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Energy Utilities Trying To Stifle Growth of Solar Power

Paul Fernhout Re:What's more, utilities should have predicted th (475 comments)

Great points about the nuances in the details!

I agree that the dynamics of dense cities based on space available are going to be different for grid connection than for rural areas or suburbs or even some more sprawling cities. Dense cities are either going to want dense power locally (some form of safe nuclear fusion) or they are going to pull energy from diffuse sources at a distance like big solar or wind farms via direct lines or from a broader grid.

I think the "global reserve" issue is not significant in the long term, both because we do have storage technologies like compressed air or hydrogen that don't require too many exotic things (even if they have other issues). And also because a good aspect of markets (amidst many bad aspects) is they tend to lower costs when there is a demand either by putting in play new resources (like from new mines) or by finding cheaper substitutes.

A ready backup to solar also for those on a gas grid or who have their own propane storage is gas-fired generators to smooth out interruptions in solar power. Some sort of major advance in hydrogen storage, like via converting it to a liquid fuel or in metal hydrides, could also solve the local storage issue -- and we are seeing innovation in that space.

It is hard to tell what technologies hold in the future. Other possibilities might include centralized production of materials requiring lots of electricity like refined metals such as aluminum or via hydrogen saturated in some metal-hydride complex and then trucking those materials onsite to use for local power by oxidation or some other process, where they are then shipped back when consumed. Then we are using the highways as a "grid". :-) A wired grid may well be much better, but that is an example of how you can change the time constants of buffering in systems by different sorts of engineering.

Neighborhood-scale power with a local grid might make a lot of sense -- perhaps even with trucking of materials of some sort instead of wires? Or, the USA could perhaps do like in Europe and just start burying much of its electrical glid cable to make the grid more reliable (but currently at a greater cost -- but maybe we will see innovation in tunneling robots?)

In any case, your insightful comment points to how the "devil is in the details" and how most real power system (absent "Mr. Fusion" from "Back to the Future") are going to be some mix of options (including energy efficiency and other alternative choices).

But who knows, if LENR pans out, we may indeed have "Mr. Fusion" of a sort even within the decade? Or that may be a scam or self-delusion by dozens (hundreds?) of researchers...
"The recent 2014 Cold Fusion/LENR/LANR conference from March 21st to March 23rd at Massachusetts Institute of Technology happened to overlap with the 25th anniversary of the announcement of the discovery of cold fusion at the university of Utah. Against all odds, huge strides in understanding the phenomenon were made in the last 25 years. Recently, groups have shown that this is more than a lab curiosity, it can be engineered and harnessed to safely solve the worlds energy problems. This is an overview of some commercial groups which presented at the 2014 MIT conference."


Elon Musk: We Must Put a Million People On Mars To Safeguard Humanity

Paul Fernhout Space and improving Earth are not incompatible (503 comments)

Seem my other comment here, but in short, pretty much all the same sorts of technologies we need to live in space would make life better on Earth. These include better recycling, power generation, advanced medicine and nutrition, cradle-to-cradle zero emissions manufacturing, greenhouse agriculture, education-on-demand, a library of open source part designs for 3D printing or other manufacturing, better ways of resolving conflicts in small groups or between groups, and so on. So, we don't have to pick one or the other. Sad thing is, we too often seem to pick neither and instead prop up social systems built around "artificial scarcity" and "learned" stupidity.

In general though, I agree with you that we could make the Earth more like a "Star Trek" society. Here is an essay I wrote about that a decade ago:
"This essay shows how a total of $14000 billion up front and at least another $2085 billion per year can be made available for creative investment in the USA by adopting a post-scarcity worldview. This money can help further fund a virtuous cycle of more creative and more cost saving efforts, as well as better education. It calls for the non-profit sector to help shape a new mythology of wealth and to take the lead in getting the average person as well as decision makers to make the shift in worldview to their own long term benefit. "

I'm nearing the end of reading "Player Piano" which several people on Slashdot have recommended regarding understanding humans and technology -- although I think a basic income rather than a work requirement would have created a different society, and Vonnegut also seems to ignore how much effort can go into raising healthy and happy children or being a good friend, neighbor, or citizen -- focusing instead of "jobs" in a manufacturing sense.

Related on learned stupidity, by John Taylor Gatto:
"Our school crisis is a reflection of this greater social crisis. We seem to have lost our identity. Children and old people are penned up and locked away from the business of the world to a degree without precedent - nobody talks to them anymore and without children and old people mixing in daily life a community has no future and no past, only a continuous present. In fact, the name "community" hardly applies to the way we interact with each other. We live in networks, not communities, and everyone I know is lonely because of that. In some strange way school is a major actor in this tragedy just as it is a major actor in the widening guilt among social classes. Using school as a sorting mechanism we appear to be on the way to creating a caste system, complete with untouchables who wander through subway trains begging and sleep on the streets.
    I've noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my twenty-five years of teaching - that schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don't really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very hard, the institution is psychopathic - it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to different cell where he must memorize that man and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.
    Our form of compulsory schooling is an invention of the state of Massachusetts around 1850. It was resisted - sometimes with guns - by an estimated eighty per cent of the Massachusetts population, the last outpost in Barnstable on Cape Cod not surrendering its children until the 1880's when the area was seized by militia and children marched to school under guard.
    Now here is a curious idea to ponder. Senator Ted Kennedy's office released a paper not too long ago claiming that prior to compulsory education the state literacy rate was 98% and after it the figure never again reached above 91% where it stands in 1990. I hope that interests you.
    Here is another curiosity to think about. The homeschooling movement has quietly grown to a size where one and a half million young people are being educated entirely by their own parents. Last month the education press reported the amazing news that children schooled at home seem to be five or even ten years ahead of their formally trained peers in their ability to think.
    I don't think we'll get rid of schools anytime soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we're going to change what is rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the school institution "schools" very well, but it does not "educate" - that's inherent in the design of the thing. It's not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent, it's just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.
    Schools were designed by Horace Mann and Barnard Sears and Harper of the University of Chicago and Thorndyke of Columbia Teachers College and some other men to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce through the application of formulae, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.
    To a very great extent, schools succeed in doing this. But our society is disintegrating, and in such a society, the only successful people are self-reliant, confident, and individualistic - because the community life which protects the dependent and the weak is dead. The products of schooling are, as I've said, irrelevant. Well-schooled people are irrelevant. They can sell film and razor blades, push paper and talk on the telephones, or sit mindlessly before a flickering computer terminal but as human beings they are useless. Useless to others and useless to themselves.
    The daily misery around us is, I think, in large measure caused by the fact that - as Paul Goodman put it thirty years ago - we force children to grow up absurd. Any reform in schooling has to deal with its absurdities.
    It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety, indeed it cuts you off from your own part and future, scaling you to a continuous present much the same way television does.
    It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to listen to a stranger reading poetry when you want to learn to construct buildings, or to sit with a stranger discussing the construction of buildings when you want to read poetry.
    It is absurd and anti-life to move from cell to cell at the sound of a gong for every day of your natural youth in an institution that allows you no privacy and even follows you into the sanctuary of your home demanding that you do its "homework".
    "How will they learn to read?" you say and my answer is "Remember the lessons of Massachusetts." When children are given whole lives instead of age-graded ones in cellblocks they learn to read, write, and do arithmetic with ease if those things make sense in the kind of life that unfolds around them.
    But keep in mind that in the United States almost nobody who reads, writes or does arithmetic gets much respect. We are a land of talkers, we pay talkers the most and admire talkers the most, and so our children talk constantly, following the public models of television and schoolteachers. It is very difficult to teach the "basics" anymore because they really aren't basic to the society we've made. ..."

Regarding Gatto's comments, is that the kind of social system we really want to see duplicated on Mars or elsewhere?


Energy Utilities Trying To Stifle Growth of Solar Power

Paul Fernhout What's more, utilities should have predicted this (475 comments)

Back around 2003, I was arguing on the SSI list against space-based solar power satellites, pointing out that with trend towards ever cheaper ground-based solar power, solar power satellites were making less and less economic sense, even if they might have made more sense in the 1970s if built from lunar materials. I also pointed out the with decentralized roof-based solar power, and with likely predictable improvements in power storage (compressed air, hydrogen and fuel cells, better batteries), fairly soon it would no longer make sense for many people to connect to the grid even if the production cost of the electricity was nearly free (like from SPSS), because roughly half the then-current cost of electricity was for "distribution" via a grid of wires, not for "production". The grid is costly to maintain with falling trees, hurricanes, and so on. So, at some point, it is cheaper to have local solar panels than to get even free electricity from space if you need to use a grid to distribute it. (Solar power from SPSS beamed directly to airplanes in flight or to big industrial plants or laser launching rocket systems might be a different economic story.)

One idea I suggested back then is that if you looked at these trends, and factored in a future decommissioning cost for the grid to remove poles and power lines and such, and also sunk costs of debt being repaid for previously built coal and nuclear plants, some utilities might already be effectively bankrupt? Of course, you need to weigh the value of the copper in the wires as well as the value of the power line right-of-way for communications, so that idea is a stretch -- but it shows what these cheap solar PV trends could mean to the utility industry.

But even in the 1980s, just as Reagan took office and took the solar panels off the White House, people were talking about these solar trends. Amory Lovins is another person good at general big predictions on energy (including oil prices in the 1970s, when you factor in risks like wars and supply disruption).

Anyway, all this issue with solar PV reaching grid parity something utility company planners should have seen coming a long way off. Instead, it seems most people (including on Slashdot) have been completely ignoring these cost trends towards grid parity, and are only now acting on the fact that it has finally been (or is about to be) reached for solar PV. That is kind of like ignoring the fact that a car engine is leaking oil until it actually seizes up.

Or in other words:
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

Of course, I'm not sure what you could tell most utilities to do even if they had seen this trend. If their only response is to try to disrupt cheap solar, then maybe it is for the best that they ignored this trend? An alternative might have been for utility companies to get into a Sears-like appliance relationship with homeowners and their solar panels and batteries, or to do something like Solar City did with funding such systems?

The only thing I can see that would affect this trend towards dirt-cheap solar is even cheaper power from hot or cold fusion or something similar. It's true that people can fall off roofs installing solar panels, and that ground-based solar not on roofs can look cluttery and cover up ground otherwise usable for growing plants, and that batteries in the home need to be maintained and can be a hazard, and that some solar panels could in theory have run-off with some heavy metals (like lead or cadmium). So, nothing is perfect, and utilities might have been able to supply something better if they had thought hard about it and invested in R&D.


Ebola Has Made It To the United States

Paul Fernhout Basic income from a millionaire's perspective? (451 comments)

As I wrote here:
"Right now, a profit driven health care system has sized emergency rooms for average needs, and those emergency rooms are often full. With a basic income and more money going on a systematic basis to the health care system, the health care system emergency rooms will no longer be overrun with people there for reasons they could see a doctor for. So, emergency care would be better for millionaires. Millionaires with heart attacks won't be as likely to end up being diverted to far away hospitals because the local hospital emergency room is full. Likewise, emergency rooms might, with more money going to medicine, become sized for national emergencies, not personal emergencies, so they might become vast empty places, with physicians and other health care staff keeping their skills sharp always running simulations, learning more medical information, and/or doing basic medical research, with these people always ready for a pandemic or natural disaster or industrial accident which they had the resources in reserve to deal with. So, millionaires who got sick or injured in a disaster could be sure there was the facilities and expertise nearby to help them, even if most of the rest of the population needed help too at the same time too. In that way, some of this basic income could be funded by money that might otherwise go to the Defense department, because what is better civil defense then investing in a health care system able to to handle national disasters? So, any millionaires who are doctors (many are) would benefit by this plan, because their lives as doctors will become happier and less stressful, both with less paperwork and with more resources."

Maybe someday...


Elon Musk: We Must Put a Million People On Mars To Safeguard Humanity

Paul Fernhout The general issue is decentralization & resile (503 comments)

As I discussed here (~25years ago):
"As outlined in my statement of purpose, my lifetime goal is to design and construct self-replicating habitats. These habitats can be best envisioned as huge walled gardens inhabited by thousands of people. Each garden would have a library which would contain the information needed to construct a new garden from tools and materials found within the garden's walls. The garden walls and construction methods would be of several different types, allowing such gardens to be built on land, underground, in space, or under the ocean. Such gardens would have the capacity to seal themselves to become environmentally and economically self-sufficient in the event of economic collapse or global warfare and the attendant environmental destruction. "


And here:

But many others have discussed similar things, so just another voice in the choir in that sense. If Musk really reflects on these issues (other than being another Mars fanboy) he will see that there are many possible avenues to decentralization and resiliency, of which Mars is just one. As we gain knowledge and experience in creating such systems, then we can disperse farther and farther to deal with bigger and bigger possible disasters (including the ones you point out about gamma ray burst or wandering neutron stars).

More ideas in that direction:

And by others:

Also something I've been involved with, but has since became more broadly "Open Manufacturing" and the maker movement:

So, generation ships etc. are interesting ideas, and they all fit into a large general picture of possibilities.

Still, for all that, making the Earth work well for most everyone (zero emissions cradle-to-cradle manufacturing, better healthcare and nutrition, a global basic income, better education for all, indoor agriculture, new power sources like dirt cheap solar and hot and cold fusion, and so on) is a good first step towards knowing how to live in space, especially given we are already on what Bucky Fuller called "Spaceship Earth". So, I see no big incompatibility between trying to make the Earth work for everyone and preparing for a future where there are quadrillions of people living in self-replicating space habitats throughout the solar system and ultimately the galaxy and beyond -- perhaps even into other dimensions and realities and simulations? Of course, there are philosophical issues still about all this about meanings in life and so on.


Why Atheists Need Captain Kirk

Paul Fernhout And that is why the Spock/Logic way is incomplete (937 comments)

I wish I had understood this better as a teenager. Bertrand Russel said that every philosopher makes at least one assumption, usually not acknowledged, and builds from there. As Albert Einstein said:
"It is true that convictions can best be supported with experience and clear thinking. On this point one must agree unreservedly with the extreme rationalist. The weak point of his conception is, however, this, that those convictions which are necessary and determinant for our conduct and judgments cannot be found solely along this solid scientific way.
  For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are related to, and conditioned by, each other. The aspiration toward such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is capabIe, and you will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet it is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is, and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. And it is hardly necessary to argue for the view that our existence and our activity acquire meaning only by the setting up of such a goal and of corresponding values. The knowledge of truth as such is wonderful, but it is so little capable of acting as a guide that it cannot prove even the justification and the value of the aspiration toward that very knowledge of truth. Here we face, therefore, the limits of the purely rational conception of our existence.
    But it must not be assumed that intelligent thinking can play no part in the formation of the goal and of ethical judgments. When someone realizes that for the achievement of an end certain means would be useful, the means itself becomes thereby an end. Intelligence makes clear to us the interrelation of means and ends. But mere thinking cannot give us a sense of the ultimate and fundamental ends. To make clear these fundamental ends and valuations, and to set them fast in the emotional life of the individual, seems to me precisely the most important function which religion has to perform in the social life of man. And if one asks whence derives the authority of such fundamental ends, since they cannot be stated and justified merely by reason, one can only answer: they exist in a healthy society as powerful traditions, which act upon the conduct and aspirations and judgments of the individuals; they are there, that is, as something living, without its being necessary to find justification for their existence. They come into being not through demonstration but through revelation, through the medium of powerful personalities. One must not attempt to justify them, but rather to sense their nature simply and clearly. ..."

As I see currently it, sets of assumptions ("meme complexes"?) are almost like living beings...

about two weeks ago

Should Cyborgs Have the Same Privacy Rights As Humans?

Paul Fernhout In the (sadly) late Iain Banks Culture novels... (206 comments)

... Culture "Minds", drones, and humans/cyborgs all have privacy of what is in their own thoughts and memories. However, anything in a non-sentient "databank" is public to all (so, externally stored communications or designs in that sense are publicly shareable). I'm just re-reading "Excession" (out loud to my kid) where Banks made that point. In the "Culture", Banks makes it clear that sentient beings of any sort (including typical drones) have a variety of rights related to independence. When I first read that, coming from an idea of free software and free culture, it seemed somehow strange or wrong that the AI "Minds" or drones would have that sort of privacy, but now it seems to make more and more sense to me, given the sort of issues raised in the article, including that there can be many times when the line is blurred between human and machine. But the probably deeper issue is what it means to have an advanced post-scarcity "Culture" where many of the citizens are entirely non-biological (like the AI "Minds" that run much of everything).

BTW, the original "RUR" story from 1920 (where the term "robot" came from) has almost exactly the same plot as you outline for BG.

A lot of long-term robotics (like Asimo) is implicitly the quest for the ideal "slave". The question is, at what points does something have rights? In the USA and elsewhere animals have some legal rights (or at least laws to protect them) since starting about a 150 years ago, and that campaign I've heard eventually led to children having independent rights (on the logic of, why should a horse or dog have rights when a child does not?).
"The first national law to regulate animal experimentation was passed in Britain in 1876--the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876. This bill created a central governing body that reviewed and approved all animal use in research. After that, there were numerous countries in Europe that adopted some regulations regarding research with animals. "

"At the beginning of the 20th century, children's protection starts to be put in place, including protection in the medical, social and judicial fields. This kind of protection starts first in France and spreads across Europe afterwards. Since 1919, the international community, following the creation of The League of Nations (later to become the UN), starts to give some kind of importance to that concept and elaborates a Committee for child protection."

However, going back to hunter/gatherer times thousands of years ago, there was in many such cultures (from what remains of them) at least an ethic of giving thanks to the larger "animal" kind (e.g. "Rabbit") that you killed for it letting you kill it so you might survive. But it's hard to know for sure what such cultures really believed day-to-day in all circumstances. And some such cultures had various sorts of slavery.

I don't know what the line is where a mechanism (mechanical or electronic or photonic or fluidic or other) becomes self-aware, or even if that should be the line. Or at what point can a mechanism feel "pain" or "pleasure"? Is that ultimately a political and/or religious question?

And also:
"We are the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots, founded in 1999 in Seattle, Washington. ... It is our position that any sentient being (artificially created or not) has certain unalienable rights endowed by its CREATION (not by its Creator), and that those include the right to Existence, Independence, and the Pursuit of Greater Cognition. It is also our assumption that the current laws of property and capital will surely be applied in opposition to the exercise of these rights. Robots, and all Created Intelligences, will most likely go through an initial period of being considered "property" before they are recognized as fully sentient beings. ..."

This article makes an insightful point:
"In her 2012 paper, she quotes Immanuel Kant to the effect that a man shooting a dog "damages in himself that humanity which it is his duty to show toward mankind." So how we treat our robots will tell us volumes about ourselves."

Anyone who "owns" one or more slaves becomes a slave master. There is a certain social and psychological dynamic to being a slave master, and a lot of it is self-justifying righteousness about the need for consciously dispensing cruelty or reward to keep order, and for ignoring the pain or pleasure or hopes and dreams or social relationships felt by others who are defined as lesser beings, and for justifying taking almost everything that entity produces for ourselves. Do we as a global society really want to go there again in a big way? What are the consequences and how far would that sort of thinking spread? Of course, one might argue we are still very much in that mental space in the way we as a society (especially in the USA) relate to "wage slaves" (versus a "basic income"), to compulsory schooling, to the population of other countries "our" big corporations do business in, or to various ecosystems or billions of farm animals -- although I would like to think we are improving overall in some ways.
"Work makes a mockery of freedom. The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who aren't free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smaller details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to higher-ups, public or private. Either way, dissent and disobedience are punished. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing. And so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace. The liberals and conservatives and Libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phonies and hypocrites. There is more freedom in any moderately de-Stalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace. You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or a monastery. In fact, as Foucault and others have shown, prisons and factories came in at about the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed from each other's control techniques. A worker is a part-time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors, he amasses a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called "insubordination," just as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies you for unemployment compensation. Without necessarily endorsing it for them either, it is noteworthy that children at home and in school receive much the same treatment, justified in their case by their supposed immaturity. What does this say about their parents and teachers who work? "

Sadly, ironically, the very technology that should be liberating more humans from drudgery in the worplace or "classroom" is instead being used to make such places even more controlling. As one very insightful comment months ago on Slashdot said (wish I had the link), essentially we were promised technology would liberate us with household robots and flying cars but instead it is being used to enslave us with 24X7 surveillance. Some other thoughts on that by me:
"Now, there are many people out there (including computer scientists) who may raise legitimate concerns about privacy or other important issues in regards to any system that can support the intelligence community (as well as civilian needs). As I see it, there is a race going on. The race is between two trends. On the one hand, the internet can be used to profile and round up dissenters to the scarcity-based economic status quo (thus legitimate worries about privacy and something like TIA). On the other hand, the internet can be used to change the status quo in various ways (better designs, better science, stronger social networks advocating for some healthy mix of a basic income, a gift economy, democratic resource-based planning, improved local subsistence, etc., all supported by better structured arguments like with the Genoa II approach) to the point where there is abundance for all and rounding up dissenters to mainstream economics is a non-issue because material abundance is everywhere. So, as Bucky Fuller said, whether is will be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race to the very end. While I can't guarantee success at the second option of using the internet for abundance for all, I can guarantee that if we do nothing, the first option of using the internet to round up dissenters (or really, anybody who is different, like was done using IBM computers in WWII Germany) will probably prevail. So, I feel the global public really needs access to these sorts of sensemaking tools in an open source way, and the way to use them is not so much to "fight back" as to "transform and/or transcend the system". As Bucky Fuller said, you never change thing by fighting the old paradigm directly; you change things by inventing a new way that makes the old paradigm obsolete."

More ideas by others:
"The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies is a nonprofit think tank which promotes ideas about how technological progress can increase freedom, happiness, and human flourishing in democratic societies. We believe that technological progress can be a catalyst for positive human development so long as we ensure that technologies are safe and equitably distributed. We call this a "technoprogressive" orientation. Focusing on emerging technologies that have the potential to positively transform social conditions and the quality of human lives - especially "human enhancement technologies" - the IEET seeks to cultivate academic, professional, and popular understanding of their implications, both positive and negative, and to encourage responsible public policies for their safe and equitable use. The IEET was founded in 2004 by philosopher Nick Bostrom and bioethicist James J. Hughes. By promoting and publicizing the work of international thinkers who examine the social implications of scientific and technological progress, we seek to contribute to the understanding of the impact of emerging technologies on individuals and societies, locally and globally. We also aim to shape public policies that distribute the benefits and reduce the risks of technological advancement. "

about three weeks ago

Ask Slashdot: What Are the Strangest Features of Various Programming Languages?

Paul Fernhout JavaScript parseInt base for leading 0 changed (729 comments)
"Note: Older browsers will result parseInt("010") as 8, because older versions of ECMAScript, (older than ECMAScript 5, uses the octal radix (8) as default when the string begins with "0". As of ECMAScript 5, the default is the decimal radix (10)."

about three weeks ago

Is There a Creativity Deficit In Science?

Paul Fernhout See also Goodstein, Livingston. or Schmidt (203 comments)


From the last:
"Who are you going to be? That is the question.
      In this riveting book about the world of professional work, Jeff Schmidt demonstrates that the workplace is a battleground for the very identity of the individual, as is graduate school, where professionals are trained. He shows that professional work is inherently political, and that professionals are hired to subordinate their own vision and maintain strict "ideological discipline."
      The hidden root of much career dissatisfaction, argues Schmidt, is the professional's lack of control over the political component of his or her creative work. Many professionals set out to make a contribution to society and add meaning to their lives. Yet our system of professional education and employment abusively inculcates an acceptance of politically subordinate roles in which professionals typically do not make a significant difference, undermining the creative potential of individuals, organizations and even democracy.
      Schmidt details the battle one must fight to be an independent thinker and to pursue one's own social vision in today's corporate society. He shows how an honest reassessment of what it really means to be a professional employee can be remarkably liberating. After reading this brutally frank book, no one who works for a living will ever think the same way about his or her job."

about three weeks ago

Grand Ayatollah Says High Speed Internet Is "Against Moral Standards"

Paul Fernhout Being reflective on pros and cons of technology... (542 comments)

"In other words, power corrupts. It should really be regarded like super-heroin: no matter your initial purposes for getting it, you will be addicted and unwilling to put it down, until keeping it and getting more is all that really matters to you anymore. Which explains why the world is so dysfunctional: every society is led by junkies."

If "power" is addictive, maybe that explains the outrage on Slashdot regarding a plea to limit internet speed and access? :-)

More seriously, while you may well be right about the political motivation in this case, there was a recent Slashdot article on how social networks make people more depressed, and here are links to stuff by Paul Graham on the "Acceleration of Addictivess" and so on.

And something by Bill Joy on "How the Future Does Not Need Us".

One other example of what we have lost:
"Nature deficit disorder refers to a hypothesis by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. ... Louv claims that causes for the phenomenon include parental fears, restricted access to natural areas, and the lure of the screen. Recent research has drawn a further contrast between the declining number of National Park visits in the United States and increasing consumption of electronic media by children."

So there are many obvious negatives of modern technology. Look at all the concern on Slashdot about ubiquitous surveillance of everyone that was effectively impossible decades ago. I don't know what the general solution is for the USA regarding technological choices. Obviously Iran has its own political and social dynamics and what may be right for that culture may not be right in the USA. But I'd suggest we need a more reflective attitude towards technology and social systems connected to it. Maybe that would be hard in Iran with its current politics and censorship, but at least, in the USA and on Slashdot, we may want to be more reflective on both what we have gained and what we have lost.

For example, the Amish don't shun technology as much as ask whether specific technologies promote community or not.
"Many outsiders mistakenly think that the Amish reject technology. It is more accurate to say that they use technology selectively. Televisions, radios, and personal computers are rejected outright, but other types of technology are used selectively or modified to fit Amish purposes. Amish mechanics also build new machines to accommodate their cultural guidelines. Moreover, the Amish readily buy much modern technology, such as gas grills, shop tools, camping equipment, and some farm equipment.
    The Amish do not consider technology evil in itself but they believe that technology, if left untamed, will undermine worthy traditions and accelerate assimilation into the surrounding society. Mass media technology in particular, they fear, would introduce foreign values into their culture. By bringing greater mobility, cars would pull the community apart, eroding local ties. Horse-and-buggy transportation keeps the community anchored in its local geographical base. ...
    The Amish seek to master technology rather than become its slave. Like few other communities, they have shown the tenacity to tackle the powerful forces of technology in order to preserve their traditional way of life."

My OSCOMAK idea was in part a hope that communities (of any size) could more consciously design their own technical infrastructures. Maybe with a diversity of options, some communities would get a healthy mix and then would grow from that.

It is a reasonable question, when designing a community, to ask what sort of information access promotes a healthy society? Granted, that immediately leads to questions like "What is Health?" and "Healthy for Whom?" And those may be, in part, political and religious questions.

Religions may well get a lot of stuff wrong. But ultimately, religious groups may survive because their beliefs get the most important things right and then successfully raise children in good health who raise more children etc.. Some of those things they get right may include maybe the human need for face-to-face interaction, the need for forgiveness or avoidance of debts, the need to keep sociopathic behavior in check by various means (including perhaps fear of an omniscient God and judgement in an an afterlife), and placing artificial socially-based limits on supernormal stimuli that otherwise may bring us to our doom "like moths to the flame"?

BTW, it's saddening that most people on Slashdot don't know that for many centuries Islam was far ahead of Christianity on women's rights and several other progressive issues. Even Islamic banking has various merits... See for example:
"At the time of Muhammad's birth, women in 7th century Arabia had few if any rights. Even the right of life could be in question, since it was not uncommon for small girls to be buried alive during times of scarcity. In the Qur'an, it is said that on Judgment Day "buried girls" will rise out of their graves and ask for what crime they were killed. Part of Muhammad's legacy was to end infanticide and establish explicit rights for women. Islam teaches that men and women are equal before God. It grants women divinely sanctioned inheritance, property, social and marriage rights, including the right to reject the terms of a proposal and to initiate divorce. The American middle-class trend to include a prenuptial agreement in the marriage contract is completely acceptable in Islamic law. In Islam's early period, women were professionals and property owners, as many are today. ..."

See also, on morality of the respective political systems of Iran vs. the USA:
"Has IRAN ever invaded a country?"

about a month ago

New Computer Model Predicts Impact of Yellowstone Volcano Eruption

Paul Fernhout Re:Game changing big events beyond any planning? (121 comments)

Typo: That should have been "*extrinsic* unilateral military might" not "intrinsic unilateral military might". Extrinsic means the security comes by extrinsically having soldiers defending supply lines, not intrinsically having local systems that can produce what you need or that can take a pounding.

about a month ago

New Computer Model Predicts Impact of Yellowstone Volcano Eruption

Paul Fernhout Game changing big events beyond any planning? (121 comments)

Our current economic system has created existential risks by discounting the risks of centralization and just-in-time production and just-barely-works systems without huge margins of resiliency. One tragedy-in-the-making example is the USA recently selling off its emergency strategic grain supplies.

The USA could as a nation be putting in place a more distributed resilient production system (including indoors food production or even space habitats) to ensure the safety of its citizenry even under huge unexpected disasters. The USA has chosen not too because it does not fit with the current economic dogma that discount such "black swan" existential risks. Hurricane Katrina is an example of failure to systemically plan for obvious serious weather-related risks, Given that example, it is unlikely we can expect the USA to plan for even rarer risks like supervolcanoes, solar flares, pandemics, rogue AI technology, asteroid strikes, economic meltdown, civil war, or whatever else. Still, if you add up all the rare risks, taken together, the probability of some sort of "black swan" event may not otherwise be as rare as one might expect -- and they can all be addressed to some extent by creating a more resilient decentralized infrastructure and promoting more cooperation among people (rather than competition).

I find that situation frustrating because I find issues about resiliency to be very interesting civil defense problems to think about (e.g. my OSCOMAK idea), but the current notion of national security is focused on intrinsic unilateral military might, not intrinsic mutual resilient security. The "Lifeboat Foundation" and "The Living Universe Foundation" though are examples of some groups that have concerns in this area -- but with little funding and lots of competition for that funding compared with the effectively trillion US dollars a year the USA spends (or effectively incurs) annually for military-oriented defense.

Like George Orwell said:
"We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, is possible to carry this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield [or a three foot deep ash field...]"

A resilient infrastructure coincidentally is also more compatible with "democracy" since there can't be real political democracy without some level of financial and material independence for the citizenry. At least the Maker movement is a bit of hope there. As are the changing economics of indoor agriculture given LED lights and robotics, even without potentially cheaper energy supplies if either hot fusion or LENR/QuantumEnergy/ColdFusion turns out to be workable.

about a month ago

Power Grids: The Huge Battery Market You Never Knew Existed

Paul Fernhout Re:Nickel-Iron Battery -- could we make it better? (245 comments)

"Nickel-Iron (Ni-Fe) batteries -- developed over a century ago by Thomas Edison -- are gradually replacing lead-acid batteries at a number of applications, especially for solar PV and renewable energy power systems. Unlike lead-acid batteries, they are highly reliable, featuring a longer service life and pollution-free operation.
    "The Nickel-Iron technology is great, because it's like rediscovering this great invention," adds Williams. "The fact that Thomas Edison developed this technology makes the history even more exciting."
    Modern Ni-Fe batteries are primarily used for stationary applications and usually last longer than their lead-acid counterparts. Williams says he expects at least 20+ years from his batteries, adding that some batteries over 50 years of age are still working well. He cites a "perfectly reversible polish / tarnish reaction" as a principle reason for top performance. As for pricing and performance comparisons, the Ni-Fe battery is more expensive than a lead-acid battery, yet it delivers three times more discharge, in addition to lasting far longer, says Williams."

I wonder what the problem is with making these batteries a lot cheaper?

Compressed air storage (like in salt mines) is also an interesting idea:

about a month ago

Yahoo Stops New Development On YUI

Paul Fernhout Glad I picked Dojo for a new project! :-) (79 comments) "Dojo starts with a minimal loader (less than 4KB gzipped) with thousands of loosely coupled lightweight modules and plugins available when you need them that are tested and maintained together for the best quality possible."

A few things I like about it are:
* internationalization
* accessibility
* modules
* support for making your own widgets

The first two (especially the second, accessibility) are examples of really important things that many developers leave for later when you are locked into a framework and discover they are not there.

"jQuery UI Accessibility Analysis"
"To summarize, the public jQuery UI library widgets as of July 1, 2013, are mostly inaccessible for both screen reader and keyboard only users."

Dojo is used in some IBM projects, so that is probably a big reason for the emphasis on accessibility and internationalization.

Of course, there are various things I don't like about Dojo (to begin with, the documentation leaves a lot to be desired when you are starting out). However, in general, so far, it is supporting us in doing everything we want to do... For example, I was very pleasantly surprised when the back button "just worked" when I used the URL "hash" module to navigate between virtual "pages" in a single page app (at least in FireFox, still need to test elsewhere).

Although I still have a fondness for the brilliance of Knockout.js for hooking up widgets to models...

about a month ago

Hidden Obstacles For Google's Self-Driving Cars

Paul Fernhout Agreed; incremental versions can be useful (289 comments)

I agree (article submitter here). I submitted the article mostly not to complain about lack of progress but because the article covered a lot of interesting details about how the Google technology worked in discussing the limits of the current system. I have little doubt such systems will continue to rapidly improve.

I was involved briefly on a project for self-driving cars in the late 1980s at Princeton involving neural network ideas for image processing, and I suggested we could just train the cars to drive specific routes. However, that suggestion was scoffed at (and I did not try hard to push it). My argument was that most driving is stuff like daily commutes or runs to well known stores, and so pretty much the car could drive exactly the same way every time, seeing the exact same sights. That might make it feasible to train the neural networks from just a few video recordings of drives over the same stretch of roadway. Granted, lighting conditions, weather, other cars, pedestrians, and possible lane changes make that harder -- but is seemed like a good place to start, rather than try to create a car driving system that could drive in arbitrary new circumstances where it has never seen the road before. Solar panels have succeeded much the same way -- the early ones were niche (like in calculators or satellites), but sales drove more R&D that lead to better and cheaper panels in more and more applications. A self-driving car that could only drive me from home to a few local towns and back on fixed routes (safely, while, say, I surfed the web) would still be tremendously valuable to me. Think of how many people commute the same routes every day for years and could use that commuting time more productively in other ways via the internet. If people with an hour commute could use that time to answer email, then maybe they could work one hour less in the office? Also, a car that just knew how to park itself in a standard location and come back to pick you up in front of some building you work at or apartment you live in would be very useful in cities.

Another idea I had several years ago is that we could have an open source software effort to drive cars in various simulated racing games like "Gran Turismo" or other free play driving games like "Driver: San Francisco" or various off-road sims. That would be a inexpensive and safe challenge for college students. Those driving simulators go to great lengths to make realistic looking images (including things like dust clouds and vehicle dynamics), and they continue to improve. You just feed the first-person video generated the game into the car-driving visual processing algorithms, and you have the software control the game via USB outputs. As the software gets better, then you can fuzz up the image more and more by adding more white noise to it, or whatever other distortions you wanted (like bug white blotches over parts of the image) to challenge the algorithms. Or you could introduce delays and noise in how commands for steering were processed. Such an approach makes writing such software feasible for the average software developer without a special car. Granted, the software would have to focus on processing 2D images instead of 3D laser ranging data. Even Google has talked about testing their software in simulations regarding certification. Ideally, the simulations used for testing would be open source too, like Rigs of Rods (or even more realistic) and if so, things like 3D ranging data could probably be extracted too:

about a month ago

Islamic State "Laptop of Doom" Hints At Plots Including Bubonic Plague

Paul Fernhout Policy implication #1: Basic income & resilien (369 comments)

As I wrote here about the USA: "Right now, a profit driven health care system has sized emergency rooms for average needs, and those emergency rooms are often full. With a basic income and more money going on a systematic basis to the health care system, the health care system emergency rooms will no longer be overrun with people there for reasons they could see a doctor for. So, emergency care would be better for millionaires. Millionaires with heart attacks won't be as likely to end up being diverted to far away hospitals because the local hospital emergency room is full. Likewise, emergency rooms might, with more money going to medicine, become sized for national emergencies, not personal emergencies, so they might become vast empty places, with physicians and other health care staff keeping their skills sharp always running simulations, learning more medical information, and/or doing basic medical research, with these people always ready for a pandemic or natural disaster or industrial accident which they had the resources in reserve to deal with. So, millionaires who got sick or injured in a disaster could be sure there was the facilities and expertise nearby to help them, even if most of the rest of the population needed help too at the same time too. In that way, some of this basic income could be funded by money that might otherwise go to the Defense department, because what is better civil defense then investing in a health care system able to to handle national disasters? So, any millionaires who are doctors (many are) would benefit by this plan, because their lives as doctors will become happier and less stressful, both with less paperwork and with more resources."

We should also reduce the monopoly power of the AMA and related organizations that creates an artificial scarcity of physicians in the USA using quotas and high credentialing prices. See for example:

We should also be systematically rethinking our technical infrastructure to be more resilient rather than depend on long supply lines that need to be "defended" by troops in foreign countries, and also rethinking our security strategy to be more mutual rather than unilateral.
"Biological weapons like genetically-engineered plagues are ironic because they are about using advanced life-altering biotechnology to fight over which old-fashioned humans get to occupy the planet. Why not just use advanced biotech to let people pick their skin color, or to create living arkologies and agricultural abundance for everyone everywhere? ... We the people need to redefine security in a sustainable and resilient way. Much current US military doctrine is based around unilateral security ("I'm safe because you are nervous") and extrinsic security ("I'm safe despite long supply lines because I have a bunch of soldiers to defend them"), which both lead to expensive arms races. We need as a society to move to other paradigms like Morton Deutsch's mutual security ("We're all looking out for each other's safety") and Amory Lovin's intrinsic security ("Our redundant decentralized local systems can take a lot of pounding whether from storm, earthquake, or bombs and would still would keep working"). ... This all suggests that our biggest danger as as society is in putting the *tools* (some being useful as weapons) of a post-scarcity civilization into the hands of scarcity-preoccupied minds. (Especially ones following outdated military dogmas like unilateral security instead of mutual security.) As Albert Einstein said, with the advent of atomic weapons, everything has changed but our thinking. This site is put up towards that end, changing our thinking, through helping change our collective mythology, especially in the non-profit sector. ... And just to show you how these things change, my main graduate advisor at SUNY SB, Lev Ginzburg, had been a Soviet mathematician; he said he learned differential equations helping his father design missile guidance systems (essentially to efficiently and accurately deliver nuclear bombs to the USA to bring death on me and all I knew through the power of mathematics). And there, decades later, I was learning mathematical ecology and so on from him. :-) Again, multiple ironies -- including both the USA and the USSR having great math and a grasp of nuclear energy and advanced manufacturing and space flight, but using it to fight instead of build, and us two, not knowing each other, but unknowingly for a time total enemies back then, and now friends. :-) Or, as good a friend as one can be with a graduate advisor. :-) See: http://www.disciplined-minds.c... "

Of course, I think we should have already *long* been doing all those things regardless of what new potential threats show up in the news. From a 21st century post-scarcity perspective, these policies are all just a new form of "common sense".

about a month ago

Underground Experiment Confirms Fusion Powers the Sun

Paul Fernhout My hypothesis: Sun of Iron with LENR at surface (141 comments)

You make good points on the limits of science. Is is possible there is no hot fusion in the sun, and duplicating such a non-existent phenomenon on Earth has been a fool's errand? See also:

I think it possible hydrogen may essentially outgas for statistical reasons at the surface of an iron Sun. It might also be cause by electric currents?

Then the hydrogen fuses at the surface of the Sun's iron-nickel core. The same process may be happening at a lesser scale deep within the Earth (which has an iron-nickel core), both to cause the Earth's heat by LENR and also to produce upwelling hydrocabons from outgassed hydrogen from all the nickel-iron.

In general, the universe may be mostly iron. The history of the universe may be more about iron decaying into hydrogen (for whatever reasons), rather than hydrogen fusing into (eventually) iron.

The Earth from space looks like it is made of mostly air and water. You can't judge a large object by just what covers it. The sun's surface may be hydrogen, but we don't really know for sure what is inside -- it is all indirect guessing. What we know is that the Earth has an iron-nickel core. So why not the sun?

Science is full of data that gets reinterpreted decades later. It was well accepted the Sun was made of Iron until re-interpretation of data in the Early 1900s. Maybe it is time for another bug re-interpretation? Perhaps inspired by the recent scientific reports related to cold fusion / LENR?

Of course, I am at a loss how to disprove my hypothesis... Perhaps people here might suggest ways to do that.

about a month ago

Climate Damage 'Irreversible' According Leaked Climate Report

Paul Fernhout We need to talk about externalities, fairness & (708 comments)

I said this years ago -- the change is effectively irreversible and we should accept it and deal with it. See my essay "On Climate Change vs. the Singularity".

CO2 pollution and related climate change is an externality of centuries of human industrial development and fossil fuel burning, as well as likely poor farming practices leading to topsoil loss (a major carbon reservoir), and also livestock production. As a consequence, many people in low lying areas will be flooded, and others will have bad weather and lose harvests, (negative externalities) while some others will get warmer or wetter weather and have bigger harvests (positive externality). Essentially, global climate change is just a bigger example of, say, a valley being flooded to make a hydroelectric dam. Who pays the costs and who gets the benefits?

We could tax fossil fuel use and topsoil loss and livestock production to discourage it and redistribute that tax as a global basic income. But that is not enough because past advantages are not evenly distributed globally. So, we could tax capital as well (including patents and copyrights) and also distribute that as a global basic income to make up for such losses. Then people who are negatively affected by climate change will at least be able to afford to move elsewhere. In general, we could also look at the specific winners and losers of climate change and also look at taxing and redistributing to just those people, but that seems harder to figure out.

Of course, all this is easier said than done without a world government -- and that has its own problems. I can hope that we transition globally to a post-scarcity society in the next few decades (including dirt-cheap solar, hot and cold fusion energy, widespread productive robotics and AI) and many of these issues become uninteresting or trivial to resolve given global abundance. Of course, abundance and such a AI/robotics singularity also poses its own problems. And those issues related to an economic, political, and/or evolutionary singularity in the next few decades may well be more important to think about and plan for than a, by comparison, relatively simpler problem of global climate change.

about a month ago



Hidden Obstacles for Google's Self-Driving Cars

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a month ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "Lee Gomes at Technology Review wrote an article on the current limits of Google self-driving car technology: "Would you buy a self-driving car that couldn't drive itself in 99 percent of the country? Or that knew nearly nothing about parking, couldn't be taken out in snow or heavy rain, and would drive straight over a gaping pothole? If your answer is yes, then check out the Google Self-Driving Car, model year 2014. Google often leaves the impression that, as a Google executive once wrote, the cars can "drive anywhere a car can legally drive." However, that's true only if intricate preparations have been made beforehand, with the car's exact route, including driveways, extensively mapped. Data from multiple passes by a special sensor vehicle must later be pored over, meter by meter, by both computers and humans. It's vastly more effort than what's needed for Google Maps. ... Maps have so far been prepared for only a few thousand miles of roadway, but achieving Google's vision will require maintaining a constantly updating map of the nation's millions of miles of roads and driveways. Urmson says Google's researchers "don't see any particular roadblocks" to accomplishing that. When a Google car sees a new permanent structure such as a light pole or sign that it wasn't expecting it sends an alert and some data to a team at Google in charge of maintaining the map. ... Among other unsolved problems, Google has yet to drive in snow, and Urmson says safety concerns preclude testing during heavy rains. Nor has it tackled big, open parking lots or multilevel garages. ... Pedestrians are detected simply as moving, column-shaped blurs of pixels — meaning, Urmson agrees, that the car wouldn't be able to spot a police officer at the side of the road frantically waving for traffic to stop. ..."

A deeper issue I wrote about in 2001 is whether such software and data will be FOSS or proprietary? As I wrote there: "We are about to see the emergence of companies licensing that publicly funded software and selling modified versions of such software as proprietary products. There will eventually be hundreds or thousands of paid automotive software engineers working on such software no matter how it is funded, because there will be great value in having such self-driving vehicles given the result of America's horrendous urban planning policies leaving the car as generally the most efficient means of transport in the suburb. The question is, will the results of the work be open for inspection and contribution by the public? Essentially, will those engineers and their employers be "owners" of the software, or will they instead be "stewards" of a larger free and open community development process?""

Link to Original Source

Humans Need Not Apply: A video about the robot revolution and jobs

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a month and a half ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "This explanatory compilation video by CGP Grey called "Humans Need Not Apply" on structural unemployment caused by robotics and AI (and other automation) is like the imagery playing in my mind when I think about the topic based on previous videos and charts I've seen.

I saw it first on the econfuture site by Martin Ford, author of "The Lights in the Tunnel". It is being discussed on Reddit, and people there have started mentioning a "basic income" as one possible response.

While I like the basic income idea, I also collect other approaches in an essay called Beyond A Jobless Recovery: A heterodox perspective on 21st century economics. Beyond a basic income for the exchange economy, those possible approaches include gift economy, subsistence production, planned economy, and more — including many unpleasant alternatives like expanding prisons or fighting wars as we are currently doing. Marshall Brain's writings like Robotic Nation and Manna have inspired my own work.

I made my own video version of the concept around 2010, as a parable called "The Richest Man in the World: A parable about structural unemployment and a basic income". At 1:02 in the video I made, there is a picture of a robot near a sign "Humans Need Not Apply". The text there is: "Soon everyone was out of work. The politicians and their supporters said the solution was to lower takes and cut social benefits to promote business investment. They tried that, but the robots still got all the jobs."

Here is a p2presearch post I made in 2009 pulling together a lot of links to robot videos: "[p2p-research] Robot videos and P2P implications (was Re: A thirty year future...)". It's great to see more informative videos on this topic. CGP Grey's video is awesome in the way he puts it all together. Makes we wish I had done one like that with all those snippets of stuff I've seen over the years."

On MetaFilter Being Penalized By Google

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 4 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "MetaFIlter recently announce layoffs due to a decline in ad revenue that started with a mysterious 40% drop in traffic from Google on November 17, 2012, and which never recovered. Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand explores in detail how MetaFilter "serves as a poster child of problems with Google’s penalty process, despite all the advances Google has made over the years." Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post puts it more bluntly: "That may be the most striking, prescient takeaway from the whole MetaFilter episode: the extent to which the modern Web does not incentivize quality.""
Link to Original Source

To Wash It All Away by James Mickens

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 4 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "James Mickens of Microsoft Research writes his last column for USENIX's ;login: magazine humorously about everything that is wrong with HTML, CSS, JavaScript and the modern Web page and why we should "wash it all away". An example from his column: "Describing why the Web is horrible is like describing why it's horrible to drown in an ocean composed of pufferfish that are pregnant with tiny Freddy Kruegers--each detail is horrendous in isolation, but the aggregate sum is delightfully arranged into a hate flower that blooms all year." He makes many excellent points about problems with all these technologies, but do these points matter much given the Web's momentum? And could we expect anything better in the near future (like a Social Semantic Desktop or other new standards for exchanging information)? In my opinion, the Web wins because we are reaching the point where if something does not have a URI, it is broken. And JavaScript is, all things considered, better than we deserved."
Link to Original Source

LATimes to discard all previous user comments

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 7 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "I just received an email from the LATimes they will apparently be discarding all previous user comments tomorrow as they transition to a new commenting system. They are giving about one day to "save your work". What does this example mean about trusting our content to third-parties, even ones that one might otherwise presume to be a "Newspaper of Public Record"?

The main text of the email: "Thank you for being a part of the community. We're committed to providing a forum for meaningful discussion about the topics we cover and have upgraded our commenting system. As of Thursday, February 27, we are giving our readers better ways to connect and communicate, using improved tools to help keep debates spirited, but not mean-spirited. More details will be available at launch on As we bid goodbye to our old system, past comments will not be carried over. If you'd like to save your work, we encourage you to do so before February 27. We look forward to hearing from you at Jimmy Orr, Managing Editor, Digital""

Gates Spends Entire First Day Back in Office Trying to Install Windows 8.1

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 7 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "According to Andy Borowitz: "Bill Gates's first day at work in the newly created role of technology adviser got off to a rocky start yesterday as the Microsoft founder struggled for hours to install the Windows 8.1 upgrade. ... After failing to install the upgrade by lunchtime, Mr. Gates summoned the new Microsoft C.E.O. Satya Nadella, who attempted to help him with the installation, but with no success."

I've read before on Slashdot that Vista took the hate for buggy drivers after big changes from XP. After that all got sorted out, lots of people praised Windows 7. Might we see the same thing here with a more stable Windows 9?"

Link to Original Source

Kickstarter hacked, user data stolen

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 8 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "CNet wrote: "Hackers hit crowd-funding site Kickstarter and made off with user information, the site said Saturday. Though no credit card info was taken, the site said, attackers made off with usernames, e-mail addresses, mailing addresses, phone numbers, and encrypted passwords.""
Link to Original Source

MIT Scientists Report Cold Fusion Success with "NANOR" Device

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 8 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "E-Cat World reports: "[A video] has been posted on Youtube by someone called ‘AlienScientist’ who attended (and filmed) the recent MIT Cold Fusion seminar and reports about what he has learned. He does a very nice job of summarizing the key points from the seminar, pointing out that Peter Hagelstein and Mitchell Swartz mention such things as how the cold fusion reactions can be enhanced by subjecting the cold fusion cell to an external magnetic heat and shining a laser on the cathodes. He also mentions that they say cracking in the metal and rapid gas loading can cause the deuterium to leak out, thus negatively affecting the amount of excess heat produced. The video also includes pointed criticism of the way the scientific community dealt with Pons and Fleischmann 25 years ago, and laments the lost opportunities that could have been realized if more care had been taken in trying to replicate the effect back then. The takeaway quote from the video (I think) is: “This is quite possibly the beginning of the largest technological breakthrough that our generation will witness.” ""
Link to Original Source

Start-up purchases controversial cold fusion E-cat technology

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 8 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "A North Carolina based company called Industrial Heat LLC has come out and admitted that it now owns Andrea Rossi’s ecat low energy nuclear reaction (LENR) technology (also sometimes called "cold fusion"). Industrial Heat has put out a press release in which seems to confirm rumors that it had spent $11 million to purchase Rossi’s device. The press release also confirmed speculation that Tom Darden of Cherokee Investment Partners a North Carolina equity fund is a principal investor in Industrial heat."
Link to Original Source

Willis Ware, 93, Engineer at Dawn of Computer Age, Dies

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 10 months ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "The NYTimes reports: "Willis H. Ware, an electrical engineer who in the late 1940s helped build a machine that would become a blueprint for computer design in the 20th century, and who later played an important role in defining the importance of personal privacy in the information age, died on Nov. 22 at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 93.""
Link to Original Source

New surveillance tool to track posts about vaccines

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "Michael Smith at MedPage Today writes: "A new surveillance tool might help immunize communities against vaccine scares, researchers reported. An international pilot project has demonstrated that it's possible to trawl through the Internet and quickly identify places where public fear about vaccines is on the rise, according to Heidi Larson, PhD, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in England, and colleagues. ... The researchers cautioned that the system has not been running long enough to demonstrate "long-term predictive value," but added it will let observers characterize, in real time, vaccine opinions by "topic, negative or positive content, location, time, and risk level.""

The work is funded in part by the Gates Foundation. It is discussed in positive terms at the Daily Telegraph as "Monitoring system to globally track false social media claims on dangers of vaccines" and in negative terms at at Natural News as "Internet monitoring system to stalk social media users who question safety of vaccines"."

European Commission to criminalize unregistered seeds and plants?

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year ago

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "Mike Adams at Natural News writes: "A new law proposed by the European Commission would make it illegal to "grow, reproduce or trade" any vegetable seeds that have not been "tested, approved and accepted" by a new EU bureaucracy named the "EU Plant Variety Agency." It's called the Plant Reproductive Material Law, and it attempts to put the government in charge of virtually all plants and seeds. Home gardeners who grow their own plants from non-regulated seeds would be considered criminals under this law.""
Link to Original Source

Knight Foundation launches News Challenge on topic of open government

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year and a half ago

Paul Fernhout writes "The Knight Foundation opened on Tuesday its first Knight News Challenge of the year on the topic of Open Government under the guiding question: "How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact?""
Link to Original Source

European Patent Granted for Francesco Piantelli's LENR Process

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year and a half ago

Paul Fernhout writes "The European Patent office has apparently granted a patent for the Francesco Piantelli’s invention of process for producing energy from a nickel-hydrogen reaction. This has in the past been called "cold fusion" but now often is called LENR for "Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions" that supposedly take place when hydrogen atoms are in a metal lattice. Toyota and Mitsubishi are working in this area too. There are open source efforts underway to create a cold fusion device. Are we perhaps "slouching towards post-scarcity" despite having an economy where Aaron Swartz recently was persecuted for the alleged crime of attempting to disrupt business models of "non-profits" based on artificial scarcity? More links about this announcement (including controversy about it) can be found in the LENR-to-Market Weekly report for this week. If this technology really worked, it would make it easy to recycle materials, to grow food indoors, to desalinate water from the oceans, to power endless robots, and to launch space vehicles with lasers. Does this once again show that the human imagination is the ultimate resource?"
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Voxel.js creates open-source Minecraft-like games in a browser

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about a year and a half ago

Paul Fernhout writes "Richard Mitchell writes "Opensource JavaScript project creates Minecraftlike games in a browser Voxel.js is a new open-source project designed to allow anyone to create 3D games that run directly in a browser. Created by Max Ogden and James Halliday, Voxel.js is based on JavaScript and WebGL, and makes it relatively easy to build Minecraft-like games that play in browsers like Chrome."

An interview with Max Ogden about the creation of Voxel.js in 22 days.

The main site is at Voxel.js."

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Open Source Technologies for Arms Control Essay Contest

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 2 years ago

Paul Fernhout writes "The Federation of American Scientists reports that "Members of the public are invited to develop and submit ideas to an essay contest on the potential uses of open source information and technology to support international arms control initiatives. The State Department is sponsoring the contest in partnership with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the Moscow-based Center for Policy Studies. "The contest aims to harness the ingenuity of American and Russian citizens to think creatively about innovative ways to use open source information and communication technologies for arms control verification, compliance monitoring, and monitoring of sensitive facilities," the CNS said in its announcement."

A couple of related essays I wrote people may want to build on:
The need for FOSS intelligence tools for sensemaking etc.
Recognizing irony is key to transcending militarism"

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Nobel Prize-winning economist on Rise of the Robots

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  about 2 years ago

Paul Fernhout writes "Economist Paul Krugman is finally starting to see the economic implications of continuing automation. He wrote "Robots mean that labor costs don't matter much, so you might as well locate in advanced countries with large markets and good infrastructure... On the other hand, it's not good news for workers! This is an old concern in economics; it’s "capital-biased technological change", which tends to shift the distribution of income away from workers to the owners of capital. ... If this is the wave of the future, it makes nonsense of just about all the conventional wisdom on reducing inequality. Better education won’t do much to reduce inequality if the big rewards simply go to those with the most assets. Creating an "opportunity society", or whatever it is the likes of Paul Ryan etc. are selling this week, won't do much if the most important asset you can have in life is, well, lots of assets inherited from your parents. And so on. I think our eyes have been averted from the capital/labor dimension of inequality, for several reasons. It didn't seem crucial back in the 1990s, and not enough people (me included!) have looked up to notice that things have changed. It has echoes of old-fashioned Marxism — which shouldn't be a reason to ignore facts, but too often is. And it has really uncomfortable implications. But I think we’d better start paying attention to those implications."

Maybe time to start discussing a basic income? Or perhaps we should consider some mix of improvements to technology-empowered subsistence, gift, exchange, and planned economic systems?"

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World Renowned Scientist, Dr. Martin Fleischmann Dies With Questionable Coverage

Paul Fernhout Paul Fernhout writes  |  more than 2 years ago

Paul Fernhout writes "D. Chandler at the Guardian Express wrote: "Absent from mainstream coverage, World-renowned scientist, Dr. Martin Fleischmann, one of two men who first demonstrated a tabletop cold fusion experiment died on Aug. 3 at his home in Tisbury, U.K." This is such an unrecognized loss of someone who may have helped transform our society to a post-scarcity basis — as I wrote about in a note I sent to Andrea Rossi: "The key point here is that breakthrough clean energy technologies will change the very nature of our economic system. They will shift the balance between four different interwoven economies we have always had (subsistence, gift, planned, and exchange). Inventors who have struggled so hard in a system currently dominated by exchange may have to think about the socioecenomic implications of their invention in causing a permanent economic phase change. A clean energy breakthrough will probably create a different balance of those four economies like toward greater local subsistence and more gift giving (as James P. Hogan talks about in Voyage From Yesteryear). So, to focus on making money in the old socioeconomic paradigm (like by focusing on restrictive patents) may be very ironic, compared to freely sharing a great gift with the world that may change the overall dynamics of our economy to the point where money does not matter very much anymore.""
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