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Comment: Re:What's more, utilities should have predicted th (Score 1) 476

by Paul Fernhout (#48037927) Attached to: Energy Utilities Trying To Stifle Growth of Solar Power

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."

Comment: Space and improving Earth are not incompatible (Score 1) 514

by Paul Fernhout (#48036403) Attached to: Elon Musk: We Must Put a Million People On Mars To Safeguard Humanity

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?

Comment: What's more, utilities should have predicted this (Score 1) 476

by Paul Fernhout (#48035903) Attached to: Energy Utilities Trying To Stifle Growth of Solar Power

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.

Comment: Basic income from a millionaire's perspective? (Score 1) 456

by Paul Fernhout (#48035471) Attached to: Ebola Has Made It To the United States

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...

Comment: The general issue is decentralization & resile (Score 4, Interesting) 514

by Paul Fernhout (#48035393) Attached to: Elon Musk: We Must Put a Million People On Mars To Safeguard Humanity

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.

Comment: And that is why the Spock/Logic way is incomplete (Score 1) 937

by Paul Fernhout (#47904609) Attached to: Why Atheists Need Captain Kirk

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...

Comment: In the (sadly) late Iain Banks Culture novels... (Score 1) 206

by Paul Fernhout (#47845167) Attached to: Should Cyborgs Have the Same Privacy Rights As Humans?

... 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. "

Comment: JavaScript parseInt base for leading 0 changed (Score 1) 729
"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)."

Comment: See also Goodstein, Livingston. or Schmidt (Score 1) 203

by Paul Fernhout (#47842757) Attached to: Is There a Creativity Deficit In Science?


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."

Comment: Being reflective on pros and cons of technology... (Score 1) 542

"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?"

Comment: Re:Game changing big events beyond any planning? (Score 1) 121

by Paul Fernhout (#47803715) Attached to: New Computer Model Predicts Impact of Yellowstone Volcano Eruption

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.

Comment: Game changing big events beyond any planning? (Score 5, Insightful) 121

by Paul Fernhout (#47803701) Attached to: New Computer Model Predicts Impact of Yellowstone Volcano Eruption

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.

Comment: Re:Nickel-Iron Battery -- could we make it better? (Score 1) 245

by Paul Fernhout (#47803579) Attached to: Power Grids: The Huge Battery Market You Never Knew Existed

"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:

Passwords are implemented as a result of insecurity.