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The prospects of the Space and Freedom Party reconsidered in light of the crisis of 21st century capitalism

The current buzz-topic of the month is Thomas Piketty's magisterial tome, Capital in the 21st Century—currently at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, #5 in the UK, and in the sights of every right wing pundit, goldbug, and economic quack globally.

I have not read Piketty (yet) so I am about as unqualified to comment on his central thesis as anyone. But I've read the reviews, so I'm going to bloviate anyway—about the implications for a topic I occasionally obsess over, like a diseased cur chewing on an ulcerated hernia.

Piketty's central thesis (at second hand) appears to be that in an era of slow economic growth (like the 21st century to date) characterised by high rates of return on investment (ditto) the rate of capital formation outstrips the rate of wealth creation, leading to centralization of wealth and an increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us. Marketization and trickle-down economics have signally failed to close this widening divide, and so it follows that the deregulation of trade and investment and the reduction in taxation of assets that have typified the past forty years are damaging to the social fabric; if we want to reduce inequality we will have to go after the capital concentrations with a pointy expropriative stick. (Cue right-wing/libertarian meltdown in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...)

This interests me because it looks like a really fascinating opportunity for an experiment in libertarian paternalism.

I believe we can safely say that the custodians of those huge steaming piles of money that are sucking yet more money into their orbit like so many fiscal neutron stars will resist any attempt to take their shinies away, by any means—fair or foul. It doesn't matter whether the money can actually buy them anything useful—arguably in billion-up concentrations it can't: go ask Steve Jobs how much being CEO of AAPL extended his life expectancy—or even whether you own it (ask the board of the Welcome Foundation, for example); but you don't get to be in charge of a giant heap of green folding paper by giving it away at every opportunity.

But is it possible to persuade them to do something useful with their capital? (And by "persuade" I mean hold a gun to their head: compulsory nationalization and redistribution without compensation, or invest in something useful and at least nominally retain ownership of the investment ...) What if we offer them tax breaks for investing in some really long-term project that doesn't necessarily offer them a return on investment any faster than the overall GDP growth rate, but which protects the nominal long-term value of their assets while ultimately growing the size of the economy?

The characteristics of such favoured "safe harbour" investment vehicles should be: a really long-term goal, a high capital investment (nine to eleven digits) required to get the ball rolling, and some way of providing them with an assurance that expropriation at pitch-fork point is averted by the very nature of the investment. Oh, and it should eventually flip over into delivering economic GDP growth beneficial to the "little" people—us—without degrading the biosphere that we live in.

I've got two candidates for such investments: (a) commercial thermonuclear fusion reactors, and (b) colonizing Venus.

Fusion: we are not fifty years away any more. We're about thirty years and $100Bn away. Or we're about 8-10 years and $200Bn and a Manhattan Program level of urgency away—it depends on the political and legislative framework. However, building tokamak fusion reactors (like ITER) is never going to be cheap; to get 1Gw of electrical power out implies a 5Gw thermal reactor (and a third of its power is going to go into maintaining the fusion reaction). More realistically, tokamaks will come in 5Gw power output and larger sizes, making them an order of magnitude larger than today's big-ass 1Gw PWR, AGR, and AP1000 reactors. We're looking at startup costs of $25-50Bn per reactor, and a requirement for up to 1000 of the suckers if we want to roll it out globally as a major energy source.

So: it's a project that will plausibly soak up $25-50Tn and take 10-30 years to roll out while needing 30-60 years to break even and start to provide a return on the capital investment. A good way of making the Koch brothers atone for their sins while preserving the illusion of their wealth, right?

Naah, that's small beer.

Let's get really ambitious and propose a scheme that will cost trillions and take centuries. I am referring, of course, to the colonization of Venus. Venus is usually written off as a destination for human space colonization due, I am convinced, to a lack of vision. Everyone focusses on Mars, probably because Mars doesn't have a runaway greenhouse atmosphere with a surface pressure of around 93 bar and a temperature of 480 celsius. (Mars is cold, chilly, and sits in a near-vacuum—0.01 bar.)

However, there is one place on Venus that is actually rather more hospitable to our type of life than almost anywhere else in the solar system: 50-55km up in the troposphere, the pressure drops to between 1.0 and 0.5 that of the Earth's atmosphere at the surface, and the temperature declines to between 30 and 70 celsius. Furthermore, the gas composition is mostly carbon dioxide. CO2 is dense; with a molecular weight of 44 daltons, it's actually denser than breathable air (80/20 nitrogen/oxygen dimers, average molecular weight around 29-30 daltons). A balloon or Zeppelin full of human-breathable air would actually float as well in the troposphere of Venus as a hydrogen balloon does on Earth. "At cloud-top level, Venus is the paradise planet," as Geoffrey Landis puts it. More here, with links to papers in the footnotes: let's just say that my money would be on a million people living in the clouds of Venus being both cheaper and faster to achieve than getting a million people living on or below the surface of Mars. Although neither project is ever going to be cheap, and my money is on either one costing somewhere north of $10Tn just to get rolling.

Of course, there's no guarantee that colonizing Venus would work out. Or even that it might not prove profitable in the long term, resulting in the giant pile o'gold problem returning to haunt another generation. But some of the billionaire elite already seem inclined to boldly blow their fortune where no fortunes have been blown before. As Elon Musk says: "it would be pretty cool to die on Mars, just not on impact."

So. Should we encourage the custodians of the shitpiles of capital that are damaging our global social fabric to atone for their sins by offering them huge long-term investment opportunities in colonizing Venus and rolling out commercial thermonuclear fusion reactors? (Both worthy(ish) projects that demand a fuckton of money and time which, in our current circumstances, the shrunken machinery of government simply can't afford.) Or should we try and take their hoards away via some other means? And if so, what?

367 Comments

1:

Another project that would work for this would be the Space Elevator. It doesn't even need to go all the way to the ground, scraping the top of the atmosphere would still cut the delta vee by quite a bit. It's practically a prerequisite for any large scale extra-planetary migrations anyhow.

The social issue of capital concentration won't be solved by railroad shares ( any of the projects mentioned ) or any other form of potlatch until the issues driving the concentration are dealt with.

2:

Lots of thoughts and some numbers on the Cloud City: Venus idea: http://selenianboondocks.com/category/venus/

3:

I'm at page 450 (of 600) and finding it a really, really good read. Together with "Secular Cycles", "Capital" really comes a long way to explain the way, well, history, society and the economy works, deep down. Both are good reads too, they are actually well-written...

With these two books, economics is where linguistics got when De Saussure wrote his book.

It takes about a week of on-off evening reading to read Secular Cycles and two weeks to read Capital -- it's well worth the effort.

Boud

4:

Boud@3:

You don't think it's productive compare Piketty and Turchin. At the end of the day, Piketty operates within an entirely conventional neoclassical framework. His conclusions and insights are based on painstaking empirical work ... but straightforward empirical work. And there really isn't any complex modelling.

Turchin is the opposite. The theory is unique. Complex math is integral. And the empirics are ... uh ... not all that strong.

Finally, Turchin is pretty close to unreadable. It's hard to say that about Piketty. People predisposed to find Piketty convincing will find Turchin close to the edge of crankdom.

I'm not commenting on whether Turchin is correct. Nor am I am commenting on whether he's worth the effort to read. But he is entirely unlike Piketty.

Anyway, back to Charlie.

Charlie, I'm confused. I don't see why the hyper-rich are going to invest in these projects even if they are entirely tax free. Help? Am I missing a joke?

5:

I recall "Stand on Zanzibar" has a corporation basically taking over a small country to bring it up to modern standards, I'm kind of surprised that hasn't come up again. Nice long term project, and after 2 or 3 generations a good outcome for all concerned, at least if you are of the (clearly very small in numbers) sort of enlightened self interested capitalist. Most would rather bribe the politicians into letting them loot the country.

An SF novel I read last year, I've forgotten the name and author, has the super rich, at that time 2 or 300 years in the future, called "POinters", and one of hte first chapters has a short story of how the pointers came into being, as capital got more and more centralised into fewer hands and they basically took over the world and ran it themselves. Then in the novel they get an idea to colonise other worlds and vastly expensive spaceships are built over many years and filled with cold sleep units and packed with people. The question is why would they do such a thing, although it isn't as well handled as it could have been.

6:

Piketty's got it right about the concentration of wealth, and he's identified the shift from productive investment to rent-seeking.

There's a cause-and-effect thing here: are low returns the reason for the shift to rent-seeking? Or could it be that all the capital is held by rent-seekers, and the productivity of the general economy is diminishing as a result?

Remember, also, that running businesses for cash can generate a high return, for a while; but it is a net disinvestment, an extraction of value rather than a wealth-creating capital deployment.

In a free market economy of infinite extent, isolated examples of reckless exploitation will eventually be out-competed by well-run companies that invest and innovate; but in the observed economy, late stage run-downs can and do succeed in undercutting their competitors, and will accumulate the cash to buy them out, extract the wealth and run them down, in a reinforcing cycle of decline.

And what then? Will these successful disinvestors think at all of new, productive opportunities, like fusion, Venus, or the latest new technologies?

Or will they hoard it all in gold, or buy up all the land, or purchase rents in patents, copyrights, T-Bills, rights to minerals and water, and in privatising the essential infrastructure that we used to hold in common?

What incentive do they have to build a better power source when they own all the coal and all the capital? Artificial shortages of electricity offer far, far higher rents than any promise of return on an investment in the distant gains of fusion - or in any more efficient means of production, period.

7:

Piketty's central thesis (at second hand) appears to be that in an era of slow economic growth (like the 21st century to date) characterised by high rates of return on investment (ditto) the rate of capital formation outstrips the rate of wealth creation, leading to centralization of wealth and an increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us.

I'm only about 20% into it at the moment, but this isn't quite right. His position is that slow economic growth is actually the historical norm except for bits of the last 200 years when it was faster. His argument is that this largely tracks to population growth and that, in reality, when you look at the hard numbers, the idea of productivity growth has been somewhat over-rated.

His second point on this was that when families, even rich ones, would have significant numbers of offspring, there was more need to *do* something with the money or it would get diluted quickly.

With smaller families you get more concentration of capital and a return to what would have been considered perfectly normal in Jane Austin's time. One of his early data points is that in Austin's novels and those of her French counterparts, they don't actually say much about the amount people have because everybody knew that on 1 million X of capital (land etc...) you could make 2-3 X the average income or something like that. I'm still reading, it's fascinating and quite compelling.

I haven't got to him conclusions yet.

8:

The Venus project features a serious risk that the Filthy Rich would end up owning the planet. I know it is tempting to send your problems away to some faraway land, hoping that they die en route, but look how it turned out when England exiled her deranged fundamentalists to America: four centuries later, the fundamentalists are back, on nuclear aircraft carriers, and they are terra-deforming the planet. I don't want to extrapolate on this curve on four centuries with the Koch brothers as a starting point.

9:

While I appreciate the big-investment thought experiment focussing on other planets, and I'm a big proponent, according to some we have some massive investments to focus on here on Earth such as whether we can survive the next 15 to 50 years. See Guy McPherson's ongoing accumulation of bad news. http://guymcpherson.com/2013/01/climate-change-summary-and-update/ If we can't get the big money to keep Earth habitable by multicellular life, I don't see how throwing it out of this gravity well is going to earn any returns at all.

10:

Fusion, in the sense of look, neutrons coming out, is easy; the bit of lab equipment only costs about 10 k$ because it's been hand-built. Not much demand.

Break-even is hard, net power is harder, but it's quite possible that the commitment to tokamaks was a mistake. (It got made fifty years ago; it's not that difficult to be wrong when making a guess about future capabilities from fifty years back. Especially since we know a lot more about long-term neutron exposure now.)

I'd like to see a Fusion Consortium; no one knows what will work, if anything does, so let's get a monstrous pile of cash together and try everything where it could work. There's a bunch of different confinement systems and intermittent fusion proposals that aren't obvious nonsense, but which are funded at the few-tens-of-millions level at absolute most. Funded at the billion-each level, it would be quickly obvious which one might work, and it's a good bet that if any of these things work they'll be cheaper to get into commercial production than tokamaks. (It is difficult to think of anything more expensive to get into commercial production than tokamaks.)

Any decent plutocrat ought to salivate at the prospect of owning a big chunk of the global energy budget; the rest of us get by on not melting Greenland.

11:

I'm in favor of pitchforks because fusion power or space colonies might turn out to be profitable. Giving the Rich Bastards somewhere productive to put their capital just makes it accumulate faster.

12:

You write: "This interests me because it looks like a really fascinating opportunity for an experiment in libertarian paternalism."

The problem is that these paters do not have the creativity or good-faith understanding of technological development (or respect for human capital) to make this anything other than a steam pile of same-old monopoly-rents garbage. It would be better to remove the legal protections we give to their exclusive intellectual rights. Then the markets would recover from the burdens imposed by the oligarchy's marketing scams. Technological development could recommence.

13:

Can I just point out that, combining this with a previous articles "Generation Z" and particular "A Nation of Slaves" and you get a bigger picture scenario of the future. One with automated services for the rich and poor alike - either no jobs, or only 'slave' jobs (worse than McD); concentration of wealth in the hands of the few; and with the multitude not even having anywhere to live. Add in peak oil and system dynamics of "Limits to Growth" and ...

Do I really need to paint the outcome of THAT scenario?

You are asking that the rich should invest large chunks of the money that keeps them at the top of the pile on long term projects (and where planning horizons beyond 3-5 years are already hopelessly discounted) in exchange for the possibility that they won't get their throats slit in the meantime.

Put simply, they are more likely to invest in a heavily armed ship to live on than a Venus colony - they can buy one of those today.

Any changing of the existing form of capitalism to promote such an option would require concerted, GLOBAL, action by every government, all at once. Whereas we know those government have generally been captured by the same interests that would be disadvantaged by any change. They haven't even been able to agree on workable approaches to dealing with such a clear and present danger as climate change; thanks in part to the kochs.

In short; fat chance.

You are much better off dreaming up a way to make money worthless - to dump it, and the accumulations of it, in a way that doesn't allow the rich/governments a say. A planned, global, financial crash. At least in that you'd be pushing against a door that's straining to burst open.

14:

Instead of having space exploration and energy generation as separate investments, for only $60B you could do both at once by using Keith Henson's solar power satellite scheme:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCiw99yRBo8
http://theenergycollective.com/keith-henson/362181/dollar-gallon-gasoline

Building these would be faster than building the fusion power plants since the technology is better understood. It seems both safer and cheaper than colonizing Venus, assuming the focused sunlight is used to generate power rather than to vaporize undesired persons.

15:

I've seriously never been able to understand why anyone wants to reduce inequality of wealth, or cares about it. Most discussions seem simply to treat the desirability of equality as an unexamined axiom. I can't really even imagine a convincing argument for it. It's kind of like trying to figure out why so many people seem to feel the need for a god, or find the idea that one exists plausible.

16:

"It is difficult to think of anything more expensive to get into commercial production than tokamaks"

How about laser inertial fusion? Commercialising a power-generating version of that would be kinda pricey.

Tokamaks actually work as fusion devices, they fuse hydrogen isotopes and produce thermal energy. The existing big experimental tokamaks have got within an order of magnitude of breakeven -- Q = 0.6 for the JET run back in the 90s and the Japanese JT-60 operators claim their best D-D run would have been Q >1 if they had fuelled it with D-T but they weren't set up to use it. The assorted unconventional fusion power proponents have not, as far as I can tell, got anywhere near Q = 1 if they have produced unequivocal fusion events in their benchtop devices at all. Frankly I believe they are either self-deluding enthusiasts or out-and-out conmen or a mixture of the two, generally.

Fifty years and more of experimental results from tokamaks lead the designers of ITER to believe it will return Q > 10 for hundreds of seconds at the 500MW level. Plasma physicists who follow this sort of stuff in detail can't see any showstoppers to prevent this being achieved. There might be problems in scaling up from something the size of JET but some optimists think, based on the natural world, that upscaling fusion makes thing simpler by smoothing out instabilities and reducing their gross effects. That's why ITER is being built, to find out.

17:

I still like Ken MacLeod's "Big Deal" in his new book Descent. (Since it's a background event in the book, doesn't count as a spoiler.)

It would be the G20 governments nationalising ALL their banks. Offshore tax havens get shut down, forcibly if necessary.

Dunno if Ken wants to contribute, but my interpretation is that this changes the conditions so that financial manipulation is no longer profitable compared to investing in physical stuff like factories.

Incentive for governments: in the best case, it's doing the right thing for all the people, not just the rich. More cynically, revolutions usually start with members of government being hung from lampposts.

Incentive for the rich: they get to keep being rich.

18:

Capital these days is held by Rent Seekers; see Walmart, or any hedge fund. They aren't INTERESTED in productive investment, if they need state of the art medical treatment, the .01% can pay for it out of small change (See Dick Cheyney and his Heart Transplant). And they already have perfectly good helicopters to avoid our deteriorating surface transportation infrastructure.

Needless to say, the new "Economist" cover story blames all those seniors with their good pensions holding on to assets as part of the reason for our economic stagnation. The possibility that many of the children and grand children of those comfortable pensioners in the developed world have a far more tenuous economic position just does not seem to register with a certain segment of the pundit class.

You can't even FIND a copy of Pikety for sale here in WalMart's home town.

19:

Brilliant, I'd just suggest a project that is somewhere in between that has some initial traction. Giving significant current and future tax breaks to the contemporary industrialists that are looking to capture asteroids and bring the resources back to near Earth orbit. Having one iron and water supply that does not need the gravity well tax could boost all the interesting directions.

20:

The biggest problem with the idea of "steal all that wealth from the rich people" is not that it's manifestly unfair, nor that's it's ultimately self-defeating in that you create a strong incentive to not become rich and hence idolise mediocrity, nor is it that whatever system of laws you build after that will have to be enforced at gunpoint due to its complete lack of moral credibility.

I'm speaking from practical experience of real-world politics here, when I say that the biggest problem with this idea is how are you going to divide up the loot?

You're probably hoping that the population is fair-minded, reasonably liberal-leaning, and willing to agree on an even distribution. I have bad news for you: this is our primary electoral target and I know exactly how big that demographic is. In the UK, it's about a third of the population. In other words, two thirds of the population votes them down, with more pointy sticks, and says that the distribution of wealth should be uneven. They don't agree on who should get more of it (doctors? artists? priests? charities? innovators? oh and the tube drivers are on strike again, they think they should have more...), but they do agree that some should get more than others, and the not agreeing leads us to the next problem:

You just started a civil war, as they all fight each other to get a bigger share of the loot. Since we can't accept that outcome, we can't use it as a threat either.

Short-term tax breaks as an incentive will just make everything worse, as that increases the accumulation of capital while decreasing the power of the government to do anything about it - tax breaks equals less tax revenue which is very directly the amount of power the government has to influence the economy. You can't realise long-term gains this way because the government runs out of money before the project is done. Governments seem like they're really wealthy, but the bulk of that money is spent on things that have to keep being spent, like pensions and healthcare. The pool of cash which is available for being redirected into new projects is quite small. Guess what's first on the list of cash that can be redirected? All those short-term tax breaks that the previous government used to get their project started. So the net result is that more capital accumulates for a few years and then the whole thing gets scrapped.

So if we rule out looting and reduced taxation as alternatives, what's left? Direct purchase by the government is one option. There's lots of precedent for that working (wars), from an economic standpoint. If a government just hired a bunch of engineers, printed a load of money, and told them to go make fusion happen, there wouldn't be any economic problems, externally.

The big problem here is that no major government project like this has, in recent history, not been wrecked by incompetence and corruption. It turns out that the lack of a market incentive and the ability to fail and go bankrupt means the project has no remaining reasons to succeed. It only works for wars because governments are strongly motivated to win them, so they try to be good at them.

How about some other ideas?

21:

Incumbents hate change; if you're near the top of the pile, you have everything invested in the system not changing in significant ways. (Note that we only got VLSI and the networked computer revolution by accident; the existing oligarchs just flat did not see it coming and are only now getting partial control of it.)

That means that an oligarchy will prevent development and innovation; technological progress grinds to a halt, and now is a really bad time for that to happen.

Plus there's a tonne of evidence that economies have generally better results if inequality is low; highly unequal societies turn into horrible client/patron setups or more horrible thugs-guarding-the-rich. (Nor is there any strong evidence for merit; luck matters more than anything, look at Facebook.)

22:

You missed Romer's Charter City scheme a while back, then? Somewhere between that idea and a new colonialism. It doesn't appear to have gotten very far, with problems with prospective hosts having pesky things like constitutions and elections and such.

If I remember correctly corporations taking over governance also happens on Earth in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy.

23:

I'll admit I don't consider laser inertial plausible as a fusion possibility. (Interesting physics, but the pellet manufacture is... daunting, I think might be the word. Even if the device worked perfectly you're six or seven orders of magnitude off a pellet cost that would be worthwhile.) But, yes, you could sink any amount of money there.

I realize tokamaks work; they also have a shedload of commercial feasibility problems due to neutron bombardment, and as I understand it the aneutronic fuels are more difficult to use in every respect plus not necessarily aneutronic in practice. (Less neutronic, but there's going to have to be serious practice before how much less is well understood.) So there's the problem of getting to "OK, great, we built it, it works, it has a worse waste problem than fission, now what?"

While there are plenty of excessively optimistic ideas out there, there are some plausible inertial confinement schemes -- I will be delighted if the General Fusion attempt works -- and discontinuous schemes where you're looking at being very clever with plasma. Plus the whiffleball fusor schemes; these are not obvious nonsense and it would be good to see them investigated thoroughly.

24:

Re: 19 Ever hear of CERN? Huge project, many governments, long time-horizon, never promised a specific return and essentially run by scientists/academics/researchers & engineers.

Re: 18 Like this comment/observation -- "You are much better off dreaming up a way to make money worthless." Money is 'quantized reciprocity' when exchanged between parties, and 'quantized prestige' when tallied and compared within a group. Name recognition is the closest non-physical thing I can think of that's universally recognized as desirable. Not sure, but think that there's been an upswing in the number of charitable donations to universities for name recognition/buying immortality over the past 20-30 years or so. That's what $20+million can buy you - a plaque on one of the smaller buildings of a top-tier university.

The first generation of ultra-rich probably enjoy their wealth a lot more than their kids ever do/will because their personal identity is invested in their wealth. So if you could find a project that would appeal to that personal identity, they'd probably go for it. Maybe not all their wealth, but a good chunk. You'd also have to throw in some friendly competition because this group thrives on competition. This means colonizing both Venus and Mars - using different approaches - and whoever 'wins', gets bragging rights for a very long time. Definitely one-up on Alexander, Nero, Louis XIII-XVI and Catherine the Great as far as monument-building goes.

For the not-nearly as wealthy - and who personally really like infrastructure as an investment - have them invest in the sky elevators. This could be the best money-maker all-round.


25:

Wouldn't the atmosphere of Venus be a bit "windy" for colonization?

From "Atmospheric Flight on Venus" (http://tinyurl.com/oxrbshn)

"The atmosphere between 50 and 75 km on Venus is one of the most dynamic and interesting regions of the planet. The challenge for a Venus aircraft will be the fierce winds and caustic atmosphere.
The winds peak at about 95 m/s at the cloud top level."

"The region just above the cloud tops experiences a phenomenon known as “superrotation” where the atmosphere circles the planet every 4 days, traveling in excess of 200 mph. The cloud system also may experience high vertical wind shear."

26:

I agree. The neutron problem is the elephant in the room for fusion systems. There are just too damn many neutrons. AFAIK, we're still "30 years away" from commercial fusion power, like we have been for 70 years.

27:

Have just finished reading Ken MacLeod's excellent "Descent", and not wanting to put any spoilers in, it comes up with some interesting ideas.

Particularly about what happens when the tax havens are closed/cracked open and the plutocrat's stored bounty is used productively..."The Big Deal".

Technologies stalled from lack of funds, industries closed due to scarcity of investment. All turned around when Scrooge McDuck's Money Bins are emptiedm and capital becomes productive once more.

28:

"Wouldn't the atmosphere of Venus be a bit 'windy, for colonization?"

Charlie is suggesting balloons. Balloons drift with the wind and those on board experience no air movement, just as when you fall freely in a gravitational field you do not feel your own weight.

29:

Tokamak formula doesn't seem so much like guaranteed best bet for fusion. It's splitting hairs which scheme(s) is funded, but not totally, considering why ITER is such a money pit.

A number of other fusion approaches seem like they could be brought to work or ruled out for the cost of ITER.

/splitting hairs

30:

You want to know why inequality is bad? May I recommed another fact-based book? It's by two epidemiologists who apply their usual statistical tools to social statistics instead of contagious diseases.

http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/resources/spirit-level

Inequality is statistically correlated with a whole raft of bad stuff - low social trust, low life expectancy, high crime, low self-reported happiness and several others.

Both when you compare different countries and when you compare the different states of the U.S. Why is Mississippi famously 50th in everything? The stats suggest it may be inequality.

I say may because correlation isn't causation of course...but it's more plausible that inequality is a cause than an effect of the other correlated factors. Low social trust may be an intermediate cause of a lot of other bad stuff...

So that's why a lot of people seem to assume that inequality is of course bad...because the facts so very clearly point in that direction. And because arguing about it tends to run into the problem Upton Sinclair is quoted on earlier in this thread.

31:

Historically, wages are inversely related to population growth. Supply and demand - lots of people means low wages. The Black Death increased wages in Europe for a long time.

World population growth is levelling off - will that possibly lead to more wage growth?

32:

The beauty in ideas like this is the LONG WAIT TO PAYOFF.

Why?

The problems with oligarchic centralized capital are centralization (few people with the resources), low velocity (tendency to sit on investments rather than spend, move things around, shake them up, etc), and that the concentrations are stable for the natural life of the oligarch plus about a generation.

Long term investments of these nature are wonderful counters to that. They immediately turn the capital concentrations' velocity to near 100%; you're turning other capital resources into paper shares in Fuze!, the 22nd century power corp, or the Venus equivalent. Those are probably highly worthwhile having, but not going to pay off for a while, and will tend to be less centralizing over time (people hang on to illiquid assets less firmly a generation or two or three later, until payouts become evident). The family will trade some of them for cash in the meantime, meaning even the instruments have velocity and self-dispersing qualitites.

A long term thinking oligarch could deposit the shares in Fuze! in a foundation to benefit the next generation or three, but the descendants will have fits if they have no useful cash to keep buying Ferraris and Manhattan or London or Ibiza condos with. So they'd be inclined to break the foundation or get it to diversify at least some...

33:

I suspect that all this accumulated "wealth" isn't really backed by real properties. As long as it is kept out of circulation, it is relatively safe. If they tried to spend it on some actual physical goods or services, that might well cause a rather big inflation.

34:

Hasn't "Robocop" and "OCP" happened since Brunner wrote "Stand on Zanzibar"? That's a bit of a dead giveaway on what can happen if you let a corporation run a country.

35:

Since no sane person is going to invest in things with time-spans on the order of magnitude of her lifespan, we should really try to persuade the rich to invest in life-extension. Then terraform Venus. :-)

36:

Balloons drift with the wind and those on board experience no air movement, just as when you fall freely in a gravitational field you do not feel your own weight.

You would note the acceleration if the gravitational field had continous, sudden changes (somehow). In a stable, continuous 200 mph wind Charlie's balloons could drift unperturbed, but the NASA doc I quoted points out that Venus' atmosphere is quite active. Expect changes of direction, downdrafts, etc.

37:

A more libertarian analysis of Piketty:

http://www.zerohedge.com/contributed/2014-04-27/piketty-rickety-government-complicity
Summary: Inequality is bad and getting worse. The cause is central banks and governments that are essentially owned by the wealthy and powerful. Capital grows due to the difference between real interest rates and actual businesss returns. If real interest rates are low or negative capital grows effortlessly.


As for Fusion:
A small aneutronic fusion generator may be possible:
Crowdfunding coming soon:
http://www.focusfusion.org/


38:

I'm not so sure fusion energy is that close though. Yes, some of the plans seem to be getting close to break-even, but none of them seem to include a sustained reaction (or if they do, it's defined as one spanning perhaps more than a few seconds). It still sounds to me like a technology that is 50 years out. I guess that makes it a good candidate for this plan though.

39:

Noel, the idea is to put a gun to their head and say "you can invest in these schemes and retain nominal ownership -- or we will nationalize the contents of your portfolio out from under you without compensation and tax the hell out of your personal savings. Your call."

I'd prefer the latter, but realistically, it'd generate such frantic opposition that it may not be feasible in anything short of a full-on revolutionary context. The former ... might be achievable without shooting.

And I am of the opinion that attempts to engineer political change that rely on bullets are all too likely to result in bullets flying in random (and often the wrong) directions. "Not hurting people" should be the #1 goal of all practical politics, after all.

40:

ITER is expected to run for hundreds or even thousands of seconds at a time. It is also expected to exceed breakeven by a factor of ten at least. The engineers and designers won't know if this will actually happen until they build the damn thing and run it through a complete experimental campaign. That's why they're building it, to find out. It's more a pure science and research tool than prototype power station but if it works the way it's supposed to it should answer a lot of questions about how a real commercial (maybe) fusion power station should be designed and built.

Professor Higgs and his compatriots figured out the properties of the hypothetical Higgs boson back in the 1960s but it took the physical construction of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to confirm their ideas. ITER is the LHC of the plasma physics world.

41:

Why is fusion a worthwhile long-term goal? I agree clean energy is a great idea but the cost of solar panels is already down in the near-fossil-fuel range. Sure, solar suffers from the intermittency problem, but figuring out plausible grid-scale storage seems like it ought to be easier than commercialising a tokamak...

42:

I can't imagine the current batch of robber barons investing in anything with a return after their lifetime. One of the things that makes the Koch brothers so dangerous is that they decided the conservative/libertarian movement was moving too slowly to produce the results that they wanted within their lifetimes, so they got directly involved to produce the libertarian paradise while they could see it personally.

43:

The possibility that many of the children and grand children of those comfortable pensioners in the developed world have a far more tenuous economic position just does not seem to register with a certain segment of the pundit class.

You don't get to be a pundit until you're at least in your mid-forties (with very few exceptions: Laurie Penny seems to be going the distance in the UK -- but she's on the left, which is a very under-populated and under-funded niche this century). So the pundits' opinions are (a) shaped by their experiences of the past 30-60 years, and (b) they won't be around in another 30 years, so why worry about the "long term" future?

Me, I'm worried about the idea of bankrupting the entire savings/investment infrastructure because I turn 50 at my next birthday; that's just the right age to be losing my earning capability due to turning 65-75 during the period when my savings are most likely to evaporate due to revolution. I'm only in the small set of turkeys voting for Christmas because the alternative seems to be extinction across the board for all avian species ...

44:

I don't see why the hyper-rich are going to invest in these projects even if they are entirely tax free.

In addition to Charlie's point that this is an alternative to (effectively) revolution, why would the hyper-rish invest in anything? In all seriousness, if £10M turned up in my account tomorrow* I'd know what to do with it. £1G would be a real puzzle. I'd consult a finanical advisor...

Who will give me safe conventional advice (I hope. That's their job!) Meanwhile Currently Existing GigaFortunes have a current investment portfolio and a historical record of where and how to put the money. The funds are conservative, or, to use a different word, they have momentum. Unless someone has a bright idea they will continue to invest in similar patterns as previously. In a less coercive scenario, what is needed is to convince the up-and-coming set of the hyper-rich that diverting money into these projects will maintain their wealth and prestige (by preventing nationalisation) and as an added bonus help the future of mankind. Which their PR departments ought to be able to spin as a positive.

*"Bank Error in Your Favour" as the Monopoly card has it. Somehow real Monopolies don't seem to work that way.

45:

nor that's it's ultimately self-defeating in that you create a strong incentive to not become rich and hence idolise mediocrity

Bullshit.

We have this thing called "progressive taxation". The "progressive" bit has been gutted in recent decades, but was at its most extreme in the 1940s through 1970s -- a period characterised by higher growth rates than are currently the norm, and with no shortage of self-made millionaires and entrepreneurs.

What you're describing is a positive incentive towards poverty. Which is Cambodia Year Zero stuff, not any recognizable form of fiscal policy in the developed world today.

Direct purchase by the government ...

No. Fuck 'em. They've had their chance to invest in assets and infrastructure that improve the commonweal and instead we got rent seeking and £40M family houses in Kensington. We need to hold a gun to their head: compulsory nationalization of capital assets without compensation. And we need to be willing to pull the trigger if they don't knuckle under.

(Note that this is not a risk free strategy. Once the state owns the asset the state has responsibility for maintaining and operating it and paying the workers who keep it intact and charging for use, either indirectly through taxation or directly through billing -- the Scottish NHS as an actually-existing-today example of the former, Network Rail as an example of the latter.)

46:

Why not terrascale carbon sequestration?

It addresses a real practical need. It's completely unlikely to be done otherwise due to lack of profit motive. Each Tessier-Ashpool hivemind gets to claim "carbon credits" per millions of liters of CO2 which at the very least are some form of social capital, and at most can be sold back to real CO2-intensive industries - so they retain influence and a hypothetical fiscal-gravitational pull - and they retain power of a sort - after all, we wouldn't want all that CO2 to go back into the atmosphere would we? Try and nationalise our business and we might just start bleeding it off so the gubmints can't get their grubby mitts on it...

47:

Maybe we need a secret organisation of science fiction fans to subvert the offspring of the oligarchs and turn them into space colonisation freaks, so reversing the "No bucks, no Buck Rogers" meme.

And just think what Jordin Kare could do with a few billion (but always taking care to stand well back).

48:

Funny. My country has a problem with people arriving in boats and wanting to live here. How can we justify camping on this land and resources and not letting anyone else in (other than our social equals, of course)? One possible justification would be to do good works, do science beneficial to all, undertake international infrastructure projects. We aren't, to any great extent, but it would be a possible justification.

It is the same thing. If I want to hold onto my valuable citizenship, I'm also supporting the right of richer people to maintain their wealth. It's tearing us apart, we're becoming horrible. The people who come by boats we lock up and torture, and our rich get richer. I'm just waiting for this not to be our time any more, for it to finally be the time of the 90% of the worlds population, because justice is that they take what we have and share it fairly.

49:

2 thunderingly obvious issues:-

1) You need to up the solar panel efficiency (kw/m^2) or area under panels 3 or 4 times to generate the electicity you now want to store.
2) You also need industial scale electicity storage on a size and scale never before seen.

50:

Wouldn't the atmosphere of Venus be a bit "windy" for colonization?

This is an asset, not a problem.

Consider what kind of power sources you'd need for a cloud-top city. You can dump waste heat up, but not down; more to the point, heat exchangers (for reactors or heat engines) are heavy. So lightweight photovoltaic cells are probably the way forward, if you're above most of the clouds (especially as the intensity of sunlight at Venus' orbit distance is about 50% higher than in Earth orbit).

However, the Venusian day is long -- longer than its year. If you rely on solar power and sit over the same spot, you're going to need to have BIG batteries. Much more sensible to ride those jet streams around the equator every 3-5 terrestrial days.

It makes more sense to use PV cells to electrolytically split water (imported from off-world; it's expensive) to hydrogen and oxygen in daylight, then when on the dark side, recombine them in fuel cells -- even the water vapour is a functional lift gas at altitude on Venus.

Your main hazard if you're free-floating (or a dirigible) is going to be clear air turbulence. On which subject, insufficient data: we really need to send a PV/fuel cell powered airship there first!

51:

"I've seriously never been able to understand why anyone wants to reduce inequality of wealth, or cares about it"

The short answer:

http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746

If you dont care about inequality of wealth, you dont care about democracy, and are ok with being ruled by a caste of hiper-rich people that dont share any interest at all with you and you well being.

52:

"Really big inflation" is, surprisingly, good for us: it drains savings, sure, but it flattens economic inequality. (And if this is virtual money we're talking about as a driver for the inflation, it's actually just pushing the reset button to take that crap out of circulation and show us where everybody really stands.)

53:

"Why is fusion desirable?" Two words -- base load. Many industrial processes require continuous power in huge quantities. Solar is great if you've got a fuckton of batteries in the loop (to smooth supply troughs and demand spikes) but in practice batteries aren't really good enough to supply our base load requirements throughout the hours of darkness.

Fusion has, I think, been over-sold as the nuclear equivalent of sparkly unicorn shit (no fallout, no meltdowns, no proliferation, oh my!); it's fiendishly expensive, unless aneutronic it creates masses of radioactive waste, and if you know what you're doing you can use those neutrons to breed plutonium. Meanwhile, reactor meltdowns turn out to be far less damaging than the outcome of the media panics they induce -- consider Fukushima (number killed by radiation from 3 meltdowns: zero, number killed by media panic and evacuation: roughly 1600). But nuclear -- be it fission or fusion -- is carbon-neutral and can supply copious base load power. So unless we get sparkly magical batteries in the near future, we're goin to need it, and fusion doesn't have meltdown cooties.

54:

I love the idea, but feel you haven't touched on the real problem here: radiation (solar + cosmic). Surely that's a bit of an issue on Venus? Especially up in the troposphere?

55:
"Really big inflation" is, surprisingly, good for us: it drains savings, sure, but it flattens economic inequality.

Does that really follow? Diluting savings probably does, overall, reduce inequality between middle and lower classes (although not in an evenly-distributed way). It has rather little effect on the truly wealthy -- few of them are fooling enough to hold a meaningful fraction of their assets as wealth.

56:

Just as an aside - GDP growth is not a cure all, either. During the industrial revolution GDP growth was on average around 2%. Which, incidentally, is what average UK GDP since 1830 is. Can't find the first number right now. But the second you can get from this BoE chart: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=6&cad=rja&uact=8&sqi=2&ved=0CD4QFjAF&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bankofengland.co.uk%2Fpublications%2FDocuments%2Fquarterlybulletin%2Fthreecenturiesofdata.xls&ei=ct5gU9mrKoaXtQbCrYHoAg&usg=AFQjCNHdilZGDt4Az7OCUC1dxo6LcWquzA&bvm=bv.65636070,d.Yms

57:

There is a well-tried mechanism to impose a diffuse tax on concentrated wealth and redistribute it, with minimal administration. It even has the nice feature that the wealthy can hedge it by putting their money into growthier, riskier investments, which seems to be what you're after.

It's called inflation. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was one of the very biggest forces that pulled r down below g in the mid-20th century. For normal people, there is nothing to fear from inflation if you're in a union, or if your pension is index-linked.

Indexate all the things, and inflate! inflate! inflate!

58:

we should really try to persuade the rich to invest in life-extension.

Are you kidding? We'd never get rid of those buggers.

59:

I suspect Mr. Cross might be from a place closer to the equator than thee and me, Charlie.

Midwinter where we live the sun rises at 9:00 a.m. and sets at 3:00 p.m. and reaching about 12 degrees above the horizon at noon. It's usually overcast and raining or snowing at that time of the year, of course. Not going to harvest much solar power then but we burn a fuckton of electricity running lights, central heating pumps etc. Luckily we have a couple of nuclear reactors about 50km to the east of the city centre producing over a GW of predictable CO2-free electricity day or night, windy or calm for 80% of the time.

Summer's better but not that much better, the sun at noon is only about 60 degrees above the horizon at noon at midsummer meaning a long airpath and loss of blue photons necessary to generate useful amounts of electricity. It's worse either side of noon, of course.

60:

I am reminded of a Joe Haldeman novel: "The high cost of living".

$MEGACORP invents a working immortal youth treatment. There is a hitch: it only lasts for a decade, then you crumble rapidly, so you need a power-up every 10 years. And it's expensive. They charge: $1M or all your earthly wealth, whichever is greater. So once you have it for the first time, every decade thereafter you have to squirrel away at least $1M, or you die.

It's a great way of expropriating billionaires. Admittedly, all it accomplishes is to create a single trillionaire, but ...

61:

It's a fun idea, but -- like most "inheritance tax" schemes -- ways to work around it will proliferate fast.

Highly-speculative counter argument to some of the anti-life-extension stuff: perhaps keeping first-generation billionaires around indefinitely is preferable to having a lot of second- or third-generation examples, because creating such a fortune in the first place implies at least some willingness to invest and, maybe, try new things.

62:

Charlie, if we (or someone) had the power to force such a scheme on the rich, we could easily force them to support much smaller projects with more immediate effect. And I don't believe in the wisdom of big technology projects. If technology could solve our problems, we wouldn't have any problems anymore. Most of our problems are social / political in nature.

63:

I believe I've mentioned this in other posts, but there's some glimmer of hope when the hyper-rich invest in products that could help the planet, like Bill Gates with Terrapower (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TerraPower). Elon Musk is another good example. In a sense, both are somewhat similar in that they come from middle class backgrounds and are first generation wealthy. The children of the rich seem much less likely to value social contribution.

Forcing expropriation from those who have the best access to the levers of power on government is probably going to require some level of at least social, if not physical, revolution. I find that very unlikely in the political climate of the UK or the US.

64:

@39:
the idea is to put a gun to their head and say "you can invest in these schemes and retain nominal ownership -- or we will nationalize the contents of your portfolio out from under you without compensation and tax the hell out of your personal savings. Your call."
---
When you're talking about corporate entities large enough to make a noticeable part of your tax burden, you're probably talking about multinationals with the legal/political resources to fight back. Or simply pull out of your jurisdiction. Or, if sufficiently threatened, try kicking the props out of the existing governmental structure and trying anow with a possibly more-reasonable one.

Even if, somehow, such a tax bite could be taken, the funds would then be allocated to corporate entities to implement the grand schemes. And those entities would be...?

Pay a trillion in tax, get a trillion+n back in grants and contracts, the money goes 'round and 'round...

65:

I would love to see a non-revolutionary approach to solving inequality - and this might be one such. I think normalising progressive taxation once again might be another such - you couldn't do it all at once, but it could be done in steps.

The trouble is, I'm starting to believe we're not going to see a non-revolutionary approach working. I was half-listening to something earlier on that suggested we're moving from a democracy to a plutocracy. It's less one person, one vote and more one dollar, one vote. I'm sure I heard that and didn't read it here and put it into the voice of the radio interviewee. I'm not going that mad am I? While I don't think it's quite that bad yet, I do wonder just how we're going to introduce such changes with what passes for our democracies these days.

And, sadly, I'm becoming more and more convinced that although I don't want to live through a revolution, we're being left with no other choice. The derisive "First World Problems" put down will be turned around, in much the same way that #everydaysexism doesn't say "your experience of sexism is too small to matter. Yes, other people have it worse, but that doesn't mean the disadvantaged poor in the first world don't have it bad.

I hope the ultra rich can be convinced to invest in something medium-long term for the greater good, or enough of them can be. I think most of them will look at it, look at the cost of hiring a load of thugs with guns and say "screw you."

66:

A problem with your point is that the Koch brothers aren't first-generation wealth creators; they're the third generation. (Although their dad co-founded the John Birch society and grandpa railed against the New Deal: their reactionary politics isn't new to them, and while I've no idea about their family arrangements I'd be surprised if their children, if any, didn't share their views: being born with great wealth tends to breed reactionary attitudes.)

67:

Bill Gates Jr (of Microsoft fame) was never middle class. His father was a named partner in the most powerful law firm in Seattle. He went to the most expensive private high school in the area (tuition 10 years ago was $20,000).

His father, I believe, grew up middle class. I think his mother grew up 'upper class' at least.

Gates is doing some good stuff, in the vein of Charlie's idea.

68:

My mistake. Still, he seems less of a total dick than he did 20 years ago.

My other theory about Elon Musk is that he's a Bond villain - successful immigrant with an unlikely name, vast personal wealth, supposedly philathropic but secretive. Now if SpaceX moves its operations to a private island and dresses all its employees in identical jumpsuits, I'll be certain it's time to send in 007. :-/

69:

Did my best at university. Since it was Imperial College and everyone was studying science anyway it was probably redundant. I don't think anyone I cornered with wild-eyed space colonisation plans stood to inherit more than £10M either (Probably. Since everyone was in jeans and T-shirt and drinking in a subsidised bar or cafe wealth/class markers were subtle)

70:

There is, I think, a core flaw with this idea.

Assumption 1: We can't just tax away the self-reinforcing fortunes of the ultra rich because they have too much political power.

Assumption 2: We can offer them "tax breaks" to do ego stroking long term projects.


The problem, I think, is that the ultra rich already pay very little in taxes and if 1 is true will likely continue to pay less and less. In order to offer them 'tax breaks' as an inducement the default state would have to be one of significant taxation. If we can implement that we can surely just tax wealth so as to prevent extreme concentration.

I also wonder how one would construct "...tax breaks for investing in some really long-term project that doesn't necessarily offer them a return on investment any faster than the overall GDP growth rate, but which protects the nominal long-term value of their assets...". Protecting the nominal value means... like a government guarantee that the project can't fail to repay the principal? someday? Sound similar to 'municipal bonds' in the US. Tax favored loans for specific projects, sometimes backed by the government which spawned them (other times backed only by future revenue from the project).

71:

Per a journalist of my acquaintance, Musk jokes about being a Bond villain. "I have an electric car! And an island base with boiler-suited minions from which I launch space rockets! All I need is the chair and the white cat!"

See also the afterword to "The Jennifer Morgue". Blofeld was simply born ahead of his time by a generation or two.

72:

Must now fend off the temptation to write a Bond story from the point of view of Herr Dr. Ing. E. S. Blofeld, venture capitalist extraordinaire and master of unconventional capital investment regimes.

73:

Regarding the "why is fusion useful...? " question it's worth noting that a working fusion reactor (even one which doesn't generate meaningful levels of energy) could be a useful part of a fission based nuclear energy program - I'm pretty confident Inactually had this drawn to my attention here by the way.

The prodigious quantites of high-energy neutrons fusion generates apparently provide a handy way of converting nasty long-to-medium lived fission waste products into more easily managed short-lived stuff, which makes the storage/disposal issue somewhat more tractable. I suspect you could also use similiar mechamisms to drive a highly efficient "breeder" reactor converting not-so-useful waste into usable fuel...

74:

"I think most of them will look at it, look at the cost of hiring a load of thugs with guns and say "screw you.""
Remember what Machiavelli said "Gold will not get you good mercenaries but good merceneries will get you gold"
The problem with this approch is the thugs might/will decide stealing the rich's property is safer than fighting angry mobs and armed Government. I have a different name for the gated communities favoures by the rich-a trap.

75:

The problem with the majority of the rich is simply that they are rich; even those who are consciously evil are problematic because their wealth gives them opportunities to express that evil not otherwise available.

There's a simple fix that would require no new laws.

Shut down capital transfers.

Remonetize. Existing balances below $THRESHOLD -- convert at par. Balances above $THRESHOLD and below $LIMIT ablate substantially; nothing over $LIMIT continues to exist. Do the same thing to debt.

Then you need some new laws, or possibly regulations; it's amazing what you can do with tax regulations. Guaranteed minimum income, expression of public service salaries as functions of the minimum income, expression of the 100% tax bracket as a multiple (10, say) of the guaranteed minimum income, expression of the asset cap as a multiple of the guaranteed minimum income (100, say) and the abolition of joint-stock and limited liability corporations. Everything is either a collective or a partnership, we've got laws for those already. (Encourage the Stronach/Magna Motors structure model for large enterprises. Encourage worker-owned collectives as investment vehicles, too.)

Utterly nationalize banking. Create money directly, you've just gone and proved that's what happens.

The formerly rich will take some time to adjust, and certainly the property market will need careful tending for half a decade to avoid chaos, but we've already got laws about orderly liquidations, too. For the 99%, this is an obvious improvement as policy stops being about defending existing (which is to say, fossil carbon based) wealth and starts being, maybe, about dealing with the problems we've actually got.

76:

The ultra-rich did not get ultra rich by relying on ... safe conventional advice ... their financial planners will though.

Actually - here's a thought -- if you really want to redistribute financial wealth, go where the financial gates are ... and for the past 80 years or so, it's been the brokerages, stock markets, etc. Most of the new traded unless they earn something positive can reach insanely high prices. So, get a secret society of super savvy math and comp-sci geeks (this is a compliment!) to come up with new financial tools/products that only they can understand. (Which is the case now anyway.)

There are quite a few scenario choices as this unfolds. For example: legislate this as the only truly safe non-breakable code then collect your transaction fees which you could then index in whatever way you like whenever you like because you're a monopoly. And then, after all of the ultra-rich have 90%+ of their funds in this scheme -- kill it. (You'll have re-distributed/invested your portion of the take already as per your corporate charter.)

77:

consider Fukushima (number killed by radiation from 3 meltdowns: zero, number killed by media panic and evacuation: roughly 1600)

A lot of kids near Fukushima (58% of those screened) are developing thyroid abnormalities of the sort one might expect to result from exposure to radioactive iodine. A few, but statistically significant, cases of thyroid cancer have already developed.

http://www.fukuleaks.org/web/?p=11248

78:

It's still not going to be a patch on the side effects of that burning chemical refinery.

The difference is that people track the radiation and are forbidden to track the pollution. It's impossible to get anybody with a scientific reputation to stick total eventual excess deaths from Chernobyl at higher than 100,000; that's (at most) 10 years of Canada's excess deaths from combustion-sourced air pollution. (Fukushima isn't going to get within an order of magnitude of Chernobyl and Japan doesn't have less air pollution than Canada.)

79:

Regarding "Why is fusion useful?" Fusion looks a lot more like conventional reactors than solar and wind do. You can make lots of power when you need it, where you need it - on an aircraft carrier, underground, in orbit around Jupiter. Plus the fuels are light, safe, and (mostly) easy to find pretty much anywhere. Widespread implementation of solar requires large-scale (and expensive) restructuring of the electrical grid (to include storage) in a way that building fusion plants would not.

I work in inertial confinement (e.g. laser) fusion research, and I second the comment that we don't know what the best approach to implementing fusion is yet. There are radically different approaches within laser fusion, within inertial confinement more broadly, within magnetic fusion (e.g. tokamaks) - and we won't know which are the real winners until a) we ignite some burning plasmas and study how they really behave in practice, and b) several of the different approaches get enough funding to really evaluate how well they work. There are plenty of researchers and engineers who work on these problems: the issue is bankrolls.

80:

"Widespread implementation of solar requires large-scale (and expensive) restructuring of the electrical grid (to include storage) in a way that building fusion plants would not."

Disagree ... Power can be done on a per housing-unit basis. For some reason, our culture now equates 'power' (utilities) with centralization; it doesn't have to be done that way. Transportation is a form of 'utility' yet we still have multiple types of transport because one-size-fits-all doesn't work.

81:

I'm not sure fusion reactors are military useful -- or useful for space applications in the near to medium future. (Build a city around Saturn? Sure. In the next fifty years? Not so much.)

Sea-going nuclear reactors today run on HEU (98% IIRC -- weapons-grade stuff) with a fuel load of 50-100Kg, putting out 50Mw of motive force (200-250Mw thermal). They're tiny compared to land based reactors and they've got direct access to the ocean as a heat sink. But they're still so bulky that nobody puts them in small hulls -- nuclear subs are typically an order of magnitude bigger than non-nuclear ones, and the smallest warship anyone put one in was a heavy guided missile cruiser.

Now, how big is a fusion reactor with a 50Mw surplus power output going to be? Answer: bloody huge if it's a tokamak because it takes 600Mw of electricity (i.e. around 2.5Gb thermal) to power the containment magnets.

The only military use I can see for it is on board tankers supporting carrier battle groups in the age of expensive fossil fuels: run it full-time to power Fischer-Tropsch synthesis of methane as input to reformers outputting long-chain alkanes as jet fuel. It's inefficient but you can run it continuously, you've got a carrier battle group to defend it, and with it you can massively extend the CBG's reach if there are no fuel depots within easy reach. And if you're steaming with a 95,000 ton CVN there's no reason to make your fuel factory/tanker smaller than Panamax size.

82:

"Really big inflation is, surprisingly, good for us: it drains savings, sure, but it flattens economic inequality."

For whatever it is worth, Piketty is ambivalent on inflation: "Inflation has proved to be very useful to reduce the large stocks of public debts that we had in the 20th century. Now the progressive wealth tax, in a way, is the same thing as inflation, but this is sort of a civilized form of inflation.

It’s like inflation, but you can make sure that people with limited wealth would not be hurt, and people with billions would pay more. With inflation you have chaos, in that you don’t actually know who’s going to pay for it.

Very often, not only do you destroy the public debt, but you also destroy the savings accounts of lower and middle class people. I think this is why Europe today, for instance, has a very hard time with inflation.

That’s why I think tax on private wealth or property tax on private wealth is a better way to go than inflation. Now, if we don’t have the tax, inflation is better than austerity. If you only have budget surpluses to reduce a public debt of 100 percent GDP with zero inflation, which is what we have in the Euro zone right now, it can take decades and decades."

83:

I live in a west-facing apartment complex within two degrees of latitude of Moscow, and everything in my flat runs off electricity (cooker, heating, the whole bit). Generate me enough power to get me through a cold winter using only the resources of my housing unit.

Cities need at least some centralized power generation.

84:

Alternative things to spend trillions on:

Surface transport infrastructure, so we can replace liquid hydrocarbons (in aircraft and ships) with electricity once we're generating that electricity in a non-CO2 emitting manner. After all, you do want something to use all that lovely fusion electricity, don't you?

A submerged-tube tunnel from Cape Wrath to Nova Scotia via Iceland (to cross the Mid-Atlantic ridge above water, making earthquake and volcano damage repairable) would cost in the region of $2-5 trillion.

It should be in the region of 13 hours by train (at 400km/h) from coast to coast. About another four from the tunnel portal to New York (via Boston), another three to London, so that's 20 hours between New York and London. Not competitive with flying, but if you can regard the capital as a sunk cost, then it should be cheaper than the CO2 taxes on flying.

Build four bores so two can carry passengers and the other two freight and you've got a serious threat to container shipping.

For a shorter term grand projet, how about China-Europe? No more than a trillion USD, and 20 years.

China is already building an HSR line out to Ürümqi. Turkey's YHT includes a crossing of the Bosporus, and runs from Istanbul all the way to Ankara, with Erzurum already on the plans.

Western Europe's HSR (including planned) ends at Trieste (TAV) and Budapest (Magistrale for Europe).

So, trains through the Balkans (Budapest-Bucharest-Istanbul, Trieste-Ljubljana-Zagreb-Belgrade-Sofia-Istanbul). That's the easy bit.

The hard bit is the Erzurum-Ürümqi gap without going through Russia or Iran. The only other option is a tunnel under the Caspian Sea.

That means railway through Georgia and Azerbaijan (you'll never be able to secure a line that crosses the Armenia/Azerbaijan border), into a tunnel around Baku, out in Turkmenbashi (Turkmenistan) and then build a line north into Kazakhstan. You can avoid Kazakhstan, but only by going through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzistan; given the choice, I'll bribe two Central Asian dictators rather than four.

Then you just build the long line across the whole of Kazakhstan. The Chinese would love it, as it brings much more of Central Asia into their sphere of influence. Russia would hate it, but there is a limit to how many countries they can invade before they really piss someone off. There might be some sense in an Iranian route to avoid Georgia, or even all the way around the Caspian, so you go Turkey-Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan, assuming that China is more able to balance Russian influence in Kazakhstan (which they border) than in the Caucasus (which is 4000km away).

Paris-Beijing by this new Orient Express would be three days, the same as Paris-Istanbul was on the old one in the 1930s. While the long-distance stuff would only get used for passenger travel by train nerds like me, or by people desperate to avoid CO2 taxes, or by luxury cruise-trains, which would be actually make for a great holiday, the real profit would be in the freight. A container could get from a factory in China to Duisberg (the main rail-freight port in Western Europe) in 5-6 days, for a similar price to the 45 days on a ship to Rotterdam. That's assuming there's no money going to pay off the capital cost of the line - there is enough in that price to cover the capital costs of the trains, but not the track; with a long enough pay-off period, then that's not a problem; the track will turn an operating profit, so there will be some ROI, just not the rates these guys expect.

A line from Manchuria to Alaska through Russia's Far East (Amur and Magadan Oblasts, Khabarovsk Krai and Chukotka Okrug) and across a fixed-link over the Bering Strait would also divert a huge amount of shipping away from the Pacific. Only $300 billion or so, plus the rail on the North American continent.

Again, it couldn't compete on time with passenger flights, but would win a lot of freight traffic, and provide a future alternative to passenger flights if oil or CO2 taxes get expensive.

Once you've laid out the corridors, replacing rails with some other technology (maglev, whatever) would be much more straightforward.

On a smaller scale, densification and decent public transport in cities. Trams and undergrounds make (operating) profits, it's just the construction costs of their infrastructure take decades to pay back. Look at Edinburgh - the trams will pay themselves off somewhere about the turn of the 22nd century.

85:

Power can be done on a per housing-unit basis.

Running the house lights and a computer or two is one thing. Heating a house in Moscow or Toronto in the winter requires a lot more energy. Zone-refining silicon crystals or running a steel is a different thing altogether.

86:

Heating a house in Moscow or Toronto in the winter requires a lot more energy.

Toronto is the warm south.

With better houses and heat pumps, it really isn't a problem. Have to build those houses, but so much of the housing stock is coming due for replacement anyway in NorAm you could get a nice economic uptick out of it.

Note that cold is the easy problem; people put out heat, all you have to do is insulate. (Insulating just the people works to prevent death in emergencies.) Heat is much tougher to handle.

87:

Charlie, have you seen the last scene of Machete Kills?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCTrhOhZIlo

88:

I don't know if I'm missing a joke, but Toronto's in Canada. "Warm" and "south" are not words typically applied.

A few decades ago we used to overinsulate a lot of buildings, and we discovered something called "sick building syndrome". It turns out a certain amount of ventilation is necessary, and if you go too low people feel sick and everything tends to mildew (people also pump out moisture).

Heat exchangers can equalize the temperature of incoming and outgoing gasses, but that only solves half the problem.

89:

I missed the parenthesis! Apologies about that.

Since these programs will have low or no payoff, I'm still not clear on how the politics of forcing the rich to invest in them is less contentious than the politics of imposing high taxes. What am I missing?

(P.S. The two Koch brothers usually cited -- there are actually two others as well -- have five grandchildren between them. I don't know how many great-grandchildren there are yet.)

90:

Whoops -- that should read "children" and "grandchildren."

91:

I'm pretty sure shipping by ship is the most efficient option by 20% or more, even without considering the higher infrastructure costs of rail.

Rail only wins when the sea route is a lot longer, or for inland destinations. That is common, but a cross ocean tunnel is in direct competition with the best case for ships.

92:

Surface transport infrastructure, so we can replace liquid hydrocarbons (in aircraft and ships) with electricity once we're generating that electricity in a non-CO2 emitting manner.

What are you going to replace liquid hydrocarbons with in aircraft? Or ships, for that matter? (Shipping can go nuclear -- at a price -- but aircraft seem to require the energy density per unit mass and volume of kerosene).

As for trains, energy draw by rail seems to scale with the cube of the speed, above a threshold, due to rolling resistance and drag: it's optimal below 100km/h. Maybe the best bet would be to upgrade the trans-Siberian line and build a bridge over the Bering Straits and across the Gibraltar Straits. That way it would be possible to ship freight by rail from Tierra del Fuego to Cape Town or Calais ... but that's not a terribly sensible passenger system!

93:

This is a nice discussion by Paul Krugman on Moyers & Company. Here is the video and transcript.

What the 1% Don't Want You to Know
April 18, 2014
http://billmoyers.com/episode/what-the-1-dont-want-you-to-know-2/

[quote]
What the 1% Don't Want You to Know

The median pay for the top 100 highest-paid CEOs at America's publicly traded companies was a handsome $13.9 million in 2013. That's a 9 percent increase from the previous year, according to a new Equilar pay study for The New York Times.

These types of jumps in executive compensation may have more of an effect on our widening income inequality than previously thought. A new book that's the talk of academia and the media, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, a 42-year-old who teaches at the Paris School of Economics, shows that two-thirds of America's increase in income inequality over the past four decades is the result of steep raises given to the country's highest earners.

This week, Bill talks with Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, about Piketty's "magnificent" new book.

"What Piketty's really done now is he said, 'Even those of you who talk about the 1 percent, you don't really get what's going on.' He's telling us that we are on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy. A society of inherited wealth."

Krugman adds: "We're seeing inequalities that will be transferred across generations. We are becoming very much the kind of society we imagined we're nothing like."

Producer: Gina Kim. Segment Producer: Lena Shemel. Editor: Rob Kuhns. Intro Producer: Lena Shemel. Editor: Sikay Tang. Outro Producer: Rob Booth.
Editor: Sikay Tang.
[/quote]

94:

...just imagining those trains getting to Cape Town with no incident!

...and as regards the pro-rail post above (@84), I google mapped Manchuria, where's that then? (hehe)

95:

An online game I used to play, Kingdom of Loathing, had a similar problem to the current wealth concentration issue -- due to a bug, many players ended up with billions to trillions of the in-game currency (meat). New players, and those who did not know of the bug, would usually have around 0 to a few thousand meat, so the discrepancy was dramatic and resulted in things like auctions for semi-rare items hitting astronomical levels rather quickly.

Rather than do what many MMOs did in similar situations and forceably rollback the game to a pre-bug state, the admins created "meat sinks." These are some very expensive in-game items, a few plot lines which required massive funding, and other ways to encourage spending. This resulted in draining most of the "bugmeat" out and re-leveling the playing field.

I keep wondering if maybe the various governments of the world should start doing similar things. While there are some obvious money sinks that have already been tried (space travel, buying vast tracts of land, naming really big things), there seems to be many more opportunities, much like Charlie mentions in the article. Add incentives as mentioned and maybe we can get the money out of offshore accounts and giant piles of cash and back into the economy somehow.

96:

I don't know if I'm missing a joke, but Toronto's in Canada. "Warm" and "south" are not words typically applied.

We-ell, depends on your point of view. Toronto's latitude is a bit over 43 degrees. The average lowest temperature for the coldest month (years 1981-2010), January, is -5.6 C. The summer temperatures are about 25-31 C, highest. (Source: Wikipedia.)

I live near Helsinki, so my latitude is about 60 degrees. I think Toronto is very solidly South of me (as it is South of for example Edinburgh). Also it is warmer than Helsinki, though not by much - the Gulf Stream helps here. Summers have been getting hotter here, and bad winters (rather: six-month long autumns) have been getting a bit more common. On the other hand, winters with lot of snow have also been seen often lately.

Toronto gets much more sunlight during the winter time, however. This makes it much easier for solar power during that time. Also, even though the Sun is over the horizon for a long time during the summer days, it is still relatively low for a long time, so the atmosphere hinders solar power even in the summer.

For comparison, Pisa in Italy is on about the same latitude as Toronto. So, yes, Toronto is South and even warm, from my point of view. I guess you live somewhere in the United States, and not Alaska.

97:

Jerry Pournelle wrote about this issue in his work "A Step Farther Out," in respect to applications for space based solar power.

A quick answer to your broader question about how to provide remote power for terrestrial transportation such as shipping and airliners is found through:

sun hertzberg "laser aircraft propulsion"

Which turns up:

N90-10145
ntrs.nasa.gov%2farchive%2fnasa%2fcasi.ntrs.nasa.gov%2f19900000829.pdf/RK=0/RS=nJ8P9ojrvexHLsws1t6ZyEkmWGk-

It is a PDf file. Have a read.

It all stands up very nicely for applications beyond airliners in that one could imagine how a steam ship, as we find to this day in the form of LNG carriers, could use a reception module on top of all of the shipping containers to intercept energy from orbit. Energy to boil water could be obtained from a small reserve of onboard fuel and the energy from the reception array serves as a superheating mechanism.

98:

Jay - that is totally a solved non-problem. Look up Passivehaus technology, it includes heat exchangers and forced ventilation. Hey presto, no sick building syndrome. Remember too that insulation is not directly related to how much air is pumped through a building.

As far as I'm concerned, every new built house and flat in the uK should be built to passivehaus standards. Still leaves us a huge lagacy of old properties, (whose owners, thanks to the upward concentration of money, lack the wherewithall to upgrade them) but it would be a start.

99:

The real problem is summed up in Guthrie's comment: overwhelmingly, they'd rather pay politicians to let them loot a country (and that includes by invasion, as in Iraq).

Having worked for telecoms, I go for "nationalize without remuneration", and let them offer services over leased lines from us, the hoi-polloi, and we can live off the royalties, instead of them.... (and maybe pay for a freakin' *REAL* space program, dammit! Worldcon this year will be my first trip off of N. Am, and I'm of the generation that expected to get off *planet* by, say, 2001....)

mark

100:

Do the math; your laser-powered plane might be feasible for small relay drones, but it's useless for civil aviation.

A BOTE calculation (just eaten when my blog login times out) suggests that to keep an A380 jumbo flying would require a laser with output on the order of 1Gw collimated to within a few metres when it arrives at the target -- the technical term for which is a "death ray". And it's only useful for line-of-sight propulsion, so you either need to base the emitters in orbit (hello, this is the Strategic Defense Initiative calling, can we have our ICBM zappers back?) or lots of ground/sea based transmitters.

Even if you apply it to smaller planes, you're still talking about upwards of 100Mw of laser power needed to push a Boeing 737 along.

JEPs "A Step Farther Out" and sequel was full of this kind of DARPA-funded bullshit. There are applications for it; but replacing petrochemicals as fuel for civil aviation and air freight is not one of them.

101:

There are three no-fossil-carbon possibilities for air travel.

1 - decide it's messing with the atmosphere too severely, especially by adding stratospheric pollutants, and stop doing it above about 10 kfeet at most. (I prefer this. Anything that makes a runaway greenhouse more likely, we should stop.)

2 - synthetic hydrocarbon fuel with no fossil component; this is probably where we're going, and it's going to make air travel much more expensive and less common.

3 - Zeppelins. Much slower, but efficient due to lighter-than-air and just being slower. Possibly with electric props and hydrogen fuel cells.


Solar-powered semi-gliders doubtless have a niche, but it's not going to be a passenger niche.

102:

I live in Toronto. It certainly is the warm south from a Canadian perspective. It's not the sort of place you can compare the climate to Moscow. (That's, well, Ottawa, or better, Winnipeg, where you're in the middle of a continent and the winter lets you know. And with the internet, you can expect someone from Nunavut to show up and tell you what percentage of the Northwest Passage is currently iced over if you get to commenting on the cold too much.)

My understanding is that the metre-thick-walls-and-heat-exchangers construction problems are solved; the social problem of moving the inevitably grey-market, slipshod, and corrupt construction industry to those practices hasn't been, but could be.

103:

graydonish wrote:
There are three no-fossil-carbon possibilities for air travel.

1 - decide it's messing with the atmosphere too severely, especially by adding stratospheric pollutants, and stop doing it above about 10 kfeet at most. (I prefer this. Anything that makes a runaway greenhouse more likely, we should stop.)

This is a critical safety and comfort risk; high altitude, above the active weather (except the worst thunderstorms) is one key to the current safety rate for air travel.

2 - synthetic hydrocarbon fuel with no fossil component; this is probably where we're going, and it's going to make air travel much more expensive and less common.

The current biojetfuel costs look to be about $2/gal more, or about plus 50% on fuel cost, or about +15% on ticket cost. That's bulk buys today.

That is Not a Big Deal on the grand scheme of things. Total impact of the post 9/11 security theater frufru was worse than that.

3 - Zeppelins. Much slower, but efficient due to lighter-than-air and just being slower. Possibly with electric props and hydrogen fuel cells.

Time is money. Cycle time for aircraft is real money. Zepplins both fly at low altitudes (== weather, see above) and slow (==1/5 to 1/4 of the cycles per day)

Thus Zeps give 4-5 times more impact to ticket cost of the capital cost of the aircraft and of the flight crew cost component, which is half the current total personnel costs. Rough airline costs today are 25% hull costs 25% personnel 25% maintenance 25% fuel. At a 4:1 cycle rate, that's 100% hull costs, 25% maintenance, 60% personnel costs, 25% minus some fuel, for total impact about a 2.1 or so multiplier to per-seat costs. Very roughly.

THAT will disrupt travel.

There are solutions that people will buy off on, and solutions for which the general public will flip environmentalists the bird. Biofuels for existing jet types will be ok for the public, as would alternate liquid methane fueled planes or a few other variations. Zeps and low altitude only will not fly to replace the bulk of air travel.

104:

Charlie:
What are you going to replace liquid hydrocarbons with in aircraft? Or ships, for that matter? (Shipping can go nuclear -- at a price -- but aircraft seem to require the energy density per unit mass and volume of kerosene).

Trains and ships can use batteries. The molten electrolyte batteries in particular have cycle lives that are similar to long-haul ship economic lifespans (one voyage and charge cycle per week = 50/yr or 1,000 in 20 years), good enough energy densities to not much disrupt the payload ratio of the shipping hulls. Rail is generally similar but probably would be more picky with battery technology employed, as battery spills on land in accidents could be spectacular.

Yes, they're large containers of hot (lithium, sulphur, whatever) but the square-cube law makes larger containers of those safer and cheaper.

As for trains, energy draw by rail seems to scale with the cube of the speed, above a threshold, due to rolling resistance and drag: it's optimal below 100km/h. Maybe the best bet would be to upgrade the trans-Siberian line and build a bridge over the Bering Straits and across the Gibraltar Straits. That way it would be possible to ship freight by rail from Tierra del Fuego to Cape Town or Calais ... but that's not a terribly sensible passenger system!

See above for battery options.

Powered rail (grade level or overhead cable) is well proven, but may be more expensive than battery trains. In either case, it's a moderate stretch, not a huge new R&D program.

The main problem with overhead power for many train runs now is having enough vertical clearance for rail cars with two intermodal containers stacked up, on the big container-shipping runs.

A requirement that 25% of trains across the US be electric in 15 years and 100% in 30 years would probably not be that catastrophic, though I would have to check rolling stock economic lifespan info on existing locomotives.

105:

Musk jokes about being a Bond villain. "I have an electric car! And an island base with boiler-suited minions from which I launch space rockets! All I need is the chair and the white cat!

https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/192701084932907009

106:
As far as I'm concerned, every new built house and flat in the uK should be built to passivehaus standards.

Not everyone wants to live in a Passivhaus (although I'd maybe consider it if someone explained how you fit a cat-flap).

At least in the more southerly parts of the UK, even quite old leaky houses need little heating if you don't mind wearing a jumper in winter. I'd argue that Passivhaus-type solutions are overkill.

107:

Sure, they probably are for the south, i.e. below london.
Towards the midlands etc they are a better idea - I've lived in Sheffield and Manchester and both had periods of freezing and cold weather which required reasonable heating.

108:

There are solutions that people will buy off on, and solutions for which the general public will flip environmentalists the bird. Biofuels for existing jet types will be ok for the public, as would alternate liquid methane fueled planes or a few other variations. Zeps and low altitude only will not fly to replace the bulk of air travel.

Yep. (Though I really, really hope we don't get stuck with biofuel; direct synthesis doesn't gnaw on cropland or expect fossil carbon fertilizer inputs.)

I would really, really like better confidence that dumping all that carbon in the stratosphere isn't a significant greenhouse risk, though, and so far as I know no one can presently rule that out.

109:

It depends on how you define 'significant', because as far as I am aware it is clear that it's worse than dumping it at sea level, but not exactly catastrophic in the way that CFC's are.

110:

At least in the more southerly parts of the UK, even quite old leaky houses need little heating if you don't mind wearing a jumper in winter. I'd argue that Passivhaus-type solutions are overkill.

The polar vortex spalling looks like it precesses, so there's no real reason to suppose the southern UK won't get a prolonged visit from an Arctic air mass; the Gulf Stream may get the stutters. That's a heck of a bet to make over the fifty-plus year design life of a house.

Climate instability is just that, and mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere design planning ought to at least think about -40 through +40 temperatures as possibilities.

Also, this is much more a question of survival than comfort; yes, it's a complete pain. Yes, you'd like a cat flap. People would really like to keep cheap air travel. Doesn't make any of those things more important than not crashing agriculture.

111:

I'm familiar with both Toronto and Montreal ...

Compared with Toronto, Montreal is older construction overall with much less insulation than current building standards now insist upon. Montreal has also been in headlines re: massive corruption (mob links) within its construction industry - a problem that's been known about for decades.

Another key variable is rent vs. own: generally owners will upgrade (and renovate) their dwellings more if only to maintain their investment. Montreal historically has been a city of renters.

The StatsCan data below reminded me of something else: Quebec which has enjoyed the cheapest hydro in North America for a few decades is facing huge cost increases in 2016 when the Churchill Falls related 25-year contract for cheap electricity is renewed. Poor planning that - Quebec sat on its hands for almost 25 years. The combination of cheap energy, lower home ownership, mob/monopolistic practices, etc. translated into no incentive to bring Montreal construction/building practices in line with 21st century energy reality. (The irony here is that Newfoundland-Labrador has been the have-not province from the time it joined Confederation in 1949 to within the past decade while Quebec, formerly the wealthiest province, is now a have-not province.)

Statistics Canada data: "Households in the Atlantic provinces had the highest homeownership rates in the country, led by Newfoundland and Labrador at 77.5%. Quebec had the lowest rate among provinces at 61.2%."

What you do about this is up to you ...

112:

My understanding is that most things get chilled out at the top of the tropopause, and that this keeps CO2 out of the upper atmosphere. When you burn hydrocarbons in the stratosphere, you get C-something floating around, and given a little time and the fierce high-altitude sunlight, pretty soon you've got CO2. This is one of the candidates for a runaway-greenhouse-to-cool-Venus mechanism.

113:

Trains and ships can use batteries.

Another possibility is alkaline fuel cells and air-and-water synthesis of anhydrous ammonia; we're going to have to do that anyway for agriculture, ammonia handling is well-understood, the detection threshold's three orders of magnitude smaller than the lethal concentration, the vapour's lighter than air so it won't pool in the hull, and it's got about half the energy density of gasoline. You need a reformer feeding the fuel cell but ships and trains have room for that.

Pure batteries are better; .7 x .7 from storage to ship, then extraction to propulsion; about .5 after solar efficiency, versus .2 x .9 for the ammonia-and-fuel-cells. (Which might be a better candidate for tractors, if the farmers are going to have the ammonia around anyway. Or, of course, someone might get clever and produce a highly efficient catalytic production process.)

114:

Here's the hydro cost comparison done by QuebecHydro itself (2013) for major cities in North America. (This analysis was partly intended as a marketing tool to encourage energy-intensive manufacturing investment in Quebec.)

http://www.hydroquebec.com/publications/en/comparison_prices/pdf/comp_2013_en.pdf

What really cheeses me off with most hydro rate fee structures is that most hydros' price structures actually encourage wastage: the more power you guzzle, the lower your per kilowatt cost. Check your own hydro's rate structure ... Maybe we can get some grassroots indignation going that'll catch the media's attention.

115:

synthetic hydrocarbon fuel with no fossil component; this is probably where we're going, and it's going to make air travel much more expensive and less common.

Actually, no. Turns out that fuel is only one third of the cost component of civil aviation -- one third is airframe cost (depreciation and maintenance) and one third is personnel (not just the pilots and cabin crew; it takes a small army of ground personnel to keep them serviced). So the cost of fuel could triple and it would only double the cost of air transport; it'd take an order of magnitude increase (to on the order of $1000/barrel) to triple the price. Meanwhile, in real terms, the price of air travel today is about a quarter to a third what it was in the 1970s. So at worst it'd go back to costing roughly what it did in the 70s in terms of per-capita income.

We aren't going to see hydrocarbons spike to over $1000 per barrel. Algae-based biofuels have already been tried in jet engines and the USN and USAF are investing heavily in the tech; even at a $200/barrel price point for fossil-carbon-neutral fuel, air travel is going to remain a commercially viable means of mass transport across long distances.

Zeppelins are, I think, unlikely: they're so slow they can't make decent headway in even medium-force winds, and they're very vulnerable to bad weather. (Yes, we have weather sats. No, merely being able to avoid hull losses due to knowing where the storms are isn't going to help overcome economic losses due to schedule disruptions.)

116:

Trains and ships can use batteries.

Why on earth do trains need batteries?

We've had nuclear-powered 200mph express trains for decades, here in the developed world.

Sorry. Must drop the snark. The French have had nuclear-powered 200mph-capable trains -- the TGV Atlantique. They're electric multiple units and over 70% of France's power infrastructure is nuclear powered; the trick is not to put the reactor on the vulnerable moving bit, but to leave it decently buried under several metres of concrete and a few kilometers away from anything that might conceivably derail.

Now, the headway clearance for carrying two stacked multimodal containers under overhead cables is indeed a problem -- but only if you're trying to retrofit overhead cables on old track that was designed for freight locos built before those containers. In Europe, they simply don't stack the containers atop each other: it means longer freight trains, but they're electrically powered and potentially rather faster and more efficient (not to mention carbon-neutral) than the old diesel variety.

The UK is a messy mix of diesel-electric and overhead electric traction (with some third rail systems in the south east and on city metros). We should have gone 100% overhead electric a decade ago, but funnily enough all the funds to pay for it got siphoned off as sweeteners for the companies who bought up the privatised rights-of-way ... so it's just our main passenger services and express routes that are electrified. Disgraceful.

117:

Yep. (Though I really, really hope we don't get stuck with biofuel; direct synthesis doesn't gnaw on cropland or expect fossil carbon fertilizer inputs.)

The way things are going, what we need is a technique for processing jellyfish into jet fuel :-(

118:

Doubling isn't much more expensive? I'd expect that to knock a lot of elective air travel on the head in a lasting way, tourism's almost all "how good a week can I get for $PRICE_POINT?" Location is a lot more flexible than $PRICE_POINT.

My understanding is that it's not just the fuel price, as well; there's an expectation of doing a tech-generation of optimizing engines for the new mix of hydrocarbons while trying to optimize the process producing the hydrocarbons to get the mix they want for an acceptable price, all the synthetic processes have an issue with longer-chains. So we probably need to add in some engines-and-airframe price increase there, too.

I agree that Zeppelins are unlikely; they are one of the technical possibilities, though, and a more likely one than, say, LOX-and-aluminium passenger rockets.

119:

Is tourism the main driver for air travel these days? I thought it had come to compete with trains and coaches for long-haul inter-city commuting and transport for a lot of people -- the ultra-low-cost carriers being the cause. As it is, more than half the price of the most recent tickets I bought was tax; it's actually cheaper for me to fly EDI-London than to get the train, despite the air travel taxes (which doesn't apply to the trains -- they merely get taxed 20% VAT).

120:

Locally, short-hop air travel's price competitive with trains, but the trains tend to be full and the aircraft don't. I don't know why that is; I suspect a combination of "people drive" and "irradiated or violated?" security theatre. I also see much more advertising for tourist flying than commuter flying. (This may be a function of where I see it; transit system ads.)

I'd also expect commuter traffic to be intensely price-sensitive; sure, time is money, but not all that much money for what's either dead time or time where more laptop room has significant value. (Plus the tendency of trains to deliver you downtown, rather than to a couple hours of security theatre and cab ride.) So I wouldn't expect commuter airlines to do very well with a major price increase. Teleconferencing's not delightful, but I'd expect it to uptick in the face of increased air travel prices.

121:

I don't know about the UK, but in the US the taxes on airline tickets pay for most of the cost to the government for running the air travel system, while that is just wrapped into the train ticket price.

122:

Admittedly, all it accomplishes is to create a single trillionaire, but ...

No problem, just have the government appropriate the technology, on the same terms. Anyone taking part on life extension outside that suffers capital punishment. If they try and run, then headhunters are allowed to hunt them down - the prize for the head - free life extension treatment for the headhunter.

That would get that money circulating pretty good, hell, you probably wouldn't need other taxes.

Only issue, of course, is the one I mentioned at the start - we don't live in a democracy, the rich have appropriated control for themselves.

123:

Don't you dare. You KNOW some libtard would like the idea and would start raiding Bond storylines for 'good' business opportunities.

124:

The problem with all these plans about having the government go after the rich people is that the government and the rich are the same thing. So, it ain't never gonna happen kids


125:

Oliver Cromwell to the white courtesy phone, please, Oliver Cromwell.

126:

There is no problem with FLYING
It's the fucking airports & the fake "security"
I'm off to Germany again in July & I'm going by train ....
The UKBA may not be as bad as USDHS, but they are still paranoid, rude arrogant shits & I get extremely twitchy around them - which makes things worse, of course.

127:

LSZ's ("Zeppelins") are unlikely, but other lifitng bodies might be a very distinct future possibility, might they not?

128:

Charlie:
Now, the headway clearance for carrying two stacked multimodal containers under overhead cables is indeed a problem -- but only if you're trying to retrofit overhead cables on old track that was designed for freight locos built before those containers. In Europe, they simply don't stack the containers atop each other: it means longer freight trains, but they're electrically powered and potentially rather faster and more efficient (not to mention carbon-neutral) than the old diesel variety.

We already run airbrake system length limited - 3,500 m - container trains around the US. You'd have to invent and qualify new airbrakes or double the number of trains.

And before you complain I'm exaggerating, a freight went by at the local 35 mph limit for 3.5 minutes an hour and a half ago while I was in Gilroy, California. I can verify speed from pacing it and time from waiting for it a bit earlier at a crossing. I get 3,200 to 3,300 meters.

Never thought timing that wait would be useful...

129:

Charlie won't have, but I have, and I really hope that "Machete Kills Again, In Space" will become a real thing.

130:

Para the last - How did you get over to Satellite 4 last month Charlie?

One possibility would have been:-
1) Taxi home to Edinburgh Waverley (or Haymarket; whichever's easier).
2) Train to Partick (West side of Glasgow for those not familiar with Scottish geography) using stock from the Strathclyde "blue trains" (which are presently red and cream).
3) Change there for either taxi to your hotel, or another blue train to Exhibition Centre and walk ~1km to hotel).

So the train part could have been done using a commuter train powered by overhead electricity.

131:

Hmmm - I've only been treated rudely once dealing with the security theatre, and that was at Thiefrow.

132:

Or maybe produce "airbrake booster stock" and couple one of those in after every 200 regular container wagons.

133:

As an alternative to getting the hyper-rich to pay at gun point for fusion or colonisation of Venus I’d suggest a cure for cancers.

It would be immediately useful in that putting several extra billions a year into research for cancer treatments would start to turn up some useful results within a few years with other improvements coming along on a yearly basis for the next few decades.

It would be politically much more popular than colonies on Venus.

The rich themselves have some direct interest in the outcomes. At some point they will know and care about someone who has cancer. If you can cure the One Person you can probably cure millions of people. They also get to stick their name on it which helps turn the heat of the mob down.

It seems to be a series of problems of the right order of magnitude to absorb a lot of the parked excess wealth.

The payoff to the investment is more apparent to the ordinary person. It’s unclear to me that fusion is obviously a better way of producing energy in the 20-100 year timescale than renewables. It’s unclear to me that a colony on Venus is that helpful in my life either. My wife’s friend not dying of cancer at 44. That’s worth something to me.

If a cure for cancers doesn’t grab you – how about we compel them to invest in a massive arts sponsorship programme. Lots of jobs for people. Like a massive science programme the benefits leak out.

Or a huge education programme in the developing world. What’s the set up cost of university with sufficient decent high schools to feed it and sufficient decent primary schools to feed them. £5 billion? Everyone gets to pick a country, endow the infrastructure for a small university and a bunch of schools. The special pay off to this is that by equipping lots of workers to do higher value work you probably mitigate the tendency for inequality to accrue and the extra GDP pays for the cure for cancers and the arts programme.


(I also like the massive railway and tunnels idea.)

134:

And the third attack novel rears its ugly head!

135:

Locally, short-hop air travel's price competitive with trains, but the trains tend to be full and the aircraft don't.

That's very much not the case here in the UK. Trains: from 60-120% of capacity. Planes ... don't fly over 100% capacity (no standing on board) but typical load factors for domestic short-haul are in the 80-95% range.

There may be some local factors at work.

136:

At a very exclusive Swiss clinic:

"Your hair loss is related to your other stress-induced issues, Herr Blofeld. You must learn to relax. Have you considered a pet?"

137:

When we crossed Canada by train, back in 2009, the limit to train length appeared to be down to the crossing loops — while it's perfectly possible to have trains longer than the ones we encountered, the fact that the route was mostly single track meant that you couldn't have two over-length trains pass each other. The shorter train had to be shorter than the available crossing loop, to be able to clear the main track.

(Being on the passenger train, we always had to pull over every time a mile long double-stack freight wanted to come through. There's enough traffic that this was quite frequent. Wikipedia indicates that there are freights twice that length or more.)

Oz appears to have the same issue between Perth and Sydney, but the traffic there was low enough we could get off at Cook and wander round town (for values of 'town' that encompasses a smaller population than the average dinner party) without worrying about traffic coming the other way.

I suspect that much of Canada's traffic is down to the way that the continent is in the way of sea transport: a lot of containers being offloaded at Vancouver, hauled to Montreal, and then put back on ships to continue the East Asia to Atlantic Coast route. For Oz, the ships can go round much more easily.

Of course the solution to the passing issue is have twin tracks. Up the slope of the Rockies the Canadian route is double, it's the bit across the prairies that's single track. In Europe, most routes are sufficiently busy that double tracks are the norm, going up to quadruple on busier ones such as the English East Coast Main Line.

I guess that the air brake limit is surely not insuperable - distributed power trains can surely also have distributed air brakes.

138:

You'd have to invent and qualify new airbrakes or double the number of trains

I'm pretty sure airbrakes went the way of the steam locomotive in the 1950s on this side of the Atlantic; it's all electronically-controlled pneumatic systems on low-speed rail, and high performance stuff on passenger rail (where local commuter trains routinely hit 100mph and express trains in the UK top off at 186mph and on the mainland can run faster).

Normal maximum length for a freight train on Network Rail in the UK is 448 metres (70 standard units), although in very rare circumstances up to 750 metres may be accommodated.

139:

Para the last - How did you get over to Satellite 4 last month Charlie?

I drove. (50 miles, via both Glasgow and Edinburgh city centers -- no bypass available, although I did take the M8 for most of Glasgow). From where I live to the SECC is basically a transport nightmare because that side of Glasgow was bulldozed and redesigned for cars (badly) in the 60s and 70s, and where I live in Edinburgh is most emphatically not designed for cars (it dates to the 1750s).

140:

I wonder, very tentatively, if changes in technology around physical robots, 3-D printing, machine intelligence and the storage and transmission of data erode the value of capital by reducing the returns to capital due to increased competition between capital holders.

At the moment, if you want mass consumer goods you need a large factory. This represents a significant accumulation of skilled expensive labour embodied in the design and construction of the machinery. Paid for in advance of making any sales.

You also need a product. This also represents a significant accumulation of skilled expensive labour embodied in the intellectual property. Also paid for in advance of making any sales.

You also need lots of people to work in the factory who will probably want to be paid before you have sold the product.

So lots of risk in that you are paying in advance for labour or the machines it has built or the stuff it has designed before you are paid for it.

So, you have to have your own capital to risk or be able to persuade other people to invest with you or lend to you.

Because the machinery is likely to be bespoke the cost is increased and the risk concentrated. If I’ve bought a machine for doing X and no one wants X I’ve lost the value of the machine.

Because of the economies of scale needed to justify lots of the fixed costs in setting up a factory you need to put at risk a lot of capital. Which either means that you, personally have a lot of capital to invest, or you are one of many, many people aggregating your capital which is currently done by handing control of the capital over to the CEO of a bank, pension fund or PLC.

I wonder if access to general purpose capital machinery – programmable robots and 3-D printers – and the de facto reduction in the excludability of intellectual property, in combination makes it much easier for smaller, more flexible, less risky concentrations of capital to set up economically useful manufacturing plants. In particular the prospect of roboticised robot-making plants.

Specifically, could a small community – say Edinburgh or Abuja– set up a general purpose manufacturing plant to make small specialist manufacturing plants (and then recycle the materials) for the same price as running one or two specialist capital programme? For example, rather than funding a new traffic interchange and loft insulation for all social housing, instead we buy a general purpose manufacturing plant. The next year we use it to make ourselves a loft insulation plant and some robots to gather and process waste paper into loft insulation raw materials and we also build some of our own road maintenance robots. The following year we build a machine to print out racks for solar panels and cherry-picker robots to install them on roofs.

And so on, boot strapping ourselves to approaching self-sufficiency by replacing capital with patience and robots.

If we can, what do need the huge concentrations of capital for and what do we need the hyper-capitalists for?

141:

Don't need to bother with that as it's in the file. The author seems to think about 40 megawatts for a 190 seat, 737 equivalent study vehicle called the TAC/E. You only need to operate one engine, remember, as you then have a fuel reserve and 240 minute ETOPS qualification that is only important in the Pacific as there are so few airfields, for if you lose the beam for some reason.

"An A380 jumbo flying would require a laser with output on the order of 1Gw collimated to within a few metres when it arrives at the target.."

Not unreasonable in terms of energy processed, just the fact that it is concentrated upon a single point. Four Trent engines can, according to Rolls Royce's own PR, generate enough power to run the entire city of Derby. Air travel requires lots of energy, yes...

"...so you either need to base the emitters in orbit..."

Yup, the author says that. There is a Lockheed proposal/study of an orbital relay system that uses a Molniya type orbit to position the emitter for a long period over the northern hemisphere where the markets are, and a perigee in the southern hemisphere where, as MH-370 has proven, aircraft don't go...

"Only six of the eight relays would be over the northern hemisphere at any given moment. For simplicity a strategy of one power satellite and one relay per flying airplane was chosen. Thus, if an airplane flies 3 times per day and averages eight hours per flight then 6 power satellites, 8 relay satellites and six airplanes can handle 18 flights per day. Boeing's analysis of TAC/E airplanes assumed a fleet of 300 airplanes. Following Boeings example, a fleet of 300 airplanes was selected for this study. Consequently 300 power satellites, 400 relay satellites are also needed."

Eight hours in a 737 seems a bit goofy, but you could have six four hour flights and raise your schedule to a potential 36 movements a day...Southwest airlines/Easyjet territory. You wanted big and ambitious projects for the 0.01% to spend their money on, SPS is it.

142:

I'd partly disagree that argument because the SECC complex is built on the reclamed site of Queen's Dock (and also because the infill work was done 1982-83 when the former St Enoch Station and its raised platform were demolished to street level). Other than the A814 "Clydeside Expressway" there were very few roads between Finnieston Street and the rivers Clyde and Kelvin South of the railway. Most if not all of them are still there.

But that's all by the by; the real point was that you could have done most of the trip (all but a couple of miles each end) by overhead electric train without using an "intercity route" after clearing Edinburgh.

143:

From Wikipedia "The 737 series is the best-selling jet airliner in the history of aviation. The 737 has been continuously manufactured by Boeing since 1967 with 7,865 aircraft delivered and 3,680 orders yet to be fulfilled as of December 2013[update]. 737 assembly is centered at the Boeing Renton Factory in Renton, Washington. Many 737s serve markets previously filled by 707, 727, 757, DC-9, and MD-80/MD-90 airliners, and the aircraft currently competes primarily with the Airbus A320 family. There are 1,250 Boeing 737s airborne at any given time on average, with two departing or landing somewhere every five seconds as of 2006."

So that's actually 1250 power satellites, and something like 1_666 relays to sustain the present level of 737 operations.

144:

And just how big is a SPS compared to the ISS? Looking at orders of magnitude, it looks to me like the ISS generates about 0.2 MW. A 40MW SPS would be 200 times the size.

And we need 1250 of them?

By the time you factor in inefficiencies in getting that power down, and the fact the 737 is only one aircraft type, you're looking at the equivalent of a million ISS deployments. The sky would be filled with them.

Pure space cadet territory.

145:

The UK, which has the worst express railways in Western Europe, only has 67 miles of track that can attain speeds above 125mph (running from London to the Channel Tunnel).

But we have lots of 125mph track, and lots of expresses that run at 100+mph. I live within walking distance of a mainline station, and can get a train from there to London. 209 miles in just over two hours.

But yes, my solution to ships and planes using liquid hydrocarbons is: don't fly, don't use a ship. Freight at 100-160 km/h is much faster than shipping; it's far more carbon-efficient; the infrastructure costs are similar (ports are amazingly expensive, and so are big container ships). Bridge the Bering Strait, submerged tube across the Atlantic. Goods can get from factories in China and S/SE Asia to Western Europe and North America in week to ten days by train. Tsushima Strait (Korea-Japan) is another good one.

Bear in mind that flying and ships are both heavily subsidized - ports and airports don't make a commercial return on investment.

146:

You're slightly confused. The change was from vacuum brakes, the steam-era technology, to airbrakes. There's more to that than just shifting from a 10psi vacuum to 100psi compressed air, which affects the size of the actuation cylinders and lag from one end of a long train to the other, but those very long trains have other problems.

The brakes can slow the train pretty evenly, reducing the compression forces, but only the locomotives can pull. With modern control technology, you could disperse the locomotives along the train, which also makes them into brake boosters. That reduces the tension forces.

But super-sized trains need super-sized freight yards. They start looking like container ports. And if you're a steel plant, or similar, is it really a good idea to get your coal or iron ore in one daily train that only one supplier has the plant to load?

147:

Problem: there are on the order of 40,000 civil aviation flight sectors flown per 24 hours around the world. (This includes scheduled passenger and cargo services and charter flights; not general (light) aviation or bizjets.)

Asking for on the order of 40,000 emitters in orbit would be, shall we say, a big ask.

148:

You're slightly confused

As I read Wikipedia, the change to the old-fashioned air brake system in the UK happened before WWII.

The change in the 1950s was from Westinghouse style air brakes — as still used in some beninghted parts of the world — to the electro-pneumatic version, which while still using compressed air for the gruntwork of brake operation, is much more finely controlled.

(The Wiki article: since it's a geeky subject with no obvious agenda, I'm inclined to trust it.)

That said, I agree with the rest of your points.

149:

Hey, you might get away with half that many.

Oh, 'on the order of'? Yes. And each one orders of magnitude larger than the ISS.

150:

Back on part of the original discussion, it seems like income inequality is increasing in other countries, too, even in a social democratic state like Germany:
http://www.boeckler.de/pdf/p_imk_study_32_2013.pdf

Marx may have been bollocks as a political theorist, but parts of his economic analyses hold up. In this case, I'm thinking of the concentration of capital. (sorry, couldn't find a useful citation quickly)

151:


According to the file....I've read to the end.

The device doesn't use PV style solar cells. It uses a "solar concentrator." According to the diagrams in the file, it's basically a giant car headlamp shaped device that functions like a magnifying glass or concentrator, this then drives a Brayton cycle thermal engine at the top of the cone, which powers the laser.

It's dimensions are 700 metres by about 420 metres and so presumably, yes, you could build thousands of them as modules, each one of which powers a plane.

The trick is when people think of "solar power" they think of PV cells, but this thing is more like a solar thermal scheme, where if you need more power you can use a larger mirror.

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

So, yes, 40000 of them. The mirrors would just be cheapass mylar sheeting, with a carbon fibre frame, not some goofy, perfectly manufactured solar panel that you've had to build on the moon or any of that rubbish that shows up in all of the NASA studies.

You also actually wouldn't need quite as many as that on short haul, because aircraft spend a large part of their time either in transit to cruise, or in descent, and the laser can be reassigned in those periods. Long haul aviation is even less reliant on the laser system because scheduling means that they spend longer amounts of time sat on the ground.

One thing that British Airways proposed doing with their A380 fleet at one point involving offering flights to Paris (!) with them during the daytime. The reason for this was an aircraft was otherwise sat around idle at Heathrow airport all day for about eight hours, before running down to Johannesburg overnight. Parking at Jo-Burg isn't a problem but Heathrow certainly is. You won't make a lot of money but at least you're doing something with the asset and hopefully putting your competition out of business.

A good model is the airline Emirates, which has operational utilisation rates that are about ten hours of flight time per day on average on their long haul fleet. You're doing badly if you're only getting eight.

152:

40,000 700m X 420m satellites? In what orbit? Holy frak, I thought the initial High Frontier concept of 400 LEO missile firing satellites was insane, but this is two orders of magnitude worse!

Let's talk about orbital debris, the cost of launching 40,000 satellites, light pollution, network control (and anti-hacking) schemes, etc.

I'm sorry, your proposal does not pass my WTF test.

153:

Correction : 14-16 Hours of utilisation at Emirates. Higher than I remembered off of the top of my head. Sorry.

155:

Why? I mean it's already been converted into something resembling a collander, and Bellinghman, Charlie, Dave P and I aren't even trying!

156:

One thing that British Airways proposed doing with their A380 fleet at one point involving offering flights to Paris (!) with them during the daytime

They were flying them on, IIRC, the Frankfurt route.

BA got their first delivery, G-XLEA, in the latter part of last year, but the routes they'd identified that they wanted to fly them over were each about 12 or 13 hours flight time. You can't run a daily service when the cycle time is at least 26 hours, it just doesn't work.

When they got G-XLEB, they could properly do a daily flight to LA, on the basis that G-XLEA would be inbound to LHR but still a few hours out when G-XLEB was taking off. And then G-XLEA could either sit on the tarmac for nearly a whole day, or it could do a short hop route.

(i.e. each aircraft was doing one long-distance round trip every two days, and some short hopping. It also allowed them to get more cabin crew experienced on the type.)

Once G-XLEC arrived in October, they opened up the route to Hong Kong. Now they could have each of the three aircraft doing a LHR -> LAX -> LHR -> HKG -> LHR cycle, doing two full returns in a three day cycle, and less time would be wasted.

The third route, and the one that presumably started once they had G-XLED (December?), was down to Jo'burg. At that point, I would be scheduling 6 long distance segments over a four day cycle, and getting something like 50 hours flown in 96.

My wife and I flew out to HKG in November on G-XLEC, and back on G-XLEB. I was in the middle seat on the upper deck both times, and was being served from both sides, which will be one of the things they will have been trying to sort out. When we boarded her, G-XLEC will have made not much more than a dozen commercial flights.

(The majority of my total mileage last year, by all forms of transport, was done facing backwards on that single return flight due to BA's odd seating.)

157:

I think you're on your own there...Mr. Stross is probably reading it, Bellinghman is corroborating my discussions about scheduling, and so from there, you probably can build something to power an aircraft remotely. The issue would be is it cost competitive?

Do you trust papers submitted to NASA or the word of a man who freely admits he tells highly entertaining lies for a living?

158:

I'm definitely going WTF on the satellite plan. A 737 ain't pocket change, but the thought that you have to pay for a space station in order to run it is ... yeah, WTF.

159:

...If you've got no other option, though, in terms of Kerosene costs, hail mary stuff like this is what you are dealing with. That or synthetic fuels which others have talked about.

160:

It stuffs pensioners, living on said pensions - they instantly beconme penniless.
If this is not the case, please show?

161:

papers submitted to NASA
I am reminded of one of Shakespeare's better snarks:

Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?
All sorts of people submit all sorts of papers to all sorts of forums, but that doesn't mean they're serious contenders for any-time-soon projects, even if the engineering is valid.

I'd go for synthetic kerosene. Or the Hydrogen Economy, if we're building new aircraft anyway. Or perhaps Jordin Kare in a tethered balloon firing a ground-powered laser — I'm sure he'll have considered that.

162:

On taxaytion & progressive taxation, generally.
The trouble is, setting up a fair tax system that will hit the 0.1%, but not cripple the band between 2% & 0.2%.
No-one has successfully solved this.
Simply increasing the top rate of tax or a property tax or or ... simply DO NOT WORK.
E.G. Until recently, the supposed top rate of tax in the UK was 40% (If you were under 65, it was more than that, actually, but I won't go into "NI" here.)
Then, some collection of idiots, tried adding in a 50% top-band.
Someone I know extremely well, works in Tax, for an "accounting" firm in London. She says that the top people in that firm, the "Partners" were all paying their 40%, simply because they recognise the value of progressive taxation & just paid up.
NOTE: No-one was getting more than half-a-million a year, so, well past the 1% (possibly) but nowhere near the 01.% - a junior Partner wouild be getting a before-tax pay of approx £250k.
Now they are all paying less tax than previously, by serious amounts - & will continue to do so, even though the 40% rate is back (I think)
In other words the entire game was counter-productive - raising the rate lowered the tax take.
All legally & completely above board.
Now then ... how to "get" the 0.1% again?
Because this is an unsolved problem.
Then, along came 50% - they all went to their own tax-planning team & asked "How do we, quite legally avoid this rubbish?"

163:

WHY?
PLEASE do - if you can find time, admidst all the other writing and the OGLAF-muse ....

164:

Though, FINALLY we now have a rolling electrification (which will automatially mean modernisation programme, at last. As Charlie says, it was a disgrace, but the overdue changes are coming.

165:

Whereas our freights run at between 60 & 80 mph, to at least partly keep up with the passenger ones....

166:

The UK, which has the worst express railways in Western Europe
Utter, complete, total bollocks.

Yes, the UK is VERY late to the true high-speed rail service. With a very vociferous financially-challenged lobby doing theor best to stop further development ...

However a lot of our "normal" express trains run at 100-125 mph (allowed up to 135 in emergencies) between major cities [ Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester, Brum, Leeds, York, Newcastle - note the absence of Edniburgh/Glasgow - twiddly track slows you down ]
APART FROM the TGV / ICE lines ... elsewhere in Europe, you are very lucky to get above 90 mph anywhere at all.
Anyone looked at the "normal" express serevices provided by SNCF? The're shite.
DB are good, really good, but they are slow.

167:

Oops - editing problem there ... the last paragraph Then, along came 50% - they all went to their own tax-planning team & asked "How do we, quite legally avoid this rubbish?" should be re-inserted ... J just above the "note" - then, it might make some sense.
Sorry about that.

168:

Greg:
Whereas our freights run at between 60 & 80 mph, to at least partly keep up with the passenger ones....

This was in the middle of downtown in a city of nearly 50,000 people, not out on an open country run. There are at grade traffic crossings every mile or so and no fencing off of the tracks.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilroy,_California

169:

Any scheme like that, you go, yeah, we torched the pensions. We're shutting down the entire set of public pension schemes; you're entitled to the guaranteed minimum income, just like everybody else. This ought to improve the lot of most pensioners.

170:

The simplest reason why the ultra rich should spread more of their money, especially on good causes is because then they'll get even more money than if they bankrupted all the working peons. There just aren't enough other super rich people out there to buy all of the goods/services produced by the ultra rich. In fact this market segment is shrinking ... If the ultra-rich are competitive to the point of financial self-harm when provided a scenario where there's any chance one of their direct competitors might benefit, then spending money on/investing in non-business related ventures should be an attractive alternative. This scenario also suggests that there's a point where the whole economic system crashes in on itself like a black hole. It'd be interesting to find out what this economic event horizon is and whether any economy has ever disappeared/self-destructed this way before.

(Even though much of recent U-rich wealth has been magically created via hyperinflation of stock values, at this point the company still has to post something as 'sales/revenue'. For now... )

171:

"I am reminded of a Joe Haldeman novel: "The high cost of living"."

This reminds me there is a real nice french comic book version (6 volumes) based on it :
http://www.amazon.fr/Dallas-Barr-Lombard-Immortalit%C3%A9-vendre-ebook/dp/B006O4VB6I/ref=la_B004MPI3HQ_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1398974671&sr=1-7

the same author also did a real good adaptation of the "forever war".

172:

Predator-prey economics ... the term sounds right although it's currently used only in ecological systems.

From Wikipedia ...

"The Lotka–Volterra equations, also known as the predator–prey equations, are a pair of first-order, non-linear, differential equations frequently used to describe the dynamics of biological systems in which two species interact, one as a predator and the other as prey. The populations change through time according to the pair of equations, according to Todd Lee ...:

The Lotka–Volterra system of equations is an example of a Kolmogorov model,[1][2][3] which is a more general framework that can model the dynamics of ecological systems with predator-prey interactions, competition, disease, and mutualism."

Mutualism here is the biological definition: "Mutualism is the way two organisms of different species exist in a relationship in which each individual benefits".

173:

And the Wikipedia article says that the Westinghouse air brakes were on Southern Railway third-rail electric. That's a bit more than London commuter belt. I don't know if Southern Railway steam was fitted for Westinghouse brakes, but I've seen no mention of it. I'd expect some steam locomotives to have the system to deal with breakdowns and power failures.

The North Eastern, the Great Eastern, and the Caledonian also used Westinghouse Brakes, but after the 1923 grouping vacuum brakes became the standard , except for the commuter services around London, and a few other electric services.

The BR Mark 1 coaches built until the early Sixties had vacuum brakes, and it wasn't until the Mark 2A in 1967 that air-brakes were standard on new locomotive-hauled stock.

I think we're differently correct here. For much of Britain, railways never used the original Westinghouse system, and went from vacuum brakes to electro-pneumatic brakes when the steam era ended.

174:

This is a bit more than the basic logistic equation. That goes chaotic, and it wouldn't surprise me if this does too. So if we have a system which can be modeled by equations which can exhibit chaotic behaviour, does that mean wealth accumulation might stop short of a black hole?

175:

There's a good argument to be made that wealth accumulation ends at the level at which unified management can continue to actively profitably grow the business / wealth pool.

Good but not well modeled arguments have been made that leader personalities, instinctive dislike by many senior and midlevel managers for total monopoly (which they see as threatening their own wealth prospects), and negative feedback and crosstalk effects all come into play (at least).

176:

You're going to have to be a bit more specific, because at the moment it sounds like you're saying "Hey, we might have been enslaved by the rich people but at least we're not dead" or something.
To explain more, the evidence so far doesn't suggest that there's much difference even for the relatively well off ordinary people (i.e. most readers of this blog) between a black hole and mere stratospheric levels of wealth disparity.

177:

Cloud colonies in the Venusian atmosphere would be in a deep gravity well above an un-mineable surface. Atoms would be in short supply. Not a reasonable place to colonize at all.
Ceres is much more reasonable.

178:

guthrie:
You're going to have to be a bit more specific

Ok, fine; I worked for a bit doing (back end support / decision systems) IT work for the world's largest asset management company; at the time $2 trillion AUM now about $4.5 trillion. (US Trillion, million E6 billion E9 trillion E12).

One reason it's not bigger, as I understood it, was that they had enough problems managing it so that it didn't cause economic system feedback loops at the size it was already at.

People outside tend to downplay that, but a midsized glitch could cost the company a percent or two in a day, which equals the total wealth of Bill Gates, or the two Koch brothers together.

(This company has extensive, deep mechanisms to avoid that, including employing a disproportionate number of math geeks and economics geeks and "threat assessment" people etc. I was not disproportionately worried. Just aware.)

179:

Well, there's an example of totally inferior US infrastructure & technology.
All our railways are fenced-off, along their entire length. In the rest of Europe they are fenced-off in built-up areas.
We are trying, where possible to get rid of what you call "at-grade" crossings, & where we do have them, except out in really empty countryside, they have proper gates, as this YouTube video shows a selection, starting with the oldest type - not many of them left, now.
However, this means that the freights & passenger trains can run at reasonable speeds.
Within 10 miles of leaving four of the major termini in London, the line-limit is 100mph, or greater

180:

I'm working from the premise that the current taxation system in the UK is horribly in need of a massive overhaul. It does work to separate ordinary people from their money but over the years there are so many exceptions, loopholes and extra twiddles built in, that it's just crazy.

But lets assume that broadly, there's a desire to keep the current minimum tax threshold and the step point for the 40% rate is fixed. Lets also assume a progressive system and we're going to set a threshold for a 60% threshold at £10M+. They're just illustrative numbers. What I'd do, instead of setting those as steps (except from 0 to paying income tax) is apply some suitable curve fitting formula to it. If you're earning £9.9M you're not paying 40% and £10M+1 60% and suddenly swearing, you're going from paying 59% (or 58% or similar, depending on the exact curve) to 60%.

These might not be the right numbers. It's eminently possible that if I had the hard data to hand I wouldn't cap the top rate of income tax at 60% or I'd do something with a higher point and a harder curve fitting problem.

People would wail and gnash their teeth, but in this day and age it's easy enough to plug your income in to a calculator and get a tax payable number out pretty much however tricky you make the formula. Most people on PAYE on a salary wouldn't be affected - the payroll people would do the sums, so they'd have to change systems, but they do that with every budget anyway.

At the same time, you can rationalise all the allowances for various self-employed people, including me. Make it clear to everyone what can and can't be claimed and change the system so if there's a special case you pay and make a case to claim it back rather than the other way around. A lot of this is clear - If I work with someone and pay them, it's clear whether that comes out of my taxable income and profits or not, if I rent or own premises, if I work from home, if I travel for work etc. they're all predictable. You can choose to change the rules about each case, but they're clear and common. There are enough stand-up comics, north sea divers, farmers etc. that they can have special rules if needed for their special cases.

But sometime they need to do to the tax laws what Apple did with the move from OS9 to OSX and just throw out the random accretions of junk and patchwork and start again. They're keeping on patching like crazy and we're seeing more and more cases of how it's not working for anyone that doesn't fit neatly into a simple case. If they do that and bite the bullet, a genuinely progressive taxation system just isn't that hard to introduce that does away with the big steps and the real "OMG, I've got to drop under that threshold" drive.

181:

Greg's #179 also refers.

In the UK, the ruling speed of a line tends to be set by the severity of curves and the specific weight of the rail section laid. 80mph on urban rails, and 0..40mph..0 on a commuter line with stops every mile or so is not atypical.

Witness the curve that's the final McGuffin in "Unstoppable" (IMBD ref http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0477080/?ref_=nv_sr_1 ) as an example of where a UK line would have a speed limit. For a fair part of the rest of the film we'd have the permanent way fenced off, but subject to rail weight the running speed for passenger stock could be up to 100mph.

182:

I think the UK tax system already works pretty much as you would have it because of personal allowances and the fact that the tax rates are marginal.

183:

@179 and @181
Another determinant of Line speed in the UK, is Signal spacing and number of signal aspects(=lights). Breaking distances are also important, an express travelling at 100mph needs 2,500 yards to come to a stop safely(from memory). This means that if you have 2 aspect signals (Red and Green) they must be at least 2,500 yards apart for 100mph running. Signal distances are reduced by increasing the number of aspects, 3 aspect = Red, Yellow and green, 4 aspect= Red, Double Yellow Yellow and Green. The yellows act as slow down warnings. This is a simplified explanation and I hope Capn. Deltic doesn't read this( in joke).
A train can stop in lesser distances in emergencies but break too hard and adhesion between Rail and wheel will be lost - you then have several hundred tonnes of guided missile.

184:

One little-known aspect is that we have two income taxes. That is, two distinct taxes paid as a percentage of income rather than as a percentage of expenditure.

Income Tax is obvious.

The way National Insurance is paid makes some of the tax bill invisible. The individual pays one chunk, the empluer pays another (which isn't mentioned on the payslip and counted for Income Tax), and there is a different rule for the self-employed.

You have my permission to have a headache.

Our glorious leader keeps calling the employer's chunk a tax on jobs. What he doesn't tell you is that the NI rate drops for the high-paid. So us ordinary folk pay about half as much again as we pay in Income Tax, around 35% total, while those who earn enough to pay the higher rate get a total bill of around 45%.

I'm only giving a rough figure, because the details of how the systems work are different. One system specifies the rate in terms of weekly income, one in terms of annual income. On minimum wage you pay NI, but not income tax.

Some of this has historical reasons, but the money all goes into the same place. VAT is counted separately, because that affects what the EU gets.

185:

...If you've got no other option, though, in terms of Kerosene costs, hail mary stuff like this is what you are dealing with. That or synthetic fuels which others have talked about.

Yes, but we already have synthetic fuels. They cost about 2-4 times as much as fossil fuel and they run in today's jet engines and, being synthetic, they're fossil-carbon-neutral.

Whereas the beampower option requires whole a new engine technology and several trillion dollars worth (minimum) of orbital power satellites and regulatory regimes to stop said orbital powersats being used as death rays ...

My take on this proposal is that the usual suspects (hint: Jordin Kare and friends: Hi, Jordin!) came up with this when challenged to dream up useful applications of solar power stations. Which in turn were the proposed manufacturing product for Gerard K. O'Neil's L5 space colonies -- they had to make something after all, right? And the L5 colonies were to some extent O'Neil's solution to dealing with the population time bomb (hello, the 1960s are calling, they want their future back!) without permitting contraception or abortion (AIUI O'Neil was a doctrinaire Catholic, and was writing before the stage 4/5 demographic transition got much attention).

So the deranged solution to the non-problem (over-population leading to space colonization) needed an economic incentive (build shit) and the output from the economic incentive (orbital power sats) needs a commercial application (airliner travel back home). This is what the British military refer to as a "self-sucking lollipop". (As in: "we need the huge new QE class aircraft carriers with their F35 air wings to protect the carrier battle groups which we're building to protect the carriers ...")

186:

If this is not the case, please show?

Two words, comrade: state pensions.

(Money exists because governments issue it in order to be able to levy taxes on goods and services. Getting it into circulation ... well, handing it to OAPs is a jolly good way of doing that, isn't it? So if you want to reboot your economy after a total investment wipe-out, you can start with a generous welfare package for everyone who isn't a bank. Sort of like the way things used to work, huh?)

187:

Jordin's latest scheme is much more sensible.

He worked out that the power output for SDI lasers is pretty much unachievable, as is the guidance accuracy ... but we can track a violet laser out of a Blu-Ray player with enough precision to zap a female anopheles mosquito on the wing at a range of 20 metres using cheap off-the-shelf actuators, and a couple of hundred milliwatts is more than enough to fry the insects. So he's proposing to build a fleet of dirt-cheap ($50 in bulk) electric drones -- rechargeable off rooftop solar panels -- to send to mosquito-plagued regions.

I really like this idea, even though it sounds a bit cracked at first: high-tech spin-offery always works better when it benefits from economies of scale, goes down in price rather than up, and does something useful for humanity (zapping malaria mosquitos springs to mind).

188:

I will note there's a campaign to eliminate level crossings in the UK entirely -- the main obstacle is cost (there are around 6000 of them). The most dangerous are being replaced by bridges or tunnels, but again: the funding goes into trough-guzzling operators shareholders' pockets, not on safety.

189:

I get paid to have exactly that headache.

190:

Cloud colonies in the Venusian atmosphere would be in a deep gravity well above an un-mineable surface.

You're going to have to back that up, I'm afraid: I see no reason why the surface of Venus is intrinsically un-mineable.

No, we're not sending human miners down there: it'd have to be robotized. And we would need a bunch of techniques for making machinery that operates in a high temperature, high pressure regime -- today we know about high pressure (deep ocean kit) but not so much about high temperature. But we do have some semiconductors that work well at temperatures considerably higher than STP on Venus -- synthetic diamond substrate springs to mind. The biggest obstacle, to my mind, is powering the robots, given that heat engines are problematic when your heat sink is at 500 celsius. On the other hand, though, you've got hot, dense gas at surface level and much cooler gas at lower pressure only a couple of kilometres up. Hang wires from balloons and run thermocouples? Or use lightweight fullerene ducts hung from balloons to power a gas-phase OTEC-equivalent system?

191:

What I'd do, instead of setting those as steps (except from 0 to paying income tax) is apply some suitable curve fitting formula to it. If you're earning £9.9M you're not paying 40% and £10M+1 60% and suddenly swearing

That's not how income tax works (although it's a popular right-wing shibboleth/parody of how income tax works).

Say your tax band is 40% on income up to £100,000, and 50% above that. What it means is you pay 40% on the first £100,000 you earn ... then on the next £1 you pay £0.50, and so on. So at no point on the earning curve do you find yourself with less money.

The exception to this was wartime rules: during the second world war income tax in the UK maxed out at something like 107%. This was entirely deliberate, to deter profiteering: wealthy folks were encouraged to pay themselves a lot as a patriotic move to make a donation to the war effort. On the other hand, that was coupled with a draconian rationing system and an entry-level for income tax of around 80%, and a life-or-death struggle ...

193:

I quite liked his anti-mozzie photonic fence, but perhaps that was before the quadcopter drone movement really took off. If you'll pardon the pun. A more active attack on anopheles females might be quite useful, rather than posts that wait for mozzies to turn up.

Without having seen his actual idea, my assumption is that the drones would spend much of their time perching, since that would both preserve energy and also make aiming more accurate.

I could quite easily see those drones in a Linda Nagata or Ramez Naam novel. Householders setting out charging loops and perching points. Low lives swapping cameras for lasers. I'd hope they'd stay the way out of traffic, because I'd not like to be a motorcyclist colliding with one. (Which reminds me of the apparent bone-headedness of a turtle dove that didn't want to get out of the way of my car this morning — yes, I know, birds have very fast reaction times and prefer not to move until the last moment. I'd want drones not to be in the way in the first place.)

194:

Sorry. I do know that - I was writing in a hurry before work and not expressing myself particularly clearly.

But, actually, demolishing the shibboleth isn't a bad thing and I don't think destroying the big steps is a bad thing either. If there's no "OMG the highest earners pay this horrific rate of tax" that you can point then although people will still bitch and moan you can tax the top 1%, the top 0.1% and so on at a very high rate and the top 5% much more than the top 5.1 to 10% and so on.

195:

That's not how income tax works

Indeed so — as you indicate, the current tax system already is an approximation to a curve, composed from line sections of increasing gradients.

196:

It's Stamp Duty that's the biggie. I remember the fun of offering £29,999 for a house, and an additional sum for the fixtures and fittings, rather than a lump sum of over £30,000 for all included.

Because it wasn't a progressive tax, going a single penny over the boundary meant you were liable for tax on the whole, not on the excess, and even if the tax rate was only 1%, that's still £300 when it's on £30,000

(Figures totally as I recall from a quarter century or more ago, quite possibly inaccurate.)

These days, well, it's been a while since I've occupied any property even vaguely in the vicinity of that zero-tax band. And a quick check ... eek! With the ridiculous levels of house prices round here, we're probably 3% but our neighbours behind will be on 4%.

(British topics of conversation - weather, then house prices.)

197:

You absolutely need something to provide base load, sure. But I find it hard to believe that fusion is a closer technological prospect than grid-scale storage. If battery-powered electric cars really are the future of the motoring industry then we might get some of the way there without any deliberate intervention - the batteries distributed throughout a nation's fleet of cars make a nice piece of grid-scale storage by themselves.

As for fusion itself, I dunno - maybe fusion would have better PR than fission, but when the size of the waste problem becomes apparent (at least without aneutronic fusion) that won't last. There's the question of money, which is the real thing that's kept nuclear fission out in the cold - it's enormously capital-intensive, to the point where no private company will invest without a mountain of government guarantees. Fusion will have that problem on steroids.

There are technical issues, too - a plant producing 5GWe is simply too big to fit comfortably into many electrical grids. You could meet the UK's entire baseload demand with ten plants. If one of them ever trips out for any reason you've just lost 10% of your production instantly. It's hard to see how you could run a stable grid in conditions like that.

It just seems more plausible to me that you could combine dirt-cheap solar panels with a few comparatively small advances in things like grid-scale flow batteries and solve your energy problems that way. So I'd say that'd be a better target for the squillionaires' cash.

198:

Further on this, well sort of. Yes, I was simplifying.

Also, I don't actually know who "Cap'n Deltic" actually is, but I have an image of him at the throttle of an English Electric Class 55! :-D

199:

Para 3 - Employer's NI doesn't have to mentioned on payslips, but may be.

200:

The principle outlined is correct, and there may well have been a time when the threshold and rate were correct as well.

201:

At a plant size of 5GW you’d really want grids larger than the UK. A pan-European grid would have a 5GW fusion plan at about 1% and it should be able to cope with one of them tripping out.

202:


(The Wiki article: since it's a geeky subject with no obvious agenda, I'm inclined to trust it.)

Ha. A year or two ago, I had the unfortunate experience of watching just such an article - the one on gyroscopically stabilised monorails, which incidentally offer high speed rail on simple lines, though only for small trains - repeatedly dumbed down by a philistine who just didn't see that the original contributor's material was both significant and backed by sources. If he couldn't follow the mathematics cited, that proved it was neither important nor independently sourced. That went on to the point where that highly knowledgeable contributor just gave up on wikipedia (and no, that wasn't me hiding in the third person).

203:

Let me point out some of the Blue Whales (I need something bigger than elephants) in the room:-

1) No form of electicity storage is 100% efficient.
2) No form of electicity storage is also a form of base generation (pump storage hydro comes closest since it can be combined with feeding catchment water into the upper reservior, as was proposed with the Loch Sloy scheme in Scotland).
3) No known form of electricity storage retains its initial design capacity indefinitely.

204:

If all you're after is enough kerosene equivalent to keep commercial air travel going, it's simple enough to get that by tapping so called "kerosene trees" after the twenty or so year lead time needed to set up enough plantations, and it's easy enough to buy that much time by using naphtha obtained from peat to bridge the gap. The issue isn't the physical constraint so much as the economics of it, which ends up being a political question at bottom.

But why not just use nuclear aircraft, instead of desperate remedies for fuel shortages or power transmission? That problem has long been solved (around the time they ceased to offer value as strategic bombers, as it happens). The trick to not needing prohibitively heavy shielding is, put everything that can't be hardened (like a crew and passengers) in a towed glider far enough behind to have an adequate air gap, power any equipment in the glider with a ram air turbine, and then fly the tow plane by wire from the glider. Landing doesn't present a problem these days, since with modern control systems the two parts can now be separated and the nuclear part landed remotely at a safe location (and tow planes have been snagging gliders off the ground since the Second World War).

205:

Why would you go to the trouble of building nuclear aircraft (not to mention the considerable risk) when the cost of synthetic kerosene makes only a marginal difference to the affordability of air travel using existing technology?

206:

Then why not just have all your robot infrastructure go all Von Neumann and build a Larry Niven style plateau?

207:

I wasn't offering the nuclear part so much as an alternative to synthetic fuel (though there is a chance that it could offer a shorter lead time, which could matter if the choices were procrastinated too long); rather, it makes far more sense than running aircraft off transmitted power. I did once read a book called The Great Aeroplane that used the idea of transmitted power (and there was also a companion volume, The Great Airship).

208:

Whilst at least "some" (for values that may approach 100%) of it relied more on handwavium than actual physics, "beam power" has been around since at least the 1930s in SF.

209:

Paws4thot,
Cap'n Deltic is also known as Roger Ford, author of Informed sources in the magazine Modern Railways. He was an engineer at English Electric and worked on Deltics.

210:

That's the ultimate goal, if you want stability. But you really also want to oxygenate the upper atmosphere if you're going for a fail-safe biome, and that's going to take a long time anyway.

211:

And in case anyone is wondering what a Deltic is, here's a cross-section animation of what goes on inside a Napier Deltic diesel engine:

(Just watching this thing makes my eyeballs hurt.)

212:

And speaking of synthetic jet fuel here's a new cerium-oxide catalysed Fischer-Tropsch synthesis powered by direct sunlight ...

213:

Here's my energy idea ... probably full of sci/tech holes but - heh - why not ...

We've already figured how to use solar energy and how to convert solar into electrical energy ... so my suggestion/solution is instead of storing the converted energy form (electricity), store the original form (light). So, if there's a way to keep light (photons) traveling indefinitely within a closed system (i.e., not degrading or leaking), then all you'd need is a light-to-electricity conversion at the end-user's location.

Expanding on this idea, by using some sort of compression and/or stretching of waves (call it a Dopplerizing converter), you might be able to convert different light waves (wave lengths) into whatever the optimal wavelength is. Or, just have all the different wave lengths feed into your system, which then processes each wavelength separately so that you end up using all wavelengths available, or at least expanding upon whatever the current most commonly used light wave lengths are.

214:

Oxygen ...

So part of the $$trillion$$ budget will be for the development of spacescows (and/or other techniques and equipment) to search for and transport ice comets to fling into the Venusian atmosphere?

215:


Man- I'm psychic today! (This article is dated yesterday, but I just found it a few minutes ago.) This could be a game-changer ....

http://www.livescience.com/45287-how-to-trap-light.html

A theoretical physicist has explained a way to capture particles of light called photons, even at room temperature, a feat thought only possible at bone-chillingly cold temperatures.

Alex Kruchkov, a doctoral student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), has built the first quantitative mathematical model for trapping and condensing light under realistic conditions.

Light consists of tiny quantum particles called photons. One of the most spectacular properties of quantum particles is that they can condense or lose their individual identity and behave like clones of each other, becoming a single gigantic wave called a Bose-Einsteincondensate (BEC). [Wacky Physics: The Coolest Little Particles in Nature]

216:

Thanks, I was actually sort of aware of him if not the pseudoneum.

217:

Thanks Charlie, nice find.

And part of the reason for the "Deltic love" is the exhaust note rather than the cylinder configuration.

218:

Interesting. And only a few degrees more theoretical than working fusion ...

I still think you're better off storing the next stage, since you're going to want the conversion anyway. Capacitors are well understood in comparison, and I suspect somewhat simpler. Or you could do the 'convert to gravitational, chemical, kinetic or some other form' which is most common these days.

219:

YES!
The person who gives me all the information on this works in tax.
They can't keep up with the "new improved" (ahem) legislation.
All that happens is that the cheating gets more inventive ....
As in the case where some idiot decided that a tax-rate above 40% was a good idea ... all that happened was the middle-men made some moeny & the state got less.
Stupid doesn't even begin to describe it.
Actually, a FAIR, relatively low-tax, but stil actually progressive regime is the way to go.
As usual, none of our current political parties are actually interested.
They just do point-scoring insead.

So, yes, our tax-codes need a thorough reaming.

220:

If they were adequate...
I have a state pension & a small employer's pension from ages agao - fractionally smaller than the state pebsion.
To live just that little tiny bit more confortably (BEER) I take part-time work that I can get that isn't too demeaning (Like I refuse to work in a supermarket)
Gross inflation would destroy my second, very necessary pension - or would it?

221:

Charlie,

I've had some time to consider your Venus colonization idea, and I do not believe it to be viable for any amount of money. While I support space and extraplanetary colonization in general, Venus is a bad goal. Though atmospheric pressure and temperature are very amenable, this alone isn't enough to make a place habitable on a permanent basis. The colonists energy needs are easily met, and perhaps food production can be managed carefully enough on some sort of floating platform. But without practical access to the surface of the planet they could never produce the raw materials to repair their technology. On top of that, how do these people ever get back to orbit? They likely can't produce their own fuel, and they have no solid platforms from which to launch their own rockets. They'd forever be dependent on off-world resources including some fancy and as-yet-unprototyped space planes. Compared to Mars where you can easily imagine someone having the resources to leave it once more or to build new infrastructure, Venus is just not much fun at all. Even space habitats near the asteroid belt are better off in this regard.

If I am in error and missing some factor that would make this viable, please explain.

Thanks,
John O.

222:

What you are misssing is tha amazing scream of a "Deltic" on full power - makes the hir stand up, as did it's predecessor,an A-4 doing over 90 mph, & then sounding its chime whistle.
Oh, bugger it ....
here
And, for an A-4 ... here though "7" isn't really trying - she's only doing about 70 .....

223:

Heard of "Air Fuel Synthesis" based in Darlington?
there you go Ready to trial small-scale commercial by 2015, they claim

224:

No, there's plenty of oxygen on Venus; it's just locked up in the atmosphere as CO2. The real problem is hydrogen, which is in short supply.

225:

Thanks, Charlie.

The skunk put down her ratchet spanner and picked up the torque-wrench. "I have always," she opined, "been wary of liquid cooling." She checked the setting as a matter of habit. There's a proper way of tightening the head-studs, of balancing the load on the head and the gasket so that the metal isn't warped, and she seemed to do it without thought. "Thing is," she said, "air-cooling a multi-bank radial is hard. And the power-weight ratio from a turbo-charged Deltic is almost better than sex."

"Almost?"

She giggled. "Pistons aren't everything."

226:

The thing I like best about the Deltic is that it's all mechanically run, and this is very difficult to get to work, arranging everything so the valves and the fuel and so forth remain co-ordinated, and in fact they nearly gave up before a senior fitter sort pointed out that it would work much more naturally if you ran one of the three three crankshafts the other direction.

One does have to note that glorious power-to-weight and fundamental cleverness aside, the things went out of service as being maintenance-intensive, and that the general case of this -- maintenance costs tend to dominate -- benefits solar PV a great deal. (Though in fairness the Deltic wasn't a patch on the Napier Sabre, probably the most complicated engine ever put into series production.)

227:

"2 thunderingly obvious issues:-

1) You need to up the solar panel efficiency (kw/m^2) or area under panels 3 or 4 times to generate the electicity you now want to store."

The latter is trivial; we could reasonably get to the point where it's somewhat odd to have a roof *without* solar panels, and much of our parking space, as well.

"2) You also need industrial scale electricity storage on a size and scale never before seen."

In other words, we need technological advancement and massive infrastructure. Also highly doable.

- Barry (written on a quite ordinary office computer which would have been a billion-dollar highly classified National Asset when he was 20).

228:

"Bill Gates Jr (of Microsoft fame) was never middle class. His father was a named partner in the most powerful law firm in Seattle. He went to the most expensive private high school in the area (tuition 10 years ago was $20,000)."

This is an important point, particularly when some dumb*ss uses him as an example of dropping out of college and becoming rich. Gates dropped out of Harvard, not State U, and he got his IBM contract through family connections.


"Gates is doing some good stuff, in the vein of Charlie's idea."

It's mixed; his 'education reform' is the same old garbage, attempting to privatize education. Considering the big money involved in public education, it could simply be seen as an attempt to grab a huge government funding stream.

229:

"That means railway through Georgia and Azerbaijan (you'll never be able to secure a line that crosses the Armenia/Azerbaijan border), into a tunnel around Baku, out in Turkmenbashi (Turkmenistan) and then build a line north into Kazakhstan. You can avoid Kazakhstan, but only by going through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzistan; given the choice, I'll bribe two Central Asian dictators rather than four.

Then you just build the long line across the whole of Kazakhstan. The Chinese would love it, as it brings much more of Central Asia into their sphere of influence. Russia would hate it, but there is a limit to how many countries they can invade before they really piss someone off. There might be some sense in an Iranian route to avoid Georgia, or even all the way around the Caspian, so you go Turkey-Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan, assuming that China is more able to balance Russian influence in Kazakhstan (which they border) than in the Caucasus (which is 4000km away)."


Run parallel routes; this way if the leader of country A decides to stop playing ball, traffic and money just gets rerouted until the new leader of country A resumes playing.

230:

"No, merely being able to avoid hull losses due to knowing where the storms are isn't going to help overcome economic losses due to schedule disruptions.)"

Zeppelins would not only have to make massive detours to avoid weather which jets could fly through, but they'd have to be moved out of the way of bad weather altogether.

231:

Meanwhile, back on the original topic, Piketty is making the pips squeak ...
What riles me is that the author of the linked piece is a memebr of "the Shadow Monetary Policy committee" - which isn't what you think it is - it's a stalking-horse for the "Institute for Economic Affairs - a right-wing think-wank, err, tank.

But this emphasises the [ still-unsolved] problem;
How do you "get at" the 0.1%, without penalising, the quite large numbers in the next 1.9%, who, usually really do actually work for a lving.....

232:

"Locally, short-hop air travel's price competitive with trains, but the trains tend to be full and the aircraft don't. I don't know why that is; I suspect a combination of "people drive" and "irradiated or violated?" security theatre. "


Or just time - with air travel, it's at least two hours up front wasted, if things go well.

233:

I shouldn't let it annoy me, but, on ... " What riles me is that the author of the linked piece is a memebr of "the Shadow Monetary Policy committee" - which isn't what you think it is - it's a stalking-horse for the "Institute for Economic Affairs - a right-wing think-wank, err, tank."


It does seem to me that the vast bulk of these " think tank " thingies and their .." you want an articulate and inexpensive FACE for your TV prog? Well WE are IT!!" are rather.. WE are Right Wing with a side order of US of American Republican ..'are you now or have you ever been an Enemy of All Right Thinking persons everywhere? 'and we will TALK until your ears ache!'

Cant remember when I last heard a Talk to Camera Pundit on TV introduced as " a member of the LEFT leaning Think Tank "..and so forth.

Oh, well, wot the hell ..I'll go back to playing my recorded TV progs on the activities of estate agents in the UK shall I?

I've just been watching a TV series on Estate Agents that I set up to series record on the Humax box. Although they cover the entire country the interesting area is the South East and particularly Central London and even setting aside the Guy who sells REALLY high end property ..nothing below £2,000,000 up to a Billion or so to Arabs and Russians.. they followed an Irish sales agent who was selling little flats in the very much more affordable around about £1,000,000 bracket and its amazing how you start thinking in their world view of £850,000 for a little 2 bed-roomed flat in central London as being quite sensibly priced to sell as it were.. below £1,000, 000 for that! Such a bargain! Mind you she was selling to foreigners too with the viewing that they showed being to a prospective client from Venezuela. The way its going no one born in the U.K. outside the ranks of the super rich will be able to afford the teeniest of flats in central London.


http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b040rm8y/Under_Offer_Estate_Agents_on_the_Job_Episode_1/

The thing is that the Think Tank Creatures live in an entirly alternate world to almost everyone else ..a world in which, " £850,000 for a little 2 bed-roomed flat in central London as being quite sensibly priced to sell as it were.. below £1,000, 000 for that!" seems to be entirly reasonable and everywhere outside of the watford gap social boundry is a howling wilderness filled with zombies that don't like 'People Like Us '

234:

In other words, we need technological advancement and massive infrastructure. Also highly doable.

Alas, no: to improve battery technology a lot requires a wholesale reform of the periodic table of elements, or maybe magic. Because you're up against electrochemistry, not mere engineering. We can do better and maybe squeeze up to an extra order of magnitude (if we're lucky) out of existing elements -- but there's no room for magical multi-OOM breakthroughs in battery tech. Ultracapacitors are showing some promise, by way of nanotechnology, but still have physical limits; and flywheels or electrolyte flow batteries also have problems.

Arguably, the best way to store solar energy is in honking great kettles. Use solar heat by day to melt metal halide salts; use the hot molten salts to run a heat engine and dynamo by night. But it's still lossy, and more to the point it's not amenable to small deployments (like domestic rooftop solar).

235:

Re: "It's mixed; his 'education reform' is the same old garbage, attempting to privatize education. Considering the big money involved in public education, it could simply be seen as an attempt to grab a huge government funding stream."

Seriously doubt that Gates is doing this to get money out of the Feds. Read his bio: his family, particularly his mother, was involved in not-for-profit (charitable) activities since her teens.

The Gates Foundation is different as far as charitable orgs go -- they specifically look for new, forward-looking, results-oriented solutions. Definitely, cannot describe its activities as same-old, same-old. (Ask anyone who's ever worked there -- great outfit!)

236:

But given what Gates is doing, if he's not in it for the money, he's certainly giving a good impression of wanting to hand education over to profit driven private interests, with their total lack of actual ability to deliver.
Forward looking, new etc, all useful words for PR.

237:

I suspect it's a mixture. Firstly, Gates knows that his fortune, while massive in individual human terms, isn't that big in global terms; it's around 0.1% of global GDP. So if he wants to exert maximum leverage with it he needs to find ways to use it to co-opt larger money flows. Tapping into the private education industry and nailing his own education agenda to their mast is one way to get extra leverage, so he does that. However, he's also vulnerable to being spun by folks with a good narrative and something to sell: so he's probably hearing their message before he hears alternative/dissenting voices (because they've got the money to pay for access).

238:

A dissection of Gates Foundation issues can be found here.

239:

Alas, no: to improve battery technology a lot requires a wholesale reform of the periodic table of elements, or maybe magic.

Not that people haven't been trying. Anyone else remember Robert Forward, the physicist and SF author? One convention I got into a discussion with him and he talked about coming up with a truly new and unique battery system, if I remember correctly based on mechanical molecular binding energies; as the microstructures inside the battery collapsed it would kick off electrons asymmetrically and you'd be able to hook it up to something. Great in theory, a non-trivial challenge to actually build, and at the end the energy density turned out to be about the same as the alkaline batteries you've got in your flashlight already.

Back to the drawing board.

240:

Hmm; steal from Bacigalupi and try to engineer materials with *insane* tensile strength and store power in springs? There's probably more room to maneouvre in the known science, at least.
I suppose a really good storage spring would make an effective transport method on failure. Perhaps not the most steerable - or survivable - but after all, one can't have everything...

241:
to improve battery technology a lot requires a wholesale reform of the periodic table of elements, or maybe magic.

Making an electric battery "just" involves moving electrons from one place to another.

Making incredibly-dense memory "just" involves moving electrons from one place to another.

That seems to imply they're both similarly difficult, and similarly (un)likely. No?

242:

I've been involved in two separate attempts by startup companies to develop small nuclear power supplies that can be used as batteries. It turns out, upon close inspection, to be very difficult in terms of physics to make anything usefully powerful, and even worse from a regulatory perspective.

(Some 1980s vintage pacemakers did use betavoltaic power cells (i.e. power from beta radiation), before lithium batteries offered sufficient energy density to make them unnecessary.)

243:

Copper wire just involves moving electrons from one place to another, too. Memory doesn't store electrons, it stores whether switches are open or closed.

244:

I'm not sure that's true.

In raw "amount of energy" terms, we're OK; there are battery chemistries with more energy density than gasoline, and even something like aluminium-air would be fine if we could build the things.

The trick isn't so much the energy density as the stable micro or nano-structure of the electrodes; lithium-ion recharables have improved by a factor of about three, if watching AAs go from 800 mAh to 2400 mAh is a reasonable measure of commercial viability for battery tech, without changing the basic chemistry.

So this would be another area where throwing money at the problem until the two or three optimal technologies emerged would be really useful.

245:

One recurring criticism of the Gates foundation is wasting money in 're-inventing the wheel'. Yes, the existing polio virus works perfectly well and is suitable for first world nations. However, many vaccines must be cold-stored and the reality is that there aren't that many refrigerated vehicles or appliances in the countries that most need these vaccines. Hence, the need for 'reinventing the wheel'.

http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/appendices/C/vax-storage-temps.pdf

246:

That kind of small scale refrigeration is actually quite easy to implement in those conditions, e.g. with Hallstrom's Icy Ball system invented here in Australia for use in isolated areas nearly a hundred years ago (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icyball).

247:


... tax breaks equals less tax revenue which is very directly the amount of power the government has to influence the economy.

Don't be so sure. Sometimes they corral the tax base so it can be worked "better". For instance, one Chinese emperor gave tax breaks to people settled in central areas, despite Mandarin protests that it was easier to get taxes out of those than out the people in remote areas. But the overall effect was to keep people where they could be taxed more as the base rate rose, so the emperor wasn't that stupid after all.

248:


Sea-going nuclear reactors today run on HEU (98% IIRC -- weapons-grade stuff) with a fuel load of 50-100Kg, putting out 50Mw of motive force (200-250Mw thermal). They're tiny compared to land based reactors and they've got direct access to the ocean as a heat sink. But they're still so bulky that nobody puts them in small hulls -- nuclear subs are typically an order of magnitude bigger than non-nuclear ones, and the smallest warship anyone put one in was a heavy guided missile cruiser.

Actually, it would be quite realistic to put an Aqueous Homogeneous Nuclear Reactor in even a large tank, if the problem of durability could be solved (I can outline some promising possibilities, if anyone is interested). I personally think it could, but that might be a non-issue in a situation of war time attrition. It would certainly be realistic for even quite a small ship to carry two or three and switch from one to another as each showed signs of failure and needed maintenance.

249:


There are three no-fossil-carbon possibilities for air travel.

There is at least one other: realistic biofuels, e.g. from the kerosene trees I mentioned in comment no. 204 (at any rate, after the lead time involved in setting up plantations, which it is practical to bridge with short term measures like using naphtha destructively distilled from peat).

250:

It strikes me, from the description, that the Icyball fridge isn't an ideal solution for first world vaccines - it won't guarantee a cold chain for one, and although it's hard to be sure, it looks like it's a pretty chunky bit of kit. Quite a few third world countries the secondary issue is a guaranteed cold chain that can be carried on someone's back.

This is why there is (or was when I was doing it for my PhD) quite a lot of interest in live bacteria carrying spliced viral antigens and delivering them to mucosal surfaces. If the bacteria get warm while you're carrying them this is called "growth" and since you're going to be growing them anyway before administering them it's not a disaster. It turned out in the particular model I was looking at there were other issues but as a concept it was sound, and it would have been cheap - making plasmids and knock out bacteria is easy enough.

251:

Damn, we need a way to edit our own comments.

That should read:

"...the Icyball fridge isn't an ideal solution for first world vaccines in third world countries - ..."

Sorry, too little caffeine in the blood stream.

252:

First : thanks for the Deltic diesel engine gif, Charlie, I wasn't aware of those, and they're nearly as sexy as Wankels (npi).

With that out of he way, I'm wondering about electrical flywheels as compliment to PV solar and other intermittent power sources : magnetic bearings flywheels seemed to be all the rage a few years back but I haven't seen much about them lately, outside of niche markets, while it looks like they could perform fairly well, both as midsized storage units and load-smoothing buffers.

Couple that with gravity/water storage and PV/wind chimneys, and you'd get neat, scalable power generation and storage systems, that can scale up from the individual housing level up to block-wide sizes (in urban areas).

The extra redundancy in water towers for drinkable supply and tap pressure distribution wouldn't hurt either, in a context of crazy weather ever more likely to disrupt citiwide infrastructures.

Or am I missing something, and flywheels have turned to be techno unicorns ?

253:

These simple refrigerators can be made quite small, and if really small size is an issue Ranque-Hilsch vortex tubes are realistic (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vortex_tube). It's also practical to have ice in the arrangements, if there is any concern about breaks in the refrigeration.

Nevil Shute's novel In The Wet actually mentions an outback doctor having a more conventional absorption refrigerator (i.e., continuously operating) for precisely this application, to keep drugs at the right temperature.

254:

If you liked that Deltic animation, you'll probably like the Atkinson cycle animation at http://www.animatedengines.com/atkinson.html too. I understand the earlier, opposed piston variant of that is even more intriguing, but I can't find that just now.

255:

Talking of fusion ..

Dennis Whyte from MIT gave a lecture at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) this week on the possibilities of 'small' ,ie JET-sized, tokomaks with much higher magnetic field strength, made possible by recent advances in superconducting tapes, which would be able to reach a wide range of plasma conditions (insert hard maths here) including the proposed regime in which ITER will operate. The short version is that keeping everything smaller would keep the cost and construction time down by an order of magnitude which is what you want to do when you are still trying to solve the critical materials and engineering problems.

So maybe the current 30 year plan for fusion will be overtaken by events .

256:

The story of the Napier Deltic reminds me of a fictional thriller I read set in WW2 centred on the invention of a new high power low size diesel engine which they then have to stop falling into german hands. I can't recall if it was a Neville Shute or a Hammond Innes, but it is clear now that they borrowed the idea from the actual history of the Napier Deltic, just telescoped the development time.

257:

Every kind of mass power storage costs money and wastes electricity in conversion losses. Flywheels aren't cheap, same with batteries and most other technologies. The cheapest form of storage is pumped hydro which costs about £200 million per GWh of capacity in today's money and it wastes a third of the electricity it absorbs. It also requires lots of water and convenient geography with sizable high and low reservoirs near each other. Batteries and flywheels cost ten times as much per GWh but don't waste quite as much electricity assuming they are cycled daily.

As for water towers you can easily calculate the amount of energy stored by gravity from the formula M x g x h where M is in kilogrammes, g is 9.8 m/s and h is the height in metres above the turbines. A thousand tonnes of water lifted ten metres would store 100MJ or about 30kWh, enough to supply the electricity demand for a family home for a day or so, excluding heating. The tower to carry this sort of a load would cost the thick end of a million quid including foundations, turbines, land footprint, water feed and water return piping etc. etc. not to mention the ongoing maintenance over a period of decades and eventual decommissioning costs at end-of-life.

258:

Do the various not-for-profits working in affected regions know about these products? -- Or are these products mostly for science/tech geeks to play with?

Reliability is super important. If these products have ever been field-tested in the Aussie outback, this would be a major endorsement/proof-of-reliability.

259:

This Chernobyl-area study says that it's possible to acquire an immunity to some radiation - could tip energy infrastructure toward nuclear again. Could also be important in advocating more space exploration spending. (How's this for a potential plot twist: after x generations, space colonists are unable to return to Earth because their metabolism collapses from radiation-starvation on Earth's surface. Also a potential reason why no alien invasions.)

"Chernobyl's birds adapting to ionizing radiation"

April 24, 2014 -British Ecological Society (BES)

"Birds in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl are adapting to -- and may even be benefiting from -- long-term exposure to radiation, ecologists have found. The study is the first evidence that wild animals adapt to ionizing radiation, and the first to show that birds which produce most pheomelanin, a pigment in feathers, have greatest problems coping with radiation exposure.

...

"Laboratory experiments have shown that humans and other animals can adapt to radiation, and that prolonged exposure to low doses of radiation increases organisms' resistance to larger, subsequent doses. This adaptation, however, has never been seen outside the laboratory in wild populations."

261:

I don't think that evolution of radiation resistance is a very practical solution for humans.

You know how it works, right?

Those birds went through ten or twenty generations of infertility, monsters, illness, and death to select up some radiation resistance.

262:

Under a pure renewables power regime there would have to be a lesser degree of 'power on demand'.

Very high power consuming industries already live in that world. The flip side of their low rates is that the power company can often shut them down during high demand our low supply.

We might find ourselves a somewhat less 24hr society.

Power might be a lot more expensive at night,for example, and people might start using drier timers or whatever.

263:

Oh, also the 'chernobyl lesson for the month' isn't birds its the giant movable shed they are building to slide over the thing. It is designed to last 100 years. They think it might last 300. That's about 29700 years short.

But, you know, the plan is during that 100 years the robots nibble the thing away for better storage.

Only worry is whether that happens. Might get interrupted by a war or something.

264:

There are no realistic biofuels. It's just hideously inefficient solar input to an already hideously inefficient process, at a time when we're looking at agricultural instability due to climate instability and severe pressure on cropland as fossil carbon agricultural inputs shut off.

Post-food recovery is going to be going to things we can't do without -- lubricants! tires! -- rather than fuel, especially when the direct-synthesis approaches are so promising. Even Brazillian sugar-cane-waste-to-ethanol approaches aren't going to hold up as "we want to burn that" in a no-fossil-carbon-inputs context.

265:

The article suggests an inoculating effect for the immediate (current generation) benefit even before evolution kicked in.

266:

"Very high power consuming industries already live in that world. The flip side of their low rates is that the power company can often shut them down during high demand our low supply."

Sounds good - but I haven't seen any media coverage of this ever happening i.e., high energy customers being flipped the bird (power off switch).

267:

Hahahhahahahhahaaaaaa.
It has happened, and will happen; I believe it's written into the contracts in many cases, that if there's a problem with power supply, the high drain companies get theirs cut. The mainstream media dont' cover it because it isn't sexy and doesn't involve teenage girls or important people caught in flagrante. You'll have to look in the more specialised industry magazines or talk directly to companies which draw tens of megawatts from the national grid.

Here's an example from South Africa:
http://www.bdlive.co.za/business/energy/2014/02/21/big-electricity-users-help-eskom-scrape-through-emergency

268:

Just checked the primary/overseer hydro website for my region. The only thing they're PR'ing about is 'new strategies for reducing total hydro consumption during designated peak times'. They do not identify the top energy hogs nor post their kw/hr rates or usage. They do however post consumer/residential prices by time-of-day (demand periods).

Further, this hydro body is probably doing this mostly because - since the PR piece mentions it - the upper levels of government are leaning on them to do so. Have just registered for their upcoming 'strategy' webcast ... may be fun.

What's missing is an international comparison/ benchmark of rates and policies ... which is usually posted on utilities/large corp sites when mandated or if that org happens to be a leader/winner in that category.

269:

Oddly enough, commercially sensitive information is not usually freely available. There's a long way to go before we have decent publicly available information on a lot of things.

Look, you seem to have some odd ideas of what is known/ what should be known/ what is publicly known. Just because the media don't cover something doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Also what use would an international comparison be when electricity supplies in different countries are different markets from each other?

270:

Re. High Energy industry
Back in the 70’s and 80’s I worked for a UK Chemical Company which ran a large Chlor-alkali plant which used mercury electrolysis cells, a Sulphuric Acid plant and a Crude benzole refinery. We were on a tariff which required us to shed load at several hours’ notice when electrical supplies became tight. We paid £25/kwH during these periods for any power used. When notified of load shedding every one ran round switching off all equipment that wasn’t REALLY essential. Generally thrse periods covered the winter evening peak.

271:

Also, why aluminium smelters tend to have dedicated power plants; they can't load shed.

272:

Thanks for the primer, Nojay.

If you cared to elaborate a bit on what the main problems / limitations of flywheels are (compared to say capacitors or batteries), I'm curious to know.
My (very limited) understanding had me believe flywheels were very promising in principle (low loss, low tear, flexible load and discharge rates) and depended on engineering improvements for commercial viability, notably of the kind where physics and chemistry allow for quite some room for progress : stronger, lighter magnetizable structural comps, multistage rotors, etc.

On hydro, the back of the envelope maths seem to spell doom for street-corner towers and retrofits, but what of integration in new buildings ?
Much like PV and thermal/wind, it seems like there would be better opportunities if hydro power storage was to be included in the specs/blueprint for a building that is to be built anyway, be it a housing, office or school complex, as long as it's 5 story high or more ?

273:

The various not-for-profits working in affected regions should know about these products, they have been around long enough (and it looks as though the Icy Ball was quite easily independently re-invented, or reverse engineered from little more than a description, at least once in North America).

The Ranque-Hilsch vortex tube is arguably mostly for science/tech geeks to play with, in field conditions, since it might be awkward to arrange its compressed air supply in field conditions - but wouldn't be that difficult technologically, it would just be an issue for the desperately poor to reach even that level (of course, they might even have problems providing fuels for the Icy Ball and for ordinary absorption refrigerators, but where do you draw the line for practicality criteria?).

Yes, the Icy Ball was field-tested in the Aussie outback, as have been ordinary absorption refrigerators, so there is definitely that major endorsement/proof-of-reliability for those. The Ranque-Hilsch vortex tube, the Icy Ball and absorption refrigerators all have no moving parts of their own, and a compressed air supply needn't have any if it can be produced with a running water system (think those low vacuum pumps you probably saw in school science lessons).

274:

Hydro storage is gravity. It's not cost effective below geologic scales because gravity is a very weak force. (And it's not precisely cost-effective at the geologic scales, it's just that something is required and this is the only something presently within the ambit of known art.)

Also, the last thing you want to do is add high variable mass to the top of residential structures; as the water gets pumped in and out the stresses on the building change, you'd have to put in a much stronger (and thus more expensive) structure. And worry about what happens when the water tank starts leaking.

275:

Imagine the structural loads imposed on a building by putting a water tank holding a few thousand tonnes of water on the roof -- a thousand tonnes of water is a cube ten metres on a side, it's kinda large as well as being heavy. That adds to the material cost of the building, the foundation loads, complex vibration modes of an inverted pendulum etc. etc. Architects have spent centuries trying to reduce mass in high-rise buildings, adding in extra weight for no good purpose is not something they're eager to do.

30kWh or 10MJ of storage, the small-home daily load I mentioned earlier is half that of a standard Tesla car battery pack, the same energy content as a thousand tonnes of water ten metres above a turbine. A 30kWh battery pack designed for deep cycling runs about $5,000 US and needs replacing every five years or so. That doesn't cover the cost of the battery shed (you don't want to run big battery arrays in a home), the charging and control circuitry and mains conditioning systems which are needed on top of the array itself. That 5000 bucks will buy you 10,000 kWh of electricity each year for five years at $0.1 per kWh (your local price may vary) or just about the same 30kWh of storage you get for the $5000, except that you still have to source more than a kWh continuously to put into the batteries as well. For most folks it's cheaper and easier to just buy in grid electricity if they can.

As for flywheels they too store limited amounts of energy per cubic metre of volume and tonne of mass. Expensive options like vacuum chambers and magnetic bearings reduce losses over a longer storage period. Performance improvements involve increasing the spin speeds and speccing high-density wheel materials like depleted uranium and tungsten and the like which adds even more to the cost. There's also the problem with any energy storage system, the "shit happens" moment when all that expensive energy stored in elevated water or spinning metal or electrochemistry decides it wants out NOW. Stuff explodes and/or catches fire and people die. It's one of the reasons you don't store batteries in the house.

276:


There are no realistic biofuels.

There are, for special cases like the particular one I was addressing just there, getting enough suitable fuel for modern aircraft. I cited the kerosene tree (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copaifera_langsdorffii).


It's just hideously inefficient solar input to an already hideously inefficient process, at a time when we're looking at agricultural instability due to climate instability and severe pressure on cropland as fossil carbon agricultural inputs shut off.

In general, that's both true and irrelevant, thus:-

- Efficiency isn't the test, cost-effective availability is. If you have any kind of crop waste and you can collect and distribute it practically (a big "if") you have a "free" source of material for gasifiers etc. (that's very practical to power farm equipment, which at least frees up other fuel for other uses, though it is less practical for cars, say - though even that has been done in other times and places). That's what they do now in Brazil, to process the cane sugar ethanol by burning bagasse. There is no soil nutrient loss if the ash is recycled properly, say by ploughing it back in and using crop rotation with nitrogen fixing crops, or better still by making "green manure" from it by dumping it in ponds growing nitrogen fixing water plants like mosquito fern (that cuts into direct production less than crop rotation does).

- Even without that kind of recycling, you can always use rubbish crops that can grow on land that isn't sutable for other agriculture.

What you brought out is only an issue for certain biofuels, like direct drop in replacements for all petrol uses, but for a great many uses it isn't a problem. That's why I qualified my remarks with "realistic"; I wasn't advocating biofuels for the unrealistic cases, but then again, quite a few cases aren't.


Even Brazillian sugar-cane-waste-to-ethanol approaches aren't going to hold up as "we want to burn that" in a no-fossil-carbon-inputs context.

See above about substituting for what is currently used by way of fossil carbon inputs, which is mostly fertiliser and farm equipment fuel.

277:

Whether it's batteries or flywheels it all comes down to the same thing -- the strength of chemical bonds. Since those are determined by fundamental physical constants there's really not a lot of room for orders-of-magnitude improvements in storage capacity. In fact, a little dimensional analysis shows that gasoline is 'stronger' than steel.

278:

Re "269: Oddly enough, commercially sensitive information is not usually freely available. There's a long way to go before we have decent publicly available information on a lot of things."

Agree that this type of info isn't consistently available to the public. However, this information is supposed to be publicly available where I live because of watch-dog groups, consumer ombudsmen, etc. As well, cities competing for new businesses often conduct such analyses whenever there's a bidding war between municipalities for a major new plant installation which translates into being posted on the web at some point. (See my post #114 above re: analysis of hydro rates in major North American cities.)

279:

"Yes, the Icy Ball was field-tested in the Aussie outback, as have been ordinary absorption refrigerators, so there is definitely that major endorsement/proof-of-reliability for those."

Okay - but based on the Wikipedia entry, this refrigerator runs "for a day on about a cup of kerosene, allowing rural users lacking electricity to utilise the benefits of refrigeration". Not sure that kerosene or any form of energy is consistently available in these regions.

280:

Not sure that kerosene or any form of energy is consistently available in these regions.

In some places, they aren't.

It's not that they aren't available in most places, it's that the very remote places, places where you may have to walk for days carrying everything on someone's back or it doesn't get there at all, those places are very hard to reach with a cold chain. And you can't just not vaccinate the people there, or you end up with a reservoir that can reinfect the main populations.

That's why it's worth trying to make warmth-tolerant vaccines. (Even if these places didn't exist, I suspect the research and development wouldn't be totally wasted.)

281:

Re: novel jet fuels -- and there's no shortage of C02 kicking around.

ETH Zürich. "Synthesized 'solar' jet fuel: Renewable kerosene from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 May 2014.

282:

I just looked up Capital in the 21st Century on Amazon.com. As of right now, 326 reviews, as follows:

5-star: 171
4-star: 19
3-star: 17
2-star: 17
1-star: 102

I checked the reviews of the 1-star brigade. It seems like most of them haven't read the book, but are sure they wouldn't like it if they did.

It isn't in my local library yet [sadness]. I look forward to reading it when I get the chance.

283:

Hard to believe no one mentioned that Lockheed's Skunk Works division is working on an alternate fusion reactor design using a novel containment method developed by MIT researchers..

http://ssl.mit.edu/research/Fusion.html

http://www.fusenet.eu/node/400


At the recent Google “Solve for X” conference on February 7 (2013), Lockheed Martin's long-term R&D department (“Skunk Works”) announced they are working on a compact fusion reactor. With what seems a 4th generation prototype called "T4", the aerospace giant says to have developed a high beta configuration, which allows a compact reactor design and faster development timeline.

With the 100 megawatt reactor being cca 2x2x4 meters.

If it works out, it'd likely make ITER obsolete before it's completed.

284:

Tokamaks are a dead end technology. Even if they can be made to work, they are such an engineering nightmare they could never produce electricity anywhere near the price of current (expensive) fission reactors.

285:

Deltics? the Keighley & Worth Valley had a diesel day in the late 80s where they managed to get two preserved Deltics to visit. a quirk of those things is that partially burnt fuel tends to accumulate in the exhaust, and if you rev it up to full power from cold, you vapourise it and generate a plume of reddish-brown smoke full of delightful stuff. holy aromatic hydrocarbons, Batman! as a result they had to avoid pulling full power out of King's Cross.

they were both making a double header; we stood behind the station by the embankment. they pulled out of the station at reduced power, but even that made the ground shake. once clear of the station they pulled full power, reddish cloud and all.

286:


Okay - but based on the Wikipedia entry, this refrigerator runs "for a day on about a cup of kerosene, allowing rural users lacking electricity to utilise the benefits of refrigeration". Not sure that kerosene or any form of energy is consistently available in these regions.

Kerosene isn't, but burnable fuel is, if only dried dung. The reference to kerosene is only by way of example, because that was what was typically used; however, the Icy Ball could use any sort of low grade heat to drive its cycle, even at slightly lower temperatures than the boiling point of water. In this, it was different from continuously operating and more conventional absorption refrigerators, which needed to use the right sort of liquid or gas fuel for the burners they had been configured with.

287:


[Quoting SFreader] Not sure that kerosene or any form of energy is consistently available in these regions.

In some places, they aren't.

It's not that they aren't available in most places, it's that the very remote places, places where you may have to walk for days carrying everything on someone's back or it doesn't get there at all, those places are very hard to reach with a cold chain. And you can't just not vaccinate the people there, or you end up with a reservoir that can reinfect the main populations.

That's why it's worth trying to make warmth-tolerant vaccines.

Actually, there is always enough fuel for this purpose anywhere people are, because people make enough dung for that (and mules and similar transport animals make even more that burns even better). That is why those places can always be reached with a cold chain unless you are doing it wrong, if they can be reached at all - and if not, they can't be reached with warmth-tolerant vaccines either. Past difficulties only show that those who tried were doing it wrong.

That's why it's not worth trying to make warmth-tolerant vaccines, unless other considerations apply (you suggested that that could be the case).

288:

That serves me right for not using preview. That should have looked like this:-


[Quoting SFreader] Not sure that kerosene or any form of energy is consistently available in these regions.


In some places, they aren't.


It's not that they aren't available in most places, it's that the very remote places, places where you may have to walk for days carrying everything on someone's back or it doesn't get there at all, those places are very hard to reach with a cold chain. And you can't just not vaccinate the people there, or you end up with a reservoir that can reinfect the main populations.


That's why it's worth trying to make warmth-tolerant vaccines.

Actually, there is always enough fuel for this purpose anywhere people are, because people make enough dung for that (and mules and similar transport animals make even more that burns even better). That is why those places can always be reached with a cold chain unless you are doing it wrong, if they can be reached at all - and if not, they can't be reached with warmth-tolerant vaccines either. Past difficulties only show that those who tried were doing it wrong.

That's why it's not worth trying to make warmth-tolerant vaccines, unless other considerations apply (you suggested that that could be the case).

289:

There's the argument that, rather than research a new vaccine that doesn't depend on a cold chain, the relatively small problem areas that are left for Polio would be better dealt with by using expensive transport, such as helicopters.

I'm not sure how the numbers work out. And there's a big problem with anything that might look like a bunch of outsiders conducting a military operation. It's a different sort of anti-vaxxer that is crawling out of the woodwork.

And this might have been tried already, and has other problems. But it could be like other things in this thread, an over focus on a particular solution which leads to a huge expensive project that has a life all of its own.

(And it wasn't crazy to look at Cold Fusion: there was some serious money spent. The payoff would have been ginormous. But since it didn't work the funding dried up.)

Some things in the modern world are so expensive that if the money starts flowing, nobody is willing to admit they're backing a loser.

290:

Grrrrr ...
Correction:
the relatively small problem areas that are left for Polio would be better dealt with by using expensive transport, such as helicopters.
Should have read ...
the relatively small groups of problematic, murderous people that are left ensuring the continuation of Polio would be better dealt with by using expensive armament, such as rocket-firing helicopters.

Let's face it shall we?
Polio is ONLY still around because "Western education is evil" ( Boko Haram ) & similar criminal insanities.

291:

It is tempting.

But that sort of response can screw up other places. Here in the civilised world, I haven't been trained to run and hide when I see a helicopter.

Heck, one of the problems with the loonies is that they scream about the Red Cross as an emblem (I class that as silly rather than lunatic), and there is an alternative symbol agreed, as well as the Red Crescent, but who knows about it?

A new vaccine tech is still worthwhile, but can we afford to wait?

292:

Polio is ONLY still around because "Western education is evil" ( Boko Haram ) & similar criminal insanities.

You missed the bit about the CIA sending agents to search bits of Pakistan for Osama bin Laden disguised as medics bearing polio vaccine?

It really doesn't help your vaccination campaign when covert ops asshats prioritise catching J. Random Criminal in the here-and-now over a decades-long campaign to eliminate an existential threat to all humanity.

293:

Correction:
"the relatively small problem areas that are left for Polio would be better dealt with by using expensive transport, such as helicopters."
Should have read ...
"the relatively small groups of problematic, murderous people that are left ensuring the continuation of Polio would be better dealt with by using expensive armament, such as rocket-firing helicopters."

My understanding is the most recent polio cases came from Indian slums – i.e. from amongst the most destitute people in the world. Even accounting for hyperbole, calling them murderous and implying they deserve to die is a bit of a shit thing to say.

But this raises why the transport/extermination scenario wouldn't work. Remove people from a slum and others will just move in. Rather you might need to rebuild the slums entirely, which in the short term would still be a bastard thing to do to the people who live there but in the long term might just ensure we eradicate this disease.

294:

Media campaigns:

1-Free smart-phone with every polio inoculation ...
2-Vaccinate your child and we'll give him/her a tablet/smartphone for life.
3-Lifetime-upgrade - for your smartphone/tablet and your body. (Scheduled inocs for your wet and dry systems.)

The techy side of this could appeal to BG3 in a round-about way. The point is to do a tie-in with something very desirable and near-universal ... such as smartphone. And with the new fancy-dancy photo-enabled biologics, you probably could figure out an app that would transmit a signal via smartphone to reboot any biologic inoculation. This could work in the opposite direction too, but let's assume the good guys can stay ahead for a few years.

295:

You are/ aren't aware that the issues with Polio vaccinations are in areas without good mobiloe phone coverage/ disfunctional government which means nobody would accept water from the even if they were on fire/ you couldn't trust htem to keep their end of the bargain?
Not to mention the modern social media making it dead simple to pick out which minority you want to persecute now.

296:

Yes - I'm aware of the current lack of mobile coverage. However, building wifi might be cheaper in the long run than other alternatives given the rapid uptake of communications tech. You'd need multiple region-specific strategies for an inoculation campaign, same as for anything else. (I think that part of the medicine-delivery problem is a tendency towards one-size-fits-all thinking.)

The tie-in promo would probably work in densely populated ares where smartphones are in widespread use in the middle and upper socioeconomic segments (India); therefore would not be perceived as a threat when distributed to the poor/those likeliest to need to be vaccinated. Inoculation by food - bananas have been mentioned - could be used in refugee camps. Sparcely populated or isolated regions in Africa would need yet some other distribution system.

297:

Cloud cities are small potatoes. If we really want a project to soak up excess capital for centuries, try spinning up Venus and giving it a moon. Ideally, move Mars into orbit around Venus and terraform both. Or failing that, Ceres might make a good moon. Mercury would be nice, but I think way more energy intensive to boost its orbit. But with Mars or Ceres you might be able to use a close pass with a capture by Venus to spin Venus up.

298:

WHO is considering declaring a state of emergency for polio which has been found in Iraq, PAKISTAN, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Somalia and Kenya. Polio virus has been found in the sewage system in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza though no cases have been spotted. Waiting to be added as potential polio hot spots are any other regions with civil unrest, i.e., Ukraine, Sudan and the Central African Republic.

PAKISTAN has the largest number of new cases.

299:

No, it's because eradicating the last pockets of polio is not that easy when there's significant portions of the world that simply haven't had access to the vaccine - that combined with the switch from oral vaccines to the safer intravenous vaccines (a humanitarian necessity as the number of people experiencing life long health problems from the oral vaccine was far exceeding the number of people who actually had natural polio) has meant that the entire global eradication program hit the point of diminishing returns back in the 90s.

300:

Scentofviolets:
Whether it's batteries or flywheels it all comes down to the same thing -- the strength of chemical bonds. Since those are determined by fundamental physical constants there's really not a lot of room for orders-of-magnitude improvements in storage capacity. In fact, a little dimensional analysis shows that gasoline is 'stronger' than steel.

...and compared to Carbon Fiber (8x greater than steel)?

http://www.aspes.ch/faq.html

...or the various buckytube / graphenes?...

301:

Aggray:
Cloud cities are small potatoes. If we really want a project to soak up excess capital for centuries, try spinning up Venus and giving it a moon. Ideally, move Mars into orbit around Venus and terraform both. Or failing that, Ceres might make a good moon. Mercury would be nice, but I think way more energy intensive to boost its orbit. But with Mars or Ceres you might be able to use a close pass with a capture by Venus to spin Venus up.

The ideal projects here balance investment, tech development, physics / science credibility, long term (economic, other) bonus for humanity, some return for the investor / their descendants, and energy / materials / etc scale that are attainable with some fraction of humanities current total resources.

Moving moons currently fails the last. It's just too big, and developing technologies to do so is physically possible but too economically and project risk far out.

302:

Umm, you do know it was established years ago that countries in Africa are leapfrogging straight to a mobile phone based communications network rather than a copper landline type?

I look forwards to your program to offer smartphones to people in northern Nigeria, Ethiopia and Pakistan being rolled out. I'm sure it'll work wonders.
Also were you planning on telling people about the vaccine in bananas before or after they ate them? (But see fridgepunk's post about oral vaccines)

303:

Um, I believe it was hepatitis B, not polio? For whatever that's worth.

And just for the sake of storytelling - from the accounts I've heard, it wasn't quite as mad as a James Bond scenario with CIA agents disguised as medics; the CIA contacted a Pakistani doctor/health official, who staged a vaccination drive as a pretext to get access to the compound where bin Laden was (as it turns out) actually hiding.

Not really clear whose brainstorm the exact vaccination plan was. And not surprisingly, nobody remembered to notify Pakistani intelligence services.

The account was later confirmed by US Secretary of Defense, so looks reasonably solid.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jul/11/cia-fake-vaccinations-osama-bin-ladens-dna

Anyway, there are plenty of reasons for people to distrust established authority in this part of the world, not sure this really moves the needle (sorry, awkward expression in this context) very much. Though at the very least it was an amateurish screwup.

304:

And just to clarify, please don't think that I was supporting the helicopter-rocket-launcher approach to polio problem areas. I just thought the details of the vaccination ploy in Pakistan were interesting enough to dig into.

A very big difficulty with vaccinations and health care in general, in the worst-afflicted parts of the world, will be dangerous, or at least unpredictable, local governments. Especially since that tends to lead to bad roads (anybody want to hike 50 miles carrying a kerosene-powered IcyBall chiller?), bad healthcare facilities, etc.

There is plenty of madness in the mix as well, such as the goofy theories about AIDS that the South African government was touting.

305:

No, Charlie, that's new information to me ...
AND
I don't believe that level of stupidity, either.
The sheer insane criminality of it is eqaul to that of the "other" side ....
( SCREAM )

306:

You misunderstand.
I was advocating, err "culling" the people interfering with the vaccination programme.
Like, no matter how evil & grasping Monsanto are, deliberately attempting to destroy trial-plots at Rothamstead of blight-free potatoes because they are "GM" & therefore "EEEVUL" is a level of self-defeating stupidity that I'm not prepared to deal with....

307:

And neither was I
I was advocating the cull of the people trying to prevent the vaccination programme, not the innocent victime, the poor buggers

308:

Well, you wouldn't "hike 50 miles carrying a kerosene-powered IcyBall chiller" in the first place, would you? That's the charging phase of a batch process, but during travel you would only need the cooling phase. You would be burning the kerosene (or other fuel, don't forget) at your convenience, in camp. If you couldn't keep your supplies cool enough with an insulated pack while your Icy Ball was charging, well, that's why they have logistics arrangements like lightly burdened advance parties that go ahead to make all the preparations for the main group to use; an advance party could easily have a second charged Icy Ball ready and waiting by the time it was needed, just as it has usually cooking fires and a hot meal ready for the main group.

309:

There is exactly zero water on Venus, so no.

And there's a reason for that, connected to the runaway greenhouse. Due to the temperature, water is in the form of vapor. Whenever it drifts high enough in the atmosphere (and eventually, all of it did) UV radiation from the Sun blasts it apart into individual hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

Hydrogen gas at that temperature has a speed much greater than Venus' escape velocity so it, well, escapes. Oxygen doesn't, due to its greater mass, but it is so reactive that it doesn't take long for it to find something to bind to. So the oxygen from Venus' water is all in the dirt and the hydrogen is to hell and gone and it isn't coming back.

No water, no people. Not at any altitude.

310:

Density of steel is about 8 grammes/cc. Density of carbon fibre runs about 1.6 g/cc. The energy of flywheels scale as the mass increases, generally so in the case of similar-sized flywheels the much cheaper and easier to fabricate steel wheel will store five times more energy than the carbon fibre one.

The fibre wheel can be spun faster, of course but that requires much better bearings. A good estimate is ten times more expensive for double the rotational speed in the 30,000 rpm plus region. More effort is needed to balance the wheel during manufacture as well. The niche for carbon fibre flywheels is in mobile applications like KERS for racing cars where cost of manufacture and maintenance is not a high priority. Stationary energy storage systems usually use low-speed steel wheels as volume is not a constraint.

311:

That seems reasonable. I recently had to fly from here to Glasgow and back (or spend 2 days more travelling). On the way back, including ground transport time, checkin and hold baggage reclaim, security theatre and flight time (schedule time is 50 minutes) I took 3.5 hours hotel to home. Ok, I could have checked in nearer my flight time, but I allowed something for traffic that wasn't actually there.

312:

Thanks again Charlie; I've long been arguing that a "great leap forward" in accumulator technology requires a "new physics" and not chipping away at "how can we make a 5% improvement?".

313:

I wonder; how many of the 5* reviews are from "true believers" who haven't read the book either?

314:

Para 2, sentence 4. - Most motorsport ERS systems use either battery packs or hyper-capacitors rather than flywheels. That's not a statement that you're wrong; just an amplification on the way development in the field is presently going.

315:

It is assumed that polio is restricted to humans only. Various monkeys can be infected with it in the lab but it is assumed they cannot get the disease naturally. However, most of the mammal species have not been tested, and none of the insects have been tested.

It's been awhile since I looked at this and there may be new data, but the way they used to tell the story, almost everybody got infected with polio, but something like 1% developed serious symptoms. When it infected people at very young ages they never developed symptoms (though it might have killed the ones that would otherwise get counted with polio symptoms). We may have had epidemic polio because we developed sanitary practices which resulted in fewer people being infected at very young ages.

Immunized people can carry the virus and shed it some, but after successful immunization they never develop serious symptoms. Something like 0.5% of them would have gotten serious symptoms without immunization, on first infection.

Israel is one of only five countries that regularly test sewage for polio virus, and they find it with some consistency. I don't know whether what they are finding is low-level transmission between immunised people, or low-level continued shedding by immunised people, or if it's new infections (which mostly don't result in serious symptoms -- there were no reported cases).

The goal is to eliminate the virus everywhere in the world so that we can stop immunising. This has a potentially big payoff since unlike smallpox polio has no military value, so once it is eliminated it's likely to stay eliminated.

But if some immune individuals can still carry it in their intestines at low levels, or if somewhere in the world there is an animal vector, that isn't in the cards.

316:

"Ideally, move Mars into orbit around Venus and terraform both. Or failing that, Ceres might make a good moon. Mercury would be nice, but I think way more energy intensive to boost its orbit."

Woo! Find a way to extract the potential energy of Mars as it falls into a lower orbit, and it isn't energy intensive at all! You GET energy from it. Energy near Mars, but still you could find something to use it for.

After you've done Mars, think how much energy you could extract by moving Jupiter into something more like a near-earth orbit!

317:

The first F1 KERS systems used carbon-fibre flywheels and there have previously been attempts to fit them to buses etc. as battery substitutes but Li-chemistry batteries are now so obviously superior for mobile energy storage flywheel systems are being mostly relegated into stationary applications where price is the key factor.

319:

An ideal solar system might be a gas giant (Jupiter or Saturn) in the habitable zone with multiple terraformed terrestrial worlds in orbit. Though besides Earth, Venus, and maybe Mars I'm not sure we have enough large terrestrial worlds to take advantage of the possibility.

320:

Yeah; I knew that one of the early KERS had used a high speed flywheel, but couldn't think of a present system (either F1 or sportscars) that did.

321:

Nojay:
Stationary energy storage systems usually use low-speed steel wheels as volume is not a constraint.

Strange. I work around them all the time, and nearly all of them use (even heavier) lead-acid batteries...

322:

My idea for an anti-bond story is along these lines: Bond discovers villain is setting up a tremendous under-ice colony in Antarctica. He's planning on global warming upending the world economy and ecology and the return of tropical conditions to the frozen continent. He's handpicked 50k bright, handsome youths to make the colony a success.

Bond is like "You're going to destroy the world to conquer it? You're mad!"

The villain is all like "What? No! I've sunk half my fortune into fighting global warming. But I don't think I'll make any headway against these jackass governments so Plan B is the Antactic colony. I'm not trying to destroy civilization, I'm just trying not to be crushed in the debris when it collapses. So, you look like a handsome gent of good stock. I think I could find a place for you here."

Bond considers. "How are you stocked for gin and olives?"

323:


It really doesn't help your vaccination campaign when covert ops asshats prioritise catching J. Random Criminal in the here-and-now over a decades-long campaign to eliminate an existential threat to all humanity.

Forgoing perceived short-term benefits that carry with them worse long-term risks isn't something people seem to be very good at. C.f. AGW and, something I recently had cause to review, small arms transfers to worthy groups of freedom fighters.

324:

I'm not following you. Yes, various composites are stronger than steel. And steel is stronger than bamboo. So what? Are you seriously trying to say that it doesn't ultimately come down to the strength of chemical bonds?

If so, I disagree. Emphatically.

325:

Flywheel tech seems to appeal to a lot of people. Back when I was ten I came up with the idea of two oppositely charged electrical spheres spinning around each other; the faster they rotated the more charge you could put on them because of centripetal force. Wouldn't work, of course.

Later on -- early teens -- I had the idea of assembling an already-rotating wheel that didn't have to be spun up from scratch, the idea being there was a range of angular velocities where forces from relativistic length contraction would be greater than the centripetal force. Also bit the dust, I'm afraid. As all such schemes are doomed because of something called the virial theorem, sigh. What's a Tom Swift boy-inventor wannabe to do :-)

326:

Flywheel storage systems, as I had been referring to them in the post.

The weird chemistry in stationary battery tech is nickel-iron (NiFe). It has an excellent lifespan even with deep discharge cycle operations that would kill Li-chemistry and lead-acid cells and is also resistant to high temperatures. Why is it so expensive though? I've never been able to find out.

327:

scentofviolets:
I'm not following you. Yes, various composites are stronger than steel. And steel is stronger than bamboo. So what? Are you seriously trying to say that it doesn't ultimately come down to the strength of chemical bonds?

If so, I disagree. Emphatically.

You attempted to dismiss flywheels by comparing gasoline (near the top of chemical stored energy combinations we can industrially work with, about 90% of diesel fuel / jet fuel which is about the top) with steel (which is 8x less energy dense in flywheels compared to the best combinations using best carbon fiber).

I could propose we replace steel tank armor with composite, and suggest bacon/jam composite as the composite material, and get a lousy efficiency comparison (but tasty!). A more reasonable composite to check would be kevlar/epoxy, or carbon fiber/epoxy, preferrably with ceramic face plate packages and the like.

In each case, though a comparison may be in a technical sense correct (units, figures of merit, etc are correct), it's wrong (you're comparing the wrong things to learn anything useful about the real world).

A gasoline / carbon fiber flywheel comparison is more appropriate for moving vehicles, where weight IS a premium, unlike fixed installations. By approximately a factor of 8.

When we get buckytube / buckysheet / graphene rotors it will potentially be 32 times better than steel.

Diamond fiber would be better.

If you would like to reproduce your calculation in light of those materials' properties,

328:

Sigh. No George, I didn't attempt to dismiss flywheels and looking back at what I wrote I don't see how you could get that impression. I also see that you misread someone else about the practical uses to which flywheel storage systems are put (something I correctly and without effort inferred from the text), so let me respectfully suggest you read these posts a little more carefully in the future before you respond

Now, what I actually said was that no matter what the particulars were of a storage system, they all depend on chemical bonds to make them work. Since all chemical bonds are of the same strength to within a rough order of magnitude, it follows that all storage systems ultimate high-end specs will be within a rough order of magnitude of each other as well. Does that clear things up for you?

329:

Flywheels ...
That reminds me:
Parry People Movers ARe flywheel-powered - charged / revved up at stops ....

330:

The molecular bonds maybe don't matter that much. It's how you use them.

The difference between graphite and diamond isn't the bonds, it's the structure.

An obvious thought experiment: what's the difference between gas and liquid as the electrolyte in a battery? They're both barely-organised groups of molecules which can easily move from one electrode to the other. The molecules in a liquid can be lighter than those in a gas, yet air is about three orders of magnitude less dense than water.

You might have a situation where volume doesn't matter very much, but that's such a huge difference for gas-based technologies to overcome. Propane-fuelled internal combustion has some advantages—cleaner burn for one—but storage on a vehicle is the big problem. And it's also an example for the distribution infrastructure problems. There was a certain push for it in the Nineties, lower taxation and such, and some urban transport operations adopted it, but public-access refill points were often closed over the weekend.

You can store propane as a liquid, under enough pressure, which makes it volumetrically practical, but there's a dead weight to those pressure vessels. Some of the other ingenious solutions to storing gases have the same weight problem in different forms.

The Graf Zeppelin fueled its engines with a gas mix of about the same density as air, which meant it didn't get lighter over a voyage, but about a third of the total gas volume was this fuel.

Density matters. Petrol for the engines would have needed lift gas, which would have had to be vented as fuel was burned and the airship lightened. Which is partly why the American airships, rather than vent expensive helium, had condensers to recover water from engine exhaust gas.

Three orders of magnitude...

331:

A quick play on Wikipedia suggests that typically you get a change of 3 orders of magnitude in density when you move between gas and liquid phases in elements and compounds that are most commonly encountered in their liquid or gaseous phases outside of extremes of temperature (think below 79K or above 500K depending on chemical chosen).

332:

Yes, I'm aware of technological leap-frog ... however not sure this game's going to be bringing the same returns it used to. The whole global-warming thing makes forecasting access to certain resources more iffy, less linear. Also - the regions you name have an excess of guns, so I'm basically pushing for an updated pen-vs-sword scenario.

The vaccine-in-a-banana idea has been around since the '80's and is still being seriously considered. My personal ethics skew toward informed consent; pragmatism says how many years/deaths will you have to wait for informed consent? (If we look at the U.S. bible/goiter belt - forever!)

Couldn't find the fridegpunk post - what did you mean to say?

333:

Now, what I actually said was that no matter what the particulars were of a storage system, they all depend on chemical bonds to make them work.

What we need are better electrons. Unfortunately muons seem to be too unstable for our purposes ...

334:

Fridgepunk type this:
"- that combined with the switch from oral vaccines to the safer intravenous vaccines (a humanitarian necessity as the number of people experiencing life long health problems from the oral vaccine was far exceeding the number of people who actually had natural polio)"

i.e. giving them banana with polio vaccine sauce isn't as safe as the injection.

335:

We (Homo sapiens sapiens) will never go to Mars or Venus in our lifetime or ever for that matter. Sorry to be a poop. I’m afraid our future is going to resemble the dystopian fiction of Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Wind up Girl”, and Richard Morgan’s “Market Forces”. Gated corporate city-states and multitudes of warring tribes fighting over scarce resources. That seems to be happening now.

As long as we continue to hold onto the quaint 20th century values of an economy based on conspicuous consumption and the idea of ownership, propped up by banks and mortgage institutions, powered on fossil fuels, Bacigalupi’s “The Drowned Cities” will be our future. R. Buckminster Fuller called it “lawyer-capitalism” and in his book Critical Path (1981) forewarned us about bailouts of “private” enterprises by the U.S. taxpayers.

Until we can get control of our population growth, limit the power of corporate billionaires, switch to renewable energy sources, and rethink our consumption habits … we aren’t going anywhere beyond the moon.

336:

WE have control of our population growth, that's a solved problem. All the others you list though, they're still live.

338:

Is the score really settled on the economic legacy of the plague, and its impact on wages?

Here's one author[1] who deems its effects to have been deleterious, by suggesting that nominal wages increased immediately in the aftermath of the plague, but that real wages actually declined.

[1] Munro, John H (2004), Before and After the Black Death: Money, Prices and Wages in Fourteenth-century England, New Approaches to the History of Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Selected Proceedings of Two International Conferences at The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters in Copenhagen, Historisk-filosofiske Meddelser , Vol. 104, (February 2009): pp. 335-364. http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/15748/

339:

Find another source of money. Billionaire entrepreneurs want to WIN at any cost whatever. Putting a gun at their head is a losing proposition. They would rather burn their money, sabotage their industries, etc. rather than let you have the loot and thus make them look like a bunch of losers. With them "Hey, I've got a gun at your head" leads to "Hey I've got sticks of dynamite all over my body and if you shoot we're both dead".

340:

"Billionaire entrepreneurs want to WIN at any cost whatever."

Then if their winning causes too much havoc, there are only a few choices.

1. Persuade them to redefine winning in other terms that are less destructive. For example, some of them might be persuaded to lead the revolution.

2. Defeat and kill them.

3. Think of some third choice, there's always a third choice if you look hard enough.

341:

I should think taking most of the money away from a very rich person ought to be quite straightforward. You just have to do it one very rich person at a time. Most of these people became very rich by owning large numbers of shares in a company, or inheriting the same. So you just have to find a way to make those shares worthless and voila rich person becomes normal person. Borrowing those shares and short selling them will do it but it's risky if the market decides you're doing the wrong thing. Much safer to bankrupt the company that they own the shares in. Although you then have to live with the collateral damage of all the people who work for the company losing their jobs.
If you don't mind living with that then get together with a few like minded individuals and start your exercise in consumer activism. It'll be fun to see which rich person gets turned into a normal person first!

342:

"Most of these people became very rich by owning large numbers of shares in a company, or inheriting the same. So you just have to find a way to make those shares worthless and voila rich person becomes normal person. Borrowing those shares and short selling them will do it but it's risky if the market decides you're doing the wrong thing."

And if your rich target can buy and sell shares faster than you can? He'll likely sell short with you, and then himself buy back at the bottom to squeeze *you*. Don't wrestle with a porcupine.

"Much safer to bankrupt the company that they own the shares in."

If you have that kind of power, why are you complaining about rich people?

343:

It should be noted that for large freight ships going nuclear would probably drop operating costs quite considerably - they spend a lot more time at cruising speed than the military does, so the economics are actually more favorable for civil than for military use, even counting security costs.

344:

I see what you mean, but according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel_engine (and from my memory before I went looking for a supporting reference) ship diesels are now exceeding 50% thermal efficiency at cruising speed.

345:

Doesn't actually help that much - Emma Maersk still spends upwards of 60 million dollars / year on fuel despite sailing quite slowly. Nuclear freighters would cost more to build, but not *half a billion* more.

346:

{polite cough} Have you factored in reactor maintenance costs, and costs of disposal of spent fuel rods?

Have a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NS_Savannah and bear in mind that all figures are in 1950s dollar except for fuel prices.

Note particularly the admission that your crew costs will be significantly higher than for a conventional vessel.

Also have a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civilian_nuclear_ships#Power_plants .

347:

I was working on the assumption that more than one person wanted to bankrupt this rich person and that all it would take would be to put these people together. If a really large number of normal people want to bankrupt the rich person then they should be able to easily do it. Obviously if they don't then it'll be tricky.

348:

The Russians have several nuclear-powered icebreakers in service and are laying down three new ones. The key thing for a nuclear-powered cargo ship would be having multiple units in service with similar reactors and fuel systems, cutting the general cost of maintenance and fuel supply. Designing the reactor "properly" would mean that they would outlast the hulls and be taken from a decommissioned ship and put into a new-build after twenty or thirty years, reducing the impact of the initial capital cost.

The Savannah was very much a prototype and suffered from all the economic ills of such. Saying that the economics of nuclear ship plant other than for specialised uses such as military submarines and large fleet carriers are still marginal; the Russian icebreakers are in effect quasi-military units which if powered by conventional fossil fuels would burn through a lot of fuel doing their job requiring regular returns to base to refuel. Being nuclear powered they can stay on station throughout an entire winter operational cycle, changing crews and resupplying by helicopter.

349:

Yhea, but the Savannah got retired in an era of very cheap oil. Modern freighters are spending really quite absurd sums of money on fuel over their service life, and this is an expense that is about to go up quite considerably as the cheapest grades of bunkerfuel are getting banned. The main issue with going nuclear isn't economics - it's that you need a route where all the ports will let you use a nuke ship. Or one could just build a nuclear tug and start hauling convoys around international waters I guess.

350:

Someone88, I'm real unclear what sort of actions you're talking about. Most of the things I thought of that a group of middle-class private citizens could do to bankrupt a chosen corporation, could get labelled as terrorism.

If the rich person you're going after manages to get you declared a cell leader of a terrorist organization, it isn't unlikely that you and your wife and children will all get strip- searched and waterboarded several times a day for the foreseeable future. And you probably won't have much contact with your wife except maybe they'll show you occasional videos of the strip-searches.

351:

Why is Mississippi famously 50th in everything?

The cynic would answer "Because the people who run/control it want it that way."

WHich may be very similar to inequality but is a little more direct as to mecahnism.

352:

you just have to find a way to make those shares worthless and voila rich person becomes normal person. Borrowing those shares and short selling them will do it but it's risky if the market decides you're doing the wrong thing. Much safer to bankrupt the company that they own the shares in.

That damages the company, which may be valuable in its own right. (Investment trusts: not so much. Railroads and food manufacturers? Riiiiight.)

No, what you do is: you nationalize the companies. As in, the goverment says "all your shares belong to us. Fixed price sale, $0.001 per share, so sorry." Alternatively, swap the shares at face value for long-term government bonds at a low interest rate -- very, very secure (your billionaires can't complain they're being left destitute) but they're no longer in control of anything.

The only problem with this is that you still need people to run the companies. But, weirdly enough, this doesn't seem to be a problem for, say, France, any more than it was a problem in the UK prior to 1979 (finding executives-for-hire, that is).

353:

One concept I saw described ages ago -- early 70's -- was a nuclear tug. Basically, you put your oceanic nuclear propulsion system in a short, squat tug with no cargo space, then weld it into the stern of a big-ass container carrying barge. When the barge reaches the end of its life you undock the propulsion section, refurbish it, and build another container ship around it. The point being, the reactor has a much longer design and service life than a freight ship -- why not make it modular and separate so you can amortize the expense over a longer period?

354:

They probably won't need another generation of nuclear ice-breaker after the three they're building now; the North-East passage is due to be ice-free throughout the year by the middle of the century.

355:

The NS Savannah also had the supreme misfortune to be commissioned in the late 1950s, right on the cusp of the era of the multimodal freight container. It was a pre-container freight ship, designed to carry up to 60 passengers (!) and 8,800 tons of freight. Seven holds, a swimming pool, a lounge and bar, and just look at the photos on Wikipedia; "The kitchen features an early water-cooled Raytheon RadaRange microwave oven" ...

Sailing on her must have been gorgeous, but Savannah was basically the last gasp of the pre-jet/pre-container age. She'd make a lovely billionaire's yacht today, but as a commercial proposition she was as dead on arrival as the Bristol Brabazon.

356:

There are more than a few issues with this. It breaches European law to seize property without compensation. Confiscating the property of someone who hasn't done anything wrong also tends to cause capital flight. In a country that is pretty good at attracting foreign corporations due to a stable and predictable legal environment and a highly developed system of corporate law that's really bad. A large proportion of shares are held by institutional investors, such as pension funds and various other financial products owned by people on fairly ordinary incomes.

Swapping the shares for gilts isn't great either. They've chosen to go for shares due to the higher return, if you do that they'll simply sell the bonds and buy shares elsewhere.

The state doesn't have a great record at running businesses tending to be about as efficient as the least efficient private businesses.

357:

I believe the object would be, in that case, the extinction of capital, and the legal issues would not be significant in the face of the political coalition able to seriously consider the question legislatively.

And we most emphatically do need something to arrange the extinction of capital, the value-add of which has gone wildly and increasingly negative. Note that this is not at all saying market mechanisms are worthless (though they have much more limited worth than many proponents ascribe to them), a call for a centrally planned economy, or a demand for general crippling poverty in preference to a powerful post-industrial economy. It's just an assertion that the consequences of allowing a tiny minority to rig the game to guarantee they win is a very bad thing.

358:

"It's just an assertion that the consequences of allowing a tiny minority to rig the game to guarantee they win is a very bad thing."

Clear and profound.

There are people who will argue that it's always been that way.

Like, in the Iliad chariot race, Antilochus was the lowest-ranking aristocrat there, but he had the daring and skill to come in second just before king Menelaus even though his horses were of course not as good. They started to give the second-place prize to the guy who came in last rather than give it to him, but he loudly objected. Then Menelaus suggested that he argue the case that he didn't cheat, and Menelaus would be the judge. Antilochus realized his position and gave Menelaus the prize, pointing out that he'd give Menelaus anything else he had too.

The first prize was a skilled woman, not like there was any hint of equality....

So anyway, the argument is that tiny minorities have always rigged the game so they would win, and there's nothing anybody can do about it so we might as well not even try.

My first thought is that these are paid shills who try to discourage actions their masters don't want.

But on second thought I think they may just be fans of aristocracy. Like at a sports game, the fans on the other side might yell "You haven't got a chance, just go home". These guys like the idea that a tiny minority will run things for its own benefit because that idea appeals to them. They want to be slaves.

So they argue that even if you get rid of one master, the next master might likely be worse so why bother.

359:

Oh no. It was ancient greece, they had slaves. The first prize for the chariot race was a woman skilled in handicrafts and a big two-handled tripod. It was how they did things. I didn't stop to think it looked sexist to mention it until after I submitted it.

I apologize.

360:
"It's just an assertion that the consequences of allowing a tiny minority to rig the game to guarantee they win is a very bad thing."

Clear and profound.

There are people who will argue that it's always been that way.

Thank you!

In terms of always being that way, social organization is a function of communications. Literacy _at all_ gets you god-king autocracies (because tax records), widespread literacy and printing gets you the Reformation/Counter-reformation, non-land-based organizations having legal status gets you industrialization, and here we are with the potential for widespread dynamic-hierarchy problem solving. (Who knows about this? what do they say we need to do?)

The problem with the tiny minority is that they've gone from (in the god-king autocracy) at least defensible (someone has to keep the records and plan, and if you can't afford general literacy or (tougher) leisure...) to actively harmful, because it's very firmly in the interest of the tiny minority to have a fixed hierarchy; the same people are always in charge and always making decisions. This fails, it's not even "doesn't work", it's actively fails, as soon as you're trying to do anything the least bit complex; a huge fraction of business effort gets expending on working around directives from on high that either make no sense at all or are hopeless leadership failures and expect people to diligently and enthusiastically act against their own interests.

The different thing about today is that we have the means to get the whole species connected. This allows immense improvement in the forms of organization; the idea that we need to concentrate resources in a risk-taking -- remember that this is the original justification for permitting the concentration of capital, it would bear risk and benefit society as a whole -- class has become false.

Society hasn't followed this because the tiny minority likes being able to insist that they're inherently important, and the benefits of always winning.

They might even like the two-handled tripod.

361:

"In terms of always being that way, social organization is a function of communications."

Again, profound implications there.

"Literacy _at all_ gets you god-king autocracies (because tax records), widespread literacy and printing gets you the Reformation/Counter-reformation, non-land-based organizations having legal status gets you industrialization,"

I'm not sure about that last, it might be that the beginnings of industrialization were enough to result in legal status. Once they produce a degree of riches, they are like the goose with the golden eggs. If you kill them then you can't tax them. Given time that turns into formal rules.

"and here we are with the potential for widespread dynamic-hierarchy problem solving. (Who knows about this? what do they say we need to do?)"

I don't know much about this. John Ford hinted at it in Growing Up Weightless. CJ Cherryh hinted at it in one of her Alliance/Union novels, maybe Heavy Time. Etc. Usually the assumption is that people on Terra use rigid top-down structures while people somewhere else have a cooperative structure where whoever has the info shares it quickly and leads the decisions. There usually isn't much thought about how it works.

Obviously, we need to find out what works and use it, but whatever-it-is doesn't come naturally to us because it isn't yet embedded in the culture.

"The different thing about today is that we have the means to get the whole species connected. This allows immense improvement in the forms of organization; the idea that we need to concentrate resources in a risk-taking -- remember that this is the original justification for permitting the concentration of capital, it would bear risk and benefit society as a whole -- class has become false."

A quibble, there have been various justifications to concentrate capital, a major one to avoid losing wars. When the costs of losing a war are so high, people will put a lot of effort into preventing it. Back when it took a whole village to support one armored knight, and castles were very conspicuous consumption.... And armies "lived off the land"....

War consumes. One of the big justifications to produce more is to contribute more to the war effort.

So, like, mass production ultimately results in richer societies, but it isn't obvious ahead of time that this helps the rich -- when you mass-produce shoddy stuff for the masses, who can pay for it because you paid them to make it, what do you get? But when you can equip and supply bigger armies, you're less likely to lose wars.

"Society hasn't followed this because the tiny minority likes being able to insist that they're inherently important, and the benefits of always winning."

Things take time. We have repeatedly brushed aside small elites when they became irrelevant. Aristocrats. Monarchs. Slave owners. The Nomenklatura.

But we don't particularly have alternatives in place yet. We're seeing more effective use of data. Walmart sales are around 2.7% of total US personal consumption. I don't know whether Walmart is how the new model will stabilize.

Similarly, the US military Global Information Grid has the goal of using the new methods, but as near as I can tell it's being created using the old methods.

362:

What I haven't heard near enough objection to is the idea that if we tax the uber-wealthy at a high rate, they lose their incentive to... what? If they're already spectacularly well-to-do, why would we want to motivate them to get even richer? That's utterly fatuous. We want major incentives at the bottom and middle, with viable paths for advancement. If you're already richer than God, take a fucking load off: you've had yours. You already control a much larger chunk of the economy than any sensible society would permit. It's not your turn anymore. You're welcome...

Tax the dog-shit out of them and use that revenue to fund public goods and to "incentivize" growth and development at a percentile that doesn't already own everything. Plus this: I challenge anybody to name me one worthwhile public policy objective that can be met more cost-effectively through tax incentives than through direct public spending. That's another crapstack we've been sold by the "ownership society," whose policy is dictated by its owners. It just flat ain't true, and it creates massive public inefficiencies while providing cover for the run-up to verticality at the top end of the income distribution.

363:

No, the LK-60s may be the last big icebreakers they build but they still have river ice to deal with to maintain navigation and keep the northern coastal ports open. Fresh water freezes a lot easier than open seawater with its salt content.

The LK-60s are meant for riverine duty as well as open-ocean work with shallower draughts than classic seagoing icebreakers but up till now the riverine breakers have been mostly conventionally powered since they could always refuel and resupply locally.

There's also the tourist business... It costs about $12,000 to sail to the North Pole on board the largest in-service nuclear icebreaker, Fifty Years of Victory which is outfitted to carry a number of tourists. The successor ships will also be able to carry tourists.

364:

So they argue that even if you get rid of one master, the next master might likely be worse so why bother.

It has happened that way often enough in human history. After a few decades of Stalin's rule, the Tsars didn't seem so bad. Now, a few decades into the post-Soviet era, a majority of Russians claim they like the old system better.

Personally, I think the Iron Law of Oligarchy is probably right. Either there are a few people in charge, or there's nobody in charge, and the second case is even worse than the first.

365:

I think it's important to mention focus fusion. This method of fusion has gotten some money from NASA to study it's viability as both a power plant and propulsion source in space. This type of fusion requires no steam apparatus and therefore could be made small enough to fit in a shipping container. For the same reason it could be decentralized easily and taken out of the hands of the oligarchs and placed into the hands of the 3rd world and delivered directly into disaster areas. Not only that but they plan on burninig proton boron fuel which will make it aneutonic as well. They are actually crowdfunding right now to buy beryllium electrodes which will alow them to show wether it will be able to be commercially produced. Here is a link to the focus fusion society, a non-profit that is helping raise awareness, focusfusion.org.

366:

It is indeed important to mention such, as examples of probable woo. Fusion research (and energy research in general) is plagued by both wishful thinking and outright fraud, so I wouldn't be too hopeful when someone comes along who denies the accepted models of the Universe and profers an apparent miracle machine.

367:

True. There's a private venture effort by something called Tri-Alpha Inc. to create an aneutronic fusion reactor, that looks somewhat credible. They atleast have published some papers for their process in physics letters B and stuff, and have seemingly capable people on board. Here's the notes for a talk by Henry Weller (Duke): http://www.int.washington.edu/talks/WorkShops/int_12_3/People/Weller_H/Weller.pdf

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