Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year A'Comin'

This is the time when we pause to consider all that has occurred over the course of the year just coming to a close and contemplate our hopes for the year ahead.


Nothing all that encouraging comes to mind, I'm afraid. "I hope things go as well for you as they do for me", doesn't display the insightful quality one has learned to expect to mark this annual occasion. Still, it is at least an honest sentiment so it'll just have to do.

See you next year, assuming we're all still upright and breathing on our own by then.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

If I Could Talk To TED

Cross-posted to Future Blogger.

In his 2005 book FAB, author Neil Gershenfeld introduced the world to the possibilities of our potential near future.

If I could talk to TED, I would remind them of this and point out that there is likely to be a longish wait for whole-object fabrication technology to be affordable and reliably available to the general public. And, that it isn't really necessary to wait for that happy day either. We humans are long established tool users already, so how unreasonable is it to seek to develop the fab technology to create replacement parts for our existing technology and simply replace the worn bits as necessary? The technology already allows for the used parts to be de-constructed on-site for re-use in later fabrications as well.

If I could talk to TED, I'd remind them that guys like me, in our 50's now, along with our wives and children are the initial target market for this technology to achieve ultimate universal acceptance and application. I would suggest to my fellow TEDsters that a useful mechanism for achieving that goal would be a video campaign that visually demonstrates the technology and its application process to any potential additional user. I would also point out that there is a wide-spread lack of understanding of why adoption of new scientific advances takes so long to come to market; watching as the early attempts fail, and explaining the complexities involved, will be an express objective of this video campaign also, with the eventual objective of showing ultimate success of course.

If I could talk to TED, I would point out that there exists an empty building in Tyler Texas that would be wonderfully suitable for such a long-term effort that is available for lease. A former Walmart store, it already has a heavy maintenance area (the former automotive department) as well as warehouse storage, shipping and receiving facilities in place. An enclosed section of the parking lot (part of the former garden center) allows for long term secure testing of environmental effects on fab'd items and materials as well as extensive interior space for multiple projects to occur simultaneously. The ready availability of cable technology allows for high speed data transfer capability at little expense, so such a site would be suitable for tele-presence research efforts involving Dr. Gershenfeld's MIT lab and others to collaborate on projects at little added expense. Perhaps TED could facilitate developing and coordinating such projects.

If I could talk to TED, I would point out that this technology will have a profound effect upon existing commercial and social models of human behavior. I would beseech the members of TED to intercede with the Board of Directors of Walmart to facilitate their becoming the corporate sponsor of this effort. Their business model in a future FAB society might be to provide the fab facilities for larger projects than a personal unit could handle as well as downloadable (for a modest fee) specifications for proven items of common usage that individuals might occasionally have need for. Don't want to fab 10 rolls of TP (or whatever) on your personal machine? Go to Walmart and pick up the order you submitted on-line earlier. The possible opportunities for Walmart from such an association are numerous.

If I could talk to TED, I would point out that a potentially decade-long effort could be basically funded for $7 to $8 million with the expectation that much of the capital equipment would be donated and/or secondhand. Three regular employees would be augmented by research students and collaborative corporate sources with only periodic specialty contracted services necessary otherwise. It is specifically stipulated that any expansion beyond the basic video campaign would be financed in full by the expanded effort - indeed, that such a commercialization of the research would explicitly include additional funding for the research project.

If I could talk to TED, I would point out that social change has need for attention to practical necessities as well as high minded ideals. That Vision can't always be focused on the objective if it wishes to overcome the obstacles. That failure along the way to success is a valuable lesson too. That taking the time and making the effort to answer objections in real and demonstrable fashion is also an important part of gaining acceptance of change, which itself is necessary to attaining widespread adoption of desired change. And finally, I would point out the obvious, that the future is coming no matter what we do and ask how much better are we prepared to make it be?

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Practical Implementation of Strategic Principle

Cross-posted to Future Blogger.

I recently examined some of the strategic principles involved in advancing a position in a competitive environment, in particular in this comment exchange. I have found little opportunity to demonstrate the practice of the principles I study on this page heretofore.

Continuing on, Brian Wang of the Lifeboat Foundation, has compiled an instructive post on the recent nomination by President-elect Obama of Professor Steven Chu to the cabinet post of Energy Secretary. As Director of the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory and 1997 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Secretary-nominee Chu is well versed in both the scientific realities of energy generation and distribution systems and the - quirks - of government agency operations.

I have in the past stated my thoughts on effecting a national energy strategy. While this proposal was specifically intended only to rectify the forecast US shortfall of electrical generation and distribution predicted for the next decade or so, Professor Cho is eminently qualified to judge how well it can also serve as a mechanism to bridge the country through to wide-spread construction of Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors which are capable of supplying both base load as well as demand load electrical grid requirements to any level of generation capability we wish to build, whether or not options such as solar or wind grid power are further developed. As I am confident the Secretary-designate will point out to the President-elect, there is a sufficiency of nuclear fuel remaining, regardless of the reactor type chosen. He is also well positioned to make clear that Molten Salt Reactors and Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors leave unspent fuel in minuscule quantities having a half-life measured over several decades. By re-processing existing spent fuel (as well as nuclear weapons material), the US would no longer need the storage facility at Yucca Mountain, unless Congress finds it economical to use it to replace existing storage facilities as they are emptied to fuel MSR and LFTR power units around the country over the next few score years.

President-elect Obama is my president too. I sincerely wish him the greatest success in leading our country through the economic and other challenges we presently confront, not to mention the other as-yet unidentified challenges that will no doubt appear during the coming four years. Mr. Obama finds himself in the politically rare position of being presented with the mechanism whereby he can effect an order-of-magnitude improvement in the existential capabilities of our country as well as initiate a resurgence of the nation's economy by the means I have identified. The same technology permits moderation of the world's potential for conflict as well, without fear of nuclear weapons proliferation.

Threats of assassination and the like (whether directed at the President-elect or more generally towards "government officials" or generic law enforcement) are largely the result of fear among the citizenry and challenge to supremacy amongst foreign elements. By such dramatic efforts to redress the employment and energy concerns of the country, Mr. Obama extends opportunity to the general populace and poses a challenge to his detractors to improve upon his efforts, thereby reducing the anxiety levels that contribute to such contemplations. By including foreign allies, he extends the pax americana in a non-conflicting fashion that further empowers other nation's leadership (political and other) to inhibit conflict with the US and among themselves. The foregoing won't guarantee peaceful results, but they will do much to ensure the nation's survival should conflict break out and work to isolate those who choose destruction over cooperation from their own potential allies.

There's my contribution to hope and change.

PS: Should any officer of the court desire to discuss the contents of this treatise in greater detail, they are invited to telephone me at their discretion - they have the means to acquire my cellphone number from the personal data associated with this blog. Should I not answer, please do leave a message and telephone number, I will call you back. In the event a personal contact seems desirable, please permit time for the morning coffee to kick in, then feel free to come knock on my front door. I will be happy to share the remainder of the Yuban in the pot (I'll even make fresh) and answer any questions that might exist concerning my statements.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

On Alliance

Kevin Baker has a new post up since Friday titled Fantasy Ideology in which he examines the recent resurgence of dispute within the (largely) US gun-owning populace over the proper method for protecting and advancing those ownership rights. I'm going to pick out one link he provides in particular because it so neatly illustrates what I regard as the more fundamental problem seeking address within this debate.

In a comment to his post, Caleb says:

I’m a prag, no doubt about it. Just like everyone else, I’ve got a line in the sand. I just don’t particularly feel the need to tell the entire world where my line in the sand happens to be, because that seems tactically unsound.

As a brief aside, and stipulating that Caleb is indeed a competent judge of his tactical circumstance, tactics are the immediate, transitory and situational-specific actions employed in response to a particular juxtaposition of events and locale. If in fact it was tactically unsound for him to reveal his "line in the sand" when Caleb wrote those words, the tactical situation has assuredly changed in the interim. As too, I should point out, has the precise nature of his hypothetical line.

What I believe Caleb was trying to express was the strategic concept of doubt, which I like to summarize as: Never let anybody know everything about you.

Literally anyone can choose (or be made) to threaten your position. This may be as trivial as influencing your decision to buy grocery item "A" instead of your preferred item "B" to the entirely non-trivial constraint against your buying a particular make and year model firearm (to bring this closer to the topic du jure, and thanks to Kevin for that link as well). Whatever the particulars might happen to be, the concept of doubt applies to all aspects of your life (and extends to literally everyone else in existence, to at least some degree); doubt as to your intentions, your capabilities and your limitations. Your parents, your children, your spouse, your colleagues, your closest friends and your most virulent enemies, all of them should be in some (and mutually contradictory) doubt regarding one or more fundamental aspect(s) of you. Doubt as to whether (or how) you either would (or would not) respond to a given stimulus in a particular circumstance with unreliable estimations being the only result no matter who is being asked. Doubt always empowers you, even in your most intimate relationships, because it provides a natural avenue of communication with anyone willing (or manipulated) to enquire of you. Multiplicity of options provides leverage to advancing your position without need of resorting to outright force - what Sun Tzu described as the epitome of good generalship. And, communication is the key to arriving at and maintaining an alliance.

While "country" can be limited to topological configurations, "nation" is always an alliance of insufficiently dis-similar competing positions. Kevin Baker's list of priorities is without doubt different from that of my own, but insufficiently different to preclude our mutual participation in that peculiar alliance known as the United States of America. The same could be said (if only barely :)) for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Rush Limbaugh, too. All of which serves to illustrate that the present contretemps over ideological determination and expression is not only fundamental to the existence of our national alliance, it is the mechanism by which we test and improve our selves and our relationship, both together and with other's national alliances. To put it in manufacturing and engineering terms I'm sure Kevin can appreciate, ideological divisiveness is the Non-Destructive Test mechanism in our national alliance, and is so as a matter of express foundational choice (see: 1st Amendment, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, et al). We dispute together whereby we may advance together.

Strategic science (principles of classification and organisation utilizing measurable and falsifiable theorem) teaches that advancement can be least damagingly achieved by utilizing other-than-violent means. This requires encouraging the competitors into communicating amongst themselves and cooperating to mutual advantage. The technique most commonly employed to do this is to expand the field of conflict such that non-violent competition becomes more advantageous (amongst and to the involved parties) than is the alternative of doing violence to one another. As can be seen, this process works well whether or not there exists conflict between the parties; expanding alliances between warring nations (or neighbors or relatives) or between competing businesses or ideological adherents provides equally effective opportunities without resorting to destructively violent means. It also happens to illustrate the sometimes confusing nature of tactics as well; even transitory and situational dependant options have their perennial aspect.

In this recent post, I draw a parallel between this Eric Raymond essay and the current circumstance of actress Denise Richards (and, yes, that's partly your fault too, Kevin :)). Whether or not you concur with my opinion of her as either a person or artiste, I submit that Ms. Richard's circumstance provides a viable example of one mechanism whereby we gun owners and 2nd Amendment supporters might expand the national debate on this issue to our (and the nation's) positional advancement. You'll have to actually click on the link and read what I wrote for yourself to decide how best to utilize this option, but whether or not you agree that this is the best available tactic I stand by my assertion that it would extensively alter the terms of engagement over this nationally (and in my opinion largely falsely) divisive issue. TamaraK might have a suggestion as to yet another possible national sponsor of such an effort, as well.

Which leads quite neatly to the strategic concept of controlling the context of conflict or, in the modern military parlance, "shaping the field of battle". As is often the case, strategic manipulations commonly employ mutually supportive efforts that involve different contributors to the action. What makes mundane strategy different from the more widely recognised military application is the preference for involving "the enemy" in the process to a much greater degree than most soldiers would be willing to risk. I attribute this to the basic military premise that conflict is the foundational assumption whereas competition is the normal condition otherwise. However violent competition might become, it precludes actual destruction of the opposition, if only on economic grounds; destruction of the enemy's supportive infrastructure is the preliminary position for the military.

Answer me this: Chrysanthemum Empire or Dirty Japs; Teutonic Efficiency or Nazi Slave Labor Camps; and most recently, Islamic Freedom Fighters or Rag Head Terrorists? How you phrase the concept profoundly influences people's subsequent understanding of the topic. If you let your opposition supply the terminology you allow him a dominant position from which to further advance his position; you on the other hand find yourself constantly re-stating your fundamental position with little time to spare for additional advancement. In my opinion, the classic example of this from the 20th century is wide-spread adoption of the word "capitalist" or it's corollary "capitalism". Karl Marx popularised these words in his 19th century socialist encyclical as a means of disparaging the market economy and its participants by lumping them together with the excesses and abuses of its evolutionary forebears and all of their (to as recently as just last week - whenever you may be reading this) detrimental manipulations of their various currencies and economic models. By consenting to the word, we consent to the premise as well, thereby granting the context of conflict to the political and philosophical enemy.

In the 3% issue Kevin writes about, there remains understated as of yet one of the principal attributes routinely touted by practitioners of other martial arts and sciences - the individual benefit to the practitioner from the discipline that rigorous adherence to the strictures of the practice input to the student. Rather than re-state the observations from Eric Raymond's outstanding essay on this aspect of gun ownership, I refer the reader to this recent soliloquy from a widely respected gun owner that approaches this issue from it's more practical viewpoint, from which I excerpt here:

Make up your mind ahead of time to resist; that's the most important thing of all. When the flag flies, your decision will already be made, and your mental decks will be cleared for action. Resist. Do not go gently. Fight back. The life you save may be your own, or it may be that of the innocent person standing next to you who now has time to run, but make up your mind now.

As a student of strategic thought I can find no fault with the foregoing as a foundational principle. As a student of the gun, I hasten to point out that the tactical environment will play a huge role in determining when and to what degree this principle should be adhered to. While strategy is universal, the tactics utilized to achieve positional advancement are always situational and pragmatic. In more common philosophic terms, strategy addresses moral issues while tactics are always ethically challenging. As promoters of the RKBA, we need to involve the general American public in establishing a national discipline of gun-related martial arts and science principles that can be practiced without aid of an actual gun - think sport karate or kendo as opposed to Hong Kong street fighter or Samurai. I know that Krav Maga teaches some of these practices, but not as a philosophy per se, what we need is to develop that philosophy and involve as many non-shooters in the development process as we practicably can. They may still decline to own a gun themselves thereafter, but it almost certainly won't be out of ignorance or lack of understanding. If we gun ownership supporters can achieve such a national condition (per Eric Raymond, again) then we operate to advance our position over those who directly - and pretty much openly - threaten us, not seek to "protect" us.

A school of philosophy that safely teaches our children discipline and self-reliance, as citizens of a nation founded upon those very principles, pretty much becomes our national and personal "line in the sand", doesn't it?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Res Publica

Are you a resident of the state of Texas? If so, go here and cast your vote.

It's the only way we'll ever get an opportunity to cast a real one someday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I keep reading about this on-line test that most of the country apparently can't pass.

On the one hand, I feel much better about my own 84% (how did I miss the one about the 1st amendment protecting religion? What was I thinking?).

On the other hand, this result is more than a little disturbing. I've long thought politicians were generally quasi-criminals, but stupid ones too?

Thanks to Rand Simberg and Glenn Reynolds for the links.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Now That Would Be Entertainment! :)

Strategic principle is often put into practice by arranging an alliance between two or more seemingly unlikely positions to the mutual benefit and advancement of all concerned. A "strategic visionary" is frequently little more than someone who has made the effort to grasp the basic concepts involved and recognised a nascent juxtaposition before anyone else.

Eric S. Raymond wrote a compelling essay a couple years ago about the important role firearms historically played in the development of responsible people and competent citizens. Mr. Raymond relates the convergence of personal responsibility that conscientious gun users develop and practice to the equivalent public duties and character that good citizenship demands. While recognising that this personal development mechanism has fallen into dis-favor in recent national history, Mr. Raymond declines to go into specific examples as to how this circumstance might be rectified.

As a matter of personal conviction, I consider the actress Denise Richards to be one of the most physically arousing women alive. Now, I recognise that her genetic inheritance isn't an accomplishment she can lay especial claim to and that her professional training and experience makes passing judgement on her character based upon her occupational efforts more than a little mis-leading too, but her personal and professional circumstance positions her to take the public stage in a manner not often permitted those in her chosen trade, I believe (and yes, I read this too).

One of the problems shared by historical re-creation and "Reality TV" is the obvious contrived nature of their public presentation. US Civil and Revolutionary War re-enactors overcome this by totally immersing themselves in the character minutia and historical circumstance such that their actual personality becomes submerged - very like the process followed by traditional stage and screen actors, I imagine. Audiences to their "performances" are generally understanding of the amatuer theatrics involved and that the action being portrayed is the feature, not the actors theatric accomplishments. Reality TV programs, on the other hand, are premised on the personality of the featured celebrity and the circumstance de jure being supposed to offer some measure of drama or humor. The participants are measured against the same standards by which any other public performance might be - however "unscripted" they're purported to be. Let's face it, drama in our personal lives rarely turns out happily and isn't something we can schedule at all reliably.

In Ms. Richards' recent on-screen effort, she explicitly avoids resorting to the single most universal circumstance she shares with her potential audience - her ex-husband. Despite the all-too-public nature of their relationship (not to mention its demise), her publicly expressed desire not to damage his relationship with their children speaks well of her as a parent, but denies this legitimately expected programming content that a reality-based presentation such as hers requires. What makes this decision on her part even more pronounced is her decision to include her two daughters in the on-screen presentation and the court proceedings she found necessary to over-ride their father's objections. Her deliberate on-camera confrontation with a magazine editor over the nature of the coverage she recieved was also damaging. Not to make too much of the issue, but someone who spends her working day in front of a camera with the intent of publicly broadcasting the result comes off as somewhat less than genuine for objecting to someone else doing the same thing. The result was to disappoint the most salacious of the potential audience while de-meaning her own public personae to her critical (or only spiteful) observers. In any case, the program suffered and failed to achieve or hold sufficient audience to justify its continuation apparently.

A successful strategy advances the disparate positions of its constituents. For Denise Richards to achieve such positional advancement herself, she must ally herself with others so as to reinforce their individual actions.

Ms. Richards needs continuing occupation that doesn't intrude excessively on her parental responsibilities. Mr. Sheen needs to maintain active contact with his daughters and a viable cooperation with his former wife. Not to be discounted, the two young Miss Sheen each has needs to be accounted for as well; a stable home life with two parents guidance and comfort combined with an opportunity to grow into adulthood as functional contributing citizens of the Republic. Mr. Raymond's essay offers a potential framework into which all of these considerations can be structured to advance each, both separately and in concert.

Presuming Ms. Richards can arrange for further filming of her program at all, a change of venue and a structural re-format would extend the potential audience and remove certain distractions from the production.

One of the principle distractions Its Complicated suffers from is the legitimate concern Mr. Sheen has for daughters Sam J. and Lola Rose's welfare. I'm willing to stipulate that Ms. Richards seeks to involve them in the production as a mechanism to further their financial benefit. By moving the program venue to this portion of Texas, she and their father can jointly purchase some property (I would suggest 20+ acres of undeveloped land) and vest ownership jointly in the two girl's names while arranging for the property to be managed as a blind trust over which neither parent has direct influence. The TV shows premise would shift to Ms. Richards working to build a home for her daughters while she home-schooled them. Given the generally universal love young girls have for horses, it seems reasonable to plan for a non-commercial horse ranch environment that would also accommodate Ms. Richards' love of animals as an initial construction objective.

Mr. Raymond begins his essay thus:
There is nothing like having your finger on the trigger of a gun to reveal who you really are. Life or death in one twitch — ultimate decision, with the ultimate price for carelessness or bad choices.

It is a kind of acid test, an initiation, to know that there is lethal force in your hand and all the complexities and ambiguities of moral choice have fined down to a single action: fire or not?

In truth, we are called upon to make life-or-death choices more often than we generally realize. Every political choice ultimately reduces to a choice about when and how to use lethal force, because the threat of lethal force is what makes politics and law more than a game out of which anyone could opt at any time.

But most of our life-and-death choices are abstract; their costs are diffused and distant. We are insulated from those costs by layers of institutions we have created to specialize in controlled violence (police, prisons, armies) and to direct that violence (legislatures, courts). As such, the lessons those choices teach seldom become personal to most of us.

Nothing most of us will ever do combines the moral weight of life-or-death choice with the concrete immediacy of the moment as thoroughly as the conscious handling of instruments deliberately designed to kill. As such, there are lessons both merciless and priceless to be learned from bearing arms — lessons which are not merely instructive to the intellect but transformative of one's whole emotional, reflexive, and moral character.

I don't know that he was thinking of pre-school little girls and Hollywood starlets when he wrote those words, but they apply all the same. America is a nation of gun users because we were founded as a country on the principle of personal responsibility for the life-and-death nature of our individual liberty. Mr. Raymond further points out:
The Founding Fathers of the United States believed, and wrote, that the bearing of arms was essential to the character and dignity of a free people. For this reason, they wrote a Second Amendment in the Bill Of Rights which reads the right to bear arms shall not be infringed.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with it, the Second Amendment is usually interpreted in these latter days as an axiom of and about political character — an expression of republican political thought, a prescription for a equilibrium of power in which the armed people are at least equal in might to the organized forces of government.

It is all these things. But it is something more, because the Founders regarded political character and individual ethical character as inseparable. They had a clear notion of the individual virtues necessary collectively to a free people. They did not merely regard the habit of bearing arms as a political virtue, but as a direct promoter of personal virtue.

The Founders had been successful armed revolutionaries. Every one of them had had repeated confrontation with life-or-death choices, in grave knowledge of the consequences of failure. They desired that the people of their infant nation should always cultivate that kind of ethical maturity, the keen sense of individual moral responsibility that they had personally learned from using lethal force in defense of their liberty.

Accordingly, firearms were prohibited only to those intended to be kept powerless and infantilized. American gun prohibitions have their origins in racist legislation designed to disarm slaves and black freedmen. The wording of that legislation repays study; it was designed not merely to deny blacks the political power of arms but to prevent them from aspiring to the dignity of free men.

The dignity of free men (and, as we would properly add today, free women). That is a phrase that bears thinking on. As the twentieth century draws to a close, it sounds archaic. Our discourse has nearly lost the concept that the health of the res publica is founded on private virtue.

As knowledgeable hunters and shooters around the world can attest, the moral and ethical lessons that provide the foundation for civic virtue and personal integrity that gun usage can provide don't actually require they be used to their full design potential - it isn't necessary to actually kill with one to learn the lessons it can teach. With that in mind, Ms. Richards should explicitly include a family known-distance shooting range on the property and arrange for regular lessons and practice for herself and the girls. Since instruction is the intent rather than competition, a distance of 100' (200' max) ought to suffice. A decent backstop berm or other terrain feature to shoot against at one end and a simple concrete slab with awning and a couple benches or tables behind the firing line at the other would be ample. While pre-schoolers are more likely to better accomidate air rifles then .22's as a general rule, the purpose is to begin their introduction to the moral and other lessons that responsible gun usage ought to impart and to bolster their self-reliance by watching their mother doing the same thing.

It's commonly estimated that there are something in the neighborhood of 100 million gun owners in the US alone; if even 1 percent of them watch the show that's 1 million viewers tuning in to see their personal interest being shared in a responsible and entertaining fashion on TV. Not to mention three ladies of varying age helping to pass on one of life's most crucial lessons to each other and anybody else who happens to vicariously join them each episode.

Since no TV show can survive without advertising sponsors (well, they can I suppose, but having some certainly must make production more assured), I think Denise (and the girls to the extent they are able) doing the P90X exercise program would be an entertaining and physically beneficial regular segment of the show. [Trust me, despite my current dimensions, as a former gym-rat I can assure you that there is very little more entertaining on this Earth than watching someone shapely bend, twist and sweat copiously on her way to physical collapse. And very little will build respect faster than watching her succeed in overcoming the physical challenge.] Additionally, the Nutra System nutrition program would make another excellent sponsor for the show as Ms. Richards and the girls make at least one meal each episode on-camera from their menu. The advantages of home delivery and storage the food offers is a legitimate point to bring up as is the dietary considerations a professional actor shares with pretty much anyone else to some degree.

By moving the show away from its present environment Ms. Richards can spend some portion of each episode working on some aspect of the property in addition to filming some regional activity or attraction whether or not she or the girls actually takes part on camera. 3 or 4 minutes of each episode of her doing voice-over for a segment showing some aspect on non-Hollywood life would be an excellent opportunity for other celebrities to have cameo appearances on the show if such could be arranged.

I don't ordinarily insert myself so directly into these strategic examinations, but in this case I can't resist. Ms. Richards is going to need the active assistance of someone who has the basic skills needed to carry all of this off. Now, admittedly much of the major work of building the property will be performed by professionals hired for the purpose. The premise requires that she and the girls at least try to do some of all of it though and a male helper who has some expertise would not seem unlikely under the circumstances. It doesn't really matter what the job title ends up being, there are really only two primary considerations involved; he will work for Ms. Richards (this is a job application, not a proposal for matrimonial dependency) and he shouldn't be an experienced acting professional himself. Ms. Richards will need some area of superior expertise not only for her own continued good mental health but also to bolster her starring role in the program format. Having to help a non-professional work reasonably well before the camera ought to fill both needs admirably. I will confess to tailoring the specifics of all this to permit my own participation to be at least possible. [I will also confess to having to step out onto the front porch and letting my periodic flights of fancy take wing for a bit just to get them out of the way of writing this down.] I presume by this point in her acting career the lady has become reasonably accomplished in helping men technically old enough to be her father through their initial urge to act like a 12 year old upon first meeting her. That being so, whether or not she might consider me personally for the job, someone to meet that need would benefit the program and improve the girl's potential property value by providing a maintenance staff candidate post-production.

By taking the show away from the obviously contrived (or just unseemly) situations it has revolved around over the course of the first season, Ms. Richards presents herself as someone with whom many more people can positively identify then has so far been the case. She will participate in and de-mystify a variety of behaviors that often receive short shrift from her industry and develop an inheritance (with the active participation of their father) for her two children, all while continuing to earn a living in her chosen profession.

Yeah, it's complicated, but like all good strategy it's quite do-able.

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link to Eric Raymond's original post.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tears in your eyes

From laughter:
TOP TIP this week comes not from Viz, but from the front page of the Daily Telegraph (yes, the front page).

If you’re feeding the birds this winter and your bird table keeps getting mugged by squirrels, just sprinkle a bit of chilli powder on your nuts. Apparently the birds don’t mind it, but the squirrels hate it. Probably keeps you warm as well. Pip pip!

and its polar opposite.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dodge The Draft, Volunteer Now!

Cross posted to Future Blogger.

Remember all the Democratic concern over a resurgence of the draft? Looks like they knew what they were obsessing over:

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

(my bold)

Now, I readily grant that there is a substantive difference between involuntary active military service during time of war and 150 hours of involuntary "community service". If it needs be said so bluntly, my derision is cast at the inducement to service, not the nature of the service performed.

On a not-entirely-unrelated note, I was once granted the opportunity to satisfy my misdemeanor debt to California society when I was - several - decades younger by performing "community service". As a result, I have actual direct experience of all aspects of this issue upon which to base my commentary.

It's going to be sooo much fun tormenting the well-meaning over their self-inflicted cognitive dissonance resulting from the distinction between type or conditions of involuntary service and the act of involuntary service itself.

[Note to self: Wait until some obvious Democrat makes the argument the the military draft is akin to slavery but the Obama involuntary service is not. Then break out in peals of soul-purifying laughter at the blazing hypocrisy. Timing is the most important thing in comedy.]

Does anyone actually believe there will be some sort of exemption available for those of us who actually hold down jobs so that we can remain employed to pay the taxes needed to pay for the school and other government expenditures related to just this one program? No, I don't either, so that's three hours out of every work week for all of us apparently.

It just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it? I have to say, my Hope is certainly Changing.

A Stain On The Trousers Of Their Courage

Would it be too much to ask all of you Wall Street investors who are busily cashing up at a loss to pause for just a moment, loosen your belt, reach deeply into your trousers, fondle the contents of your scrotal sack with however many fingers pleasures you then give said contents a good hard flick with your finger-nail?

Once your eyes have stopped watering sufficiently to permit you to stand again, would you then take a further moment to observe that absolutely nothing has actually occurred yet to justify your latest craven display?

I'm well aware that President-elect Obama has made certain less-than-temperate remarks during the course of the recently ended campaign. I'm even shallowly versed in the possibly unintended consequences some of those inclinations might result in should they be enacted. However, since it appears that it actually does need to be said, Senator Obama isn't in a position to make a credible attempt at anything yet and there's absolutely no assurance as to what he might ultimately propose for some future Congress to consider.

Is there even the slightest possibility that you could be convinced to leave some smidgen of a scintilla of an actual financial asset for the rest of us to squabble over come that over-fraught day? I have it on reasonably good authority that even if then-President Obama enacts a tax change immediately after taking the oath of office there's this quaint notion that prohibits making such a change retroactive. You'll have time to bail when circumstance actually warrants doing so.

On a not-entirely unrelated note, it remains an open question how many stock and commodity traders have chosen to exit their office directly through an upper-story window as a result of a completely unilateral decision-making process. I see no reason to believe this mystery can't be extended to include anyone suitably damp-drawered.

Now ... buy it all back. If you happen to be one of those who does so at a profit, you might even be shown the stairs instead. They leave their own mark, of course, but you'll mostly have time for such to fade.

Your stain is permanent, so stand downwind in future.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Breitbart reports that author Michael Crichton died yesterday of cancer.

Our intellectual horizon has been reduced.

A Not-Quite-Rhetorical Question

Is anyone making book yet on how quickly VP-elect Biden goes "under the bus"? I realise that past performance doesn't provide an actual prediction of future trends, but it's still a pretty good way to bet.

If it wasn't going to be so expensive, the next couple years would otherwise promise ROFL, teary-eyed entertainment watching our new political "leadership" compete for dominance with each other.

Serial "Night of the Long Knives" anyone?*

* However deservedly, Republicans hold copyright on the expression "Saturday Night Special".

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Taking a Position

That's Vice-President Palin to you, Senator Government.

UPDATE 12:30 AM, 11/05/08: Since Senator McCain has officially conceded the election, I wish to offer my congratulations to President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden; I sincerely wish them the very best in the years ahead.

That said, I look forward to the opportunity to vote for Governor Palin again in 2012. :)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Of Perturbations And Probabilities

(*le sigh redux*)

Kevin Baker's done it again

The near-endless debate over the dreadful State of our national Union has inspired the man to point out an assumption that underlies contentions put forth to advance even the most diametric of political positions. In summary, there is a widespread belief that a "return to Constitutional fundamentals" will somehow eradicate all the current plague of societal woes that beset us. This prescription is often prompted by opinions like the one Kevin notes being publicly aired.

Drawing from the same Billy Beck post as Kevin did allows me to summarize the contention of our age:

Here is the central problem surrounding what you people are talking about:

There is no coherent and cohesive philosophy underpinning it. Everybody's pissed off, but you all have your varying degrees of what you'll settle for.

Everybodys certain they know a better way, but nobodys agreed as to "What" or "How", let alone "Why", to achieve the assumed state of grace. The basic conflict of assumptions extends in both directions of history as well.

Leaving Mr. Beck's actual position to his own able advance, I wish to alter the field of conflict by injecting our potentiality into the equation being cyphered.

In the present iteration examined by Kevin, much is made of distinctual differentiations in the race to Armageddon by the contenders du jure. Instead, I suggest that our steady advancement of technological mastery will provide us with the mechanism to exceed our historical aggregation of limitations.

Liberty is defined as:
lib·er·ty (lbr-t)
n. pl. lib·er·ties
a. The condition of being free from restriction or control.
b. The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing.
c. The condition of being physically and legally free from confinement, servitude, or forced labor.

The open source nature of technology like the RepRap Project promises the means of rapid prototyping technology to anyone willing to make the effort to duplicate the mechanism from the freely provided instructions. This project is explicitly intended to serve as an introductory format for eventual nanoscale manufacturing at the individual consumer level of the economy. I suggest that the ramifications resulting from such an occurrence (in the next decade and a half, I predict) will do much to alleviate the impositions on personal liberty that have accumulated over the preceding two centuries of constitutional tampering and manipulation. The potential suggested in this and other near-future technological achievements makes it plain to me that the better application of our present energies ought to be toward minimizing efforts to inhibit our realising those advancements. Through them we can achieve the terms and objectives set forth by the nation's founders two centuries and more ago and simply supersede the intervening restraints to our natural condition.

The Endarkenment will always remain to tempt us, regardless. Revolutions are enacted by a relatively tiny minority of a given population, so it is indeed true that "(the) 3% can drag - perhaps kicking and screaming, but drag - a significant (and, more importanty, sufficient) portion of the population into the fray". Although, I would seriously recommend close examination of the conflicted motivation and support influencing the "significant portion" thereafter. They may indeed hold their place in the line of resistance, but they'll do so with a baleful eye in the 3%'s direction, I'll warrant. Then we'll see for whom how glorious the Coming Day proves to be.

Since it seems a swim to the bottom of history's compost pile remains an ever-present option, why not concentrate our efforts towards some alternative outcome instead? With the right technology development, and a portion of perseverance on our part, the damn horse very well might sing after all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Singularity University

What follows is excerpted from, and an expansion of, a comment I made regarding this Future Blogger post.

Cross posted to Scenario Land.

First, what it shouldn't be. There are already an abundance of technology/science academies in existence; one more would simply be complicating an already over-engineered wheel. That said, Singularity University (SU) absolutely should arrange (ie: buy) access to those school’s technical curriculum via tele-presence if nothing else.

SU should primarily be modeled after the historical liberal arts education of the 19th century (particularly the English university model of Oxford, Cambridge and the like). The objective being to teach students how to think for themselves by providing them with the lessons learned by previous generations. There is an expression I use, "How can you decide what's best to do next without knowing what has already been tried?" Practical knowledge of what has been tried, whether it succeeded or not and why provides one with a reference within which to frame a decision.

There is a long-running debate in the US (with variations in other countries as well) regarding the desirability of individual competence over governmental providence. It is rare for the argument to be expressed quite so blatantly, but this confrontation is always fundamental. In the context of today's topic I will only say that the transition from a human-centric industrial society toward the promise inherent to the singularity concept is certain to be made more disruptive by an expanding dependant class of people then would be the case if the population trend was toward greater personal competence instead. I believe that preparing this potential market ought to be the initial focus point of any institution that seeks to advance society toward a seamless transition with singularity events.

Once a baseline of individual competence has been achieved through completion of the SU under-graduate curriculum, I think it reasonable to expect that SU graduates would go on to gain advanced degree’s in at least one primary area of specialization and quite possibly two or more additional fields of interest or utility (for only one example, exploration will still be a viable human occupation I think, whatever capability future robots might achieve). While most people will quickly find some initial occupation (using that word in it's subsidiary meaning, "An activity engaged in especially as a means of passing time; an avocation." The Free Dictionary), I feel certain that most will at some point develop a desire to become an expert in one or more areas of study.

There would need to be a technological infusion throughout the instruction process since the student is assumed to be preparing to excel in an environment that largely cannot be predicted. That said, the curriculum would primarily concentrate on preparing students to transition from a human-centric labor economy to a cybernetic/robotic labor economy. A recurring question that arises whenever the singularity concept is discussed is that of people's on-going need to fund their existence after technology has made them redundant as laborers (whatever it is they may actually "labor" at). I believe that a singularity university ought to have as its primary motivation the goal of providing the circumstance in which each student (which will be all of us eventually - and probably serially) may discover the answer that applies best in each individuals circumstance.

Alan Turing was a very smart fellow, but his famous test for sentience doesn’t really address spontaneous imagination very well. Is the AI really making something entirely new up or simply drawing on its store of human history to present known data in some obscure but unoriginal format? Since most cerebrally unenhanced humans would be unlikely to recognise the difference (if a story is new to you, what matter if Aristotle told it first?), SU should be structured to develop that innate human capability for spontaneous originality and imagination. It is this quality that I believe will be key to people's achieving their continued source of livelihood during what will inherently be an unstable time for everyone to some extent. We will develop a commerce in the originality and emotional stimulation we are each capable of creating within each other. Long after our technology "relieves" us of our present occupation, we will be able to exchange worth for value with each other, although I predict we will have to strenuously "encourage" our governments to cooperate with instead of impede the transaction.

SU should also be structured from the outset as a model for near-term transition to the traditional high school student market. This can be most readily accomplished, I think, by making SU’s curriculum as available to home school students and private/parochial academies as financially possible to arrange. Along this line of thought, SU should create a “traveling road show” of cadre that stage 6 to 9 week “Skills Camp” instruction anywhere they can be arranged. These would consist of group interaction and physical training that incorporates the historical and physiological courses of instruction the students are studying (basically, military boot camp for intellectuals without the overt nationalistic indoctrination).

There should be at least one initial physical campus (I would expect an exponential growth of regional campus’s to develop), but for the most part local satellite campus’s should consist of a small office, a clerk or three and a tractor-trailer load of servers with a (several?) T-1 connection (or it’s future technological equivalent).

Those actually involved in creating the proposed Singularity University no doubt have their own conceptual vision as to what and how such an endeavor should be formed. I can only hope that theirs exceeds mine own.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Eye On The Prize

Cross posted at The Energy Roadmap, part of the expanding Memebox/Future Blogger metasite.

The Singularity Summit was held this past weekend, the boys from Future Blogger were there; wish I could have attended personally.

Sci/Fi author Vernor Vinge gave a presentation that included a more philosophical than ordinary consideration of the singularity concept. Those who share an interest in the Rapture of the Geeks might find the comment thread of interest.

X-Prize Foundation CEO Peter Diamandis confirmed that there is something in the works leading to what he termed a Singularity University, prompting Alvis Brigis to ask:

Might this be a first step toward a Singularity X-Prize? :) What do you think a “Singularity University” might consist of?

I run on interminably in comments.

All of which inspires me to suggest a future X-Prize for the good doctor's consideration: The Island Hop Challenge.

A $10 million prize to the first vehicle that can travel from Staten Island in New York to Coronado Island in California, within a six day period and using only the fuel carried by the vehicle at the start of the challenge (plug-in recharge of electric vehicles is forbidden, but an on-board mechanism to re-fill the internal fuel storage is permitted if such is powered from the vehicles on-board power system).

All vehicles must meet all rules and regulations governing licensing and safety requirements to operate on US roads and highways.

Competing vehicles will also be capable of carrying 1200 lbs of cargo and/or passengers (in addition to the driver and specifically not to include the fuel or other energy source) for the duration of the challenge. Fuel type and motive source are at the discretion of the individual entrant, however all vehicles must conform to US law and regulation regarding such matters.

Challengers must agree to lowjack their entry, but course selection is up to them. Further, challengers must agree to accept installation on their vehicle of any mechanism the X-Prize Foundation deems suitable to ensure compliance with re-fueling or other restrictions as the Foundation may deem necessary.

Finally, all challengers agree to allow the X-Prize Foundation to supervise an auction of their submitted technology to commercial motor vehicle manufacturers following the competition, regardless of which entry, if any, might be judged the winner. 10% of the proceeds from said auction to go to the X-Prize Foundation to fund future ventures.


I don't know about you, but 3,000 miles between fill-ups sounds like a $10 million idea to me.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Blast From My Past*

* I wrote this as a guest post at Gary Gagliardi's old website. I'm particularly proud of it and think it holds up well. I would be interested in other's opinion on that or the subject matter itself. The original post, with it's comment thread, can be accessed here.


Strategy of the Singularity Model of Economics
April 30th, 2006 by Will Brown

UPDATE: Readers who find this of interest may also want to read the dialogue I engaged in with Micah Glasser in the comment section of this post.

As reported here, the death yesterday of former Harvard professor of economics and US Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith prompts me to explore the concept of money and how that relates to strategy. I briefly wrote on this question here, making this observation:

For most of us I suspect, economics = money. While this is true as far as it goes, how often do any of us stop to think on what “money” really is? To the best of my understanding, money is the earliest known design of a universal accounting system and thus of a distributed network, as well. Economics would then be the means of measuring and manipulating the relative value of money over both distance and time.

While I feel quite confident that Mr. Galbraith (or Sam Dinkin, come to that) would be thoroughly unsatisfied with the brevity of my observation, I hope neither would outright reject the fundimental premise. Pending such a refutation (well, Sam’s anyway), I would like to examine possible strategies for making the transition from historical economic models to what I will call the Singularity Model of Economics.

I firmly doubt that “money is the root of all evil” as it seems near-certain that the philosophical context contained within the word “evil” predates the creation of the concept of “money” by humans. That bit of silliness out of the way, let’s look at money in a strategic light.

So what is “money”? As I said before, money is a universal accounting system, at least among humans. Money is the mechanism by which we assign an independent valuation to … well, everything. Everything from the most densely solid of objects to the most fantastically ephemeral of imaginings has a monetary value assignable to it as a means of accounting it’s worth to ourselves both as a group and as individuals.

On the individual level, everything has a value largely based on it’s percieved usefulness to us. A system for assigning a value to things and ideas is necessary for us to make plans or - dare I say it? - form a strategy. The idea of money as a numerical system offers the means to gauge the usefulness of something both in the present and in future circumstances. As well, it provides a mechanism for determining a priority as to the degree of usefulness something has in relation to all the other things any of us might possess. A full suit of plate armor might be a wonderful thing for a hunter/warrior to have, but not if the boat you’re currently on happens to be sinking beneath you. So, one thing money is is a system for evaluating the usefulness of something to us and assigning a priority to that degree of usefulness in variable circumstance.

On the group level, money is a universal means of determining the value of anything to potentially anyone else after allowing for their positional circumstance. That earlier referred-to suit of armor may literally be worth your life, but I wouldn’t have it off you for any amount if I happened to be on the same boat with you at the same time. Unless, of course, I thought the water might be shallow enough to make it worth some otherwise ridiculous amount for the right of ownership in case I can recover the armor later. Which example illustrates the intertwined nature of “worth” and “value”. Armor on a sinking boat is worthless (to anyone wishing to remain above water, at least), but may still retain some value. Both of which evaluations are entirely separate from the value placed on the process of obtaining the armor originally, which is itself entirely separate from the value of having it on or that might accrue to the surviving wearer from it’s use in battle.

Such concepts don’t only apply to material objects either. Consider the tale of Shaherazade or the imaginative plight of the thief in the Persian King’s stable (you know the one; “Who can say? The horse might learn to sing.”). In addition to the lessons these examples actual entail, what value might an evocative re-telling of these stories have under a given circumstance? Both the storyteller and the audience would place a value on such an event. So long as all parties do walk away afterwards and none were actually unsatisfied, then a good business deal, the equitable merging of value and worth, has been transacted.

And so we arrive at the purpose of money. Money provides a transportable mechanism for assigning value to things under variable circumstance, both in the present and in predicted future circumstance. It offers a mechanism for determining the worth of something under varying circumstance relative to other things. It further creates the means for arriving at a mutually acceptable exchange of things real and ephemeral between disperate people. It also, and here we arrive at an often little recognised consideration, creates the motivation for recording these valuations for future (or distant) consideration. In other words, money gave rise to writing.

Or, at least, the accounting system of which money is a part did. The earliest known examples of writing all largely have to do with tabulating stockpiles of items of value. Whether as taxes or tithes to the then-dominent religious or secular powers-that-be is of little matter. Writing, the ability to record and later recall information, is a result of the creation of the concept of money. It seems fair to say that the MSM can legitimately blame the existence of we upstart bloggers on the greed of Og of Ur back in the day (who, I suspect, would likely hold a similar opinion of both to that of President Bush, though probably not his sense of restraint where either is concerned).

Presuming the foregoing to be (reasonably) factual, I submit that the idea of “money” will remain necessary to human society for as long as such a thing recognisably exists in the universe. Thus the need for a Singularity Model of Economics (SME). Things will still need to be assigned a value so as to be accountable even as the technology leading to the Singularity begins to become available. The relative costs of acquiring and maintaining things will need to be comparable, as will storage and transport. There will remain the circumstance when it is desirable to exchange dis-similar, transient or ephemeral things between human individuals and groups whatever our technological capabilities might permit.

The fact that Singularity-enabling technology increases our individual capability to create material objects at percieved need for relatively little cost doesn’t mean there won’t be some cost, if only the amount of time required for a self-powering machine to assemble the necessary molecules. I suspect that when personal circumstance permits, it will be quite common for individuals to create more then the absolute minimum needed of whatever-it-is (redundancey of capability is a common asperation) which will allow for exchange of goods at the very least. And so we find ourselves right back where we (as a species, you understand) started from lo those however-many-millenium ago, with the critical distinction being that half-a-loaf of bread in exchange for something doesn’t begin to equal half an airlock seal as a sustainable transactional model, especially when you need one right now.

SME pre-supposes that people will continue the established behavior pattern of using the tools and techniques with which they are already familiar when confronting a changing trend (for the pedants among us errr, more correctly stated as a change in strategic climate resulting from an oppositional trend being created). For Singularity enabling technologies to establish general acceptance within established groups, it will be necessary to present that tech in such a way as to accomodate existing group positions to the greatest extent possible. Specifically to include established economic practices and popular understanding.

The pressing question to be confronted in the near-term from a strategic viewpoint is that of how we position ourselves to make the transition from our present position to one undamaged by such generalised added individual capability. As the means to manufacture things becomes less dependent upon human effort, how do we go about obtaining the means of exchange for those things? However small the individual unit amount might be, a transaction remains dependent upon the successful merging of value and worth.

As ever was, opportunity results from openings provided by the actions (or lack of same) of others. The one practical modifier of this principle is that of pre-emptive positioning (there are cost/benefit calculations of such a decision that work against choosing to do so much of the time). Normally this works to prevent a particular form (or direction, or timing, etc) of an attack against you, but the same principle applies in a more positive circumstance as well. I believe that one of the pre-Singularity transition models that will quickly develop is that of marketing transition skills to others (arguably, websites like The Speculist, Transterrestrial Musings, Future Pundit, Fight Aging and RepRap are already participating in that process). Those who presently have (or are willing to develop them in anticipation/preemption) the transitional skill- and data-set will be able to sell their knowledge to others. By continuing that cycle of buying in new (to you) knowledge either directly or through continuing education or research, the cycle continues until the transition is complete - until you achieve a fully self-supporting condition - at which point you are able to directly create value to maintain/advance your position and transact with.

Which brings us at last to the distributed network effect of money (you thought - hoped? - I forgot, didn’t you?). The advent of coinage, and later currency - stamped metal coins and paper money, is what gave rise to money’s practical universality. The ability to stockpile and transport worth and value in one medium gave rise to the “industry” of money and the actual science of economics (which I submit consists equally of mathematics and human psychology). Physical currency gave the means for anyone who could keep it the ability to transact for anything, anywhere that currency could be exchanged. Because of it’s physical nature, the systemic aspect of money quickly became lost to general perception and money itself was assigned value quite independent of it’s exchange considerations. This continuing misapprehension also has to be addressed by SME.

The network effect is dependent upon the speed and security of communications, which in earlier era’s was a subsidiary component of transportation. The historically recent distinction between these two is the basis for the Singularity happening at all. Our developing communication network is a product of the robust nature of it’s individual contributors. That individual robustness is dependent upon the actions of the various groups of which we are all a part (nations, religions, companies, etc). One of the recurring dangers to be confronted is threats from within the network itself. Currently these consist of software virus’ and the like, but as the network develops that could take more physical and direct forms of attack. The existing defences within the present banking and electronic shopping/shipping models have their genesis in the measures taken during the earlier (still extant, of course) physical currency models. Developing electronic equivelents of the physical defences developed in the days when communications and transportation were the same system will have to be created. Since all of these matters are the provinence of existing national governments, there simply is no practical way to achieve the Singularity without the active assistence of those governments.

Ideas - intellectual property is the current term - are the most ephemeral value humans can exchange. SME is ultimately about the process we create for assigning exchangable value to pure potential. When each of us - come that “happy” day - possess the means to manufacture whatever we require to sustain us, it seems likely to me that the principal “item” of exchange beyond our physical selves (our interactions with each other) will be the products of our imaginations.

[Purely as an argumentative aside, I suggest this as being the principal argument against developing the capability for the practice of digital imprinting of the human personality. I can’t think of a more draconian form of slavery then to be “captured” into someone else’s database to serve only at their pleasure. You would have no possibility of escape - nor the ability to effect the traditional “last resort”.]

The challenge of SME is to design it such that it contributes both to the robustness of our interconnectedness and the robustness of our independence with the minimum expression of conflict between the two states of being we anticipate experiencing.

The Singularities’ promise of individual empowerment and enhancement is an expression of the fundimental principle of strategic science, but is only achievable by means of a powerful and unprecidented degree of interconnectedness between individuals and groups. Odd isn’t it, robust interconnectedness leading to robust independence?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

About That Global Warming

Via Drudge comes more evidence of the wide-spread nature of the threat to continued human existence.

The local weather forecast for the rest of this week admittedly makes a bit of a mockery of my mockery. I think I'll leave the jacket in the closet for a time yet ...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Radiating Good News

Via Jerry Pournelle's Current Mail for Tuesday comes notice of this NRC map of new nuclear power stations in the construction approval process. I note that Texas has four such new plants already. Given the depressing quantities demanded on my electric utility bill this just-ended atypically cool summer, and in anticipation of the amounts no doubt to be claimed during the upcoming winter, I can only encourage more and faster, please.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Distinction With a Difference

My strategy post from yesterday has been well received at Future Blogger and it's companion site The Energy Roadmap, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to express myself to that particular audience. Submitting your work to other's editorial authority has been a writer's experience probably since the earliest Lascaux cave painting days however. Mostly this results in genuine improvement to the work, but there are those specialty applications when confusion is the unintended consequence.

Case in point, my above mentioned article An Energy Strategy; specifically, the minor-seeming edit in bold (Here's The Plan:) about midway through the piece.

It is a wide-spread misconception that "plan" is synonymous with "strategy". This is untrue, though planning is an important subset of strategic science. This is why serious students of strategy (like the US Army, among others) place their planning effort into their training command, and not their operations command(s). Plans are the mechanism whereby capabilities are examined and tested, your own as well as all potential enemies and allies. It is this aspect that accounts for the much derided Pentagon practice of maintaining war plans for Canada and Great Britain, for example. Plans are how you measure yourself and devise training methodology to improve your capabilities, both in opposition to and cooperation with others.

From that process, a strategy can be more realistically devised to better achieve the identified advancement of position.

In my article, the strategy is to increase US energy capabilities by means of existing resources. The planning provided by Hyperion, along with the US government's recent response to the "credit crisis" and the intelligence (in the military sense of the word) obtained via on-line data search, provided the means and the mechanism to (possibly) achieve the stated advancement of the US's present domestic energy supply position. To complete the strategy formula, it also addressed the methodology whereby any advancement could be safeguarded from attack and an amicable dissolution of the operational alliances (principally between Hyperion and the US government, but there are several other possibilities as well) after the action was complete, thereby retaining any gains achieved.

Understanding strategy isn't essential to life, but all successful people and organisations have a good grasp on the principles involved whether they know it or not.

I'm a Headliner! :)

Go here and while scrolling down take note of who receives prominent mention in every category in the right sidebar (hottest, new blog, new scan, future blogger). You may now color yourself impressed.

For today, anyway. Do hurry though, this can't last for long, trust me.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

An Energy Strategy

Cross posted at Future Blogger.

As long as we seem to be in the mood to spend our way out of trouble anyway, what say we try to acquire a little something in return for or effort?

I have written about the Hyperion Power Module with some degree of specificity in the past, but the present socio-political climate within the US national environment allows me to complete the strategic formulation, I believe.

Since the recent signing into law of the US$850b financial legislation, the mechanism to create a unifying force to relieve the impending energy crisis the USA presently faces is now available. Since the SecTres works for the President, a simple executive order to assign 8.5 of those $850b to a specific project would provide ample force, I submit.

Beginning now, the President should direct formation of a contract with Hyperion to purchase 500 of it's standard power modules on a crash construction basis to enhance the US domestic electric grid. The USG offers to pay a one-time fee of US$1,000,000 per unit and to supply sufficient real estate from suitable USG controlled land, limited legislative exemption from construction legal challenge, engineering and regulatory assistance for site and plant design and the sum of US$200,000,000 for each of five purpose-built construction facilities. Additionally, USG agrees to purchase at 50% of the present advertised price of US$25,000,000 apiece, 500 units over the course of 5 years plus one year for construction of the assembly plants. Finally, USG agrees to finance from this allocation the recruitment, relocation, training and housing needs of sufficient workforce to initially staff all five anticipated production facilities.

From the US$500,000,000 one-time fee, Hyperion agrees to construct (at a more financially sane pace) an additional construction plant to assume the new unit construction burden when the five special plants begin serial conversion to re-fuel the units previously constructed and placed into service (approximately one year before re-fueling's scheduled due date). Upon each plant's conversion to re-fueling status, the property in it's entirety escheats to Hyperion (or it's designated managing representative) as does responsibility for any and all property or other taxes as may subsequently apply.

Thanks to Brian Wang, we know each unit will provide a steady output in excess of 25 MWe over the course of it's 5+ year service life. This results in an expansion of the US electrical grid's capabilities by at least - let's see, 5x25+ two decimals with 1 gigawatt being equal to 1,000 megawatts - hmmm, 12.5 GWe? By installing these power modules at already existing sub-stations serving major metropolitan markets, the over-all base load requirements on the grid will be reduced by that amount of base demand, thereby extending the capacity of the existing grid into the peak load period instead (or relieving existing producers to permit needed maintenance/upgrade of their facilities).

So, we have identified the environment and climate within which we seek to advance our position. We have also developed the means to limit or defeat attacks against our advance. Additionally, we have determined a unifying force around which to structure and enforce alliances. And, we have stipulated the limits of our advance and the means to subsequently restructure alliances without loss of advancement.

I think Sun Tzu might approve.

A Service to the Blogosphere

Rachel Lucas* has apparently discovered the upper limit on advertising that a blog page will support. :)

Or, possibly, her political views have been noted by "others" and remediated.

Whatever proves to be the case, I anticipate a tale well told, young lady.

* Click on the link and try to comment on or permalink a post on her page.

Update: Resolved, but I liked my version better.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ever Cat Bio-Diesel Follow-up

Back on August 25th, Brian Wang put up a post about Ever Cat Fuels' bio-diesel process. On Aug 26th, I posted on the same topic making mention of my having written Mr. Dave Wendorf, the company's spokesman, regarding a particular application for their product.

Mr. Wendorf has been heard from:

Will, thanks for your interest in our process. I apologize for taking so long to get back to you.

Our reactors can be scaled very easily. We have potential clients who are planning 20- 30 MGY plants using our process. One reactor is capable of producing 2.2 MGY.

As for marketing the reactors, a company/individual will have to sign a IP licensing agreement and a supply agreement to purchase the reactors. I don't have a cost estimate yet for the reactors. I will have costing information after we bring our 3MGY demonstration plant online early next year.

Needless to say, we are very excited about our new Mcgyan biodiesel technology. We will continue to update our website with the latest developments and information.


Now, to be perfectly honest, I was thinking more along the lines of several thousand gallons per year which is an order of magnitude smaller than even the 2.2 Mgy unit Dave mentioned. Re-reading my original e-mail, I failed to make that specific a request so it remains to be seen just how well this process will scale to the individual user level of application (my primary interest). That said, if one reactor of the current design has a maximum production of 2.2 Mgy then "short" production runs would seem to be technologically possible depending on the cost of running the reactor at less than optimum levels.

My primary interest is in a mechanism whereby an individual can achieve energy self-sufficiency at some reasonably market competitive cost (the variable being the "value" of the individuals time expended to operate the process/mechanism). A farmer, rancher, hunting/fishing lodge or any private party or individual should be able to produce a quantity of fuel sufficient to power his/her situation independent of any commercial supplier. The Ever Cat Fuels process seems to permit both purpose-grown source material like algae as well as waste materials for feedstocks. What isn't clear is what precisely qualifies as a feedstock, raw sewage (human or livestock), dead carcasses, grass clippings, limbs, wood chips? Bio-mass is a rather broad category, after all.

If I've done the arithmetic correctly, a system such as I desire would require about 8 to 10 tons of feedstock to produce 250 to 300 gallons of fuel per "batch". This seems a useful quantity for most personal applications and could be stored in 5 or 6 standard 50 gallon drums with little to no other specialized equipment needed (some form of awning or shed might prove useful though). This would allow an average fuel usage of about 65 gallons per week over the course of a year.

My thought is that several simple greenhouses, each covering a 3 foot deep pond 15 feet wide by 80 feet long, ought to provide year-round algae for feedstock. Frankly, I don't know how much algae such a construct could produce in 4 to 5 weeks time. While water doesn't appear to be a problem for the Mcgyan process, is the feedstock weight a dry weight or straight out of the pond?

Finally (for now at least), what does an IP licensing agreement and supply agreement entail, precisely? Since my envisaged user isn't structured as a commercial fuel vendor, does all of that necessarily apply? What are the technical qualifications necessary for an individual to safely operate a Mcgyan reactor?

There are questions as yet to be answered as you can see. Not least of which, Will Dave run screaming for the hills? :)

Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

We Takes It Where We Finds It

At Future Blogger, the question is asked, "Is the Singularity a Red Herring built on compelling but faulty logic?".

My too scents follow:

I keep arriving late at these soirees and then tripping over myself when I do finally show up. :)

I feel I should point out that I’m nobody’s idea of an expert when it comes to topics of this nature. I’m really just a guy who makes a habit of reading a lot, and much of that at least slightly above my grade level so to speak. It’s flattering to be quoted and all, but I sincerely hope that’s because I happened to offer an unusually elegant turn of phrase in regards to this subject and not my imagined expertise.

And with the disclaimer out of the way, let’s speculate even more, shall we?

Whether we are talking about Vinge’s Technological Singularity or Kurzweil’s more general concept, I think we should establish that what’s really being discussed isn’t some particular event or metric as such, but an intellectual exercise for re-catagorising our conceptual processes regarding human development.

Just as history wasn’t actually a succession of neatly segregated events, growth into the future won’t be a linear progression either. Events might be most easily considered to lead one from another, but even a casual study of current research efforts around the world will reveal an extensive degree of overlap with often inexplicable-seeming gaps (most commonly attributed to the limited supply of money available – quite true, but also beside the point). The reality is that, by and large, people tend to pursue what they believe themselves most likely to be successful at pursueing. That being the case, research is often as much a result of individual ego as it is anything else, I expect.

So, not only is development not linear, it isn’t especially logical either apparently. As well, widespread acceptance of at least one other factor can be attributed to the singularity concept, that of syncronicity of development.

As can be seen, none of these ideas are especially unique or original, except in their application to future human development. Those of us trying to apply their insights may be guilty of over-expectation however, both in our search for greater meaning and in our attempts at measurement of progress.

Phil Bowermaster at The Speculist website once asked how we would know when we had created an AI. I only slightly tongue-in-cheek commented that I felt certain it would tell us when it was well and truely ready for us to know. Not to be dismissive of your concerns, but I think the questions raised about intelligence in this comment stream might well fall into a similar catagory; we’ll know intelligence when we run into it I expect. Beyond that, how do you measure the infinite? Since potential has to be accounted a contributing factor of intelligence, it would seem an effective impossibility to achieve more than a momentary valuation of an open-ended process, wouldn’t you agree?

Similarly, the concept of singularity entales the notion of impenetrability to it. There is a point in the development process beyond which our present degree of knowledge can no longer extrapolate further possibility. As our knowledge grows, of course this point must recede further into the process, but that doesn’t invalidate the concept I suggest, any more than our here-to-now inability to catalog all of the ramifications of Einstien’s little mathematical formula invalidates it.

I will resist the Clint Eastwood movie cliche. :)

Vinge’s postulate and Kurtzweil’s speculations there-on leave us with a mechanism by which we are better able to imagine our course into the future, but does so by stipulating that we will ever only be able to do so up to some variable limit. Does any of that sound oddly quantum theoryish to anyone else? Can our attempts to measure our progress cause some fluctuation in that progress? Whether or not that be true, does our inability to measure the ultimate of our potential invalidate that potential? I think not and suggest that we postpone any conclusion until some intelligence appears with which to discuss it further. :)

Posted by: Will October 07, 2008

It's not Shakespeare, I admit, but I don't much care for bananas either.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

New Research?

I have blogged about "the hydrogen economy" before this, but this recent entry at Future Blogger raises the issue anew ... errr, so to speak. Specifically, I am referring to this hydrogen fuel system.

If you follow the link above, the careful reader will discover that there are no pressure or explosion concerns with this system and that the storage physics seems suspiciously similar in nature to that cited by Mr. Golden in his post. Not his fault, of course, he simply notes the claims from Argonne Labs. Since this particular system has been a matter of public record for several years now (and the precise make-up of the proprietary formulation of materials that comprise the hydrogen storage matrix have been equally publicly talked around) one has to wonder about the groundbreaking nature of the Argonne Lab's claim. There is a substantial difference between a new discovery and a confirmation of another's work, it must be said, since it is upon just such distinctions that vast fortunes have been known to rest.

Again, I wish to emphasise that Mr. Golden is merely commenting on another's tale; his personal position in these matters remains unstated and has no part in the events that he has related. I have commented on Mr. Golden's Future Blogger post and will relate any reply/response from him (or others) as seems pertinent.

Friday, October 3, 2008

You Heard It Here First*

There's an interesting discussion of the recent challenge to some of Ray Kurzweil's theories regarding the concept of a Singularity by one Kevin Kelly in this post over at Future Blogger. I make an incredibly long-winded appearance in the comments as well as a reference in the main post.

Go ye hence and reflect on the depth of my glory. If you splash hard enough the soles of your shoes might become moistened.

Or not ...

* That would be here actually.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Almost There

Brian Wang has a new post up examining the possible convergence of recent technology developments.

Go add your own thoughts to my own fevered 3am ravings.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don't know about fire breathing ...

..., but can you say dragon?

As the article notes, this is not the first example of the type discovered, just the best condition of the known examples. Which lends support to the historical nature of human communication techniques, specifically that known to modern humans as the "meme". Consider ...

In the misty pre-history of pre-Roman Britain, some tribe discovers a similar example of this same type fossil, includes it with the other tribal iconography and develops a ritual to surround it (What? You don't really think shamans were somehow less likely to promote their own job security then are their modern descendants, do you?). Thus is born the legend that culminates (at least in part) with the Arthurian tales of draconic power supporting dynastic legitimacy.

All speculation on my part, of course, but not too unrealistic I fancy. Stripped of it's regalia, the underlying meme process is quite clear, I think. The principal difference being that modern communication technology accelerates the meme dispersion process while modern research infrastructure makes deconstruction of a meme a much easier/rapid and more wide-spread event.

LiveScience link via Charles Johnson.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Presidential Debate

Ya'll have a blast, but I have no intention of spending my Friday evening watching the next President of the United States compare lies with some loser from the US Senate.

While you're at it, keep your "Panic Politics" over the recent credit financial shenanigan's too. The only certainty in any of that is that the legislative result won't include any actual correction of the underlying causes. The financial market's confidence will fluctuate around investor performance; when the banks open for business on Monday next like they did on Monday last, their confidence will recover. So long as the US federal legislature can resist tinkering even further (good luck to us all with all of that :)).

The rest of us will still keep working as best we are able to continue our lives. As ever was ...

In Other News ...

Offered for your news-reading pleasure without editorial comment: Sunbathing topless not recommended for fatty and not pretty women.

Note the attempt to pass this off as some form of international standard:

Sunbathing topless is strictly forbidden in many Muslims states. The Italian beach etiquette says that “fatty, ugly and unpretty women are not allowed to appear on the beach topless.”

A heaping portion of outraged sensibilities for everyone, I see. :)

Good one, Ivan.

Via the Wall Street Journal On-Line (scroll waaay down the page) via Instapundit.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Shirley it can't be this simple, can it? With Update

If I'm reading this at all correctly (as ever, not a given), then one of these Hyperion Power Modules ought to be sufficient for virtually any reasonable SSTO application short of a Pournelle/Niven novel. If that truly proves to be the case (and we ought to have a fairly definitive answer by next spring per Prof Yang), then a robotic mission to capture and deliver an asteroidal body to Earth orbit oughtn't not be too much further into the near-term future I should think. Something small to start, on the order of a cubic mile say.

The above is my comment in initial reaction to this Brian Wang post regarding a potential EMDrive module to be tested in China later this year.

While reference is made to solar power being the energizing force, I suggest that an enclosed and stable power supply as part of any vehicle's structure (whether space or atmospheric) is much more versatile and reliable (within design parameters, of course). Getting a mission to Mars in 41 days via solar power is all well and good, but powering any subsequent surface activity post orbital insertion is going to require something a bit more substantial and less subject to external debilitation, I would think.

I've forwarded this to Rand Simberg and Jerry Pournelle for their thoughts.

Update 8/25: Not a direct response to my e-mail, but on topic nonetheless, from Jerry Pournelle's Current View for Thursday, Sept 25 entry:

For some reason there are a lot of recent reports of reactionless drives. I pay little attention to them, because if someone can build a working model, it is easy enough to demonstrate. After all it doesn't need to work very well; just a tiny bit of hanging off center in a swing is all that's needed to generate enormous excitement. If there's any thrust at all, it is easy to prove. We have had many theories of reactionless drives, the best worked out being that of Col. Wm. Davis, Ph.D.; none of these have resulted in a working model. I have neither the time nor the competence to evaluate theories, and so far no one has offered me the chance to inspect an actual working model. I'd still love to see a working spacedrive. I doubt that I ever will.

Shaw drive - not workable

Regarding the reactionless drive the Chinese are wasting their money on: ShawyerFraud.

The short version: Shaw's diagrams leave out the axial vector component of the force exerted on the slanting sides of the cone, which, added to the lesser force on the smaller end, precisely balances out the force on the larger end. There is no change in overall motion.


I have other notes claiming that the Chinese are working on reactionless drives. I doubt much will come of it, but I certainly wouldn't stop watching them just in case...

[hyperlink edit mine]

Blissfully displaying my ignorance, I wonder if the Shawyer drive force is at all equivalent to the electromagnetic force? If a magnet is placed within the field of a larger magnet the smaller of the two moves without any measurable change of force on the part of the smaller magnet. If you substitute a variable current to an electro-magnet for the smaller magnet, wouldn't the subsequent action be equivalent to that proposed by Shawyer? I don't know obviously, but given the limits of analogy (magnetism for gravity) this seems to fit the description of what's theoretically happening.