.  The conflict at that time was over slavery.  What is the conflict this time?  I wonder if anyone can actually name it.

If you read the stuff on the left, as I sometimes do, you would conclude that its the rich vs everybody else.  The ones said to be on the right will say it is the socialists who are the bad guys.  Everybody else, I suppose, is okay.  You got the haves v the have nots; the ins v the outs; capital v labor; whites v people of color- you get the picture.  One group allies against the other.  The difference now may not be so much as regional, but there is a geographical component.  Most Democrats are from the large cities and on both coasts.  There are some also along the Great Lakes.  But everything else is Republican.

If some of these regions wanted to secede, how would they reorganize?  The same phenomenon exists within their own "blue" states.  Most counties in this country are red.  Blues are tightly grouped into large cities.

If there is a Civil War again, it will be one faction overwhelming the other.  Not one region v another as in the first Civil War.  It will be cities vs countryside.  But the main battle will take place at the highest level.  Whoever controls that wins the contest.  But it won't be an election.  It may be a coup, or an attempted coup.  The loser may start a rebellion, and then there could be a war.

Moonbeam to the rescue

You have to be scraping the bottom of the barrel to bring out an old and seemingly discredited politician like Jerry Brown.  But the Democrats did it.  Why not, I suppose.  The Republicans brought back Richard Nixon.  But how did Jerry Brown become Gov. Moonbeam?  Is it because he is just a flake?  How did Gov. Moonbeam win again?

Maybe he fits the zeitgeist of the times, so says Timothy Egan:

voters decided that a grumpy penny-pincher is just what they need 
But Governor Moonbeam was more than that.  He's admittedly different from the rest:
Mr. Brown — not surprisingly — sees it differently, saying the nickname shows he’s “creative and not hidebound to the status quo.”

I can relate to this governor.  After all, my ideas on space got me called a "space cadet" on Huffington.  And Governor Moonbeam favored an ambitious space policy himself.  Maybe we are kindred spirits in a way.  But he is on the left and I am not.   Perhaps the answer lies not in the middle, but somewhere that doesn't include ideology.  That's what Ronald Reagan believed.  Perhaps we need to shed politics and just look for solutions to problems instead.

We've met the enemy and he is us

Krugman is at it again.  He is accusing the Republicans of wanting to trash the economy for political gain.  He claims that the fears of inflation are bogus and that the Republicans have joined China and Germany in trying to bully the Fed into backing off on QE2.   He is calling the Republicans as part of the axis of depression.  By using this name, he is trying to link it to Bush's axis of evil.  Isn't he being just a touch partisan?

He says China and Germany have a vested interest in a stronger dollar.  Well, at least he admits that there is a weak dollar policy here.  Maybe just a wee bit risk of inflation, don't you think?  But why would the Republicans join the Chinese and the Germans?

In short, their real fear is not that Fed actions will be harmful, it is that they might succeed.

So!  Krugman believes the Republicans want the economy to fail so that they can reap all the political glory.  This may be worse than partisan.  It is paranoid.  Republicans can't be just wrong, they must be eeevilll.

The Fed is independent.  The Congress can't do anything about the Fed without Obama's signature.  But does that mean that the big fear of the left is that Obama is too weak to fight the Republicans?  Maybe he'll just cave in.  Then he will get blamed for the weak economy in 2012 and a dreadful Republican will win the White House.  Maybe even Sarah Palin.  Instead of Wall Streeters jumping off of high places, it might be lefties who cannot bear the possibility of their most hated and despised Republican ascending to the highest office in the land.  Desperate times require desperate actions.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Space Elevators

In his book book "After the Software Wars", Keith Curtis advocates the development of the space elevator.  What about a space elevator?  There isn't much doubt that this would be much preferred over chemical rockets. The trouble, I think, is that it too exotic at this time.  It would require mastery of a materials that aren't quite well understood as of yet.  Certainly, the use of chemical rockets must seem pretty old fashioned by now.  But it is the only proven way to get to space.  To discontinue the use of rockets first, then switching priorities to space elevators would seem to be premature.  My opinion of course.

Not to defend chemical rockets here, but the really bad thing about how this has been done is the fact that so much mass gets wasted.  The shuttle was supposed to solve this issue, but the design was flawed in that sense.  Or to put it another way, if the purpose was to save mass, it failed because the design was not geared toward saving mass in the way that counted.  Inasmuch as most of the mass is fuel, that part cannot be saved unless the number of launches is minimized.  The amount of mass that goes up must be minimized as well as the amount that you have to bring back.  This is where the shuttle failed.  In trying to construct a system that could land, you have to bring back too much mass.  This takes from payload.  What you end up doing is burning a lot of fuel just to get your vehicle up and back down again.  You need to put a lot of payload up there and keep it up there.  Bringing it back only means you have to climb the gravity well again.

A good solution is a one and your done launch.  The shuttle design was good in that the shuttle could be used over and over.  But it needed to be kept in space.   When the astronauts and/or cargo had to return to earth, just do it the same way as in Apollo.  Just use relatively small capsules to come back.  Not bring a large vehicle back.  Use that vehicle in space to go places.  Maybe even back to the moon.  Or to Mars.  It is silly
to keep launching it again and again from the earth.

Therefore, a radically new launch system really isn't necessary.  We just need to use what we got in a more effective manner.  A shuttle derived system, which was considered by the Augustine commission, could've possibly been set to reuse its big engines.  Or could it?  Try to imagine refueling one of those big rockets in space.  If that could be done, you have a lot of rocket capability up there.  But the commission really didn't go into that.  The refueling would take place with a much smaller craft.  Too bad.    It would reduce the number of launches to move things if you had that much power potential in one rocket already situated in space.

Space elevators would be great.  But chemical rockets didn't have to be this bad.

Colonizing seed project

Basic idea:  to advocate a Linux type creation that will be result in the seed that
I wrote about lately.  This seed will grow into a colonizing seed that enables our
escape from the earth's gravity and spread humanity throughout the solar system
and beyond.  It has to have an organizing principle for its development.  I think
that could be the Linux open source model.  Anybody could make contributions as
per Linux.  It would be open source.  Nobody "owns" it.  Everybody can benefit
from it.

Basic concepts:

Richard Stallman's concept of copyleft:

copyleft is a general method for making a program (or other work) free, and requiring all modified and extended versions of the program to be free as well.  ...Copyleft type licenses are a novel use of existing copyright law to ensure a work remains freely available.
The GNU General Public License (GNU GPL or simply GPL) is the most widely used free software license, originally written by Richard Stallman for the GNU project. 
Prominent free software programs licensed under the GPL include the Linux kernel

The basic idea comes from reading the book "After the Software Wars" by Keith Curtis.
Curtis makes the case for free software based upon Stallman's concept of copyleft.
I suggest taking that one step further.  Make the entire seed project open source.  
Invite people who may be interested in this to contribute to the seed.

They would be able to contribute to it like contributions are made to Linux and
Wikipedia.  These contributions would become the DNA of the seed.

In earlier posts, I said that a Mars mission is too complex.  Rather than do this,
use the money saved from not doing that project and do this instead: develop and
"plant" the seed on the moon.  The benefits derived would be greater than a mission
to Mars, and in fact, can be duplicated on Mars at a more suitable time.

Since the seed would be open source, its development would not require an
expenditure from Congress.  But if it were to reach critical mass of support, it
could then be shaped into an actual program that can be funded and executed by
the government.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Treatment zaps high blood pressure at the source - Yahoo! News

Treatment zaps high blood pressure at the source - Yahoo! News

A proposition for you to consider

I am at a crossroads with the blog.  I have been doing this for a little over two
months on a full time basis.  Do I go forward, or do I stop now?  I like doing this,
but as it stands now, it can only be a hobby.  What can turn this into a going
concern that will support itself?  To answer that question, I put forth the following
proposition.  But first, you will have to be familiar with what I have been doing
here.  You will have to read the blog first.  That is so the rest of this will
make sense.  As of my last posts on the subject of space, I found that space
manufacturing and space launch may be feasible.  From there, I can begin to
expound upon the proposition.

The energy problem defined:  It has long been observed that economic growth is
correlated to affordable energy.  In 2008, $150 a barrel oil arrived and a subsequent
persistent recession.  Even now, oil is around $80-90 a barrel.  This would skyrocket
if economic conditions picked up.  Consequently, tight energy supplies forms a barrier
to economic growth.  If that barrier is not overcome, economic growth will not be

The Chinese understand the energy problem as well or better than we do.  They are
buying up energy sources briskly from what I hear.  This could be one of the causes
of friction in trade relations that could be a flashpoint to a trade war.  Tensions
are rising, but what can we do about it?  Is conflict inevitable?  Or can there be
a solution that would be acceptable to all parties?

The way out of this problem is to increase supplies.  But not everyone agrees on how
to do this.  This causes friction within as those who want to limit the production
of fossil fuels are in conflict with those who want to free it up for more production.
This is another complication which makes the barrier even higher.  Somehow, we have
to come to a solution that will satisfy the needs for clean energy and also make
it affordable so as to promote economic growth and world peace.

As the costs of energy on the moon can be lower than the earth, manufacturing can
be cheaper.  As launching objects from the moon is cheaper than the earth, then the
possiblity of merging lunar manufacturing with lunar launching in order to bring
energy to earth on a cost efficient basis looks like it can be feasible.  In this
manner, the energy problem can be solved and economic growth can continue.

This is the theory.  But can it be put into practice?  This is what I am exploring
here.  There are daunting practical problems with setting up lunar launching and
manufacturing.  First, there is the launch problem from Earth.  It is very expensive
to get out of the deep gravity well of the Earth.  This imposes how many launches
can be made from Earth.  Somehow, these have to be minimized in order to position
a potential lunar base to grow itself from materials available from the moon itself.
Second, there is life support on the hostile environment of the moon.  And then
there is all the costs associated with running a going concern that is in the
business of manufacturing items for export.  Finally, there is the launch problem
on the moon itself.  Can all these problems be solved?

Let's look at the big picture.  What needs to be done here?  We know this: 1)
there will only be a limited number of launches from Earth 2) from this we know
that there will be a limited amount of material from Earth to work with which
3) means that everything you need for life support and construction and operation
will have to come from the moon itelf.  That would be the ultimate goal, but in
the beginning, the lunar facilities will have to be supported with this limited
number of launches from Earth.  The Earth provides the seed and the some of the
life support to allow the seed to begin growing.  But ultimately the seed will
have to learn how to take over for itself and be responsible for its own growth
from that point forward.  That seed will have to grow itself into what is envisioned
here.  If this is impossible, or too impractical, then it won't be done.

In future posts, I can look at the possibility of doing this.  I'll have to speculate
because I am admittedly not an expert on this.  I can research it with whatever
I can find on the subject and report back on it here.  In the end, all I can do
is give an opinion.  For whatever that is worth.  In addition to this, I have to
decide if this is important to me.  If I assume this task, I will have to spend
a lot of money and time.  Do I want to do this badly enough to spend the money
and time?  That's where the readers of this come into play.  If you support me,
then I can continue for however long it takes.  But if you don't, I will have to
assume all costs myself for as long as I am able and/or willing.

How can readers help?  By clicking on ads here.  That is worth a little money.
Another way is to hit the tipjar.  A third way is to buy stuff which will get me
some commission money from the sale.  How much do I need?  To support myself, I
will need about about a thousand a month.  This blog has yet to earn its first
dollar.  But it has gotten over 1000 pageviews in a little over 2 months of active
posting.  Very few clickthroughs on the ads.  No donations nor sales.  So, the
readers here have not supported me in anything but moral support.  That is better
than nothing, but in the long run, I will need more than that.  I will need more
readers too.  And those readers will need to bring more readers and so on and
so forth.

In the end, the readers will have to tell me.  Is this worth supporting?  I leave
that up to you.  I will setup a poll and then I will await your response.  How
long?  I guess I can wait a few weeks.

Update:  the poll is now up and will continue until December first.  It is located
near the bottom of the page on the left side.  As this poll continues, I will not
post new items.  I will update on existing posts.  That gives about two weeks to
vote and to read and consider what I have got here.

Update 9:15 am central:  I have just updated the more about me page on the
left side.

I am going to continue researching, but as I wrote above, I won't be publishing
it here until I get the results from the poll.

Update 2:45 central:  I have added a page on the left.  You can click on it to receive new
posts.  They will be short.  This will be the last update here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Odds and Ends on the Political Scene

Obama could win Virginia if the election were held today.  That is amazing since he has done little to recommend himself.  But he is viewed favorably in the state.  Could this be a ruling class phenomenon?  Virginia is next door to Washington D.C.  A lot of the ruling class live around there in the burbs.

This may be related to the constant belittling of Sarah Palin.  She is just not one of them.

Once they get safely in power, they forget who elected them.  This has happened before, could it be happening again?

If Gingrich runs, what kind of campaign will he have?  Somebody needs to do this.  I figure Newt to be a smart man.  If I had to bet on it, I'd say the odds are greater that he will do this before Obama would.

Update:  Via Taegan Goddard's Political Wire, this story:  Poll: Public Strongly Wants Spending Cuts.  An astounding 96% want cuts in government spending, with 72% strongly supporting it.  My take: As for the idea of ramping up space exploration, this poll seems to rule that out.  The only way to do this would be to shift priorities from exploring Mars to colonizing the moon.  It most likely will have to be packaged as cost effective over the long run because a lunar colony could eventually support itself.  To stay on the current path invites more budgetary problems later on, especially if the fiscal environment gets worse.

Also from Politcal Wire:  Tax Overhaul Gains Steam.  My take: No mention of consumption taxes.  Then it doesn't really address the problem now does it?

Came across this while researching mass drivers

Its a paper from the Space Studies Institute.  I am reading it now.  It has a lot of the same ideas that I have been discussing.  I knew about these guys from an Al Fin blog post in October.   The paper is called "A Space Roadmap: Mine the Sky, Defend the Earth, and Settle the Universe.  Not to compare myself to this guy, but what I have written here on the subject is a lot like what I have read so far.  That makes me no further out there than they are.  For whatever that's worth.

Update:  Here's an interesting quote in light of what I posted just this morning:

We can imagine a point, sometime in the future, where the manufacturing cost per unit mass is as low in space as it is on the surface of the Earth. Well before that time, however, space manufacturing will have an advantage in the construction of plants for base load power. At some time, slightly more distant, we can imagine that the manufacturing cost of space derived materials will be cheaper than those produced on the surface of the earth for the simple reason that one of the primary inputs, energy, will always be much cheaper in space.


Here's another which dovetails nicely with what I wrote recently:
The failure to develop this critical spacefaring technology is an indictment of our national space enterprise.

And this:
Despite the crying need for such a system, and despite the demonstration that such systems are possible, none yet suitable for space settlements or indeed more modest missions has been developed. Such development is clearly within the purview of NASA’s mission and should be undertaken with the idea that the survival and prosperity of the human race may depend on it.

Good stuff.  Read it all.

Update:  Found an article that is somewhat related to the discussion of mining the sky.  Here is a comment that says the same thing this article says.  The article was on Popsci and it was about diamonds on other planets and the possibility of mining them some day.


Via Instapundit, this story here.  It says that the economy is deleveraging.  Naturally, I would agree with this as I have written before.  Sure, the way out of this is to not print more money and so forth.  But what tickled me was when it got to this part:
In the process of this, stocks will do poorly.  House prices will fall another 20%. Only Treasury bonds will do well.

Very funny.  In my opinion, bonds are in a bubble.  The Fed has created that bubble by buying bonds as a part of its monetary policy.  Bond yields can't get much lower than where they are now.  If bond yields go up, prices go down.  But that is the only direction they can go besides sideways.  How is that a good investment?   Frankly, I would consider shorting bonds for heaven sake.

Updated: I made a slight error in a sentence above, corrected now.  Bond yields move in opposite direction of price.  Dumb mistake, my bad.

Update 2: That bit about bonds reminds me of the Jim Mora playoffs video.  Just substitute bonds for playoffs and you get my point of view with respect to bonds.

Thought experiment, continued

This is a continuation of the thought experiment started yesterday.  Let's reduce
this down to just one car and the amount of solar panels you would need to produce
the electricity for that one car.  From my study of batteries, you can get about
3 miles per kilowatt hour with a battery.  This calculation is from my memory and
may not be entirely accurate nor up to date.  But this isn't exact, a round figure
will suffice for now.

The Chevy Volt has a 40 mile range for its battery pack.  Using the 3 mile per kwh
number, you would need about 13 kwh of power to drive with electricity.  Again, this
may not be exact, but it is using a figure from the real world in order to get a
rough estimate.

From this we can calculate how much solar panelling will be necessary in order to
produce the 13 kwh.  Using the web page from yesterday, we have 80 watts of continuous
power from a 1000 sq inch panel.  At 95% availability in geosynchronous orbit, the
panel will produce  (.95*80 watts * 24 hours)/ 1000 watt hours per kwh = 1.824 kwh.
Why 95% availability?  A solar panel in geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of
22,000 miles (approx) will be in the sun almost 95% of the time.  From this number,
we can now calculate the number of panels needed in order to produce the electricity
for 1 auto.  13 kwh/1.824 kwh per panel gives a little over 7 panels.

What would be the cost of these 7 panels?  This is about 49 square feet of panels.
From this webpage, we can calculate it (again a bit rough calc) it figures out
to be about 56 dollars per square foot.  So, 7*56 = 392 or about 400 dollars.

How long will it last?  Maybe it could last 30 years.  Perhaps that would be way
too optimistic.  Let's say 10 years.  Then the cost per year would be 400/10
which would be about 40 dollars per year.

Sounds pretty cheap, still.  What is the cost per kwh if you use electricity from
the wall plug?  At 10 cents per kwh, you and 13 kwh per day you get the following
.10*13*365= which is about 475 bucks per year.  The above solar panel configuration
would only have to be 1/10th as efficient in order to yield the same cost.

Is it worthwhile to launch from the moon?  You have to have the infrastructure in
place on the moon in order to make the solar panels and to put them into orbit.
That would take a considerable investment.  If you can get the costs down of
manufacturing the solar panels to anything near what it takes on earth, then what
you have left is the cost of launch.  How much would that be?  About 5% of what
an earth launch would cost.  Again, rough figures.  That would be about 10,000 *
5 percent or 500 dollars per kg.  You'll still have to do better than this because
7 solar panels would definitely weigh more than 1 kg.  The 10,000 number is based
upon shuttles which are expensive even for earth launches.

The launch problem still exists even on the moon, or at least in this example.
Can you do better than the 5% number?  Maybe.  It takes energy to launch from
anywhere.  Getting stuff off the moon would require an efficient way to use
energy for launches.  If you figure that out, you figure out this problem.

What about mass launchers?  It would only use energy and little to no fuel.  This
could be a start.  I pick this up again in a future post.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I like this post from Al Fin

He debunks the man-made global warming claims.  I would take a simpler tack, because I am not quite so well prepared to go toe to toe with people on this level.  My level is one of a common sense type argument.  For instance, why treat what the climate scientists say as unassailable?  They have a vested interest in the outcome, as the outcome of any investigation that is biased from the start is only going to give a biased result.  To put it another way, who is trying to disprove global warming?  All of the effort is to confirm what they already believe.  Is there any wonder that the results are going to point in that direction?

Economic course correction

What caused this economic downturn that started back in 2007?  It is a question that must be answered correctly, because if it isn't, how can you possibly come up with solutions?  Like the quote goes "a problem well stated is a problem half solved."  So, what is the problem, exactly?

There are a lot of opinions, but little else.  It isn't an exact science, this field of economics.  Maybe it isn't even a science at all.  There may be more art to it than science.  But there are a few things that can be quantified.  From that aspect, at least, it can be said to scientific.  You can pretty much count on the law of supply and demand.  That is, as long as the demand is elastic.  Or the supply isn't constrained.  Those two factors can be manipulated by political forces.  Generally speaking, people respond to incentives.  But not always.  It isn't so easy sometimes.  Maybe you just have to fly by the seat of your pants.

I think there a guideposts that be followed.  Such as the above.  Set up the incentives and hope that people will respond.  If the incentive structure is right, then the rest of the ship will right itself.  If this doesn't happen, then something else is wrong.  And whatever that something else may be, it may not be solvable by economics.  In such a case as that, it may take a greater force to change things.

I have been of the opinion that for the last seven years or so, that the US tax code must be reformed.  We are too much oriented toward consumption as opposed to production.  While consuming more, we are saving less.  The income tax penalizes income and encourages spending.  Yet people want to beat that dead horse again and again.  You have to increase spending, they say.

I disagree.  You have to increase income and savings.  Then you are better situated to pay off debt.  Debt is the problem.  Debt is nothing but accumulated spending.  The solution is to increase income and cut spending.   You can't pay your bills until you have the income to do it.  Otherwise, you must default.  Is anyone sure that is the way to go?  But that is the path we are on now.

With a new Congress, perhaps a new path is emerging.  We will see if it pans out that way.  If it does pan out that way, how will the people respond?  What happens then could be very interesting.

I googled this and actually got an answer

How many solar panels do we need to power the US?  

Note: link above was broken, just fixed it.

I ran some of the calculations.  I'm not so sure that his calculations are correct.  The number of hours in the year is 24 times 365.  His number is 9125.  Mine is 8760.   That 365 extra hours from somewhere.  Maybe he multiplied 365 by 25 hours in a day?  He came up with 1643835616 panels.  I won't run those calculations.  Just assume that it is correct.  At 1000 square inches per panel, that adds 3 zeroes to the above number of panels giving total number of square inches.  Dividing this by 4,014,489,600 square inches in a square mile should give number of square miles.  That gives 409.4756 square miles.  You could put that into space, don't you think?

Space Cadet

I guy I used to work with, whose first name was Dave, had a favorite saying.  He liked to say "If you can't take a joke, you shouldn't be living."   So, what about that?  Isn't it useful, in a pragmatic sense, to have a sense of humor about things?  Well, it can certainly take the edge off some social tensions.  I bring this up because of what someone said about me in reference to a post I made on the subject of space.  He was ridiculing my ideas that I have been exploring here.  I answered back, but kept my anger somewhat in check.  All the time, I was wondering if I was taking it all too seriously.  Was I not able to take a joke?

But being a rather stubborn sort, I continue to soldier on ( or space cadet on ) with these ideas.  Because I am getting more and more sure that they could work.

Incidentally, this guy who made fun of me with this space cadet remark is on Huffington Post.  It is mostly left wing site which I make comments from time to time.  This particular comment was about how to create jobs.  People need jobs nowadays.  There isn't enough of them.  So, I made the suggestion that we could launch solar powered satellites from the moon.  These in turn could supply power to Earth which could be used to solve the transportation fuel problem we have here in the USA.  Rather than to say too much more about it, an interested reader can go to Huffington and pick up the thread there.

On the subject at hand, the idea of making space pay, I would like to get past all the baloney and see if it can work.  Let's consider this a thought experiment.  Can it work?

Let's see my progress on this.  I posted about Stirling engines and nukes as a power source on the moon.   You definitely need power sources to do anything on the moon.  Today I have been reading about fresnel lenses.  I remembered reading about these in connection to generating solar power.  Seems like somebody in Australia was making solar cubes and selling them.  The solar cubes used fresnel lenses to concentrate the rays of the sun on the photovoltaic cells.  This made them more efficient.

This idea may be useful on the moon too.  Not necessarily using solar cubes, but the fresnel lenses.  You can make fresnel lenses out of plastics.  With an earlier post, it appears that plastics can be manufactured by using yeasts.  The yeast could produce plastic from carbon dioxide.  You would need a way to use carbon dioxide on the moon.  What better way than to make plastics with yeast and with the plastic make fresnel lenses?  You can make the photovoltaics from all the silicon on the moon.  Now you have two elements for making photovoltaics from in situ resources of the moon.  You could use these on the moon, and/ or you could launch them into geosynchronous orbit around the Earth.  From there, you can beam down the energy to Earth which can earn a profit from operations on the moon.

About this blog

Well, I think its time for a post about this blog itself.  In the spirit of my introduction, I can start to answer the question "Who am I?" and "What am I doing here?"  It is actually pretty interesting for me to go back and look at that very first post.  This blog, like a lot of things in my life, just happened.  It wasn't planned.  Now that it is here, and I am posting on it frequently, a thought to what the future of this blog will be may be in order.

So, where do I go from here?  To start, let's begin with where I am now.  As in my introduction, I had a blog before with a small readership.  I have been able to duplicate that here.  I have a small readership here.  Actually, pretty small.  It isn't zero, but it isn't far from that.  Back in 2004 with my first blog, I decided that the process of getting a more substantial readership wasn't worth the effort.  My resources are limited.  I can't afford to make this a hobby.  It has to support itself, or I will have to abandon it.  The same is true today.

So that explains all the advertisements and so forth.  It may look like I am trying to make a fortune off this blog.  At the moment though, with this small readership, it isn't even paying for itself.  Much less paying for my time.  That leaves me with the ever present necessity of getting readers and having those readers do things that will support this blog.  If I can't achieve that, I will have to shut it down eventually.  Or, I can "mothball" it for a future restart.  That is an option, if I should decide to do that.  But these decisions aren't imminent.  I have some time to see if I can be successful in getting this thing off the ground.  It is still there, on the ground that is.

So, I have answered the first question of where I am now with this blog.

After answering where I am, then I turn to the question of where would I like to go?  That was partially answered above.  Basically, the first destination is to be able to survive as a going concern.  That requires readers.  So, this in turn poses the following question:  how do you get readers?  What brings people here and keeps them coming?  Naturally, its got to be about content.  The content has to bring people here and to keep them coming back.  So, what is my content about?  What is so good about it that people just can't do without it?  What do you get here that you don't get anywhere else?  Tough questions.

Let's look at a successful blog.   At least, Instapundit is successful in drawing an audience.  It is one of the more popular sites on the web, as far as I can tell.  I don't have the numbers for its readership.  I will definitely say that if I came anywhere near what it does, I would be extremely amazed.  Why do I go to that blog?  It is in my blogroll, as you can see on the left.  Here is a story that I can use as an example of why I like that blog. It tells me something about the future.  That is an area of interest for me.  Presumably, that is an area of interest to his readers as well.  Glenn Reynold's blog is certainly good at finding and reporting stuff like this.  I use it for a lot of ideas that I post about here.  This is one of the examples of why I go there.  Another is politics.  He is somewhere on the right politically.  I tend to agree with that point of view.  But I don't go there just because I agree with his politics in a general sense.  That's because I go to sites on the left too.

That brings me to philosophy.  I go to left-wing sites because I think the right is not always right.  And the left is not always wrong.  It take a lot of arrogance to think you are always right and your opponent is always wrong.  You can certainly learn things from your opponents.  By being arrogant, you definitely run the risk of being blind to something that you should know about.  I hope by sharing these thoughts that I can impart a little homespun wisdom.  This wisdom was obtained from that old fashioned school of Hard Knocks.  Maybe that is a reason to come to this blog, huh?

Not that you should listen to every old fart like me who spouts his mouth off every now and then.  Hopefully, I can be smarter than the average old fart.  Maybe people ought to be paying attention.  Or maybe not.  Like the saying goes, there no fool like an old fool.  I am trying hard not to be a fool, but sometimes that can't be helped.  Let's see if I can help that this time.

Well, that's two reasons to come here.  To recap: 1) I think I can provide thoughts about the future that can be useful  and 2) I am an older guy who may have some useful wisdom to impart because of experience.

Any other reasons?  Integrity.  I remember when I was in high school, one of my teachers said something that has stuck with me ever since.  His name?  Mr. Durham.  He taught high school physics.  Anyway, what he said was this:  "Don't ever lose your integrity.  Once you've lost it, you may never get it back."  I took this homespun wisdom to heart.  I do my best to live my life on the highest possible level of integrity.  I will attempt to be truthful at all times.   I know that this is sometimes a challenge.  There is the ever present tendency to lie when it is convenient.  Anybody, including me, who says they never lie is immediately suspect. I will only say that I try not to.  So by saying so, I hope that I can gain your trust.  I hope that you will believe me because I don't want to lie to anybody.  But the world is a harsh place.  There is an old Mexican proverb that goes like this:  "Only fools and children tell the truth."  I am not a child, so maybe I am just an old fool.  But in saying that, I hope you can trust an old fool like me who won't lie if he can help it.

So there you have it.  Three reasons to come here.  Maybe that is good enough, who knows?  I am going to give it my best shot and let's see where it goes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Stirling engines

I first became aware of these about 6 years ago.  They are quite interesting gizmos in that they can run on any energy source.  There are demo models of these that can run off the heat energy coming off the palm of your hand while you are holding it.

These little marvels are more than just curiosities though.  Stirling engines are being used in submarines.  Also, NASA has worked on these for possible use in space missions.  Since they do not require combustion to run these engines, they are quite handy in such situations as subs and spacecraft, where air is not easily accessed.

There is one that got my attention in connection to my series of posts about making a permanent space station on the moon.  Here is a place where such a device may come in quite handy.

In those configurations that I have seen, I am not sure that there is one that would match up nicely with what you need on the moon.  This is most likely because no one is on the moon at the present time.  (lol)  But could one be designed that would be suitable for lunar base needs for power?  Would it be nuclear powered or solar powered or both?

The reason I am interested in this is that in order to do anything serious on the moon, you would definitely need a power source.  Perhaps photovoltaic power would be a good thing, but could you improve upon this? A solar trough design, for example, may be more efficient than photovoltaic cells.  If used in combination with a Stirling engine, you could get the best combination of efficiency, reliability, and portability.

Looking ahead

With another round of QE coming, there will be an expectation of inflation.  With China raising rates, there's not much doubt about it.  Why raise rates if inflation is not a threat?  Yet, by having the yuan pegged to the dollar, the Chinese cannot avoid inflation.  It will be imported from the US.  On the other hand, they are resisting strengthening of the yuan, which if it were coordinated with already rising interest rates, could get inflation under control.  Hence, their efforts to control inflation will not be successful.  Fear of rising interest rates in China may be unfounded.  It's going to take more than that.  Rising interest rates are only a window dressing.

Nothing seems to have come out of the G20.  If anything, things may be sliding downward.  There is a competitive currency devaluation scenario.  That is why commodities and precious metals are soaring.  This is a reflection of all that printing press activity going on here and elsewhere in the world.  The US weakens the dollar, but this is not acceptable to our trading partners.  They respond by weakening their own currencies in order to protect their markets.  Now you can add in the possibility of an all out trade war. If competitive currency devaluations don't work, that may be next.  It may start here.  However, the Democrats by losing, will not be able to force this.  If they had large majorities in Congress, this could be a bigger threat.  The Republicans are not as likely to turn to this.

Politically, Obama needs something.  If he doesn't do something soon, he will be a goner in the next election.  He is in danger of losing his base.  They want quick and decisive action on jobs.  Protectionism is a nonstarter.  (see above)  Another stimulus is unlikely, yet it might help him with his base if he proposes one.  But this will go nowhere unless it is a very hard to refuse type of stimulus that has some real chance of producing jobs.  If it is just another political ploy, he will fail again.

Overall, the country is drifting.  Nature abhors a vacuum.  Something will fill it.  We just don't know what it will be yet.  Nothing has materialized yet, so I expect the most recent trends to continue.

Was the Constellation program a good response to the Columbia Disaster?

This is the next of my most recent series on space.  I posed the above question in
a previous post.

I think the answer is no.  Constellation is too ambitious.  The mission will require 10
launches to set up for the mission to Mars. It will take 2 years to complete the mission.
The odds of everything going to plan during all this time and over all these launches-
is not good.  It is also bad because they are throwing away the shuttle system
in favor of a new launch system.  This launch system needs its own shake down time.
Before it can be ready, many years will have passed.  In the meantime, nothing gets
accomplished.  Lastly, they are not showing the way to the future.  This doesn't answer
 the economic needs of the country.  It looks more and more like a luxury instead of a
necessity.  People may decide that they don't need the space program anymore.  That
would be a mistake.

Was the loss of Columbia all NASA's fault?

No doubt that NASA made a lot of mistakes.  But how about the rest of us?  Why did we forget space?  Why did spending revert to such low levels?  The following chart shows that if NASA doubled its budget, it will still only be half the size of what it was during the Apollo era.  Yet NASA is expected to do more.  If NASA had gotten more funding, it could have spent more on safety and saved both shuttles.  The cost would have minimal.  Yet the space program is seen to be expendable.  Why should it be surprising then when it fails?

Here's the history of the budget from the pdf:

By the same token, if you eliminate NASA entirely, you don't even begin to balance the budget.  But cutting NASA is cutting muscle not fat.  This is what I am trying to get across.  "Saving" money by scrimping on NASA is self defeating and does not save money in the long run.  It will end up costing more.

By looking at this chart, I noticed that the spending now is comparable to spending level (as a percentage of the Federal Budget) as it was in the early sixties.  For NASA to accomplish as much as it did in this political environment is a stupendous achievement.