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Depraved nurses! - Langor! - Suicide! - Damn you, James Nicoll!

If James hadn't linked to it in his blog I wouldn't have stumbled upon it. And I wouldn't be regretting my own inability to un-read texts. So, James, this is all YOUR fault!:

It is a fact that the large majority of boys acquire the habit of self-abuse at some time ...

Most boys acquire this habit from other boys, but as we have intimated it is possible to acquire it in what are termed innocent ways. Sometimes the sensation which leads to it is discovered by sliding down banisters; or it may be that climbing trees or poles first awakens the feeling. Very young children are sometimes taught the vice by depraved nurses. Local irritation, as has been stated, may necessitate itching and handling the parts and in this way the vice is begun. The results are the same ...

If the habit is persisted in, the muscular system suffers, — the muscles become weak and flabby; the patient develops weariness and languor and loses his mental and physical vigor. He is no longer forceful or energetic, his efficiency is impaired and as a consequence his nervous system begins to show signs of depleted strength. He cannot concentrate his thoughts, he falls behind in his studies, his mental effort is sluggish, he becomes diffident and shy, shuns society, loses confidence in himself, is morbid and emotional and may even think of suicide.

... He becomes shifty and suspicious and will not look you squarely in the face. A boy cannot become a slave to this habit without it affecting his mind. He invites debasing thoughts,—the old pure and clean method of thought and living no longer satisfy. His imagination even becomes corrupt and his moral nature and moral sense is perverted until he no longer seems to be able to tell the difference between right and wrong. ... In the end his will power is lost— even the effort to save himself is too feeble to succeed — he is a slave to the habit, his health and strength ruined.

(From part two of "The Eugenic Marriage".)

I am posting this here because I feel the need to share the pain or point and mock or something. (Maybe it's time to re-read "Portnoy's Complaint"?)

Afterthought: clearly the author of this text believes that GURLS!!!1!! are immune to this practice. Except, one supposes, for the DEPRAVED NURSES.

Another afterthought: the language here reminds me of some of the more frenzied rhetoric around drug use in subsequent decades.

What current cultural ... practices ... are going to look this bizarre and/or quaint in a century's time? Leaving aside obvious political candidates (the war on drugs, the conservative obsession with tax cuts, American exceptionalism, etc), I hasten to add.

248 Comments

1:

I have been looking all over the place for depraved nurses, but so far I haven't managed to meet any.

Does this book have any tips? '-)

2:

Prediction: the simultaneous sexualisation/sacralisation of children in modern anglophone culture is going to look really weird* to our successors.

Contemporary Disney's tween-targeted shows will be damned as part of a continuity with pederastic grooming. Esther Ranzen, Oxfam and the NSPCC will be reassessed as little more than pornographers of juvenile misery; panderers to the sentimentality of a hypocritical age.

* I mean Gladstone 'redeeming' prostitutes then flogging himself over it weird.

3:

"Healthy" foods?

4:

Funny timing on this for me. I just reread Glasshouse, chock full of scenes where the moderns are amazed and appalled at the physical and cultural restrictions we dark age people had to put up with.

How about the fact that the majority of people had to sit in traffic twice a day to get to their jobs, due to the lack of infrastructure to support telepresence?

5:

We've got the infrastructure for telepresence; it's more about the fetish of control-through-observation that Jeremy Bentham pioneered and that subsequent generations of managerialists acquired by osmosis and never questioned -- someone isn't working for you unless you can see them, basically.

6:

For that matter, how about the fact that we all had to control our cars manually and couldn't work on stuff while the car drove itself?

(Hmm, occurs to me I'm outing myself as American here. We do have some public transit, but it mostly sucks. I got thoroughly sick of it when I lived in the Bay Area and won't use it again if I can avoid it. Yes, I'm putting my personal convenience ahead of the planet. Sue me.)

7:

Obviously, the uproar over the societal effects of violent videotapes^H^H^H^H^Hgames turning innocent young'uns into bloodthirsty hoodlums (but did that ever seem convincing other than to tabloid readers?).

Although I'm rather conservative about it myself, I predict our attitudes towards privacy will seem quaint. I just can't decide if FuturePeople(tm) will see us as futilely obsessed with a nonworry, zooming happily around with their coordinates, every word and every shift in skin resistance constantly broadcast to all the uninterested world; or whether they'll see us as criminally naïve in giving up our most fundamental privacies to the faceless corporations and governmental agencies which by then have them trapped under a merciless magnifying lens...

8:

I've seen the joke that passes for public transport in the Bay Area and I wouldn't use it, either. (Buses that come once an hour, if you're lucky! Commuter trains that max out at 40mph! Express trains that reach the dizzy height of 55mph! California, rural India is mocking you ...)

9:

Perhaps you're looking at the wrong nurses - the depraved nurses are, of course, the male ones, for what could be more depraved than a male wanting to be a nurse?

(This also short-circuits Charlie's question about whether GURLS!!!1!! are immune. Of course they are, they could never get far enough down from that pedestal.)

10:

Granted, managerial control is part of it, but I believe there are more factors that holds off telecommuting. One is the simple human need for social contact, and the workplace is one of the major ones for many people (a large reason for why I don't do freelance translation from home, but instead works from an office hotel). Another is that you include a lot more inertia into asking questions to and consulting your colleagues (which is one thing I sorely miss from when I worked in a translation bureau) - an e-mail or a voice chat can in no way compete with a question asked to the guy sitting beside you.

And some types of jobs requires physical boots on the floor, sometimes lots of them.

11:

My nominees:

1. That anyone eats any protein out of the wild considering current contamination levels.

2. Our crude efforts at medicating the mentally ill will be looked upon with the same visceral repugnance that looking back at 19th century medicine now generates.

3. Ditto heroic medical science to keep people alive for a few more weeks.

4. The amount of money thrown at that potlatch known as big-time (Formula 1, NFL, the Olympics, etc.) sports.

12:

Swimming costumes.
Blogging/Tweeting.
Dwarf tossing.
And lastly because a hundred years from now is the future - science fiction.

Weirdly, sliding down banisters will be back in vogue.

13:

Does anybody think that this is just amusing enough to be possible?

Assume for a second that you were writing an ai to replace the mind of a primitive human. This ai would have to do all of the tasks that that human mind does - hunting, foraging, mating etc.
Let's just discuss the animal mating aspects for a second, they seem the most interesting.
So, start with a two pronged goal list - certain things are desirable, and certain things bring an end to those desires, as seperate concerns. So, set each of those goals - hunting, foraging and mating to "desirable", but hunting and foraging both produce food, so succeeding in either should remove the desire for both. Conversely, only succeeding in mating should remove the desire for mating.

Which isn't very clever, because we've not dealt with the social structures. So, add two additional values. One - helping others who are friendly to you is desirable, but the desire is removed or added to depending on how much you get back - too little and it's removed, too much and it's not. The natural value would be whether it was better to co-operate or hunt/gather alone. Two - a status system - this could be driven a number of ways - how helpfull they've been to the group, how competetive/how good a mate they are, but a globalisation across the social structure of how helpfull people have been, so that those who are usefull in a small way to many others still gain, and those who harm others lose. Alter the mating routines, as well as the general helping routines, to reward high status. Both would help maintain co-operation, possibily even well enough to fit in with a real human tribe, at a low level.

14:

@Pontus G, remember that privacy is a relatively modern invention; in the village, there was no privacy.

I seem to remember the phrase "global village" being bandied about, although at the time I don't think this is the aspect people had in mind.

How that will affect our descendants' views, I'm not sure, but it probably will colour them...

15:

Drat, I didn't mention the decrease/increase on reaching the last goal - seeking social status should vary with how effective it is, although I don't think it would stop easily.

16:

Just "hunting" or "foraging" is fairly likely to leave you with dietary deficiencies.

17:

One would hope that the almost entirely unregulated capitalism that's currently in vogue will be regarded with universal horror and revulsion in the not-so-distant future.

Ditto our current dependence on petrochemicals.

Ditto our world's current insane, ubiquitous system of hierarchical dominance and submission (played out in interpersonal, interracial and intercultural relationships), which results in entire classes of people having the livin' heck oppressed out of 'em.

That, I'm thinking we could do without.

Well, I can hope.

18:

With tongue firmly in cheek: ridiculous arguments about Catholic theology on science fiction writers' blogs.

19:

The rather unfortunately named telecottaging movement from a decade or two back might have addressed the lack of social interaction for telecommuters. It was predicated on the idea that ordinary telco consumers would *never* be able to afford the huge bandwidth required for telecommuting in the home and so why not put a fat (for then values of fat) pipe into a local community centre or office building and rent time and materials (puters, printers etc) to locals to telecommute. It was being punted particularly for rural areas to stop the drain of skilled people to the cities.

Of course the drop in comms costs soon made the economics of telecottaging as quaint as the dude smuggling 4 megs of RAM in Neuromancer, but it might yet have mileage as a way of providing a social dimension for telecommuters.

20:

Those depraved nurses put me in mind of Silent Hill. Poor boys!

21:

Industrial Meat Production
Creationism
Climate Change Denialism

22:

Telecottaging in the rude sense points up a recent social shift, thanks to Gaydar and Grindr and similar services. In just a few short years it's changed from the norm to a bit sad and/or bonkers that men would try to hook up with other men for ... er ... no-strings adult fun ... by simply guessing at which deserted public place might attract similarly-minded folk at some random point during the night.

There's still a wide spread of opinion about whether online dating is Teh Bomb or a load of rubbish, and face to face options are very much still viable. But if you're a bloke who wants to get jiggy with another chap (and not much more) then electronic is really the only option, darling.

23:

Basically, anything that the Daily Mail goes on about.

24:

@11: Our crude efforts at medicating the mentally ill...

Yes, and go farther. Expect not just very different therapies for very different DSM entries, but wholesale change in the categorization of what's illness, what's biologically structural vs functional, what's cultural/familial imprint, what's idiosyncratic lifestyle choice, etc.

I don't sign on with Szasz, Laing, or Foucault, but their several critiques of the current house of cards are at least hints at something radical enough.

25:

I wonder if we could go either way on the issue of mental states. Our current world is making more and more states into "diseases" that need treatment. We may be a lot less violent in treating them since the days of electro-shock and pre-frontal lobotomies.
But we may also turn back from that and consider that a lot of these "diseases" are acceptable ranges and behaviors and should not be treated.

On a similar note, treating a number of diseases with anti-biotics will seem perverted, as we are increasingly realizing that the bacteria in our bodies are a necessary part of our health and need to be treated like cultivars, not weeds. Perhaps body daily body washing and frequent hand washing might seem strange.

I suspect the rigid, factory style K-12 education system we have won't be well regarded in 100 years.
A much more customized approach that emphasizes different abilities will be preferred. (A backlash against the academics and the 'Tiger Mother' school of learning). Or we might go more in favor of traditional learning and consider the the free form education emphasizing individual talents as the perversion from educational doctrine.

26:

Oh, I'll pitch in some observations on drugs, just for fun:

1. Our whole culture seems increasingly built around addiction as a model, except that we call it "customer loyalty" or "closed ecosystem," or "Oooh Shiny New." Perhaps the reason that western cultures have so much trouble with drug addiction is that it's the dark side of consumerist culture in general.

I suspect that, a few centuries from now, this will look as exotic as the Medieval Catholic Church.

2. Trying to make cannabis and coca growing illegal will one day seem quaint. Personally, I'm neither particularly pro or anti-legalization. I just think it's weird that, when you have plants that have been so thoroughly domesticated, some outsider comes along and attempts to ban them. It's not quite like banning dogs, but it's close.

Speaking of which, we've got a plethora of weird dog breeds right now. I wonder how many of them will still be around in one hundred years, let alone one thousand? The reason for pointing to these is that many of the breeds are now standardized artistic (read highly inbred) models of what were once loosely defined working populations. I suspect that most of these will disappear, just as most Roman dog breeds are long gone.

27:

Low Fat High Carb Diets as a method of control weight
Jogging
"Anything The Daily Mail Says" OH GOSH YES SECONDED
Lack of Unstructured Physical Play in Education
Lack of Critical Thinking in Education
Veganism
Computer games hysteria

28:

Charlie, I've come across accounts of nursemaids using genital fondling to calm infant boys. That's probably what this Hague fellow is referring to.

29:

The insane laws surrounding statutory rape in the US and the subsequent destruction of innocent people's lives via the cruel and unusual Sex offender registry is already something straight out of the Victorian age.

I'm sure history will judge the criminal conviction of 18-year olds teens with 16 year-old lovers harshly.

30:

I never would have guessed that most boys learn from other boys. That seems very alien to me. I suspect this may be a cultural thing. Who were polled for this, and what were the results?

31:

Cue Robyn Hitchcock's "Uncorrected Personality Traits"

32:

How about the concepts of self and other?

33:

@25:

"I wonder if we could go either way on the issue of mental states. Our current world is making more and more states into "diseases" that need treatment."

Too right. I recently came across an article on personality disorders that attempted to define them as "anything that causes an individual's behaviour to conflict with society as a whole to the detriment of the individual".

By that definition those who worked for abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, gay rights or pretty much any other human right all had a personality disorder. All we need now are the subliminal slogans from They live.

34:

@29:

"I'm sure history will judge the criminal conviction of 18-year olds teens with 16 year-old lovers harshly."

Never mind history, most Europeans consider it to be bizarre and inhuman.

35:

Absolutely. Mind you, this dates to the same period as gripe water with added Heroin™ to sooth the little monsters. What really got me was the attitude permeating the sections surrounding the chunk I cruelly extracted -- from the phrasing you'd think semen was radioactive or something. (On the other hand, again: what would one expect of a book titled "The Eugenic Marriage"? There's a lot more grotesquerie to cherry pick in there ...)

36:

Meat consumption. Air travel that isn't absolutely necessary, at least. Car travel that isn't absolutely necessary. Using TV instead of networked video on demand etc. And, to put some fossil fuel in the fire: either "using nuclear power" or "not using nuclear power" could also be a nice topic for strange prehistoric faults.

Societal: privacy, the idea of a "private life" that is independent of someones "public life".

Maybe, hopefully: border controls in the EU.

37:

In a curios coincident, today in mala fide put up a posting describing the negative effects of self-abuse, following glowing praise for the positive effects of long-time abstinence. Far from being a bible-thumper, his experimental results are oddly similar to those described in the ravings of the lunatic. Maybe in 100 years people will look at our positive stance on masturbation with the same attitude we put towards smoking.

http://www.inmalafide.com/2011/02/10/falling-off-the-wagon/

38:

I wouldn't credit that particular source with any particular grip on sanity: "I’m also one of the founders and an occasional contributor to the online men’s magazine The Spearhead", he says, which is -- in my book, anyway -- not exactly a clear-eyed wellspring of sanity.

(Let me add: the author of "The Eugenic Marriage" was repeating a theory of human reproductive biology that has been thoroughly falsified over the past century. Its resurrection seems to me to be about as likely as a return to coal-burning steam locomotives for mass transport.)

39:

I agree. The posts at in mala fide generally are the intellectual equivalent of wrestling - entertaining, but not something you would want to take too serious.

40:

Well, as Hague himself points out, venereal disease rates at the time were horrific, and the diseases themselves were barely treatable. Salvarsan had only just been invented -- a cheerful organoarsenic compound used for the treatment of syphilis -- and people were even using malaria-induced fever to eradicate the spirochete.

At the same time, prostitution rates were enormous, and condoms were only marginally legal. The "sowing of wild oats," which Hague spends so much time on, was much closer to "pay for play" than "I slept around a little in college."

So some of the radioactive semen paranoia is probably justified.

Granted, the social context of the times -- "breeding", very little modern feminism, etc -- makes it so much worse.

41:

@Alex: Please don't compare electro-convulsive therapy to lobotomies! ECT continues to be used, effectively, to this date to treat serious depression. However, its somewhat gruesome reputation means that it is not popular with patients or even doctors, and that means that a lot of people aren't getting an extremely useful treatment.

This is the subject of a fascinating talk by Sherwin Nuland on TED. I recommend it highly.

42:

Keeping in the context of "depraved nurses" and "radioactive sperm" I found this gem:

Twitterbating...wtf? OMG!

Hopefully in 100 years, Facebook-ing and Twitter-ing will have vanished from the face of the planet...

43:

I don't think that feeling is calm. Quieting infant boys perhaps.

44:

How about "being at war with certain personality types and approaches to life"? Trying to eliminate selfishness, rather than find a new understanding seems like a failure mode to me.

45:

The thing that amazes me is that it took 36 replies for the words "fossil fuels" to appear.

46:

On dog breeds, short of a total breakdown of civilisation as we have it (always a possibility), I fully expect there to be different dog, cat etc breeds around, and for people to show them. It's a form of behaviour that has been around for over a century now, and fits in nicely with human behaviour in general. I can easily see it shrinking somewhat, if half the population ends up uploaded, or massive food shortages ensure that we can't feed people let alone animals, but otherwise...

It is rather hard thinking of something appropriate. HOw about "Oh I just printed it off, read it, then threw it in the recycling bin"?

47:

I guess that the general tendency of people to switch off their brains, as soon as somebody implies that something is more "environmentally friendly" than something else. Even though nothing of the sort is in evidence. Examples include the devastating effects of biofuels. Dealing with all perceived problems of nuclear power by demanding to shut it down, stop spending a single additional cent on it.

Or plans to supply energy to humanity through solar power alone. - It turns out that you need an area of about half the size of the USA to be fully covered with solar power farms in order to do that. - Unless you want to keep some 8 billion people in poverty in order to supply the blessed billion with their energy needs.

Germany committed itself in 2010 alone to spending some 20 billion Euros over the next 20 years to pay for the solar cells installed in that year. The total of the last few years of solar powered insanity now runs to about 100 billion Euros - delivering less than 1% of Germany's energy needs.

I guess that in a hundred years there will be another Charles Mackay writing a chapter or two about that.

(Sorry about the rant. But the insanity in this country is sometimes hard to bear.)

48:

To be fair, its easy enough to see why the belief that masturbation had the deleterious effects Mr Hague Grant claims got started. Confusing correlation with causation, it appears to have attributed teenagers behaving like teenagers to teenagers discovering masturbation.

To throw in my tuppence on the question posed, It wouldn't surprise me if people 100 years hence look back on the strange paedophile-hysteria of early 21st century Anglo-Saxon culture and wonder quite what we were thinking. The vetting by government of everyone who might have any professional contact with children, as if wilfully blind to the fact that almost all child abuse is committed by family members

49:

@tp Hmm, in 2010 it's already 2% from PV, and growing. http://www.agenda21-treffpunkt.de/daten/Strom.htm

50:

It depends who's doing the looking really. There are still sizeable groups in various parts of the world who share the views of the author you quote.

Now, if we limit our scope to mostly anglophone, mostly White middle-class centrists in western Europe and North America (as there are a lot of variables to consider, and I'm not exposed to enough of the culture of Australia and New Zealand, for example, to decide where they'd fall) I second smoking to being relegated as a weird or very regionally confined historical habit 100 years from now. Either that or it will go the way of chewing tobacco, with a much smaller audience.

But a lot of this will depend on the social consensus group (not sure that is a valid phrase but you get the idea) that we're looking at, whether one decides that the most populous cultural or regional group in the period in question is most significant, or the future analogue which corresponds most closely to that of the prognosticator.

Or maybe I'm just being a pedant.

51:

That's a very good candidate for long-term major social change; not because rape of pre-pubertal children is going to be normalized (I'm not a betting man but I'd be willing to bet against that), but because the generalized paranoia about Stranger Danger is indeed a weird and inappropriately exaggerated response to a relatively minor threat (murderous slavering paedophiles lurking in the bushes are a very rare problem compared with, for example, the dodgy uncle or elder sibling or parent: comparable in frequency to being struck by lightning).

Mind you, our current crazed anaphylactic reaction to terrorism is of the same order.

52:

2% of electricity not energy.

53:

I'm not arguing for a second that there won't be dog breeds (absent a breakdown of civilization). What I am saying is that today's breeds will mostly disappear as fashion changes render them obsolete. There are already a number of extinct breeds, and I suspect today's teacup poodles will join the parade, as will the current version of the Irish Setter, Chocolate lab, and a few other dogs that have serious health issues.

54:

Agreed - though it's at least easier to see where our current obsession with terrorism came from . The 9/11 attacks came out of left-field. I don't think that the possibility of a mass-casualty attack of that scale on a major Western landmark by a non-state actor was something ordinary members of the public had thought about before it happened. 100 years hence, I guess people will at least be able to understand why we over-reacted in the way we did.

Whereas I'm not quite sure what the chain of cause and effect is that has led to (and while this is exaggeration, I'm not sure how much of an exaggeration it is) an undercurrent of suspicion about male adults who work with, care for or teach children not their own.

55:

Re: High-speed rail in California. We're working on it! RFEI went out yesterday!

56:

I'm betting on dieting, especially catastrophic dieting. I think in another century the medical establishment may finally have figured out that starvation regimens tend to be followed by gaining back the lost weight and a bit more. Perhaps we'll even have given up using excessive thinness as a status marker.

57:

Actually, coming back to this, If I'm playing wish for ponies (since a repeat read suggests other folks are doing this, so I can too), and I'm talking about some broad categories I presently belong to (since I can't wish for everyone as that seems rather problematic to me), I guess I'll say smoking, fossil fuels, the way infrastructure planners and other road users in the US and some other regions presently treat bicyclists, teaching to the test in the way it is done in the US, excessive academic/activity pressure on kids in various regions, female-dominated child rearing, eating meat, corporate personhood, the present food industry, people buying sweatshop or slave labor produced anything from clothes to food to other consumer products (basically everything you buy in a store), the way radical rightists in the US and some other regions politicize women's health and in particular abortion . . . you know I'm going to stop now. Basically I want the US to stop being everything that makes it a place I want to leave, and to look politically more like large swathes of the EU (a favorite being Finland), minus the rightwing nationalists which is bloody unlikely.

*sigh*

It would be easier if there was a limit on the number of metaphorical ponies I could wish for. I could keep at this all day.

58:

What exactly are these "train" things of which you speak? Here in the Indianapolis area, we're lucky to spot a "bus" thing from time to time ... of course Mass Transit costs Money and we Do Not Want to Spend it. (sigh)

So, along those lines - but perhaps more in parts of the US than perhaps other parts of the world - the idea that transportation issues could be solved simply by widening roads.

More fun to consider: the idea that it could actually be difficult to speak with someone. They could go somewhere in the world, or the country, or even the same city, and you couldn't talk to them! (Obviously a side effect of being connected to that extent would be that you could potentially be contacted by just about anybody from anywhere ... anyone want to maintain a "do not call" list with 14 billion entries? 24? 44?)

59:

I'm hopeful that in a hundred years the relationship between medical professionals and patients will have changed such that everyone wil be appalled that doctors would consider their jobs done when they'd dealt with anomalies in a single organ or system, rather than treating the patient as an organism.

Also consider the scorn that's likely to be heaped on the current-day practitioners of the "science" of economics. Quote Milton Friedman:

all theories are based on unrealistic assumptions, and so a theory should be judged not on its assumptions, but on the power of its conclusions.

60:

Of course the behavior presented is possible. The thing is, the author has the arrow of causation reversed. Many things happen because of the same cause, which we now call adolescence.

(related to another argument)
FWIW, I'm not convinced that violence is harmless. But we seem to have a strong desire to witness it. It is, however, probably harmless in a blatantly unrealistic setting. So Mickey Mouse, the RoadRunner, etc. are reasonably safe venues for it. So are Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, etc. But as it gets progressively realistic it becomes increasingly dubious. Virtual Reality with full realism seems clearly a place where violence should not be tolerated.

Along this line, first person shooter games should be prohibited from being realistic. (You don't get much more violent than Chess...but the realism level is turned all the way down.)

61:

I think most people anywhere consider "the criminal conviction of 18 year olds with 16 year old lovers" to be cruel and inhumane, and at least borderline insane. Either that or just vicious jealousy.

I've yet to meet anyone who said that they thought it was just.

62:

Male circumcision. It's already on its way out but the notion that, in the 21st century, there were still advocates for genital mutilation in the supposedly civilized world will make our descendants scratch their heads.

The enforced 40 hour work week. The notion that all meaningful work can and should be fit neatly into an 8 hour schedule that conforms to the type-A personality, Puritan work ethic encoded brain will be seen as a product of social engineering gone wrong. Futurefolk will hopefully understand that you can't standardize productivity, that some people may just be biologically incapable of achieving higher order brain functions before 10am and forcing them to try because the supervisor-class is made up of Type As who switch on promptly at sunrise only creates a work force full of brain damaged, chronically exhausted and unproductive folk who would otherwise be brilliant, if they were allowed to just sleep in.

63:

9/11 hardly came out of left field. It wasn't the first attack on those buildings, and such an attack had been used in fiction as a plot point for a very long time. In the realm of potential threats, it wasn't the top of the list, but it was higher up than underwear bombs.

64:

re: 41
ECT is, indeed, useful in some cases of extreme depression. It does, however, deserve it's vile reputation. Just because our current ignorance means that occasionally the best thing to do is to chop off a leg doesn't mean that it's not an extreme measure.

And sometimes, even when ECT seems appropriate, it still doesn't cure the problem, and now you've got two problems. Because ECT causes, or can cause, long term disabilities. When it works, you can justify the long term disabilities as "better than the alternatives", but when it fails you don't have that position.

I will grant that my information here is 2-4 decades old, and it's possible that it's no longer used as destructively as it was in the past. But given that the people speaking in it's favor are very rarely treatment survivors, I remain quite dubious. (And even most treatment survivors couldn't make a fair trade-off, because most of them don't know what the options were. But those who didn't experience it certainly can't. Their relation to its experiential effects are based solely on external observation.)

P.S.: I base my opinions on an extremely small sample size of one. I've only known one person who underwent ECT. I doubt that it was appropriate. The subject (she don't consider that she was a patient, more of a prisoner of a bureaucracy) did not think it was either justified or justifiable.

65:

Watching nature documentaries.

Schools - putting great numbers of not-even-barely socialised beings together and leaving them virtually unsupervised for large parts of the day will come to seem barbaric.

Our complete blindness to identity as property.

66:

Male circumcision. It's already on its way out but the notion that, in the 21st century, there were still advocates for genital mutilation in the supposedly civilized world will make our descendants scratch their heads.

One word: phimosis. (Disclaimer: I'm circumcised. Knowing about phimosis? I'm glad.)

The 40 hour work week ... well, back in the 1940s to 1970s predictions of much shorter working weeks were common, based on the idea that with rising productivity we'd need to work fewer hours to earn the same. Guess what? The pressure is on to work even longer hours and, ideally, earn more. Just where this pressure comes from is an interesting question ...

67:

#55
Considering the rapid introduction and push through of legislation, not to mention suppression of various warnings from several different sources (Europol, district FBI managers, etc.) I'm not at all convinced that it came out of left field to anyone except the general public.

I wouldn't claim that the office of the president knew exactly what was going to happen, but it's fairly clear that they knew something was up, it would be major, it would be spectacular, and about when it would happen. They either knew or had reason to know that it involved the hi-jacking of airliners. Further than that... they may have known, but the evidence isn't convincing. It *is* sufficient to make it plausible that they had at least an agent inside the operation, but plausible isn't compelling.

It did not, however, come at the government out of left field. Only at the populace. And it was shortly followed up by the anthrax scare, which eventually turned out to revolve around spores packaged by the US govt. and not missed. (OK, that's overstating. Recently derived from a culture grown in a US military laboratory.) That some of this was mailed to a leading opposition Senator speaks to me of threat by the government on the opposition. It's not proof, but then the people who would be establishing the proof are the people under suspicion. So that's not surprising. It's still, however, not proof.

68:

re: #57


I'm betting on dieting, especially catastrophic dieting. I think in another century the medical establishment may finally have figured out that starvation regimens tend to be followed by gaining back the lost weight and a bit more. Perhaps we'll even have given up using excessive thinness as a status marker.

The medical establishment already knows this. That doesn't stop people from making lots of money pushing a new fad diet. People don't want to believe that there's not an easy solution. (And someday there will be. But when is another question. Grellin doesn't seem to have panned out.)

69:

Charles, please live that line of speculation alone, okay?

When I want to run a thread on conspiracy theories I'll ask for one. Raising such issues here is liable to derail the main topic of discussion and make the Baby Jesus cry.

70:

I think certain styles and directions of argument will have nearly vanished. E.g., we're watching Panglossian optimism disappear, for good or for ill, and I don't think it'll be back any time soon.

I also suspect some forms of English are moving a little towards grammatical evidentiality.

71:

we're watching Panglossian optimism disappear, for good or for ill, and I don't think it'll be back any time soon.

Are we?

I have an inkling that the denizens of the USA might be less optimistic about the future than in previous decades, but that doesn't make a global trend: I'd be wary about over-generalizing from local patterns.

The grammatical thing is, well, inevitable in a world language. Isn't it?

72:

Two things:

Drug Companies

Privatization of public services

73:

Tattoos will be gone as a wide-spread fad. Why? They'll be associated with aging parents, and if you're college-aged and looking to be alternative, that's the kiss of death. Besides, those barcodes Skynet will put on our arms will make people less inclined to permanent ink.

Sadly, sooner or later nerds and geeks will be unfashionable as well. Ah, the fleetingness of fashion!

Speaking of college, one thing I am looking forward to is the death of the big lecture class. Ever been in a lecture hall with over 1000 students? You get a better view on YouTube, and given the level of interaction professors have with students in the huge classes, video lectures would actually be a step up.
Additionally, saying you paid less than $1000/semester will soon get you assaulted by twenty-somethings with six figure student loan debts.

Other future curiosities: academic journals and textbooks. Actually, I'd better stop with the quaintness of publishing. That's sensitive ground these days.

74:

I wonder if the extreme zero size role models ( pun intended) will be seen as perverse as corsets that deformed women's bodies. Has the ever been a time when western art ever idolized such extremely thin forms in the past?

75:

Other future curiosities: academic journals and textbooks.

Elsevier won't let that happen, as they have a monopoly in selling academics their work back to them. They'll just switch over to a completely electronic model, so that they don't even have to shell out for print costs. It'll be pure profit, selling eJournals bundled into packages for tens of thousands a pop. And because of the peer review requirements, open source or CC journals aren't a viable alternative. The committee chair looking to hire new faculty doesn't care if you're on the vanguard of open source publishing, he wants to see if you've made it into the prestige journals, even if that journal is just a DR laden web mag he read son his kindle.

[the sound of an academic serials librarian muttering to himself]

76:

"What current cultural ... practices ... are going to look this bizarre and/or quaint in a century's time?"

Do you think we might have kicked the nudity taboo into touch? Religious belief treated like any other mental illness instead of a special case?

77:

The 40 hour work week ... well, back in the 1940s to 1970s predictions of much shorter working weeks were common, based on the idea that with rising productivity we'd need to work fewer hours to earn the same. Guess what? The pressure is on to work even longer hours and, ideally, earn more. Just where this pressure comes from is an interesting question ...

78:

All I can say about Elsevier is: we'll see.

There's little difference between an academic press and a vanity press. Real publication costs are already close to zero (via pdfs), and for many lesser publications, all of the referees and editors are unpaid.

So if you have the reviewing process in place, you can reach every subscriber via email for free, and the pdfs are free, it's unclear what Elsevier or anyone else contributes to the process.

But you still have to pay $25 to read an article unless you ask for it for free from the author (who may have paid hundreds to thousands of dollars to have it published in the first place--and yes, I've paid hundreds. If your institution pays for your publications, consider yourself lucky, rather than average).

Basically, the various forms of publishing are now getting caught up in the revolution that's chewing on music and videos. Any claims of the invulnerability by any publisher should be judged based on what happened in those industries.

Given that many academic and research institutions are going through round after round of budget cuts, I think there's going to be strong pressure over the next few years to cut publication costs dramatically. Things are going to get interesting.

79:

I have an inkling that the denizens of the USA might be less optimistic about the future than in previous decades, but that doesn't make a global trend: I'd be wary about over-generalizing from local patterns.

There are different sorts of optimism. Leibniz, Pangloss, Alexander Pope -- we could call it the optimism of the status quo. "Whatever is, is right." And it was a forward step for the era: the human and the humane integrated into a rational universe.

But look where it's used now: Tipler's anthropic principle, crude "revealed preference" theory, the self-satisfied super-rich.

I don't see it surviving them by much. We justify inequities through bad biology these days. Look how quickly people started talking about "pecking order" or "alpha male" after their appearance in the biological literature.

The optimism of progress, that's still very potent.

80:
One word: phimosis. (Disclaimer: I'm circumcised. Knowing about phimosis? I'm glad.)

Surely you're aware that routine circumcision was heavily pushed by people whose agenda would make the person who wrote the piece you quoted sound like hippy flower children? The "hygiene" they had in mind was of the moral kind.

Aside from that and the obvious religious root of the practice the link you posted mentions "true phimosis is over-diagnosed due to failure to distinguish between normal developmental non-retractability and a pathological condition" and lists one of the causes as "scarring caused by forcible retraction of the foreskin".

I suspect overzealous attempts (perhaps by the titular "depraved nurses") to clean an area that shouldn't be interfered with before it's ready makes the phimosis-if-not-circumcised diagnosis a self fulfilling prophecy. It certainly is a rare condition otherwise.

Not to mention the issue of botched circumcisions (The delightful tale of the mohel who killed several babies by infecting them with his VD comes to mind) or the economic incentives involved in the sale of foreskin tissue.

Anyway, if the present is any guide, the future will congratulate itself on having eradicated multiple foibles of the past while still having them conveniently hidden under the rug. I'm thinking about slavery here.

81:

In the short half-life legal texts division that is already a done deal (LexisNexis).

82:

@Charles:
Early ECT may have been unsubtle and damaging, but that is the case with a lot of medicine. Techniques are improving all the time, and the ECT of today will be rather different from that of 20-40 years ago. (And obviously *very* different from the first experiments over 70 years ago.)

Let's be frank; ECT does sometimes seem to lead to permanent memory loss, so it should, even with today's technology, be considered a risky procedure. However, contrary to your claim, some of the strongest support for ECT comes from people who have undergone treatment.

Google "ECT experiences" for some more first-hand accounts. Many positive, many negative — it seems to divide opinion.

83:

The grammatical thing, no one knows. Neither Latin nor French really developed them; but Internet English spontaneously generated a whole set: AFAICT, IMO, IME, RT @, etc.

I gather they're often found in Amazonian languages, which makes me wonder how the Internet is like tribal Amazonia. On the Internet, "no one knows you're a dog," and perhaps that has something to do with it. Or it might be a coincidence.

There are cross-language grammatical trends that seem related to the transition from an oral to a written culture, so perhaps this is the next step.

84:

Probably in the USA then, but I assure you things are different in the UK.
Our chocolate labs came from a gundog breeder and had no major health problems beyond arthritis by about 8/9, but that didn't stop them running around, the second lasted to 15.

85:

heteromeles @79: "... it's unclear what Elsevier or anyone else contributes to the process."

Which makes it all the more surprising that free alternatives (e.g. PLOS) appear to me to be only of marginal importance.

86:

The rest of my comment on the 40 hour work week seems to have been eaten. Just assume it was witty and well thought out. The gist was: Capitalism is working us all to death.

87:

erald@86:
heteromeles @79: "... it's unclear what Elsevier or anyone else contributes to the process."

Which makes it all the more surprising that free alternatives (e.g. PLOS) appear to me to be only of marginal importance.

It's all prestige. Getting published is almost incidental; it's all about getting published in the right journals. Elsevier's strength is their longevity. They've been int he journal selling game forever and developed their near-monopoly of the peer review journal system over time. They control the big names and everyone is so used to paying them for the privilege that it's become tradition. And you know how Academics love tradition.

My university is starting an open source peer review journal. Maybe in 30 years it will catch on.

88:

Re Bay Area trains -

BART goes faster than 55. Honest. I've seen speeds starting with a "7" (in mph) looking in the window to the driver's console before.

It doesn't go that fast on most hops, but with stations every 2-3 miles, it's hard to get to that high a speed before you hit something you need to slow down for.


Re telepresence -

I've been telepresence enabled since about 1992, in terms of software + net connectivity.

I spent the last 2 days in Southern California because even 2011 telepresence lacks significantly in functional bandwidth with the other people - shaking of hands, going out to a group lunch, hanging around and meeting people, etc.

Can't get there right now without being there. Not even close, though I can see more now of what the shape of actual useful solutions could be that would be good enough.

89:

Not necessarily all of us. What about the perhaps structural unemployment in many countries? Is it not the case that only part of the populace is being worked to death?

90:

Free for whom? The last time I looked, it was $1500 to publish in PLoS.

My prediction is that, if the US Land Grant colleges and universities start laying off tenured and tenure-track faculty (as threatened in my state), many traditions may simply blow away.

Note that I'm not knocking the importance value and all that. It's simply that when given a choice between adapt or perish, most academics adapt quite quickly, tradition or no.

91:
More fun to consider: the idea that it could actually be difficult to speak with someone.

Yes! Also the idea (and feeling) of being lost, of not knowing where you are or how to get somewhere familiar.

Another one that's already feeling strange: the idea that things are not recorded as a matter of course.

The transition from objects being things, perhaps highly idiosyncratic and precious, to being printouts, to be thrown away and re-printed at the slightest reason.

92:

guthrie @90: "Is it not the case that only part of the populace is being worked to death?"

80% worked to death so that 15% can be left to starve. I do appreciate a bit of cynicism.

I like the more lighthearted variant even better:
"I love work. It fascinates me, I can sit and watch it for hours." Jerome Jerome

93:

Typing.

If cursive script can be considered quaint today, just think what will be made of the qwerty keyboard.

And in the vein of the post: Sex with another human

Compared to the risk, hassle and often unsatisfying nature of most congress - onanism with a perfectly proportioned, compliant, AI powered fleshy robot is going to seem like a much better bet. Angelina Jolie, or Angie Jones - what do you think will be the verdict of most?

Oh, and Dave, If you've not met any depraved nurses you must not have met any nurses at all. In my experience, once you get to know them, they're ALL depraved...

94:
"There's little difference between an academic press and a vanity press. Real publication costs are already close to zero (via pdfs), and for many lesser publications, all of the referees and editors are unpaid. ... it's unclear what Elsevier or anyone else contributes to the process."

Referees are unpaid, yes. Would you trust a journal whose referees were paid? On what basis would you pay them - articles refereed, or articles accepted? To put it another way, would you prefer to give them an incentive to skim the paper instead of reading it properly, or to ignore its faults?

Editors? The academic editors of a journal are generally unpaid, yes. But academic journals also need copy-editors, not to mention typesetters, proofreaders and the other things that are part and parcel of publishing anything properly. A lot of publishers trying to save money (especially on lower-status journals) cut out the copy-edit and proofreading stages; even then they generally have to pay someone to take the typescripts submitted by the authors and turn them into a uniform set that actually match one another and don't do peculiar things on any machine that doesn't run the precise mix of software the author was using.

But academic journal papers need copy-editing like anything else, they really do. Often, this isn't the author's fault - many papers are not written in the authors' first language. The copy-editor's job, at that point, is to go through and clarify (while carefully not changing) the meaning. That usually involves firing off a long list of queries to the author, some of them very important (the difference between raising the dose by 3mg/kg and to 3mg/kg springs to mind*).

If you don't think typesetting is necessary, you've never seen the mess some people can make of even the simplest layout systems. As for proofreading - well, even the best copy-editors miss things, and sometimes the typesetters can introduce new errors, either by error, or by correcting an 'obvious mistake' that isn't. (How about a dose 'corrected' from "5.000 units" to "5 units", when it should have been "5,000 units"*?)

And all of that costs money, especially to do properly. Ideally, your STEM copy-editor is someone with real scientific training, and I suspect that familiarity with the subject matter is useful in the humanities as well. (But random people thinking about publishing careers are more likely to have humanities backgrounds than science ones, in my experience, so they're easier to find.)

*yes, those are real examples from papers I worked with. Specifically, papers in cancer research journals. They were depressing as hell to work with**, but removing miscommunications that might have killed people seemed like a good day's work.

** things have improved a lot, but there are still some cancers where a treatment that keeps half your patients alive for three months is a huge step forward.

95:
it's unclear what Elsevier or anyone else contributes to the process

Elsevier has captured the reputation system in many fields and sub-fields of science. Reputation in those fields is determined by metrics administered by Elsevier. Elsevier can therefore extract rents.

The actual contribution consists of some administrative details (coordinating the unpaid authors, reviewers and possibly even editors, collating the articles), editing if the editors are paid, plus guaranteeing scarcity and protecting the trademark on which the reputation system hangs.

Negative contribution, apart from the money and labour drain, includes the unavailability of the journals as a corpus for analysis.


This is of course an interesting lesson for the idea of Internet reputation systems; watch out who's running them and how they'll behave if/when they actually take off. See also: Facebook.

96:

Ian @94: "... nurses ... they're ALL depraved"

OOh, that's mean. Maybe still correct, because all of us are...

97:

Since no one else has mentioned it, I'd like to nominate zero tolerance policies. (A little googling can turn up plenty of other cases just as ridiculous as the one I linked to.)

98:

Replying to myself -

Downside of actual in-person meetings: The Common Cold

Now THAT is something I look forwards to seeing eradicated in the far future.... "Grampa, what was it like to have a runny nose?"

99:

I don't know which of our current practices will most astonish our descendants, but (and I see a few other people have mentioned this before me) I really hope they'll be horrified at the practice of keeping children under tight surveillance at all times, usually indoors, due to the fear of kidnapping and molestation.

But I worry that instead they'll be even more nuts than we are. Exaggerated fear is driven by media, and I don't see media's influence getting smaller. Still, though, I can hope.

100:

I can't help you with the nurses, I'm afraid. I seem to have far better luck with depraved librarians and booksellers.

(And yes, James' blog is the home of the memetic prophylactic warning...)

101:

Chrisj @ 95: I regret to say that copy editing has been deemphasized in scientific publishing, to a large extent. I used to be a full time in-house science copy editor. I became a freelance copy editor when my employer decided that copy editing could be outsourced to India along with typesetting; I still pick up assignments on "boutique" journals, meaning the ones whose editors demand copy editing by a native English speaker, but the bulk of my income is through an American typesetting firm whose customers have higher standards. Most of what I've worked on in recent years has been in archaeology, art history, economics, history of philosophy, and other humanistic or social scientific fields.

I have to note that part of the reason for this is probably the reward/incentive structure in science. Scientific research is oddly like dungeon crawling: You do the research, write the paper, get published, and get cited, and that gives you the credibility to get grants and promotions that enable you to do bigger research projects. But it's not all that important that your paper actually be understood, and certainly not that it be well written, so long as it gets cited . . . and since citing previous research is one of the standards of publishability, well, there you go.

On the other hand, I used to train copy editors, and I have to say that a lot of them did not live up to the high standard of competence that you define, either. It's actually a good thing for me—I have authors whose books I've worked on requesting me by name for subsequent books, because I do an unusually careful job of editing according to what they actually meant—but I can understand why some authors have horror stories to tell.

102:

William @101:

A friend of mine got too sick to work several years ago. His (extremely expensive) health care was paid for, but his pension was inadequate (not to say miserly). About two years into his suffering he started instructing students on how to submit passing papers M & D. He didn't do research at this time and he never would have faked any results (possibly instructed them on how to fit their results to their theory, he was an unusually apt mathmatician). He instructed on about eight theses a year for almost twenty years, and didn't make bad living off it.

103:

Caffeine. Almost everybody who can afford to be addicted to caffeine is addicted to caffeine. We even put it in children's drinks.

104:

CHARLIE @ 38:
"Its resurrection seems to me to be about as likely as a return to coal-burning steam locomotives for mass transport"

OH PLEASE, YES, YES, PLEASE!

Oops, oh what a give-away.

@ 47 et al
"Solar Power"
Yes ... but ... the equations all change IF...
You get an EFFICIENT solar-to-electrical converter.
My guess is within the next 20 years, and possibly the next 10.

105:

I can see all of politics going the way psychology went-- from a purely intellectual matter to essentially the study of neurochemistry.

Given the research linking genetically-influenced traits to politial positions, it may be that future campaigns will just focus on nudging the target demographics' brain mix in whatever ways they can, foul or fair, and dispensing with all the yak yak speechifying except as an adjunct to that.

For example, the 7R variant of the DRD4 dopamine receptor and a higher number of friends in high school correlated with being politically liberal. Would a future liberal activist try to encourage more large-scale group-friendly activities in children of appropriate age to seed the future pool of voters? Would a conservative one encourage solitary activities in high schoolers instead?

106:

Sorry to be late to the party. There's a wonderful little book Knowledge for the Growing Boy by Sid G. Hedges, first published in 1941, which takes a similar attitude to self-abuse though doesn't go quite as far as the depraved nurses. It seems to have been written at a time when boys were considered ready for some but not all information:

"The "semen" is discharged from the "penis" into the passage in the female body behind that through which the urine is discharged."

And other little gems, ending with the blissfully unironic couplet to extol us to virtue:

"For the things that are easy have little regard,
But always be glad for the things that are hard."
107:

All equations change by a factor of not much more than two.

> http://www.rio02.com/proceedings/pdf/061_Landsberg.pdf

Theoretical limits of efficiency are in the area of 60%, practically achieved levels in the lab are on the order of 45% for monochromatic light and not much more than 30% for real sunlight. Economically viable(*) technology hovers somewhere between 10% and 20%.

(*) If needing a guaranteed price of 30 ct/kWh (US$ 0.40/kWh) as an incentive to deploy them counts as "economically viable".

The half-the-USA figure was already quite optimistic, assuming state-of-the-art technology (no thin-film solar-cells that compromise in efficiency), an average energy consumption of about 75% of current German levels (or less than half of US levels), a magic wand granting 100% efficient unlimited energy storage and a population stagnating at 8bn people.

None of that means that solar power is useless, but it falls short by an order of magnitude, if deployed on a reasonable scale. (Which is great, considering that most other options fall short by two or more.)

I'm sorry, but I don't want to live on a planet that resembles Coruscant. Put solar cells on every roof, roof every street and railroad, put them wherever you can't avoid building some kind of artificial structure anyway. But stop right there and then.

There's already a significant lack of nature out there - mostly due to settlements, agriculture and forestry (no, a pure pine forest is not nature). And we won't be any better off if we destroy the planet in order to save it.

108:

#104 ref #38 - A nice thought, but the thermodynamics say it's more efficient to burn the coal in a "power station" to make "electricity", and then power the train using a "very long piece of wire".

109:

But what if the power station is on the train?

Coal-electric locos!

(Why do I think the lack of chuffing pistons with clouds of condensing steam around them, would be considered a shortcoming by the steam enthusiasts?)

110:

#93: Never try to gross out an emergency-room nurse; she'll win every time. Just saying.

111:

Compared to the risk, hassle and often unsatisfying nature of most congress - onanism with a perfectly proportioned, compliant, AI powered fleshy robot is going to seem like a much better bet. Angelina Jolie, or Angie Jones - what do you think will be the verdict of most?

We have sex with other people for many reasons, and (I hope for most of us), I think the pure physical side is a relatively minor part of it. Unless the AI has got to the stage of being human enough to (for example) giggle inappropriately at the wrong moment, I think it would be a lot less fun. So I think I'd go for real Angie over fake Angelina, thanks.

On the other hand, it might severely impact the oldest profession.

112:

Maybe "tradition" is the wrong word. They control a reputation, but that does depend on the peer review process, and I have heard stories.

Incidentally, some of the things I see here about the cost of getting published are things I've not seen mentioned by my UK sources. There might still be memetic competition taking place.

113:

Mind you, our current crazed anaphylactic reaction to terrorism is of the same order.

Perhaps not. The UK response to terrorists is a practical one, based on previous experience - it's just experience against a far more competent and dangerous organisation (the Provisional IRA). They might not have bombed Mainland UK that often, but they did do it. Warrington, Guildford, Birmingham, Harrods, mortar attacks on Heathrow and Downing Street, Regents' Park, etc, etc.

Remember also that mainland UK had it easy by comparison - Northern Ireland had it far worse. In the two-year period in the late 1970s when I lived there, there were several bombings within a five-mile radius (the airport got hit, the Inland Revenue offices got hit, and the White Horse Inn got firebombed regularly because it refused to pay protection money).

If you think the current response is severe, you really don't appreciate the recent history of Northern Ireland.

You can't say "crazed" - I certainly don't check under my car before I use it. We aren't searching everyone before they even get into the airport terminal (used to be standard for Belfast Airport; remember the old Gate 1 at Edinburgh Airport?). Our policeman aren't all armed, on and off duty. Our suspected terrorists get jury trials (for now). Detention without trial is limited to a short period, and not applied as a broad solution. No-one has yet asked for Military Aid to the Civil Power (not that they'll get it - the Armed Forces are all a bit busy right now).

114:

My collective "our" applies to the whole developed world -- including the USA, which has gone completely bugfuck in the wake of 9/11.

I'd also add that the UK's response, especially post-7/7, has been more than somewhat authoritarian -- a chunk of that can be put down to New Labour's worse control-freak instincts, but I note that for most of the noughties, being brown-skinned and caught in possession of explosives tended to result in draconian prison sentences under anti-terrorism laws, while being white-skinned and ditto tended to result in prosecution under obscure Victorian explosives control regulations and a 12 month stretch.

115:

"while being white-skinned and ditto tended to result in prosecution under obscure Victorian explosives control regulations and a 12 month stretch."

Could you point me at some examples of this? Coincidentally some news stories could be useful for an argument I'm currently having :)

116:

tp1024 @107: "... limits of efficiency ... in the lab are on the order of 45% for monochromatic light and not much more than 30% for real sunlight."

Well, I guess that just isn't goodenough® then. A gas turbine - steam turbine combination for natural gas power plants comes close to 80% efficiency, but then I realise there's a lot of Carnot between burning gas and sunlight immission. Some major European energy providers are planning on building a solar-thermal plant in Morocco (or was it Algeria) to provide for about 30% of european electical energy consumption. Large, but nowhere near the surface area of Europe.

As for fission plants (and I realise I'm stepping on a lot of toes here) I don't believe there has ever been a way of more costly large scale electrical energy production. Without the tax breaks (let's call it no-tax-policy) in every country producing nuclear power it couldn't even cover operating costs. Let alone waste handling and storage, which is payed for by your tax dollar. I'm not going to go all hypocritical on you, I know that we need fossil fuel (>70% electrical energy) and nuclear fission energy (~15%) plants. I only request that you don't insult me by saying that's good because it's always been that way.

As for fusion research, the ITER project costs about $20B to build, started in 2006 and is projected to go online in 2026. That's a billion a year. About a tenth of what Microsoft spends on R&D a year, and that company is not even among the top 100 in the world. Building a reactor that runs on a couple of kgs of lithium a year and produces nuclear waste with a median half-life of about 12 years.

117:

They managed to send this guy down for 11 years last year:
http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/Batley-BNP-man-jailed-over.5986696.jp
Ex BNP member and all.

I do recall another case involving similar people that only got a year or so, but that was 2 or 3 years ago and I can't recall what search string to use. It may be the case that they are starting to treat extremists equally, but the number of arrests of people with darker skin tones under the terrorism legislation, who were then subsequently released after there'd been a big media splash about "evil islamic terrorists coming to blow up our babies have been arrested". Oddly enough I find plenty of information about the arrests carried out before the papal visit last year, but hardly anyone mentions their release a few days later except the local news:
http://westminster.londoninformer.co.uk/2010/09/six-released-over-papal-terror.html
the BBC and the guardian.

118:

Erald #92 - yes, that sounds about right, I note that you've cunningly left the reader to add in the 5% living the high life off the rest of us.

119:

To the perversion list, I would add accepting eyewitness accounts as truth in legal proceedings.

The ubiquity of recording devices will increasingly show the fallibility of personal recollections of events (ignoring the issues of perjury) compared to camera records. Calling human witnesses to the stand for testimony on events will appear barbaric.

[Jury selection processes are a whole other topic].

120:

Dave B: Here's David Cottage (ex-BNP member jailed for 30 months -- minus time served on remand -- for possession of explosives in 2007).

More recently, Terrance Gavan got 11 years for manufacturing guns and explosives and planning an attack.

In contrast, in 2010, three scary brown-skinned men -- also found guilty of manufacturing bombs and intending to attack people -- got life sentences with minimum 20 year tariffs.

While I am not in favour of going easy on people who conspire to commit mass murder, I am very disturbed by the apparent tendency of the courts to either go extra-light on pale skinned people or extra-harsh on dark-skinned people (depending on your perspective).

121:

Alex: I think ... yes, I agree with you for once! Eyewitness reports are going to look very shaky once high-def video is ubiquitous.

122:

Thanks. Somehow I had missed both of them.

123:

Then we could look at proper regenerative braking, and recycling the thermal energy a bit more. Add that to using powderised coal rather than chunks of nutty slack...

124:

Alex @118: "To the perversion list, I would add accepting eyewitness accounts as truth in legal proceedings."

It's absolutely incredible (no pun intended) what people tell you about something they have witnessed. I think it's all in good faith, because ...
Go back and recall a really well remembered episode. Compare it to the video recording of the same incident. Nowhere close, was it? Our perception is being tainted even while it is made.

125:

You mean, like John I Yellott's US Patent 2,839,253 (pulverised coal gas turbine)? The resulting locos (Wikipiccie here) don't have the same romance, do they?

126:

Male circumcision already looks very quaint and ethnic in continental Europe. It was never common praxis here, and the average person knows it only as something Jews and Muslims do. Curiously, it is a rising fad in the gay community. But if you tell people that it is quite common in the USA you will encounter stark disbelieve. I once discussed the subject with a rabid opponent of what he considered a stone-age praxis. When I told him that "in all probability every man that ever walked on the moon was circumcised" he was utterly depressed. :-)

127:

@62: Male circumcision.

Maybe, maybe not, depending on your environment. In the aftermath of Gulf War 1 I read an article that said the single most common cause of British soldiers being medically unfit to fight in Kuwait was emergency circumcision. As anyone who's had sex on a sandy beach knows, there are some parts of the anatomy that are incompatible with abrasive sand. Just as the Mosaic dietary restrictions started out as perfectly sensible food hygiene regulations for the time and place, so the requirement for circumcision probably was and maybe still is a sensible public health measure for a desert living people.

128:

Circumcision can be done under sterile conditions equipped with good instruments. Done right, it hardly leaves a scar at all. I'm not amenable to post a picture, but I'm quite certain anyone who isn't a plastic surgeon couldn't find where the cut was made.

129:

Pretty much yeah, and it it just me or do those things look a bit like Deltics?

130:

A bit, though they had twin turbines (patent here) as opposed to twin diesels.

131:

What current cultural ... practices ... are going to look this bizarre and/or quaint in a century's time?

A lot of them, I hope, although I'm too coy to name specifics. Nonetheless, I use the strategies Paul Graham describes in "What You Can't Say" to imagine some. When I assign the essay to my students in freshmen comp, a lot of them are surprised by the idea that what they believe might not be the True and Right Way™, which we believe while all those savages who lived before us dwelt in darkness when they weren't fighting Grendel, or whatever, and it was a time before the sext, which made it really bad.

132:

> A gas turbine - steam turbine combination for natural gas power plants comes close to 80% efficiency,

This is both wrong and perfectly beside the point. The reason why efficiency is crucial in solar power is the required area. There isn't much of a footprint with turbines.

Also:

> Some major European energy providers are planning on building a solar-thermal plant in Morocco (or was it Algeria) to provide for about 30% of european electical energy consumption.

Which corresponds to 10% of European energy use. (The rest being currently provided by oil and natural gas for the most part.)

In 2050, Europe (that is, the EU) will represent 5% of global population. If we assume for a moment that everyone on the planet should be entitled to comparable use of energy and nobody would ever want to use more energy than the average European today, the project will supply 0.5% of global energy needs.

I'm not impressed.

133:

Just thought of one - That when one of your organs go's wrong, you have to wait, suffering all the while, for someone who happens to match you to die and then get a transplant off them. I'd like to think that people would still understand the generosity of it even whilst going yuck I wouldn't want someone elses organ in me.

134:

Of course, the plan assumes that the Congress is going to support the president's call for high-speed rail, which is somewhat in doubt, given the lack of warm fuzzy feelings between the parties. But, given that the current Governor has apparently decided that University education is no longer necessary to the long-term health of the state, and proposed cutting an additional half billion dollars from higher education, there may be a wealth of young folks free to drive spikes on the railroad.

135:

Sigh.

Questions such as OP invariably and very quickly descend into wishlists. Whatever peolpe want to see, they claim will become universal (whether they actually believe it or not). Consider that among "insane practices of today" some list veganism, and others eating meat.

Moreover, unless I am misreading it, OP was not "which practices of today will be seen insane in 100 years?" It was more specific: "which things feared/fought today will be seen as absurd bogeymen in 100 years?" -- much how we view 19th and early 20th century paranoia about masturbation. Many people dislike eating meat or veganism; nobody who is not barking mad thinks either one is so evil the very knowledge of it should be kept from children. Whereas with drugs, quite a few otherwise sane people really do think that way.

Will today's drug paranoia seen as such 100 years from now? I think so, yes. Will paranoia about child safety? No I do not, however I might wish so. If anything, I expect modern Western attitudes toward child-rearing to become more widesperead as the rest of the world approaches Western standard of living. I find it an inevitable side effect of prosperity.

And yes, I think privacy is on its way out, and FuturePeople(tm) in a totally transparent society will see us as absurdly obsessed over a non-issue. Even though I am not particularly happy with that development.

As for whoever thinks Facebooking and Twittering will be seen as crazy -- sorry, but the crazy one is YOU. The particular companies may disappear, but the general idea is here to stay. Majority of peolpe ALWAYS like publicity. They just did not have many ways of expressing it. Now they do. Expect 24/7 live video feed of FuturePeople(tm) brushing their teeth and walking their toy dog breed du jour.

136:

Are you trying to say that replacement organs will be grown on demand? Very likely, but why would people blessed with such technology see our practice as "insane"? Primitive, sure, but that's a very different thing. In 1900 amputating a shattered leg was an entirely sane thing to do. Given technology of the time, it was the best they had. Bleeding the patient or wrapping shattered leg in bat guano WOULD have been insane. Amputation, no.

Likewise, I would expect FuturePeople(tm) to look at us waiting for a suitable donor to die, and say "They had it rough, but really, that WAS the best they could do."

137:

I read Paul Graham's essay, and right from the start found it wanting:

Let's start with a test: Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers?

If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you're supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn't. Odds are you just think whatever you're told.

The rest of the essay pretty much assumes the answer is no.

Whereas my immediate answer is "Yes. Always. Including when I was a freshman. Even if they are not necessarily SAME 'reluctant opinions' as back then."

The essay was too much of a "well, duh!" for me.

138:

More to the topic at hand, among things that will seem
painfully quaint in the next century...

CDs, DVDs, or other physical storage media (well, with the exception of your memory diamond ring that provides backup for your entire life :)

Huge bulky phones that you have to carry in your pocket

Eyeglasses (except possibly as a frame for your augmented reality display)

139:

Ilya, I don't know where you got the idea of "insane" from, the original post ends up asking about practises that are quaint and bizarre, not insane. Therefore I don't know what you are talking about.

140:

I hope that we reach a future in which our current attempts to run an information-centric economy in which most information is systematically polled will appear as bizarre as they truly are.
I hope that nano-technology brings so much material prosperity that almost all pre-nano-teach culture becomes difficult to decipher because those future people are free from the sense of scarcity that still drives human culture.
And surely the day must come when our one-dollar-one-vote "democracy", corporate command structures, and economic insecurity are seen as cruel and barbaric feudal relics.
Did I leave anything out?

141:

tp1024 wrote:
This is both wrong and perfectly beside the point. The reason why efficiency is crucial in solar power is the required area. There isn't much of a footprint with turbines.

I've seen this before, but it seems to be at odds with the actual numbers on solar power plants.

Land is cheap. If you use otherwise non-productive land (desert, etc) it's about 3-5% of the total facility cost.

The dominant cost is solar panel costs (50-70%) and then energy conversion systems costs (20-30%).

If you're worried about land costs, you don't get it.

142:

I equated "bizarre" = "insane".

143:

Problem is, non-productive land is non-productive because the terrain is rugged and/or it doesn't support a biosphere because it's lacking something (or suffers an excess of something else). It'd be inadvisable to build large photovoltaic installations in a mangrove swamp, or on the side of a mountain prone to rock slides, for example.

Again, transmission losses may eat your budget, but there are places with lots of people (customers) where land is anything but cheap; the UK or Japan, for example, or Hong Kong or Singapore, any of which have population densities so high that if you scaled their area up to the size of the continental United States you could support ten billion people. Sure you can pipe power in from solar farms elsewhere, but you're going to need a big grid to do it. (UK demand, if I remember correctly, is on the order of 50-100Gw; the nearest really suitable cheap sunlit land is probably in central France or Spain, several hundreds of kilometres away.)

144:

I hope I'm not too late to this thread, but it took me a while to think of something novel for future could feel ashamed of.

I think (hope?) current attitudes toward the elderly will be considered shameful in 50 years. People associate old age with dementia, senility, and weakness, but often these problems are caused by straightforward health problems that can be fixed. I'm not talking about immortality or miracle cures here--I mean common everyday interventions that are possible today.

My mother-in-law was treated as a little daft and out of it, but mostly she had a hearing problem and couldn't keep up with the conversation. My father was listless and his thinking was muddled, until he had an ICD installed in his chest and found out much of his trouble was lack of oxygen due to atrial fibrillation. Many oldsters don't know when to stop talking because they are out of practice or lonely and depressed. But loneliness and depression are often artifacts of being excluded from social contacts that are usually based on school and work.

It's not that old people used to be like you and me--many of them still are like you and me. But unlike you and me, they have poor circulation, sleep apnea, and fewer reasons to get out of bed in the morning. Maybe old people are like you and me if we got divorced, were unemployed for 12 months, our kids moved out, and we had a bad flu all the time.

145:

George, I'm assuming from your last sentence that you didn't notice TP's point that to satisfy ALL current human energy consumption with just Solar Panels would require a large amount of space because we use fossil fuels for transport and direct heating.

He is taking a pessimistic point of view but his maths is accurate. However we are incredibly wasteful and incredibly inefficient. Over the next 100 years material and technological advances will hopefully increase the efficiency with which we do things. Alas I think we are in a 'golden' age of energy and in the future people will not be able to use energy so extravagently.

To return to Charlie's original question. I think that in 100 years time people will laugh at the notion that everybody in society was expected to work. Hopefully we'll figure out how to bring in robot factories and farms and manage the crazy shift in people life expectations.

146:

Charlie writes:
Problem is, non-productive land is non-productive because the terrain is rugged and/or it doesn't support a biosphere because it's lacking something (or suffers an excess of something else). It'd be inadvisable to build large photovoltaic installations in a mangrove swamp, or on the side of a mountain prone to rock slides, for example.

This is a problem with "universal solutions" - geography varies enough that my generalization isn't always true.

In the United States, we have lots of non-productive land that is also compatible with solar. In some cases, it's non-productive arid land such as deserts or salt flats. In other cases, it's wild land with significant plant and animal presence, but it's still flat and ecologically compatible with (fairly inert) solar arrays.

Europe is somewhat constrained; most of its land is generally arable unless it's a swamp or hillside (to grossly generalize). That which is not under cultivation and is flat is often an ecological park of some sort, etc.

You fortunately have a largely arid, sparsely populated North Africa within reasonable grid range of you, if you run cables under the Straights of Gibraltar (or up to Eastern Europe through Turkey, etc).

Japan is somewhat completely out of luck, as are Hong Kong, etc.

Australia's in great shape. The middle east and africa are in great shape. India... hard to tell, its land use is varied and challenging enough that I don't honestly know (and I've looked at it a lot).

China's got a chance; they have large flat areas in their west which are potentially usable, and intermittent spots in the east which might be.

Power transmission ends up being a pain point, but here chemistry and physics align in a potentially useful way. Hydrogen's density is terrible, and shipping it long distances is a pain point. However, methane is much denser and it is shipped long distances already (natural gas, and CNG/LNG transport for international distances is commonplace).

The exothermic Sabatier reaction gives you methane from CO2 and hydrogen. So if you use solar power to produce hydrogen in the desert somewhere near a coast, pull ambient CO2 out of the atmosphere there and convert the two gases to methane, then liquefy that and ship it to someone's existing LNG terminal, you're set. That preserves the utility of the existing natural gas systems in a carbon-neutral cycle going indefinitely into the future. Possible direct solar to hydrogen chemical or biological systems make it even more attractive.

Solar works on the microscale - individual homes or businesses where they're willing to subsidize the capital cost or where their detailed economics win. It wins on a global scale. It wins in many countries on a country-wide scale.

It doesn't do nighttime baseload, and for that (about 1/3 of total joules used in a year) you need nuclear or hydro or wind or some legacy fossil fuel system, or good power storage systems. But even simply a 2/3 reduction in fossil fuel usage by redirecting non-night-base-load to solar would be a huge improvement.

We're within striking distance of solar-electric plants being market investment, no-additional-tax-advantages-applied cost effective competitors in California wholesale energy production. Amorphous cell prices are about 2x the break even point there, but they're coming down on an apparently predictable time curve and only a few years from the point that they're the cheap as well as environmental solution.

There's a lot of hype in green energy and carbon reduction, and a lot of solutions with poor engineering or economics when you look at them. Some solutions are affordable and feasible now but politically incorrect (nuclear, methanol-from-cellulose), some are technically feasible and edging into economic parity (solar, wind, various biofuels), some really should be recognized as long term research projects rather than credible engineering solutions (fusion).

147:

George, I'm assuming from your last sentence that you didn't notice TP's point that to satisfy ALL current human energy consumption with just Solar Panels would require a large amount of space because we use fossil fuels for transport and direct heating.
He is taking a pessimistic point of view but his maths is accurate.

I am fully aware of those issues.

"satisfy all current human energy consumption with just Solar Panels" is the wrong question.

The question should be - reduce fossil fuel usage to a reasonable minimum (or zero) due to carbon emissions concerns, in an otherwise healthy / ecologically / environmentally / economically sensitive manner.

Battery technology being what it is, transport fuels being hydrocarbons for long range ground transport and aircraft is probably a given for a while. Hydrocarbons don't have to be fossil fuels; we've got many variations on biodiesel now, bio jet fuel is in flight test in several variations, ethanol and methanol and biogasoline and so forth. There is a little engineering on the user systems side, but no obscene materials or really hard problems. Production side economics are coming around but not entirely there yet.

Reducing the daily daytime power usage by use of solar power using cheap and easy non-tracking systems gets you up to 2/3 of the total joules used a day, anywhere that you get enough sun and have enough usable land within grid-transmission closeness. As prior response to Charlie indicated, that's not everywhere and everyone, but it's a lot of people including probably the entire US / North America, probably all of South America, surely all of Africa, probably Europe if they can negotiate transmission from Africa, probably China. India is a problem and Japan's out of luck.

2/3 less emissions from electrical grid systems is a huge win, even if it's only 2/3. Moving towards energy storage, nuclear, or what-not over a longer period to win that last 1/3 is less important than the first 2/3.

As mentioned, natural gas can be produced by solar electric / sabatier processes, or by direct solar hydrogen production, or various biological processes; those could provide portable enough fuel for industrial direct heating and for storable nighttime baseload, in carbon neutral methods.

148:

I have a book from 1930 called "Modern Eugenics" that takes a similar stand...

149:

Here's a rule of thumb for you, any time that people oppose a particular activity because it is "playing God", they are probably going to end up looking silly to future generations. This has already happened with "test tube" babies which, as the fogies among us will recall, caused such hand-wringing and pontificating (about "playing God") back when it was introduced. Fast forward 30 years and who even looks twice at IVF?

Similarly, I think the reflexive opposition to all GMO will not be something that folks in the future will shake their heads at. This is not to say that one can't have problems with particular GMO applications, but outright knee-jerk rejection of all GMO tech sounds more like rejection of the new than sound risk analysis to me.

I would also predict that folks like Fukuyama who think that aging, debility, and death are good things which need to be defended will seem bizarre to folks living in the future.

150:

Quick correction, that should read: "reflexive opposition to all GMO will BE something folks in the future will shake their heads at". Sorry for the confusing "not" that managed to sneak its way in there.

151:

"Depraved nurses?"

I'll be in my bunk.

152:

Re: Solar.

Everyone please bend over so I can hit you on the head. HARD.

I've been dealing with much of the environmental fallout from this so-called clean technology, and the spouting going on here is being done in real ignorance. Here are some known problems, specific to California and the American West.

1. Land value. Due to the Homestead Act, unimproved land is the cheapest available. Taking wilderness and running a bulldozer through it actually increases its value, because things like water and mineral rights magically accrue to the 'dozer scrape.

1B. It thus follows that all solar development is concentrated in wilderness, because it's the "cheapest" land. We are finding scads of rare and endangered species in this "cheap" land, at least one new species I know of, massive amounts of "archeological" material, and other things civilized people value. Indeed, the Quechan tribe is suing on one site in part because it destroys part of the land of their origin myth--akin to leveling the Temple Mount for a solar plant, except that they are a small, brown tribe and not monotheistic.

In other words, modern people value wilderness far more highly than the law does. Unfortunately, the law says that wilderness is cheap, cheap to the point that solar developers are willing to build miles of power lines and access roads to get to it. There's plenty of degraded land in the deserts, but since it's been "improved," it's thought to be too expensive to consider. No one calculates access costs in this, though. They just look for cheap land and then budget the cost to build a road to it.

2. Building solar: current technology mandates that solar plants have no more than a 3% slope, and the entire site will be scraped bare and flat during construction. Any plants, animals, or surface historical features are bulldozed out of existence.

It took some substantial lobbying on our part to get them to NOT build in flash-flood channels. This might seem obvious, but then again, the money men are non-experts who aren't thinking too hard.

3. Water. Under current technology, you've got to wash the mirrors or solar panels every few months, because deserts are dusty places. The water evaporates. Where does the water come from? Ancient aquifers, some of which feed the only springs in various areas. It's sickeningly amusing how solar proponents duck and weave when you ask them where they're getting their water, and it's just sickening how few people are aware of how big a problem this is.

There has been talk of using electrostatic dust management technology on solar panels. I would love that, but the technology is years away from deployment.

4. The relative advantage of desert solar over urban solar: 15%. I live in a nice, sunny city near the desert. I get about 15% less sun than the desert does. Ironically, the line loss getting solar electricity to my place is ~15%. It would be simpler (from an engineering standpoint) to put the panels on my own roof, but in practice, it's harder.

Why can't I have solar panels on my roof?
--Home Owner Association Rules (they're ugly)
--City raised the charge on installed solar, because they're running a deficit right now.
--Big Solar is being sponsored by the Feds, who are expediting the process (read: ignoring their regulations and throwing money around) and it's being backed by big multinationals (some of whom are going down in the Irish financial crisis as we speak).
--most importantly, big solar provides big tax bases for whatever jurisdictions they are in, so the local cities want them as big as possible. Citizen's solar panels don't pay taxes, so they are largely ignored except when someone wants to do a photo op at the local solar panel factory or otherwise look green.

Yes, I'm jaundiced, and regardless of the local regulatory insanity, people are finding ways to put solar panels on their properties and reduce their demand on the grid.

To wrap this up, we environmentalists have gotten really frustrated with these big solar plants. They look and smell like boondoggles right now, but I'm still hoping they turn into viable power plants at some point.

However, if you're ignorantly spouting on about solar and deserts as waste land, please go stick your hand in a nearby door and slam the door, hard. That's what we environmentalists have felt like over the last two years. Feel our pain.

Right now, we're predicting that existing plants will work for 5-10 years, after which water will get too expensive to keep the arrays clean. At that point they will abandon their plants, having destroyed the last wilderness in California to build them. Only the construction companies will profit.

153:

One practice I'm certain will be looked back on with horror is keeping people alive for as long as possible, often long past the time where they don't want to continue (or wouldn't, if they were compos mentis enough to be able to form an opinion. That's a major problem here in the US (google "Terri Schiavo" for a real horror story), and one I'm very familiar with, as I live in the state that started the debate about assisted suicide, and has years of experience with how it works. I don't know that I'll need that option, but I might, and I'm glad I live where I can get it.

154:

I also suspect some forms of English are moving a little towards grammatical evidentiality.

Fascinating. Tell us more.

155:

I am in California, and have gotten to the point of largescale (multiple square kilometers) land price negotiations in the Mojave Desert relative to solar production facilities. Yes, parts of the desert aren't that simple, but parts of it are. Look south and east of Mojave, out to Victorville, out east of Edwards, etc. Much of that land is available for extremely low prices and it's already been "improved" enough that environmental and archaeological site issues are minimized.

California City literally has tens and tens of square miles of land with roads in and no construction on it; the city government and landowners have indicated that a largescale solar plant out there would be appreciated if someone has the capital.

The "3% grade" restriction is bogus; I'm also an engineer, and I can build non-aimed solar facilities on any grade that I can get construction equipment on (and I know people who will happily sell or lease me construction equipment that will go up a 50% grade or more). Please, believe me, if I can afford the solar panels, I'm perfectly happy to use hills to site them if it comes to that.

I could profitably build them on a vertical south-facing cliff if I had to. Many construction people are afraid of heights, but dealing with inclines is a known problem overall.

The water use issue assumes water's the only way to keep the panels clean. A guy in a cleaning truck with an air jet / vacuum / power sweeper head with no water involved can do just fine. Tested it. Not a problem. I know the guy who did the electrostatic solar panel stuff for Mars (Geoffrey Landis), if it comes to needing that. He's tested that one. Not a problem.

Location - Yes, if you have enough usable roof area at the site of use, that's best as transmission losses are minimized. But we ship power hundreds and hundreds of miles now, up and down California, from Mojave and beyond back into LA, etc. In a perfect world there are no transmission losses - but perfection is the enemy of good enough. Economics of power are "good enough" - as are environmental issues of power. We can afford to ship it, if we can afford the panels.

One can't just wave a magic wand at a desert and assert that it's ok to put a solar plant there, but there are enough deserts we can put solar plants in within the US (and hills, and other non-arable land suitable for non-aimed panels). It's good enough. Not every hoped for site will pan out, but it's good enough.

156:

Internet English spontaneously generated a whole set: AFAICT, IMO, IME, RT @, etc.

Those aren't grammatical. (They are optional and can simply be snipped from a sentence without changing its meaning beyond the evidentiality.)

157:
Circumcision can be done under sterile conditions equipped with good instruments. Done right, it hardly leaves a scar at all. I'm not amenable to post a picture, but I'm quite certain anyone who isn't a plastic surgeon couldn't find where the cut was made.

Indeed, I've read an anecdotal account of an American female who did not realize her partner was uncircumcised... :)

I should hope the standard procedure is perfected to the point it leaves little to no scarring, but still, you have the non-professional practitioners and the inevitable percentage of surgical errors even in the most routine procedures. I'll leave the google image searching of "botched circumcision" as an exercise to the reader.

And the issue of the pain inflicted on a baby... I can't fathom why in this particular instance "he won't remember" is suddenly a mitigating factor for atrocious agony.

But that's not the point. The point is it's an unnecessary procedure because all babies are naturally phimotic, lack of retractability at around age 12 onwards is when it's pathological so there's no way to determine that a baby is going to need to have the operation. I guess babies put up less resistance than 13 year olds...

158:

@141:

George:

There is an inherent value of simple, undisturbed countryside that is more than the price required to pay for it. Even if it's just desert and especially when you're planning to destroy it by the millions of square kilometers. Germany is a huge country and I've only seen a small part of it, despite living here for more than a quarter century. It's area? 380.000 square kilometers.

@145:

Adam:

I see that a lot of our energy use is indeed wasteful and inefficient. However, there are a lot of ... erm, anti-wasteful activities that need lots of energy. Most of the physical waste we produce is actually just a way of getting around the energy cost it would take to recycle it. Stuff like electronics is high-entropy waste that would take lots of energy to recycle. But given the contents of such waste, it may be necessary to actually spend this energy. Not just for scarce materials, but also to get toxic materials out of our environment. Or what about plastics? We recycle some of it, but at some point it's just no longer worth the energy cost and we throw it away and make new plastic out of raw oil.

Unfortunately, *saving* energy through recycling aluminum or steel is exception, not the rule. I cannot possibly judge just how much energy we'll need in the future. But even a conservative estimate that already includes some savings suggests that solar power will fall far short, if we limit it to a reasonable scale. And I chose solar because it has the highest power density.

Forget biomass - except for using waste, off-shore wind has about one quarter of the power density of solar and is apt to change weather patterns very significantly if deployed on a large scale. Geothermal energy is only worthwhile in hotspots unless we see some exotic new technology. But until then, there's no reason not to use it where there is plenty of it. Same for hydro. There is a certain need for dams anyway, we might as well get some power out of them. But trying to squeeze the last GW out of the rives just won't do.

We can't afford to rely upon any single technology to save the day. Energy savings that may not materialize or additional requirements may arise (high intensity, underground farming, anyone?), solar power may turn out not to get cheaper at a certain level, energy storage may or may not turn out to be intractable or hugely expensive (I put a lot of hope into NaS batteries, as those only need abundant materials), nuclear fusion may turn out to be impractical or, on the contrary, dead simple once you reach a certain scale, CO2 emissions may turn out to have less or more of an effect than currently anticipated (and fossil fuels become a more or even less acceptable alternative) etc. pp.

We can't just assume any of those possibilities away.

@146:

George:

Storing energy as some kind gas (methane, hydrogen) wastes on the order of 60-70% of the energy put into the process. (By comparison: batteries only waste about 10%.) Trying to provide any significant part of the energy through those means only makes the problem much worse. The hydrogen economy is an illusion. Period.

159:

David @ 156: I think that means they're sentence adverbs, or possibly particles, like the Japanese question particle ka. Either of which is a grammatical role, but a somewhat freefloating one.

160:

Isn't there a consistency of supply argument? That the 15% loss by tranmission is constant, being 15% over every time period as well as 15% on average, but the 15% loss by cloud cover is only an average of 15%, and could well be 100% 15% of the time.

161:

The world needs Nukes. Lots of nukes. No, more reactors than that - No, you are still not thinking of a big enough number.

World population will stabilize around 9 billion people and both realism and morality dictates that the scale of our energy supplies should be based on the assumption that every single one of those nine billion will be a citizen of a first world economy, with matching energy demands. At this level of global economic activity, all raw materials must be recycled, this is a simple nessesity, which further increases energy demands, so we are probably looking at a per capita energy use of 10kw, all of which must, again, by nessesity, be in the form of electricity, with any liquid fuels synthesized via electro chemestry and atmospheric gases.

This means 90.000 one gigawatt breeders, whether fast or thorium. Conventional reactors are not an option, coal and gas reserves are equally laughably inadequate to the task, and trying to scale renewables is just impossible.

162:

They aren't grammatical yet. But people on the Internet increasingly ask for missing evidentiality to be specified, or incorrect evidentiality to be repaired: "cite?" "[unsourced]" "who is this 'we' you're talking about, kemosabe?" etc.

(It's a little odd. I don't think people have suddenly become crazy nitpickers with the advent of the Internet. There's something about the medium which makes these markers more important. People react to their absence the way they do to incorrect grammar.)

I suppose the final stage to full grammaticalization would be taking the sentence without an evidential marker as implying a specific evidential marker. We're not there yet, and perhaps we never will be.

163:

Apologies if I've missed anything, but which first world economy? Do you mean the UK or USA? Or australia? It makes quite a big difference.

164:
But we seem to have a strong desire to witness it. It is, however, probably harmless in a blatantly unrealistic setting. So Mickey Mouse, the RoadRunner, etc. are reasonably safe venues for it. So are Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, etc. But as it gets progressively realistic it becomes increasingly dubious. Virtual Reality with full realism seems clearly a place where violence should not be tolerated.

Funny you should say that. Because surely the drive to observe violence is adaptive inasmuch the violence is realistic? Up on a tree, the monkeys observe rapt with attention how the predator downs one of their own. The information is crucial for survival. Mallets that cause little birds to fly in circles around a stylized bump are hardly so instructive...

165:

This means 90.000 one gigawatt breeders, whether fast or thorium.

Without taking issue with your figures (though I might) I'd just like to point out that new-build nuclear plant seems to cost on the order of $2-5Bn/Gw (I'm pegging the higher end of that figure from the unfortunate Finnish experience).

Even if we get costs down by 50-80% to $1Bn/Gw of plant, you're asking for $90Tn, or about two years' planetary GDP, in order to build that reactor fleet. Not to mention around 30 million staff to run them. And, on the basis of historical accident stats, ignoring Chernobyl and SNAP-1 or Windscale (wrong type of reactors) we're still looking at a Three Mile Island grade accident every month unless safety standards have dramatically improved since 1979. (They have improved, but have they improved enough?)

I don't believe a power generation monoculture is a good thing; I think we need a mix of wind, tide, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal and nuclear power to replace the current mix.

166:

Those numbers are long term and assume near total economic convergence, which means that the planetary economy that needs those 90000 gigawatts is rather large.
*pencils* 500 trillion/year or higher.
So the fleet is expensive, but it is not out of bounds on those grounds. Assuming all are built to the level of paranoia of the EPR - that is, a calculated core damage frequency of 6.1 x 10 to the power of -7 per operating year, one reactor turn is wrecked every 18 years or so, which is highly acceptable compared to the damage our current power sources are doing to us, and to the planet.

Re monoculture: I am really reasoning backwards from the way I expect and desire the future to look - Presently, the wast majority of the population of the planet are languishing in dire energy powerty - huts with no electricity, basically. This situation will not persist, rather, everyone will join the industrial economy - and a recycling heavy fully industrialized planet will in turn need those 90000 gigawatts. And the untapped reserves of hydro, geothermal ect are just not big enough for that. The global coal reserves are not big enough for that. The once-through reactor cycle would burn through all uranium reserves in a handful of years- in fact, at this rate of energy use, the number of energy technologies which can even theoretically be scaled up high enough is really very small, and the only remotely proven one is the breeder reactor.

167:

I am going to be a bit more, er ..frivolous ? ..than the deeply meaningful inquiries into power generation and Nukes ..though in passing I will morn the failure of ' Cold Fusion ' .. and pass on to Hair Loss.

Just consider all of the old movies and Documentary Programs that you've ever seen wherein the Crowd scenes are filled with people wearing HATS of various kinds - each according to his or her social status. How many were bare headed? And then bear in mind the close ups in those scenes with variants on the Cops Saying 'Get Your Hat you're going Down Town ! '

And Now ? Apart from the devotes of Be-Hatedness like,say, Terry Pratchett, you will be hard put to find many people who wear hats routinely ..Women at Weddings, yes but as a marker of your Station in Life ? No ..and this is a change that happened relatively quickly.

So, the modern to 100 hundred year equivalent ? Is it? ..I suggest ..

Male Pattern Baldness ? Thus ..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baldness


The causes of male pattern baldness are now pretty well known and there were treatments that delayed the condition - alas too lately discovered to be of use to my generation - even before the stem cell discoveries were made just lately, and so it is reasonable to suppose that 100 years down the line the Old Movies that are filled with people with bald heads will be as strange then as the Sheer Be- Hat -edness of yesteryear seems to us today Today.

Thus we have a 'simple ' medical discovery that will make a huge impact on the way that the future Looks....the elimination of Male Pattern Baldness.

Other less visually obvious changes ? Deafness perhaps ..all of those references to people being unable to hear? Cures for deafness look to be just around the scientific corner and that would mean the elimination of the Culture of Deafness ..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaf_culture

168:

Perhaps the whole "green" ethos?
100 years is enough time for quite a bit of change...
Suppose something like Drexler/Merkle diamondoid nanotech is
successful: Posterity might be living off locally collected
sunlight in houses which manufacture food atom by atom and
have essentially no connection to nature. The whole question
of whether human actions might wreck ecological services that
we depend upon may become academic and fade from view.

Also, reverence for nature is a culture-specific thing:
Endangered species are a recent concern, and of interest in
some countries and not others. If the center of human society
shifts from Europe/America/Japan to China and India,
those concerns specific to the former will fade as well.

169:

I'd think if you wanted to prevent violence, you'd want those shooter games as realistic as possible- if the violence-prone guy can get his kicks slaughtering fake people any time and way he wants, perchance he'll leave the real people alone. Easier that way.

170:

Advances in genetic engineering will probably mean that we'll be able to bring back many species, there's already work on mammoths and Richard Dawkins in one of his books mentioned that you could reconstruct ancient species from modern DNA using statistical methods to work backwards along the path of evolution, no need for mosquitoes in amber. So rather than lose dog breeds I think it's highly likely we'll get any we've lost back, with interest.

It might be natural for such a society to consider humans once more the stewards of nature, a concept that isn't very popular right now among the green set.

171:

To be honest I think we tend to view the past through a distorted prism. We focus on a few prominent cases like the nutcase linked and ascribe to them the mores of their society.

We like to think that the Victorians were uptight, sexually repressed babarians, when as Charlie pointed out in the Fuller Memorandum, they weren't. They just didn't express their sexuality as we do. Nor did they do it in the manner we think they did.

The fact that people like Baden-Powell argued against masturbation doesn't mean that the hoi polloi were against it. If anything it means that probably everyone was doing it, because he had to argue against it.

In the future people will probably point to this little jem http://www.amazon.com/Control-Christian-Marriages-Priesthood-Children/dp/1425992609 or Peter Green http://johannhari.com//2011/02/09/why-do-our-broadcasters-keep-giving-a-platform-to-a-murderous-homophobe and assume that they were representative of our attitudes.

172:

In 100 years, when we have figured out how to apply file sharing techniques to money, banks will be a thing of the past. Just not a shameful one.

173:

" So rather than lose dog breeds I think it's highly likely we'll get any we've lost back, with interest."

It occurs to me that it might be within the capability of available technology to bring Dire Wolves back to North America. Whats not to love about them ?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Dire_Wolf

174:

Re-vivified species?
Well, there are still tissue samples available for the:
Dodo,
Passenger Pigeon,
Thylacine (?),
and several others, are there not?

175:

.. for a whole bunch of the more interesting species, I am not sure how much good even technically flawless revivification would do - the behavior of modern wolves is in large part learned, and presumeably this would also have been true of the dire wolf, so a dire wolf pup midwifed into existance today by sufficiently advanced tech would not grow up into a proper dire wolf, because it would lack the social/nuturing context of a dire wolf pack, so at best it would turn into a dog (IE: canid integrated into human social structures) with esoteric ancestery, and at worst would just be completely non-functional.

176:

Having spent several years working in science publishing (in a range of roles, after moving out of doing actual science), I accept that what I was describing was more like the Platonic ideal than the actual condition of many journals (or indeed many copy-editors, alas). But given some of the problems I saw (in particular with journals that were cutting copy-editing and proofreading to increase profits"maintain competitiveness") and the amount of time and money that can be wasted by misleading or ambiguous papers (not to mention the lives at risk in medical cases), I'd like to see more effort to move towards the ideal and fewer people saying "we can't reach the ideal, let's not bother at all". (In case it's unclear, I'm not accusing you of saying that, I'm just trying to explain why it's a hot-button topic for me.)

(My experience as a scientist is that actually a lot of people do care about the quality of the journals/papers they read, even when the papers they publish are rubbish. And as an arguably sane member of society, I object to the waste caused by lack of proper checking - having one decent copy-editor work on the article for a few hours costs much less than having a dozen decent scientists spend weeks trying to reproduce results that never happened or arguing the impossibility of a hypothesis that no one ever intended to put forward rather than examining what the author really meant.)

177:

Re the difference between theory and reality, have you seen this comparison?

For the "Thank God we're past that" side, I'll offer the state of computers today - which will doubtless look as quaint as steam locomotives (or computers twenty years ago) do to us.

For the "Were they nuts?" category, the design of cities so as to require everyone to drive. They might have robotic cars, but we don't... And I see now that we got all the way to comment #4 before that was pointed out by someone else.

178:

Oooooh, sexually repressed elephants! (Sorry, sorry)

179:

Sorry for coming in late, but the snow has played hob with my lesson plans and we're apparently not getting any extra days to make up for the three we lost. Anyway:

@ 138:

Eyeglasses (except possibly as a frame for your augmented reality display)

I'm going to disagree with this one. As a younger man I did wear contacts on occasion. I quickly found out that playing for six hours in extremely smokey bars was not conducive to that sort of eye-wear. I've also heard that over the long term, corrective surgeries have been associated with cataracts. Since we have a history of eye problems on my mother's side of the family (at seventy-some odd years, my Dad still has 20-15 vision, damn him), this isn't something that seems particularly safe.

So unless you're explicitly positing some neat materials developments or some really good medical advances in those areas, no thanks; my eyes are delicate enough already that I'm not going to put them through any elective surgeries or implants that serve purely cosmetic purposes. Although I can see more people wearing glasses as some sort of data display device.

180:

@ 152:

To wrap this up, we environmentalists have gotten really frustrated with these big solar plants. They look and smell like boondoggles right now, but I'm still hoping they turn into viable power plants at some point.

However, if you're ignorantly spouting on about solar and deserts as waste land, please go stick your hand in a nearby door and slam the door, hard. That's what we environmentalists have felt like over the last two years. Feel our pain.

Well, there's solar and all the other alternative technologies. Here's a little something you can download from Scribd if you're a subscriber:

Second, if economic constraints and public objections are set aside, it would be possible for the average European energy consumption of 125 kWh/d per person to be provided from these country-sized renewable sources. The two hugest contributors would be photovoltaic panels, which, covering 5% or 10% of the country, would provide 50 kWh/d per person; and offshore wind farms, which, filling a sea-area twice the size of Wales, would provide another 50 kWh/d per person on average.

Such an immense panelling of the countryside and filling of British seas with wind machines (having a capacity five times greater than all the wind turbines in the world today) may be possible according to the laws of physics, but would the public accept and pay for such extreme arrangements? If we answer no, we are forced to conclude that current consumption will never be met by British renewables. We require either a radical reduction in consumption, or signficant additional sources of energy – or, of course, both.

I'd recommend downloading both the summary and the complete document; highly readable and very organized as to the basic BOTEC calculations.

The summary of the summary is that alternative "green" energy is a good idea . . . but it's simply not going to be enough to take up the slack at present-day first-world consumption rates. Nuclear as a significant component (at least half the mix) seems to be a necessity, no matter what various naive calculations would suggest.

These seem to be fairly good numbers, btw. None of this "divide total available area by consumption and leave it at that" nonsense. How many people are aware just how labor intensive, how much of the cost of alternative energy goes into paying people for basic labor, for example? Heck, we've done a few of those calculations here. Not too many, apparently.

181:

... it's a wolf, not a Phoenician brought forward in time. Naturalists raise orphaned animals all the time, using puppets and other tricks to socialize them as best they can. Raise a group of 'em, let them loose with adequate space/prey and they'll reinvent their unique ways, I'm certain.

Or they'll make neat guard dogs, certainly. That does seem like a more commercially attractive motivation. But you underestimate the co-evolution of dogs and humans that make them such good pets, I don't think a dog is just a "cultureless wolf".

File this one under "wishful thinking" probably, but I wonder if growing up with the internet will finally make nationalism obsolete. When everyone's on facebook and you deathmatch with people across the planet the globe gets quite village-like. I don't expect this one in 20 years, but in 100? Nationalism easily might look as quaint as most regional folklore already looks to us now.

182:

Chrisj @ 176: Ah, well, in point of fact I share your preferences, and not only because if they were followed I could get more work. I think it's deeply regrettable that publishers don't find clear writing important; I prefer the books I read to be professionally copy edited.

But I can see some of the political economy of science publishing working against this. You would have to change the scientific reward structure.

183:

Based on 30-plus years experience, I can say with confidence that physicians are more often depraved than nurses.

Richard Christopher RN

184:

I predict our attitudes towards privacy will seem quaint. I just can't decide if FuturePeople(tm) will see us as futilely obsessed with a nonworry, zooming happily around with their coordinates, every word and every shift in skin resistance constantly broadcast to all the uninterested world; or whether they'll see us as criminally naïve in giving up our most fundamental privacies to the faceless corporations and governmental agencies which by then have them trapped under a merciless magnifying lens...

I already mentioned that I think Pontus' first possibility is very likely to come true. To elaborate why I think the second one is unlikely -- you cannot miss what you never had. If some supervillain made all chocolate in the world disappear, you and I would be justifiably mad at him, but our grandchildren, who would have never seen or tasted chocolate, would find the entire notion completely abstract. They might accept it was a bad thing to do, but would have no emotions about it. And might rationalize it as a good thing.

Likewise, everyone I know under 25 already gives privacy absolutely no thought. They lived in a panopticum society all their life -- it is ALREADY normal to them. Tell them about "faceless corporations and governmental agencies", and you get a "yeah, whatever". The most they get upset over is NOT being able to watch these government agents -- and actually some of them are very upset about it. IOW, it's not lack of privacy which bothers them -- it's the fact that some people (unfairly) still have privacy.

Now project this another 20-40 years. Can you imagine anyone getting mad at present generation for giving up... what did you call that thing again? I cannot.

But I can imagine a revolution under slogan "Total transparency for all!"

185:

Re: Here's a little something you can download from Scribd if you're a subscriber
You could also get it straight from the author's site. The whole book (also downloadable there) is highly recommended. This book, or something like it, really ought to be required reading for anybody to have a valid opinion regarding sustainable energy.

That's my wishful thinking about "current cultural practices that are going to look this bizarre and/or quaint in a century's time": the idea of having a discussion where verifiable facts aren't verified, in real time, by each of the participants in the discussion, from sources they trust. I would hope that the grammatical evidentiality thing is part of a larger trend towards clearly separating facts from opinions, so that facts can be checked.

186:

"What current cultural ... practices ... are going to look this bizarre and/or quaint in a century's time?"

The concept of equality.
Feminism.
Global warming.

187:

I was asking after the likely shibboleths of the 22nd century, not the 19th.

Also, global climate change isn't a cultural practice (except insofar as it may be a product of our cultural practices), and equality, as you note, is a concept, not a cultural practice. And while feminism is a political ideology, it's been around for roughly two centuries already so I don't see it going away soon.

Given the nature of your grab-bag, I diagnose a case of paleoconservative wishful thinking.

188:

#Various ref "solar power = photovoltaic cells" [HEAD DESK]. In temperate latitudes, it's far more efficient to use solar power to augment or replace boilers in domestic hot water and central heating systems.

189:

Roughly 1 in 14 of the World population have a Facebook (or equivalent) account. Even if we posit that only 1 in 3 of the World pop have sufficient web access to make FB worthwhile, that still only gives us a penetration of 3/14 of the possible users.

190:

#153 - I desperately hope this is correct, and thank the medical staff who respected my father's "no heroic measures" directive, even though it meant that the last time I saw him was several months before his death.

191:

Herds of mammoths migrating though Bath, anyone? ;-)

192:

Judging by the user name, I think he (?) was trolling you with what he imagines Middle Eastern attitudes to be.

193:

Solar thermal is less efficient than solar cells in generating electricity per square metre of working surface. It is usually cheaper to implement in terms of capital budgetting and it may have slightly more year-on-year operating costs.

Boiling a working fluid (water is not the optimal fluid for solar thermal systems), passing it through a turbine and condensing it for the next cycle eats into efficiencies especially since the hot pipe temperatures vary through the day and so the "steam" loop can't be optimised for a single pressure/temperature point. OTOH solar cells generate electricity in a single ionic iteration which keeps the efficiency levels.

Solar thermal systems have a longer lifespan than solar cell arrays which need to be replaced every twenty years or so as they degrade due to the effects of bright sunlight and day/night temperature swings. This means the long-term operating costs for solar thermal are reduced as a fifty-year lifespan for installed collector arrays is possible (modulo ongoing maintenance).

194:

We will need the re-vivified Dire Wolves tm to control the Mammoth tm population .. Mammoth hunts along the migration routes are bound to be popular with the citizens of Bath ;-)

195:

His imagination is deficient, then ...

196:

Interesting post (and comment thread, naturally), and one that resulted in a lot of heated discussion among the other people I showed it to. In an attempt to generate dialogue rather than add another probably ignored item to an ever-growing laundry list, here are my thoughts on a bunch of the things posted so far...


-the simultaneous sexualisation/sacralisation of children in modern anglophone culture
Agreed. This looks to me like the result of a bunch of very twisted and conflicting attitudes towards love and virtue from different groups. Of course with our luck as a species we'll probably just have a different mess a hundred years down the road.

-"Healthy" foods?
Probably. At least if nutritional science marches sufficiently far on and we solve a bunch of the debates rather than having what practically amounts to fashions in food.

-the majority of people had to sit in traffic twice a day to get to their jobs
Depends, I could see personal interaction being fetishized in the future, at which point this will seem like an extreme level of dedication.

-we all had to control our cars manually
Technological, not cultural practice. Although we might get stared at for not developing appropriate AI faster.

-That anyone eats any protein out of the wild considering current contamination levels.
Nahh. I think this will be attributed to being a more primitive society where vat-grown meat still wasn't prevalent, or the like. A century from now, the present day will seem much closer to Lunch atop a Skyscraper (1932) which I get the impression is generally considered historic rather than a bizarre cultural practice.

-Our crude efforts at medicating the mentally ill
Very much agreed. The big question is what direction this swings in - I'm not optimistic enough to believe that we can manage to create a definition of "mentally ill" that isn't culturally specific in just a century. Not least because we don't seem to be getting rid of politicians any time soon.

-Ditto heroic medical science to keep people alive for a few more weeks
I doubt this. That would require reversing a very long trend from putting the weak out to die and towards protecting pretty much everyone at a ridiculous cost. Also, you'd have to fight against sentimentalists who can appeal to emotion.

-The amount of money thrown at that potlatch known as big-time sports.
Only because the money will be thrown elsewhere and our space future children will wonder whyever we cared about Formula 1 more than about the 48-Hour Cognition Competition which was clearly doable in our time.

-the almost entirely unregulated capitalism that's currently in vogue [one would hope]
To paraphrase our host, I diagnose a case of neohippie wishful thinking, which you might refer to as "hope".
(Or I could say "in vogue where, Somalia?" seeing as that's where the glibertarians usually get told to go when they complain that capitalism is, in fact, regulated.)

-Ditto our current dependence on petrochemicals.
They're convenient. I agree that we most likely will be off that dependence a hundred years from now (and if we're not, something has probably gone horribly wrong) but as a cultural practice, people being lazy and doing convenient things with negative externalities isn't something I can ever see being either quaint or bizarre. Yes, I'm cynical on this point, what of it?

-Creationism
Bit of a cheap shot. Don't most of us regard it that way already? Ditto for "Anything The Daily Mail Says". If you mean to think that they won't be merely bizarre, but also completely dead, well, I'm still unsure whether the Flat Earth Society is a straight parody or contains some actual believers...

-Climate Change Denialism
Yes. And the politicization of the whole issue. The media is spews a practically endless stream at me of VERY SMART SCIENTISTS SAID against BUT LOOK AT ALL THE SNOW against WELL ACTUALLY YOUR SNOW PROVES WARMING against ENVIRONMENTALISM IS MISANTHROPIC AND GENOCIDAL AND HAIRSHIRTED against YOU SKEPTICS ARE KILLING THE PLANET etc etc etc. I remain optimistic that as more research gets done, energy efficiency measures become widely available, etc. the whole debacle is going to look like a low-grade civil war in retrospect, with our descendants wondering why we didn't just implement various things on their merits.

-Our whole culture seems increasingly built around addiction as a model [...] I suspect that, a few centuries from now, this will look as exotic as the Medieval Catholic Church.
I can't really speak to the truth of this, but it's an interesting idea.

-Trying to make cannabis and coca growing illegal will one day seem quaint.
While you probably have a valid point, this seems like a fairly stock idea growing out of widespread opposition to the War on Drugs, which should probably end and quickly look bizarre in retrospect in closer to ten than a hundred years.

-Low Fat High Carb Diets as a method of control weight
Various authorities have given bad dietary advice for ages. I don't think this will stand out.

-Lack of Unstructured Physical Play in Education
Possibly. Sounds like a good prediction.

-Lack of Critical Thinking in Education
I don't see this changing much. Nor do I see it having changed much. Again, our current practices probably won't stand out a century from now.

-The insane laws surrounding statutory rape in the US
Agreed, but a cheap shot. See entries on Creationism, the Daily Mail.

-How about the concepts of self and other?
Maybe if you think we're all going to be uploaded into a single post-Singularity megacomputer or the like. Otherwise, losing this concept is probably going to earn you a righteous smackdown from Darwin.

-Meat consumption. Air travel that isn't absolutely necessary, at least. Car travel that isn't absolutely necessary.
People like having (and doing) stuff, and you sound as though you want to stop them having stuff. This is a very poor way of communicating your message, which also sounds like status/ingroup signaling rather than a prediction. Suggest you go back and read http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/05/unpleasant-medicine.html

-Societal: privacy, the idea of a "private life" that is independent of someones "public life".
Doubtful. People want some things to be private and will invent and distribute technology to keep it that way. Along with the rise of computers and the internet came cryptography and TOR, for instance.

-Maybe, hopefully: border controls in the EU.
Sounds about right. Once a generation grows up with the Schengen Agreement II, the onerous border controls in Nice Countries will probably look bizarre and quaint.

-How about "being at war with certain personality types and approaches to life"? Trying to eliminate selfishness, rather than find a new understanding seems like a failure mode to me.
This looks meta. But I'll go further and say that not only will there be selfishness as long as there are humans, but there will also be attempts to eliminate selfishness and otherwise bring about Heaven on Earth as long as there are humans. (And most of them will end badly.)

-the idea that it could actually be difficult to speak with someone.
We have the Amish. Even in a very optimistic hypothetical case of technology sweeping the globe and connecting everyone everywhere so that there are no more cellphone-free areas, there will probably be Amish-likes who are difficult to speak to.

-everyone wil be appalled that doctors would consider their jobs done when they'd dealt with anomalies in a single organ or system, rather than treating the patient as an organism.
"Mens sana in corpore sana", anyone? While I agree that doctors focusing on only a single organ is often a mistake (have to allow some license for specialists), I think this is another problem where our period of time isn't particularly unique, as various forms of holism have popped up before.

-The enforced 40 hour work week.
Depends on how strongly society shifts towards pay-by-result instead of pay-by-time, I'd say.

-Watching nature documentaries.
Now I'm curious. Why?

-Schools
Already seen as barbaric by some people such as homeschoolers; homeschoolers seen as evil brainwashing creationist anti-intellectuals who don't socialize their children (and they probably have bad hygiene, too!) by mainstream.

-Our complete blindness to identity as property.
The term "identity theft" was coined in 1964 according to Wikipedia. If we're still completely blind to it after that long, I don't think the future is going to see it much better.

-Tattoos will be gone as a wide-spread fad. Why? They'll be associated with aging parents, and if you're college-aged and looking to be alternative, that's the kiss of death.
Tee hee. Well, won't a second wave of tattoos possibly roll around a century from now?

-Drug Companies
Do you mean the IP laws surrounding drugs? I hardly think it'll be quaint or bizarre that a group of people might get together and specialize in producing something (i.e. chemicals) which they will trade to people who have specialized in other things for the mutual benefit of both parties.

-Privatization of public services
I'm going to interpret this charitably to mean privatization of whatever specific services the future considers to be strictly a public responsibility, because otherwise it sounds as though you're saying that all services should be public. The latter is absurd, but the former sounds tautologuous.

-I wonder if the extreme zero size role models ( pun intended) will be seen as perverse as corsets that deformed women's bodies.
But of course; fashion practically always looks strange a century later.

-Do you think we might have kicked the nudity taboo into touch?
No, for the same reason it appeared in the first place.

-Religious belief treated like any other mental illness instead of a special case?
As our host said, feminism has been around for roughly two centuries and probably isn't going away soon. Religion has been around for much longer and had its imminent death asserted repeatedly (particularly around 1860) and seems likely to be even more resilient. (Due to, ironically, natural selection for resilient beliefs.)

"Anyway, if the present is any guide, the future will congratulate itself on having eradicated multiple foibles of the past while still having them conveniently hidden under the rug."
Seconded.

-Also the idea (and feeling) of being lost, of not knowing where you are or how to get somewhere familiar.
Too broad, seems too closely related to plain ignorance, which will never go away.

-Another one that's already feeling strange: the idea that things are not recorded as a matter of course.
I can see this happening, certainly.

-Sex with another human
Did you wander in from In Mala Fide or one of its techno-optimistic associates hoping to replace human interaction with sexbots? I very much doubt this. Maybe in a millennium. Not in a century.

-zero tolerance policies
Agreed, but another cheap shot, along with Creationism.

-The Common Cold
I'm pessimistic on this. But I'm rather biased by a humorous history book which has the Vikings saying "We can send people to America, but we still can't eradicate the common cold" a while before it has the Americans say "We can send people to the Moon, but we still can't eradicate the common cold".

197:

"Given the nature of your grab-bag, I diagnose a case of paleoconservative wishful thinking."

As opposed to neoliberal wishful thinking? (Notably #17 and #76.) Your points are well-taken; let me clarify.

I'll argue that the practice of declaring that all people are equal and should have equal shares in everything and making legislation to that effect (quotas on employment, etc) is likely to go because it's unproductive and unrealistic.

By 'global warming' I meant the thing with making a giant scare of it. Humanity is having a very small effect (I saw 2% somewhere) on the temperature of the planet's surface. If it starts to be a problem, we will deal with it. No need to cripple the industry and pour billions into something that hasn't really begun to be a problem.

I'll agree that feminism isn't /likely/ to go. It'd be a good thing, though, and the necessary cultural changes are already beginning to form, if you judge from the blogosphere.

Sorry about any mistakes. English is not my first language.

198:

As Marcel Hulspas writes in his review (Dutch) of Philip Jenkins' "God's Continent":

"The big question is: how will the European secular society evolve under religious pressure? Jenkins ignores the question. Like so many Christian thinkers he considers the secular society as one that is missing something, as one that has forgotten its relgigious roots, and that is therefore inherently weak and out of control."

For the record, he introduces Jenkins as one of the saner islamophobes, as one who realizes that Islam may yet experience its own enlightenment. Hulspas also points out---though I am not sure what he bases his argument on---that the islamophobe narrative is merely there to reinforce the idea among American 'paleoconservatives' that atheism, the thing that lets Eurabia happen, is evil. In the world view of Americans, the enlightenment is part of the Judeo Christian tradition, rather than a violent, atheist response to it.

199:

Reading comprehension FAIL!!! I was talking about using solar heating to supply the base load heat for domestic heating and hot water systems, thus reducing toe need to generate electricity in the first place.

200:

@ 185:

That's my wishful thinking about "current cultural practices that are going to look this bizarre and/or quaint in a century's time": the idea of having a discussion where verifiable facts aren't verified, in real time, by each of the participants in the discussion, from sources they trust. I would hope that the grammatical evidentiality thing is part of a larger trend towards clearly separating facts from opinions, so that facts can be checked.

Either that or you'll see some sort of balkanization of "facts" the more reified they become: you'll see vast archipelagos of "facts" concerning crackpot economics and political systems, for example.

But yeah, the notion that not only are the facts at everybody's fingertips, they actually bother to look them up is certainly a nice (and possible) outcome to ponder.

I don't know what you mean by "grammatical evidentiality", but another possibility is the narrative mode being gradually displaced by the scientific mode of thinking. That's not a bit of sententiousness on my part; looking back at the Gulf War II (1.5? 2.3?), I am quite pleased to say that I was skeptical of the claims of the then-current administration as to Saddam's nuclear capabilities. Why was I so dismissive, certain people would ask, after all, this intelligence is on Good Authority, the French, the Israelis, etc all agree. Was I some sort of idiotically-contrary Hippy? Some sort of hopelessly partisan "leftist" who if a Republican said the sky was blue would venture a different opinion?

Of course not.

I simply didn't see any physical evidence, and what little there was that was offered up was laughably insufficient, if not outright faked. Given the incentives, the producing of said physical evidence should have been dead easy. And as convincing as Kennedy's spy photos of the Russkies moving nukes in to Cuba.

This skepticism was born of a certain mindset. I never said to my friends and colleagues that Saddam didn't have nukes, or that he wasn't busily beavering away at refining the raw ore and processing it. In fact, I never made a positive claim at all. I was simply, properly skeptical.

Pardon the overlong discourse, but what it came down to was that I had a scientific, skeptical approach to the problem, my friends and colleagues had narrative. Which, while hugely entertaining and is intuitively easy to use, isn't well suited to answering questions of this sort. Hopefully, as I say, in the future, people looking back at the narratives of this era will look at the whole procedure as something like trial by ordeal.

201:

AD @ 197
Do I detect religious prejudice in your writings?
I hope not.

All people are NOT equal, BUT They are all equal before the law, and they should all be given equal opportunities.
If English is not your first language, you may not have grasped the niceties of that - which I have restated, hopefully in a clearer fashion.

"Global Warming" is not a giant scare, and you plainly do not appeciate just how disastrous a rise of the average temperature of this planet by 5 degrees could be, especially if you think aobout sea-level rise and inundations.

Why would getting rid of feminism be a good thing?
Sorry but "Women are inferior to men & subject to their orders" SA 4.34
Is lying codswallop.

202:

"space future children" better be a reference to manly guys doing manly things

Tattoos, while not my bag, are probably not going to go away. Especially if they start getting sophisticated capabilities such as animation. There's already a prototype interface using your skin

As for heroic medical efforts to prolong life, I've always thought that the unpleasant last stages of my life may be worth prolonging, with attendant suffering, as long as there's some universally beneficial progress made. Think of it as being on the front lines of life extension. Couldn't prolonging a terminal patient's life 6 months mean potential gains for other less terminal sufferers?

I think current humanism's focus on avoiding suffering at any costs might not be the ideal philosophical stance, it seems to lead to antinatalism as it's logical conclusion.

Possibly hanging onto life at all costs ban be seen as a form of sacrificial altruism? (Obviously I'm not against euthanasia, I'm talking self sacrifice which implies a personal decision)

203:

-Sex with another human
Did you wander in from In Mala Fide or one of its techno-optimistic associates hoping to replace human interaction with sexbots? I very much doubt this. Maybe in a millennium. Not in a century.

Ahem: I suspect that if/when sexbots get past the uncanny valley stage of interaction, they may well make in-roads into the commercial sex industry, replacing human prostitutes in some niches. (At the high call-girl end, paid companions would appear to demand human-equivalent AI; at the low end, desperation drives prices down. But there's probably a market among male misogynists for a zipless fuck with no pillow talk, and sexbots have a value proposition in that market precisely because they're not human.)

204:

This was funny:

But yeah, the notion that not only are the facts at everybody's fingertips, they actually bother to look them up is certainly a nice (and possible) outcome to ponder.

I don't know what you mean by "grammatical evidentiality",Oh, Dwight. Don't ever change. By that I mean of course, please do change, thoroughly and completely. Behold the power of the Great Wiki-Google: evidentiality.

205:

What do you mean by equality? Equality of opportunity, or equality of outcome? The latter we can't legislate for; the former is vital, and it'd be a massive regression to throw it away. (Oh, also: equality in law. Ditto.)

I disagree with you on the significance of climate change -- the problem is, our biosphere is so large that it has an enormous capacity to soak up change, but once we overflow the buffer we're going to be in a world of hurt.

And as for feminism, I'm strongly in favour of it.

206:

"If the habit is persisted in... He is no longer forceful or energetic"

In the future, after a re-examination of "The Eugenic Marriage" society realizes they were missing out on a fantastic source of clean, free energy. Lust is subsequently outlawed. Humanity flourishes for one generation and then, inexplicably, vanishes from the face of the Earth. XD

207:

Things that will look quaint in a century... Economics as an academic discipline? It strongly looks like the wast majority of everything written in the profession since, eh, keynes, is just wrong. That is rather damming, and likely to give it a rep not dissimilar to the one enjoyed by phrenology today.

208:

Disagree. Phrenology may be discredited but taxonomy is highly respectable; similarly, specific schools of economic thought (I'm thinking the Chicago school and the monetarists) may be thoroughly discredited, but economics itself will continue.

209:

Well, perhaps Economics as a Scientific - Maths based - academic discipline rather than a Philosophical ..Soft Sciences ? .. discipline may lose a good deal of its Scientific credibility in times to come?

But where does Science, End and Philosophy begin ..or vice versa?

210:

That's likely to depend on which schools of economic win out the current struggles. There is some very good evidence-based economic theory out there, it's just that there are also plenty of people in the field who are doing the equivalent of insisting that the reason a publisher didn't do well on their latest loss-making celebrity "autobiography" is because they didn't print enough copies.

Many current Western politicians are listening exclusively to the latter type. Coincidentally, they're the ones who are popular with (the majority of) bankers and billionaires, because they're also the ones who believe in idiocies like "trickle-down" and regressive taxation.

211:

The term "Economics" is just over a hundred years old. It used to be called Political Economy and is an outgrowth of Moral Philosophy, no less. (Adam Smith's first famous book was the "Theory of Moral Sentiments", after all.)

Given the fact that no other discipline quotes so few papers from other disciplines in their research, there is a certain (very small) chance that the field might simply fall out of favour and what content it has finding a new home in interdisciplinary research of Sociology, Social Engineering, Psychology, Mathematics and Politics wherever it is appropriate.

212:
I suspect that if/when sexbots get past the uncanny valley stage of interaction, they may well make in-roads into the commercial sex industry, replacing human prostitutes in some niches.

No need for sexbots, I believe there's already at least one realdoll brothel in Japan.

Or... there was... a cursory google search just gave me a parked webpage. I guess they were just ahead of their time.

213:

@201:
I am not religious. I do not believe in God.

I agree that people are equal before law. This does not make them identical and interchangable.

The rise of global temperatures by 5 degrees would make the Earth a very different place. At the moment, and for a century or two yet, the human impact on the issue is negligible to minimal. If it will happen, it will happen. Panicking and crippling the industry with 'green' regulations will not make an impact.
In addition, the worst projections for global warming put the temperature change at 2 degrees over a century. Five degrees is not plausible.

You seem to be using the theoretical version of feminism (that men and women should be equal before law). This is vaguely acceptable, but I must stress that men and women are different, genetically, phenotypically and psychologically. Unfortunately, the mainstream is against doing actual research on the nature of human sexual dimorphism (see the case of Larry Summers).
The feminism I'm against is the vocal one that states that women are magically superior to men in all regards. This is just propaganda. Among the things I blame this virulent brand of feminism are the decline of morality (as evidenced by cases like the the Duke Fuck List, and the Hofstra False Rape), the rise of illegitimacy and the recent decline of marriage.

@205:
Equality before law is the only equality that's reasonably possible. Equality of opportunity does not exist. People are varied and not everyone is qualified to do everything, because of their skills, their physical condition, or their talents. Equality of outcome, unfortunately for all involved, is in the process of being legislated in the European Union, requiring quotas of certain groups of people employed in organizations.

As I said above, climate change isn't a problem at the moment, and will not be a problem for quite some time. By that time, I expect the state of science to be capable of dealing with it. If it is not, then we have failed as a species. I am reminded of the plans to damn off the Mediterranean Sea sometime around WWII, and wonder why similar projects haven't been enacted by now, with our superior technology? The primary trait of humanity is that we can change our environment, and we should do that, lest it changes us for the worse.

See my response to #201 on the subject of feminism.

214:

Ummm, we're already seeing the ill effects of climate change right now, with the case of the mountain pine beetle increasing its range due to a warmer environment.
Then there is oceanic acidification, which will increase pressure on coral reefs (Which are already suffering due to bleaching brought about by increased temperatures from climate change) and food webs, such that major evnironmental services will be affected, to the cost of many billions of pounds.
Then there's sea level rise, which is already being planned into and presumably increasing the cost of coastal defences, since it'll probably reach half a metre this century.
So when it comes to impacts and dangers this century you are talking out your arse.
I havn't even started on the effects of more extreme weather events upon food production.
Then there is the small problem that there's no evidence that re-engineering everything to deal with CO2 production and so on will damage the economy. Really actually none. There are plenty of paranoid weirdo's who claim it, but the rational studies put it at a difference of a few percent lower global GDP by the end of the century which is less than the sort of losses cost by business as usual corporate crony financial capitalism.

Your view on feminism and its effects is similarly wanting.

215:

Economics has a lot of aspects; that some edged into philosophy in ways that make more sense as "political economy" than economics doesn't make actual statistical study, analysis, prediction, things like connecting up individual psychology and choice into statistical behaviors etc. invalid.

216:

tp1024 writes:
George:
There is an inherent value of simple, undisturbed countryside that is more than the price required to pay for it. Even if it's just desert and especially when you're planning to destroy it by the millions of square kilometers. Germany is a huge country and I've only seen a small part of it, despite living here for more than a quarter century. It's area? 380.000 square kilometer

First - a square kilometer is a million square meters, or 1,350,000,000 watts worth of insolation (1.35 billion). 10% efficient amorphous solar cells will get 135 megawatts of power per square kilometer.

"millions of square kilometers" is hundreds of terrawatts. The total US power grid right now is about 1 TW; extending that electrical usage to the whole world is 20x that. You're talking about at least an order of magnitude more land than is required globally.

I am not trying to pick on you, but your response is innumerate, and that's not helpful.

Second - Inherent value of nature is hard to calculate. In the US, as a rule, we have some land restrictions, but if it's private land it's allowed to be used within a wide variety of uses. If it's not to be allowed to be used, it's bought by the government (or was not sold originally) and is designated a park. If the land use zoning allows solar power, and it's not a park, then we can put solar arrays on it.

The question of whether we SHOULD is valid, but if I can put solar cells on it, I could probably mine on it, ranch on it, pave it and put in parking, paint it pink and call it an art project. Solar is productive and can, with a little effort, allow an underlying ecology to remain (only using a fractional coverage of the land area, so that there's still sunlight for plants and habitat space for animals). Land prices are cheap enough to allow that in US installations, and most other desert locations, without significant economic impact.

Some people argue that that's evil anyways, but taken to extremes the land used by cities is evil as well. We have asserted in modern society that mankind gets some senior rights to the use of the planet; ecological considerations, natural landscapes, etc. are a modern retort to that, but we as a rule do not "rule out" societal industrial use of land.

If you want to roll back those non-natural-preserve uses in general, that's fine, but we need far less land for solar power in the US than we use now for farming. The notional 1 TW we need for the US is about 10,000 square km, a 100x100 km area covered 100%, using 10% efficient solar cells. I commend to you a land use review of the US - we have about 1.8 million square km used for agriculture now, and 8 million square km not used for anything. We can do solar without overwhelming nature in any statistical sense. Yes, some areas will get carpeted, and that's a loss to nature. But we already do that.

217:

Your response is unhelpful, innumerate, myopic ... and certainly a bunch of other adjectives apply as well.

Real world solar farms have power densities of about 5W per square meter. 1TW thus needs 200 billion square meters or 200,000 square kilometers. But that's with efficiencies of about 20%. So your figure is off by a factor of 40.

I certainly won't break the figures down, as you didn't do me the favour of keeping your reply in anything that I would consider a respectful language. Look at a real world solar farm and real world sunshine and you may understand.

Also: You live in an underpopulated backwater of this planet. Sorry to break the news on you. There are places on this planet with an actual population.

Perhaps I should not have expected you understand the value of nature in the first place. But then again, you managed to get rid of yours for the most part quite effectively in a mere century or two.

218:

@216:

First - a square kilometer is a million square meters, or 1,350,000,000 watts worth of insolation (1.35 billion). 10% efficient amorphous solar cells will get 135 megawatts of power per square kilometer.

"millions of square kilometers" is hundreds of terrawatts. The total US power grid right now is about 1 TW; extending that electrical usage to the whole world is 20x that. You're talking about at least an order of magnitude more land than is required globally.

I am not trying to pick on you, but your response is innumerate, and that's not helpful.

What the!?!?!? This is severe innumeracy! No, the insolation is not 1350 W/m^2. Not even close. Your figure is for something in orbit around the Earth; even on a bright clear day in tropical latitudes, it's more like 1 kW/m^2 . . . for peak periods during the day. But the Sun is not hanging overhead most of the day (indeed, it's not even visible for large amounts of time), and that peak figure is derived by assuming that the Sun's rays are striking a perpendicular surface. Not the same thing as ground area the further away you move from the equator.

So for, say, Wichita, KS, average insolation is something like 170 W/m^2. For some place like London or Munich, it's more like 110-120 W/m^2. Iow, you're off from the get-go by a factor of ten.

Innumeracy indeed. Don't pick on people before you check your sources yourself.

There's much more of the same - switching over to solar voltaic means you need not just the cells, but an energy storage mechanism (efficient in more than one sense of the word), a large amount of infrastructure has to be built just to shuttle the juice around and even so will suffer losses of about 15% just for distance considerations, etc.

219:

Archyopteryx @ 209
Science borders philosophy at PHYSICS.
Always has - that is why Physics is so fascinating - and difficult - never mind the maths .....

Abu Dhabi @ 213
Re. Global Warming: "At the moment, and for a century or two yet, the human impact on the issue is negligible to minimal."
WRONG
Seriously wrong.

You are also seriously confused about "equality of opportunity" - we actually had something very close to it - they were called GRammar Schools - nayone AT ALL could go on to University, no matter how poor they were, provided they were intelligent enough.
I doubt now, if anyone could do what my father did. His father died when he was 13, with a younger brother ... he got a grant to London University, and retired as a Fellow of the Institute of Chemistry.
You would not be allowed to be so "elitist" now, and the student "laons" would represent a totally crippling debt.
Ditto "feminism"
I would be interested in your social/cultural background, given your serious confusion about these matters.

220:

Further to this:-

Ref #209 - So much so that the University of Glasgow's "physics department" was originally the "Department of Natural Philosophy", and your first degree from it would have been a BSc in Nat Phil.

Ref #213 on "equality of oportunity" - So did my maternal Grandfather, in broad. Details of life and institutions vary, but he did rise from "labourer" to "Fellow of $professional_body".

221:

I mostly agree, but I think you missed another hole in GWH's argument: insolation is not constant over a 24 hour period. The 110-120 W/m^2 around London or Munich only applies during daylight hours -- London is only a couple of hundred kilometers south of Moscow, and has about 8 hours of daylight in winter, so averaged over 24 hours we're looking at 30-40 W/m^2. (Up here in Scotland it's even worse: in midwinter it's 6 hours of daylight and sometimes you're going to have to get up there and scrape snow off the panels).

An equatorial site might be able to harvest as much as 100W/m^2 averaged over 24 hours, but with PV cells topping out at 60-70% efficiency (even if you throw in the just-on-the-horizon near-infrared breakthrough the comics are talking about just now) GWH's estimate is out by a factor of 20 on the optimistic side.

222:

You also missed the holes in solar collectors.

In a PV solar farm you waste some 10-15% of space in gaps between the panels. You waste another 5-10% of space in access roads. There are another 10-15% or so occupied by the frames and conductors of the panels. You'll lose another 10% due to ageing. (Assuming linear decay and end of life at 80% original capacity) 8% of the light are lost due to refection on the glass surfaces. (Antireflective coating and weather just don't mix.)

You'll lose a few more percent in the DC-AC converter. You'll also lose a few percent of the light due to the fact that half the year, the sun is rising somewhere north of east. So, you'll have insolation, but as your solar cell is facing south, you won't get any power.

I also didn't account for accumulation of dust and dirt in-between the cleaning yet.

Efficiency of solar collectors dies a death of a thousand cuts.

223:

Yes, George chose some overoptimistic insolation figures, but he's not generally wrong. The question, as he correctly noted in post 147, is whether we can get fossil fuel usage close to zero and get along sustainably. I think we can do so.

Solar panels in the desert aren't the only renewable resource available; they're not even a particularly good one, but they do make a handy gedankenexperiment. I'm going to repeat George's calculations and see if I come up with something close:

Nevada in the United States has a whole lot of flat, empty, hot, sunny land. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's insolation statistics say that a two-axis tracking solar panel located there gets ~9 kWh/m^2/day over the course of a year, which rounds to about 4 TWh/km^2/year. Figure 25% conversion efficiency (which is within technological reach), and that's 1 TWh/km^2/year. Wikipedia says total electricity consumption in the world averaged 2 TW in 2005; that's about 50 TWh per day, or ~18000 TWh/year, so that's how many square kilometers we'd need if we had perfect distribution and storage. 18000 square kilometers is around 7000 square miles... which is about half the size of Nellis Air Force Base. Or, expressed another way, five Phoenices plus a dozen Las Vegi.

It is of course impossible to base our energy infrastructure on a single huge installation in Nevada, but we wouldn't do that. The point is that the total amount of space we need to devote to renewable energy production is an amount we cheerfully devote to other purposes such as pavement.

I could do similar calculations here with the wind power available in South Dakota. I could also point out that the developed world uses a lot more electricity than it needs to to get things done. Reducing fossil fuel consumption can be done.

(The thing about this conversation that's amusing me is I had the same argument in another forum ten or twelve years ago and I think George was on the other side of it at the time... ;) )

224:

I'm going to start with a meta-comment - this is not my blog, nor an appropriate format nor venue for either a serious engineering or scientific proposal on solar power systems. Please keep in mind that I am fully prepared to do that, and that simplifying as I'm commenting on someone else's blog necessarily introduces some fuzz into answers that can be answered more precisely in depth in better forums.

Scentofviolets:
What the!?!?!? This is severe innumeracy! No, the insolation is not 1350 W/m^2. Not even close. Your figure is for something in orbit around the Earth; even on a bright clear day in tropical latitudes, it's more like 1 kW/m^2 . . . for peak periods during the day. But the Sun is not hanging overhead most of the day (indeed, it's not even visible for large amounts of time), and that peak figure is derived by assuming that the Sun's rays are striking a perpendicular surface. Not the same thing as ground area the further away you move from the equator.

So for, say, Wichita, KS, average insolation is something like 170 W/m^2. For some place like London or Munich, it's more like 110-120 W/m^2. Iow, you're off from the get-go by a factor of ten.

Innumeracy indeed. Don't pick on people before you check your sources yourself.

There's much more of the same - switching over to solar voltaic means you need not just the cells, but an energy storage mechanism (efficient in more than one sense of the word), a large amount of infrastructure has to be built just to shuttle the juice around and even so will suffer losses of about 15% just for distance considerations, etc.

Surface insolation is reduced by a number of factors, mostly related to atmospheric phenomena, yes. Simplifying to the extent that I used 1,350 without disclaimer was perhaps oversimplifying.

Your distance from the equator changes the amount of atmosphere the sun typically goes through to get to you. If you have a brain, it doesn't directly affect the average inclination of the sun to the normal angle of the array - you tilt the array so that it's aimed at the average sun height over the year. The procession of the seasons and axial tilt does change that angle over the year, producing a significant but acceptable loss.

Atmospheric phenomena vary wildly with specific location and time. As mentioned, Munich is terrible compared to the Sahara. I believe I've already mentioned desert land in the US and Europe getting power from Africa - moving the solar panels to places where the sun is up high (reducing ray travel through atmosphere) and relatively cloud-free (reducing obcuration) and then shipping the power back is a clear engineering win once you weigh the cost factors. Again, I sort of skipped over the "why" in specifying using Africa and deserts in the southwest US - but that's why.

For carefully selected sites, actual average noontime insolation can easily exceed 1,000 watts.

The 1/sin (sun angle) effect is real. However, this is also unimportant, because of load / demand curve over time behavior during the day...

Quick tutorial on daily power usage cycles...

Power use (at least in the US, and in other countries for whose data I've been able to find) can be broken down into two components. The first is a fixed constant "base load" of about 1/3 of peak load. This load is going 24x7x365 - all day, all night, all year. It goes up and down a bit, but can be simplified as a constant year-round.

To that base load, there is added a daily peak cycle. As it happens, actual statistical behavior of this peak is almost exactly identical to a sine wave, starting at 0 at dawn each day, rising up to peak at noon, and dropping down to 0 again at dusk each day.

As it happens, there is a happy coincidence - a solar array which is not aimed (i.e., lying flat on the ground or a roof, or preferrably inclined to aim at the average solar noontime angle for efficiency sake) is also producing power in a daily cycle described as a sine curve, starting at daybreak / dawn, peaking at noontime, and going down to zero again at dusk.

Human behavior and modern society could have been such that this happy coincidence did not happen to be true. However, we are lucky. It is true. As a result, without aiming our solar arrays, the cheapest way to build them, the power demand and power production curves line up nearly exactly just by good luck.

This leads to a split in green power solutions. We have one power demand (about 2/3 of the peak power) that can come straight from non-aimed solar, without storage. We have another that is 24x7x365, and cannot come from non-aimed solar without significant power storage. However, that base load can come from alternate solutions such as hydro, nuclear, wind (in some areas), etc. Or, alternately, we continue to use fossil fuels to some extent for that baseload, and solar only removes the daily peak behavior requirements for those fossil plants, reducing fossil fuel usage about by a factor of 2.

The 1 TW total I quoted was production, not demand, and was based on US usage and includes transmission losses. Anyone doing credible power analysis needs to be including those; if I don't explicitly add "including transmission losses" to every statement I make about power, please understand that I do engineer with them in account and am merely simplifying the discussion, not the engineering.

225:

Evan wrote:
(The thing about this conversation that's amusing me is I had the same argument in another forum ten or twelve years ago and I think George was on the other side of it at the time... ;) )

Really? The RCS file dates on the files in: http://www.retro.com/employees/gherbert/Solar/

...are 1998 8-) I think my opinion's been pretty consistent since I worked out the numbers the first time in detail, in the summer of 98-ish.

That was before I spent some time pricing Mojave Desert and DC-AC conversion equipment for real, but the end results of spending the detailed time to put together a detailed plant plan more or less met the overall estimates that backed up those web pages.

(Santa Cruz Evan, or someone else?)

226:

Yeah, Santa Cruz Evan. And I probably just had you mixed up in my head with someone else. We were on opposite sides of lots of other arguments, anyhow. :)

227:

Evan writes:
Yeah, Santa Cruz Evan. And I probably just had you mixed up in my head with someone else. We were on opposite sides of lots of other arguments, anyhow. :)

Rumors to the effect that I'm opinionated, outspoken, contrarian, and annoying, and always have been, are simply ....

228:

Current news prompt me to add another one to the list:

Academic titles.

At least in certain professions, where they have become a mostly meaningless exercise in filling pages with words.

The news is, of course, that the four-year-old doctoral thesis of the German Minister of Defense "Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg" (Yes, his real name.) contains long passages that are straight copies from other authors. (And content-wise also doesn't deserve the suma cum laude it received.)

It might, however, take a few more decades until the general assumption that Professors and Doctors are smarter than thou wears off. Especially in social sciences, it is best to ignore all academic titles and listen to what people say. Often enough it is utter bullshit or commonplace platitudes hiding behind unnecessarily complicated construction that nobody dares to call out.

229:

More to the point, the current higher education bubble is going to do for the academic title as a status-indicator sooner rather than later. Unless something is done about it ...

230:

For the social sciences, I find a good rule of thumb is to look at the sample sizes; I have seen papers claiming to have discovered something based on a sample of 20-some subjects. I can remember neither the discovery nor the number, because as soon as I saw that I closed it and paid no further attention - sample sizes that small occasionally produce useful knowledge in medical research, but they're generally pre-selected through having a relevant disease, and the researcher knows this and doesn't make strong statistical claims.

231:

We might also see large parts of current compulsory education standards go and be replaced by a right for education.

The current system is somewhat efficient for about a third of the pupils, but perfectly useless for another third that doesn't keep up, a hindrance for the rest and optimized for just about nobody. (I'm toying with hierarchical schools in my mind, where competent pupils are used to make up for the lack of teachers to provide more one-on-one teaching. But a wholesale dissolution of the classic system of education is certainly not off the table.)

The first nation to get true education right will experience a golden age outshining anything that came before. (That said, it is actually quite astonishing what we managed to do in spite of such inadequacy.)

(*) As opposed to fake variety centered on the collection of documents that are mostly unrelated to actual competence. Which reminds me of the long gone Chinese exams for civil servants.

232:

Long ago and far away from my own Exit from Snr Levels of Technical Services in Higher Education I had an 'Interview ' ..Yes one of Them ..with my then Head of School wherein HE thought to convince me that I needs must accept my sudden increase of duties based upon my manifest capabilities as against my Job Description and Pay Grade.

I Smiled Ever SO sweetly and told him that, A,in the UK he couldn't change my Contract Just Like That and, that, B I knew for a FACT - My Informants had Told Me - that HE had been applying for Posts both within the University and also outside of it and that, when one of my Academic Colleagues had leaned over from the Audience for The New Head of Schools Audience for his ..Welcome HELLO and Good Afternoon Talk .. 18 months before our little Chat ... to ask How long I'd give HIM as Head Of School. I'd sighed and said Two Years at Tops saying - " HE'S AN ACADEMIC EXECUTIVE Seagull .. Fly IN change Landscape to alter its appearance Superficially and then fly on 'till next perch and then Repeat until possibilities of promotion are exhausted. "

Head of School backed off, let me alone and duly moved on to another University.

233:

re: grade inflation, it'll come down to other distinctions. The first thing I look for in an academic's "pedigree" is not the title but the institution. I'd trust the opinion of a graduate from $GOOD_COLLEGE over that of a professor from $BAD_COLLEGE. But always remember a motto of the Royal Society - "nullius in verba".. If academic publishing continues to expand at the current rate, I see a rise in bots written to find the original papers amongst the timeservers. And then paper optimisers, etc. And eventually a brilliant spambot used by a lazy academic solves $DIFFICULT_PROBLEM...

back to the original question, I'm an optimist. I'd like to think that in the not-so distant future, asking how much money you'd earn in a job interview might seem as odd as asking today (in the West) how much food you'd be able to have each week. Or clean water. And nowhere in the world would anyone be without food or clean water. I know, I'm a crazy dreamer. But not so long ago children starved in London. Things get better.

Also, I wonder if future generations might look at "our" military methods with horror - actual lethal weapons? Why didn't they just use ... whatever - superglue bombs to block roads, huge foam barrages to disorient troops, and less stupid ideas evolved from all the gubbins in early development today. I don't expect a tomb to the Last Casualty any time soon, but there must be ways to massively reduce casualties on both sides.

re:power generation and consumption. I reckon a little bit of this, a little bit of that. More power efficiency for a start. Japan has all that handy wave energy, Mojave has the sunlight, Iceland has volcanoes, UK has wind and tide, maybe we don't need loads of nuclear plants. Sure they're cool, but they are kind of scarey.

234:

@229:

More to the point, the current higher education bubble is going to do for the academic title as a status-indicator sooner rather than later. Unless something is done about it ...

Why would devaluation of the academic title as a status symbol be a bad thing? I just don't see it.

235:

@ 228:

Academic titles.

At least in certain professions, where they have become a mostly meaningless exercise in filling pages with words.

Yeah. Even in a "good" school it's quite possible to walk away with a PhD for doing little more than, say, typing up your advisor's old notes into a modern modern format like LaTeX.

The fact of the matter is, the big thing the degree signifies is employability, and it's been used by countless employers over the years as a way to screen qualified applicants on the cheap. We're into the end game now and about to reap the whirlwind for their lazy, slipshod ways, their attempts to foist off yet another responsibility that should be theirs onto somebody else.

236:

@ 233:

re: grade inflation, it'll come down to other distinctions. The first thing I look for in an academic's "pedigree" is not the title but the institution. I'd trust the opinion of a graduate from $GOOD_COLLEGE over that of a professor from $BAD_COLLEGE.

[cough] - George Bush! - [cough]

The myth of the Good School is largely a myth, and which helps - surprise! - those institutions who win the PR tourneys to be designated Good Schools. Also a surprise of course - funny how it always seems to be the same few schools over and over.

The truth, of course, is that generally speaking your degree is worth[1] just what you put into it.

[1]And "worth" is most definitely not a synonym for "marketability".

237:

Ah, those last three posts got me to speculating: maybe in fifty years we'll see a resurgance of bureaucracy, Confucian style.

Because while I'm not all that on credentialism as a stand-in for competency, I do like the notion that anyone can take graded qualifying exams, for example, the acturial exams of varying levels of difficulty.

Maybe in 2080 it will be all about passing the Level IV Mechanical Engineering Exams that will be the needed qualifier for working on space habitats, and not a PhD in mechanical engineering. The same would go for other professions like lawyering and doctoring, of course.

Hey, a billion Chinese bureaucrats can't all be wrong :-)

238:

Ref #228 thro 237 & NOT #230 - I used to directly know someone who knew the Prof of Maths at $Old_Scotish_University, and said prof told him about 5 years ago that they were teaching in year 2 of 4 stuff that was in the SCE Higher (Normally taken in Year 11 of 12 or Jnr yr High School for the Yanks) in the 1970s.

239:

It would certainly make a lot more sense to pass an exam proving you can do what you're supposed to do, instead of an exam proving that you attended an institution over a span of several years and once were able to do something that was broadly related.

Most importantly, it would finally be possible to get proof of education without having to visit any kind of institution, except for the test. One of the worst parts of our current education system is the time it costs to be able to prove your competence. Almost the only route is through years of "study" in a school or university - which are nearly impossible to avoid, even if there is absolutely nothing new being taught. Which is of course aggravated in mandatory schooling that is beyond laughable, in duration, in content and achieved in results.

Actually, there are already niches where this is the case, like foreign languages. Anybody can take a CPE test (twice yearly, I think), with the only requirement being that your English is good enough to pass it, without needing proof of having to hung out on a campus for a couple of years or having visited an English speaking country.

240:

Just had a little giggle imagining HP Lovecraft using the word "Phimotic" and thought I'd share it with everyone.

241:

Indeed, chtonic, primordial, eldritch, phimotic... it fits right in.

I'd like to leave, as a parting gift, an argument/rhetorical question regarding the circumcision debate that came to me a while ago (I just remembered it)

If we accept the medical necessity of preventive circumcision, then surely shouldn't hymenectomies be routinely performed on all female babies? After all it's a nonfunctional tissue, which has to go anyway for the individual's future normal sexual development and it's liable to as many if not more pathological conditions than the foreskin.

I'm glad the circumcision debate didn't take over this thread as they tend to be trainwrecks, but at the same time I'd be happy to see if my argument has legs, so feel free to use it if it comes in handy :)

242:

Robert @193: "Solar thermal is less efficient than solar cells in generating electricity ... "
I believe you're right. I think what paws4thot was talking about was direct solar->household heating, though.
As for solar thermal electrical plants I think that over the last two centuries of harnessing thermal processes for generating electrical power we have become very good at it. Waste heat in excess of 300C today is no waste heat unless you fail to use it. Solar concentrators can be focused on 1..n receivers so you can maintain stable operating temperatures for a wide spectrum of solar immission. Etc.

Erik @196: "... War on Drugs, which should probably end and quickly look bizarre in retrospect in closer to ten than a hundred years"
I hope you're right. Things sometimes seem to be moving in another direction. There were almost no laws against recreational consumption of any drug almost anywhere in the "Western Hemisphere" before the 19 hundreds. Even opium use was frowned upon but legal. Look what's on the ToDoList of the People That Strive to Protect Us from Ourselves, and partly crossed off, today: The words "f**k", "c**k", "p***y" in public, alcohol, tobacco, firearms (in the UK), knives (in the UK (not yet metal forks and spoons like in most prisons all over the world)), saturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, recreational use of powered personal vehicles, skiing... . Doesn't look too good.

Greg @201: "Why would getting rid of feminism be a good thing?"
If it would mean that nobody gave second (or first, for that matter) thought about if anybody was male or female I'd consider it a good thing.

George @216, tp @217, scent @218 .. more:
OMG, this sounds like the nuclear fission vs. regenerative power discussion all over.
Disclosure: I strongly favour more a more technology friendly (George's) approach over the more "it hasn't been done yet, so it's impossible" type of thinking.
Think steam engines over horses for mine shaft pumps. Steam engines over horse drawn carriage. Combustion engines over horse drawn carriage. Combustion engines over sail ships. Sail assisted combustion engines over pure combustion engines. I could go on. Nuclear fission power is necessary now and will be obsolete shortly. Yes, go ahead and study the timescale indicated by my examples. Even until horse- and wind power became fully obsolete it took a century and arguably only now we are returning to a more diverse portfolio of energy production. I wonder how some of you that like to read SF can be so stubborn as not to accept that the days of the horse-drawn carriage or fission energy may be over soon except for some minor niches.

tp1024: If I misread you, I apologize in advance, but you seem to be one of the staunchest proponents of nuclear fission power here: IIRC the maximum liability for nuclear incidents in Germany is, by law, EUR 2bn. Let's not discuss this sum in the light of the Tchernobyl incident, which occurred far from any major population center and grossed out an order of magnitude above that. Every single cent that German nuclear power plants make goes directly into the tax-exempt damage funds that were created to deal with these contingencies. All money exceeding maximum damages liability is removed from the damage funds a year later, still tax-exempt. Which makes it the ONLY means of electrical energy production that is entirely tax-free in Germany. More than that, there is no permanent disposal facility in Germany, if I'm not mistaken. So that part is also not payed for. Can it get worse: Yes. Each nuclear power plant has it's very own legal entity that operates it. Once the plant is no longer economically viable it's legal entity simply goes bankrupt and leaves the taxpayer to clean up the mess. Does all of what I said seem correct to you? If it does: Does it seem right?

If you think Germans are the only people that left worrying about certain future events, let alone (equally certain) future complications totally out of today's calculations, you're wrong. Look up Yucca Mountain or Savannah River incidents (go ahead, read the old National Geographic number on SR), and please recall that Yucca Mountain is one of the most seismically active locations in the US.

243:

... Oh ffs. The reality is that every single coalfired powerplant on the planet earth is a continious, ongoing non-stop enviormental disaster that rips up vast tracts of landscape, kills people year in and year out, and stores it wastes in the atmosphere and in ashponds and in asphalt, and gas is not really a whole lot better. - The german nuclear phaseout would replace the german nuclear fleet with coal, and is thus economic madness, murderous, and a crime against the planet to boot.

Nuclear power is not perfect, it is merely orders of magnitude less awful than the alternatives.

244:

More polite version:

Does Germany still have coal fired power plants? Yes? then turning off a single of its nuke plants still qualifies as a crime against nature. It is really that simple. If renewables are, in fact a viable alternative for energy supply, fine, I have no emotional attachment to the act of smashing atoms. But such a changeover needs to be real, the generating and storage capacity must actually exist before you can responsibly turn of the nukes. Pious intentions and coal fired powerplants do not equal a green energy policy. Pious and the construction of new coal fired power plants - which is what Germany is doing - is madness.

245:

But almost all hymens break by themselves -- sports, bicycles, falling -- and don't have diseases. There are some hymens that are thick enough to need to be removed if the woman plans to have traditional sex. You seem to want to push something more common and necessary in men over to women. Let me offer you menstrual cramps.

246:

#242 Paras 1 .. 3 - Yes, that's exactly my point. Maybe it's "less efficient" than photo-voltaic cells, but it only has to beat 1/3 of the efficiency of $photo_voltaic_remote_site to beat the overall efficiency of ($photo_voltaic_remote_site + $transmission_grid) anyway.

247:

I guess being taken at face value is one disadvantage of making modest proposals.

248:

241, 245 and before: For boys and girls--stretch what needs stretching, and if that doesn't work, then cut what needs cutting. With proper anesthesia, of course. Just so whatever it is is out of the way before sexual activity starts. I know of someone who says he had himself cut in adulthood because of several foreskin-related sexual injuries. And if I read one more story where some woman hurts or bleeds just from having sex, I'm gonna puke. But some cultures, including this one, are a little bit knife-happy.
What will be passe: the *need* for feminism.

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