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Metacommentary

It's a truth universally acknowledged, that every comment thread hanging off a blog entry sooner or later veers away from the original topic and ends up approaching a stable orbit around the usual strange attractors of the blog commentariat.

For example, in the last-but-one blog entry, over the course of 350-odd comments we veered from a not-a-manifesto about urban fantasy to the subject of future transport tech in a post-global-climate-change world, and thence to a discussion of Californian aquapolitics.

There is of course a reason for this phenomenon. In general, folks who use the comments do so either to express an opinion on the original blog entry, or to carry on a discussion. As the volume of comments expands, most casual readers skip past them to deposit their fragrant opinions on the original essay—but the folks who are there for the discussion read all (or most of) the comments, and participate in the top drift. As the volume of observations on the original entry dies down, the comment thread comes to be dominated by the ongoing discussion: which is to say, it's perpetuated by the usual suspects, who continue to focus on their usual subjects.

What are the usual strange attractors for this particular blog? Discussion of this topic is welcome, and encouraged! (But discussion of the strange attractors themselves may be moderated or deleted, lest this topic vanish up its own recursive arse.)

262 Comments

1:

STRANGE ATTRACTORS:

- Artificial intelligence.
- Space colonization (and the impossibility thereof).
- Apocalyptic visions of the future.

They are not strange at all, Charlie. They are the themes of your writing.

2:

So anyway, let's talk about how animal husbandry relates to the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum and the average caffeine content of Starbucks espresso...

3:

Scepticism about libertarian politics.

Scepticism about US-ian politics.

That the rest of the world is not the same as the US.

Energy technology a bit.

20th Century History

Spying, espionage and cyber-security.

What Exactly Is Money?

The Effect of Amazon on Stuff.

The Effect of Technology on Stuff.

Moore's Law and Its Effect on Stuff.

Implying But Not Stating That Other Commentators Are Not As Clever As They Think They Are.

Chthulu.

Those are the themes that come to my mind. I guess other people will be seeing other things.

4:

Chthulu

Oh woe, you misspelled His Dark Name!

5:

Recent Attractors seem lately to focus on Energy Politics. Military stuff is a perennial. Sometimes a big news story (plane crashes, etc.) dominates for a while, with occasional conspiracy theories coming up--not taken too seriously (I hope).

After the comments reach around 100 I tend to skim them, since the drift has usually started by then. Generally I look to see what Charlie has said, and sometimes to see what he's replying to. There are a few other commenters I'll look to see what they're talking about, and a few that I'll avoid reading.
Frankly, I occasionally wonder if I read the same post, or if I tend to focus on other points than what the majority of commenters do.

6:

Maybe we need a few permanent comment threads on the usual topics?

7:

I'll live.

Or not.

It's not like I'm dealing with Roko's Basilisk.

8:

The digressions can be worthwhile, even if the connection with the original subject is tenuous. You'll have your own reasons for attempted cat herding though...

9:

Skepticism about politics and politicians in general rather than just libertinism and US-ian politics. That's not always a strange attractor, there have been a number of posts that start from that. But it's a strange attractor too. Actually you could broaden it out and add religion, at which point I guess you should really say "social structures and social control."

On the nature of free speech and our rights to it or otherwise. That's been absent for a while but came up for a while and came back with a vengeance recently.

Singularity and post-Humanism used to be pretty regular topics. I'm guessing the real hot-heads have been carded too often they've gone elsewhere though.

10:

Cthulhu is very similar to Roko's Basilisk. Summon him and he will eat you first. Otherwise, you'll have to suffer before he eats you.

11:

WWII is always a popular topic. The relative merits of different generals (usually British) also pops up from time to time (Montgomery = not very good; Slim = highly under appreciated. [Greg Tingey, I'm looking at you! {fwiw, I agree with you about those two generals}]).

I've seen threads going on about alternate histories (not just the MP alternate histories), but they don't seem to crop up very often.

12:

I'll let them fight it out over who gets to eat my immortal soul and which one of them gets to retro-actively erase the other one from the multiverse.

13:

It seemed to me that quite often the conversation veered off into military issues - history, tech, etc. Wasn't that one of the reasons cited for this blog being not very woman friendly? I think it is very noticeable that the subjects are very different with your guest bloggers, and also seem to stay on point, although this might be just a number of comments issue (easy to check).

14:

There's surprisingly little talk about cats.

15:

Maybe I've become culturalised to the blog but although it still happens a bit I think that's become less somewhat less common. Perhaps it's not a genuine strange attractor but a tangential one to the original posts topics. If they've changed a bit in character as Charlie's writing about different things, it's less likely the contributors find those tangents? Or maybe the regular posters have changed and those most likely to generate that particular set of strange attractors have gone with the requirement to sign in?

16:

In no particular order the usual themes are:

1) Politics, mostly US politics, particularly foreign policy
2) Energy
3) Realistic Cool Tech (high speed transport, uber telecoms, etc)
4) Unrealistic Cool Tech (AI, space rockets, etc)

As a general note this phenomenon tends to happen in quite a lot of online communities I regularly read. The strange thing is that despite multiple long discussions over a long period of time vary rarely do the talking points evolve or a consensus reached. I often wonder if it is a problem with the mode of discussion (blogs and forums can have a high turnover of new users which reset the discussion to early stages) or the organisation of the discussion (rather than having a set list of points to be resolved organised by consensus vs contention it's just a transient free for all) or maybe both or something else entirely.

17:

1) The future will be wonderful / will suck

1.1) Renewable energy is coming real soon now / is a pipe dream

1.2) Global warming is solvable / inevitable

1.3) Our population will stabilize via natural demographic transition / our population will collapse

1.4) This or that emerging technology will change everything/ will change very little if it works at all

1.4.1) Quantum computing

1.4.2) 3D printing

1.5) Our supply chains are robust / are threatened

2) Human consciousness can / can't be uploaded into machines

3) Space travel is our destiny / is a ridiculous waste of resources

4) Oddly, one of this blog's attractors is discussion of why we always go off topic and wind up in the same places.

14 more and we can make bingo sheets.

18:

And, of course, Monty's "deputy", Horrocks, who was much better at it than his boss ....
Someone mentioned CATS I see ...
But, since they are, manifestly in charhe, we tend to tiptoe around the subject?

19:

oNE THAT SEEMS STARNGELY ABSENT, EVEN THOUGH IT IS WAR/CONFLICT-RELATED IS ONE OF THE CURRENT CONFLICTS.
THIS one in fact.
Or has the shock of finding people who are even more horrible than the Taliban (see also this year's Nobel Peace award) not fully sunk in yeat?
Even given the sequential idiocy of "Western" policy in those countries, ISIS (or whatever) do seem to be especially nasty - & to me, very reminiscent of another uniquely horrible lot, whom we thought we'd wiped out.
Is this a subject for a separete thread, though?
Come to that is a serious discussion on the possible ways out of the "Carbon"/Energy (as in renewables or not) power-generation crisi a suitable new subject ... given of course an appropriately "Interesting" take on it from OGH to set the ball rolling?

20:

I think what the previous comments have inexplicably failed to address , and which completely invalidates everything said before this particular comment, is the fuel efficiency of the Vulcan bomber drastically reduces when over it's operational flight ceiling of 15,000 metres.

21:

Ah yes, the superiority of 1950s engineering!

22:

Since I'm one of the chief digressors, I suppose it's time to come clear on my "strategy," if it can be dignified with that term.

One thing I do try to do is comment at least once, or more times, on the topic at the top of the page. If none of those get the conversation back on the original track, then I stop worrying about it much. At that point, it seems, people want to talk about other things, and if Charlie's fine with it, I'll work with it too.

This blog is tremendously useful for a project I've been working on for a couple of years, which is trying to describe what the deep future looks like if we go through what's described as "business as usual" climate change, which involves around 4,000-5,000 Gt of carbon blown into the atmosphere over the next century. I'm more interested in what happens after that gigafart, Charlie's more interested in what happens during the blow-out phase, but there's a big overlap.

This is one of the few places I know where I can try out an idea and get it subjected to a skeptical, informed, and highly critical review, but still have it treated with a bit of respect. For me, that's pure gold. I may or may not agree with the criticism (and it may surprise some to learn how often I agree with the critics) but seeing the assumptions people make about these ideas helps me phrase them better, and that's at least as useful.

This is all aimed at publication, as a source book for the future. When I started, I figured it would be pretty easy to come up with a setting and simply write a story, but as I started working with all the "moving parts" of climate change, people's common responses, and how civilizations are known to break down (what evidence there is of that), it turned out to be anything but easy. I may still try to write that story some day, but the more I work on it, the more I'm writing a book that's basically a manual rather than a bible, a work in which I can talk about how the pieces move together, and what that implies for our future going out at least 400,000 years. The principal target is science fiction creators, although I do, of course, hope it will find a wider audience.

If I do get it published, it will be dedicated to this blog and the people on it, as thanks for putting up with me. Thanks for the help, and thanks especially to Charlie for allowing me some freedom in the deep comments section.

23:

Jay's list seems to be comprehensive, cannot think of anything extra. Post/Trans-humanist/Singulartiy was popular but seems to have faded.
Since a lot of OGH's fiction is near future SF then I think that the attractors are not really that strange. A proper forum style site might mitigate the issue but would I fear, detract from the blog and the tpic drift is half the fun.

24:

I just thought of another one: Lord of the Rings, as exemplified by the Palantir vs Smartphone debate of the earlier thread.

OK, everybody: imagine a Smartphone made by Feanor....

25:

I see only two major strange attractors (probably because I'm grouping into large chunks): politics and physics. Every discussion about politics ends up veering into the history of politics, but remains essentially political (and other than being generally more intelligent, political discussions here are not much different than elsewhere). Every discussion about physics begins with an offhand comment and ends with two people shouting math at each other and arguing about whether or not something is reasonable.

I agree with Vanzetti that these are not random, but are instead themes from OGH's fiction.

It's notable that the drift was much more extreme when comments were closed & most discussion happened on the mailing list. And, I don't think this is a bad thing -- there are very smart and opinionated people who make it their business to argue on this blog, and I've learned a lot from them. If this spun out into a discussion forum, I'd definitely sign up.

26:

Monty. Not as good as he claimed to be, because nobody is omniscient, but still pretty good. His own worst enemy when dealing with his peers.

27:

Why would immortal elves living in Paradise need a Smartphone? There is no need for haste in communication, they can just meet in person.

Although he did design the Palantiri...

Now, a smartphone app written by Feanor - that would be something!

28:

"This blog is tremendously useful for a project I've been working on for a couple of years, which is trying to describe what the deep future looks like if we go through what's described as "business as usual" climate change, which involves around 4,000-5,000 Gt of carbon blown into the atmosphere over the next century. I'm more interested in what happens after that gigafart, Charlie's more interested in what happens during the blow-out phase, but there's a big overlap."

Do you have a link to your work? I'd like to read it.

29:

The similarity between Elves and 14 year old human girls has often been remarked. Of course they hog the phone.

30:

Sigh.

Okay, you read it here first: "The Nightmare Stacks" (Laundry Files book 7, which I get to write next year and which comes out in mid-2016) is going to be narrated by Alex (not Bob -- just as 2015's "The Annihilation Score" is narrated by Mo) and it's about ... Elves. Or rather, it's about the things that gave rise to all our legends about elves. In the Laundryverse, taking mythology at face value is a good way to get yourself killed (see also "Equoid") ...

In British fiction, since about 1945, there have been two cheap stereotypes of Germans. You can pick (a) lederhosen, dirndls, beer steins, and singing; or (b) SS Panzer Division "Das Reich" on the Eastern Front in the winter of 1942. Imagine that every portrayal of elves in fiction, ever[*], belongs to category (a). You will not be surprised to discover that Laundryverse Elves fall into category (b). And they're seeking a final solution to the Human Problem ...


[*] Including Pratchett's "Lords and Ladies".

31:

Since we're all meta here in this meta thread, I'll offer a strange attractor which I think is implicit in a lot of other discussions and might deserve to become a bit more explicit.

That is, in terms of understanding reality, what is loosely called "materialistic reductionism" has emerged as the last paradigm standing over the past couple of centuries. Democritus won, atoms and the void are all that's allowed in serious discussion. Of course, notions of "atoms" and "the void" have progressed considerably, but it still looks pretty mechanistic and materialistic. No gods, fairies, élans vitals, supernatural realms allowed.

This pervades our general thinking and, in particular, helps draw the line between SF and serious speculation about the future on one hand and fantasy on the other. Even things which start out looking supernatural quite often get explained in MR terms, even if MR is extended into speculative realms (c.f. the Clan).

32:


> Laundryverse Elves fall into category (b). And they're seeking a final solution to the Human Problem ...

Like the Draka? They had their winsomely Elvish aspects and they did love flowers.

33:

Hi Barry,

It's a manuscript that's about half written. Bits and bobs of it turn up on this blog, deep in the comments sections (on the rare occasions when they fit the topic at hand), and on my blog heteromeles.wordpress.org. For you and anyone else who's interested in it, I'll post more on the blog when it's closer to done.

34:

Thanks!

However, it's redirecting me to https://wordpress.org/

35:

URL repaired by moderator. ... Except it still doesn't work!

36:

...discussion of the strange attractors themselves may be moderated or deleted, lest this topic vanish up its own recursive arse.

A recursive arse would indeed be a strange attractor. Or it would attract the strange, which is much the same thing.

38:

Those type (b) elves sound like someone out of Kirill Eskov "The Last Ringbearer". It's great alternate history (although somewhat uneven) story about "true" Middle-Earth history. Elves from Ringbearer were nasty bastards who used their magic to push humans back to dark ages. Sauron was enlightened monarch whose people were just about do discover steam and gunpowder.

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

39:

British Aeronautical Engineering, 1940- :)

And in a gentle veer, bearing in mind OGH reinterpretations of Elves, and Pronto's comment above, Keith Martin (who wrote the excellent "A New Sith, or Revenge of the Hope" commentary on Star Wars Ep.IV) has also written a reinterpretation of Tom Bombadil...

...and it's not kind :)

http://km-515.livejournal.com/

40:

Apologies to everyone for my post @ #19 - I should have hit "preview" shouldn't I?

41:

Having completely and utterly derailed the discussion on an earlier post with a short paragraph of pompous mock-Victorian steampunk analogy, I think it best that I refrain from comment on the topic of strange attractors in Stross-Space.

Pray continue without me, gentlemen and ladies: I shall review your discussions and renew my prejudiced opinion that none of your speculations will surpass the mastery of

[stops in a cloud of steam and the sound of violently-dissatisfied domestic servants]

42:

One of the drawbacks of moving to a new genre is that you will initially lack an understanding of previous influential work in the genre. I'm pretty sure I've seen this take on elves before, although I'm having a hard time remembering where. I want to say the Videssos series by Turtledove, but it's been a long time. Also, elves in one roleplaying setting (Gurps Banestorm) devised a massive ritual to summon banes to exterminate the orcs. They got humans, who were (in their opinion) worse.

Of course, it all depends on what you do with the concept.

And now our thread has gone so off-topic that it's on topic for a previous thread. Then that sentence brought it back to this thread's topic. We're going to need diagrams.

43:

You can guarantee that anything I post will most likely concern...

Aircraft Technology 1936-present day [sidebar SR-71s]/Pre-microprocessor technologies/Fairly Obscure SF writers/UK History 1660-1997

and of course - zur vor [ie '39-'45, For you Tommy the war is never over]

for everyone else it seems to be Apple/Linux/Ubuntu/obscure programming languages/Iniquities of various political parties/Interstellar travel - off or on?/Tolkien/Nuclear Power vs Renewable energy/economics/Self-publishing and Ebooks.

44:

Ah, Feanor, palantiri, the silmarils and the kinslaying at Alqualonde, yes I can believe vicious elves in a fantasy story.

45:

Surely, if you are looking at metacommentary, the repulsors of discussion are at least as important as the attractors?

So, for instance, if fantasy writing of varying kinds seems an attractor, but detective thrillers is something of a repulsor. Or if politics is an attractor, reality TV is a repulsor.

Thus there ought to be some unstable equilibria and saddle points in commentary space where discussion orbits an attractor/repulsor pair.

And, in terminology terms, a strange attractor is only strange if it has a chaotic component to its motion - which isn't true of many discussion attactors here. Stray too close to libertarian ideas and it's straight down the sinkhole of loony social structures.


46:

To be honest, trope inversion is one of the laziest things a writer can do.

Hurr, Tolkien elves are good, let's make them evil, durr...

47:

In fairness to OGH, although Tolkein elves are (mostly) good, there's plenty of examples of evil elves out there. Shakespeare's Puck isn't exactly a good guy for one.

Even before Peter Jackson's reimagination of them, the woodland elves in The Hobbit don't meet most criteria for being good. Powerful, but remote and disinterested. Not necessarily evil, but not good.

And as soon as you look at any older faerie tales, anything that looks at the Seelie and Unseelie courts (however you want to spell them) you've got plenty of opportunity for evil elves.

Trying to imagine that every elf in fiction belongs to cheap German stereotype in British culture (a) might be an exercise in imagination but it's a heck of stretch away from the facts.

48:

trope inversion is one of the laziest things a writer can do.

Except for not inverting any tropes.

49:

There's two trends I've seen in comment threads, both of which come down to the history of technology. They're not really strange attractors, more common cognitive biases.

The first is failing to remember history - the past thread on transportation would have been very different if it was more common knowledge that in 1881, New Zealand was exporting frozen lamb to the UK by sail. Or people outside of the Pacific admitted that Pacific people traveled the entire Pacific before they had metal, let alone fossil fuels.

The second is over-estimating the impact of short-term technology change or under-estimating the impact of long-term change. Case in point: the cost of solar cells has fallen by a factor of 60 over the last 30 years and shows no sign or reason of stopping, to the point where re-roofing houses with PV will be a no-brainer in five years.

50:

{meantime, back at the OP} (which I've used on other fora rather more often):-

1) Military history (for values that include any campaign old enough to have been on the news).
2) Military technology, particularly metal-skinned aeroplanes.
3) AGW, "climate change", and "renewable electicity generation".
4) Politics, and particularly the general loathsomeness of politicians. (even if you don't agree specifics of individual names, you'll surely agree that most of us dislike at least some major naitonal level politicians in "our nation"?)
5) FTL travel and BDOs.

51:

... aaand we have a new strange attractor, one that would have been on-topic for the previous thread.

I suspect the commentariat here has a lot in common with cats. We're quite happy to talk about things so long as we're not being asked to talk about those things, but any attempt to keep us actually on any particular topic would be like herding the aforementioned felines.

52:

... aaand we have a new strange attractor, one that would have been on-topic for the previous thread.

I, for one, welcome our new strangely attractive overlords.

53:

Nah. It's only 3 or 4 comments, it's not truly derailed the thread yet. Although given it's going to be in one of Charlie's new books there's a genuine risk of it.

54:

Charlie,

I'll certainly love to read about really evil elves (and before that your take on vampires, because I haven't read The Rhesus Chart yet). But at the same time I'm a little worried, because it sounds a little bit like the future Laundry novels will be dealing with a "monster of the week" each. While I'm certain that the Laundry executives will stumble upon a lot of those in their daily work, there are also monsters and themes of previous novels which I'd like to see explored in greater detail (and hopefully they will be, together with the "new" monsters).

For instance, I don't feel like I have really gained a deep insight into BLUE HADES and DEEP SEVEN. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that the seats around the sarcophagus in the temple on top of the pyramid appeared to be designed to match the anatomy of the deep ones, and I hope to learn more about the reasons for and the implications of that.

55:

One of the drawbacks of moving to a new genre is that you will initially lack an understanding of previous influential work in the genre.

Only if you're ill-read in it ... and I'm not, in this instance.

56:

Terry Pratchett:

“Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.”

57:

It's not necessarily a bad thing to be unfamiliar with the canon. UF is a smaller field than SF, but I doubt that OGH would have penned the family series had he been familiar with Clifford D. Simak's "Ring around the sun" in which some people gain access to nearby parallel worlds via concentration on an object. They use that skill to launch a series of disruptive trade goods that destabilises the status quo. Police and dark arms of the government become interested. Witchhunts, persecution and over-reactions ensue. They sound like identical stories yet they could hardly be more different. Simak's work is like a Norman Rockwell painting. I'd highly recommend both.

His possible (unconfirmed) lack of knowledge is bound to put a new angle on things that will be most interesting.

58:

One attractor I've noticed that really does little more than distort the field lines a bit is that people keep pointing out (quite correctly) what a high standard of commenter we have here. I personally find it to be like a little corner of the internet circa 1988 when (by and large) only reasonably intelligent and well read people found their way on line. It's the only place on the net where I look forward to reading the comments and expect to learn new things by doing so.

59:

Something that is worth checking out is:
http://www.reddit.com/r/Glitch_in_the_Matrix/

People have surprising experiences, no matter how you care to explain them (including me)

60:

1. Tolkien didn't invent elves; he took existing mythic archetypes and turned them to his own purpose.

2. If you read carefully, you'll see I referred to the [speculative] reality underlying the myths.

Another way of looking at it: I'm proposing to do much the same thing Tolkien did, but in a different direction. While avoiding the second artist effect.

61:

Well, the first four Laundry Files novels were pastiches of specific British spy thriller authors; the next four (or three plus novella, counting "Equoid") are pastiches of specific urban fantasy genres. Unicorns, Vampires, Superheroes, and Elves. The plan is -- if I get that far -- for book 8 to return to Bob and how he deals with the entire CASE NIGHTMARE RAINBOW portfolio of existential threats -- for Lovecraftian horrors from beyond spacetime eating our brains are only one of the worst-case nightmares ...

62:

Actually, I read Simak -- but a very long time ago. Similarly: if you read "The Atrocity Archive" and Tim Powers' "Declare" and synopsize them, they look identical ... except they aren't.

Never underestimate the significance of style, and the importance of theme (Powers' book was explicitly informed by a Catholic sensibility: mine was most certainly not.)

63:


But at the same time I'm a little worried, because it sounds a little bit like the future Laundry novels will be dealing with a "monster of the week" each.

A Laundry list?

... runs off

64:

1. Tolkien didn't invent elves; he took existing mythic archetypes and turned them to his own purpose.

Tolkien developed his own elves so thoroughly that they are now their own distinct archetype, as proved by the endless rip-offs. He could name them gloomps instead of elves and they'd be just as good.

Another way of looking at it: I'm proposing to do much the same thing Tolkien did, but in a different direction. While avoiding the second artist effect.

I'm afraid you are going to write something that waas written already. There are the Pratchett elves (they fit right in in Lovecraft universe, BTW), and for less mindless, more Nazi Cannibal elf variety there is "Dystopic Return of Magic", where the Seelie and Unseelie courts invade Earth and eat like 30% of the population...

65:

A "Laundry List" would be a great name for a Laundry book, actually. 8-)

66:

if you get that far....

There are an awful lot of people on here who will be very upset if you don't get that far.....

67:

Thanks, that worked!

68:

Doubt it. (I'm taking an ev. psych. approach.)

69:

I just remembered reading an article on Tor.com a few months ago,
Summer of Sleaze: The Little People

I misremembered slightly. Turns out it was about Nazi Leprechauns, not Elves. But that cover!

70:

OK, assuming the Elves are among us, and they might not be nice people, does that mean they would want Britain to be invaded by any outsiders? They can get want they want out of the humans of Britain, even if some of the anti-elvish magics are a bit too well-known. With a little bit of give and take, you can have all the good things of modern life.

Telephones, motorcars, railways, even aeroplanes.

Yes, we did end up sending out a few agents to take care of some too-talented humans while they were having their Great War. And maybe we should have got rid of that Austrian chap too.

This is going to be bad.

We've been farming the British since before the Romans came, adding some very nice breeding stock over the centuries. We don't want you dumping your culls on us, Mr, Hitler. You're forcing us to get involved. Though I think we made a mistake getting the Crown Prince to fly a Spitfire. He's put spells on his machine, as if it were his sword.

71:

That's arguable: In at least some variations on the theme the Seelie are more likely to take humans as lovers, and return them as persons ~100 years out of time.

72:

I'm most interested to see what happens when the Laundry just can't keep things secret any more. They've had a city of 2.5 million Americans totally isolated for several days; I can't imagine that the Denver mystery blew over. After the Rhesus events, the Laundry isn't operating at full strength. It seems inevitable that this stuff is going to make the papers. I can't imagine that Downing Street is going to take "we're all fucked, probably, but we're working on it" for an answer.

73:

Isn't Denver the Cousins' problem?

74:

Hmmmmm - We appear to have a new SA, in discussion of OGH's body of work, and possible directions same might take forward.

75:

Your approximate time line is:

Book 5: bad stuff is happening increasingly frequently

Book 6: the Laundry is still desperately clinging to the shadows but Laundry-related subjects are coming up in COBRA briefings and ministers are Unamused

Book 7: the shit hits the fan

Book 8: the opening scene involves Bob being grilled by Jeremy Paxman on newsnight, to a background of Commons Select Committee enquiries

Book 9: The Cabinet finally admit that Cthulhu might not be amenable to spin-doctoring.

76:

Finally, a transition from the hackneyed magic Masquerade trope (I blame Harry Potter) to bona fide Alternative History meets Cosmic Horror. 8-)

77:

Should be interesting.

"So, Bob, how did you get the nickname TEACUP?".

Paxman would probably think that was a softball.

78:

Book 9: The Cabinet finally admit that Cthulhu might not be amenable to spin-doctoring.

Will there be UKIPpers in the Cabinet by then? I'd love to see Cthulhu meet them.

It seems to me that of the various noxious political parties that lead to SAs here, UKIP doesn't feature much, especially in comparison with American parties. Nor, actually, do most of the parties in continental Europe.

79:

Ha! Two strange attractors at the same time. Politics and Cthulhu!

80:

Of course UKIP have already invoked BLUEHADES for political ends

http://youtu.be/UgfQwhKkVR8

81:

I am tempted to put UKIP in the cabinet just so Bob can eat them. Or to have them fulminating about Deep One immigrants and EU fishing quotas.

But alas, even if I push out one per year, book 8 won't be out until 2017 -- which is past the political event horizon from here. (And after three Laundry novels in consecutive years I'd like to have a year in which to write something else; Palimpsest, or the Fantasy Novel That Must Not Be Named.)

82:

Getting back to the guest posts and why the threads stay so much on topic ...

I read most of Charlies posts as containing some question (like this one), while most guest posts I remember were pretty much closed essays. So there's that. I also think it's kinda polite not to hijack the guest posters comment threads with one SA or other (WWII if the RAF had had solar powered planes?).

83:

Book 6: the Laundry is still desperately clinging to the shadows but Laundry-related subjects are coming up in COBRA briefings and ministers are Unamused

I imagine the temptation to just slap a geas on Westminster to keep them out of Bob's hair will be extreme.

84:

@ Vanzetti "Maybe we need a few permanent comment threads on the usual topics?"

But will making permanent those "usual" topics, aka the standard off-topic strange attractors, create completely new attractors with completely new off-topic obsessions?

85:

Just read on Ello what Charlie said about his new phone. Reminded me that new Apple devices were an occasional tangent, though just as often an actual post topic.
Personally I don't care too much about phones as phones. If they came out with a new iPod Touch the size of the 6+ phone I could be tempted.

86:

I look forward to your ev psych take on monsters and mayhem. Maybe even a deeps version of methylation.

87:

In which episode will the Laundry be privatised? Or at least, enter into a Partnership Initiative with private-sector service solution providers?

Or are there things so horrible that they can never be written down?

88:

Charlie,
I await the book with glee. I await the collective "Wait, what?" From those that play the Laundry RPG even more as the elves in that book are easy meat ...

89:

Things said cannot be unsaid, things seen cannot be unseen, things privatised cannot be unprivatised without shovelling enormous piles of public money into the private coffers of one's friends in industry.

90:

JPR
Can't ( Or not comment, anyway )
Ello is invitation-only, remember?

91:

At a timeline of one LaundryVerse book per LV calendar year, getting UK politicians to admit that Cthuloids aren't spinable in only 4 years seems rather optomistic!

92:

That is indeed on the cards for a future Laundry novel -- but I'm not committing to it definitively until I've got a publication contract and no more than 2 years to go until it appears in print. (It can't come out before 2017, and there's just time for a fascist or communist counter-revolution against the neoliberal regime between now and then ...)

93:

Are you including Farrago and co (either directly or by dragging Scamoron further right) in the "fascist revolution" category?

94:

"Book 8: the opening scene involves Bob being grilled by Jeremy Paxman on newsnight"

Paxo has retired, ITIYM Evan Davis.

95:

Actually, I get the impression Charlie is not going for "evil elves"; "evil" necessitates the "concept of good and evil", e.g. a certain subset of human ethical systems, something notoriously absent in sociopaths. Or cats, for that matter. Always liked that line in the German translation of "Solaris" about robots not burdened by Original Sin...

Which might relate somewhat to my general stance of interpreting elves, changelings and like as developmental disorders or non-neurotypicals. Even the fickleness might be found in some forms of autism:

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

On a more general stance, elves, trolls and like might just relate to some ethnic Out-Group; AFAIK there are quite some "troll-sons" in Old Norse literature, usually indicating a Saami mother or like.

And then, I also liked the idea that we are the elves, e.g. the way Homo neanderthalensis perceived HSS sensu strictu...

Though then, that might be me overanalyzing certains myths:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EveryoneIsJesusInPurgatory

96:

Though AFAIR "Declare" was quite far from Catholic Orthodoxy in some places; let's just say the whole Nephilim issue

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

sits squarely with the canonical Jehoschua Ben Joseph insisting angels don't have a sex life, at least none to speak of (except when they really want). But than, Judeo-Christo-Islamic literature is jumbled enough keeping Word of God, Word of Paul and Word of Dante seperate is fun...

On another note, the Laundry's stance to religion is one of the things surprising me lately; IMHO it started out as a quite secular universe, with the narrator stressing there is no life after death etc. Then the "Fuller Memorandum" indicated "ghosts" and like are real (at least, I guess Bob becomes one before rebound), "Equoid" quite openly toyed with reincarnation, and last but not least, "Rhesus Factor" reinforced the notion at least some cases of V syndrome could exist with much of their material substrate toast. Might come with the territory, though...

Still, I somewhat wonder what Cosmism and other forms of Crypto- or not-so-Crypto-Christian forms of transhumanism would make with Case Nightmare Green...

97:

BTW, sorry for dabbling into RCC theology somewhat, might be the aspiring, somewhat German conservative
Lutheran priest working at my factory, where I try to establish a friendly rivalry, with me playing the

1. There is (most likely) no god.
1.a) Thou are a deviant heretic nonetheless, see you
in purgatory.

part. Err. Greg, please don't go early Modern at me, OK?

98:

Actually, I get the impression Charlie is not going for "evil elves"; "evil" necessitates the "concept of good and evil", e.g. a certain subset of human ethical systems, something notoriously absent in sociopaths. Or cats, for that matter. Always liked that line in the German translation of "Solaris" about robots not burdened by Original Sin...

If we are talking real-life, then no remotely sane person inside an "ethical system" of any kind actually considers himself evil. Genghis Khan, Hitler, Stalin, Polpot - all had their own perfectly good reasons. The same must be true with genocidal elves from a parallel universe.

In the literature sense, however, any kind of genocidal invader is evil, be they racist, insane or mindless automaton...

99:

So is Yersinia pestis evil? Or E. coli, might depend on some plasmids? A human with the flu, not knowing it? Or a virus? Or an earthquake?

Or a chimp tearing you limb from limb?

And then, even if we could argue "evil" depends somewhat on perspective, what about "bad":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Genealogy_of_Morality#First_Treatise:_.22.27Good_and_Evil.27.2C_.27Good_and_Bad.27.22

Problem is, quite a few humans think their "ethics" as a thing inherent to the univers, so they have no problem using it on non-humans, e.g. animals. That even goes for some quite self-described atheist and ontological naturalist biologists, e.g. Konrad Lorenz and his "domestication".

OTOH, there is the idea of cultural and moral relativism, with ethical rules somewhat arbitrarily:

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

Personally, well, as Darwin put it

"If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering."

and of course, humans have neither the funny genetics of bees

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

nor their evolutionary history.

To use an example somewhat closer to home, we could argue HSS is quite close to Pan in behaviour, with neighbouring groups annihilating each other through abduction, rape and murder, but still, there are quite some differences in behaviour. Let's start that while attraction to younger partners seems to be the norm in HSS, chimps are seriously into GILFs:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17113387

And then, HSS are not that good at limb-tearing:

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=657860

I guess the common chimp is a good starting point for a behaviourally deviant humanoid and assorted uncanny valley effects, BTW.

100:

Any fascist or communist revolution will slightly postdate Banking Crisis 2 where we will see bankers literally hung from lampposts by a temporary Left/Right street alliance. As for timing, 2017 seems very plausible according to some reports I have read. [The world is more heavily "in debt" now than in 2008]

101:

Going from history, the only ones hung from the lampposts are going to be the lowly clerks either giving you unrealistic credit or denying it and the IT guys caring for the bank's computer centres, no matter if they administered the high frequency trading stuff or not (and if HFT is harmful or not).

Meanwhile, the banksters will explain it's all just because men lost there moral compass and join in the happy lynching of undesirables.

Get real, Dirk, or get therapy...

102:

Nope. The Laundryverse occupies a parallel universe at this point; "The Rhesus Chart" is set some time in 2012-13, "The Annihilation Score" no later than 2013, and by the time of book 8, things will have diverged enough that keeping Paxman on Newsnight is totally trivial.

103:

You really think undirected terrorism is the future as well as the past?

104:

What makes you think deflecting grievances on disposable soft targets is undirected ? >:)

Cut-throat environments foster for intelligence and ruthlessness. So assuming the managerial boards is not as intelligent (and ruthless) as the avantgarde of the proletariat is somewhat naive.

105:

I can think of numerous where the Big Fish got what was coming to when The People finally moved to settle old accounts.

Look up the fate of Anastasio Somoza, for example.

Of course, the problem in all those cases is that using violence in an attempt to break through to what our other Uncle Charlie called the "free association of producers" won't in fact take you to that point. . . it will take you somewhere else.

One of those who found it took him somewhere else was a chap called Lenin: I think you recall how things turned out in his case. He did say something of relevance to our present crisis, however, and it was this: "capitalism can get itself out of any crisis, so long as it makes the workers pay". And by g-d have the workers been paying these past few years.

106:

That should read "numerous cases" and "coming to them", naturally.

But stet.

107:

Can't ( Or not comment, anyway )
Ello is invitation-only, remember?

Didn't say anything about commenting there, just reminded of an occasional topic here.
If you're saying that you couldn't read it; well, I see it on an iPad* just fine, but last week using an older Windows laptop the page wouldn't load.
The address for those interested: https://ello.co/cstross


*I hope Apple fixes Safari in iOS8 soon, it's a bit crashy, and doesn't quite play nice with a b/t keyboard--can't highlight text with shift+alt/ctrl+arrow, for one thing.

108:

Hmmm, the recursion is already there.

the comments have been discussing some of the SAs (instead of about SAs) for quite a while now.

In an attempt to return to the topic, let me just list them:

- elves
- some finer points of Tolkien elves
- OGH's books
- randomly assorted weirdnesses of Roman Catholic theology (which in RealLife™ are not very central to the core of doctrine)
- morality (good and evil)
- The Revolution

109:

And it used to be Microserf that introduced new failure modes (er, "features"), with OS updates. I've held off going to iOS 8 on the iPad and the wife's iPhone because of the numerous reported problems . . . .

110:

Although realistically nobody considers himself to be evil, the English stereotypes of Germans that Charlie based these elves on are pretty much the English idea of Pure Evil.

111:

I seem to recall that Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden has a lot more to do with the Unseelie Court than he'd like. Those are definitely NOT nice elves.

Re the original thread, the following topics spring to mind:
- The Panopticon and its current evolution to/from/through the surveillance state
- Emergent AI
- Capitalism, failure modes and successors thereof
- Military history and technology
- The Singularity

112:

OK, several of those overlap or are somewhat redundant. Maybe it's because I used to work for the Office of Redundant Repetition Department.

113:

Yeah, I usually wait--it was a couple months before I put iOS7 on mine, but was happy with it. I should've waited this time too.
I'll note that I have a later ipad2, don't know how much difference that makes. I hadn't bothered updating my mother's early ipad2 to iOS7, partly because I noticed that hers and mine did things a litle differently with iOS6 when I updated them--one minor difference; mine started labeling spam Junk while hers still calls it Spam.

114:

We are seeing another strange attractor just now: OGH's (1) Current work in progress, and (2) Future books in the pipeline.

115:

What do you expect to happen in/by 2017?

New U.S. President ...
Ebola virus found in all corners of the planet ...
All homes in the West now include kitchen grow-op cupboards for producing/growing their own optimized-for-your genome ZMAb (tobacco plants not included)...*
(* - Established tobacco giant William Morris, etc. is negotiating with the NIH for exclusive world-wide distribution rights for ZMAb laced cigarettes for the non-roll-your-own market segment.)
'Sanitation engineer' as a job description finally really does mean an expert in sanitation/infection control requiring a graduate engineering/microbiology degree...

Ditto for 'dirty lucre' - money is dirty and feared ... all monetary transactions become no-touch to stop the spread of ebola (horse - barn syndrome)...

Etc.


I've just read the latest update on the Dallas Texas Presbyterian Hosp including the nursing association's comments. Conclusion: To screw up this badly requires a whole series of mistakes by a whole bunch of different individuals, to paraphrase Bob.

116:

Conclusion: To screw up this badly requires a whole series of mistakes by a whole bunch of different individuals, to paraphrase Bob.

Kind of an inverse of the success has many fathers saying isn't it?

117:

While I'm not so worried by Ebola, even though I know a lot of people who work in hospitals, I AM worried about who little they know about sterile procedure, and how careless the nurses are, even with patients in quarantine.

Ebola's basically most dangerous to the medical staff, because it requires direct contact to transmit. Problem is, I've seen a lot of hospital workers being really careless about their sterile procedures: not gowning up properly, doing skin to skin touch on a patient who was isolated with one of those obnoxious hospital-borne infections, and being careless about taking off protection in ways that could spread the disease to other patients.

Ebola's scary to be sure, especially with the media spraying infectious memes everywhere. But compared with the Flu or even Lassa Fever (let alone Malaria), it's a bush league plague. My prediction is that more Americans will get into car crashes while listening to stories about Ebola than will die from the virus in the US.

Unfortunately, the real victims of Ebola are people, like my friends, who are careless about protecting themselves. They need to remember the point of the gown and the gloves, make sure no skin is showing, take off said protective items properly, and do it every single time. Personally, I suspect that the rates of MRSA and C. diff infections will dip sharply in Texas, just from the refresher courses caused by Ebola.

118:

Anyway, can we recursively talk about elves instead of Ebola?

Or other strange attractors? I think part of the strangeness is that us denizens of the deep comments have different desires than those who live in the single digit light reading.

119:

I heard today that it takes 6 months before someone can put on a sterile containment suit without cross-contamination. Though that's to protect the environment from the person rather than the person from the environment.

120:

Meh, Elves are boring.

Now, Moomins on the other hand...

121:

Actually, there are credible reports that Ebola can spread via aerosols (i.e. sneezing).

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1997182/

122:

Anyway, can we recursively talk about elves instead of Ebola?

Can elves get Ebola?

123:

I will now attempt to derail this thread again, onto the nuclear energy strange attractor.

Lockheed Martin say they've figured out how to build a compact fusion reactor:

http://news.yahoo.com/lockheed-says-makes-breakthrough-fusion-energy-project-123840986--finance.html

124:

I thought OGH mentioning Paxo interviewing Bob was revealing, in the sense that near future SF is even harder than the far future stuff
Though I am sure the Beeb would forcibly drag Paxo back for CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN
I do miss Newsnight a lot...

125:

I like this one. Instead of the usual thirty years until it works, they're saying ten years until it works. Gives me enough time to get a few books out before the whole world changes, and them enough time to sink into the mud if, like so many other optimistic designs, their design doesn't pan out.

That said, I do hope we get plentiful fusion power in my lifetime. Writing pessimistic scenarios is one thing, expecting our great grandkids to live them out is quite another.

126:

Finding any details on this 'breakthrough' is extremely difficult. The best I could manage is

http://aviationweek.com/technology/skunk-works-reveals-compact-fusion-reactor-details

Basically it's a z-pinch it seems.

I'm wondering if this announcement has anything to do with this report from Jan : http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-01/dnl-fil010914.php which reported some positive unexpected effects on instabilities.

Not sure why Lockheed would be looking for partners on this (which smells fishy) since if they could really deliver what the press release claims, they would be rolling in more money and higher valuations than apple, faster than you can say "fanboi margins".

127:

Those were my questions. Is it a Z-pinch? I thought that had a canister involved, and this looks like some sort of magnetic confinement doohickey.

Anyway, I want to know if this is how elves fuse.

128:

"...if this is how elves fuse." Not a pretty mental picture. Otherwise, it'd be nice if the skunkworks has something, but wake me when they have working hardware. And did someone already mention fusion as a strange attractor?

129:

"...if this is how elves fuse." Not a pretty mental picture.

It's just basic elf biology. When two haploid elves want to undergo sexual reproduction, they must fuse into a diploid form to undergo genetic recombination.

130:

Don't panic ... though I think you shoud go for a small correction ...
You said: 1. There is (most likely) no god.
Please try, instead ...
"If there is a "god" [ Insert_name_$BigSkyFairy HERE ] then why is $_god totally undetectable?
Unlss & until you can produce evidence, I'll stick with the null hypothesis: "There is no god"

Simples.

131:

Hugh Fisher / heteromeles / Ian S
The bit I find interesting is the bit in the Skunk-Works claim:
In a statement, the company, the Pentagon's largest supplier, said it would build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year, and build a prototype in five years.
I.E A proof-of-principle "benchtop" demostrator in a year, a small-scale prototype in five & presumably mass-produced roll-out in ten ....
Easy way to find out - wait & see. If they can do a "bechtop" demonstrator by Dec 2016, then we are away, aren't we?
I think their call for "partners" isn't so much money ( They already have lots ) but outside intellectual "capital input", so to speak.

Very big IF, but if even half-ways true, couple this with the previously discussed coming revolution in PV & possibly energy storage & our problems are solved.

Is this a subject for a standard "strange attractor" new thread (some time) - the near ( 1 - 20 years ) futire of energy production/storage.
Certainly a way out of the GW problem, isn't it?

132:

Instantiating the SA:

FWIW, the text itself says "they were elves, and that means Good People", though acknowledging them being somewhat isolationist and suspicious. Mind you, they live in Mirkwood, under permanent siege from the creatures and magics of the Necromancer. For all that, they have more (friendly) interaction with humans than any other elves (though I don't know what they export to pay for their imported wine and apples). The dwarves being locked up in nice cells and well-fed is a pretty good fate for quasi-medieval vagrants who can't explain themselves. The Elvenking diverts from RaceForTheGold to help the homeless people of Lake-Town after Smaug's attack, and before the Battle, he's the only leader reluctant to start a war for gold, unlike Bard, Dain, and Thorin. Bard's willing and the other two actually open hostilities.

Credentials: I did a close re-reading of The Hobbit last November.

133:

The examples you bring for "not learning from history" for me are more a proof of the value of discussion, with a good salting of showing the value of diversity (of knowledge and experience).

One of the advantages of the local commenter population is that it is a mix not easily found elsewhere (physicists and computer scientists in one thread: common as dirt. Military history and medieval history and agriculture and industrial chemistry mixed in? that starts to get interesting).
Echo chambers may be comforting, but they are so intellectually boring: nothing new to learn, you could as well talk to yourself.

And on the SCNR front: re-roof with PV except where the roof is already occupied by solar-thermal, which is doing very good things for my heating bill. :)

134:

Since superconductors work at -90° C, they'd have to sustain a >100° temperature difference to environment in order to create a temperature difference which drives turbines. I wonder how they avoid that the fusion heats the superconductors.

135:

Hm, which Anastasio Somoza were you thinking about, I guess Anastasio Somoza Debayle, not Garcia? ;)

Thing is, getting away with the local war chest and even have the time to get the coffins of your predecessors is not that bad an outcome, even if you're gunned down by machine guns while going in your unarmored(!) mercedes. OTOH, quite a few of the lower "disappearing" echelons of the Somoza regime were not that lucky, though the sources not in the colon of the US explain it was not an official policy.

The problem is, if you look at current politics, I see a rise in rightist populism (with some leftist spray paint), with no, err, "progressive" politics to speak of. And many of the Eastern Left voters (who are not that far from rightist populism themselves) switching to the AfD

http://www.euractiv.com/sections/elections/eurosceptic-afd-wins-double-digits-german-regional-elections-308456

makes for some doubts on, err, intellectual and moral purity of some of the disaffected.

Add the fun with UKIP

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/05/21/ukip-nigel-farage-anit-establishment_n_5363871.html

the LePens et al. and other instances of social imperialism, and, well, to quote Propagandhi,

"Analyze the past and present to see what is to come. Now wrap your lips around the barrel of the gun."

Err, What is to be done?

And while we're at Lenin, I'm not that sure if concerning the long future of capitalism, Kautsky is to win out:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultra-imperialism

Might explain some of the flirts with neorealism I thought to see ith some German "leftists" lately...

http://www.press.umich.edu/resources/9780472071821-figs.pdf

(Page 4, oh, and I got back to the Tolkien-SA again)

136:

Thanks for the understanding.

Concerning the correction, I'm sufficiently accustomated to a personal strange attractor of mine (and she still has some of my Lem and Lovecraft, I guess it's best we meet next when single, err, let's leave it at that) to know rationality is of limited use in many instances.

And as we all know, humans are pattern monkeys and have faulty cognition, so there is always some evidence. Totally insignificant one, but well...

137:

To screw up Ebola this badly in a developed nation with good-ish infrastructure requires a private healthcare system optimized for profit delivery rather than universal coverage, and a racist electorate who don't believe in giving free treatment to "those people". Marinate in its own bile for, oh, 150-odd years after a civil war. Seriously, viral epidemics don't give a shit about your skin color or who you voted for. Classic example of reaping the whirlwind ...

138:

Here's a guess: Lockheed's forward planning folks have taken a look at the cheap access to space field and they're getting the cold sweats over SpaceX, Dreamcatcher, et al. They've had a good run of charging the DoD $500M/launch, but the profit margin in space is about to be salami-sliced by Elon Musk, whose goals are utterly orthogonal to the traditional big military aerospace combines (they want to extract profits from the Pentagon; Musk wants to colonize Mars[*]).

SoLockheed are looking for a Plan B. The Pentagon takes climate change a whole lot more seriously than the Republican party, and the US Navy arguably operates with the worst supply chain of all the US armed forces -- long range, space-constrained, no guaranteed access to land or air transport: everything goes by sea..

If they can develop a 100Mw Mr-Sunshine-in-a-Container device, the USN -- which I believe is moving towards electric-drive ships where the big-ass diesel and turbine generators power impellers in pods (spare electricity can be used for railguns, lasers, and electromagnetic launch catapults on carriers) -- will fall on their neck weeping tears of joy and order them by the hundred, going for an all-nuclear blue water fleet for the first time. Which in turn will produce economies of scale, allowing them to target the civilian markets as well ...

It's a long shot, but if you're Lockheed, spending a billion or so on R&D over a decade against a pay-off of becoming the >only viable marine military propulsion system, and the only commercially viable nuclear electricity source, within a decade, seems like a good idea. Especially as that nasty Mr Musk isn't disrupting the nuclear biz right now (like all Silicon Valley types he has an aversion to regulatory paperwork by the kiloton, and nothing has regulatory paperwork like nuclear reactors -- or defense procurement.)

[*] Which he recognizes is going to take a century and a million emigrants, minimum: kudos for not underestimating the problem as badly as most of the space cadets.

139:

Minor note of hope: the Scottish Green Party (not the same as the English Green Party) just tripled in membership since the Independence referendum. And their policy platform can be characterised as: traditional social democrats, extremely concerned about the environment and the erosion of civil liberties by transnational neoliberal-designed trade regimes. They're basically a party that could have been designed for Guardian-reading lefties with a science background (like me).

The Rest-of-UK green party is showing signs of shifting similarly towards the center-left ground that the other parties have long since abandoned, because there's a vacuum there right now, and politics abhors a vacuum. They also -- although you wouldn't know this from the media -- poll as well as UKIP in elections that actually matter (not EU elections: voter turn-out 20-30%).

The left isn't dead. What's died is the authoritarian left (in the West), which has been co-opted by the neoliberal consensus: Labour today is just another neoliberal right-wing party (with added social control-freakery where the Tories just have a dose of contempt for anyone who didn't go to the right school). Generating a new left around issues of environmental degradation, social inclusivity, and civil rights is going to be a huge, long-term uphill struggle, but at least there are some signs of it happening. And not just in the UK; everybody angsts about Golden Dawn in Greece, but forgets about Syriza.

140:
randomly assorted weirdnesses of Roman Catholic theology (which in RealLife™ are not very central to the core of doctrine)

Err, I guess I'm the only one with that Strange Attractor...

Thing is as OGH mentioned, there is a book by Tim Powers called "Declare", which is quite close to the Laundryverse:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/Declare

Actually, I hope Charlie doesn't mind the advertisement, but if you like "Atrocity Archives", read "Declare", it's quite likely you'll like it too. Especially the way Powers mixes the the Bible (though Enoch is only part of the Ethiopian canon), Arabian folklore and some ancient Middle Eastern mythology (Gilgamesh FTW) with Cold War espionage, and it doesn't crack.

Or at least, not that much. As already hinted at, Powers is a conservative Catholic (which can mean quite a few things both in theology and politics), and he seems to try to use the RCC supernatural system. And given his other material, some contradictions are inevitable, where, given his manifest, Catholicism should win out. Though as noted, it doesn't always.

I'm aware of two instances:

“I think you are only a man,” the sitting man said. “I am A’ad bin Kin’ad, king of Wabar.”

Hale automatically lifted another piece of the imaginary bread. “Are you a man?” he asked, then opened his mouth and pretended to chew.

“I am half a man. I am the son of an angel by a human woman.”

Hale recalled the giant Nephelim in the Book of Genesis, who were supposed to have had children by the daughters of men. He had read speculations that the Nephelim might have been fallen angels.

“Human enough to have survived the doom of your kingdom,” Hale observed.

And as mentioned, there is some problem with angels having a sex life.

The second one is

He was gritting his teeth, and tears were running from his slitted eyes into his beard. They might not know the term Nazrani, he thought, but I am baptized. Is that what this dead kingdom is responding to, that spiritual polarization? Old St. John Philby came here-but only after he had renounced his own baptism and converted to Islam.

And that one is more of a problem, since in RCC theology, baptism is irreversible, even if it's from some, err, rebel offshot like the Anglicans, provided certain things are cared for (in the interest of keeping it short, I won't delve on this):

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

To be fair, it seems Powers is quite aware of these problems, there was one interview he said he was not sure "Declare" was really Catholic given the other stuff he put in.

Which is all very fair from a storytelling POV, but IMHO some story contradicting part of its foundations makes either for a bad story (examples omitted to save your sanity) or, with an otherwise good author and story, raises some meta-issues. In the case of "Declare" IMHO it's the latter, and as mentioned, it could be the Laundryverse is taking a similar turn.

See also: Unintended consequences, e.g. Tolkien stumbling into Theodizee problems in the Silmarillion.

As for these things being not that important in RL, first of, the first rule of religious doctrines is "the most important things are the ones we can make the most fuzz about", second of, my main run-ins with RCC supernatural doctrine are when one of my RCC acquaintances comes up with some weirdness from Evangelical Fundamentalism or, err, New Age and it's easier to do the "you can believe in the RCC or the rapture, not both" stint

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sisterrosemovies/2014/10/left-behind-or-lost-in-space/

than doing a Secular Skeptics 101. And then, there is this thing with, err, "authenticity"

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

On another note, I usually try to be a Lawful Good Rules Lawyer

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RulesLawyer

with regards to religious systems, which can be some fun; "Hey, as a Catholic I can't attend mass fully when not going to confession, so don't grill me about Sunday mornings..."

Errr, mentioning the RPG and TV Tropes Strange Attractors.

141:

I guess deuterium-tritium fusion won't be that much help; for starters getting the tritium is somewhat complicated,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tritium#Lithium

6Li and one neutron give tritium, but there is no new neutron, so given some lost neutrons, we'll run out of tritium fast; neutron capture by 7Li gives tritium and a neutron, but is endothermic. A mixed blanked might help, still, neutron economy is going to be tricky:

http://www.hiper-laser.org/Science%20%26%20Technology%20pop-ups/401dreactorandbr.html

And then neutrons are notorious for many of the problems with traditional fission reactors:

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

To cut a long story short, I don't see that big advantage of fusion above, say, a thorium cycle.

Dammit, another SA.

142:

I've worked on some very large electric drive ships, both with pods and with internal electric propulsion motors (i used to be an engineer on p&o cruise ships). No navy is going to be using pods, as if there is a breakage or mechanical failure, you can't do any major repairs without a dry-dock.

143:

but the profit margin in space is about to be salami-sliced by Elon Musk, whose goals are utterly orthogonal to the traditional big military aerospace combines And (we sincerely hope) will be evn more shated if/when skylon launces, cutting orbit costs by 80-90%.
Um

And, of course, if the USN purchase these 100MW reactors in bulk, you then already have a production line & you can sell them to anyone - for loadsamoney!

We will know by Dec 2016, won't we?

144:

I sincerely hope they are nothing like the English "green" party, who are a very nasty collection of fakes, with Stalinist leanings on the inside & policies that are the very opposite of actually, you know, "Green".

145:

If they can develop a 100Mw Mr-Sunshine-in-a-Container device

It will be The End Of The World As We Know It. Goodbye, fossil fuels. Also, goodbye solar power, wind power, hydro power... Hello, thermonuclear airplanes!

I'll believe it when I'll see it.

146:

Only if it's cheap enough. And for airplanes, has a power/weight ratio comparable to fossil fuel engines+fuel. Nothing about a working fusion reactor guarantees competitive price. US Navy may pay prices civilians wouldn't.

147:

"Lockheed Martin say they've figured out how to build a compact fusion reactor:"

The difference between the universal constant 'fusion power will be practical in 30 years from the today' and the other universal contants (e.g., gravity) is that the other ones are more likely to change.

I first read the '30 years from now' in the 1970's.

We're still there, if not '40 years from now'.

148:

"And on the SCNR front: re-roof with PV except where the roof is already occupied by solar-thermal, which is doing very good things for my heating bill. :)"

That's easy to solve :)

Use two layers. The top one extracts only the electricity from the sunlight; the second one extracts the heat. That also leaves you with cool sunlight hitting your house, which would help a lot in the summer.

149:

Not sure why Lockheed would be looking for partners on this (which smells fishy) since if they could really deliver what the press release claims, they would be rolling in more money and higher valuations than apple, faster than you can say "fanboi margins".

Then again a project like this can eat money as if it's toilet paper. They may be think of Boeing in the early 70s. The SST was a sure things and going to make huge amounts of money. Till it suddenly wasn't and didn't and if not for the very problematic (during development) 747 Boeing might not exist.

150:

"Since superconductors work at -90° C, they'd have to sustain a >100° temperature difference to environment in order to create a temperature difference which drives turbines. I wonder how they avoid that the fusion heats the superconductors."

Nitrogen, in a liquid to gaseous state?

151:

My reading of Boeing's history is that the 747 nearly bankrupted Boeing -- as the RB211 (designed for the 747 and other wide-bodies) did bankrupt Rolls-Royce. The lay-offs right after the first 747 flew were massive. Boeing couldn't afford to build the 2707 and the 747, so bet on the 747 having a future as a high-subsonic freight hauler in the brave new world of SSTs dominated by Concorde and the Tu-144 ... then the price of oil spiked in 1973/4 and the rest is history.

152:

Once the Concord started flying and much of the US and other parts of the world banned sonic booms and the cost of fuel was fully realized the Boeing SST was shelved. And then, yes, all they had left was the 747. And it was as I mentioned problematic during development.

My understanding was the SST emptied most of the bank. Then the cost of actually producing the 747 drained the rest.

I think the SST was the golden boy for a long time. Then, as I said, it wasn't.

153:

So, imagine elves.

Right-wing libertarian elves.

In a thermonuclear super-sonic airplane.

Which is piloted by AI.

Carrying Ebola from Liberia to USA.

Yeah, that's about it.

154:

Certainly nuclear-powered (electric) trains - maybe evn directly loco-powered - depends if it scales "DOWN" as well as "up" doesn't it?
I think there will still be a role for other power-sources, just the same, but they will be niche markets ...

155:

I'm not sure if you're serious or not, but I think this is exactly backwards. If the water heater is backed by the photo-voltaic one, then you should get some direct heating and some PV effects.

156:

Then you may well know more than I do about the US Navy's electric-drive aircraft carriers, the USS Lexington and the USS Saratoga. I have a vaguer recollection of electric drive in WW2 ships, getting around the bottleneck of turbine gearing, but they may just have been an option the USN considered.

Oh, Wikipedia gives plenty of examples, both steam-turbine and diesel. Including five US Navy battleships of the early 1920s. That included the USS West Virginia, sunk at Pearl Harbor, refloated and repaired, and seeing action at Surigao Strait.

If this reactor thingumajig works I think the USN would be comfortable with electric drive. And I am not going to assume a steam turbine, though I am not sure how many warships with gas turbines use a mechanical link to the props. Consider the fusion package as maybe being an eletricity source. No, that seems fanciful.

157:

I want to see a nuclear aircraft carrier on hydrofoil. :-)

158:

Is there a way to extract / generate electricity from fusion directly, without using it as a hellava way to boil water?

159:

do you have any evidence for these claims?

160:

There are plenty of heat engine designs you could use. The water boiling Rankine cycle used in most large power stations is popular because it is fairly easy to implement and scales up well, but you don't have to use it.

It's almost certainly going to be heat engine + dynamo at the end of the day though. In theory you can extract energy from hot plasma using MHD effects, but in practice it's not very effective.

I think my bet would be that they don't manage to make a shipping container sized fusion reactor. If they do then I would put money on either a regular closed steam cycle or a Stirling engine to extract power. IMHO Rankine cycle is most likely, but stirling gets most geek points for some reason.

161:


There's a book out this year (A Piece of the Sun: The Quest for Fusion Energy, by Daniel Clery that talks about fusion. For my money, the last chapter is the best. He talks about all the problems they've had, the problems with existing designs, and ends up saying that "yes, it will happen, but the working fusion design will look nothing like what we have today, and it will happen in 30 years." Unfortunately, I couldn't tell if he was being ironic, if his editor forced the happy ending on him, or he actually meant it.

Here are the problems he pointed out:
--Z pinches are slow, to the order of a few shots per minute at best. To make them work, you need some gynormous capacitors. That kills the 1970s idea of modifying the z-pinch for a fusion torch starship: it's too slow, and the capacitors are too heavy. I'm pretty sure the Lockheed design isn't a Z-Pinch, and if it is, it's probably not for ships, but for land-based power plants (which, incidentally, is not at all a bad market to get into. Given that power companies are seeing the Death of the Grid in the rush to PV, having another grid-based power plant that's even cheaper than PV would save their bacon).

--Tokamaks and other magnetic confinement regimes have the problem already noted: you've got to maintain a temperature gradient from a few kelvin to millions of kelvin across perhaps a meter of space. That's a hard technical problem. One solution is to only run the fusion cycle for a short time, let it cool down while you harvest the heat, and run it again. This can work, but again, you've got to have a lot of energy storage capacity (perhaps gynormous capacitors) that you can charge quickly, and then discharge out in an orderly fashion to the grid. If they can't get past this problem and figure out how to run the fusion reactor fairly constantly, I suspect that the system as a whole (capacitors plus reactor) will be too big for ships. Again, though, they'll make great power plants.

As for the Skunk Works working with the Navy, the published history of the stealth program working with the Navy suggests that they really don't like to, given a choice. When the Skunk Works built the Sea Shadow, that experimental stealth ship, they had huge battles over things like the requirement for a paint locker(!) a space which was Traditional and thus Required on all Navy ships. But the thing that reportedly scuttled the idea (although it's ba-ack), was that Lockheed built it like a plane, to run mostly automated with a small crew. Since promotion for US Navy officers is based in part on how many people you've commanded, the sea shadow would have been a career-killer, and the Navy didn't want it. Note that the Next-Gen stealth ships are small boats that could be commanded by a LTJG, although I bet that the SWCCs get them. Problem solved.

So Skunk Works working with the Navy? Perhaps. Still, Lockheed Martin is building ocean thermal energy conversion generators and they've got a division called "biomass energy solutions" (the brochure is rather interesting, if cringe inducing for some). If I had a bet, I'd say that this fusion generator is headed towards the land-based power market, rather than their military branch.

162:
So, imagine elves. Right-wing libertarian elves. In a thermonuclear super-sonic airplane. Which is piloted by AI. Carrying Ebola from Liberia to USA. Yeah, that's about it.

From the a lab in the USA to Liberia, I would have thought, given Liberia was founded on a distrust of the USA.

That said I find origin stories most interesting. Where & how did the Old Ones, Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep et al originate? I have this theory that our universe was born in darkness, "let there be light" to the contrary. and they evolved in the first 300,000 years so the natural condition does not comprehend light! Given the Wow signal originated in the teapot constellation, well, it makes you think in odd directions, which is as good a hobby as any other. OGH does that really well IMO.

163:

Sorry, i may have been a bit unclear. Electric propulsion is great, especially when you have a large hotel load, eg AC, galleys, weapon systems etc. it's just the pods themselves. they give you great manouverability, but if they break, you're in trouble.

This is the podded ship i worked on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MV_Arcadia_%282004%29
There was only one or two spare pods in the world, one was in Helsinki, where ABB made them, and i heard talk of one in the far east. A major problem involves drydocking your ship, and possibly even replacing the pod, which could take your ship out of service for months (if a new pod needed manufacturing and shipping, possibly years, hence the spares), something that i'd imagine the US Navy would be not too keen on.

As to the manouverability, bow and stern thrusters give you pretty much the same control.

164:

"Then you may well know more than I do about the US Navy's electric-drive aircraft carriers, the USS Lexington and the USS Saratoga. I have a vaguer recollection of electric drive in WW2 ships, getting around the bottleneck of turbine gearing, but they may just have been an option the USN considered."

The Navy abandoned those, which might say something. It was a pre-WWII thing because reduction gears were hard to make/repair, and the shafts from the turbines to the screws were long, and restricted design flexibility. They were also a point of failure from battle damage.

165:

"I think my bet would be that they don't manage to make a shipping container sized fusion reactor. "

Our Gracious Host has, IIRC, discussed things like this before. A shipping container-sized fusion reactor would presumably be capable of some very nasty failure modes. Having thousands of them around would be a nightmare from the prevention-of-mass-destruction viewpoint.

166:

"So, imagine elves. Right-wing libertarian elves. In a thermonuclear super-sonic airplane. Which is piloted by AI. Carrying Ebola from Liberia to USA. Yeah, that's about it."

"From the a lab in the USA to Liberia, I would have thought, given Liberia was founded on a distrust of the USA."

Right-wing libertarian elves with GUNS! AND GOLD! Carrying anti-TAX bombs!

167:

IIRC, the failure modes of fusion reactors are relatively benign. The plasma loses containment and cools down, no big deal, Batman and Spiderman notwithstanding.

The success modes of fusion reactors are not so benign, though. The neutron flux is truly enormous, and tends to transmute anything nearby into high-level radioactive waste. There are aneutronic fusion concepts, but they'll still be 30 years away when actual fusion gets here in 30 (neverending) years.

168:

Interesting.

How does fusion waste compare to fission waste?

Which is the less evil?

169:

I'm not sure, but I get the general impression the waste problem is of comparable magnitude for fission and (at this stage theoretical) fusion energy. The fusion waste is probably shorter-lived, depending on what it was before it was exposed to the neutron flux and how much exposure it had.

170:

That's definitely a win for fusion. The direct waste of fusion is non-radioactive helium and lots of neutrons. The neutrons can activate the structural materials but at most you've got a bunch of low-level waste, and you've got some freedom to control the materials involved. Fission waste is much more dangerous, for much longer. Not insuperable, ideally speaking, but definitely a concern.

No one disputes that fusion would be really nice. It's just apparently incredibly difficult, and possibly expensive even if doable. (Deuterium is fairly cheap. Tritium isn't, though might be if mass produced. But it's the cost of the reactor that'll kill you. Same way solar and wind took a long time to be competitive despite being 'free energy'.)

171:

My pet theory (first aired here) is as follows:

--There's an interstellar, multispecies civilization.
--interstellar colonization and sustainable civilization are mutually contradictory, hence an interstellar civilization has to constantly colonize new planets, as the old ones collapse from the weight of resource depletion. Collapsed planets need to fallow for at least 10 million years, more like 100 million years, to recover. Most planets aren't that suitable, "terraforming" a planet to sustain oxygen-based life takes at least a billion years, and planets have finite lifetimes before their stars expand, orbits get unstable, and what have you.
--Therefore interstellar civilization would be rather brutal, a perpetual race to colonize, industrialize, and settle the next nearest planets before the resources run out on the current planet.
--This is the environment in which the elder races live. Think of Cthulhu as a biological starship with an alternate mode of hibernating for millions of years, and you get the idea.

--in this scenario, the elder gods are as follows:
-Azathoth is the black hole in the center of the Milky Way, that blind, idiot devourer, without which the Milky Way would not exist.
--Yog-Sothoth is the interstellar equivalent of the internet. Perhaps there's some sort of hyper-drive or dimensional gate available through Yog-Sothoth to make travel between planets easier. Perhaps not. Installing a local instance of Yog-Sothoth can go terribly wrong if you don't know what you're doing(cf: the Dunwich Horror). Furthermore, it's not clear that anyone on Earth actually does know what they're doing.
--Nyarlthotep is the equivalent of Siri, running on Yog-Sothoth. The reason Nyarlothotep is so often thought of as evil is that we don't really understand the protocols of Yog-Sothoth. Worse, we keep trying to install Nyarlthotep on inappropriate devices, like humans.

Then again, this version of interstellar civilization is a rough place, so we wouldn't expect Yog-Sothoth or Nyarlthotep to be particularly user friendly, especially to outside hackers like humans who aren't (yet) part of the system.

Now as far as I understand, OGH does not approve of this scenario, but that's okay. I'm using it in the other book I'm working on, when I'm not working on the post-apocalyptic science-y stuff.

172:

--interstellar colonization and sustainable civilization are mutually contradictory, hence an interstellar civilization has to constantly colonize new planets, as the old ones collapse from the weight of resource depletion.

This doesn't make sense. Just interplanetary (not even interstellar) civilization will have access to so much resources (in the form of matter in their Solar system), that depletion of resources on the planet of origin is not an issue anymore.

Collapsed planets need to fallow for at least 10 million years, more like 100 million years, to recover.

"Fallow" is a concept from 1000BC. It's meaningless in the context of interplanetary civilizations. You don't grow elements in the field.

Most planets aren't that suitable, "terraforming" a planet to sustain oxygen-based life takes at least a billion years, and planets have finite lifetimes before their stars expand, orbits get unstable, and what have you.

Nope. Any plausible interstellar civilization will have to learn to live in space habitats indefinitely (it takes decades to fly between stars, so you need to take your home with you, more or less). However, once it does, it no longer have an urgent need of habitable planets. Colonization, if it happens, will take a form of arriving to a solar system and building new habitats from local resources.

173:

Vanzetti, go read the original post. However, if you don't want to, here's the deal:


1. Geologically active planets are way better than asteroids or inactive planets for resources, because gravity, an active core, the process of plate tectonics, water erosion, and life concentrate elements into minable ores very nicely. Mining isn't simply a matter of finding the atoms, it's a matter of finding them at sufficient concentration that you don't have to use a huge amount of energy to refine them into a useful material. This is the problem with rare earths on our planet (they're not rare, they just don't accumulate due to their chemistry), it's the problem with getting gold out of seawater, and it's a problem with asteroid mining in general: a random conglomeration of atoms with the useful ones at low density is garbage, and a resource only if you've got a huge amount of energy to refine them. Given a choice, mine a planet before you mine an asteroid. Asteroids, for the most part, are probably worse than human landfills when it comes to getting resources out of them.

2. Biospheres like our own sequester carbon in the soil and rock for a bunch of reasons, and that's generally a good thing. Oil and gas are basically surplus sunlight, which is why they're so precious right now. We're gathering the energy of past eons and burning it. As I understand it, it takes a minimum of 10 million years for geological processes to make coal, 100 million years is more like it (we're mining coal that's up to 400 million years old). Petroleum works on similar time scales. If you want a lot of cheap power, landing on a planet with an old biosphere and lots of oil and coal in the ground is a great way to jump-start a civilization. Just find a likely deposit, drill, and you've got a gusher. The EROI on this is >>100 (the oil's gushing from the ground after all), and much better than running on nuclear or even fusion power.

3. Atoms and useful ores: See #1 above. Mining is pretty painful below one or two kilometers deep into the rock. However, that much crust will erode off in 10 to 100 million years, so all the ores that were inaccessibly deep in the planetary crust will at sometime be near the surface, ready to be mined with the fairly simple technology that a colony can create. By the time you've made your starships, those mines will be a kilometer deep again, but that's okay, erosion and plate tectonics will bring more stuff to the surface if you come back in 100 million years.

4. I know you were around for that whole discussion about how to make a starship, so I'm pretty sure you remember the long discussion of how hard it is to make a small biosphere and keep it going indefinitely. Go back and reread it to refresh your memory. In this case, the key word is anhydrobiosis, which is the biological version of stasis. I'm assuming that the elder races don't live between the stars, they go into anhydrobiosis and ship between the stars effectively dead. If they do form a biosphere inside a spaceship, it's for a short duration while they're colonizing or leaving a planet.

174:

Solar will undercut *all* energy generation tech on price, even "too cheap to meter" fusion.

175:

Dense plasma focus fusion seems the ideal technology. It is a boron-proton fusions process with minima neutron emissions. It can also provide a direct-to-electricity MHD capability with very high efficiency. And you can use it as a rocket.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dense_plasma_focus#Fusion_power

176:

Solar will undercut *all* energy generation tech on price, even "too cheap to meter" fusion.

You don't know that. It may undercut them in 10 years, but not in 20. Or vice versa. You can't predict the price of new technology.

177:

Just two comments:

1. Most of the electric thrusters used on ROVs now come from one San Diego company, because they build them so well. From touring their production line, I can't imagine (a) why you wouldn't carry a spare, and (b) why if you could get it onto the deck you couldn't repair it.

2. Regardless of 1, if you can do it in a drydock you should be able to do it in water provided you can lock down/tag out the propulsion system and have sufficient divers. For divers substitute teleoperated robots. What's the remaining engineering challenge?

178:

Right, sorry didn't see the "no spare pods" comment. Bad supply chain management/naval engineering design...

179:

Will you ever use the "Humans are the most dangerous evil in the universe/multiverse" trope?

180:

My agnostic opinion: The only way to be certain there is no god is to receive a divine revelation.

181:

Magic Ed writes:
There was only one or two spare pods in the world, one was in Helsinki, where ABB made them, and i heard talk of one in the far east. A major problem involves drydocking your ship, and possibly even replacing the pod, which could take your ship out of service for months (if a new pod needed manufacturing and shipping, possibly years, hence the spares), something that i'd imagine the US Navy would be not too keen on.

Try breaking a main shaft, gearset (for turbine drives), or even the prop badly enough, on a conventional shaft drive ship... That's a drydock, too.

If you're the Navy, you build for maintainability and you have spares, or enough ships you can accept one out of service if it prangs.

Pods *should* be able to be made to drop in from above into wells (not the way it's usually done, now, that I know of, but it's structurally and systems-wise feasible, and I do have a degree in Naval Architecture though I don't practice in the field now). So that would reduce the repair to a big enough crane dockside to lift out the borken one and drop the new one in.

182:

That works.

One of the problem with the whole divinity thing is that, if you receive have some sort of mystical experience, do you believe your senses, or do you believe you're hallucinating? If you believe you're hallucinating, is it because you read in a book that there is no god, and therefore you don't believe your senses?

I point this out because one of the main criticisms of theists is that they uncritically believe what they read, while scientists only trust the evidence of their senses. Unfortunately, that's criticism is equally valid for atheists who believe what they read in books and interpret the mystical experiences they have as hallucinations.

Personally, I believe in the subjective existence of the divine, and I'm not aware of any irrefutable evidence for the objective existence of the divine.

Problem is, we all live in our own subjective worlds, due to the limits of human senses and brains, even with all the instruments and tools we have to extend both. Scientism is the faith that there is, in fact, one objective world out there, and that something that you find through scientific experimentation is likely to be found by someone else doing the same experiments. Unfortunately, when dealing with complex phenomena (and here I'm thinking about things like ecology and sociology), repeated experiments don't always yield the same results, so our faith in one objective reality is not universally backed up by all the available evidence. Past a certain level of complexity, experimentation is impossible, and we really do have to take some important things on faith.

Even more unfortunately, many of the global problems we're dealing with this century are in that realm of complexity. We can't know in advance that we understand the problem well enough, or that what we're doing is going to make things better. Faith matters, whether you believe in theism of some sort, or atheism of some sort.

183:

Back on original topic, I think "the future" is the attractor; where other authors and futurists tend to glaze over details, Charlie is focusing on making a more solidly believable (i.e., "Hard" speculative fiction) extension than the average. So he attracts readers who want that, and the blog attracts more energized readers who want to interact, many of whom have insight and are at least amateur "hard" speculative futursts of some sort or another.

We have some regular focus points, but as an overall trend...

184:

The five-minute video clip available on their press release page seems to imply using these reactors as heat sources coupled with the standard Rankine-cycle back ends used in combined-cycle gas-fired plants.

185:

Re: Sea Shadow and career structure - the Navy runs the risk of getting shafted by the same automation ... err, shaft ... that the air force have.

For years the Army were hacked off at the Air Force because they were never there when the Army wanted and wouldn't buy what the Army wanted them to buy.

Then came drones.

Now the Air Force is running to remain relevant and people are 'talking' about getting rid of separate air forces.

If the Navy isn't careful, someone will work out what you can do with a fleet of drone ships, about how much easier a drone ship is than a drone aircraft, and about how a team-up of drone aircraft and drone ship looks fun.

Then the Navy will have trouble justifying it's big carrier battlegroups.

And, we're back at the simple attractor of 'defence'...

186:

There's two factors here:
1) PV cells lose output as they heat up so you want to keep them cool.
2) Water is a crap absorber of sunlight, so you want your sunlight to be shining on a pipe full of water, not the water itself. That also stops algae growing inside your collector.

So I think you actually want three layers:
1) Transparent PV cell that just absorbs visible light;
2) Vacuum insulation to keep the PV cool and the water hot;
3) Water pipe with selective IR absorbing coating.

I've the later two components already on my solar hot water. I've also enough roof/land space to put in non-transparent PV alongside, so this is really only relevant where nations are short on roof space.

187:

Your section 4 could be summed up as:

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”
― H.P Lovecraft

Might that mean that R'lyeh is a starship, and could it be shaped like a duck?

188:

Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't argue with people about their visions of imaginary worlds. It's like a Jew and a Muslim arguing about whose god is better. Yours probably will make as good a background for a sci-fi novel, as any other.

Still, none of your arguments seems plausible, if someone were to use a different set of assumptions about (imaginary) technology.

189:

Did you mean "transmuted" or "irradiated"?

#168, #170, and my own thoughts tend to suggest that what actually happens is irradiation (absorption of radiation by the immediate environment) and hence low (or maybe medium)level waste.

Transmutation would only be an issue if the result of the irradiation was to convert stable isotopes of $element(s) into radioactive ones.

190:

I seem to recall a suggestion (in this very place IIRC) that the fast neutron output of a fusion reactor could be used to accelerate the decay of waste from fission reactors with (re)usable fission fuel as a byproduct, and that this *might* be efficient enough to make a fusion process which would otherwise not be economically viable as a stand-alone technology a viable component of a nominally fission based generation process...

191:

True enough, for the big things (although you can change props whilst still in the water now, depending on the prop and coupling design). but a lot of pod failures have been for bearing problems and things that would have only taken a day and a few people to fix if the were in the engine room, require a dry dock.

My point overall was that pods don't give the improvement in maneuverability or efficiency which would lead to the extra investment needed to overcome reliability problems, when you have existing technology in use that has a lot less of the problems and further investment in that would be money better spent.

Bugger, i've accidentally argued against investment in green energy.

192:

I think there should be a codicil to Godwin: citing the Fall of Rome for proving whatever point about modern history one has. Amazingly, I have counted 7 or 8 different events that people mean when they say the Fall of Rome: the Fall of the Republic; Nero; the end of the Principate; 3rd Century chaos; 4th century tyrannies; the Vandals; 476 and many variations on the prior themes: the fall of "true" Republicanism; substitute Caligula for Nero, etc.

Rome crystallized as the focus of Western civilization and then it gradually sublimated into a bunch of lower energy states and successor cultures. You can stare into that chaotic mass and see whatever you like, much like astrology, tarot or economic theory.

193:

Scientism is the faith that there is, in fact, one objective world out there, and that something that you find through scientific experimentation is likely to be found by someone else doing the same experiments.

Not quite. Science is not a faith but a method: when confronted with a statement of some fact, they automatically try to prove that wrong. Then scientists tend to believe those statements, which resisted this refutation most successfully.

When confronted with statements about ideas that can not be tested by experiments (gods, algebra), scientists can still check these ideas for consistency. Works great for mathematics. It's also obvious that Christianity isn't consistent at all (why should I believe in an almighty, loving and gracious god when reality is much better explained with an almighty, evil and malicious god? See theodicy arguments etc.)

194:

reality is much better explained with an almighty, evil and malicious god

An almighty malicious god would have turned the air to spiders or something. An indifferent or nonexistent God makes more sense.

195:

A truly malicious god would wait for the global population to peak before doing something as final as an atmospheric spiderpocalypse.

Of course in a period of growth that point is whenever the spiderpocalypse happens, but for now I am assuming that it's going to be in the next two or three decades.

196:

Um, Andreas, you might want to read that first word you quoted: scientism. It's not science, it's faith in science. Science is a set of methods. Scientism is the faith in it, and in the idea that the sciences will uncover one objective reality.

For example, scientism has faith that it will be possible to reconcile general relativity and quantum dynamics, because there is only one objective reality underlying both. Science hasn't gotten there yet.

197:

I'm not sure I wholy agree with that. If something, call it "noodle theory", comes along that agrees better with the actual observations than GR and/or QD does, then AIUI scientism will drop the disproven theories in the "interesting and sometimes helpful approximations" bin along with Newtonian dynaics.

198:

Ah, ok. Then scientism looks quite unscientific to me...
after all the scientific method has a blind spot build in: non reproducible events. OTOH I don't know any other method than indifference that would work with unreproducible events.


199:

Oh, but an almighty and all-knowing malicious god has of course much more information and insights than us mere mortals, so we can't hope to understand the wisdom of how the god maximizes its evilness towards humans.

200:

>Newtonian dynaics.

Note that Newtonian physics will accurately predict any humanly-observable events. It'll even hold up to a fair amount of instrumented scrutiny.

It's only when you create more sophisticated measuring instruments that things start to go squishy. For practically anything you want to do, Newtonian physics will get the job done.

We're now at that point with quantum mechanics. That doesn't make either model "wrong", it just means that they can't focus finely enough to deal with whatever you're trying to explain.

201:

Running the risk of derailing the thread on to one of its own subjects, i.e. strange attractors (subcategory "physics"), I would argue – as I think would most physicists – that Newtonian physics actually is wrong: the conceptual underpinnings of GR and quantum mechanics are entirely different from those of Newtonian mechanics and gravitation.

The fact that the model is wrong does not, however, make the model's predictions wrong: Newtonian mechanics and gravitation is an excellent approximation for speeds much less than c, weak gravity, and large objects.

The fact that it gives the right answers (to any reasonable level of precision) in most everyday applications doesn't make the model "not wrong" – the Ptolemaic model of the solar system gets planetary positions right to adequate accuracy for naked-eye observation, unless you are being very careful (Tycho Brahe, this means you), but it's definitely wrong. Newton's equations obviously do a much better job than Ptolemy's, and require much more extreme conditions before they fail to be a good approximation, but the model is still wrong.

202:

Every model is wrong, because models are by nature mathematical abstractions smoothing over a messy reality. Having said that, models can be good enough for specific purposes.

203:

Will you ever use the "Humans are the most dangerous evil in the universe/multiverse" trope?

Define "evil".

(I'm not Christian and wasn't raised that way. Nor am I Zoroastrian. I don't buy that black/white good/evil dualism bullshit.)

204:

No, it's transmutation. 'Activation' is transmutation. Low level waste comes precisely from turning stable nuclei into radioactive ones. (Vs. high level waste, which comes from radioactive fissile elements turning into much lighter and more radioactive fission products.)

I don't think 'irradiation' has any meaning other than "be subject to radiation", but what we fear immediately as lifeforms is ionizing radiation, that mess up the chemistry of our cells.

alpha particle: helium nucleus; heavy; easy to stop (air or even dead skin); pretty bad if it's slamming into you from inside
beta particle: electron; light; easy to stop; bad if it's inside of you
gamma ray: high energy photon; hard to stop; bad even from a distance.

None of these cause transmutation, generally speaking; they're bad for us because they break the chemistry of our cells.

Then there's neutrons, which also qualify as ionizing radiation, but *also* have a high chance of slamming into a nucleus and making it radioactive. Which is bad if it then emits gamma rays, or if it emits alpha/beta particles and gets inside us, or was already inside us.

Irradiating things with most radiation doesn't make them radioactive. Neutrons do.

205:

Evil - the deliberate infliction of suffering that is seen by all parties as unnecessary.

206:

".. all parties as unnecessary." All parties!! Good Grief! Including the Nazis, or the ..Insert extremists of choice?

And then insert...Sadly it is Nessesary that they be tortured to DEATH for the greater GOOD...No One more Sorry than US but it IS called for that the Paradise on Earth might be achived and, Hey, Eternal Bliss, 40 wives all of em virgins .. And also The Rapture, and so on and so forth.

Not that WE believe in any of this Stuff Eh? For we know that Science ...all Praise to The Machine!! .. Will achieve all that we desire if only we believe in The Council of Scientists with all of our...err Soul? Energetic Essence, Kalian Aura?

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=kirlian+aura&client=firefox-a&hs=XLZ&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=c2hBVPPSMJKw7AanyYDADA&ved=0CEAQsAQ&biw=1016&bih=543&dpr=2.5

Well Whatever! Wot can possibly go wrong? Only Believe!

I believe in honest politicians...And I believe in you!

207:

" .. but for now I am assuming that it's going to be in the next two or three decades."

Why?

208:

... and then you go on to show all evil, not following my definition, to be relative. May the best man win, with Darwin as the referee. The winners write the history.

209:

Actually I can't think of any examples of that. Most that I am aware of were deliberately inflicted.

210:

Last time I knew, scientism was actually along the lines of "Hey, science can explain this even although it can't", or rather running to science for every possible explanation. It certainly wasn't having some faith in the idea that science would lead to a TOE.

211:

“An almighty malicious god would have turned the air to spiders or something."

Or Something? Rather than Air into Spiders how’s about an increase in the level of mental illness, especially that of Clinical Depression?

How better to signal the Imminence of Our Lord and Master Cthulhu than an overwhelming sense of DOOM and Dread?

http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-statistics/

212:


" .. Darwin as the referee ...”?

EH! Dunno that I'd accept good old Darwin as being a neutral referee...

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

213:

In reality it is the survivors who write History, generally the victors but not always.

214:

Unless the survivors/victors are illiterate.

215:

For some reason the first example that spring to my mind for the trope " is evil and must be stopped" are Banks' Idirans. Where the problem seems to be that they belive in manifest destiny among the stars, once their military aparatus and ideology is gone they get along reasonably well, it seems.

Another example could be the humans in Joe Haldemans Endless War, but they are rather clueless than evil. The smart use of this trope would be to say " is organized in a way that it causes uneccesarry suffering", and then dodge the cans of worms in defining 'uneccesary' and 'suffering' and go straight for the socialist, peaceful utopia as an alternative. Which has been done a thousand times, I guess.

Not that that would make sense for the laundryverse (The eater of souls lets his victims live in a simulated paradise inside it's mind? Would not fit to what we know so far. But maybe some of cultists of the Sleeper in the pyramid are, right now, posting this idea to Less Wrong)

216:

An overwhelming sense of doom and dread simply means that you've been paying attention.

217:

The fact that the model is wrong does not, however, make the model's predictions wrong: Newtonian mechanics and gravitation is an excellent approximation for speeds much less than c, weak gravity, and large objects.

That means Newtonian mechanics is not wrong -- rather, it is a special case of GR and quantum mechanics.

218:

OTOH I don't know any other method than indifference that would work with unreproducible events.

By "unreproducible" do you mean unique events which literally are never seen again, such as "WOW!" signal? Or do you mean events which are not unique, but are fleeting, unpredictable, and thus impossible to observe in controlled manner?

One good example of the latter is ball lightning. Between about 1975 and 1985 Soviet Academy of Science tried to study ball lightning in the manner no respectable American scientist would accept as "scientific", but is pretty much the only practical way to study a rare, fleeting, and unpredictable phenomenon. They published a questionnaire in "Nauka i Zhizn" (more or less Russian equivalent of "Scientific American"), asking people who had seen ball lightning to describe it. IIRC, it asked about size, color, duration, motion, height above ground, and brightness (compared with a typical light bulb). It also asked whether respondents had seen ordinary lightning strikes at close range, whether associated with ball lightning or not. The assumption was that with a large enough sample all observational inaccuracies, biases and downright lies will cancel out. The published conclusion was that most likely ball lightning consists of equal numbers of positive and negative ions (mostly of nitrogen oxides, but incorporating metal ions after, for example, touching copper wires), surrounded by shells of water molecules. The latter are arranged with negative (oxygen) ends attached to positive ions, and positive (hydrogen) ends attached to negative ones. Ball lightning's overall temperature is barely above ambient, but every ion recombination produces a microscopic flash of blue light. Millions of recombinations every second account for the steady but not very bright glow, while touching a solid object tends to recombine the entire ball, or large part of it, causing burns and/or electric discharges. I forgot the exact physics involved, but part of that theory somehow required ball lightning to have density very close to surrounding air, which rules out either rapid rise or rapid sinking.

219:

"An overwhelming sense of doom and dread simply means that you've been paying attention."

For the past few thousand years...
I lived most of my life with the threat of global nuclear annihilation 4 minutes away. It's hard to get worked up about climate change and having wet feet in 50 years time.

220:

You've summarized the dilemma very nicely.

Here's the impossible sale: if we suffer somewhat now, we alleviate exponentially more suffering for the next 50,000 years, especially in the next 2,000 years.

The general answer is: but I'll never know the people I help, so why should I suffer to help them? For all I know, they'll never exist anyway.

And that's the business as usual model for climate change.

221:

I think it is simpler than that. I believe that the world will be moving to renewable with extreme rapidity, but not out of some sense of altruism for the future. Simply because oil, coal and gas will soon be more expensive than solar and wind. The USA may not be doing much in that direction, but the running will be made by Asia, Africa and Europe.

The situation would seem to be analogous to the forced move from incandescent lighting to those crappy fluorescents. If the EU had waited 5 years almost everyone would have moved anyway, and to LED lighting. The coercive factor was IMHO pointless, alienating and not cost effective.

Technology is handling the problem far better than politicians.

222:

you know if some smart ass Elon Musk type gets up one day and slaps a solar parasol into near earth orbit or does something clever with iron filings and solves global warming, hetermeles is totally gonna slit his wrists (-:

223:

We're still a few minutes away from nuclear annihilation. The nukes didn't go away when their management changed. We've just (mostly) forgotten about them. AFAIK, everything's still ready to launch, on both sides. Well, not everything, but more than enough.

224:

You might be frustrated, but I'll be quite happy.

The point of that pessimistic scenario isn't to invest my ego in defending it, it's to pull your brain into contemplating the notion that our species has many millennias of future ahead of us on this planet. And oddly enough, we're among the very few generations of humans who actually some way to affect the quality of life of many of those future generations, due to our massive use with fossil fuels and their long life in carbon in the atmosphere. Am I succeeding?

Personally, I hope Dirk's right, because I'd rather live in his world than in the one I'm playing with. If he's wrong, the large carbon emissions could easily come from rebuilding cities, fighting wars, and dealing with major emergencies, as much as from building more coal-based power plants and politicians stifling solar power.

The other thing I've found is that few people want to deal with a future where we don't go extinct, one way or another. I'd like to do my little bit to change that little lacuna in our future. It's messing us up in too many ways.

225:

Plenty
Not only are the (English) "greens" regularly referred toas "watermelons" (green outside, red inside)...
They are nasty little control freaks ( "Two wheels good, fout wheels BAD, Diesel is EVIL, clamp down on "binge"" drinking - i.e anything more than 2 pints a night ...." etc ) They want to take away the gurdianship of some of the most precious green & open spaces around London ( I am particularly concerned about Epping Forest - very close to me ) and thus, effectively allow it to be concreted over.
It was only the power & influence of that forest's current guardians that stopped the Ministry of Roads (oops Transport) driving the M25 right through it, with no consideration at all.
In the end, the forest got bigger, the route was altered & a particulary sensitve section was tunnelled.
Oh & they are against all nuclear power - presumably including Lockeed's sunshine-in-a-box.
They may not be "evil" ( See post by Charlie elsewhere ) but they sure are incredibly STUPID.

226:

We're still a few minutes away from nuclear annihilation.

Actually, the management changes were quite significant. Since the early 1990s the ICBMs and SLBMs have been targeted on empty patches of ocean, known to the other side, so that an accidental launch won't kill people and will be obvious as such. Also, the management have been talking, and are each aware that the other side wants to die in bed, KTHX, and doesn't see them as an existential threat: they are therefore a minor irritant rather than a deadly enemy.

The potential for disaster is still there, but the probability has been ramped down -- it would take an intentional act of fuckwittery to cause a nuclear war, rather than an accident or misunderstanding. Sort of like sleeping with a loaded gun under your pillow: it's dangerous, but somewhat less so if the safety catch is set and there's no cartridge in the chamber.

227:

Faith matters, whether you believe in theism of some sort, or atheism of some sort.
REALLY?
I think you are utterly wrong.
Unless .... you class ... "I believe/have faith in that the Laws of Physics will continue to operate tomorrow in the same way as today & yesterday" as a statement of faith.
Then, as above, you are so wrong as to be not even wrong.
Because faith is defined as belief without evidence.
And we have continuously-repeated evidence that the statement I made above is true.
Um

228:

Charlie
Old problem
So (f'rinstance) ISIS are not evil ??
They believe they are "virtuous" of course, just like the Inquisition.
But ... everyone else thought/thinks they were/are evil.
Is it subject to democratic vote, or is it subject to the "golden rule" ??
( I would go for the latter - I don't care what "your" excuse is, you are deliberately going around killing & torturing & enslaving because $_BigSkyFairy tells you to - then you are evil ... )

229:

Didn't know about that study, but things got a lot more interesting ( IIRC about 30 years back, now ) when a Ball Lightning "materialised" inside the Cavendish, during a typical Fenland thunderstorm.

What's the latest idea - the same as the soviet one?

230:

Don't be silly, Greg doesn't need evidence to rant about political opponents!

231:

They want to take away the gurdianship of some of the most precious green & open spaces around London ( I am particularly concerned about Epping Forest - very close to me ) and thus, effectively allow it to be concreted over.

Yet the first link on https://www.google.com/search?q=green+party+open+spaces&gws_rd=ssl is... Ealing Green Party campaigning to preserve open space, including Epping Forest.

232:

Here's an entertaining note from the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) regarding Mars One. In essence, the person who did the study estimated that under the current plans, it would only take 61 days for the first human to die just because of the flawed plan.

The study concluded that Mars One is essentially a pipe dream. Any colonization of Mars would be much more expensive than Mars One's estimates.

I know! Let's colonize the Gobi Desert first!

234:

Americans have colonized the Sonora desert. Use a map program to find Phoenix in Arizona. Also look up Riyadh in Saoudi Arabia.

235:

very funny (not) guthrie - I'll take that as a simple snark - please read my fact-based commentary, huh?

AND also rich @ 231
In which case, why are they publicly campaigning to remove Epping Forest from its current guardians, by destroying those guardians, who have proven very, very effective ??

My answer is:
1 They are stupid
&
2 They are politicians & lying

236:

publicly campaigning

[[citation needed]]??

237:

Of course! How silly of me.

Wait... isn't there breathable atmosphere in Saudi Arabia? I'm pretty sure there is in Phoenix as well.

(eergh... Someone Is Wrong on the Internet!)

238:

In this context: Exploiting other intelligent beings, hurting living creatures for the fun of it, killing intelligent beings for the fun of it, or because they're mildly annoying.

239:

Define "mildly"?

240:

"citation needed"
Well, the "green" party have publicly stated that the gaurdians of Epping Forest are corrupt & undemocratic & they should be abolished.
I assume that the penny has dropped recently, as I had not heard of their move to (re) appoint/construct a new guardian body.
Big fucking hairy deal.
Because ( in this country) the present guardians are supremely effective at dealing with people who get in their way - if they have to.
But, they would much much rather play King Log than King Stork
However, push comes to shove, they will act (as they did with the routing of the M25) & even then, they prefer to act behind the scenes.
Nontheless, they have removed (at lest) 3 rulers of this country, who were obviously bad for it:
Charles I, Richard Cromwell & James II.
NO, if you can't work out who they are, that's your problem, but the last time I looked (not this week) their abolition was part of the watermelons' manifesto.
You should be able to work out who they are - I've given you enough clues.
HINT: try googling - "Epping Forest"

241:

Greg, greg, greg, just because you disagree with someone doesn't mean that a) they are wrong, b) they are stalinists, c) they are not 'green' or 'conservative' or suchlike. Your alleged fact filled post contained nothing which would make me think you were correct, because oddly enough different things are susceptible to different interpretations.
As for Epping Forest, I can't see anything online, so have no idea what you are talking about.

242:

Certainly wikipedia indicates that Epping forest is hardly under democratic control/ management.

As for Charles I, Cromwell and James II, I look forwards to your bestselling book linking the powers behind the scenes then with the powers behind the scene today, it could be the next da Vinci code.

243:

When I googled Epping Forest, I got lots of links about the Epping Greens trying to preserve it, so you've lost me there.

Charles I, Richard Cromwell & James II.

Wait, the Green party were politically active in the 1600's?

244:

If the Navy isn't careful, someone will work out what you can do with a fleet of drone ships, about how much easier a drone ship is than a drone aircraft, and about how a team-up of drone aircraft and drone ship looks fun.
Then the Navy will have trouble justifying it's big carrier battlegroups.

Removing the pilot from a few planes is way easier than removing most of the crew form a warship. The drone planes still return to an airport where all of that crew that exists for the piloted planes still exists to do the maintenance and repairs needed to keep the planes in the air.

On a warship typically most of the crew is the maintenance and repair folk who MIGHT have war fighting duties in times of battle. Especially on a carrier. Plus the crew to service the crew.

Ships don't return to port every 10 hours or 10 days to be overhauled.

245:

Wait... isn't there breathable atmosphere in Saudi Arabia? I'm pretty sure there is in Phoenix as well.

Yes but that's about the only thing the populations there don't have to import to exist. Now granted the distances are a bit shorter than hauling stuff to Mars. :)

246:

The nukes didn't go away when their management changed.

Piling on to CS's comments.

Actually they did. Total numbers of weapons is way down. And what is left is smaller in yield. Plus the US and Soviets seem to have over half their nuclear weapons "on the shelf" and not deployed in bombers flying 24/7.

Operation Chrome Dome anyone?

Not that it would be a small thing if we started slinging the deployed weapons but we are no longer on the MAD setup of vaporize everything and then let's see who is still alive.

247:

Oh dear.

Epping Forest is in the guardianship of The Corporation.
[ ... of London, i.e. "The City" ]

The watermelons have taken an irrrational dislike to The Corpration, claiming they are all corrupt bankers, undemocratic, etc ...

The Corporation have defended the trust, given into their keeping, for all of the people of London for a long time now ( 1878/80 ), & kept all the developers, concreters & builders of all stripes out. I cannot see any other body being anything like so effective.
It ain't broke - don't even try to fix it.
P.S. They have also taken over ( were given when the madwoman destroyed the GLC ) several other valuable public open spaces, for the enjoyment of everyone. They have done a very good job there, too.

Going back to the "greens", I must admit to a deep dislike of their ultra-nannying tendencies, because they know what's "best" for us, & are determined to enforce it. Even more stupid & pointless is their religious hatred of anything that has the word "nuclear" attached to it.
[ For another example of this, see Germany, where they are closing down their nuclear plants & building / re-opening (etc) coal-fired ones. ]

248:

Wait, the Green party were politically active in the 1600's?

They were a front for the Milk Marketing Board.

249:

HINT: try googling - "Epping Forest"

I just did. And I figured out who owns the forest in question. And now I know why the Greens want to abolish or reform that body -- and I agree with them: it's a major source of corruption within the British state and responsible for a lot of hideously bad wicked shit worldwide. Managing a forest reasonably well might be taken into consideration at the sentencing hearing, but it doesn't get the City of London Corporation off the hook for being a corrupt oligarchy, responsible for much of the 2007/08 global banking crisis, and the primary beneficiaries of the current austerity policies that have immiserated about 20% of the UK population and caused an explosion in food banks, homelessness, and people dying of fucking starvation due to benefits sanctions in the name of protecting the profits of the members of the CoLC.

Thanks, Greg.

250:

Disagree profoundly, Charlie.
The Corporation do an enormous amount of "good works" & they are an elected body, not an oligarchy.
They are certainly a lot more democratic & waht's more accountable, than the neigbouring borough of Tower Hamlets, that's for certain.
They bear no responsibility AT ALL for the 2007-09 banking crisis.
The incompetents in charge in the USA & Britain are entirely culpable for that load of shit, not the elected members of "the City"

I think it better if we agree to disagree on this subject, if it ever resurfaces, please?

251:

P.S.
Just after signing off above,
I came across this
Now that really is a corrupt, undemocratic shady deal that will crap all over everyone a lot worse than anything else - fawned over by our elected government.
No thanks.

252:

Then came drones.

Now the Air Force is running to remain relevant and people are 'talking' about getting rid of separate air forces.

Nope, not even close. The people 'talking' about it are the ones who don't actually understand the problem domain.

As DavidL@244 pointed out, drones require as many people to operate as manned aircraft - and they're a lot less versatile. Currently, they're good for reconnaissance in hostile airspace, and long endurance / limited strike in permissive ones. Taranis et al are a long way away, and there are advantages in derisking the prospect of EW preventing the pilot from flying the aircraft.

I've done my fair share of swearing at the RAF - sometimes when their helicopter drivers dropped us in the wrong sodding grid square, occasionally when they either failed to arrive because of a 50% risk of rain-spots on the paintwork, or because they wanted to be back in the mess for Happy Hour on Friday - but I'd be the first to admit that they are a necessary organisation. Lord Trenchard was right...

253:

As Susan says in #201 Newtonian Physics is wrong. It makes no attempt to consider relativistic effects, which exist even if they're negligable, at terrestrial velocities. They're a helpful simplification at terrestrial velocities, but a simplification is, per se, deliberately neglecting some of the calculations.

#217 - Ilya, a special case is where something works entirely correctly despite the simpliciation, like saying "the temperature was -40 degrees yesterday" where we can neglect stating the scale because the value happens to be the same in both Celcius and Fahrenheit.

254:

In fairness to Newton there's no particular reason he should consider such things. There was no experimental evidence available to him to suggest travelling really fast or being super-massive or super-light (like electron light) might do weird things.

Yes, today, many of us would be stuffed without understanding relativistic effects - GPS accuracy falls apart PDQ without accounting for them. Driving OFF the bridge instead of over it is rapidly terminal. But designing your car, your train and the like works perfectly well with plain old Newtonian mechanics.

It's not a matter of being wrong, it's a matter of whether it's a useful model for the system being considered. All models are going to be simplifications - the map is not the terrain as someone I'm constantly surprised is not a strange attractor on this blog is fond of saying - but for most things moving in the atmosphere Newtonian mechanics gives a good enough answer. The errors from ignoring relativistic effects are smaller than the errors from not modelling air resistance exactly, or not knowing the coefficient of friction to more than 2dp or similar.

255:

> it would take an intentional act of fuckwittery
> to cause a nuclear war

[pauses to consider the current fuckwits in power]

You're not exactly reducing my concerns...

256:

> Let's colonize the Gobi Desert first!

Do you intend to buy it from the Chinese and Mongolians, or are you going to take it by conquest?

Neither Mongolia nor China are particularly hard up for cash at the moment, nor are they having problems controlling their borders. Very much different from the circumstances that let the USA purchase big chunks of North America from the French and Russians.

Any decent military could probably topple Mongolia, but China might be a tougher nut to crack. They're highly industrialized, heavily armed, and geographically dispersed; not a good target.

Who is going to run your newly-made nation afterward?

You *could* just throw mountains of cash at the current owners in the hope that they do what you want instead of smiling and stuffing it into various bank accounts. Given how "dollar diplomacy" normally works, I wouldn't get my hopes up.

Mars might be cheaper in the long run.

257:

I'm pretty sure the current owners would be happy to let you colonize the Gobi desert, as long as you recognize their sovereignty, take out citizenship, and pay your taxes.

All of which seem to be anathema to the (American) space cadets, who for ideological reasons seem to be much more interested in Galt's Gulch, Chile.

258:

That reminds me of this: Dogged By Controversy, A Jewish Sect Is On The Move Again.
A Hassidic sect from Canada leaving for Guatemala in part to get away from child abuse accusations. South & Central America has my sympathies for getting saddled with North American nutjobs.

259:

I don't think it absolutely needs citizenship as long as you pay taxes and obey the law.

I noticed, eyeing the Sark situation, that the Barclay brothers are trying to get out from under the Law of Sark, which they currently seem to be breaking in several ways, by arguing that Brecqhou has never been part of Sark. But can I trust Wikipedia?

And if Brecqhou is not part of Sark, what is it part of? Should the Royal Navy send a warship, or just a rowing boat?

I am getting ideas for a story of my own, but writing it, that would seem to be folly. Even if the names were changed Sark is just too recognisable. Though what would happen if the Duke of Normandy were to ask one of her trusted servants to do the turbulent priest thing?

260:

Interesting metaquestion: Is a strange attractor also a strange attractor if the host himself is attracted to it?

If yes, I think we haven't yet listed

- libertarians, their natural habitats and their weird cults, especially:
-- Bitcoin
-- goldbugs
-- libertarian drive-by posters in any thread concerning one of the above

- also the general idiocy of the libertarian doctrine (Seriously, the example of Galt's Gulch Chile--of which I'd never heard before--is proving once again that the prototypical proponent of libertarian ideology is the fraudster.)

261:

elfin safety inspection .. ?

262:

Here are some interesting thoughts about the dark side of this issue from blogger & developer Jeff Atwood. He cofounded Discourse, which attempts to reimagine discussion forums.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 13, 2014 1:37 PM.

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