Book Review: Beyond Earth

Rating: Ok

I thought this book would be a catalog of places to colinzed in the solar system and the pros and cons of each. It is not that. This book is a loose collection of parts flying in formation. I will address each in turn.

1. A snapshot of the current state of the boundaries and issues of space exploration. Including concerns of cosmic rays, extended periods of weightlessness on health. Far out drives like kasmir drive (or Q drive?) and the alcubirre drive. Both interesting. I recall reading something about the kasmir drive that was different than this one where the particles are used as reaction mass. It was a bell shaped chamber where pressure was exerted on the sides differently because of its shape?

2. A discussion of Titan, which is the only place we would have reason to colonize in the authors opinion. methane seas, rich in hydrocarbons, atmospheric pressure. They hypothesize that radiation could interact with Titans atmosphere to cause food to fall from the sky for animals to gather. One of the more interesting parts of the book.

3. A lot of preaching re Climate change. Nothing new or not even a new take to make this umpteenth repetition interesting. Skip. They think global catastrophe is the only reason we would colonize space, and only the wealthy at that.

4. Include any female engineer/scientist that you can get your hands on that is remotely connected to space tech. Grudgingly include males because you have no other options.

5. A mockumentary sci fi story building on some of the ideas culminating in humans being penned into eco reservations by the galactic AI connected by FTL comms. At least they can explore other pet sapients worlds virtually online!

I was disappointed in this book in that they didn’t discuss what I think are other good candidates. The asteroid habitats, Venus cloud cities, and other gas giant moons.
Also I think considering the only thing to do in space is colonize is a bit myopic. As they themselves pointed out Alaska was colonized at great expense (and still doesn’t break even) for reasons other than people wanted a place to live. This would be interesting too. Space whats it good for – comms and sensors, science, metals (plutonium for fuel cells?), vacations, adventure, maybe dirty industry and materials that can only be manufacture in free fall or micro-g. I’m assuming that only the most isolationist peoples would want to live off earth. Even in the event of a global catastrophe I’m thinking that underground warrens in remote locations would be a cheaper better bet. But I’m sure we would find a lot of use out of our solar system if we had cheaper access to it.

Finally one more note. They mentioned that astronauts have only 13 hours of free time on the ISS because of housekeeping and exercise and so forth. That seems to me that the level of complexity of artificial habitat is still too high for practical human use of space. We would need to simplify a lot.

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Review: Algorithms to live by.

Rating: Re-read

I loved this book. It takes computer algorithms and applies them to everyday life. Sometimes the result is amusing as applying the secretary problem to matchmaking. And sometimes it is helpful, for example the storage method of last recently used on top – I’ve been using this system for a while, but now I have validation of that. Lots of other interesting algorithms. And one thing I like about this book, is that its advice is clear and not contradictory with disclosure of its limitations. Of course this is not really a self-help book, more of a book about algorithms ‘computer science’. Perhaps people who don’t find math interesting won’t like this – but he keeps the math general, on a verbal level with a few exceptions.
Very interesting is the humble aspect of it – there are massive limits on what exactly can be reasonably computed especially with connection n! problems. Often times the most you can do is approach a problem in a way that gives you the best chance, (but still small) of getting the best solution. This made me think of God. As LDS, of course, we think God has limits. All powerful for actually possible powers. He cannot lie and be holy or give men free will and also ensure that they be good. Or create matter ex nihilo. Some very basic problems seem to defy finding a best solution. Does God have these limits? If so, some of my assumptions – and prayers are ridiculously laughably off. I won’t change these more fundamental life outlook and experience for some math stuff that I don’t fully understand – but it is food for thought..
Finally, I’d like to close with quantum computing. It seems that quantum computing may offer a way to evaluate numberless solutions simultaneously. This may be relevant to the question above. I kind of wish the author had addressed this, as it would have serious implications for the book – and I don’t know enough about QC to draw those implications myself. QC is mentioned as a successor to current type but I wonder if it won’t have specific applications it is suited for.

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Review: Strong Towns Blog

I’ve been following this site recently, and have found it more practical and current than city journal. Without ado, here is my review, good and bad.

The good.
THis site focuses a lot on infrastructure cost, the posts with numbers are eye opening. Infrastructure has increased enormously without a lot of benefit Part of the problem is centralized infrastructure leads to public cost, private gain.
It discusses what to do with old buildings. Part of me is bothered by seeing old unused building.
Another eye-opener is the problem with retail taxes. Two cities next to each other are in competition to attract retailers (to tax) and tax their combined pool of consumers. End result is retailers dictate terms to the two cities for their own benefit. THis is similar to the internet sales tax problem. A redistributed VAT tax would probably solve it.
I also enjoy their discussion of how public policy has tried to outlaw the poor, which makes life that much more difficult for them. The unmentioned elephant here is that people want to create/live in like-minded and self-policing communities but have no mechanism to do so and so resort to inefficient and costly means that harm the poor. They need to read The Big Sort and Steve Sailer.
They are in favor of land value tax, which I’ve long supported.
They like density. That’s not my preference but I agree on them that there are too many wasteful parking spaces in most places-that stretch out road and other infrastructure requirements.
They highlight conference centers and other redevelopment bondoogles which warm the money loving cockles of my heart.
I enjoy their discussion of mixed use small streets with low speed limits. Their idea is to put cars, pedestrians, bikes all together, like a parking lot. I’m not entirely sold but it is an interesting idea.

The Bad.
They have a vendetta against what they call stroads – which are roads with speed limits of 30-50 MPH, stop lights, a buffer and marked lanes. They want to do away with them but there needs to be some intermediary between streets and highways – branches between the leaves and trunks. These will naturally be a prime place for businesses. There is a reason there are so many stroads after all, they are filling a natural function.
People do want to go places that are not withing walking distances, to have more choices than what their local neighborhood can support – something niche or something with large crowds for example. I think they present enough evidence of problems that stroads clearly do need to be rethought which I will address in a future post.
The other is their blithe self assurance that the self driving cars will lead to a future parking lotless walkable paradise. It seems to me that the opposite will occur. People will travel in cars more since the costs of doing so is less. Since car use is highest during rush hour, many workers will still find it convenient to own at least one car. And parking lots will still be needed, preferably close to customers and arterial roads to save miles. One can hope they will be more efficient, but I don’t think you need self driving cars to accomplish that.

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Hacking an Election

I recently watched the movies Sneakers. At the end of the movie, the writer fantasized about hacking funds from RNC and moving it to amnesty international and the negro college fund – having previously taken the position that a true revolution would lead to chaos and misery (for the obvious Burkean reasons.)
   So what to hack for the biggest impact? The scenario outlined above would lead to internal investigations and the target hardening their defenses, basically it’s a one-off. Good but not best.
    Stealing an election would gets you four years of resources allocated more to your liking instead of a few weeks. How about hacking the vote? Risky because the chances of getting caught is high. Risky because getting caught here would outrage the public leading to harsh penalties and delegitimizing the candidate
   Perhaps best to hack the computers of the opposing presidential campaign to screw up their election day get out the vote algorithms. It’s potentially a one-off too, but with high impact as the campaign directs resources into places where they are irrelevant or ineffective. Vulnerabilities of the target are high as it is mostly newly built and rapidly expanded. Chances of detection are low, because the organization is disbanding in a few days. Consequences of detection are low as the public won’t think much of a would be POTUS that can’t even keep his own data safe – so risk of outrage and delegitimization is much lower.
  Is there evidence this has happened? Well, IT personnel and general and hackers like the group ~unknown~ are to the left. This attack would impact low turnout elections. Obama v. McCain was high turnout so any hacking would probably have been of negligible effect. Obama v. Romney was low turnout. Romney did much worse than generally expected, losing by a wide margin when expected to lose by small margin. The common explanation for that is hurricane->Chris Christie says something nice about Obama-> sways fence-sitters. I find that explanation thin as this was a mobilize-the-base sort of election, not a sway-the-fence-sitters election
  Additionally I would expect that the hacker types would support Obama over Hillary and Bernie over Hillary. I don’t know enough about the democratic primaries to offer an opinion on if there is evidence of that happening though.
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The Intrawebz: Becoming a small town.

The internet I grew up with was a universal big city accessible to all in the privacy of their own homes. Allow me to explain: like a city, it could cater to very minority tastes. A big city, like New York, undoubtedly has Mongolian resturaunts and a pigeon roller club. A town on the other hand can only support instituionss and businesses that have a very broad following. In a small town, there is only one social network and all of you acts and interactions will quickly become public knowledge – thus it behooves you to be polite and behave yourself. In the city most everyone you deal with are strangers and you won’t see them again, and they have no access to your social network. Thus you can be as ill-mannered and poorly behaved as you like with little likelihood of long term repercussions. Now if you behave badly as a customer you will get rated and your bad behaviour will follow you around just like in a small town. The only think lacking is for goverment to adopt this system for its bureacrats.
 The internete of the nineties was the big city – minority tastes and anonymous, shopping done by botique. The internet of the teens is small town – social, doxxed, with reputation paramount. Shopping is by mail through the new Sears – Amazon. The logic of social is that one network will rule them all (or various social networks will allow themselves to be integrated seamlessly). Of course minority tastes can still be catered to, provided they aren’t frowned upon by The Society.
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Civil Servants

Civil servants enjoy a numerous protections. It is nearly impossible to fire a civil servant. These protections stem from the progressive era in an attempt to stop the spoils system, and abolish political machines that existed in every major city and in a few states (at the time these local goverments had a collective cash flow much larger than the federal level. These protections were granted to the federal level as part of the package).
     Unfortunately this did not long restrain human nature. This left both parties at the mercy of civil servants who are much more motivated to vote and campaign than people whose jobs don’t directly depend on goverment policy. Perversely the worse they problem becomes that they are to fix, the greater security and oppurtunity for advancement they enjoy. The board was tilted in the direction of goverment growth and away from any possible retrenchment. The Hatch act was passed to limit their power – they are liable to fines if they are caught campaigning directly for a candidate or prop. OTOH, promoting a viewpoint etc is still acceptable.
  I see parrallels in this to other protected classes in history-the clergy at the time of the reformation, the samauri class before the Meiji restoration. In both cases sweeping the class away restored the flexibility and drive to society that it needed to progress.
Therefore I float the following proposals:
1.Civil Servants can no longer vote in elections for the goverment they work for. That is federal employees cannot vote in federal elections, state employees in state elections, &c. One thing to be worked out is how employees of goverment dependent organization would be affected for example big defense contractors or employees of state supported universities. Or farm subsidies. Or are national highways a subsidy to car manufactures?
2. The power to fire goverment employees for non-performance be restored, not to politicians cajjing votes, but to the public who is served by them. This might be as simple as via surveys of users that is commonly used to rate employees in the real world. Alternately a jury could be called to ratify use of this power. I am thinking here of the recent VA scandals, and how the system could be made much more responsive to feedback.
Number one is to take away the automatic incentive that the political parties have to expand the bureacracy. Number two is aimed at making them more responsive by creating individual responsibility. These are rough ideas, but the proper functioning of our state requires that some steps be taken.
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Some thoughts on the Benedict Option

1. The mission of the mormon church is not related to the preservation or propogation of an ethnic group. The church attempts to preserve cultures when it is able to, but ultimately missionary work and temple work are core functions. (My view of culture is like that of Spengler (Goldman), cultures and peoples are mortal and all will die, except for the jews who are the Lazarus of peoples (among other things) – to demonstrate that God has all power over death. I’d add that just like individuals we try to preserve life and honor in memory those who have gone before.)

2. The core ethnic groups of the church is new englander, english, and scandinavian. All of these ethnicities “in the wild’ have embraced the project of radical individualism in a goverment frame that has lead to SSM, and is contrary to mormonism as we understand it. Any attempt to promote and preserve a mormon ethnicity will by istelf be self-defeating. Those ethnicities are weak reeds.

3. Given 1 and 2, the church will fail and corrupt if it is dependent on our children alone. Because the core mission will be lost-replaced with preservation of the ethnicity, and the church will be bent to accomodate the needs and desires of this ethnic group. And sooner or later bent to the point that it is broken.

4. The key question then becomes one centered around missionary work. How do we continue to do missionary work in the changing culture of the mainstream. Where will new converts come from? How will they be converted? What restrictions will be placed on missionary work? From this perspective what the bendict option offers is bases of refuge to recuperate and rearm between sallies into the unbelieving world.

5. I don’t think our wards can always be considered that base. As pointed out there are considerable  numbers of members who are not on the same page as the brethren with SSM. Wards vary of course, but I don’t think we can assume that the world is not with us when we are at church. Now if we pursued the jettboy option and tried to purge them I think this would not get them to where we would want them to be. The results of the purge would poison the goodwill and damage the community that still remains. It would also limit missionary work because some of the purgees will have been doing missionary work, also it would change us to be less accepting of converts who though sincere are often not orthoprax or orthodox. The risk also is that we get in an ratcheting escalator of purging and purity that can only end in the churchs destruction.

6. I would like to respond to the comment that missionary work outside of the US is little value becuase the culture don’t transmit and retention rates are poor. As for culture, as per point 2 our culture is not a source of salvation. If the culture is put in pre-eminent place we will fail because the culture will (is)corrupt. It is only as the members seek Christ and work with him in the vineyard that the culture is leavened. As for poor retention rates: don’t look at those rates, rather look at what percent active people who are attending a ward are converts. I was in a latin mission. Easily more than half of the active members were converts. Even in the US wards I have been in its a third or more. I’d guess  if you included children whose parents are converts it would easily exceed half.

7. I think T. Greer is closer to the truth. Wether to accept or reject the gospel as mostly in the person, not in his upbringing. We need to teach the gospel to our children, but we need to accept that we cannot gaurentee that it will take. We also need to teach the gospel to everybody so that those who are his sheep will hear his voice and believe. Again, as per the scriptures this is not, and will not be most people. But there are people even now in the world rejoicing at the triumph of SSM who will become disillusioned with it, will see it as at best hollow, and will start to seek something else, something more meaningful.

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